Saturday, 27 February 2016

Spanish Civil War
Building El Quinto Coño

For my Spanish Civil War project I needed a plan for the buildings and scenery that I would be using. The initial battles of the Civil War typical took place near or in settlements, as local milicianos (and milicianas) set about defending their homes from the rebel forces which were trying to consolidate their hold on the areas they controlled. On the Nationalist drive to Madrid, resistance was also largely encountered at any number of towns and villages on the route. In others knots of Guardias Civil, local Falangistas and others might be contained in the local cuartel or ayuntamiento by local militia, the most obvious example of these being the siege of the Alcázar in Toledo from July 21st to September 27th 1936.

In 1936 the Church of Nuestra Señora De Los Remedios (viewed here from the North-East) dominated the town's skyline. During the Civil War its tower was used as an observation post and the church was heavily damaged by Nationalist shelling as a consequence. Except for the tower, which was fully restored, it was not rebuilt to its original size. Shell and bullet strikes are still visible in places. 

El Quinto Coño (The Arse End of Nowhere) will be a somewhat generic small Spanish town, based in part on my current home town of Estepona, but also a composite of other local settlements and moved inland. Estepona was actually fought over during the Civil War and from 8th October 1936 to the 14th January 1937, the western part of the front line in Málaga Province lay on the hills to the West of the town, along the line of the Arroyo del Vaquero (Cowboy River) and subsequently along the Arroyo de Janacino on the very outskirts of the town. The project will encompass both the town and the trench lines.

The 15th Century watchtower at the 'estuary' of the Arroyo del Vaquero. The Andalucian coastline has one of these, or one built by the Moors in previous centuries, at almost every significant headland. In 1936 the tower formed the limit of the Republican positions on the Arroyo del Vaquero. From here the beach could be covered. This photo was taken in 1959, but does not necessarily show war damage. The small house to the left was built using stone from the tower. The large hole obscures what was the door-sized entrance, originally accessed by a ladder.

The Republican trenches on this small headland were later used as burial pits for some of those who were shot by the Nationalists after they took the town. Besides the tower, three other locations, including the municipal cemetery, are believed to contain the bodies of a total of 41 people.       
The Town

Typical Spanish town with barely two buildings alike. The church is typically built at the highest point.

For those of you who have visited Spain, the concept that there might be such a thing as Spanish 'town planning' might seem a little laughable. Invariably most towns seemingly have a veritable rabbit warren of streets and alley ways which in no way shape or form make any real sense. Most settlements are very old, some of them began as settlements in the times of the Romans and some earlier than that. Almost invariably they are built on high ground, so as to see any pirates/slavers drawing near. 

They usually began as a quite spacious group of buildings and as families grew and became more extended, they grew into spacious clusters of buildings. Roads and tracks usually follow the easiest route up the incline, so tend to meander a bit and are typically only the width of a cart or so. New arrivals built their dwellings along these established tracks and in between the existing building clusters... in anyway that would fit in some cases. All these people need somewhere to pray and a central location, usually the highest point so that God can hear them better.

That is pretty much how a typical pueblo (village) formed way back when and it is at this point some form of planning comes in if it is to grow into a ciudad (town or city). Firstly there needs to be an ayuntamiento (town hall), which is usually converted from  one of the more grandiose town houses, or purpose-built by knocking down a couple of modest houses. Usually the town hall is in the immediate area as the church, but not always. Then a market place is required, which depending on the size of the town can be quite spacious. In an ideal world the market place sits right between the church and the town hall, or failing that is typically in the vicinity of the town hall.

Modern map of Estepona, the heavy black line marks the town limits c. 1936. The Barriada de los Pescadores to the bottom left, was a recently built industrial fishing community. The black line actually falls on an area of low ground between the hill the town sits upon and the rising ground around it that extends towards the Sierra Bermeja some 10 km to the North.

To the West is a short ridgeline (Tres Banderas) that peaks where the 'B' in Banderas is, after which is the Arroyo Janacino; the final Republican positions were on this ridgeline. Once this was captured the Nationalists had a clear field of fire into the town. The local cuartel of the Guardia Civil was located just South of the 'E' in Estepona. The Carabineros also had a cuartel to the East of Estepona, but off this map.

The + marks the church, which sits on the highest peak of the hill the town is built on. The A is the site of the ayuntamiento, with the open market area to its South, this area sits on a small plateau, which is also occupied by the remains of a small Moorish castle (dark pink), which was extended in the 16th Century to house cannon (Castillo de San Luis). The scale is misleading as the walk from church to market is literally two minutes. 
Roughly the same area as shown on the map from the West,before the area was redeveloped in the Sixties and Seventies. The large area of water to the left was drained and used for housing development, the strip of buildings between it and the sea is the Barriada de las Pescadores on the map.

