Amputations and death: the cold wave that turned Teruel into a carnage during the Civil War


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And you say of cold wave. That is worth it, it is true that these days the ‘polar trough’ shakes Spain and has left alerts in several communities due to low temperatures; but it is also true that, over there winter 1937, the fingers of our compatriots were literally frozen because of the up to 25 degrees below zero that Aragon endured during the battle of Teruel. One of the ABC correspondents, present in the contest, said it: «The broad plateau roads were erased. The naked immensity was whipped by the air that dragged swirls of ice. […] The effort to escape the codend was desperate. ‘

The testimonies of the journalists of this newspaper about the cold that hit Teruel are counted by dozens. One of the clearest was the December 17, 1937, two days after the Second republic decided to launch a diversionary attack on the city to alleviate the front of Madrid. The text could be read in the capital edition under the headline ‘The snow reaches a height of two meters‘:’ Bad weather continues. The republican soldiers remain warmly on the parapets and, when the weather permits, they all dedicate themselves to clearing the access roads to the trenches of snow.

Vicente Rojo (the Second, Starting from the Right) and Indalecio Prieto (the First, from the Left), during the battle of Teruel+ info
Vicente Rojo (the Second, Starting from the Right) and Indalecio Prieto (the First, from the Left), during the battle of Teruel – ABC

The reporter stated that the Francoist side did the same, but that his army, being made up of “Moors and Italians, accustomed to warmer climates,” endured the cold with “great fatigue.” The following months were a frozen hell similar to that of Stalingrad. One that the combatants on both sides endured by manta –An object as precious as gold– and resolution. «It is astonishing to see how the soldiers from the warmer areas of Spain resist, bivouacking in the immense plains in front of Teruel, in ghastly cold, totally wrapped in snow», Wrote this newspaper.

There are no fingers to count the news that explained the harsh weather conditions. In January, the Seville edition – a city then in the hands of the rebellious side – advised the soldiers to protect themselves from that lethal wave of cold: “Your hand cannot be placed between the bullet and the heroic chest. But the cold, and the snow, and the wind, and the rain also cause casualties and suffering. Work of your hand can be to make a trench that stops these enemies».

One of the Outposts Firing in Teruel, on the Aragon front+ info
One of the Outposts Firing in Teruel, on the Aragon front – ABC

The February 24th, ABC also explained that, although the thermometer no longer read the 24 degrees below zero of a few weeks ago, the Francoists had had to face heavy rain to defeat the Republicans. By then, two days had passed since the government troops had been forced to withdraw from Teruel due to the pressure exerted by the counterattacks of a Francisco Franco ceded not to lose the city.

Count casualties

The news of the victory exceeded that of the freezing casualties. “In Spain things are going well. Teruel has been taken again and the troops advance », wrote the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Galeazzo Ciano, in a telegram dated February 22. By then the war had ended in the city, although at the cost of an infinity of soldiers affected by one of the worst winters in remembrance; among the most violent of the 20th century.

Target touch in front of Teruel+ info
Target touch in front of Teruel – ABC

The number of wounded due to the low temperatures during the Battle of Teruel were as chilling as those suffered by the ‘Wehrmacht‘in Operation Barbarossa. Or equivalent at least. Because, once again, we have little to envy in Spain the large operations of the Second World War. According to researchers P. Larranz and C. Ibarrola in their dossier ‘The feet of Teruel. Assistance and treatment of frostbite wounds in Navarrese hospitals during the Civil War‘, the Franco side had to regret 18,000 casualties due to freezing (33% of the total), while the Republican, about 20,000 (a third of the 60,000 they suffered).

National cavalry squadron in front of Teruel+ info
Squadron of national cavalry in front of Teruel – ABC

Edema, gangrenas… The ‘winter general’ had no mercy. This is witnessed David Alegre Lorenz on ‘The battle of Teruel. Total war in Spain‘. In this work, the doctor in history points out that the soldiers who caused sick leave suffered ailments such as infectious respiratory diseases, amputations derived from freezing and the so-called trench foot, sadly famous in the First World War. In fact, there are dozens of snapshots showing bruised limbs and no fingers. In turn, he remarks that “four out of every five combatants withdrawn from the front due to illness or frostbite in all its degrees were disabled for life and, therefore, condemned to dependency.”

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