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3 February 1937: The Battle of Malaga

Nationalist troops parade triumphantly through Malaga.
Nationalist troops parade triumphantly through Malaga. / Sur
  • The offensive was carried out by the Nationalist and Italian forces during the Spanish Civil War

The Battle of Malaga, which began in Ronda on 3 February 1937, was an offensive carried out by the Nationalist and Italian forces during the Spanish Civil War.

The assault was a combined effort to eradicate the Republicans' hold over the province of Malaga.

The force of 15,000 Nationalist troops was commanded by the notorious Queipo de Llano. They were backed by nine mechanised Italian battalions of around 10,000 soldiers.

On 3 February, the pro-Franco forces were met by heavy Republican resistance in Ronda, but the defensive efforts were quickly squashed.

Arms and ammunition were short in Malaga, moral was very low and panic developed because of the fear of being cut off.

The Nationalist campaign to conquer Malaga continued at great speed and they soon reached the heights around the city.

Nationalist troops infiltrated Malaga with artillery and tanks, while Italian and German aerial and marine forces bombed and devastated the city. Because the Republicans were unprepared for armoured warfare, the battle for Malaga was over in less than a week.

The city of Malaga was besieged and burning, forcing a general evacuation of civilians from the city.

The Republican high command, which feared the consequences of a nationalist occupation, had already left.

The fortunate fled in the few available cars, the rest on foot, and Republican sympathisers who were left behind were shot or imprisoned.

The Italian military authorities are said to have been horrified by the number of executions that took place.

Witness accounts claim that more than 4,000 Republicans were shot in the first week of the occupation.

A march to remember the deaths on the road to Almeria.

A march to remember the deaths on the road to Almeria. / Sur

Thousands of Republican refugees had attempted to flee Malaga along the coastal road, but Nationalist troops soon caught up with them.

The refugees faced a 200km journey along the N340 in search of a safe refuge, while being pursued by Italian tanks, bombed by German aircraft and shelled by rebel Nationalist ships.

The civilians were left defenceless and completely unprepared for the attacks.

It is believed that between 3,000 and 5,000 citizens, who were mostly mothers carrying children, the old and the sick, were killed.

In his book, 'The Spanish Holocaust', Paul Preston claimed that the "scale of the repression inside the fallen city explained why they were ready to run the gauntlet".

An eyewitness depiction of the Battle of Malaga is given by Arthur Koestler, the Hungarian-British writer who was in Malaga at the time.

Koestler had come to Malaga as a journalist and narrowly avoided being put to death.

Koestler recalls the attack in his book, Dialogue with Death, in which he describes the agonies he endured while incarcerated in a Nationalist jail in Malaga.

In 2005, a memorial was initiated in Torre del Mar (approximately halfway between Malaga and Almeria) to honor the victims of the massacre.