Part Four: Contents
- Remembrance of the Battle of Medoc
- Anarchist Losses
- Libertad Battalion Combatants – Spanish Anarchist Guerrillas in the Dordogne – A Short list of Libertad Battalion Combatants
- The Enigma of Capdevila (aka Caraquemada)
- The Traces of the Battle
15. THE BATTLE OF THE MEDOC MEMORIAL
The names of all the troops (French, colonial and foreign) who featured and perished in the Medoc offensive are engraved on the Memorial erected in the town of Soulac-sur-Mer. Beside the dunes of the Atlantic shore-line, a thick wall pays tribute to the lives cut short in the Battle for Pointe de Grave and the Liberation of the Medoc (1945).
It is managed by the Association du Memorial de la Forteresse du Nord Medoc, the purpose of which is to preserve the memory of the place lest the painful and tragic page in French and European history carved out there in war-time be forgotten.
Nearby is a small museum dedicated to the battle and close by also are the remnants of the impressive defensive fortifications of the Les Arros Battery, erected as protection for the German troops and to fend off would-be attackers.
Chiselled into this commemorative monument are the names of the anarchist and Basque volunteers who lost their lives in the final skirmishing with the Nazis on the Medoc peninsula. The Memorial – and the occasional tributes held annually beside it – is small tribute to the fallen fighters and their surviving comrades-in0arms, as the history written by the victors has tended to forget about their antifascist allies and failed to pay well-deserved tribute to the Spanish Libertarian Movement (MLE)’s contribution to victory over the Nazis troops occupying metropolitan France.
The polished slab that records the names is in stark contrast with the rough textures of the reinforced concrete of the nearby fortifications the libertarian and Basque infantrymen – and other foreign and French troops – were attacking. They faced upwards of 100 defensive installations across a 25 kilometre-wide and 20 kilometre-deep front protected, back in the day, by barbed wire, mine-fields and marshland.
- THE ANARCHIST LOSSES
Whilst anarchist or anarcho-syndicalist fighters made up most of Santos’s CNT battalion – so much so that they represented the main ideological affinity group – the position in the Gernika Battalion was very different; the anarchists were a lesser presence there. Even though they paid a high price for their service in the Basque unit, in that at least one of them – whose name is in second place in the photo below – died in action in the Medoc.
Besides, whilst it is self-evident that those on the books of Ordoki’s unit were drawn from the Spanish Basque Country, the same cannot be said of the guerrillas who made up the anarchist battalion. In the traditional written media and on the now indispensable web, when it comes to identifying the origins and clout of those fighters (most of them Catalans, Aragonese or from Levante …) opinions differ.
But the information offered in El Batallon Vasco Guernika, hosted by the Memoria Digital Vasca website comes as a surprise. It is stated there that “the Libertad, of which Santos was the comandante and which was made up of anarchists, many of them Basques, plus some volunteers drawn from the FFI”. In addition, the author cites the memorial published by the CNT as Un siglo de anarcosindicalismo en Euskadi, in which it is stated that “The exclusively anarcho-syndicalist Libertad Battalion which saw action in Pointe de Grave against the Germans, included Basque comrades, even among its officers.”
Just to make our investigation more complicated, we have discovered that at least one of Santos’s men was a Venezuelan and a veteran of the Spanish Civil War.
That being how things stand, using the information available, let is identify – within both units – some of the anarchist guerrillas who lost their lives in the April 1945 fighting, and then move on to writing of the Libertad members we have been able to trace. In some instances, when it comes to the latter all we can do is give their names and/nicknames; in others, however, we can offer a brief biography of each guerrilla.
The Libertad Battalion – GAILLART, Bernard
Of the four fighters from the Santos group who perished on the Médoc Front, one is named – surname plus forename – in the Boletín Interior de la CNT, No 11 (second phase – 6 June 1945) published in France.
Having overwhelmed the resistance from the “block-houses”, a section from NO 1 Company presses swiftly on along the left flank of the positions seized. CNT members to a man. The advance presses ahead until within a few metres of Pointe de Grave, held by the German command which digs in.
The fighting starts quickly. The German forces overlook the position held by our section and train intense machine-gun and anti-tank fire on our men.
The response is not long in coming and the skirmishing takes on the proportions of a bona fide battle.
A few minutes into the fighting, one of our men goes down, wounded in the arm by a dum-dum bullet. Another comrade, adjutant Bernardo Gallart, trying to retrieve the wounded man, takes a bullet to the chest and within seconds is dead.
Libertad Battalion – LAGUILLO DE LOS RIOS, Victor
There are quite a few mentions on the web of Victor Laguillo – an adjutant like Gaillart – mentions made by a family member looking for information about the unit in which his grand-father, Victor, who perished in the April 1945 attack, had served. On one of the forums he shared information about that guerrilla in hope of unearthing information from other sources to flesh out war-time incidents that had been recounted to the family by Victor’s brother, Rafael (himself a veteran of the Battalion).
Victor Laguillo de los Rios was born on 21 February 1905 in Santander and died on 15 April 1945 during the attack on the Nazi redoubt on the coast of the Gironde.
He was in occupied France in 1941 with his brother, in the Rivesaltes internment camp. They were later posted to work camps as shown in the background of the photo below, regarding which Victor’s grandson states on www.elgrancapitan.org that “… it was taken between Tonneins and Bordeaux showing several civilians and what I believe to be a German soldier; at the time they were working as mechanics and from what Pichi used to say, they were quietly sabotaging everything they could”. Note: Pichi (or Leon) was a Polish fighter who had become acquainted with the brothers while in France.
Victor and Rafael took part in the fighting to liberate Tonneins and in December 194 joined the Libertad Battalion, as noted in his FFI ID card (albeit that the date might also allude to when the battalion was incorporated into the Free French Forces). He held the rank of adjutant and was attached to No 2 Company (1st Battalion) to which men from the Libertad and the Gernika were assigned.
He was seriously wounded on 14 April 1945 in the fighting for Hill 40 in Montalivent, when they were ambushed by German troops. Whilst trying to go to the aid of a wounded comrade, he stepped on a mine and died the following day in Lugaignac (Gironde department).
