Heavy cruiser "Baleares"
The Spanish Civil War is the largest and bloodiest military clash in Europe in the last prewar decade. Subsequent tremendous events overshadowed by their scale this dramatic conflict, symbolized for many by the famous photo of Robert Capa, The Death of a Militiaman.
The war for Spain did not become out of the blue - the country went to this for a long time, persistently and consistently. It has long passed the time of the greatness of Spain: the wind storieswalking in pockets as well, dispelled once mighty armies, numerous colonies fell one after another - having lost their former strength and power, the country of the old countess looked out of her Pyrenean wing to the European courtyard.
Viva Espana vs. Viva Republika
The economic situation of the state, still remembering the shock of defeat in the war with the United States, was disastrous. In 1931, Spain produced another reboot, this time getting rid of the monarchy. But the aspirations of those who considered the source, if not all, of many troubles and misfortunes, being on the throne of His Majesty Alfonso XVIII, did not materialize. The newly baked republic was feverish. She was contorted from a whole host of chronic domestic problems, and economic stagnation continued steadily. But, as happens in such conditions, the number of “doctors” who declare that they know the recipe for curing the incurable has steadily increased. In the country, hotbeds of acute discontent, strikes and even uprisings flared up here and there.
16 February 1936, with a small margin of votes, leftist parties won the parliamentary elections: communists, socialists, republicans and anarchists. They formed a government that immediately embarked on a complex of radical reforms, primarily economic and political. Not everyone in society was waiting for such large-scale transformations and were delighted with what was happening. The conservative peasantry and the landowners of the western provinces were not satisfied with the redistribution of land and its confiscation from major owners, the Catholic Church was outraged by the reduction of its influence and all sorts of oppression, the officer corps frightened the growing activity of the left. The knot was tightening all tighter, the spring was compressed. Increasingly tangible discontent in the higher army environment was concentrated in a conspiracy to stop the ugliness.
On July 17, 1936, a military rebellion broke out in Spanish Morocco, which quickly developed into a civil war. Society and the army were divided. It should be noted that the armed forces simultaneously survived the crisis with the state and were not in the best condition. The most combat-ready units were deployed in Morocco: the Spanish Foreign Legion and the so-called African Army, gained experience in the Reef War. They almost completely supported the coup. Most air forces and naval ships fleet remained loyal to the Republic.
The rebellion had every chance to stall, fade away, but Germany and Italy came to the aid of the putsch and sent to Spain not only weapon and equipment, but also its military contingents. Britain and France were quick to declare neutrality and non-interference in the conflict. Moreover, their “neutrality” stretched so far that it prohibited them from buying military products to republicans. The Soviet Union reached out to Madrid in a difficult situation. Since none of those sympathizing with both opposing sides had a land border with Spain, maritime transport began to play a crucial role in the war.
Heavy cruisers of General Franco
"Canarias" in color and in all its glory
The main instruments for influencing republican communications in the rebel fleet were the heavy cruisers Baleares and Canarias. These ships of the so-called "Washington type" were ordered for the Spanish fleet long before the start of the civil war - in 1928. Originally it was planned to build three cruisers, but for economic reasons (having destroyed more ships than all naval battles together) it was decided to limit to two. Construction began in the same 1928-m at the shipyard SESN in El Ferrol. Having no experience in creating such ships, Spain turned for help to the British concern Armstrong, whose specialists, taking as a basis the construction of heavy cruisers like Kent, developed a modified and modified project for the customer. These were typical “Washingtonians” with a standard displacement of 10 thousand tons. A characteristic feature of these ships was one large chimney. This decision was made to reduce aerodynamic drag. Reservations have been enhanced, the power plant capacity increased. Armament future cruisers consisted of eight 203-mm guns in four towers. One artillery turret was manufactured directly in England, the other three were to be produced at the state enterprise San Carlos in Cadiz. Auxiliary artillery consisted of eight very modern 120-mm guns - they had electric power drive and elevation angle to 80 degrees. The arsenal of 4 × 2 40-mm anti-aircraft Pom Pom and 4 × 3 fixed 533-mm torpedo tubes, a catapult and a seaplane complemented the arsenal of the ship armament. However, when commissioning, all this weapon system has undergone a significant correction due to lack of time and necessary materials.
