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The day that Franco entered Catalonia

The day that Franco entered Catalonia

On March 27, 1938, the troops of legionaries and Moroccans commanded by General Yagüe entered in the morning at Barbastro and Fraga and towards the Massalcoreig the first Catalan town occupied by the Francoist army. Yagüe had broken the republican defenses and after crossing the Cinca was very clear about his next goal, to conquer Lleida for Franco's Spain. Tomorrow, April 3 is the 80th anniversary of that battle that meant the irruption by force of the arms of a new political regime. The fall of Lleida meant for the republican side the certainty that the war could not be won. The Francoists would soon reach the sea by Vinaròs and isolate Catalonia, from the left bank of the Segre on the west and the Ebro on the south. According to historians, Yagüe wanted to cross the Segre and move towards Barcelona, ​​but Franco prevented it. The war would still last another year.

On the same day, March 27, the Italian and German planes bombed Lleida mercilessly, action that they repeated on the 30th with the intention of weakening combative morale. A large part of the civilian population chose to leave the city, and of these, many took refuge in neighboring towns or in towers of the huerta. Lleida was deserted and with large columns of smoke and dust, without water, or light, destroyed many official buildings and in practice, uninhabitable in much of the historic center. When the bombs stopped falling, came the 46th Division commanded by Valentín González known as El Campesino which had been commissioned, along with other battalions , the defense of Lleida.

Italian and German aircraft had bombed the city before intensely

The Republican resistance in the fields around the capital managed to stop the advance for five days, at the cost of many casualties caused by the national artillery , aviation and also units of tanks. Yagüe concentrated his forces on the road to Zaragoza and so on April 2 managed to take the hill of Gardeny at the same time that other columns infiltrated the road of Huesca.

According to the historian Joan Sagués , author of La Lleida vençuda i ocupada of 1938 (Pagès Editors), "the fights were very intense, street by street, house by house, and the republicans were already prepared for the worst, as well They burned down several houses in the center and with the Tabor Ifni Sahara and the 43rd Legion Banner on their heels they went to the left margin of the Segre and dynamited the Pont Vell although there are other versions that say they only dynamited the one of the Railroad ".

The fall meant for the republican side the certainty that the war could not be won

The blast occurred half an hour after the Francoist soldiers hoisted the red flag lda in the Seu Vella and will unfold through the historic urban center. The river was the no man's land that divided the war front. The Republicans went from defending the city to shooting at it. The Republic had lost Lleida, but the Franco occupation did not bring peace, since the front would still remain active for another nine months, until Christmas.

On the afternoon of Sunday, April 3, General Yagüe took possession of the Comissaria de la Generalitat in Lleida, the current Provincial Council, and after raising the flag on the balcony, gave a speech to the few Lleidans who had left their shelters. "I come in the name of the Caudillo to give you bread, peace and justice."

The fall of Lleida was considered a "heroic resistance" by the republican press, while the newspapers of the national zone highlighted that "Lérida returned on Sunday to be from Spain ", according to Sagués in his book. The strategy followed by El Campesin was criticized even by communist comrades, such as José del Barrio, who, in his memoirs, accuses him of leaving his post, hiding behind the fact that he was sick. It is confirmed that Valentín González left Lleida long before the bombing of the bridge and that he was transferred to Barcelona by ambulance.

The photograph, by unknown author, is the only graphic document of the combats between republicans and Francoists through the streets of Lleida
(Arxiu fotogràfic / Ateneu Popular)

The streets of Lleida were filled with soldiers and the day after the occupation, the civilian population began to get along with the conquistadores. Behind the General Staff of Yagüe traveled a large delegation of journalists, Spaniards and foreigners. These include the tandem formed by Víctor Ruiz Albéniz, who signed under the pseudonym El Tebib Arrumi, grandfather of former mayor of Madrid Alberto Ruiz Gallardón, and photographer José Demaría, better known as Campúa. The chronicle of El Tebib Arrumi describes a city "with very few people" and destroyed by the "iracundia" of the enemy "over all the churches and the magnificent cathedral". He also explains that some areas are dangerous because of the republican shooting from the other side of the river and refers to El Campesino, who "escaped yesterday afternoon at six, crediting himself as a disciple of Prieto at the cost of as much fugue as he is practicing." [19659002] In turn, the photos of Campúa show corpses through the streets, houses opened by bombs and the meeting between the population that greets its arm high, as well as many soldiers with guitars and bottles of wine. A fellow of fatigue of Ruiz Albéniz and Campúa following the campaign of Yagüe is the bartender Perico Chicote, who is in charge of the intendancy of the journalists and the general himself. Campúa photographs him walking through a city and drinking wine, celebrating the victory.

Despite Franco's occupation, the front would still be active for another nine months

The normalization of civic life and public services was very difficult. to be the city in the first line of fire and the return of the neighbors was staggered. At the same time, a harsh repression was initiated that led to the use of several religious buildings and the Seu Vella itself as prisons, the space before the summary trial and in its majority to the firing squad. According to Joan Sagués, "the nine months after the occupation were hard fights on the entire Segre front, like the Merengue massacre, at the head of the Balaguer bridge, where hundreds of soldiers from the so-called Quinta del Biberón fell killed by the machine guns of a Falangist column ". It is quite possible that the fall of Lleida was one of the warlike events that led Màrius Torres to compose perhaps his most famous poem, La ciutat llunyana, an intimate reflection on the defeat and destruction of "la ciutat d'ideals que volíem" Bastir ", and how to rebuild it with hope. "Ja no ens remains quasi cap més consol que creure i wait for the new architecture amb què braços més lliures puguin ratllar el teu sòl".

With a piece of Catalunya in his hands, Franco signed the day 5 of his handwriting the repeal of the Statute of Autonomy and three days later he shot Manuel Carrasco i Formiguera. Juan Negrín had to form a new government with a thirteen point program to negotiate peace. "Resisting is winning."