Libertad Battalion – Unidentified Guerrillas
Of the two remaining guerrillas, we imagine that one of them perished during the fighting on 17 April 1945. Boletin Interior de la CNT, No. 11, from 1945 reports that on that date the Battalion sustained a casualty – possibly fatal rather than wounded – in the following circumstances:
At daybreak, after forming up, we set off in the direction of the sea. An operation to bypass Saulat. Our forces arrive at the trail bordering the sea after a long, arduous trek over sand, obliged to suffer the impertinence of a plague of mosquitoes, and done in with weariness.
This day we took two Nazi redoubts from the enemy, with just one loss on our side
The casualty must be one of the unidentified names included on the memorial: A. Lopez or F. Sarbaco.
Gernika Battalion – JAUROSO SAUSIA, Juan José
Although the bulk of the membership of the Gernika Battalion was Basque nationalist right from its origins as a brigade, other ideologies – republican, socialist … and anarcho-syndicalist – were represented within the unit.
In his article about the Basque guerrilla unit (in Historia y Vida, June 1997), the journalist and author Jose Miguel Rodriguez Alvarez mentions two of them by name: Jose Jaca, of whom the author notes curtly that , following his African campaign with General De Lattre’s First Army, he landed in the south of France (for ourselves, we place it on record that he survived the fighting in the Medoc, in that he is not listed on the Soulac-sur-Mer Memorial); and Sergeant Juan Jose Jausoro Sausia (it appears on the Memorial as Sasia), was a Bilbao-born CNT member remembered by his comrades – as we mentioned in Part Three: The Fighting in the Medoc – by this sad anecdote …
“… the bullet that killed him passed through a pack of cigarettes. He was a dyed-in-the-wool militant, eager to see the war over and get back to Spain and, if need be, take to the hills there. A pal of his salvaged his blood-soaked cigarettes and held on to them. They would be smoked in honour of his comrade.”
Some years later, Rodriguez Alvarez supplied further details in a contribution to the review SERGA (January-February 2005) in which he rehearsed the memories of one veteran of the Basque battalion, Jesus Blanco, an eye-witness:
“They claimed the lives of some of us there. The one that made the greatest impression on me was a CNT member, a lad older than us. Juan Jose Jausoro … He was an antifascist, through and through. He was at my side when they got him. We were wearing some gear, British windcheaters. And the bullet that killed him passed through the packet of tobacco he was carrying in his pocket. I lifted the packet, which was blood-stained, took out the cigarettes, sifted out the bloodied ones and smoked them.”
That incident, which happened in Montalivet in the attack on Hill 40, is part of the history of the Basque brigade, although the veteran combatant is mistaken about the origin of the windcheater because, as we have remarked throughout this report – they were issued with uniforms belonging to Vichy’s French Milice.
- THE FIGHTERS OF THE LIBERTAD BATTALION
Whilst mentions of the identity of the comandante are hard to come by on the web, a search for other members of the Santos Battalion is not much easier. We have seen this already in the case of the losses sustained by the unit, of which only two have been identified. And the name adopted by the unit – Libertad – was habitually used by militia groups and antifascist units (not just anarchist ones, either) during the Spanish Civl War and does nothing to assist our researches.
Another impediment to finding out their names is the lack of accounts by veterans. This is odd, as it is clear that the fatality rate was not that high in the final campaign in which they served, and one would have thought, given the high percentage of survivors, that one of them might have provided an eye-witness account of the anarchist unit’s history over the years. That vacuum is at odds with what ha happened with the Basque unit, the trajectory of which – and it is tied to that of the anarchist unit – has been the subject of research and studies, its surviving veterans having been interviewed and their experiences set out in press, radio and television. Proof of the level of interest in the Gernika Battalion is the fact that in recent years the current Lendakari has turned out for the tribute to fallen gudaris held each year in Montalivet (Gironde) and the screening by Basque TV in 2015 of a historical documentary recreating the Pointed e Grave events.
One pertinent factor in the dearth of information about the history of this guerrilla group – and other maquis groups in which Spanish libertarians enlisted (whether in an individual capacity or by forming ideological affinity groups) is raised in the book El exilio republicano espanol en Toulouse, 1939-1999, that, when it comes to the struggle against Nazism in France
“… it is not easy to gauge the libertarian contribution, since, come the end of the war, very few of the participants staked their claim to formal acknowledgment as resisters. In a political context where communist zones of influence were at loggerheads with those linked to London and De Gaulle, very rarely were maquis formed that were clearly identified as anarchist; with a few notable exceptions such as in the Ariège, in the Pointe de Grave area and the one in Royan (the Libertad Battalion), Depending on what sort a foothold in the area they had, they joined one or other faction.”
SPANISH ANARCHIST GUERRILLAS IN THE DORDOGNE
As in any investigation, as one chases up leads, fresh information surfaces that modifies earlier conclusions as interesting information is brought to light. This is the case with the quest for anarchist maquis in the French departments, as we looked at this in Part One of this study: Origins.
We stated at that point that in the Dordogne (which abuts Lot-et-Garonne), we had found only one fighter – José Cervera – who fought in a maquis in the Belves (Dordogne) area before joining the Libertad, according to information provided by Ferran Sanchez Agusti in El Maquis anarquista. De Toulouse a Barcxelona por los Pirineos. And our conclusion was that in that department there cannot have been many libertarians …
“who might have answered the call issued by the Libertad Battalion from Lot-et-Garonne (or, according to another theory) from Les Landes. Although the existence of one such instance – the guerrilla José Cervera – mentioned in the section dealing with Wilebaldo Solano’s version of the setting up of the Libertad leaves the door open to the possibility that his situation was not that exceptional.”
And it seems that it was not exceptional, as a reference in another book listing Spanish guerrilla groups that fought in the Second World War adds to the numbers of anarchists in the Belves maquis. In El ultimo frente. Resistencia armada antifranquista en Espana (1939-1952) by Julio Arosteguy and Jorge Marcos (editors), there is this brief note:
“Jose Cervera. Fought in the Belves maquis and later in the FFI’s Libertad Battalion alongside Fraile, Gargora, Jose A Llerda, Higinio Fernandez, Pedro Paniagua Crespo, Emilio Trave, Demetrio Sanchez from Dieste (Alicante) and Francisco Martinez Marquez from Barcelona who was killed in street-fighting in Barcelona in 1949.”