Revolutions and other social upheavals have a very negative effect on the economic component of the state and on shipbuilding in particular. Due to the April revolution of 1931 and the overthrow of the monarchy, the completion of the cruisers was delayed. The chronic shortage of money has turned the construction of Baleares and Canarias into the same chronic unfinished business. By the beginning of the rebellion, both ships were not fully equipped. The events of July 1936 of the year found both cruisers in El Ferrol being completed. "Baleares" had only two main-caliber towers - there were no other weapons and fire control devices on it. Although Canaryas had all the standard 203-mm guns, it was also only partially combat-capable - there were no auxiliary artillery, anti-aircraft fire control devices and the main caliber. Nevertheless, heavy cruisers captured by supporters of Franco 18 on July X were a most valuable acquisition for a limited number of nationalist fleets. A successful circumstance was also the fact that the San Carlos artillery plant, like Cadiz himself, was located on the territory controlled by the rebels. This greatly facilitated the re-equipment of the ships. With the beginning of the war, effective attempts were made to put these relatively new and powerful cruisers into service. Since certain problems arose with the staffing of standard weapons, at various times what was at hand at Baleares and Canarias was fixed. At various times, ships carried 1936-mm guns from the Espana battleship crashed on stones in 102, 1923-mm guns from unfinished destroyers, German and Italian anti-aircraft guns. Neither torpedo armament nor the ship's seaplane were ever installed, although some experiments were conducted on the use of the German He-120 in this role.
In general, the two heavy cruisers achieved a more or less acceptable degree of combat capability no earlier than 1937, although their active use began in the autumn of 1936. Both ships were operated with maximum intensity, since in the Francoist fleet they were the most modern and powerful ships.
The beginning of the civil war divided the once united Spanish fleet into two not entirely equal parts. Most of the ships remained under the control of the republic: the battleship Jaime I, the cruisers Libertad, Mendes Nunes and Miguel de Cervantes, 14 destroyers, 6 destroyers, 12 submarines, 5 gunboats and several auxiliary vessels. The number of forces at the disposal of the “national forces” was somewhat lower: the ship Espana (the former Alfonso XIII, renamed in honor of the lead ship of the series who died earlier on the rocks), the two above-mentioned heavy cruisers, the Almirante Server light cruisers and the Navarre (former Republic), one destroyer, five destroyers, nine gunboats and a dozen auxiliary ships and vessels. The staffing issue for the republican government was more complicated. Of the total number of the officer corps of the fleet, 1668 officers went over to the side of the rebels, 236 people remained loyal to the republic.
From the first months of the war, after the completion of the orgperiod, the tasks of both opposing fleets began to include actions on the communications of the opposite side. Both Republicans and nationalists were acutely dependent on the uninterrupted supply by sea. Attempts by the Republicans to prevent the intensive transfer of troops from Africa were unsuccessful due to the lack of suitable bases in the area of Gibraltar and active assistance to the Frenchists of the German and Italian Navy and Air Force. A significant role in the low efficiency of the Republican Navy was played by political confusion. Crews consisted of representatives of different parties and simply sympathizers, often hostile to each other. Combat training was abandoned, chaos reigned on many ships. Soviet military specialists assisting the Spanish Republic even noted such glaring cases as smoking in artillery cellars. All this could not but affect the effectiveness of the republican fleet at the initial stage of the war. Only the arrival of military advisers from the USSR could somewhat improve the situation. Both warring parties were very dependent on shipments by sea, but if the rebels received military supplies on German and Italian transport ships almost unhindered, the Republicans had to rely on the help of the Soviet Union. A whole range of political, diplomatic and military reasons prevented the republic from organizing the blockade of ports controlled by the Francoists and at the same time resisting an attack on their own ships.
