The Fall of Malaga and "The Caravan of the Dead"
The Spanish Civil War left its mark on all of Spain and Andalucia was no exception. At its outset General Franco was in Morocco, Andalucia played an early and pivotal role since it was originally to Andalucia that Franco transported his troops. Algeciras served as an important "beachhead" in his plans to wrest the country back from the duly elected government.
Franco, and his troops marched north. They quickly seized Seville Badajoz and then quickly established his headquarters in Seville. He left a batallion west of Estepona to guard the coast whilst the main column marched on Madrid. Nine months later in the spring of 1937 he returned his attention on Malaga. The forces, backed with the help of Italian and German warships and planes, moved along the Mediterranean, taking many of the small villages with little or no resistance. However, this was to change when they came to Malaga city.
Today Malaga stands as the capital of the Costa del Sol and things were no different during the 1930s. It stood as an urban enclave in what was then a highly rural area of Andalucia. Its residents had been strong supporters of the populist Republican government, and to the Nationalist forces it stood as a grand prize. They understood that the fall of Malaga would be a moral body-blow to the Republican side. It would be viewed as a major victory by all who observed the war.
The situation in Malaga epitomized the worst conditions that existed in the Republican zone of Andalucia. Perhaps 600 hostages were held on a prison ship in the harbour, and groups of them were shot in reprisal for the several air raids over the port. The sailors' committees in the fleet and the city administration were divided in mortal rivalry between the CNT and the Communist party.
Like all Republican cities, Malaga lacked any anti-aircraft defenses. Its militiamen, not reorganized yet in the new Popular Army and mostly anarchists, built no trenches or road blocks, because they consider this to be signs of cowardice. The government assigned Colonel Villalba, a professional officer, to organize the defence. However, without guns to place on the heights, without ammunition to give his soldiers, and without the slightest possibility of controlling the rivalries within the city, there was virtually nothing this doomed Colonel could do.
The Nationalist forces approached Malaga on the 5th of February, 1937. They were comprised of some 10,000 North Africans, 5,000 Requetes (right-winged Militias), 5,000 Italians and plentiful supplies of trucks and artillery. They had only a few tanks and planes, but they used them with maximum effectiveness in the virtual absence of organised opposition. The Republicans were out-manned, under-supplied, and overly-divided.
On February 6th over 100,000 people were forced to make a mass exodus along the coastal road to Almeria. The road was blocked by slow vehicles and wounded people. Fascist air attacks and navy bombardment took their toll on the civilians. Many dropped along the way. Terrified villagers along the way did their best to defend the little food and water that they had but the numbers of the refugees and their need were too great.
It took two long weeks for the "Caravan of the Dead" (as the event became known) to reach Almeria. Here they found temporary help but Almeria was doomed to fall as well. Thousands had died along the way. The fall of Malaga and the ensuing evacuation of Republican civilians marked one of the lowest marks of the Spanish Civil War in Andalucia. One source reports that truck drivers were still finding the bones of some of those who had fled Malaga well into the 1960s.
Republicans who remained in the provincial capital fared even a worse fate. Thousands of them were taken to areas like San Raphael Cemetery, shot, and left to rot in unmarked graves. Some 3600 people found their end in this manner and their families never heard from them again. The cemetery at San Raphael (now unused and close to the airport) was the site of an exhumation of these bodies in attempt to bring some type of closure to still grieving families under the Zapatero government's Law of Historical Memory. The wounds of the past still remain close to the surface.