Meaning that we now have eight more combatants – included in the list in the pages that follow – that we initially assumed were in the guerrillas in the Dordogne and then went on to enlist in the libertarian battalion. It can be taken for granted that they survived the war in France, as their names also do not appear on the memorial to the dead in the coastal town of Soulac-sur-Mer (Gironde).
SHORT LIST OF LIBERTAD BATTALION FIGHTERS
French, American, British, Italian and German troops (among others) took part in the war and, to be sure, there is information in their records on the military units that fought in the Medoc. And somewhere, in military warehouses overflowing with paper (or digitalized and byte-heavy), there must be a list with the names and other data on the guerrillas from the libertarian unit posted to that front. But as long as we have no access to such information, which we need to complete the jigsaw we are working on in this present anthology, we shall have to make do with the few names of battalion members that we have been able to retrieve from published and website materials.
The upshot is a brief list of combatants, some of whom ended their days in the land of their birth after leaving France. Others, on the other hand, remained in exile in Europe and, in some instances, in America. Others were slain by forces of order in Franco’s Spain whilst carrying out insurgent operations in Francoist territory.
BORRAS, Andres Rubi (Barcelona) 1911 – Bordeaux (France) 1981
He joined the CNT at a very young age and his membership of it led to his being included on the employers’ black-list following a strike at the Rubi-Industrial plant (where he was working) in his home town. Like many of his ideological co-religionists, he was often arrested and beaten by the police.
Having served as a volunteer on the Aragon front in 1936, after militarization he was posted to a heavy artillery battery, serving as its commissar. Come the end of the war, he was interned in Alicante, from where he escaped, going into hiding in Rubi and Barcelona before heading off to Monistrol de Montserrat where he worked in the building industry until pressures from the Civil Guard prompted him to return to Barcelona.
He finally crossed the border in 1939 and was held in a French internment camp. He was to leave there after he was assigned to a labour company used on the fortification of the French-Belgian border (the Second World War had not yet erupted) and then finished up in Fumel. After France was invaded by Nazi troops he was arrested in Toulouse, tortured by the Gestapo and dispatched to the Bordeaux submarine base, from where he successfully escaped. On the run, he fled towards Les Landes and found work as a wood-cutter in the forests there and later enrolled in the Libertad Battalion. After the Allied victory, he was active in the Bordeaux CNT, holding positions of responsibility, right up until his death.
Although he is named in two books – El Maquis anarquista , de Toulouse a Barcelona por los Pirineos and El ultimo frente. Resistencia armada antifranquista en Espana (1939-1952) – We have not been able to assemble much information about this Spanish guerrilla who fought in the Belves ((Gironde) maquis before joining comandante’s Santos’s group. During his exile in France he took part in the resistance against the German occupiers and served in the Belves maquis (1943). He was later to enlist in the Libertad Battalion and take part in the fighting in April 1945. After the liberation, he reorganized the Brazo y Cerebro group affiliated to the FAI in exile.
Emigrated to France in the 1920s and married to a French woman, Higinio Fernandez was involved in libertarian-organized efforts to establish a republic in Spain, to which country he returned to fight when the Civil War broke out.
On returning to France, he fought the occupying forces and joined the Libertad Battalion. After the war, he worked on dam construction and was active in the CNT’s Local Federation in Auzat (Ariètge).
Wounded in the last day of fighting (20 April) in the same location where adjutant Gallart died. His name appears in the Boletin Interior de la CNT (No. 11) 1945:
“Within a few minutes’ fighting, one of our men drops, wounded in one arm by a dum-dum bullet. Another comrade, adjutant Bernardo Gallart takes a bullet in the chest while trying to reach the wounded man and is dead within moments. Ten minutes after that, comrade Fraga is shot in the leg.”
Guerrilla mentioned in El Ultimo frente. Resistencia armada antifranquista en Espana (1939-1952)
Also cited in El Ultimo frente. Resistencia armada antifranquista en Espana (1939-1952)
Named, like Fraga, in the Boletin Interior de la CNT, No. 11 (1945) in the account of the fighting on 20 April in which he is said to have been shot in the belly whilst trying to retrieve a sub-machine gun.
“Captain Gómiz in turn was hit in the belly whilst trying to recover the sub-machinegun being used by a wounded man”
GONZÁLEZ , Mariano (or Mario)
We know of the existence of this Bilbao CNT member from the report commemorating the Gernika Battalion published by Rodriguez Alvarez in the review Historia y Vida, in which he alludes to the role he played in the fire-fight for Hill 40 (Montalivent). He was one of the Libertad Battalion’s machine-gunners who were covering the withdrawal of the Basque fighters trapped in the mined firewall in the crossfire from the Whrmacht’s automatic weapons. The action proved very costly. Citing the gudari wounded in the fire-fight, Jokin Atorrsagasti,. The author tells us:
“The evacuation carried out under enemy fire was a bit chaotic. He was being transported by two German prisoners who set him on an ox-cart beside Marianbo Gonzalez, the anarchist machine-gunner who had been covering the retreat. Jokin’s arm was saved; Mariano was not.”
One veteran from the Gernika, Pazo Eizaguirre recalls an incident – albeit that he mentions the name of a different anarchist – in statements published in the book Memoria de los vascos en la II Guerra Mundial by Mikel Alvarez, as picked up by the review SERGA:
“We had to withdraw and two machine-gunners from the Libertad supported us. I remember that one of them, Mario was wounded during the withdrawal and left with his arm hanging limp. I believe it was I that applied his tourniquet, although the Red Cross had set up shop nearby in anticipation of the fighting.”
He survived the war and, having recovered from his injuries, built himself a future in France, from what Eizaguirre remembers: “ … the French government granted him a lottery booth in Bayonne and veterans used to hail him by saying ‘Wow, Mario, you’re the lucky one!’”
Sources: Historia y Vida, June 1997. SERGA , January -February 2005.
