Updated:11/22/2020 05: 35h
In the early hours of March 5 to 6, 1939, General Manuel Matallana received a call from Segismundo Casado to inform him that he had risen up against his own president, Juan Negrín, who at that point in the Civil War only had the support of the Soviets and the Communist Party. When he found out, the latter took the phone from him and said directly to the coup colonel: “You are dismissed.” And he replied: «Look, Negrín, that doesn’t matter anymore. You are no longer a government, nor do you have the strength or prestige to sustain yourself, and even less to stop us. The die is cast and I am no longer turning back.
The conspiracy had begun to take shape a month earlier, but the left had been disintegrating for much longer. In May 1937, there were already two well-differentiated factions within the republican side. One that was committed to peace and an armistice with Franco, headed by then-president Azaña and supported by the Republican Left and Republican Union parties, as well as a sector of the PSOE and the Catalan and Basque nationalists. And the other, led by Negrín, appointed president that same month, who was in favor of continuing the war with the help of communists and the other part of the socialists.
The first thing the new president Negrín tried was to crush the Francoists in the battle of Teruel. And then launch his last great offensive in the Ebro, the longest and bloody confrontation of the Civil War, which also ended in failure on November 16, 1938. Thousands of men and a large quantity of weapons were lost. to need to defend Catalonia from the advance of Franco. Republicans hoped that World War II would break out earlier and the Allies would come to their aid, but this hypothesis was not given in time either.
The triumph of the conspiracy
On the morning of March 6, 1939, shortly after Casado’s call, three planes left for France with the last constitutional government of the Second Republic. The Sevillian edition of ABC, in the hands of the national side, titled: “The red zone revolts against Negrín and he flees to Toulouse accompanied by Álvarez del Vayo.” And, two days later, he added: “According to the Reds of Miaja and Casado, they have completely defeated the Reds of Negrin and Stalin.”
Since then, the figure of the colonel and the coup against his own side, just how much worse it was doing in the war, have sent rivers of ink flowing and generated hundreds of articles and dozens of books. In all of them Casado has received the most diverse evaluations, to the point of being described as an infiltrator for Franco or a spy for Great Britain. For Dolóres Ibárruri, «La Pasionaria», an important leader of the PCE, «it is difficult to imagine a more cowardly and elusive vermin than the colonel». While General Vicente Rojo wrote: «Married is a man of phrases. Married does not serve and has never served the people. He is the most political and most wicked and fearful military man of all the professionals who served the Republic.
The socialist Juan Simeon Vidarte He expressed a similar opinion in his memoirs: «The international situation every day more fiery made us guess the inevitable clash between Germany and the West. The Republic could be saved if it did not surrender. Negrín, in his calculations, failed more than time and Casado’s uprising. This was a man from England, but not from our friends, we had many there, but from our adversaries […]. Marriedist sedition is historically equated with that of the July 18 rebels, with all the exceptions that Besteiro’s presence in it forces me to point out.
There is no doubt that the coup had triumphed, although the Communists still started a revolt in Madrid against Colonel Casado, a short time before, a comrade, which lasted about two days. For a moment it seemed to be in his favor, but it was only a mirage, because the brigades of the IV Army Corps commanded by the anarchist Cirpiano Mera, the most important unit that the casadistas had, they mobilized from the Guadalajara front to Madrid and discouragement soon spread among those who resisted the change of government.
The communists soon learned that Casado had triumphed throughout Spain and that the capital was the only place where they were still fighting. The population had watched with horror, in recent months, how the Republicans killed each other, until the morning of the 12th, in this kind of civil war within the Civil War. The resulting death toll has never been clear. There are historians who put them at a few hundred, others at 2,000, and not a few at no less than 20,000.
Once the resistance in Madrid was quelled, the masterminds of the conspiracy, including the socialist Julián Besteiro, continued with their plans to negotiate the end of the war. In fact, the newly formed National Defense Council, now the only republican government, had been holding talks with delegates from the Franco government in Burgos for some time before. But the negotiation of a dignified surrender free of reprisals, with a distinction between common and political crimes, respect for the life and liberty of some soldiers, and with a 25-day period to be able to go into exile, did not go well.