In terms of actual residential buildings, the largest are usually around the church and town hall, and represent the homes of the local 'caciques' (gentry). Apparently this was not quite good enough for some and a small 'gated community' (with its own walls and gates) was built on a false peak slightly to the East of the church. The remainder of the buildings varied between single and two storey buildings of varying size to accommodate working class and lower middle class families. 

A typical claustrophobic calle of a large town. With space at a premium the tendency was to build up. The high first-floor balconies were designed to make conversation between the daughters of a household and a mounted prospective suitor possible, but not so easy for him to get more intimate by climbing onto the balcony. Oddly the servants quarters were typically on the top storey or attics of these buildings.  
The lower the buildings, the less affluent the occupants and typically the further away from the centre of town. The citizens of this district are however still choosy enough to build their balconies quite high off the ground.
Some wider thoroughfares were required however, typically to serve the market and church and to allow two-way traffic as a consequence. This is Calle San Jacinto in the Triana suburb of Sevilla in 1910. In the distance you can just make out the city centre across the river.
The walls of the Macarena district of Sevilla. Residential buildings have been cleared from the immediate area inside the walls. In Estepona a number of townhouses actually used the walls of the Castillo San Luis as a backwall when they were built. In a number of instances defenders made use of medieval fortifications during the Civil War.
A photo from Estepona in happier times. Taken from a working class calle in the East of the town, the steady rise up to the hill top and the area around the church is quite clear.

Outside of the town limits there were small pueblos of a few low houses and larger farm houses. Typically the latter were two storey buildings, the bottom storey housing the animals and the top storey the family itself. These buildings varied dramatically in both size and construction, but were typically stone-built and rendered, with pantile roofing.    

Somewhat done up for sale as a holiday home, but a not un-typical smallholder's home.  
About the meanest type of dwelling you will find, shown here in relation to the buildings surrounding it. That's right there aren't any. It's a single-room dwelling with a sloping pantile roof. There is a small walled courtyard to shelter whatever domestic animal(s) that were owned.  

The Trench Lines

Estepona's defences were temporary and largely followed the contours of the terrain. The relatively thin layers of soil in many areas precluded digging deep trenches and bunkers, unless blasting took place. As a result defensive positions were partly 'in' and 'on' the terrain, as opposed to those wholly 'in' the terrain which we generally associate with the Great War. Key positions might have a hurriedly-built concrete emplacement or two covering them, but unless a 'front' stabilised for some time, more complex strong-points are usually absent.  

The trenches at El Chorro, somewhat to the North of Estepona. At nearby Picobarro the Neolithic necropolis provided ready-made bunkers and shelters. After spending two months constructing this defensive line, it was ordered to be abandoned for a secondary, but shorter, defensive line that was less well-prepared, but which would concentrate what forces were available better. 
The simplest trenches were literally scraped from the soil with a rampart of rocks built up. There is no shortage of such rocks in Spain. The rapid retreat of the Republicans on the 'Estepona Front' did not allow more elaborate defences to be prepared.

Near Albucierre in Aragon, the former Republican trenches at Tres Huegas and "Orwell's Hill" have been restored. Definitely somewhere on my 'to-go-to' list. 
In other areas of Spain other trench lines are being restored (as seen here at the Sierra Guadarrama National Park near Madrid); as they were typically constructed on hill sides and not on arable land, they were rarely filled in after the war and are usually quite visible.
Rudimentary or not, some defences could stall an advance. These T-26 tanks were abandoned after failing to find a point to cross the nationalist trenches.
The Project

So this post is the introduction to the second of my terrain projects to complement on of my key wargaming interests. Despite being eighty years on from the start of the Civil War, I am literally quite surrounded by buildings that date from that period of time. In terms of construction most are quite straightforward, as they are simply four walls and a roof. While urban buildings tend to be somewhat more elegant and require fine detailing of doors and windows, rural buildings are somewhat less so. 

The only real limitation is that I have yet to see two buildings the same, that are not Post-Civil War builds. This means that constructing a standard template for a particular type of building would not give the right effect and each building would need to be a unique 'one-off'. It is not an insurmountable difficulty though and will at least make each one a new challenge.  

Family day out to see the sights 1930s Style.

1 comment:

  1. This is wonderful Jim. I can't wait to see what you do with it. I've been working up to a more urban fight this week, and it's been quite frustrating to never quite feel like I have enough buildings of the right type.