HERNANDEZ RODRIGUEZ, Luis
Not all of the guerrillas who served in the Libertad Battalion had their roots in the Iberian peninsula. Take the case of Luis Hernandez Rodriguez, a Venezuelan national.
This fighter fought alongside the republican forces during the Spanish Civil War. When that ended, he fled to France where he joined the French resistance, signing up for the Libertad Battalion.
For heroic action in the liberation of France, he was chosen by the president of the French Republic to receive a decoration. In 2008 France’s ambassador in Caracas awarded him the insignia of Chevalier of the Legion of Honour.
“More than 65 years later, France has caught up with him and pays him homage”, the ambassador declared in his conferral speech.
HIGUERAS PEREZ, Francisco, aka el Siete
Cuevas de Vera (Almeria) 1905 – Barcelona 1989
After moving to Barcelona he was active in the CNT Construction Union. On 10 August 1932 he was arrested on charges of having assaulted a foreman during a labour dispute. During the Civil War, he was active as a member of the Prat Vermell district commission of the Construction Union and served in the Control Patrols.
With the end of the civil war, he passed through the French concentration camps in Argelès-sur-Mer and Le Vernet. He was released from internment to work as part of a Foreign Labour Cmp0any (CTE) in Montoulieu (Ariège department), but was picked up by French gendarmes and handed over to the Nazis who dispatched him to Germany. While he was en route to the death camps, the Todt Organisation (a civil and military engineering agency under the wing of Nazi Germany’s Armaments Ministry) in Bordeaux held up the train in which he was being transported and he was one of the men recruited to work as a prisoner at the submatine base under construction there.
He served in the Libertad Battalion and after the fighting was over he got involved with the CNT’s Local Federation in Florac (Lozère department) and with the one in Bordeaux (Gironde).
Sources: Dictionnaire international des militants anarchistes
Member of the Libertarian Youth and CNT in Azuara (Zaragoza) who was in charge of the local commune during the civil war. Exiled in France, he took part in the resistance as a fighter with the Libertad Battalion (1944-1945).
Following the liberation, he was a member of the Auch Local CNT Federation (Gers department) and he did there in December 1948 or early 1949. He declined the services of a priest who showed up when he was on his death bed. The latter retaliated by sendingfor Luis’s father to attend his son’s death bed, whilst he administered the sacraments to Luis after Luis had slipped into a coma.
Source: Dictionnaire international des militants anarchistes
This name of this anarchist guerrilla appears in the (CNT-published) memoir Un siglo de anarcosindicalismo en Euskadi, where it states that “The exclusively anarcho-syndicalist Libertad Battalion which saw action in Pointe de Grave against the Germans, included Basque comrades, even among its officers. Among these was the one-time commander of the Sacco and Vanzetti Battalion, Lago.”
Despite this information, however, we have not been able to find the name among the officers of that CNT unit which saw service during the Spanish Civil War.
LAGUILLO DE LOS RIOS, RAFAEL
Brother of the Laguillo who perished in the attack on Hill 40. All we know of him is that – like Victor – he sent to labour camps to work as a mechanic. And that he was involved in the Tonneins (Lot-et-Garonne), as well as serving with the anarchist battalion.
LLERDA, Juan Antonio
(Cretes (Matarranya, Franja de Ponent) 1908 – Bordeaux (Aquitaine) 1968
In July 1936 he signed up with a column of militians that set off from Tarragona, heading for Horta and Gandesa and took part in a number of military operations on the Aragon front. He was seriously wounded in the arm by a dum-dum bullet in the course of the Battle of the Ebro (1938).
While in exile in France he belonged to the Libertad Battalion, taking part in the offensive to rive the Germans out of Pointe de Grave. In the course of the fighting, he attacked a bunker, capturing its defenders and capturing weaponry that was later to be used by the anti-Francoist libertarian guerrillas fighting inside Spain.
After the war he was in the Valderrobres Comarcal Federation in exile and active in the Bordeaux Local NT Federation up until his death in that city.
MARTÍNEZ MÁRQUEZ, Francisco aka Paco or Porthos
Barcelona 1922-Barcelona 1949
This anarcho-syndicalist activist and anti-Francoist guerrilla was born o 27 January 1922 in the El Clot district of Barcelona, He attended the ‘Natura’ rationalist school – run by the libertarian educationist Juan Puig Elías, who also served in the Libertad Battalion – and the barrio’s ateneo libertario. Having joined the Libertarian Youth, he took part at a very young age in the fighting against the army rebels in July 1936 and in clashes with the Stalinists on the streets of Barcelona in May 1937. In March the following year, he went off to the front, serving in the Youth Battalions. After being wounded in the leg, he was sent back into the rear-guard until the war ended.
Come Franco’s victory, he and his parents left for exile in France where he joined the resistance against the Germans. From 1944 to 1945 he served with the Libertad Battalion, taking part in the capture of the last remaining German positions on the Atlantic front (Pointe de Grave).
Following the Liberation, he was active in the CNT’s Toulouse Local Federation and in May 1945 was sent as a delegate to the First Congress of the Spanish Libertarian Movement (MLE) in exile, held in Paris. In March 1946, at the II Congress held in Toulouse, he was appointed co-ordinating secretary on the National Committee of the Iberian Federation of Libertarian Youth (FIJL). As the delegate of the FIJL and FAI, he returned to the peninsula in 1947 to take part in the underground struggle against Franco. In July that year he represented the CNT in exile at the national plenums of the FIJL and FAI held in Madrid and that October he attended the Toulouse Libertarian Youth Plenary as the representative of his National Committee.
A man of action, between 1948 and 1949 (the year he died) he was a participant in guerrilla operations in the Segre valley, in a number of expropriations and in the activities of Francisco Llopart Sabaté (El Quico)’s group. He was gunned down on 21 October 1949 in Barcelona in a clash with the Francoist police and he was buried five days later in a mass grave in Barcelona’s Montjuich cemetery.
MATEO HERNÁNDEZ, Antonio
Santa Maria de Huerta (Soria) 1916 – ?
This socialist is a plain proof that fighters of other ideological outlooks were involved in the Libertad Battalion. The Trotskyist leader Wilebaldo Solano, quoted throughout this study, would be another instance.
