the fortress fights and does not surrender


Alcazar today

– Dad, they say that if you don’t hand over the Alcazar, they will shoot me.
– What to do, son. Trust in the will of God. I cannot surrender the Alcazar and betray everyone who trusted me here. Die worthily as a Christian and a Spaniard.
– Okay, dad. Goodbye. Hug you. Before I die, I will say: long live Spain. Glory to Christ the King!
Telephone conversation between the commandant of the Alcazar fortress, Colonel Moscardo and his minor son Luis

Behind the pages of civil wars. We all know about the heroic resistance of the defenders of the Brest Fortress and are rightfully proud of their courage. However, examples of courageous fulfillment of their military and civil duty took place in other countries, in particular, in Spain during the civil war of 1936-1939. This incident took place during the defense of the Alcazar fortress in Toledo. And today we will tell you about it.


Bird’s eye view of the Alcazar immediately after the end of the siege

Let’s start with the simplest. What is an alcazar? The fact is that this is not a proper name, but the general name for fortresses or fortified palaces in Spain and Portugal, built there during the rule of the Arabs (usually in cities) somewhere between the 8th and 14th centuries. So there are alcazars in many cities in Spain.


Model of the ruins of the Alcazar in the military museum opened there

Let us also recall that the Francoist revolt in Spain began on July 18, 1936, apparently at the signal of a radio station in Ceuta: “A cloudless sky over all Spain!” However, many, including the Spaniards themselves, believe that there was no, let alone this signal, and that Ilya Ehrenburg invented beauty and drama for the sake of it. But the following is reliably known: on July 18, at 15:15, the Republican government in Madrid again broadcast an official message on the radio, which began with the words: “The government again confirms that there is complete calm throughout the peninsula.” At the same time, the mutiny was already underway. It just began not on the 18th, but on the 16th, and on the territory of Spanish Morocco.


Another model of the ruins of the Alcazar in one of the casemates of the museum opened in it. The destroyed parts of the building are made of transparent plastic

That is, there was no more peace! But in Toledo, the anti-republican uprising began on July 18, and the military commandant of the city, Colonel Jose Moscardo, took over the leadership. However, the rebels failed to achieve great success either in the country as a whole, or in the city of Toledo, which they especially wanted to capture, since a large cartridge factory was located there. Already on July 19, the government of Jose Giral began distributing weapons to the supporters of the Popular Front, as a result of which the Republican militia immediately gained an advantage over the rebels-nationalists. So they had no choice but to retreat to the local alcazar in Toledo and barricade themselves in it. In the past, it was the residence of the Spanish monarchs; in the 18th century, a military academy was located there. In 1866, a fire broke out in Alcazar (now it was already called that), after which the building was rebuilt using steel and concrete structures. A big advantage was the presence of vaulted stone cellars capable of withstanding aerial bombs, as well as the location of the fortress-palace on a hill with rather steep slopes, which were very difficult to climb in the summer heat.

Alcazar: the fortress fights and does not surrender
The sequence of the destruction of the Alcazar by the Republicans. Destruction is shown in red

But Colonel Moscardo had very little strength: only 1300 combat-ready men, of whom 800 were Civil Guard fighters, 100 officers, 200 right-wing party activists who were ready to fight with arms in hand, and 190 cadets of the local military school. In addition to them, there were also members of their families – women and children in the amount of 600 people in the Alcazar. There were also hostages, in particular the civil governor of Toledo with his family and about a hundred left-wing activists captured by the rebels.


The Republicans blowing up one of the towers of the Alcazar

However, the Hiral government, although it started well, continued to act so ineptly that in just a few days it lost all the power it had. Well, how could a war be waged without having either a Ministry of War or a General Staff? True, he had a minister of war, but there was no connection with the fronts or with the military industry. As a result, by August 10, the rebels repulsed all attempts by the Republicans to attack the main strongholds of the rebellion. The rebels were few in number, but they were trained and disciplined.


Photo by M. Koltsov. Republican soldiers shelling the Alcazar

However, the leadership of the republican militia, in spite of everything, stubbornly tried to seize at the same time all the points held by the rebels, including the Toledo alcazar. As a result, having more strength, they sprayed all of them and did not get a decisive advantage anywhere. So in Toledo, the Alcazar was already surrounded by barricades since July, the Republicans fired artillery fire on it, bombed it from the air, but to no avail. For example, as a result of long storage, more than half of the shells became unusable and did not explode, and the police did not succeed in storming it, since many “policemen” were simply too lazy to climb the steep hill where the Alcazar was located. Attempts to persuade Moskardo to surrender through negotiations also failed, and by mid-September rebel planes began to break through to Alcazar and drop leaflets promising that help was coming. In addition, the soldiers of the Civil Guard knew too well how, in case of victory, the victors would act with them and their loved ones, so they were ready to fight to the death.