As early as October 1937, the breakthrough of Soviet transports to Spanish ports was difficult to accomplish. Starting in December, the steamers that left Leningrad or Murmansk were forced to unload in the French harbors of Le Havre or Bordeaux, and already from there, by rail, they brought in transit to Spain. Due to the increasingly hostile attitude of the French authorities, part of the cargo did not reach its destination at all.
Hot night at Cape Palos
Cape Palos battle plan
By the beginning of 1938, the position of the Republic was not yet desperate, but already difficult. More than half of the country was controlled by the Francoists, who, unlike the Republicans, had a cohesive and disciplined army that was not torn by political squabbles. The rear of the nationalists did not shake unrest and strikes - any manifestation of protest during the war was forbidden under the penalty of the death penalty. Prices in the market have been frozen. By this time, Franco had already recognized more than 20 states. The situation was different inside the republic. The economic collapse could not be overcome - the industry, despite the war time, worked with holidays and weekends, the republican peseta depreciated. Under such conditions, among the top leaders of the country, the idea of a decisive battle began to develop, which, if not crushing Franco, then in any case, will strengthen the fragile position of the Republic in the international arena.
At the end of 1937, a bloody battle began for the seaside town of Teruel, where the most combat-ready units, dominated by the Communists, were thrown. The naval command also decided not to lag behind and try, finally, to get rid of the problem of having the enemy Baleares and Canarias. The largest ships of the republican fleet by this time were light cruisers - the battleship Jaime I by this time was already lost as a result of the explosion of the cellars and the ensuing fire. After the meetings with the Soviet military advisers, it was decided to entrust the liquidation of the two “corsairs” who had already gotten the edge of the teeth on torpedo boats, which were to be attacked by heavy cruisers while stationary.
Late February - early March 1938 were marked by increased intelligence activity aviation Republicans. In the first days of March, during the next flight over Mallorca (Balearic Islands), both ships were captured in pictures standing in the bay of Palma behind boom barriers. The preparation of the operation began. On the night of March 4-5, the strike group, consisting of three torpedo boats and four destroyers, moved from Cartagena to Valencia, closer to the enemy’s deployment site. However, Franco intelligence was no less active. Their agents became aware of the upcoming action of the opposite side. The command of the "national" fleet decided to play ahead of schedule. Already on March 5, the squadron of Rear Admiral Manuel de Vierna left the Palm with the heavy cruisers Baleares (flagship) and Canarias, the light cruiser Almirante Server, three destroyers and two mine loaders. One of them was the all-new Jupiter, which, apart from the mine itself, also had good artillery weapons: four 120-mm guns and small-caliber artillery.
Vierna's plan was to intercept the Republican fleet ships using fire superiority at dawn on 6 in March. An additional task was to set up a minefield on the approach to Cartagena. A number of sources indicate that the ships of Vierna were to meet a convoy of two transports and escort them to Mallorca, and that nothing was known about the withdrawal of the Republican fleet. Frankists had information that it was in Cartagena that almost all combat-capable Republican ships were assembled into a squadron, which was supposed to insure a strike group designed to attack Mallorca. The Republicans had no idea about all the activities of the enemy, and therefore in the evening of March 5 a squadron under the command of Luis Gonzalez de Ubieta took to the sea. By the way, at the post of commander of the squadron of Ubieta was quite recently: he was promptly promoted to this position, when in the rank of captain of the 3 rank he commanded the light cruiser "Mendes Nunes". Now, under the command of the newly minted Vice Admiral were light cruisers “Libertad” (flagship), the actual “Mendes Nunes” and the 2 th division of destroyers consisting of six ships. Light cruisers were already quite old by this point - they were designed based on British small cruiser scouts. Libertad had eight, and Nunes had six 152-mm guns.