Mateo Hernandez was a potter by trade, a member of the UGT and of the PSOE. When the civil war ended, he went into exile in France where he was part of the resistance during the German occupation. He was seriously wounded during the Pointe-de-Grave (Gironde) operations as part of the Libertad Battalion.
After the liberation, he settled in Biarritz (Basses-Pyrenees department), becoming a member of the local UGT and PSOE branches.
Source: Fundación Pablo Iglesias Archivo SDE(FFLC)
PANIAGUA CRESPO, Pedro
Another guerrilla – cited in El último frente. Resistencia armada antifranquista en Espana (1939-1952) – but regarding whom we have no further information.
PICHI, or LEÓN (nicknames)
This was a young Pole who had been trying to enter Spain and whose papers were counterfeited by Victor Laguillo and his brother Rafael; they passed him off as their younger brother, name of Leon. It appears that they had run into one another in some labour cam to which they had been assigned.
PUIG ELÍAS, Juan
Sallent (Barcelona) 1898 – Porto Alegre (Brazil) 1972
Libertarian educator and, from 19016 onwards, anarcho-syndicalist activist. Coming from a republican peasant family, he was educated at the secular school in his home town and qualified as a teacher at the Teacher Training School in Barcelona. He was a member of the ‘Farigola’ Rationalist School (1918) which was influenced by the Modern School and the rationalist education of Francisco Ferrer I Guardia. In Barcelona’s El Clot barrio, he set up the ‘Natura’ School, where he taught along with his partner, a rationalist school-mistress, Emilia Roca Cufi. That libertarian student centre (with its school community and its own youth newspaper, the review Floreal) outlived the Primo de Rivera dictatorship and it continued over the ensuing years.
As a CNT member, he took part in trade union struggles and from 1932 presided over the teachers’ section of the Barcelona Union of Intellectuals and Liberal Professions. He played an active part in the Zaragoza Congress (1936) and other, earlier gatherings, championing the “Libertarian Communist” outlook that provided the basis for the socialized collectivists during the Libertarian Revolution at the height of the civil war.
After the civil war broke out, he served in October 1936 on Barcelona city council and eventually handled its cultural affairs section. In Barcelona, in 1937 he attended the National Education Plenum which launched the educational sector’s National Federation of Industry (FNI), serving on the working party drafting its statues and being appointed its Organizational and Propaganda secretary. The same year, he was the Barcelona Intellectuals and Liberal Professions Union delegate to the CNT Regional Plenum of Unions. In April 1938, he was made under-secretary at the Ministry of Public Education headed y Segundo Blanco Gonzalez, a leading Asturian anarchist who served as minister of Public Health and Education during the Second Republic.
After Franco’s victory, he was forced into exile in France where – after passing through the internment camps – he was assigned to agricultural labouring. It was at this point – according to the biographies of him circulating on the web – that he joined the resistance against the Nazis, but the dates provided for his service in the Libertad Battalion (1942-1944) do not fit the facts, as that guerrilla group was only formed in the summer of 1944, and not before that. There is still a chance, however, that he joined some maquis group , French or mixed, which he then quit when the libertarian battalion was raised.
He was a member of the SIA (International Antifascist Solidarity) and organizing secretary of the National Committee pf the Libertarian Movement in exile (1945). In 1947 he was to take over as Culture and Propaganda secretary of the MLE National Committee, in which position he did great work. Later, he left for the Americas and, after some time in Venezuela, he settled in Porto Alegre (Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil) where he ran a bookshop and chaired the Spanish Society for Mutual Aid against Francoist Repession. After an illness, he died there on 5 September 1972 and was buried in the Spanish Cemetery there.
Puig Elias was a charismatic person who married organizational matters with intellectual ones. He was an advocate for the Unified School – the same system for all social classes – as the building block of a fairer society. Among his literary works, his contributions to the review Horizontes (1937) stand out, as do his books Discursos y conferencias (1936), Origen de la fiesta de Navidad (1938), El hombre, el medio, la Sociedad o Los factores determinates de la conducta del individuo (1970).
RICO ACEBES, Antonio
A member of the CNT Metalworkers’ Union in Santander. Antonio Rico crossed the border into France at the end of the Civil War. During the Nazi occupation, he was involved in resistance activities. As a member of the Libertad Battalion he was involved in the 1945 attack on the German redoubt in Pointe-de-Grave.
Madrid 1916 (?) – Gerona 1997
Though born in Madrid, his activism began in Las Palmas at the age of 17; at the age of 20, he took part in the storming of the Montana Barracks in Madrid before signing up with Mera’s CNT militias. He took part in the capture of Toledo (in which one of his brothers perished) and in the defence of Madrid (in which his parents and remaining two brothers were killed in an air raid). He also served on the Teruel front and in the Ebro campaign. After he was wounded he was evacuated to Catalonia from where he went into exile in France.
Interned in concentration camps there (and escaping on several occasions) he was active in the Bordeaux-Angouleme-Agen maquis and in the Libertad Battalion. He was arrested and marked down for the Nazi camps but managed to escape in Germany and spent a few months in hiding in the Hamburg area. On his return to France he linked up with CNT groups and took part in expropriations, for which he was sentenced (Nimes, 1944) to life imprisonment after he accepted sole responsibility. He served 20 years in prison, with frequent visits to the punishment cells. In 1966 he settled in Belgium and in 1979 returned to Spain, living in Barcelona up until his death.
During the Second World War, Demetrio Sánchez took part in the French resistance to the German occupation. As a member of the Libertad Battalion, he fought in Pointe-de-Grave (Gironde). He was active in the Agen Local CNT Federation and died in that town in 1949.
SANTOS, Liberto (or Manuel)
We have touched upon the figure of the libertarian group’s comandante throughout this text, especially in Part 2: Bound for Oblivion where, in Chapter 10 – The Enigma of Santos, the LIBERTAD BATTALION’s comandante, we have reviewed what little information is available on this enigmatic anarchist, many question marks hovering still over his identity.
