We have been commemorating the 80th anniversary of the bombing of Gernika all week and today, we’ll just take a brief moment to recall that Gernika represented the climax to series of aerial attacks on Basque towns, the first use of this tactic (now arguably the most prominent form of waging war) on European soil. In earlier posts we have discussed the bombings of Durango and Elorrio as well as of Otxandio, and it also worth recalling that the town of Eibar in Gipuzkoa also suffered a bombardment on April 24. At 6 pm that day, the church bells rang out to warn people of the imminent attack. Most tried as best they could to get to shelter, and others fled west toward Bizkaia. Around 60 people were killed in the attack.
In That Old Bilbao Moon, Joseba Zulaika cites at length (p. 30) fragments from the diary of Wolfram von Richthofen, who was in charge of the elite Condor Legion, the Nazi unit dispatched to Spain to help Franco in the Spanish Civil War and test out the tactic of terror bombing, which would feature so prominently in World War II. The very “normality” of his observations makes for chilling reading:
4.4.1937. I have gone to Otxandio. Marvelous effects of the bombardment, and of the fighter plane and of the A/88 . . . Dead and mutilated people everywhere; heavy trucks, carrying part of the munitions, blown up.
24.4.1937. Elorrio has been evacuated by the enemy, one of our battalions is further advanced 500 meters in red territory. It is very entertaining to see, at the beginning of the sunset, the fire that comes out of the rifle mouths. . . . First they were bombarded once by the Italians, but then they were spared because of their pretty palaces.
25.4.1937. Finally the bomber planes arrive; the Ju dropped heavy bombs over Ermua very beautifully. . . . Again the Italians miss the target and bomb Eibar by mistake. . . . Elgueta, which was taken care of completely by the Italians on the 23rd, has a horrendous aspect. Very good results of the bombardment, the hits fell very tightly.
26.4.1937. Eibar, touching. . . . With the exception of a few houses, the center of the town was completely burned out. The beginning of the fire and the collapse of some houses was a very interesting
27.4.1937. [The day after the bombing of Gernika] After lunch, a nice trip to the coast of Deba, where the headquarters of the Italian General Staff are, and to Ondarroa, the frontline, where there is also a command post.
Magnificent coast, which recalls Amalfi. . . . Toward Zarautz, where I find Sander and lodge for the night. Beautiful grand hotel at the edge of a pretty sea, with a good room and good food. There, magnificent.
In the morning again we discuss everything point by point. The transmission of news from unit to unit is a matter of concern. . . . It is not worth having transmissions of our own for this zarzuela operetta.
In the afternoon, Sander, Jaenecke and myself play cards.
28.4.1937. Also in the afternoon, precise information that Gernika has been literally razed to the ground.
29.4.1937. In the afternoon, playing cards with Sander and Jaenecke; the latter always ransacks us.