Saturday, February 26 2011

Once again, the Friends of the International Brigades (AABI) are holding their annual Memorial Walk on the site of the Battle of Jarama.  On previous occasions, this event has focused on remembering the volunteers of the XV International Brigade, mainly due to the presence of Bob Doyle, the key figure in promoting these annual tributes to Kit Conway, Charlie Donnelly and others IBers.

The 2011 Jarama Memorial Walk, in contrast, will be devoted to exploring and retracing the steps and combat experience of the XI IB (the 2012 Walk may be dedicated to the XII IB). The idea of paying tribute to the members of the XI IB was first discussed during a trip we made to Berlin in September, when we were lucky enough to be invited to the annual meeting of the German KFSR Association (fighters and friends of the Republican Spain). There we had the chance to spend some time with veterans of the old battles of the Second World War and the social and political struggles of the post-war decades. Above all, we were privileged to meet two brigaders: the Austrian Joseph Eisenbauer and the German Fritz Teppich, who in their nineties, still displayed the same spirit and energy that brought them to Spain over 70 years ago. Eisenbauer sadly passed away on December 10. While visiting the monument to the IBers in Berlin we encouraged our German friends to join us, for the fist time, in the Jarama walk. They have embraced the idea enthusiastically, and this year we hope to have them with us to pay special tribute to the heroes of the Thaelman, Edgar André, and Zwölfte Februar (12 February) Battalions amongst others.

The 2011 Jarama Memorial Walk will take place in very particular circumstances. The banks and major corporations of capitalism, which in previous decades has anesthetized and demobilized many workers by offering them the opium of welfare and consumerism, are now taking advantage of the crisis that they themselves produced to intensify their oppression of workers, submitting them to draconian conditions. The prospects for many young people in the West are bleak. If the young, and workers in general, do not resist these attacks, there is a serious danger that we will see a return to situations similar to those of the nineteenth century.

In the 1930s, in the midst of the Great Depression, the working class in many countries mobilized to resist the blows of capital. In the current situation we can take example from those struggles, but also from others going on around us now. Workers in a number of countries (France, Greece, Italy, Spain...) have already begun to fight back. However, mass mobilization is required if we are to resist the onslaught of capital.

The volunteers who came to fight fascism in Spain in the 1930s were forged in the labour struggles of the Depression years. After the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War, like so many others, they continued their fight on different fronts. They are exemplified by two well-known Ibers, Bob Doyle and Jack Jones, who always remained committed to political and labour activism, including the campaigns against the Francoist dictatorship. We will never forget their constant, unswerving support for the Spanish people in their struggle for freedom.

In 2011 we will also be commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the formation of those International Brigades. A series of events will be held in late October in Madrid, Albacete and Barcelona. Like the 2011 Jarama Memorial Walk, these events will pay tribute to the Volunteers for Freedom, the men and women behind one of, if not the greatest examples of international solidarity in history.


After the rebel army’s failure to take Madrid in November 1936, Franco decided to encircle the capital through a series of operations intended to cut the main roads into the capital from the west (Battle of the La Coruña highway) and the east (Battle of Jarama). The Battle of Jarama began on February 6 1937, when five Francoist brigades, reinforced for the occasion, launched a major offensive that managed to drive the Republican forces across to the eastern bank of the Jarama River (on the map: line reached on Day 8).
The second stage of the rebel offensive was launched on February 11. Three Francoist brigades, commanded by Barron, Sáenz de Buruaga and Asensio, crossed the Jarama River, threatening the villages of Arganda and Morata. Barron’s forces were contained by the XII IB, while the advance of Sáenz de Buruaga’s column was resisted by the XI IB. The troops commanded by Asensio were stopped by the XV IB at Suicide Hill. For four days (from 12 to 15 February), the fascist forces unsuccessfully tried to break the Republican lines.
The Republican counterattack began on February 16. While the attacks of the Republican forces led by Lister and Modesto failed to push the fascists back across the Jarama River, they weakened them to such an extent that, two weeks later, these Francoist units were unable to help the Mussolini's troops in their offensive against Guadalajara.

February 27 saw the last Republican attempt to break the fascist lines in the Jarama Valley. Several Republican brigades attacked on either side of the Morata to San Martin de la Vega road. The Lincoln battalion, the last to arrive at Jarama, suffered many casualties. More than 100 volunteers, including Charlie Donnelly and Eamon McGrotty, fell and died in the offensive.

Despite the failure of the counterattack and the very high losses, the Battle of Jarama showed that the new Republican army was able to fight in the open and to hold the line in the face of a major fascist offensive. The Republican capacity for resistance was confirmed a few weeks later when they defeated the Italian-fascist offensive at Guadalajara. The Battle of Jarama saved Madrid, as Franco, frustrated by his inability to conquer the capital, decided to shift the focus of military operations to northern Spain.


The Fascist column commanded by Sáenz de Buruaga was supposed to cut the road from Madrid to Chinchón near the km 30 and advance as far as possible towards Alcalá de Henares (see map above). The Republican command placed the XI IB between the roads to Chinchón and San Martín de la Vega (M-311 and M-302) with orders to stop the Francoist advance. On February 12 the rebel troops clashed with XI IB battalions stationed on the highlands around Morata. The XI IB held the line and went on the counterattack in the days that followed. The fighting was fierce and heavy losses were suffered on both sides. The fascist offensive was halted. The final positions are reflected in the map: the red dots indicate the Republican line and the blue dotted line the Francoist line. The green line indicates the route of the walk, which is approximately 9 kilometers.

your walk will start near a Portland cement factory that did not exist in 1937. It stands close to the site of the command post or PC of the XI IB that has recently disappeared due to the construction of the "Ecological footpath of the Tajuña River".

Then we’ll head towards the Alto de la Radio and, walking through olive groves, we’ll reach the edge of the plateau where we will have a good view of the valley of Jarama. This was the point reached by the Republican forces in their February 14 counterattack, which was repelled, above all, by the Nazi artillery (88 mm Flak guns) positioned on La Marañosa, the high ground on the western side of the valley. From this spot, we will head southeast towards the rear positions of the XI and XV IBs. We will visit a reconstructed fort where the the Six Fevrier and the Lincoln battalions fought.

Finally, we will finish at the large monument to the IB, where we will honour all those who fought and died in defence of the Republic and for a more decent and fairer world.

Lundi 20 Décembre 2010

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