SOLANO ALONSO, Wilebaldo
Burgos 1916 – Barcelona 2010
Although a native of Burgos, it would be in Barcelona that Solano – the son of a serviceman victimized by the Primo de Rivera dictatorship – came to prominence ion political activity as a leader of the student movement. That struggle would in 1932 to his joining the Bloc Obrer i Camperol (Worker-Peasant Bloc) and his being elected as general secretary of the Iberian Communist Youth (JCI), three years later. In November 1936, he was general secretary of the International Bureau of Revolutionary Youth Organizations.
In the aftermath of the May Events 1937, he managed to escape the PCE-orchestrated (acting on instructions from the Soviet Union) crackdown on the POUM. In fiercely repressive conditions he set up a second (clandestine) Executive Committee with other leaders on the run and organized an international campaign in support of the POUM leader Andreu Nin and other imprisoned militants.
In April 1938 he was arrested with other POUM leaders and removed to the Modelo prison in Barcelona by the Negrin government authorities. He was slated to be tried in the second trial mounted against the POUM, but that never happened due to Barcelona’s falling into Francoist hands. Solano escaped from the city and in February 1939 managed to slip out to France.
There has been much mention throughout this study of the first two years he spent in exile: he was arrested with other poumistas, sentenced to 20 years in jail, liberated from Eysses prison by a French maquis group, organized medical arrangements for the maquisards … and joined the LIBERTAD BATTALION. Of his life in the run-up to the April 1945 offensive, he has this to say:
“… we made contact with comandante Ordoki’s Basque Brigade (which had a history of struggle under its belt) and with the Lucien, Leduc and Thuret groups. The relations established were excellent.
I set up the Military Health Service in several chateaux like the one in Bessan and the Duc de l’Enfant, which was a great boon to the Battalion’s Spaniards and the Basque Brigade. To tell the truth, the owners of those chateaux made us very welcome and regaled us with the excellent wine they had hidden from the Germans throughout the lengthy occupation.
It was not all fighting in the Medoc. Help was also rendered to the peasants during the grape harvest, which was one big, unforgettable party in hour of the troops who were mustering and readying themselves for the attack of Hitler’s forces last remaining positions.
As for me, I decided to apply to be demobbed and to settle in Bordeaux. I received my demob papers without any difficulty at the end of April 1945.”
As a newspaper contributor and director (papers like Adelante, El Comunista, Juventud Obrera) prior to the defeat of the Spanish Republic and a journalist for the Agence France-Presse (1953-1981) his journalistic calling – together with his political activism – prompted him during the early phase of his days in exile to take charge of the publication of La Batalla which was regarded as one of the finest publications produced by the Spanish exiles. And in the 1960s he launched Tribuna Socialista, a review with a considerable following in Spain at a time when resistance to the Francoist dictatorship had dropped away.
In 1975-1976, when the POUM was going through a crisis regarding its approach during the incipient Spanish Transition, he was against the party’s being disbanded and its entering the social democratic camp as the PSOE (Socialist Party) and the PSC (Party of the Socialists of Catalonia) did. He campaigned for Tribuna Socialista to become the POUM’s review and he expressed his backing for a regrouping of revolutionary Marxist organizations, which would be attempted in the form of the FUT (Front for Workers’ Unity), which fared very poorly in the 1977 general elections.
In the 1980s he was one of the founders of the Fundacion Andreu Nin which specialized in resurrecting the political trajectory of that Catalan revolutionary (Nin) of whom Solano wrote a biography. Among his other works are a history of the JCI (Iberian Communist Youth) and lots of essays on the POUM, the Spanish revolutionaries in exile in France and matters relating to the downfall of the USSUR and the collapse of communism. In 1999 he published a wide-ranging study of the POUM and Nin’s role in the Spanish Revolution, as El POUM en la historia, Andreu Nin y la revolucion espanola.
He was one of the chief advisors and collaborators on Ken Loach’s movie Land and Liberty and on the TV3 documentary on the murder of Andreu Nin, Operacion Nikolai.
An activist tireless in the dissemination of the POUM’[s history and thinking, he was also faithful to its memoiry in struggling for a socialism that broke radically with capitalism and Stalinist experiences.
Sources: Wilebaldo Solano – Wikipedia, la enciclopedia libre
TORRONTEGUI MENCHACA, Luciano
aka Luis Torres
Meñaka (Vizcaya) 1916 – Bermeo ( Vizcaya) 2010
The aptitude that Luciano displayed for labour struggles from a very young age led in 1934 to his joining the CNT’s Marine Transport Union, a sector he had come to know to perfection since going to sea at the age of 14. Luciano and another seven CNT members serving on the Sota y Aznar shipping line mounted a strike on the ship in 1935, winning it after a three-month battle. That strike would be followed by others, called in a variety of ports (Gijon, Barcelona, etc.) around the peninsula.
When the army revolt came in July 1936, the republican authorities decided to conscript the ship and its occupants. In keeping with his anti-authoritarian beliefs, he decided to stand up to this and, together with his comrades, hijacked the ship. Pursued and shelled, they were to stop over in the Cuba of the dictator Batista who – und pressure from Franco – placed them under arrest and jailed them for three months. Once they were freed, Luciano headed for France in a ship that was returning from delivering republican youngsters to Mexico.
After landing in Saint Nazaire, he made his way through France and entered Spain, enlisting in the republican military forces as a naval infantryman and was posted to Cartagena for training.
He saw action in the battle for Teruel (winter 1937-1938), serving in the division commanded by Enrique Lister in the Segre sector. He did his best to hide his CNT membership lest it invite reprisals, but his libertarian spirit eventually bridled at the injustices rampant in that military unit. A council of war was set in motion and a political commissar made veiled threats to him and this spurred him to quit that division, transferring out to a unit of dynamiters based in La Seo de Urgel (Lerida).
In the run-up to the defeat of the Republic he made his way across the French border via Puigcerda. Ahead of him lay internment in French concentration camps (Septfonds and Gurs) where he remained until the autumn of 1939, at which point he was drafted into a foreign labour company, working on the building of a naval base in Saint Nazaire for the British Army.
After the British pulled out in face of the German invasion of French soil, he headed for southwest France, making it as far as Bordeaux where he stayed until the spring of 1944, at which point he enrolled in the Libertad Battalion and held officer status.
