Military Wiki
War in the North
Part of the Spanish Civil War
Frente del Norte - Spanish Civil War (March-Sept 1937).svg
Map of the campaign
DateMarch 31 - October 21, 1937
LocationNorthern Spain
Result Decisive Nationalist victory
Spain Spanish Republic
Basque Country (autonomous community) Basque Army
Spain Nationalist Spain
 Kingdom of Italy (Italian CTV)
Nazi Germany Condor Legion
Commanders and leaders
Spain Francisco Llano de la Encomienda
Spain Adolfo Prada Vaquero
Spain Francisco Ciutat
Spain Francisco Galán
Spain Belarmino Tomás
Spain Emilio Mola
Spain José Solchaga
Spain Fidel Davila
Kingdom of Italy Ettore Bastico
120,000 soldiers
thousands of anarchists milicianos[1]
250 artillery pieces
40 tanks
70 aircraft
2 destroyers
7 armed trawlers
100,000 nationalist soldiers
60,000 italian soldiers[2]
400 artillery pieces
230 aircraft
1 battleship
2 cruisers
1 destroyer
Casualties and losses
33,000 dead
100,000 prisoners
one destroyer
10,000 dead
one battleship

The War in the North, in the Spanish Civil War was the campaign in which the Nationalist forces defeated and occupied the parts of northern Spain that remained loyal to the Republican government. The campaign included several separate battles. The Biscay Campaign resulted in the loss of the part of the Basque Country still held by the Republic and Bilbao, the greatest Spanish industrial center. This part of the campaign saw the Bombing of Guernica and Durango. The Battle of Santander caused the loss of the province of Santander in Cantabrian Castile for the Republic. The Battle of El Mazuco lead to the capture of the Republican-controlled part of Asturias and the fall of Gijón, the Republic's last stronghold in the North, to the Nationalists. The campaign ended on October 21, 1937 with a decisive and total Nationalist victory.


With the fall of Irun and then San Sebastián, in September 23, 1936, the Nationalists under Franco campaign in Gipuzkoa cut off the Republican controlled areas in northern Spain from the border with France. This area had been already isolated from the rest of Spain by Nationalist controls at the beginning of the war. This area was very attractive to the Nationalists because of the industrial production of Biscay and the mineral resources of Asturias. To conquer and control this area would be profitable through its valuable resources, would expel Republican forces and concentrate large numbers of Nationalist troops to dictate a two-front war. Franco realized that Madrid, the capital, was not going to be conquered quickly. Basque's resources of iron, coal, steel and chemicals were a tempting target. The Republican north was also politically divided and weakened by struggles between Basque nationalists and leftists. Furthermore its major supplies came by sea. Franco wisely ordered to his commanders in the Madrid front to go on the defensive and send all available resources to the north.[3]

Beginning of the campaign[]

Emilio Mola was in command of the start of this campaign, beginning on March 31, 1937; however, Mola, died in an airplane crash, June 3, 1937. The Nationalists began the attack with 50,000 men of the 61st Navarre Division under General José Solchaga.[4] The Republican Army of the North was commanded by General Francisco Llano de la Encomienda.[5] This was the beginning of the Biscay Campaign. The Nationalist offensive started on March 31, and the same day the Legion Condor bombed the town of Durango, there were 250 civilian deaths. The Navarrase troops attacked the town of Ochandiano and on April 4 occupied it, after heavy combats. Then Mola, decided to stop the advance due bad weather.

On April 6, the Nationalist government in Burgos announced the blockade of the Basque ports, but some British ships entered Bilbao. On April 20, the Nationalists continued their offensive and occupied Elgeta after a heavy artillery bombardment. The same day the Legion Condor bombed Guernica. The Basques retreated to the Iron Belt line and on April 30, the Italians occupied Bermeo, but the Nationalist battleship Jaime I, was sunk by a mine.

Then the Republican government decided to send 50 aircraft to Bilbao and launched two offensives against Huesca and Segovia in order to stop the Nationalist advance, but both failed. On June 3 Mola died and was replaced by Davila. On June 12 the Nationalist started the assault of the Iron Belt and after heavy aerial and artillery bombings entered in Bilbao in June 19.

Battle of Santander[]

After the fall of Bilbao, the Republican government decided to launch an offensive against Brunete in order to stop the Nationalist offensive in the north on July 6, but by July 25 the offensive had ended. The morale of the Republican troops in Cantabria was low and the Basque soldiers did not want to carry on the fight. On August 14, the Nationalists launched their offensive against Cantabria, with the 90,000 men (25,000 Italians) and 200 aircraft of the Army of the North. On August 17, the Italians occupied the El Escudo Pass and encircled 22 Republican battalions at Campoo (Cantabria). On August 24, the Basque troops surrendered to the Italians at Santoña and the Republican troops fled from Santander. On August 26, the Italians occupied Santander and by September 1, the Nationalist had occupied almost all Cantabria. The Nationalist captured 60,000 prisoners, the greatest victory of the war.

Asturias Campaign[]

After the failed republican offensive against Zaragoza, the Nationalist decided to continue their offensive against Asturias. The Nationalist had an overwhelming numerical (90,000 men against 45,000) and material (more than 200 aircraft against 35) superiority, but the Republican Army in Asturias was better organized than in Santander and the difficult terrain provided excellent defensive positions. The Navarrese troops (30,000), led by Solchaga, and supported by the Legion Condor, managed to occupy the El Mazuco Pass, held by 5,000 Republican soldiers, only after 33 day of bloody combats. On October 14 the Nationalists broke the Republican front, and on October 17 the Republican government ordered to start the evacuation of Asturias, but Nationalist ships were blockading the Asturian ports and only a few military commanders (Adolfo Prada, Galan, Belarmino Tomas) managed to escape. By October 21 the Nationalists occupied Gijón and completed the conquest of the northern zone.


With the conquest of the North, the Nationalist, controlled the 36 per cent of the Spanish industrial production, 60 per cent of the coal and all the steel production. Furthermore, more than 100,000 Republican prisoners were forced to join the Nationalist army or sent to labour battalions.[6] The Republic had lost the Army of the North (more than 200,000 soldiers) and by then a complete military victory of the Republic in the war became impossible. Then Franco, decided to start a new offensive against Madrid, but Vicente Rojo, the leader of the Republican Army, launched a diversionary offensive in Aragon, the Battle of Teruel.[7]


  1. Jackson, Gabriel. La república española y la guerra civil. RBA editores. 2005. Barcelona. Pagina 330
  2. Jackson, Gabriel. La república española y la guerra civil. RBA editores. 2005. Barcelona.
  3. Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War, (2001) p. 594.
  4. Hugh Thomas, (2001), p. 595
  5. Hugh Thomas, (2001), p. 597.
  6. Beevor, Antony. (2006). The Battle for Spain. The Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939. Penguin Books. London. p.303
  7. Graham, Helen. (2005). The Spanish Civil war. A very short introduction. Oxford University Press. p.93

External links[]

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