On February 7, 1937, thousands of people from Malaga turned the road to Almería into a river that, seen from the air or the sea, could well look like ants, even if they were people. “The whole world flowed, at this moment, in a single direction”, wrote André Malraux in The hope, his novel about the Civil War inspired by his own aerial experiences with the Squad Spain. For days, tens of thousands of people evacuated the city in an easterly direction, fleeing the Moroccan regulars and Italian tanks coming from the west. In his flight, popularly called The Desbandá, were bombarded by the Luftwaffe Heinkel planes and three ships that were gunning them from the sea: Admiral Cervera, Balearics and Canary Islands. It is impossible to know precisely how many died, but historians estimate that between 5,000 and 10,000.
Málaga-Almería, February 37: ‘La desbandá’, hell on the road
The recovery of the denomination Balearic Islands cruise For the Madrid street map, after it was replaced by the Manuela Carmena corporation, it has raised an intense political noise in Malaga. This Thursday, the City Council’s committee on social rights and culture has voted two motions (from the PSOE and the United We Can-IU confluence) to reprove the mayor of Madrid, José Luis Martínez-Almeida. The two motions urge the mayor of Malaga, Francisco de la Torre (PP), to formally ask his colleague in Madrid to change the street map. The confluence even asks to be declared persona non-grata until the name of the “murderous ship” is eliminated from the Madrid street map.
As was foreseeable, the councilors of PP, Ciudadanos and Juan Cassá have rejected the motions, which placed the City Council in the uncomfortable position of whether or not to position itself against a friendly mayor. If some of the motions are approved, they would be taken to plenary. In Malaga, the City Council has still not executed an agreement of the Plenary adopted in 2017 to replace the aviators Carlos de Haya and García Morato from the street map.
“The Madrid City Council can start a new file”
The recovery of Calle Crucero Baleares in Madrid has its origin in a judgment of the Superior Court of Justice of that community, handed down on May 6, together with others that annul some changes to the street map promoted by Manuela Carmena (endorsed by a commission of experts in which were, among others, the historian José Álvarez Junco or the writer Andrés Trapiello). Those sentences admitted the resources of Francoist associations such as the Millán Astray Patriotic Platform or the Francisco Franco Foundation, or of relatives, such as the children of Carlos de Haya, against the changes agreed by Carmena.
The TSJM decided to annul the administrative file and thus recover the name of streets such as Caídos de la División Azul, Millán Astray or Crucero Baleares, which replaces Calle Barco Sinaia, the ship that transported the first Spanish exiles in Mexico. He argued that it had not been justified that it was intended to exalt the uprising, the dictatorship or the Francoist repression by granting a street to the Balearics, conditions of the Law of Historical Memory for the change of name. In fact, it is not even known when it was named Balearic Islands cruise to the street, in the Vallecas neighborhood. It only appears that in 1952 it was already called that, according to the sentence, consulted by elDiario.es/Andalucía.
“The Madrid City Council could have appealed and, in any case, it can now initiate a new file in accordance with its ordinances,” he assures Pedro Moreno Brenes placeholder image, former secretary of the Malaga City Council, professor of administrative law and spokesperson for the association against Silence and Forgetfulness, who has appeared at a press conference together with representatives of other memorialist associations and those of IU-Unidas Podemos. The motion is an attempt to get the mayor of Madrid to “back off”, he assured Remedios Ramos, spokesperson for the confluence.
The PSOE takes its own motion to request the rejection of the councilor. Daniel Perez, Socialist spokesman, called for “courage and sensitivity” with “the thousands of massacred” to Francisco de la Torre, whom he asked to take a position and condemn the “regrettable decision of Martínez-Almeida.” He also condemned the fact that, “rubbing shoulders with Franco”, he participated last Thursday in an act of tribute to the victims of the Republican sacks in front of the San Rafael cemetery, where the largest mass grave of victims of the Franco regime is located.
