The Massana Gang

This was a group led by Marcelino Massana Vancell aka Panxo aka Gras (Catalan for Fatty), a native of the town of Berga in the foothills of the Pyrenees in the province of Barcelona; over the years during which it operated, roughly late 1944 to 1951, its membership included the following: Federico Arcos Martínez, aka Fede; Manuel Benítez Jiménez; Joan Busquets Vergés aka Senzill; Francesc Comardons Riera aka Panella; Francisco Martínez Marqués aka Paco; José Pérez Pedrero aka Tragapanes; “El Pernales”; Artur Perpiñá Sala; “El pometa”; Jordi Pons Argilés aka Tarantula; Jaume Puig Costa aka Tallaventres; “El Rana”; César Saborit Carrelero; Francisco Sánchez Berenguer; Saturnino Sanz Velilla aka El Tempranillo; Antonio Torres Molina aka Gachas; Josep Vancell aka Pepe Blanco; and Ramón Vila Capdevila aka Passos Llargs.

This was a group active primarily in the Bergueda comarca, where a number of its members had been born, and in adjacent comarcas. Like most of the Catalan groups operating in that area, they lived in France, crossing the border to mount raids and retreating to the relative safety of France. Marcelino Massana was the only significant leader of the action groups in Catalonia who made it through alive, thanks to the fact that his modus operandi was not to brief either his own men or the CNT leadership in exile on the timing and location of his border crossings as it was known, or at any rate suspected, that the police had men planted inside the Organization; not only that, but his was possibly the only group of any vintage that suffered no losses and that was a real rarity; his life was also spared because after he had disarmed some customs officers in France, he was charged and was then banished far from the French-Spanish border and was not deported.

Before joining the guerrilla campaign Panxo spent two years as a smuggler around El Borni de Peguera, as a result of which he knew the local trails like the back of his hand. In December 1944 he carried out his first raid, on a farmstead in Gasol, alongside Francesc Comardons and Artur Perpiñá, with whom he mounted another operation; in the summer of the following year, now using arms and explosives furnished by the CNT, they carried out a hold-up at the Espinalbet hermitage and, on the way back to France, blew up some electricity pylons at La Nou in the Berguedá. Among other operations, we might cite the hold-ups at the ‘Lignitos de Serchs’ company on 15 November 1946 and 17 March 1947, another hold-up in La Nou on 26 August that year and another the following month in Les Lloses. During 1948 he married such guerrilla operations with work as a guide; they carried out a hold-up in Guixers; that summer they blew up electricity pylons and mounted raids in Olván and Figols; On 15 September, in the course of a robbery at the Comellas café, the Falangist Rafael Corominas was killed and a civilian wounded; five days after that they blew up a 110-metre pipe-line belonging to ‘Carburos de Berga’. In January 1949, they carried out two armed robberies in Les Lloses and Aviá; that May they blew up the Barcelona-to-Sant Joan de las Abadesses railway line, planting five devices that brought down two pillars and a stretch of track. On 25 June they kidnapped Pedro Fontfreda in Pont de Vilomara and on 5 July, in the course of a Civil Guard dragnet operation, Guard Isidoro Pérez Herrera was killed when he tangled with Massana in the Rocafort district. The forces of repression also accused the gang of having killed the married couple, the Alpens, plus the priest Lorenzo Vilacis, although there is no firm proof of this. In November, an abortive raid on the wages van from the Cerchs mines resulted in the wounding of two people. On 23 August 1950, Panxo and César Saborit and Gachas abducted Josep Pey Santamaría from a boarding-house in Casrellar del Riu; he was exchanged for 100,000 pesetas and that was their last raid on Catalan soil. The group’s last operation was to serve as guides for two delegates from the CNT of the Interior; they picked them up in Esterri d’Àneu, but, once on French soil and foraging for food they were intercepted by four French customs officers in the town of Coflens; even though they came through this unscathed by announcing that they were from the Spanish resistance, the French courts were forced to act and Panxo was banished far from the border at that point. Some of the group’s members then went on to join the urban guerrilla campaign, but with little luck, as late 1949 proved to be a bloodbath as far as the libertarian resistance in the cities were concerned. Senzill joined the ‘Los Primos’ group and was arrested and went on to serve 20 years in Francoist prisons; Paco was to be murdered by the police on 24 October; Tragapanes joined José Sabaté’s group, only to be arrested on 5 November and would be shot in 1952 along with Tarantula who had joined the ‘Talión’ group. César Saborit perished in 1951 alongside Facerías. All of this occurred in Barcelona city. In 1947 Saturnino Sanz and Francisco Sánchez, who had set up a group of their own, were also captured following a hold-up and a sabotage attack and were tried and sentenced to 12-year prison terms.

Finally, apropos of this group some mention has to be made of the fact that the police circulated a book entitled Habla mi conciencia (Speak, Conscience Mine), allegedly written by a certain ‘Francisco’ in order to defame and criticize the libertarian resistance, but this was just another weapon in the armoury of the regime in discrediting and attempting to bring the guerrilla war into disrepute.

By Imanol. Article from
https://www.diagonalperiodico.net/blogs/imanol/partida-massana.html

The article reprints a facsimile of a letter sent from Paris by Josep Ester on 6 March 1950 to Massana at 15, Rue Stalingrad, Toulouse, part of which reads:

“(…) Above all, Marcelino, my friend, play it safe: yet again I urge you to take every precaution in preparing your excursion. Trust NO ONE, ABSOLUTELY NO ONE. See to it that even GOD does not know the date or the hour, let alone the itinerary of your outing. If you reckon that the objectives they indicate or may indicate to you are known to a few people, refuse to carry them out. I point the finger at no one, but the events in Barcelona counsel me to urge this advice upon you (…) Put your pride to one side, as none of those who might accuse you of lack of courage on this occasion, have accomplished one iota of your splendid efforts.

To conclude this matter, and without wishing to influence you in any way in what you decide, I shall limit myself to telling you or, rather, reiterating to you, what I have said and written to you before: CARRY ON WRITING YOUR DIARY OF STRUGGLE AGAINST THE FRANCO DICTATORSHIP, UNDER THE MOTTO YOU HAVE DISPLAYED THUS FAR: “That bandit Massana does not kill; he robs the rich in order to fed the poor.” JUSTICE at all times and NEVER TERRORISM.

Your handiwork is popular because it is humane, and everything humane prospers and bears fruit. Do you think that our ideas could have put down such deep roots into our people, had they been devoid of such humanistic principles and purposes?

(…) CAUTION!”

From: https://www.diagonalperiodico.net/blogs/imanol/partida-massana.html. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.