An account by Antonio Téllez of the underground guerrilla armed struggle of anarchists and anti-fascists against General Franco's regime following the Civil War.
Armed resistance to Franco, 1939-1965 - Antonio Téllez
The rattle of the Thompson gun
The guerrilla struggle against Francoism
actually arose in the days following the army revolt against the
Spanish Republic on 18 July 1936. Across the country, workers launched
a revolution and took up arms against the armed forces. In areas
which fell immediately to the mutinous army, a bloody repression
was promptly set in motion and this obliged many anti-fascists to
take to the hills to save their skins. This was repeated over nearly
three years of civil war as areas were conquered, one after another,
by the Francoist army and it extended to virtually the entirety
of the Peninsula after the Republican troops surrendered in the
Centre-Levante zone on 31 March 1939.
Very little has been written about the scale
of the armed struggle against Franco following the civil war.
It was and still is known to few. A thick blanket of silence has
been drawn over the fighters, for a variety of reasons. According
to Franco's personal friend Civil Guard Lieutenant-General Camilo
Alonso Vega - who was in charge of the anti-guerrilla campaign
for twelve years - banditry (the term the Francoists always used
to describe the guerrilla activity) was of "great significance"
in Spain, in that it "disrupted communications, demoralised
folk, wrecked our economy, shattered our unity and discredited
us in the eyes of the outside world”.
Only days before those words were uttered
General Franco himself had excused the blanket silence imposed
on reports of armed opposition and the efforts mounted to stop
it, when he had stated that "the Civil Guard's sacrifices
in the years following the Second World War were made selflessly
and in silence, because, for political and security reasons it
was inappropriate to publicise the locations, the clashes, casualty
figures or names of those who fell in performance of their duty,
in a heroic and unspoken sacrifice."
This cover-up has continued right up until
our own day. In a Spanish Television (TVE) programme entitled
Guerrilla Warfare and broadcast in 1984, General Manuel Prieto
Lopez cynically referred to the anti-Francoist fighters as bandits
and killers. Not that this should come as any surprise - during
the period described as the political transition to democracy
(November 1975 to October 1982) all political forces, high financiers,
industrialists, the military and church authorities decided that
references to the past were inappropriate and that the protracted
blood-letting of the Franco era should be consigned to oblivion.
That consensus holds firm today*, and historians eager to lift
that veil run up against insurmountable obstacles when they try
to examine State, Civil Guard or Police archives.
We have no reliable breakdown of the overall
figures for guerrillas or for the casualties sustained by or inflicted
upon the security forces and Army. If we are to have some grasp
of what this unequal struggle against the Dictatorship was like,
our only option is to turn to figures made public in 1968 - a
one-off it seems - according to which the Civil Guard sustained
628 casualties (258 deaths) between 1943 and 1952: some 5,548
bandits were wiped out in 2,000 skirmishes, many of which amounted
to full-scale battles. The figures for this eradication are as
follows: killed - 2,166; captured or surrendered - 3,382; arrested
as liaisons, accessories or for aiding and abetting - 19,407.
An embarrassed silence shrouds the earlier years between 1939
and 1942, when units from the regular army, the Foreign Legion
and the Regulars, with artillery support attempted to wipe out
the guerrillas. The aforementioned figures given for Civil Guard
casualties at the guerrillas' hands can be discounted. If we compare
the lists of deceased Civil Guards during these years where no
cause of death is listed, with peace-time death-rates, we find
a surplus of deaths which are (assuming they were the results
of illness or accident) inexplicable and arrive at what is unquestionably
a figure closer to the truth: some 1,000 deaths on active service.
The escalation of guerrilla activity began
in 1943, when the widespread belief that the Third Reich had victory
in its grasp was starting to fade, following the bloody rout of
the German Army's elite divisions at Stalingrad. As the tide of
the Second World War turned, the anti-Franco guerrillas, as might
have been expected, bounced back in terms of morale and dynamism,
and from 1944 onwards flourished to a considerable extent. Its
heyday was in 1946-1947. After that, partly as a consequence of
international policy which sought a rapprochement with Franco,
a decline set in that ended with the demise of guerrilla activity
in 1952. In Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia and other cities, urban
guerrilla activity persisted for a decade or so longer.
