lunes, 24 de abril de 2017

The Gardens of the Combatants of La Nueve Inaugurated: Madrid City Council Pays Homage to Their Brave Deeds

SPANISH

The inauguration of the Gardens of La Nueve (the Spanish Republicans of the 9th Company of general Leclerc´s 2nd Armoured Division who liberated Paris on August 24, 1944) in Ciudad Lineal (Madrid) took place on Thursday April 20, 2017,


a very touching and historical act attended by Anne Hidalgo (Mayor of Paris), Manuela Carmena (Mayor of Madrid), Rafael Gómez Nieto (last survivor of La Nueve), the daughter of Luis Royo (penultimate combatant of La Nueve, sadly demised eight months ago, on August 23, 2016, and who couldn´t attend the event as it would have been his wish), Colette Dronne Flandrin (daughter of captain Raymond Dronne, commander of La Nueve), Evelyn Mesquida (the journalist that after a ten years arduous research all over France — between 1998 and 2008 — unveiled the secret hidden throughout almost seventy years), Jean-Paul Gómez (Rafael Gómez Nieto´s son) and his sister, María José Cortés (daughter of sergeant José Cortés, who was wounded along with lieutenant Elías during the attack of La Nueve against the telephone central office building), Mary Luz Cariño (daughter of Cariño López, the famous gunner of La Nueve), Carmen Blanc (granddaughter of the chief sergeant José Zubieta, who entered Paris inside the Guadalajara M3 armoured half-track), the daughter and granddaughter of Sánchez Escudero (who entered Paris inside the HT España Cañí) and other many relatives of dead members of La Nueve (also arrived from France for the occasion), Véronique Salou Olivares (President of the 24 Août 1944 Association), Daniel Pinos Barrieras (Member of the 24 Août 1944 Association), Jesús Hernández Salinas (Member of the 24 Août 1944 Association), the components of the C. La Nueve Cultural and Historical Association (who has devoted itself to reenact the history of La Nueve since January 2001 and whose men wear the same uniforms used by La Nueve soldiers in 1944 and 1945, together with original badges), personalities of politics and culture, as well as the most important graphic and online media and a numerous presence of radio and TV channels.


Preliminary minutes before the unforgettable event. The great number of attendees — many of them having travelled from France — being relatives of members of La Nueve (all of them but one already passed away) have started sitting prior to the Inauguration Ceremony and Homage to the Spanish Republicans of La Nueve who Liberated Paris on August 24, 1944.

One of them, appearing backwards in the foreground, has written on the back of his T-shirt the name Rafael Gómez 9th Company, referring to the last alive Spanish Republican combat of La Nueve, whose presence in the act has been announced for some days.

It´s roughly 11:45 h of April 20, 2017 in Madrid, a glittering spring morning in which an unutterable mélange of exceedingly strong emotions and remembrances is going to emerge, accurately summarizing the 73 years elapsed since the Spanish Republicans of the 9th Company (known as La Nueve) of general Leclerc´s 2nd Armoured Division freed Paris.


Evelyn Mesquida, top expert in the world on La Nueve and a journalist from Alicante (Spain), who was correspondent of Tiempo magazine in Paris throughout 20 years, during the arrangements of the act, a few minutes before it and with the very abundant attendant audience already overcrowding the area of inauguration of the monolith in memory of La Nueve and its surroundings.

After ten years of arduous research all over France between 1998 and 2008, Evelyn Mesquida was the writer who with his 304 page book La Nueve: Los Españoles que Liberaron París (Ediciones B, S.A) disclosed the feat of the Spanish Republicans who were really the first ones who went into Paris on August 24, 1944 and liberated the city, getting the surrender of the German troops defending it

A fact that was concealed for almost seventy years, until the findings made by this outstanding reporter following a huge investigation effort that began in 1998, the testimony of seven survivors of La Nueve (and two further ones belonging to another company but always going with them) she managed to speak with and whose very valuable information she was able to garner, the myriad of all kind of irrefutable evidence, the data provided by the Spanish relatives of the members of La Nueve and mostly resident in France and the French public opinion which finally showed solidarity with the courage and mettle of these men, their suffering in two wars and their subsequent ostracism, made the French president François Hollande proclaim in a televised speech broadcast to the whole country on August 25, 2014, that the first soldiers entering Paris and who truly liberated the city on August 24, 1944 from the German occupation were the Spaniards of La Nueve (9th Company of general Leclerc´s 2nd Armoured Division of the Free France).