Already at sea, Ubieta received a message that in the Valencia region a storm was raging with at least 7 points, and in such conditions torpedo boats would not be possible. After consulting with the military adviser, Captain-Lieutenant N. Pitersky, the admiral decided not to return to the base, but to reconnoiter in the area of the Balearic Islands, in particular, near Ibiza Island. The Republican squadron headed for the northeast. Meanwhile, Vierna, relying more on the daytime battle, increased his speed, intending to be in the Cartagena area at dawn. Both minelayers, whose speed did not exceed the 18 nodes, were left under the supervision of the destroyers, and the cruising forces (Baleares, Canarias, Almirante Server), moving with the 30 hub, moved towards Cape Palos.
Before midnight Ubieta separated from their forces a battle group of three destroyers, sending them to a free search in the area of Ibiza. The squadron was as follows: "Libertad" and "Mendes Nunes" in the wake, and to the right of the board from them - three destroyers. Both connections moved on each other, and the meeting took place on March 6 between 0.35 and 0.40 minutes. The signalmen from the Republican destroyer “Sanchez”, which was walking in the head of the column, found a foamy trail of enemy ships that were almost at full speed in the light of the stars, and then saw their silhouettes. The profile of the heavy cruisers with their massive chimney was impossible to confuse with any ship. Vierna may have made a mistake by refusing to escort her cruisers with destroyers for the sake of haste. Apparently, he wanted to take the enemy by surprise, because the weight of the onboard volley of his cruisers exceeded 2 tons against 700 kg among Republicans. New 203-mm guns heavy cruisers had very good performance, and in the daytime battlefield conditions Franco could count on success.
However, the circumstances were such that Vierna turned out to be in an unpleasant situation. “Sanchez”, reporting to the flagship “Libretad” about contact with the enemy, fired two torpedoes at enemy ships, but did not hit, and the rest of the column slipped at 25 speed nodes, not having time to react. Around 0.50 Ubieta received a radiogram from Sanchez and, fearing that the enemy might cut the escape routes of the previously released combat group, changed course. The entire Republican squadron made a turn to the right and, raising the course to full, tried to cut the course of the rebels' ships, at the same time shortening the distance to Cartagena. The Francoist admiral guessed that the enemy wanted to cut off his escape route to the open sea and press him to the shore. In order not to let himself be trapped, Wierna increased the speed even further, almost to the maximum (the Servers servers, despite being older than the heavy cruisers, could run almost an 32 node), and began to go southeast. leaving the republican squadron behind. He did not want a night battle, rightly fearing enemy destroyers who could get closer and launch torpedoes. It was easier to wait for the dawn on the high seas and impose the Republicans fight on their own terms.
Ubieta did not give up the chase - his ships also developed full speed. The oldest Mendes Nunez had a harder time — his turn did not exceed the 29 nodes, and he gradually began to lag behind. The chase lasted for an hour and a half already, numerous signalmen peered into the night sea. Finally in 2 h. 13 min. from the same “Sanchez”, which continued to go ahead of the squadron, the Franco cruisers again noticed. The enemy was detected at a distance of about 2 miles, and the destroyer went unnoticed, since the Franks, on seeing Republican cruisers, focused all their attention on them. From a distance of about 3 miles, Libertad and Mendes Núñez opened fire on the enemy. In response, the 203-mm of Baleares and Canarias, Almirante Server, were stormed by the fire, because they were hampered by the leading Canarias.
The destroyer "Lepanto"
Artillery contact was short-lived. "Libertad", for example, spent only 27 152-mm shells, having achieved, according to the observations of signalmen, three hits in "Canarias". The francists did not confirm this. On the Republican ships, searchlights were switched on, Vierna ships helped themselves with lighting projectiles. It played a fatal role. During the shootout, both columns of the cruisers intensively maneuvered and went on a collision course, while the Libertad and the Mendez Nunes were on the left of the enemy, and the destroyers on the right. Vierna, allowing himself to be drawn into a night battle, was actually put in two flames. Using a very advantageous tactical situation, Republican destroyers from a distance of a little more than a mile fired torpedoes (Almirante Antequera - 5, Sanchez - 4, Lepanto - 3). Around 2 h. 30 min. On the second in the Baleares column, two (according to other sources, three) powerful explosions thundered. A fire broke out on the ship, as one of the torpedoes hit the fuel oil tank, and he, lurching to the port side, began to sink. The second caused the detonation of the cellars of the tower “B”, which led to the death of all the officers on the bridge, including the commander of the cruiser and Rear Admiral Vierna. "Canarias" and "Almirante Server" turned around and left the battlefield. Information about getting one torpedo in the "Canarias" and jamming his steering wheel seem controversial.