After 1944, guerrillas operating inside Spain
received considerable reinforcements from their exiled countrymen
who had played an active
part in the liberation of France and the French
Resistance. These were well-trained and experienced men equipped
with up-to-date weaponry and easy to use high explosive substances
such as plastique. Most of them were drawn from France and a smaller
number from across the seas in North Africa. Communist leaders
charged with politicising guerrilla activity came in from the
Americas via Lisbon and Vigo. The Communists who took it for granted
that the war-cry of "Taking Spain back!" would be the
signal for a general popular uprising against the Franco regime
made a great song and dance about this comparatively massive aid.
Some 3,000 guerrillas organised in France
with the very same weaponry they had used in their fight against
the Nazis, mounted two main attacks across the Pyrenees in 1944.
The first incursion was into Navarre on 3 and 7 October: the second
came via Catalonia, the object being to establish abridge-head
in the Vall d'Aran and install a provisional Republican government.
It was also taken for granted that, confronted by such a fait
accompli, the Allies would be prompted to step in to bring
down Franco. These incursions were easily repulsed - having been
heralded in advance - for the Spanish government had taken all
appropriate measures. Even so, there were lots of guerrillas who
refused to return to their bases and opted instead to infiltrate
into the interior in small groups. There they reinforced existing
guerrilla bands and set up new ones where none existed.
The weapons they brought in were a lot more
effective and better suited to guerrilla fighting. The most commonplace
weapon was the British Sten gun, or the German M.P. 38. Both were
rapid-fire weapons and used 9mm ammunition which was the most
plentiful sort. American weapons like the Colt pistol flooded
in, as did (in lesser numbers) Thompson sub-machineguns, a heavier
but highly effective weapon. One burst of Thompson gunfire in
the hills was reminiscent of an artillery salvo. The fighters
entering Spain also brought with them a tried and tested morale
forged in victories scored against the Nazis and in the staunch
belief that Franco could not survive the downfall of Adolf Hitler
and Benito Mussolini. They also had organisational experience
behind them and solid ideological convictions, anarchist, socialist
or communist, qualities that would quickly transform the guerrilla
phenomenon as they afforded increased cohesiveness to countless
scattered guerrilla bands.
The main areas of guerrilla activity were
those whose geographical features made defence and survival most
likely i.e.: mountain ranges and areas which provided adequate
cover. For example in Andalusia there were guerrilla bands aplenty,
some of them over 100-strong. In Asturias, the guerrillas displayed
tremendous enterprise, not unconnected with a deep-rooted political
consciousness: the revolution by the Asturias miners in October
1934 had not been all that long ago. In many areas, guerrilla
activity was intermittent and random as guerrilla bands moved
around for a number of reasons, such as the encroachments of counter-insurgency
The style and nature of the guerrilla struggle
varied with the terrain and the resources of the individuals and
groups involved. Activities included the bombing of strategic
objectives, attentats (political assassinations), the
movement of arms, the protection of individuals and groups involved
in underground political activity; bank robberies and forgery
to fund the struggle and destabilise the economy; as well as some
more spectacular actions: rescue missions to free captured comrades,
open fire-fights with fascist forces; and even an attempt to bomb
Franco from the air! (Three men in a light aircraft came within
a hair's breadth of dropping incendiary and fragmentation bombs
on the General and his Aides during a Regatta in 1948).