After the liberation of France, he settled in Urepel (Pyrenees Atlantiques), serving in defence groups and taking part in the anti-Francoist resistance as a border guide and courier for he CNT, liaising between militants inside and outside of Spain. In one dangerous mission in 1946 Luciano Torrontegui was arrested by the Civil Guard, and was continually beaten over the fortnight that spent at the DGS (General Security Directorate). He was sentenced to six years and a day in prison.
On 8 May 1948 he was involved with another eleven CNT members in the famous break-out from Ocana prison. Rearrestred within days, he was returned to the prison and also passed through the prisons in Guadalajara, Yeserias and Larrinaga, in the latter of which he fell ill during to the harsh isolation regimen. Not until May 1951 did he finally regain his freedom thanks to the counterfeit documents with which he was provided.
After he died in 2010, he was buried in Bermeo cemetery (Vizcaya).
Rubi (Barcelona) 1916 – ? ? 2010
Orphaned at the age of 14, he started work in the textile industry where he joined the CNT and later (in 1932) the Libertarian Youth in his home town, Rubi (Barcelona). During the Spanish Civil War, he took a transmission course in Sarria and was awarded the rank of lieutenant.
In February 1939 he crossed over into France via Puigcerda and was interned in a number of camps until he was assigned to work on the Bacalan submarine base in a working-class district north of Bordeaux. He managed to run away and contacted the Resistance, signing on with the Libertad Battalion and taking part in the fighting to capture the last remaining German redoubts along the Atlantic. After the war, he was demobbed with the rank of lieutenant.
Although he stayed with the Spanish CNT in exile – acting as propaganda secretary for the Bordeaux Local Federation – and was active in International Antifascist Solidarity (SIA) – he was its local secretary – and in 1946 he joined the French CNTF.
He had this to say of himself in the “postbag” section of the newspaper CNT of December 2009:
“Notes from an older comrade
Emilio Travé (France)
I, Emilio Travé, aged 93, have been a member of the CNT-AIT ever since I was first exploited by the bourgeoisie. When the CNTF was established in France in 1960, I joined it and, being a naturalized Frenchman, I set up an amalgamated trades union. I was sure that the comrades living in the Bordeaux region and thereabouts would join it, of course, but tis did not prove the case. Only a few did. In 1968 several young French people joined it and, with them, we won a strike in two disputes, one in the entertainments (cinema) sector and one in a leading Clinic.
The CNTF was organized into 5 regions, but everything went belly-up and there was a split. For several years I was managing editor of Le Combat Syndicaliste and by the end, in 2002, I dropped out of the CNT-AIT.
In spite of everything I carried on and still carry on championing the anarchist ideal.
Philosophically, my memory, my conscience and my heart will always belong to A.
CNT, No 362, December 2009
- THE CAPDEVILA (aka CARAQUEMADA) ENIGMA
Ex-miner, textile worker, wood-cutter … and idealistic guerrilla, Ramon Vila Capdevila (1908-1963) was known by many aliases – Maroto, El Jabali, Pasos Largos, Ramon Laugi Pons or Capitan Raymonde – he has gone down in history under his nick-name Caraquemada (or, in Catalan, Caracremada).
The facial burns caused when he was struck by lightning at a very young age – the lightning bolt killed his mother who was hiding with him from the storm – account for the nick-name. But the mystery shrouding this death-defying fighter, the author of real feats and some imaginary ones, also opened on a dramatic note, as there is an alternative story that the nick-name derived from burns he sustained when his family home caught fire, in which fire his little sister had allegedly perished.
The figure of this legendary individual intersects with the history of the Libertad Battalion in the land of mystery, as a lot of writers take it for granted that, having signed on with that libertarian unit, he took part in mopping-up operations against the Nazi garrisons stranded in the Gironde estuary. The original source from which this is derived is the libertarian writer Eduardo Pons Prades’s (1920-2007) memorable book Españoles en la II Guerra Mundial (1975); Pons Prades places him in that unit as a guerrilla serving in a number of French departments. But on the web there are also doubts expressed about the accuracy of this claim, as the anti-Francoist campaign of that indefatigable fighter does not seem to coincide with the claim.
Vila was born into a very humble family in the little village (deserted these days) of Peguera in Catalonia’s Bergueda comarca (in the province of Barcelona). In 1922 he joined the CNT and he lived through turbulent times with social and trade union disputes interrupted by a flurry of jail terms. In the wake of the 1936 army revolt he joined the fight, serving on the Madrid, Aragon and Segre fronts as part of the Tierra y Libertad column and was later awarded the rank of comandante with the Corps of Carabineers.
After Franco’s victory (1939) he crossed the French border and was interned in the Argeles-sur-Mer concentration camp, from where he escaped the following year to return to Spain. It was at that point that he set up an anti-Francoist resistance group, but in 1943 – on one of the troops he made into France in search of provisions – he was arrested by the Wehrmacht. Jailed for some weeks in the citadel in Perpignan he was then sentenced to hard labour in a bauxite mine in Bedarieux (Herault department). He escaped again and in April 1944 joined the French Resistance. He served fist in the Menessier network (charged with retrieving weapons dropped by the Allies for resistance groups) and was then transferred to the FTP group in the Rochechouart (Haute Vienne) where he came to be known as Captaine Raymond. Finally, he joined the AS (Secret Army), using the alias Ramon Laugi Pons.
In the fight against the Nazi occupiers and Petain’s collaborationists, he is remembered as explosive and demolition expert. His daring actions in blowing up viaducts, bridges and railway lines liked the French government to award him the medal of the Legion of Honour, but Capdevila declined it.
When the world war ended, the guerrilla, under the name of Caraquemada, entered anew era and carried on fighting in the Catalan Pyrenees (on his own or in company with other maquisards). From 1946 onwards he began to cross the border regularly, carrying out sabotage attacks or operating as a guide. In May 1947, as part of his efforts, he led 50 libertarian guerrillas who were to have attempted Franco’s life during a visit to the mines in Sallent(Catalonia), but the plan was thwarted when the group was discovered.
