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Good afternoon, gentlemen!
If there was a ship that could be considered a game changer in the naval operations of the Spanish Civil War, that ship must certainly be the heavy cruiser Canarias.
A 10000 ton, 8 inch Washington Treaty heavy cruiser, she was ordered in 1928. The design was made by Sir Phillip Watts and was built a SECN at Ferrol. She was launched in 1931, and made her first sea run in 1934. But at the beginning of the Civil War in July 1936 she was not yet commissioned, being with incomplete armament and without ranging systems, and almost as important, without a trained crew.
Working day and night, Canarias was able to made her first sortie in late September 1936, with incomplete armament (the secondary battery was the secondary 4 inch guns of the old battleship España), makeshift ranging apparatus (made with the telemeters of Ferrol coast batteries and a privately bought gyroscopic platform), and a hastily trained crew (most of the gunners were army gunners of the shore defenses), knowing that the Republican Fleet (called by the own republicans, the Red Fleet) had gone to the Bay of Biscay lefting over only a pair of destroyers at Gibraltar Strait, Canarias flying the flag of Admiral Moreno, and light 6 inch cruiser Cervera (qv) left Ferrol for southern waters.
In September 29th at dawn, at Cabo Espartel at the Atlantic side of the Gibraltar strait, Canarias found the republican destroyer Almirante Ferrandiz and begun to shell it, attaining a hit in the third salvo at a respectable distance of 19,000 meters. Closing distances, Canarias hit 5 more time the unlucky destroyer blew up and sank. Cervera shelled the destroyer Gravina, but the republican vessel was able to reach Casablanca for safety.
Being masters of the Gibraltar Strait, the rebel/nationalist/francoist fleet protected the shipping of all the remaining rebel troops at Spanish Morocco, the well seasoned Army of Africa, which in a mater of weeks was able to be ad portas of the Spanish capitol city, Madrid. In October 16th Canarias arrived Cadiz and in that arsenal, 4 120 mm dual purpose guns were mounted. Later in October she went up to the Catalonian coast, the 30th Canarias shelled Rosas and sunk the patrol vessel Marinero Cante (an old French built vessel of ungainly appearance, armed with a 57 mm Hotchkiss gun).
In November 8th she shelled Almeria, burning CAMPSA oil facilities there, two days after she shelled Barcelona in a night attack, the following day she shelled and sunk the steamer SS Manuel, the 12th captured the Spanish little steamer SS Ciudadela, almost a week later, the 17th, Palamos was shelled.
By the end of November, the soviet vessel Kharkov was captured and two weeks later, another soviet ship, the modern MV Komsomol was intercepted, shelled and sunk (other version said intercepted, scuttled by the own soviet crew and sunk). Finally in early January 1937 Canarias shelled Port Bou and captured CAMPSA´s modern oil tanker Campuzano (qv).
In late January with her sister Baleares, Canarias shelled Malaga giving support to the land offensive that surrounded and conquest the most western Mediterranean harbor of the Spanish republic. After a pause as escorts of MV Domine (qv) with the Moroccan Muslim pilgrims to Mecca, Baleares remained in the southern waters and Canarias went to the Bay of Biscay, but with a brief detour at Cadiz for being armed with the remainder 4 120 mm guns of the secondarhy battery.
In March 5th 1937, near Bilbao, Canarias shelled and sunk after a brave combat the basque armed trawler Guipuzcoa (qv), almost disabled Navarra (qv), shelled and hit Donostia (qv) and captured the republican steamer SS Galdames (qv). And much more important, the 8th, Canarias captured in Cantabrian Sea, the modern MV Mar Cantabrico (qv) with a full load of airplanes, artillery, machine guns and 14 million cartridges of rifle ammo.