The bombardments from the sea against the slopes
No one has ever been able to know for sure how many people from Malaga died on the road to Almería because there are no official documents that accurately capture the horror. Encarnacion Barranquero, professor at the University of Malaga and author of several studies on the massacre, clarifies. “You can know the victims of the shrapnel or in some towns. But there were many suicides,” he says. Too many times, families did not stop to search their dead, but kept running. Queipo de Llano estimated 250,000 people from Malaga who fled (from the city, but also from the Costa del Sol and Axarquía), while Colonel José Villalba, in charge of the defense of Republican Malaga, speaks of 300,000.
Barranquero, who began his investigation in 1987, was able to interview survivors who were already adults in 1937. These testimonies allow us to glimpse the extent of the cannonade to which they were subjected. “I also saw the boats that were firing. There was a sewer where people, crouched, were getting in until it was clogged and it was unfortunate that when the ships were fired at some small bridges, a shell exploded in the sewer and made a huge massacre. It was past La Herradura, “said Cristóbal Criado Moreno, quoted in a work by Barranquero and Antonio Nadal published in the Jábega magazine.
“What the sources have always said is that when they went on the highway they were bombarded, sometimes low-flying planes, but especially boats,” the historian highlights. These fired on the slopes that box the road to Almería (today Nacional 340) against the sea. The rocks were dislodged and fell on the population.
Andrés Fernández, archaeologist, consulted the Canarias logbook to write Exodus Malaga Almeria together with the historian Maribel Brenes, and found that he did not get closer than 500 meters from the coast, a distance at which he could hardly hit a target, but he could make out. The notebook reflects the ammunition and the salvoes, but not the target. The bombardments began at 6.45 and stopped at night. “The operations reports mainly speak of the Canary Islands, which it was flagging,” says Fernández.
The participation of the Balearic Islands
And the Balearic Islands? “The exact consequences of the bombs coming out of the Balearic Islands will never be known,” says Fernández. The flagship of the Franco regime was sunk on March 6, 1938 off Cabo de Palos, in a naval battle in which 788 crew members died and 435 were rescued. His logbook was never found, but the writer José Manuel Goalkeeper Yes, he has located his campaign reports in the General Archive of the Álvaro de Bazán Army, and he cites some in his book Nazis on the Costa del Sol (Almuzara, 2021).
“Day 02-08-1937 (…) At seven o’clock they maneuvered to hit the objectives of the coast of Torrox. The coast was shuffled at a distance of 600 meters to 1,800 meters between Torrox and Motril (…) 208 projectiles were fired from the 10 on trucks, light cars, concentrations of militiamen, gullies of the highway, felling a tree and breaking the telephone line in several places. The effective effects of our shooting could be verified, paralyzing not only vehicle traffic, but also pedestrians ” .
“At 3:00 p.m. at the height of Torre del Mar, a column made up of 10 fast tanks, two trucks, five motorcycles and a fast-moving tourist car was seen, being greeted by the indigenous people with handkerchiefs and white flags” . It is signed by Manuel de Vierna, commander of the Balearic Islands.
In the Jábega Magazine number 58, from 1987, Barranquero and Nadal cite Franco’s propaganda, as Glorious Wakes of the Blue Squad (1937), where it reads: “Now we have to put into practice the shooting exercises that were done in El Ferrol, what a test! How well the road between Malaga and Almería is drawn! Groups of militiamen advance along it. Buuuummm !!!! The Balearic grenades fall in a grouped salvo on them, sowing death. Some run, others collapse forever. Very good !, the officer shouts without being able to contain himself. The batteries of the boats they are a knife that cuts the road, numerous beads of a rosary, which now reads Spain “.
The Franco regime always shielded itself from shooting at fleeing militiamen, a propaganda that has long since ceased to conceal the massacre. “The boats threw at the mountain and the stones themselves killed,” explained Juan Conejero, a survivor of Disband it.