An example that sums up the mentality and
spirit of the guerrilla movement of the time is provided by a
small team of Anarchist guerrillas, led by the veteran fighter Francisco Sabate
Llopart (El Quico). On their return to Spain after the end
of the Second World War one of their first missions was the 'expropriation'
of money and valuables in a series of aggravated robberies of
local big-businessmen. On completion of 'business', those 'visited'
would be left a note like the following one, left at the home
of a wealthy big-store owner, Manuel Garriga:
"We are not robbers, we are libertarian
resistance fighters. What we have just taken will help in a small
way to feed the orphaned and starving children of those anti-fascists
who you and your kind have shot. We are people who have never
and will never beg for what is ours. So long as we have the strength
to do so we shall fight for for the freedom of the Spanish working
class. As for you, Garriga, although you are a murderer and a
thief, we have spared you, because we as libertarians appreciate
the value of human life, something which you never have, nor are
likely to, understand."
A small example of how, despite the loss of
the war, and despite the ruthlessness of the fascist repression,
those involved in the resistance still managed to maintain their
politics, their humanity, and their self-respect.
The armed opposition to Franco was no longer
a serious problem after 1949 and, as we have said, it petered
out around 1952. Aside from the severe blows dealt by the Civil
Guard and the Army, the absence of a logistical system capable
of keeping the fighters equipped, and, above all else, the fact
that the opposition political parties had chosen to gamble upon
diplomacy as a substitute for weapons, made it impossible for
the resistance's offensive activity to continue.
Another highly significant element in the
winding-up of the guerrilla struggle was the arrival on the scene
in 1947 of superbly trained and schooled security force personnel
in the shape of "counter-guerrilla bands", dressed and
armed in the guerrillas' own style and sowing confusion and terror
on their home ground. These "counter-gangs" even carried
out savage killings that were ascribed to the guerrillas proper,
the aim being to bring them into disrepute and strip them of popular
support. Then again, the infiltration of police plants into the
guerrilla bands was extraordinarily effective and made it possible
to dismantle some of the more important groupings.
In Asturias, in 1948, around 30 socialist
guerrillas boarded a French fishing smack which had arrived specifically
to collect them and deliver them to St Jean de Luz in France.
In Levante, the last remaining guerrillas in the area, around
two dozen survivors, made it out to France in 1952. In Andalusia,
a few bands survived until the end of 1952, but their leaders
- like the anarcho-syndicalist, Bernabe Lopez Calle (1889-1949)
- had already perished in combat. A few managed to escape to Gibraltar
or North Africa, but, for the most part, they were wiped out in
armed clashes: others were executed by the garrotte vil (death
by strangulation) or firing squads: those who escaped that fate
served prison terms sometimes in excess of 20 years.
In 1953, the United States signed a military
and economic assistance treaty with Franco. Two years later, Franco's
Spain was welcomed into the United Nations. However, even though
all was lost, a few die-hards refused to give up the fight: in
Cantabria, the last two guerrillas, Juan Fernandez Ayala (Juanin)
and Franciscxo Bedoya Gutierrez (El Bedoya) met their deaths in
April and in December of 1957 respectively. In Catalonia, Ramon
Vila Capdevila (Caraquemada), the last anarchist guerrilla, was
gunned down by the Civil Guard in August 1963. But the honour
of being the last guerrilla has to go to Jose Castro Veiga (El
Piloto) who died, without ever having laid down his arms, in the
province of Lugo (Galicia), March 1965.
There are a number of reasons for the failure
of the Guerrilla campaign against Franco, and although open guerrilla
warfare had all but ended in the 50's, the movement against Franco
continued, as did underground political activity, until the regime's
eventual collapse. What the guerrillas had wanted to achieve was
open insurrection against Franco. What they show us today, through
their ambition and their sacrifice, is that the brutal repression
of the progressive working class after the Civil War did not go
unchallenged. The full story of the guerrilla struggle, as Tellez
states in this article, is still being uncovered. All we can do
today is salute the men and women of the resistance who gave their
lives, not only in the defence of their class, but for a future
where the social structures that create the Francos, are buried
along with them.
Edited by libcom from an article in Fighting Talk, issue 15.
* Article originally written by Antonio Téllez in 1996