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PostInvasion of Val d'Aran, 1944: The "Reconquest of Spain" (Paul Preston, UK, 08/31/19 3:57 am)
Following on from Eugenio Battaglia's comment (August 29th) on the ill-fated invasion of the Val d'Aran, here are some details of what happened. They derive from my biography of Santiago Carrillo, The Last Stalinist (London: William Collins, 2014) in which I analyse his retrospective fabrication of an heroic role for himself. Here I confine myself to the actual invasion.
Thousands of Spanish maquisards who been prominent in the French resistance had responded to progressive German collapse by moving towards the Spanish frontier, hopeful that Franco might be next. The idea for an invasion was pushed by Jesús Monzón, the leader of the Spanish Communist contingents in the French resistance. Flushed with the success of Spanish guerrillas against German units and underestimating the considerable social support enjoyed by Franco, the Partido Comunista, Español both in France and in Moscow, received the idea enthusiastically as the way to spark an uprising in Spain. The venture was organised virtually as a conventional military operation with little by way of security. Its preparation was an open secret, with recruiting broadcasts by Radio Toulouse and Radio Pirenáica from Moscow. Before leaving for the south of France, some guerrillero units were the object of public tributes and large send-offs by the people of the French towns and cities where they had participated in the resistance. The PCE ordered its organisations in the interior of Spain to prepare for an immediate popular insurrection. The Franco regime was fully informed of what was imminent by its own agents as well as by the Communist press and broadcasts about "the reconquest of Spain."
Far from opposing Monzón's illusion that an incursion of guerrilleros would trigger a popular insurrection against Franco, Carrillo shared it. Indeed, he hoped to share in, if not take all, the credit. Monzón was far from alone in his readiness to risk the PCE's greatest asset, its thousands of battle-hardened maquisards, in a conventional military confrontation with Franco's forces. After all, with the Germans facing defeat, it was an attractive option.
The detailed military planning of the invasion was the work of two of the Spanish heroes of the French resistance, Luis Fernández and Vicente López Tovar. Beginning on 19 October 1944, approximately 5,000 men of the invading army began to enter Spanish territory through the Pyrenees with the principal attack focused on the Val d'Aran. Snow-covered for most of the year and sparsely populated, it was an area of shepherds and wood-cutters, a place barely appropriate as the base or foco of a popular uprising. Despite the ostentatious military structure set up by the Communist leaders of the maquis, the invasion was essentially improvised. It flouted the obvious fact that a conventional military incursion played into the hands of Franco's huge land forces. Nonetheless, over the next three weeks, the invaders chalked up a few successes, some units getting over one hundred kilometres into the interior. In several individual actions, they roundly defeated units of the Spanish Army and held large numbers of prisoners for short periods.
The enthusiastic cooperation of the French resistance had ensured that the invading forces were well equipped with supplies of food, fuel, light arms, ammunition and vehicles, most supplied by the Allies. However, they were massively outnumbered and outgunned especially once their ammunition began to run out. 40,000 Moroccan troops under the command of experienced Francoist generals, José Monasterio, Juan Yagüe, Rafael García Valiño and José Moscardó, were too much for the relatively small army of guerrilleros. Part of García Valiño's general staff fell into the hands of the guerrilleros and Monasterio himself came near to being captured. However, these were isolated incidents. The invaders' hopes of triggering an uprising were always remote. Deeply demoralised, the Spanish Left inside Spain had still not recovered from the trauma of defeat, was ground down by fear of the daily repression and, finally and most importantly, only distantly and vaguely aware of what was happening in France. The regime's iron control of the press ensured that the guerrillero invasion took place in a deafening silence.
The subsequent condemnation by Carrillo of Monzón, the only significant leader who had stayed behind, and the gradual elimination of the heroic militants who had kept the PCE alive in France, was supported by the exiled leadership. It helped mitigate their own discomfort about their own flight from Europe. In their eyes, those who had been in the German camps and in the guerrilla war were suspect.
JE comments: A splendid history lesson from the Master! Thank you, Sir Paul. It's reasonable to believe that a small, disciplined incursion will spark a popular uprising, but the theory rarely works in practice. It did succeed for Castro in Cuba. Che Guevara in Bolivia proved the opposite.
Very few Spaniards would have welcomed more war in 1944.