With almost the complete fall of the republican north coast, Canarias and Cervera returned to the Mediterranean Sea, as a much needed reinforcement to the sole cruiser Baleares. During the first week of September 1937, most part of the republican fleet (cruisers Libertad (qv) and Mendez Nuñez (qv) plus 6 destroyers) sailed from Cartagena to protect a convoy of 3 steamers: Satrustegui, Aldecoa and Mar Blanco from Oran to Valencia.
Baleares sailed from Palma to intercept the convoy, and near Cape Cherchel she was able to fire to the republican cruisers, being hit 3 times by the 6 inch Libertad, but due superior speed, Baleares was able to force to the steamers made a complete turn to the french Algeria, and off Oran, Aldecoa run aground.
Despite being a republican tactical victory, the francoist cruiser attained her goal of avoiding the much needed (for the Belchite republican offensive) "materiel" reinforcements of the convoy.
In September 23th 1937, Canarias captured the republican steamers SS JJ Sister (qv) and SS Rey Jaime II,
after the fleeing of the republican escort of 3 destroyers (Antequera, Gravina and Sanchez Barcaiztegui). This was probably the Republican Fleet nadir, and was the event that catapulted the removal of Captain Buiza as head of the Red Fleet.
In February 22th 1938, 18 Tupolev SB bombers made an attack to the nationalist cruiser division, but only Cervera was hit, with and important number of casualties.
In March 5th 1938, while escorting the steamers SS Aiskori Mendi and SS Unbe Mendi (qv) with an important load of war material from Italy, the cruiser division (Baleares, flying the flag of Almirante Vierna, Canarias and Cervera) were crossed (unintentionally) by the Republican Fleet (Libertad, Mendez Nuñez and 5 destroyers) at 02:00 hours, unfortunatelly some illuminants were fired from the francoist vessels and within seconds the main tactic advantage, the bigger and longer ranged artillery, of the rebel ships disappeared, with the advantage of the republican destroyers of being at close range. The destroyers swiftly fired a spread of torpedoes, no less than 12 went towards the nationalist ships, and at least 2 hit Baleares, the explosion quickly killed the skipper, the admiral and most of his staff, and left the ship with little power. The remainder cruisers of the squadron made a deffensive turn, and the republican fleet went to Cartagena. At 05:00, Baleares was sunk with heavy loss of life.
Despite the loss of the most modern vessel of the fleet, the rebel forces remained with the initiative, and 2 months later Canarias was able to capture the soviet motor vessel Stepanov. In August 1938, Canarias together with other ships forced the republican destroyer Jose Diaz to be interned in Gibraltar. The last months of the war, the rebel fleet was undisputed and attained almost a complete control of the sea. Finally, in April 1st 1939, Canarias entered to the main republican naval base, Cartagena, as a victor.
Credits: I want to thank Colombamike for his help since the inception of the cruisers, the steamers, and even in the ugly Marinero Cante (known as the "chambrestick" class by the spaniards
) lots of thanks! I also tried to mimic Alvama´s details in the destroyer Ferrandiz, so my drawing is in line with the style. Thanks to him too. Cheers.
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2. Antony Beevor. La Guerra Civil Española.
3. Hugh Thomas. Historia de la Guerra Civil Española.
4. Pio Moa. El derrumbe de la II República y la Guerra Civil.
5. Cesar Vidal. La guerra que ganó Franco.
6. Stanley Payne. 40 preguntas fundamentales sobre la guerra civil.
7. Stanley Payne. Por que la Republica perdió la guerra.
8. Peter Gretton. El factor olvidado. La marina britanica y la guerra civil española.
9. José Cervera. La guerra naval española 1936-1939.
10. Gutierrez, Jose Manuel. Importancia de las operaciones navales en el final de la guerra civil, lucha por el control del estrecho y del Mediterraneo Occidental. Cuadernos de Pensamiento Naval. 16 (1), pag. 5-40. 2014.
PS: Edited. Thanks to Henrik por the nice color photograph of Canarias and his very useful comments. Thanks to Colombamike and his swifty aid with the reference blueprint of Ciudadela and comments to improve the subsecuent drawing. Cheers.