Almost three quarters of a century after La Nueve entered Paris and following a lot of decades of oblivion and abandonment, La Nueve is about to bolster up its recognition in France which was bestowed around ten years ago with this inauguration of the Gardens of La Nueve in Madrid, as a matter of fact meaning the homage of Spain to the unboundless bravery of the Spanish soldiers of La Nueve (a combat unit whose steady hallmark was its very high percentage of casualties in each battle, always being on the frontline, the constant comradeship heroic episodes, the commendable stoutheartedness in the face of adversity of these men who had been defeated during the Spanish Civil War, humiliated in 1939 when they crossed the French frontier towards exile and were interned in concentration camps, and who, in spite of it, had the grit of keeping on fighting in other fronts against Fascism throughout six more years, within a French military unit during the Second World War.

It´s a context ruled by the joy of ending a very unfair oblivion and nonchalance once and for all and give these stalwart men who couldn´t return to Spain (their country of birth that they didn´t forget and went on yearning and loving), the recognition and respect deserved by those ones who after having fought against some Panzer SS divisions, other high level Panzer divisions and Fallschirmjäger divisions, had to provide for their families mostly in rather hard conditions, fighting tooth and nail to give them the best possible education and future, that they learnt French language as soon as feasible and managed to integrate their wives and children into the Franch society, with the immense sorrow of not being able to see the land where they were born again.

But throughout the whole event, that elation for the definitive recognition of La Nueve in the Spanish capital is going to be making up an indisssoluble osmosis with peak levels of emotional intensity, indelible memories of an entire life in France, all sort of personal and familiar stories, a number of loved ones who died without being able to see that recognition, organizations like the 24 Août 1944 Association which has fulfilled a discreet and highly praiseworthy work to help strengthen the memory of La Nueve for many years, broken families after the Spanish Civil War, very painful exiles, Spanish fathers and mothers who after the Second World War had to work very hard in France in the most different occupations to feed their offspring.

Maryluz Cariño (daughter of Cariño López, famous gunner of La Nueve) and María José Cortés (daughter of sergeant José Cortés) also arrived from France to honour the memory of their fathers and La Nueve occupying seats of preference in the first row.

This is a story which far exceeds the political ideology of every one, since the historic and above all human dimension of this heroic deed is breathtaking.

They´re complete families who have endured for many decades, with laudable composure and dignity the shunning, the abasement, the contempt, the small-minded unconcern, watching how vast majority of La Nueve men have been dying, to such an extent that the day in which this homage act is held on April 20, 2017, out of the 150 Spanish Republicans from the unit, only one is alive.

It´s no wonder that there´s a massive presence of the most significant communication media, who have discerned the great historical and social importance of this event and the human tragedy preceding it.

Many of the attendees are wearing sunglasses because vivid emotions are foreseen. And they aren´t wrong.

Remembrances begin to gather in the minds of many of the present ones, broken lives who finally weren´t, because today a lot of persons who fell and stood up once and again have met here, following the example of the men of La Nueve who were their parents, grandfathers or uncles and of whom they are so proud.

The elapsed years are too many. Almost three generations. The sons and daughters of Spanish Republicans of La Nueve (anarchists from the CNT and FAI, socialists, affiliates of the POUM, persons with Republican ideas, and very few communists) who fought for the first time in the Spanish Civil War and then in France during the Second World War are now between 60 and 80 years old and their grandsons and granddaughters are beyond 40.

And at this stage of the game, there isn´t here any resentment whatsoever.

Simply common sense and a minimum of humanity, because with the third decade of the XXI Century being about to start, it would have been very shameful and untenable not give these humble men featuring immense courage and gallantry in the face of adversity the recognition they were worthy of and that from now on is going to appear in history books, movies, documentary films, historic novels, archives, etc, with golden letters, without excluding the possibility that more things on La Nueve can be known in future.

