July 25, 2024 | 3:32


The defense and fall of Bilbao: The order to destroy AHV and the intervention of the PNV

Jesus Carames

June 19, 2024 | 7:32 pm

During the Spanish Civil War, the city of Bilbao experienced moments of intense resistance and crucial military strategies. Among these episodes, the order to destroy the Altos Hornos de Vizcaya (AHV) by the government of the Republic, and the intervention of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) that prevented its execution.

The Destruction Order and the PNV Intervention

In a context where the fall of Bilbao seemed inevitable, the republican government decided to issue an order to destroy AHV, one of the largest steel industries of the time. The objective was to prevent the material and infrastructure from falling into the hands of Franco's army., which advanced relentlessly towards the city.

However, the PNV, aware of the economic and strategic importance of AHV for the future of the region, strongly opposed this order. The nationalist party managed to prevent the destruction, arguing that the preservation of the industry would be vital for post-conflict reconstruction. This decision had immediate consequences, since, the day after the taking of Bilbao by Franco's forces, AHV began to supply war material to the rebel army.

The Destruction of the 1st Basque Division and the Defense of the Iron Belt

The advance of Franco's troops towards Bilbao was met with tenacious resistance in the well-known iron belt, a series of defensive fortifications that surrounded the city. The 1st Basque Division played a crucial role in this defense, although it was finally destroyed in the conflict.

Bilbao was surrounded by Franco's forces at several strategic points, especially in Balmasín. The strongest resistance occurred on Mount Artxanda, where for three days the Basque defenders fought to gain time and allow the evacuation of the city. Despite their efforts, resistance within Bilbao was broken due to defeats suffered on the outskirts.

The fall of Bilbao was a severe blow to the Republic, not only due to the territorial loss, but also due to the moral and strategic impact. The capture of the city allowed Franco's forces to consolidate their control over northern Spain, facilitating its subsequent progress.

Evacuation and Consequences

During the three days of intense fighting in Artxanda, the republican authorities and the Basque militias focused on the evacuation of civilians and wounded combatants. This evacuation was crucial in saving numerous lives, although it meant the abandonment of an exhausted and destroyed city.

The taking of Bilbao by Franco's forces marked a turning point in the Spanish Civil War. The city, with its important industrial infrastructure intact thanks to the intervention of the PNV, quickly became a strategic resource for Franco's army.. This fact highlighted the importance of the tactical and strategic decisions that were made in the final moments of the defense of Bilbao.

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