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Battle of the Ebro River

July 24-November 16, 1938

Growing impatience with German and Italian violation of non-intervention agreements convinced France to reopen her border with Republican Spain for a brief time. Until forced by the British, who were afraid of starting a new European war in Spain, to reclose the border, masses of waiting arms shipped by the Soviet Union, France and other nations were allowed to pour across. This enabled the Republicans to resupply the army devestated by the failure at Teruel. Instead of adopting a defensive position, the Republic planned a new offensive designed at relinking the two sundered Republican areas and prolonging the war until a general European conflict should force France and England to come to the Republic's aid. Accordingly, Republican commandos swam across the Ebro river at midnight and secured bridgeheads across to which were built several pontoon bridges during the night. Other than a failed assault by French Internationals in the south, the maneuver was successful and Republican troops crossed to engage the surprised Moroccans of the 50th Division. The 50th disintegrated, 4000 of its men captured and the rest dead or reeling backwards in confusion. Nationalist General Yagüe, who had nearly been captured, ordered the 13th Division to make a desperate forced march to meet the Republican tide at the town of Gandesa. Concentrating most of their armour and artillery, the Republicans failed to shake the hold of the 13th. Rather, forced by the Nationalist reaction, the Republicans determined to hold on by sheer determination, more for propoganda than tactical reasons. Nationalists, having the advantage of air and artillery superiority hammered away at Republican positions, forcing their way back to the Ebro at an incredibly slow pace. The Republicans adopted a stand and die attitude, ordering sergeants to shoot any officers who ordered retreat. By such sacrifices, it took the Nationalists well over three months to reconquer what the Republicans had taken in two days. But the cost to the Republic had been devestating. The Republicans lost 70,000 men, 200 aircraft and most of their materiel. Nationalists casualties amounted to 23,000 men [Santa Cruz].