Evelyn Mesquida welcoming Anne Hidalgo (Mayor of Paris) and Manuela Carmena (Mayor of Madrid) on their arrival at the act, while an RTVE camera operator records the meeting.

The audience is already overcrowding the area in which the event is about to start.


Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris, granddaughter of forcibly exiled Spanish Republicans and a woman featuring remarkable altruism and humanity, has been another of the major figures in obtaining international recognition for La Nueve, a labour in which she has been strenuously working since 2004 in order that the history be written as it really was, granting the Spanish Republicans of La Nueve and the many other thousands of Spaniards who fought with the French troops during the Second World War their rightful place.

Her presence in the act was very meaningful and symbolic.


Two deluxe guests to the inauguration ceremony of the Jardines de la Nueve in Ciudad Lineal (Madrid): the daughter of Luis Royo (penultimate combatant of La Nueve, who passed away on August 23, 2016 at the Paul Brosse Hospital in Villejuif, Isle of France, Valley of Marne Department) and Colette Dronne Flandrin (daughter of captain Raymond Dronne, commander of La Nueve).

It´s a simultaneously moving and heartrending scene,


reaching its climax when Luis Royo´s daughter, sitting between Anne Hidalgo and Colette Dronne Flandrin draws out the metallic urn containing the ashes of her father, demised only eight months ago, which she has brought from France and is going to be present during the whole ceremony, located by the monolith in remembrance of La Nueve, to be subsequently taken to La Almudena Cemetery.


Manuela Carmena (Mayor of Madrid) apparently thrilled, next to Anne Hidalgo (Mayor of Paris), Luis Royo´s daughter and Colette Dronne Flandrin.

The initiative of Madrid Town Council to celebrate this recognition to La Nueve with the inauguration of the gardens bearing its name in Ciudad Lineal along with the monolith, was a historical milestone whose relevance will be beefed up as time goes by.


Rafael Gómez Nieto, being 96 years old, the last survivor of La Nueve.

Born in Adra (Almería) on January 29, 1921, he was mobilized in Barcelona in 1938 being only 17 years old, belonging to the riflemen corps, until he had to run away to France in 1939, after which he spent four months in the concentration camps of Barcarés and Saint Cyprien, managing to escape to Oran (Algeria), where he enlisted in general Leclerc´s 2nd Armoured Division, taking part in abundant combats in France (including the entrance in Paris on August 24, 1944) and Germany in 1944 and 1945, being driver of two armoured half-tracks: the M3 Guernica with an American towed 57 mm cannon (1944) and the M3 Don Quichote from november 1944 during La Nueve offensive in Alsace that would result in the conquest of Strasbourg.

After the Second World War he came back to Algeria, working as a cobbler till 1955, year in which he returned to France and rebuilt his life with his wife in the French urban community of Lingolsheim, at a distance of six kilometers from Strasbourg centre, where he started to work in a factory of bearings for cars, subsequently taking advantage of his previous experience with engines to get a mechanic degree, working for many years in the automobile firm Citröen.


The Légion d´Honneur, highest French decoration, awarded to Rafael Gómez Nieto in 2012, shining on his chest along with the Spanish Republica flag and the badge of general Leclerc´s 2nd Armoured Division of the Free France to which La Nueve belonged.

He´s likewise holder of the French Cross of War, the United States Presidential Unit Citation and the Great Vermeille Medal of Paris Town Hall.


Colette Dronne Flagrin warmly hugging Rafael Gómez Nieto.

In the memory, the recollection of other prominent combatants of La Nueve like Luis Royo, Manuel Fernández, sergeant Garcés, second lieutenant Elías, the private first class Daniel Campos, sergeant Fábregas, the sub-lieutenant Federico Moreno (in command of the first section of La Nueve in the HT Don Quijote), the gunner Cariño López (a fisher of barnacles who died in Paris without being able to come back to his hometown in Galicia, Spain, and on being said by his son that seafood had extinguished there, his answer was " I do know where it is " ), the lieutenant Amado Granell Mesado, the officer Martín Bernal, sergeant Fermín Pujol, Víctor Lantes, Antonio Gutiérrez and many others.


