Bombardments, looting and death

La Sauceda was the last place in Cádiz province to remain loyal to the government which had been democratically elected by the Spanish people. From all over the province, anarchists, republicans, socialists and others who feared for their lives, and who wanted to resist the Francoist advance, fled there. Others headed through the mountains towards Málaga.

On 31st October 1936, the valley was bombarded by four Francoist planes and besieged on land by rebel army columns who approached from four different directions. The hamlet was destroyed and the inhabitants who were unable to escape, including women and children, were arrested and taken to the nearby estate of El Marrufo. Franco’s troops killed about 50 people on that day, and looted the houses and huts before setting fire to them.

 

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 Jerez also succumbed, practically on the first day, and the rural villages fell one by one. Jimena de la Frontera, which resisted until 28th September, was the last village in Cádiz province to be taken by the rebels. By October, in the whole of the region, only the part of La Sauceda valley which was located in Cádiz province was still in the hands of the Republicans. Control of La Sauceda was essential for the rebels. It would ensure their domination of the Cádiz hinterland, enable them to take advantage of the wealth of livestock and forest resources in the area, keep the railway line between Ronda and Algeciras open and overcome the only obstacle which was preventing them advancing from this point towards Málaga, which was still in the hands of Republicans.

Directed from Sevilla by Queipo de Llano, the rebel army spent the whole summer carrying out operations in the so-called ‘Andalucía campaign’ in the Sevilla-Cádiz-Málaga area, with the aim of occupying a wide arc between Antequera and Algeciras, with Ronda as the main objective. Before finishing this operation at La Sauceda, the insurrectionists took control of the municipalities around it: Jerez, Algar, San José del Valle, Alcalá de los Gazules, Ubrique, Ronda, Cortes de la Frontera and Jimena. They planned the taking of La Sauceda as a major operation, with a combined attack by four Army columns arriving from different points. One came from Jerez, led by Commander Salvador Arizón Mejías, the Marquis of Casa Arizón, who was the military commander in Jerez; a second arrived from Ubrique, under the command of Second Lieutenant José Robles Ales, the military commander there; the third came from Jimena, under the orders of Infantry commander Fermín Hidalgo Ambrosy; and the fourth from Alcalá de los Gazules, under the command of Captain Antonio Fernández Salas. These four columns converged upon the valley on 31st October 1936. However, the Air Force took action beforehand, bombarding the central part of the community from four planes. On that day, 31st October 1936, at 09.00 hours, the general chief of staff of the Second Air Force region of the rebel army gave the order from Seville to the captain of Sesquiplanos 3 squadron to carry out what was known as ‘Operation Number 96’. Upon paper, this was to be a reconnaissance mission of the area into which the columns would be moving. The reality was that the Breguet XIX planes bombarded the civil population of La Sauceda, whose residents and those who were taking refuge there fled in terror.

One of those who had taken refuge there, Juan González Ríos, was eight years old at the time and he clearly remembers that day. With his parents and siblings, he had arrived from San José del Valle, fleeing from the fascists who had already shot one of his brothers. In their new home at La Sauceda he met other families, dozens of them, who had fled from many other places in Cádiz province.
“We had been in La Sauceda for about three months. One day, early in the morning, a plane came and dropped three bombs and flew off. Everybody started to grab their belongings. Five or ten minutes later another three planes came and started to bombard us, and everybody just ran away, to wherever they could,” says Juan.

Other survivors recall how the troops which came afterwards set fire to the huts and houses, how the soldiers stole everything they found inside the abandoned homes before setting them alight and how, on that same day, the shootings began of those who had survived the bombardment and the arrival of the invaders.

The columns which had come from Jimena, Jerez and Alcalá killed about 50 people, of those who tried to resist the attack on La Sauceda. The soldiers who came from Ubrique, who had stayed at the Cortijo del Marrufo before heading for La Sauceda, killed another 20. The daily shootings of men and women began on that day, and didn’t stop for months.