Siege of the Alcázar

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Siege of the Alcázar
Part of the Spanish Civil War
Alcazar of Toledo - Toledo, Spain - Dec 2006.jpg
Alcázar of Toledo today (December 2006)
Date July 21 – September 27, 1936
Location Toledo, Spain
Result Nationalist victory
 Spanish Republic  Nationalist Spain
Commanders and leaders
Cándido Cabello José Moscardó Ituarte,
Pedro Romero Basart
8,000 militia
2-3 tanks
1,028 regulars and militia
2 artillery pieces
Casualties and losses
Unknown 65 dead,
438 wounded,
22 missing
Phases of the destruction of the Alcázar over September

The Spanish word "alcázar", of Arabic etymology, means "fortress". The Alcázar of Toledo was in 1936 a military academy for formation of Infantry officers of the Spanish Army. The city of Toledo, in central Spain, had been the capital of the Kingdom of Castille until the XVI century, when the seat of government was moved to Madrid, distant seventy Kilometres from Toledo. Although the Alcázar of Toledo has known a number of armed conflicts throughout centuries of existence of the current fortress (and of other fortresses previously located upon that hill, at least since Roman times), what is known in recent History as the Siege of the Alcázar was in 1936 a failed tentative by Spanish Republican forces of capturing the fortress, inside which a multitude of several hundreds of persons, composed of soldiers, police, anti-Republican political militias, members of the Catholic Church or of religious orders, and vast numbers of civilians (including women and children), had taken refuge and were defending themselves immediately at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War (Cruzada de Liberación Nacional, 18th July 1936 to 1st April 1939). The defenders of the Alcázar of Toledo resisted repeated Republican assaults, which included massive waves of Republican Infantry and Red Militias, artillery shells, armoured vehicles, aircraft bombing, and underground mines, from 21st July to 27th September 1936.

The siege ended shortly after Generalísimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde, one of the top Commanders of the National (or Nationalist) Army that had raised in arms against the Republican Government, took the decision of deviating towards Toledo one of his four advancing columns of the Army of Africa (composed of legionaries, regulars, and other warriors hardened in the Moroccan Wars), while the other three columns continued advancing over Madrid from the West (thus stabilising the War Front in "Puente de los Franceses", at just three Kilometres from the centre of the Republican capital). The column of the Army of Africa ordered to relieve the Alcázar, under command of General Varela, fought its way to Toledo, occupied the city, and relieved the garrison. The Commander of the Alcázar, Colonel Don José Moscardó e Ituarte (1878-1956), was promoted immediately to the rank of General and continued fighting for the remaining of the War, as did the other combatants who had endured the siege of sixty-eight days. All of them were likewise awarded honours or promoted. Although the decision of General Franco gave some more time for the Republicans to strengthen the defence of Madrid, it was well justified as a "Matter of Honour of the Spanish Army", in the words of Franco himself, and it certainly resulted in prestige for the Nationalist Cause inside Spain and abroad (many international reporters covered the events from Madrid, in spite of strict censorship by the Republican Government).

The son of Colonel Moscardó, Don Luis Moscardó Guzmán, of almost seventeen years of age and a cadet at the Military Academy commanded by his father, was captured outside the Alcázar by Red Militias and used as a hostage. About ten hours (local time) on 23rd July 1936, in a communication by telephone with his father, the son declared his decision to confront death. When, after listening to the voice of his heroic son for the last time, the Commander of the Alcázar refused to surrender, then his son was taken to prison and killed a month later, together with other prisoners whose political or religious ideas were to the distaste of the Red Militias. Another son of Colonel Moscardó, Don José Moscardó Guzmán, of twenty-four years of age, was later captured in Madrid and also killed. Colonel Moscardó vowed vengeance against the Reds. A newspaper named "El Alcázar" was founded during the siege, printed on available paper sheets using a small manual machine. "El Alcázar" became the voice of the Spanish anti-Republican Crusade, continuing publication as a daily journal in Madrid (with better printing machines), for many years after the War. The fortress of the Alcázar of Toledo is now a museum open to the public, attracting thousands of visitors every year. It is located beside Plaza de Zocodover, in the old centre of the historical city of Toledo, partly surrounded by incredibly narrow, medieval streets.