Another hugely poignant instant: Anne Hidalgo fondly caresses the left cheek of Rafael Gómez Nieto, the last survivor of La Nueve, accompanied by her daughter.


But this has only just begun and a tremendous collective shivering, lumps in the throat galore and moments of irrepressible emotion start to unleash.

Daniel Pinos Barrieras (Member of the 24 Aôut 1944 Association) reads his speech to the audience in which he abridges with remarkable farsightedness, sensitivity and historical precision the many decades of oblivion regarding the Spanish Republican fighters, their stage of appalling sufferings in the French concentration camps ( Le Barcares, St. Cyprien, Argeles sur Mer, Coullioure, Bram, Rivesaltes, Agde and others) following the end of the Spanish Civil War, their participation in the Second World War always first on the front lines against experienced German troops, their silent and discreet struggle to take care of their families after 1945, their elegant silence throughout all of that time in spite of knowing that they had really been the first ones entering Paris and liberating the city, their self-possession facing exceedingly difficult circumstances beleaguering them during their whole existence, the overcoming of the immense grief and the prioritization of their families, give them an education and their adaptation to French society as a fundamental goal, in a sterling instance of love and unselfishness for their beloved ones, in addition to keeping an unswerving affection for their country, albeit most of them couldn´t ever come back to it throughout almost three generations.


The effect of Daniel Pinos´s words is truly devastating among the packed audience, masterfully describing the plight of La Nueve men since they were defeated in the Spanish Civil War (in which vast majority of them fought being 16 or 17 years old) until the end of the Second World War, their lightning incursion through Paris till reaching the Town Hall on August 24, 1944, bringing about the surrender of general von Choltitz, who doubted before the attack of the M3 half-tracks bearing names of Spanish Civil War battles (Brunete, Guadalajara, Belchite, Santander, Guernica, Madrid) and the Republican Spanish soldiers and decided to give up.

That way, the generation of a Stalingrad like context was avoided, because Hitler had ordered von Choltitz to dynamite the bridges over the Senna river and the most important buildings of the city so that the 20,000 armed German soldiers defending it sheltered behind the debris and fought to the last man, something which would probably had happened if a massive attack with tanks and artillery by general Patton´s III American Army had taken place with aircarft support, a pitched battle house by house that would have greatly destroyed Paris, one of the most beautiful cities in the world and Cosmos heritage.


It has also been mentioned the harsh stage after the Second World War when most of them had to definitely settle in France and face there both their lives and the future of their families, with the added sadness that a number of them died without having been able to come back to Spain, a message that makes a deep impression on some officers of the French Army being descendants of Spanish Republicans and who have likewise travelled thousands of kilometers to be present here today.


The French ambassador Yves Saint-Geours appears in the image visibly affected, in the same way as Rafael Gómez Nieto, whose remembrances of a lifetime build up in his mind in those instants while he carefully listens to Daniel Pinos´s address.


And a time comes when there aren´t any words able to define the feelings popping up among the very large number of attendees when Véronique Salou Olivares, President of the 24 Août 1944 Association reads some words delving even more into the magnitude of the feat and the human stature diachronically accomplished by the Spanish Republicans of La Nueve.


The daughter of Luis Royo (penultimate survivor of La Nueve, who because of his recent demise eight months ago couldn´t fulfill his dream to be present at this ceremony) also addresses the audience, with remarkable poise and doing a major effort to manage to speak and coordinate the utterances, while the metallic urn with the ashes of her father has already been placed at the foot of the monolith in remembrance of La Nueve, to be eventually taken to La Almudena Cemetery, where he will be buried.

Near her, Evelyn Mesquida helps Rafael Gómez Nieto (last survivor of La Nueve) to keep his balance, while his daughter, his son Jean-Paul and Manuela Carmena (Mayor of Madrid) are also beside him.

Rafael Gómez Nieto, a humble great man boasting a towering human stature and  always fleeing from showing off any way, is tangibly very touched and engrossed in his thoughts, thinking of his passed away camarads of La Nueve.

It is a spine-tingling moment, while his son Jean-Paul and his daughter are paying heed to their father.