Caraquemada specialized in sabotaging power lines, he being an expert in blowing up the high-tension pylons. In fact, five days after mounting just such a sabotage operation, one night in August 1966, he was gunned down by the Civil Guard whilst withdrawing towards France after his final sabotage attack against the high-tension power lines feeding Barcelona city. His death closed a chapter 0- the final hapter – in the history of the armed resistance to Francoism, so much so, that to this very day he is looked upon as the last maquis.
Paying attention to the geographic location in which this battling libertarian grew up, his focus lay within the Iberian peninsula and along the Pyreneean border which he criss-crossed at his whim, rather than north of there, where the fighting against the last remaining German redoubts in the Gironde estuary could only be considered as secondary targets by a man fixated on continuing the war inside Spain.
Besides, his time with the guerrilla groups that we know for sure he served in – the Menessier network, the Rochechouart forest FTP and the Secret Army – place him in geographical areas where his path did not overlap with that of the Libertad Battalion. So the information about this that Eduardo Pon Prades inserts into his book may not be correct, maybe on account of his lack of resources when it came to seeking out decades-old testimonies, because let us not forget, his book was published in 1975.
- THE VESTIGES OF BATTLE
The ruins of German fortifications can be found all along the coast of the Medoc, so a systematic listing of them would be outside of the scope of this study. For that reason we shall dwell upon the defensive constructions in the far north of the Medoc peninsula where the final fighting took place and on some of the enclaves where resistance from the Wehrmacht and Kriegsmarine troops was intense.
We find such defences in the vicinity of housing-clusters at the tip of the peninsula, Pointe de Grave in the far north, Verdon-sur-le-Mer on the banks of the estuary and Soulac-sur-Mer, lapped by the Atlantic.
On the side facing the ocean, things can get rough as the wind batters the defences erected on the shores. This is the casewith the German casemates in Soulac-sur-Mer. Close by, the sea waves batter other military buildings swamped by the water as the sandy ground on which they sit gives way.
If the scenery is spectacular, with bunkers sticking out of the dunes along the shore, the soil further inland has a eerie feel as defences loom in the woods situated behind the beach lines, as do the huge, overgrown casemates that pop up in Verdon-sur-le-Mer. These are the impressive remnants of the German naval Kriegsmarine railway battery, Gi-331.
Behind that, buried in overgrown clumps of trees and shrubbery, there are auxiliary buildings, decades old and impassive as time goes by.
Photo: Verdon-sur-Mer. Colonel Carnot (in cloth cap) during the war. The Gi-331 casemates are visible in the background.
Another surprise is the stony presence in Pointe de Grave of the average 506c model bunker – the other half of it was tumbled by pick and shovel in order to widen the seashore walk after the war; it lay at the foot of a dune crowned by a casemate designed to hold an artillery piece.
Close by, within the walled precincts of a French military zone, there are old German fortifications. The one shown in the picture below (left) is currently in use as a heliport, helicopters being able to land on its ample concrete roof.
The presence of war monuments along the fortified coast does nothing to assuage the feeling of malaise there. And it causes us to think that history is but the repetition of nonsenses that spark conflicts which in turn trigger a flurry of new wars. One instance we came across of this spiral of violence at that time came at the Lafayette Memorial in Pointe de Grave, erected after the First World War to commemorate French-American friendship; it had to be rebuilt after the war – and on a lesser scale – because it had been vindictively dynamited by the Nazis when the United States allied itself with the foes of the Axis in the Second World War.
There is a bitter-sweet aspect to the beauty of the Medoc countryside, blighted as it is these remains that speak to us of fighting and death. Meanwhile, life goes on in the little towns around the Medoc peninsula, tourist towns where summer holiday-makers enjoy their vacations, far removed from the story told by the fortifications scattered along the beaches.
Salud y LIBERTAD
Photo: Pointe de Grave. The outlet of a ventilation shaft. It protrudes from a sand dune covering up the underground fortification inside.
This work of COLLATION was completed in June 2016, after three long years of research – in a variety of newspapers – and following a visit to these battle scenes out of which have come a SERIES OF VIDEOS on the fortifications on the MEDOC PENINSULA and in POINTE DE GRAVE. Thes can be viewed on the Cazafortines YouTube channel.
THEMATIC LIST OF WORKS CONSULTED
SPANIARDS IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR
Association des retraités espagnols et européens de la Gironde: Des Espagnols dans la Résistance. Exhibition in 29 bi-lingual slides, 2010 at http://www.ajpn.org/areeg/
SANTOS, Felix Españoles en la liberación de Francia, 1939-1945 (Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes)
El Gran Capitán: Españoles en la II GUERRA MUNDIAL. Españoles en la II GUERRA MUNDIAL at
Foro de Historia Militar el Gran Capitán, Batallón Santos o Libertad at http://www.elgrancapitan.org/foro/viewtopic.php?f=52&t=18092
Foro de Historia Militar el Gran Capitán. Unidades españolas en el Ejército francés: Libertad-Gernika at http://www.elgrancapitan.org/foro/viewtopic.php?t=15476
ORTIZ, Jean Sobre la gesta de ls guerrilleros españoles en Francia, ISBN-978-2-7588-0366-9 (Publication du Laboratoire de l’Arc Atlantique de l’Université de Pau et des Pays de l’Adour (France)
L’Affranchi No 14 (Spring-Summer 1997) Les Anarchistes Espagnols e la résistance (CNT.AIT.info)
24 Août 1944: Les combattants espagnols dans la Résistance at http://24-aout-1944.org/Les-combattants-espagnols-dals-la
Les republicains espagnols en Lot et Garonne. See http://mer47.org/wp/abban-les-republicains-espagnols-en-lot-garonne/
BASQUES IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR
Memoria de los vascos en la II Guerra Mundial (Pamiela, Pamplona 2002)
La Bataillon Gernika: les combats de Pointe-de-Grave (Bidasoa, Bayona 1994)
Historia 16, No 291 (July 2000) pp. 74-87 “Los vascos en la II Guera Mundial”
JIMENEZ de Aberasturi Corta, “Juan Carlos La II Guerra Mundial en el golfo de Vizcaya” (Itsas Memorias, Revista de Estudios Maritimos del Pais Vasco)