The defenders desperately resisted furious and frequent attacks that came at any time, day or night, plus enormous privations. They were helped by the fact that the Republicans and their Militias were very disorganised. Water was initially available from a central tank in the yard of the Alcázar, until the besiegers found the water supply and interrupted it. From that point, the defenders rationed the water from the only tank, and tried to get a little more by catching rain water into all sorts of containers. Food was precariously obtained by risky nightly foraging expeditions into close city stores, whose location was known to the Toledans of the Alcázar, but which had been overlooked by the Madrilenian Republicans. The city had been partly evacuated, but the remaining inhabitants helped the defenders with water, food, and information on the location, strength and activities of Republican units. Many Toledans paid with their life for their support to the Alcázar, rigthly or wrongly suspected of being in contact with the defenders. Unión Radio announced from Madrid that the Alcázar had finally been taken, and "only a few survivors still continue a hopeless defence in the broken ruins". The radio report was completely false, for the Alcázar still resisted. A courageous volunteer offered to exit the Alcázar at night, in disguise, and try to contact the vanguard of the advancing National troops. This hero was never seen again, he probably was captured and killed. At any rate, the Republican broadcast was not believed at the Nationalist Headquarters of General Franco, who well knew the obstinate and Numantine resistence of which his Spanish compatriots have always been capable.

The decision of Colonel Moscardó

Transcription of the telephone communication of 23rd July 1936.

MILITIAN LEADER CÁNDIDO CABELLO (Leader of Communist and Socialist Militias in Toledo)
-Son Ustedes responsables de los crímenes y de todo lo que está ocurriendo en Toledo, y le doy un plazo de diez minutos para que rinda el Alcázar, y de no hacerlo fusilaré a su hijo Luis que le tengo aquí a mi lado.
(You are responsible for the crimes and for everything that is happening in Toledo, and I give a limit of ten minutes for the surrender of the Alcázar, and if You do not do it I shall shoot Your son Luis who is here at my side)

-Lo creo.
(I believe it)

-Y para que vea que es verdad, ahora se pone al aparato.
(And for showing that this is true, right now he will speak at the telephone)

-¡ Papá !
(Father !)

-¿ Qué hay, hijo mío ?
(What is it, my son ?)

-Nada, que dicen que me van a fusilar si el Alcázar no se rindiere, pero no te preocupes por mí.
(Nothing, just that they say that they will shoot me if the Alcázar do not surrender, but do not worry because of me)

-Si fuere cierto, encomienda tu alma a Dios, da un viva a Cristo Rey y a España, y serás un héroe que muere por ella. ¡ Adios, hijo mío, un beso muy fuerte !
(If that be true, send thy soul to God, shout a cry to Christ the King and to Spain, and thou wilt be a hero who has died for his country. Farewell, my son, a very strong kiss !)

- ¡ Adiós, papá, un beso muy fuerte !
(Farewell, father, a very strong kiss !)

- ¿ Su decisión, Coronel ?
(Your decision, Colonel ?)

-Puede ahorrarse el plazo que me ha dado y fusilar a mi hijo. El Alcázar jamás se rendirá.
(You may disconsider the time that You have offered me and shoot my son instead. The Alcázar will never surrender)

On 23rd August 1936 Luis Moscardó Guzmán was taken out of prison and shot by a firing squad in the outskirts of Toledo.


  • Las ruinas del Alcázar, Spanish short documentary directed by Diego Tamayo in 1939.
  • L'assedio dell'Alcázar (Sin novedad en el Alcázar), Italian-Spanish production directed by Augusto Genina in 1940. Cast: Fosco Giachetti, Mireille Balin, María Denis, Rafael Calvo.
  • El Alcázar no se rinde (El santuario no se rinde), Spanish production directed by Arturo Ruiz Castillo in 1949, written by José María Amado and Alfonso Nieva. Cast: María Luisa Abad, Mariano Alcón, Valeriano Andrés, Rafael Bardem.

External links

  • History of the Alcázar.
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