The war of the ships ‘Gravina’ and ‘Churruca’ on the Republican side | Culture

On July 17, 1936, the day in which Generals Francisco Franco and Emilio Mola began the uprising against the Government of the Republic, the Spanish Navy broke into two unequal parts. Of its 20,000 men, some 13,000 embarked on ships loyal to the Republic and the rest on Franco’s. Fourteen Republican destroyers, versus one nationalist. Seven torpedo boats, compared to five … The imbalance was accentuated even more under the waters: 12 submarines with the tricolor flag, compared to none of the coup leaders. In addition, the crew was predominantly Republican, which contrasted with the ideology of their commands. Riots and executions on the spot when the officers tried to go over to the Franco side. The Palma City Council – a PSOE, Podemos and Més coalition – announced yesterday that it was going to withdraw the names of the streets of the 19th century admirals Federico Gravina, Cosme Damián Churruca and Pascual Cervera because the Mallorcan urban gazette was a tribute to ships of the Francoist side, specifically, of “fascist origin”. A notable historical error, since the ships Gravina Y Churruca served the entire Civil War on the Republican side, which did not happen with the Cervera, forced to join the rebellious forces at their naval base in Ferrol, where the coup triumphed.

The Naval Museum, an institution that watches over the memory of the Spanish Navy, does not make distinctions when it comes to presenting on its shelves and showcases the exploits, ships, sailors, paintings or objects of various kinds that are kept in it. There are no political references on the posters, only historical ones. For this reason, in one of its rooms the models of some of the republican ships that participated in the Civil War are exposed under the original pavilions that waved at their stern. It is the case, of the destroyer Churruca, launched in 1928 and which entered service in June 1931, during the Second Republic, with the name of the Gipuzkoan sailor who died in 1805, in Trafalgar, on the deck of the Saint John Nepomuk facing six British ships. His disarmed ship, after the tactical disaster of the French vice admiral who commanded the Spanish-French fleet, was towed to Cádiz. A plate with gold letters was placed on the door of his cabin.

The Churruca of the Civil War was in Algeciras on July 17, according to the Guide Catalog of the Naval Museum of Madridby José Ignacio González-Aller. In the middle of the afternoon of that day, the Ministry of the Navy of the Republic ordered him to go to Ceuta to prevent the rebel troops from entering the peninsula. Later, he received the order to bomb the barracks of the regulars in the city, to which his commander refused. The crew mutinied and shot the officers. On August 12, 1937 it was torpedoed by the Italian submarine Jelly. He returned to Cartagena where he remained until the end of the War. It was removed from the ship list on October 29, 1963.

Destroyer 'Gravina', in Cartagena in 1936.
Destroyer ‘Gravina’, in Cartagena in 1936.

Fernando Püell de la Villa, Army colonel and historian, recalls that the Navy was completely divided in July 1936. While the sailors leaned towards the Republic, the officers did so towards the rebel side, which caused many executions of commanders that They tried to go over to the rebels. “But almost all the ships remained loyal to the Republican Government because its two great bases, Cartagena and Mahón, were in the area of ​​the peninsula that the Republic dominated. Cartagena was the great naval base, while the Francoists were left with Ferrol and San Fernando ”, says this co-author of the book The Spanish military in the Second Republic.

In 1961, shortly before his retirement.  the ships 'Almirante Cervera' and 'Galicia' participate in naval maneuvers in the waters of Mallorca.
In 1961, shortly before his retirement. the ships ‘Almirante Cervera’ and ‘Galicia’ participate in naval maneuvers in the waters of Mallorca.

On September 1, 1936, the newspaper Now devoted two pages, with large photographs, to the delivery by the shipyards of Cartagena to the Republic of the destroyer Gravina, amid displays of joy from the population, because the “sailors march to join the naval forces of freedom.” In the photographs you can see the crew, with many of their sailors with their fists raised.

The Gravina It bore the name of the sailor whose remains are in the Pavilion of Illustrious Men of San Fernando (Cádiz). He died, like Churruca, from the wounds received in Trafalgar in 1805. This captain general of the Navy strictly complied with the orders received from the French vice-admiral Villeneuve, although he confronted him because he considered his tactical deployment a huge error. I was right. Despite the disaster, he managed to get his ship, the Prince of Asturias, return to port. He died shortly after having lost an arm.

The Gravina Republican was fired before it was finished. On August 24, 1936, with only five 101.6-mm guns and no direction of fire, he went to sea: his sailors did their duty despite reluctance. On September 29, the ship faced the cruiser Cervera ―Another of the ships that bore the name of an admiral, in this case the Disaster of 98, and that Palma wants to eliminate from the street map – which is why she was forced to retreat due to a strong impact on the bow. On March 5, 1938 he put to sea again in the company of cruise ships Liberty Y Mendez Nunez, in addition to four other destroyers, They faced the nationals Baleares, Canary Islands Y Cervera. The first was sunk. Almost 800 sailors died.

Page of the newspaper 'Now', of September 1, 1936, where the delivery of the 'Churruca' to the Government of the Republic is announced.
Page of the newspaper ‘Now’, of September 1, 1936, where the delivery of the ‘Churruca’ to the Government of the Republic is announced.National Library

In March 1939, a few months before the end of the Civil War, the Churruca surrendered to the French authorities. In 1941, he helped the shipwrecked German battleship Bismarck sunk in the Atlantic. Caused casualty on October 29, 1963.

For his part, Cervera It was in dry dock in Ferrol in 1936. For this reason, it could not set sail and fell into the hands of the nationals when they seized the naval base, not without strong resistance from the sailors. Its history jumps, throughout the Civil War, between the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands. In 1938, Republican planes bombed it and damaged it badly. In the sixties it was scrapped.

Captain José Ramón Ballestín, head of the Department Research Institute of Naval History, He is “perplexed” when mentioning the intention to remove the names of the three admirals from the streets of Palma. “It is a political question, it has nothing to do with our history. Eliminating these names responds only to an ideological current, “he says and no longer wants to comment.

For her part, the mayor of Toledo, the socialist Milagros Tolón, yesterday showed her discomfort at the withdrawal also of the name of Toledo Street in Palma, since the Balearic City Council also considers it Francoist, as well as 11 other characters and places. He has asked his Mallorcan colleague, the socialist José Hila, to rectify. In the document that served as the basis for the Balearic City Council for the removal of these names from the street, it is stated that the name of the Castilian-Manchegan city was proposed by “a Francoist management commission on December 1, 1937, in memory of the battle of the War Civil. It is a Francoist name put to exalt the deed of the Alcázar of Toledo during the war of 1936 ″. But now José Hila has changed his mind and will keep the name of Toledo on the street, but in another part of the city.

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