Surrender without guarantees
“Colonel Casado informed the Franco Government on March 12 that he himself and General Matallana wanted to go to Burgos to negotiate the terms of peace, based on the so-called Concessions of the Generalissimo. Meanwhile, Besteiro spoke to the people of Madrid on March 18 to explain what the National Defense Council had done until then. But the next day Franco’s reply arrived, in which he said that he was not willing to allow enemy superiors to come there. None of the meetings that were held obtained from Franco anything other than unconditional surrender, without receiving in return sufficient guarantees that his famous concessions would be fulfilled, ”explained the director of Guadarramistas Historia, Angel Sánchez Crespo, two years ago in a report on the conspiracy in the magazine «Clío».
On March 22, the Defense Council understood the situation, accepted the unconditional surrender and ordered the civil governors to prepare the evacuation. Four days later, Franco ordered a general offensive on all fronts. He had concluded the negotiations and his troops were advancing through Extremadura without encountering any resistance. They quickly occupied Almadén (Ciudad Real) and other towns in Toledo, until ending the last resistance in the province of Alicante, in whose docks a desperate attempt to escape had taken place by more than 150,000 supporters of the Republic. Many of them were arrested.
Shortly before the actor Fernando Fernández de Córdoba read the last part of the war on the radio on April 1, 1939, the news reached the Muguiro palace, in Burgos, where Franco was in bed suffering from the flu. Franco’s lieutenant colonel and aide-de-camp, José Martínez Maza, entered the room to communicate the long-awaited news. He replied with a brief “thank you very much.” And it put an end to one of the most tragic stages in the history of Spain, a fratricidal war that had left behind about 200,000 corpses and thousands of exiles.
Of the members of the Defense Council, only Besteiro remained in his office, where he was arrested and died on September 27, 1940 in the Carmona prison (Seville). Colonel Casado, however, had already moved to Valencia four days earlier, when he saw that the enemy was about to reach Madrid. In a last attempt to save the prestige of his “betrayal”, Casado issued a message from Radio Valencia in which he stated that “the good faith of the winners cannot be doubted. We have obtained a decent and honorable peace, in the best possible conditions, without bloodshed.
From the port of Gandia, he fled on a British ship to Marseille. He then left for Great Britain, where he was exiled without being able to reunite with his family until 1951. That same year he left for Venezuela and, later, for Colombia, until he returned to Spain in 1961. “He was tried and later acquitted by a council of war under the crime of military rebellion. He tried to have his military rank prior to the Civil War recognized and to be allowed to re-enter the Army. Rejected by the Franco regime for having voluntarily served the republican cause, Casado also did not enjoy sympathy among the republican exile, due to his coup d’état and his refusal during the contest to adhere to some of the parties of the old Popular Front “, added Sáchez Curly.
The colonel died of a heart attack in Madrid in 1961, at the age of 75. Few ever found out. There were no journalists at his funeral, although there were a good number of representatives from the two Spains. Only in a few newspapers did a brief reference appear and his obituary was published on ABC. Paul Preston gave his opinion in his book «The End of the War. The last stab at the Republic ”(Debate, 2014) that,“ in his dealings with Franco, Casado behaved as if he had nothing to negotiate with. He seemed to forget the fact that Franco was obsessed with Madrid, the very symbol of the resistance, where he had failed in 1936, and the following year at Jarama and Brunete ».
As the writer Luis Español Bouché recalled in this newspaper in 2009, the best epitaph about the coup colonel and his historical importance are these words written by the politician, journalist and president of Real Madrid in the 1930s, Rafael Sánchez-Guerra : «Perhaps in a few years, when spirits calm down, when passions calm down, when in Spain coexistence is possible, Casado will be paid, by right and left, the tribute of admiration and gratitude to who has become a creditor. He has wanted to end the war in a peaceful and dignified way and has not achieved it due to the intransigence and the pride of the victors, but the whole of Spain, in a special way the rearguard and the Madrid population, owes him the saving of many moments of anguish that still awaited him ».