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SPAIN: Passion Flowers

6 minute read

High over Berkane, border town in French Morocco, sounded the mighty roar of airplane motors last week. A flight of huge bombing planes was boring west toward the Spanish border. Suddenly engines choked, sputtered for lack of gasoline. One plane dropped into the sea. Another smashed up on landing, killing the pilot, two members of the crew and seriously injuring another. A third got down safely, but with empty tanks.

The planes were Italian Savoia-Marchetti bombers with their identification marks carefully painted out. Each was jammed with cases of machine guns, ammunition, hand grenades, machine-gun belts. Near one of the planes were found several knapsacks containing the khaki uniforms of Spain’s Foreign Legion. The eleven aviators arrested by the French were all in civilian clothes, carried civilian Italian passports, but in their pockets were receipted pay checks giving their names and rank in the Italian Air Force. Later reports showed that the planes were part of a flight of 21 that had tried to fly non-stop the 780 miles from Italian Sardinia to Spanish rebel forces in Morocco. Eighteen of them reached Melilla, Spanish Morocco, successfully.

Outside. Italy promptly tried to establish an alibi, claimed that the officers were not Italian, that the planes were private. The Savoia-Marchetti factory is an Italian Government factory. Il Duce, to whom no sin is greater than getting caught, demanded “an investigation.”

The affair of the Italian bombers was easily the outstanding event of a bloody and nerve-wracking week. It not only meant that Spain’s Civil War had now passed beyond the Pyrenees, but that for the first time, Fascism, like Communism, had become an international force. No labor struggle, no class warfare can break out anywhere in the world without expressions of sympathy, and sometimes cash contributions from Moscow’s Third International. Italy now was apparently undertaking to support a foreign outbreak of Fascism in the same way. Correspondents with the northern rebel armies near Burgos were quick to point out German steel helmets. Twice last week Russian freighters loaded with Soviet munitions were reported en route to help the radical Spanish Government. In Moscow, 100,000 workers jammed the Red Square, pledged their aid in a campaign to raise 200,000,000 rubles for the Spanish Government.

To Benito Mussolini, success of the Spanish rebellion might mean more than another boost for Fascism. All over Europe the same rumor was being spread last week. In return for Italian backing and Italian munitions, Spanish Revolutionist Francisco Franco had promised Benito Mussolini to end Spain’s present alliance with France and to give Italy the right to fortify Ceuta, opposite Gibraltar, and to use one of the Balearic Islands as a naval base. The Spanish Fascists were a long, long way from victory last week, but if they should succeed and if there were any truth in this rumored deal, Britain’s control of the Mediterranean would be virtually nullified and France would be left a buffer between three Fascist States. Fortunately for the plight of the radical French Cabinet of new Premier Léon Blum, week-end reports indicated that Spanish Loyalist forces were successfully holding their own, possibly had a slight edge over the Fascist rebels. Loudly the French Government proclaimed its neutrality, but at the same time announced that French citizens could volunteer with Spanish Government troops so long as they bore no arms on French territory.

Inside. All this international intrigue last week had little effect on the fighting inside Spain. Rifles cracked, bombs fell, cannon roared and men died just as they had for the past fortnight, but Madrid itself was peaceful. One hundred and six of the U. S. citizens marooned in the Embassy there were safely evacuated to Valencia.

Government troops held Madrid, Barcelona, Toledo and most of the fertile east coast. Rebel Generalissimo Franco was stymied in the south. Seville he held, and Córdoba and Granada. He had been able to move his headquarters from Morocco to Seville, to ferry about 300 soldiers a day by plane to the mainland. But he was unable to march against Madrid, and fiery-eyed Communist militia still kept him out of Málaga. Government forces, on the other hand, were still unable to capture Zaragoza, strongest military garrison.

Vital spot in the civil war remained the snow-capped Guadarrama Mountains that guard Madrid on the north. There armies of 15,000 Loyalists under General Carlos Bernal and 20,000 Fascists under able General Emilio Mola sparred cautiously for the battle that may end the war. Surprise of the week was verification of the astounding story that when Spain’s devious José Maria Gil Robles, Catholic reactionary, was Minister of War ten months ago, he and Fascist Generals Franco and Mola prepared for the present civil war by digging secret gun emplacements all along the Guadarrama ridge. Fortunately for Spain’s Leftist Government, loyal officers knew where most of them were.

At week’s end Fascist Mola was forced to withdraw many of his troops from the Guadarrama front to tackle a dangerous situation in his rear. San Sebastian and Bilbao were still in Loyalist hands. With hostilities ceasing in the Barcelona region, Loyalists might be able to launch an attack at his rear. Out of the ground to defend these Basque cities for the Loyalists poured the Communist miners of Oviedo, hurling homemade bombs of dynamite, slashing with knives. General Mola’s attack was beaten off.

In every story from the front were descriptions of the cruelty and bravery of Spain’s proletariat women, fighting with their men for the Red cause (see p. 25).

In the War Department in Madrid yet another woman was doing the work of six men to further the cause of Loyalist arms. She was Dolores Ibarreri, 41, better known as La Pasionaria (“The Passion Flower”). An out & out Communist, Madrid’s Passion Flower is no scrawny female executive but lush, dark-haired, intense. In earlier revolts, she has fired many a rifle shot from the barricades, fled from Spain to Moscow after the abortive uprising of 1934. In Moscow she was given a post on the executive committee of the Third International. In Madrid last week La Pasionaria, officially only a Spanish Deputy, was working 14 hours a day in the War Ministry shipping food & munitions, organizing still more bands of armed irregulars.

Meanwhile Leftist mobs continued to loot, rob and burn churches from one end of Spain to the other. Some 25,000,000 pesetas hidden in churches and convents were found, turned over to the Government. Among the richest treasure troves were the corsets of the fleeing Bishop of Jaen’s sister which embraced 8,000,000 pesetas in Government bonds.

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