Photo by M. Koltsov. Siege of the Alcazar. Cinematographer Roman Carmen Filming Republican Fighters

But perhaps the most tragic and dramatic events in the history of the siege of the Alcazar took place on 23 July. It was on that very day that the head of the Toledo militia, Candido Cabello, called Colonel Moscardo and demanded the surrender of the Alcazar within ten minutes, promising, in case of his refusal, to shoot the only surviving son of Moscardo, Luis. He was handed the phone, and father and son were able to talk and say goodbye, after which Candido Cabello heard the following: “Your term does not mean anything. The Alcazar will never surrender! ” Then the colonel hung up, and his son was immediately shot, which also meant that the Alcazars could now shoot the hostages in their hands …


In the photo, fighters of the republican militia who pulled out the remains of monks from the tombs of the Toledo churches desecrated by them

True, later many Republicans argued that this entire episode was nothing more than an invention of Francoist propaganda, but they did not deny the fact of the execution of Moscardo’s son, and in addition, our journalist Mikhail Koltsov confirmed the fact of the connection between the fortress and Cabello’s headquarters in his book “Spanish a diary”.


Telephone conversation on 23 July. Patriotic postcard of the Francoists

The defenders of the Alcazar defended for 70 days, overcoming all the difficulties and hardships of the siege. When food was scarce, they made a sortie to the neighboring granary and managed to get there as many as two thousand sacks of grain. The problem with meat was solved by putting 177 horses in the fortress under the knife, which they ate, but nevertheless they left one breeding stallion. There was not enough salt and together they used it … plaster from the walls. How to bury the dead if there is no priest? However, even here the besieged found a way out: together with the priest, Colonel Moscardo himself began to perform the funeral rites, declaring that if it was possible for the captain of the ship to do this, then even more so in such difficult circumstances. By the way, the losses among the defenders were relatively small – only 124 people in the entire 70-day defense, which speaks about the thickness of the walls of the Alcazar, and, of course, about the bravery and skill of its defenders. Military parades were even held in the Alcazar, and on the day of the Assumption (August 15), a fiesta was held, at which, in spite of the Republicans, they danced flamenco to loud music.


Demonstration in Toledo in support of the Communist Party

Well, for many Republicans, the Alcazar has become a kind of place … of leisure. Journalists were brought here to show them how the war was going on, and the prominent Republicans themselves did not deny themselves the pleasure of shooting at the rebels entrenched in it right in front of the cameras.


Defenders of the Alcazar


Photo by M. Koltsov. Front-line airfield security

There were no military specialists among the Republicans, so the most fantastic projects for taking the fortress were put forward, which each time they ended in failure. The besiegers, for example, tried to undermine and blow up the walls of the Alcazar with dynamite. But because of the rocky ground on which it was erected, and the inexperience of the demolitionists, it was not possible to do this, although a row of explosions and caused quite strong destruction to it. However, the strong casemates of the fortress protected its defenders from explosions, which is why the losses among them were so small. Then the anarchists came up with a proposal … to pour the walls of the fortress with gasoline from fire hoses and set them on fire. However, this did not help them, but many of the participants in this operation received numerous burns.

Meanwhile, the rebels captured one Spanish city after another. The radio broadcasted daily: “The Alcazar is holding on! Colonel Moscardo is not giving up! ” But the besieged listened to the radio and understood that the Republicans were suffering one defeat after another and that help was near. Parts of Franco at this time were advancing on Madrid, but in the twenties he turned to Toledo. Foreign officers at his headquarters insisted, but Franco did not listen to them, believing that the moral duty in this case is higher than military expediency.


Reds on the barricades in Socodover Square (Toledo) during the shelling of the Alcazar

And on September 27, the nationalists finally reached the outskirts of Toledo and started artillery fire on the city. They also shot at the train station and the Madrid highway. In response, the fighters of the republican militia killed their commanders, who were trying to induce them to take up defenses, loaded onto buses and hastily left the city. The nationalists did not take prisoners. Rather, there was no one to take prisoner, since the wounded Republicans who were in the city hospital were simply cut by the Moroccans. Only one unit, commanded by Emile Kleber and Enrique Lister, left the city in battle and established itself in the hills to the east of it.


Alcazar defenders on the day of liberation


Coming out to meet General Varela, Colonel Moscardo reported: “Everything is calm in Alcazar, my general.” Patriotic postcard of the Francoists

It ended with the fact that he was immediately promoted to general and sent on vacation. Upon his return from it, Moscardo was appointed commander of the Soria division. Together with her, he participated in the battle of Guadalajara. Then, already in 1938, he fought in Catalonia as the commander of the Aragonese army corps.

After the civil war, Jose Moscardo led Franco’s military cabinet (1939), commanded the phalangist militia (1941), was the captain-general (commander of the troops) of the II and IV military districts (Catalonia and Andalusia). In 1939, he was already a divisional general, and then a lieutenant general. He was president of the Spanish Olympic Committee and a member of parliament. The outcome of his career was the honorary post of Chancellor of the Imperial Order of the Yoke and Arrows, established by Franco and named after the ancient symbols of Castile and Aragon.


In the liberated Alcazar. On the right is Colonel Moscardo, on the left is General Franco. To the left is the white sleeve of General Varela’s uniform

In 1948, Franco, in recognition of his services to the country, awarded Moscardo the title of Count of Alcazar de Toledo, which automatically made him a Spanish grandee. Well, in 1972 this title was received by his grandson José Luis Moscardo y Morales Vara del Re.


1961 Caudillo Francisco Franco unveils a monument to the fallen defenders of the Alcazar

The hero of the Alcazar died in 1956, and he was buried along with 124 dead soldiers during the siege directly in the Alcazar. Already posthumously he was awarded the rank of field marshal, or in Spanish, captain-general.

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