Very little war but a great many shootings in the Campo de Gibraltar

There were very few instances of conflict in the Campo de Gibraltar during the war. The coup carried out by the rebels against the legitimate government of the Second Republic rapidly succeeded in Algeciras, La Línea and San Roque.

There was practically no war, but there was fierce repression. There is documentary evidence that about 600 people were assassinated or shot, and in addition many were executed in the first months of the war, leaving no trace of their disappearance, and others died elsewhere. Historians calculate that Franco’s supporters shot about 1,000 people in the Campo de Gibraltar: approximately 300 in Algeciras alone and a similar number in La Línea.

In Jimena, where popular resistance delayed the entry of the fascists until the end of September 1936, there is evidence that about 100 people were shot by the insurrectionists.



One of the first objectives of the coup’s leaders on 18th July 1936 was to control the Campo de Gibraltar and the Strait. The Strait of Gibraltar was of double strategic importance: on one hand it is the natural and obligatory communication route between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, and on the other it is only 14 kilometres to the Spanish protectorate in Morocco, on the southern shore. That is where the troops were based, that Franco needed to use quickly to conquer land on the Peninsula and march on towards Madrid. Algeciras was one of the ports to which Franco was thinking of bringing these troops from Africa. The other was Málaga, but as that city was loyal to the Republic, Algeciras was seen as the only logical place to disembark. On the morning of 19th July, the steam ships Cabo Espartel and España núm. 5 arrived in Algeciras, bringing the second troupe of regular soldiers from Ceuta. They were escorted by the gunship Dato, in the hands of the rebels; it came close to La Línea and, from an area near Gibraltar port, fired at the barracks of the Ballesteros infantry to intimidate the garrison which had not joined the movement. The fact that most of the Spanish fleet remained loyal to the Republican government at first prevented the rebels bringing more Moroccan troops by ship to Algeciras. And that is when they began to use air transport. Until 5th August, what the rebels called the ‘Convoy of Victory’ crossed the Strait of Gibraltar.

Algeciras had been in the hands of the rebels since 18th July. The conspiracy plan was carried out by the captain of the Inválidos corps, Enrique Castillo (who acted as a link with the African army because of his association with lieutenant colonel Yagüe), lieutenant colonel Coco, staff commander Major González Pons and captains Díaz Fernández and Fernández Cortada. It was they who took over the military garrison of the town, ousting and shooting the commander of the No. 7 Infantry regiment Joaquín Gutiérrez Garde, who was known for his left-wing ideas. Another who was one of the first to be shot was Salvador Montesinos, the mayor of a town with high republican and anarchist support, in which the Popular Front obtained 84 per cent of the votes on 16th February 1936.

La Línea took a day longer to fall into the hands of the insurrectionists. On 19th July 1936 several hundred local people gathered outside the Ballesteros barracks, which was the base of the town’s military garrison. The people of La Línea, who in February 1936 had given 90 per cent of their votes to the Popular Front, were expressing their solidarity with the loyal soldiers, most of whom were NCOs, who had defeated a group of conspirators who tried to join the coup which had begun two days earlier in Morocco. The supporters were still there when a group of rebel troops arrived from Algeciras and immediately began to fire into the defenceless crowd. Nearly 100 people died and a similar number were injured. The loyal NCOs, who a day earlier had spared the lives of the coup leaders by sending them to Gibraltar, were quickly shot. They were just the first of a long list of victims, because for the rest of that summer the fascists shot people every day with no previous trial.

San Roque, where the insurrectionists had triumphed on the 19th, experienced one of the few incidents of conflict in the region. On 27th July a column of soldiers and CNT militia, coming from Málaga, entered the town and almost took it over completely. Only the Guardia Civil post resisted. The militia detained a group of right-wing supporters and threatened to shoot them if the barracks were not surrendered. The entrenched Guardia Civil officers refused to give up. The militia shot six of the detainees and then left the town before more numerous and better equipped troops arrived from Algeciras. With the insurrectionists once again in control of San Roque, they began shooting supporters of the left. Those shootings didn’t stop until well into the following year.

There was another attempt by the republicans to recover ground in the region. A train full of loyal militia from Ronda arrived in La Almoraima, in the municipality of Castellar, on Wednesday 22nd July. Government ships moved to the anchorage at Puente Mayorga and, supported by three planes, bombarded La Línea in an attempt to help the Republican forces who had got as far as La Almoraima. Their plan was to advance on Algeciras and put a stop to the arrivals from Ceuta. However, in the afternoon, rebel planes from the base at Tetuán attacked the squadron and the station at La Almoraima, and the trains were forced to go back to Castellar and Jimena de la Frontera.

Other places in the Campo de Gibraltar soon fell into the hands of the rebels: Los Barrios on the 23rd, and Tarifa and Facinas on the 24th. A bit later Castellar de la Frontera did the same, on 28th August, and Jimena de la Frontera held out longest, remaining in the hands of those loyal to the Republic until 28th September. To conquer these villages, the rebel forces used columns of different military corps and volunteers, among them the Regular Tabors, the Moroccan troops who would later instill so much terror all over Andalucía. When they entered the villages, where there was very little armed resistance, the military chiefs of the columns would take over the Town Halls, set up management committees, close down unions and political parties, organise militia and issue regulations and instructions to control the local population.

In Jimena, they didn’t find it so easy. Situated on a hill with a mediaeval castle on the top, Jimena resisted until the end of September and there were numerous casualties in the battle. Jimena had become one of the places of refuge for thousands of people from the Campo de Gibraltar who had fled from places which had already been taken by the insurrectionists. When the troops of regulars were approaching, most inhabitants of Jimena, as had occurred in the other places in the region, fled in the direction of Málaga.

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