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The Weird Aryan History Series

Lesson #18: The Siege of the Alcazar

July 20–Sept. 27, 1936

In July of 1936, the people of Spain revolted against their tyrannical and murderous Communist government. The uprising was led by General Francisco Franco and had the support of most (although not all) of the Spanish military, the Catholic Church, the middle classes, and a very large section of normal working class people as well. The popular left-wing myth that the Spanish Civil War was nothing more than a "military coup" is unfounded; the fact that Franco was able to establish a stable and relatively prosperous society that lasted for over forty years belies this.

When it became apparent that the initial rising in Madrid had failed, the Nationalist supporters in Toledo, which is 40 miles to the southwest of the capitol, declared for Franco and occupied the military academy in the ancient Alcazar fortress. The garrison was mainly drawn from the local Guardia Civil and Falange, but also included a handful of teenaged military cadets (most were on summer holidays), a large number of women and children as well as civilians, and a number of nuns who had fled to the fort for safety from the marauding Communist milita and the Asaltos or Assault Guards, who were the Republic's paramilitary goon squads. This motley crew of resistance fighters was commanded by the Commandant of the Academy, Colonel Jose Moscardo.

At that time Toledo was a Nationalist island surrounded by Republican-held territory, and it was psychologically as well as strategically vital that the Red government in Madrid recover the symbolic fortress as soon as possible. They dispatched a large force of militia, Asaltos, army troops who remained loyal to the government, "international brigades" and Soviet "advisors" as well as the dreaded POUM anarchist paramilitary gangs, to capture the Alcazar. Within days, the ancient castle was surrounded by hastily-built barricades and besieged with sniper and machine-gun fire.

One of the most famous incidents of Spanish heroism during the war took place on July 23, 1936. The Communist commander reached Moscardo by telephone within the Alcazar and the Colonel was informed that Republican forces had arrested his 16 year old son, Luis, a cadet at the academy under his father's command, and unless Moscardo surrendered immediately, Luis would be executed. To prove that they had his son, he was put to the phone to speak to his father. The boy spoke up proudly, "Father, if you surrender your command to the enemies of Spain in order to save my life, I shall disown you and never more acknowledge you as my blood!"

His father replied "Die like a Spaniard, my son!" The enraged Communists then shot Luis in the head. (A second Moscardo son was later captured and executed in Madrid.) In the Alcazar today, the telephone still remains on display.

Repeated assaults against the castle walls failed and resulted in heavy government casualties. The Reds had brought artillery with them, but only light field guns which could be shielded against through the extensive use of sandbagging on the ramparts, and poorly trained Republican militia were such bad cannon shots that they often missed the huge castle completely and their shells fell on the hapless city. Then they ran out of shells entirely and the incompetent, bickering Republican staff in Madrid were unable to supply any more. Crude attempts at aerial bombing also failed.

For the next two months the defenders held out against the Republican units besieging them. Their only source of water was a cistern in the main courtyard; fortunately they were able to fill it up, because it took the Reds some time to figure out how to shut off the water mains. After that the hundreds of people in the fortress, many of them non-combatants, had to rely on rainwater caught in sheets and tarps. In August they ran low on food and had to rely on nightly stealth foraging expeditions over the walls to raid a grocery warehouse the Nationalists knew about in town, but which the Reds had somehow overlooked. They also had to crawl down and scavenge ammunition by ambushing Republican sentry posts or looting the corpses of those killed in the day's fighting. Many local residents of Toledo who had remained behind in the city risked their lives to supply Moscardo and his men with food, ammunition, and intelligence on the enemy's activities, and many were summarily tortured and executed because they were suspected, rightly or wrongly, of helping the Alcazar's defenders or being in contact with them.

In mid-September the Reds brought in a sapper unit of anarchist Asturian miners, who tunneled beneath the walls and planted a large explosive charge which they detonated in a massive blast, bringing down a section of the wall. Now the Reds could gain partial entry into the Alcazar, and the fighting slowly progressed from building to building, floor to floor, room to room. One upstairs classroom became known as the "Chamber of Death."

In the meantime General Franco was receiving regular reconnaissance reports from his air corps on the situation, and he realized that the Alcazar couldn't hold out much longer. His army was marching on Madrid in four columns (hence General Molina's famous remark about his "fifth column" inside the city.) Franco faced a choice. He could divert one of the columns to relieve the Alcazar and risk not having enough troops to capture the capital, or else he could ignore the sideshow in Toledo and concentrate on his main strategic objective.

Franco spent a whole night in thought and prayer, and in the morning he made his decision. "This is a matter of the honor of the Spanish Army. We cannot leave Moscardo and his heroes to their fate, as well as the women and children." He ordered General Jose Varela to alter his line of march and storm Toledo. On Sept. 27, 1936, Nationalist troops from the Army of Africa entered the city. The Reds fled back to Madrid without much of a fight.

The raising of the siege of the Alcazar did much to enhance General Franco’s reputation, but the diversion of Varela’s troops from the advance on Madrid gave the capitol’s defenders further time to prepare their defenses, and time for Soviet supplies and weapons to arrive. Franco has been criticized by military historians for his decision, which may well have prolonged the Civil War, but for the rest of his life, he always maintained that he had been right to put honor before expediency.

Colonel Moscardo was promoted to the rank of General, fought well throughout the rest of the war, and later led the Spanish Blue Division of volunteers on the Eastern Front during World War Two. The main Spanish command post on the Russian Front was always referred to as "The Alcazar."