Ubieta did not finish off the flaming cruiser, considering it doomed. He did not continue to chase the rapidly evolving enemy - the news of the failure that befell the cruising squadron, made minelayers and the destroyers accompanying them to go on the opposite course. The Francoists refused to mine the approaches of Cartagena in such conditions. Perhaps the Republicans would have achieved even greater success, having managed to destroy all the ships of the enemy. The Republican commander, in addition, could use a destroyer destroyer group departing from Ibiza Island that had at least 18 torpedoes. For some reason this was not done. Perhaps Ubieta feared the daily attacks of the enemy bombers from Menorca. Subsequently, eyewitnesses claimed that the commander allegedly did not want to drown the "Spanish" ships at the end of the already lost war. One way or another, the opportunity to turn a tactical success into a serious naval victory was missed.
The end of "Baleares"
After both opposing sides left the battlefield, the British destroyers Boreas and Kempenfelt approached the flaming Baleares. The fact is that concerned about the attacks on civilian ships made by "unknown" submarines, the British government ordered to patrol in the area of the Balearic Islands. Noticing bright flames on the horizon, the British came closer and in 3 hours. 50 minutes. discovered a burning cruiser. After a short time, the destroyers proceeded to rescue the crew from the helpless ship. All in all, the British, who showed professionalism and self-control, rescued 12 officers and 360 sailors from the burning Baleares and out of the water. Around 5 am, the heavily damaged heavy cruiser sank.
In 7.20, the Canarias returned to the place of the recent battle and began to take on board the rescued from its sistership. Republican reconnaissance aircraft found him behind this occupation. Having received a signal about the heavy cruiser observed and, obviously, having taken it for aspiring Baleares, the main aviation adviser T. V. Malashkevich directed against him all the bombers on hand. An 3 squadron (27 units) "SB" was thrown to the rescue site. Most of them had mixed Soviet-Spanish crews. In total, three air raids were committed, and the planes met with heavy anti-aircraft fire. The pilots claimed that as a result of hits, Baleares sank and managed to achieve at least one hit in Canarias. Since the flagship of Vierna by this time was already at the bottom, the Republicans, who bombed 3500 meters from the height, took the Canarias standing in its place. Subsequently, the nationalists claimed that there were no hits. On the other hand, the British side noted one sailor killed by the bomb attack from the destroyer Boreas, which was located close to Canarias.
"Canarias" should be to the place of disassembly
The battle at Cape Palos seriously affected the intensity of the activities of the Franco-navy. For nearly a month and a half, his ships were located in the permanently-based points, engaged in repair and combat training. However, due to the general unfavorable situation, there was no practical benefit other than moral satisfaction for the Republican Navy — the battle of Teruel was lost, and very few people believed in the victory of the government in Madrid. Streams of weapons and equipment, sent from Italy and Germany to their ally, became more and more deep. On the contrary, assistance from the USSR began to decline. The republican fleet was in poor technical condition, it began to lack fuel, some types of ammunition (in particular, torpedoes), many mechanisms had exhausted their resources, and it was not possible to bring them to proper condition with constant air strikes and deteriorating supply. The Spanish Civil War ended on April 1 on 1939, less than six months before the start of even more formidable events. The republican government, having failed to overcome its internal political ambitions and cope with the chaos that had developed throughout the war, fell, yielding to a cruel, but purposeful and unified force. The cruiser "Canarias", along with former opponents, continued to serve in the Spanish Navy, occasionally undergoing modernization. One of them deprived the ship of its characteristic chimney, turning it into two ordinary ones. The career of the old cruiser ended with 1977 dismantling for scrap.