Greetings, readers. For a start, let me say that I do not normally like departing from the periodicity of my articles. So, given how out-of-order my November entries were, I have decided to start over with the month December and bring the year to a proper conclusion.
I spent some time mulling things over and in the end I made up my mind. A journey into the origins of the guerrilla war; don’t go thinking that I am going to dwell on the guerrilla attacks on Napoleon’s troops. What I mean by origins, if we must put a date on it, dates back to the early months of the civil war. So today and probably for a few more days after that we shall be following the earliest anarchist guerrilla groups that arose out of the paralysis of the various libertarian columns in the front lines or the urgent need to evacuate endangered comrades or their families from the territories overrun by the fascists. As can be seen, I am not about to focus on the bands of fugitives, runaways who had taken to the hills or however else we might want to describe them, but on the groups that started operating behind the enemy lines but which were part of the anarchist columns combatting the Francoist army throughout the length and breadth of the country. A lot of their members had backgrounds in the Defence Committees and action groups operating in the cities, so they were well used to working under the radar. Let us, then, look back to their origins, which leads us to a dynamic that was going to last for years.
Let it be stated at the outset that this is not going to be an exhaustive investigation as there are lots of columns about which I am short of data. No, it is just a first draft. I have spent a number of days grappling with how to get to grips with this little world which is essentially news to me and I have decided to start with what I find easiest and on which I am better informed. As more information comes to light I shall explore the issue further, but for today, I will be sticking to the essentials. Like I am going to gloss over the so-called XIV Army Corps or, and it is the same thing, the guerrilla units raised and commanded by the PCE, even though a goodly number of anarchists operated within their ranks. If everything goes according to plan, we can turn to all these things in what I hope will be the not-too-distant future.
Some of the earliest groups to emerge grew out of the Catalan columns that marched off intent on recapturing Zaragoza. When the front there stagnated, essentially due to shortage of weapons for those units and the impossibility of defending potential gains due to the dearth of munitions, a few groups were able to breach the enemy’s lines on a range of missions. These might range from re-arranging irrigation ditches so that river water might reach some collective, to cattle-rustling, intelligence-gathering, or the elimination of enemy personnel for the purposes of acquiring additional arms and munitions. As these groups built up their “professionalism” and carried on with the aforesaid missions, they added to their repertoire by blowing up railway tracks, bridges, dams, taking prisoners, carrying out the odd execution or mounting raids designed to demoralize the enemy and make them feel they had to be forever on the alert, even in the rearguard.
On the other hand, some groups were formed independently, made up of runaways, even though they subsequently joined the CNT columns. Such groups were dedicated to rescuing people from places overrun by the fascist army, helping militants out of tight spots or assisting left-wing families before they could be tracked down and subjected to reprisals. Among them we might single out Los niños de la noche (Children of the Night) or Los hijos de la noche (Sons of Night). We find a group of that name smuggling people out of Granada and we know that it was linked to the Maroto Column. Whilst we have yet to find confirmation of that, it has been said that the famous Quero brothers, urban guerrillas in Granada, served in this group. Whilst we have yet to discover many more, among the ones of which we can be sure were José Alba Rosales, Rogelio Almansa Martínez, Antonio Cañete Rodríguez, Antonio Fernández Labrot or Juan Palomino Sáez aka Hojarasquilla. Another group, also going by the name Hijos de la noche or quite simply La Noche was raised and led by the libertarian Martín Gallart Malián, under the aegis of the Durruti Column. Among its earliest actions was smuggling militants and their families out of Zaragoza as well as other locations near that city, back through the republican lines. If we must single out one of its members, Agustín Remiro belonged to this group up until he set up a group of his own.
Speaking of the Durruti Column, it had several guerrilla groups of its own. Antonio Arisó Llesta was to the fore in the formation of them. Usually confusion exists because there is a well-known photo in existence of the column’s dynamiters and these are usually identified as the dynamiters from Utrillas, but the Utrillas dynamiters served with the Ortiz Column; Durruti’s dynamiters came from the mines in Fígols and Sallent in the Berguedà and Bages districts respectively. In addition to the group headed by Gallart, there was also La Banda Negra, made up of members of the Metalworkers’ Union (when it comes to names, I know that Pedro Navarro Díaz was one of them) and the International Group in which lots of foreign volunteers who had signed up with the Column took part; be it said also that a lot of these had previous military experience. It is worth highlighting the female participation in the International Group; on the one hand there was Pepita Inglés and on the other the Frenchwoman Georgette Kokoczinski aka Mimosa who also took part in infiltration missions of the Gallart group. Mimosa was killed in the attack on Perdiguera along with several other internationals and her comrade Augusta Marx.
Talking of women who took part in he guerrilla groups, it heartens me to see that names are beginning to come to the surface. It is hard to say a lot about them, given that they were not too prominent nor acknowledged either by their co-workers of by those of us who search through the interstices of history. If more than one of two names were to crop up during the early days of my investigations “it filled me with pride and satisfaction”, as one hack and faker that I believe we all know might say.
Regarding the sisters Laguarta Ligorred (Marina aka Cora and Mercedes) it is worth pointing out that they served in the ‘Los Libertadores’ group led by Cayetano Continente aka el Abuelo, as part of the Ortiz Column. Within the same column and part of the ‘Petroleo’ group, Carmen Crespo aka Francesita also served. She had gone back to Barcelona meaning to take part in the People’s Olympics but instead marched off with the columns. She died in the Sierra de la Serna in the course of an action in December 1936. She was 20 years old.
Having moved on to the Ortiz Column, it should be said that it was another of the units about whose guerrilla groups we are best informed. On the one hand, as mentioned there was Cayetano Continente’s group, with which the Laguarta sisters served and we have some more names of those serving alongside them: people like Jesús Navarro Arnalda, Ramón Sánchez Pelopadre aka Dientes and Pascual Alda Cutanda. In late November 1936 Agustín Remiro, formerly of the Durruti Column, pops up to set up a guerrilla group of his own; he called it ‘Los Iguales’. Another infiltration group was headed by Manuel Sancho but at present I only know the names of a few of his comrades – Tomás Tolosana Félez or the best-known of “Batista’s dynamiters” or “the Utrillas dynamiters” who were led by Juan Bautista Albesa Segura aka Batista. Its membership included Vicente Fontanet Gombau, who would later turn up in the French Resistance, or Alejandro Latorre Pons. Finally, the ‘Petroleo’ group, in which Carmen Crespo served, also included Enrique Casañas Piera.
The fact of the matter is that all of the confederal columns had their infiltration and sabotage teams, albeit that we are at present in no position to name them all; for the time being, though, I can list the names of a few of the members by way of rescuing them from oblivion: Francisco Antolín San Nicolás, Zacarías Aranda Baños and Santiago Cor Rabuy served in the “Carod-Ferrer” column; Luis Lizán Pérez with the “Paso a la Idea” team; Francisco Prieto Morote and Antonio Zubiarrain Martínez with the “Roja y Negra” or “Ascaso” columns and Pablo Sanz Arnáez with the “Sacco y Vanzetti” unit on the northern front.
The Roja y Negra Column which after militarization became the 127th Mixed Brigade had under its aegis the “Libertador” group, the bulk of which was made up of libertarian militants, but with the odd socialist member too. When Francisco Ponzán, whom we have mentioned in a lot of previous entries, was forced to flee the communist onslaught on the Council of Aragon and its collectives, he sought refuge with that column. There he joined said guerrilla team as he was already acquainted with several of its personnel. I shall say no more about that group as it will sooner or later be given its own entry. Let me simply mention the members of whom I am aware: the brothers Faustino and Juan Manuel Barrabés Asún, Prudencio Iguacel Piedrafita, Benito Lasvacas Coronas, brothers Pascual and Eusebio López Laguarta, Eduardo Santaolaria Ferrer and Manuel Sus Dieste (all of them libertarians) plus the socialists Ángel Beltrán Calvo, Ángel Cabrero Callau and Lorenzo Otal Biela.
And to wind up this first approach to the guerrilla teams, just a couple of items regarding the terrain in which we are operating here. Largo Caballero had made an attempt to militarize the initial guerrilla groups back in September 1936. Major Manuel Estrada from the high command tried to boost these, essentially communist, groups up until in April 1937 the Republic set up a “Guerrilla Battalion”. Finally, on 15 December that year, the XIV Army Corps was formally launched; it was made up entirely of guerrilla groups, essentially under PCE command, with the majority of the columns’ groups not participating. Although it must be conceded that that Army Corps had a lot of anarchists in its ranks. But as the PCE refused to countenance any other form of policy other than its own, it managed to get the Republic to issue a proclamation in the autumn of 1938 disbanding the autonomous guerrilla units or incorporating them into the XIV Army Corps. Prior to that, and with the aid of Lieutenant-Colonel Juan Perea, the libertarian response had been to set up the ‘C’ Machine-gunner Battalion, better known as the “Remiro Battalion”; it not only marshalled its men under that guerrilla (Remiro) but successfully brought together most of the guerrillas attached to the X Army Corps.
And finally, a couple of questions for my readers, to ask for your assistance. Thus far I have not come across any reference to Iron Column guerrillas so I would ask anyone with such information and thank them for pointing me in its direction.
Furthermore, I have come across a stack of names of libertarian guerrillas attached to the XI Army Corps of which the 26th Division (formerly the Durruti Column) was attached. Does anyone know if there was some sort of ‘C’ Machine-gunner Battalion within that Army Corps?
I know that the Gallart group and ‘La Banda Negra’ continued to operate up until the autumn of 1938, but as to what occurred following the proclamation consolidating the guerrilla groups, I have no information. Any information there will be more than welcome. Anyone interested in helping or adducing any interesting detail that I have omitted, please write to email@example.com
Thanking you in advance, until next time!
El Salto , 9 December 2022 https://www.elsaltodiario.com/ni-cautivos-ni-desarmados/las-columnas-anarquistas-y-sus-grupos-guerrilleros-durante-la-guerra-civil [Image: One of the cars used by the guerrillas of the Sur-Ebro column. Source: Imanol]
Translated by: Paul Sharkey.