Yves Saint-Geours, French Ambassador to Spain is likewise in introspection, strongly moved by everything that is happening.


Luis Royo´s daughter has just finished her speech and quickly Rafael Gómez embraces her affectionately, while Jean-Paul Gómez, Evelyn Mesquida, Rafael Gómez Nieto´s daughter, Yves Saint-Geours, Manuela Carmena and Anne Hidalgo watch the scene.


Rafael Gómez Nieto with Evelyn Mesquida.

The last survivor of La Nueve, a real living legend, with La Légion d´Honneur, top French award, which was bestowed to him in 2012, shining on his chest along with the flag of the Spanish Republic and the badge of general Leclerc´s 2nd Armoured Division of the Free France to which La Nueve belonged.

After nothing less than 73 years having elapsed since the Spaniards of La Nueve were the first entering Paris and liberating the city on August 24, 1945, this admirable man has been able to watch live the public recognition to the military unit in which both he and his already demised comrades risked their lives in a number of battles all over France and Germany between August 1944 and May 1945, fighting against the Nazi Germany.


As a grand finale, some pupils of the French Liceo from Madrid (with pupils from the Miguel Delibes Secondary School also taking part a few minutes later) address a few words to the attendants dealing with the different subjects related to La Nueve: the ordeal of its members, their forced exile in France after the Spanish Civil War in the same way as the other 517,000 Spanish persons, their many years of uninterrupted fight until 1945, their very high percentage of casualties where they combated, their isolation and oblivion after the Second World War, etc.

Words pronounced by teenagers but deeply penetrating the hearts of all the audience, faces hardened by the circumstances of a life full of tragedy, upsetting experiences, ostracisms, death of beloved ones who were bound to begin a new existence in another country, France, which despite everything they loved like the one in which they were born and that was never forgotten by them.

73 years are many years, too many years, but highly probably this inauguration of the Gardens of La Nueve and the parallel homage to its courageous combatants has been worth and has made up for a lot of hardships, as well as having attained an old longing and the passing of a pending subject: the definitive recognition to these Spanish Republicans who standing firm in their convictions. always rose above adversity during the Spanish Civil War, in the French concentration camps and throughout the Second World War.


Because not only the victory embodies the concept of success.

Sometimes, particularly in so special historical episodes like this, defeat can redefine its meaning, along with the greatness one.

Because the men of La Nueve belonged to the human group who mostly suffered firsthand the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, the French concentration camps and the neglect after the Second World War, in spite of which they had the spunk of surviving and provide for their families in France, most times under very tough conditions.

It´s very praiseworthy, since they were normal and humble persons working in the most common occupations of the civil society (cobblers, masons, fishermen, drivers, peasants, mechanics, etc), unlike the leading figures of the postwar Spanish exile like Luis Buñuel, Juan Ramón Jiménez, Antonio Machado, Pedro Salinas, Max Aub, Pablo Picasso, Pau Casals and many others featuring a formidable intellectual, literary, artistic or scientific background in their scopes.

It´s very important to bear in mind that the accomplishments of the Spanish Republican men of La Nueve had their fire baptism during the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War, in which vast majority of them fought being extremely young, being between 16 and 17 years old.

And inevitably they were defeated by élite units of the Fracoist Army of Africa, whose commanders had huge experience in ruthless colonial war in Morocco.

It certainly gives the shiver to anyone thinking about 16 or 17 years old teenagers fighting all over the Spanish geography between 1936 and 1939 againtst Francoist military units like the 13th Divison (commanded by Fernando Barrón), Mohammed ben Mizzian´s Rif troops, colonel Sáenz de Buruaga´s Moroccan tabors of Regulares, general Juan Yague´s legionnaries and others.

Obviously, they had no chance facing professional troops who were at the moment from a military viewpoint the most fierce infantry in the world and featuring an almost 20 years experience in the Campaigns of Morocco.

But the grandeur of the men of La Nueve is that they got up once and again after each fall.

In 1939, they were forced to cross the French frontier together with more than half a million Spanish Republicans, being humiliated and interned in concentration camps throughout some months, without water, without light, with lice everywhere and a gelid wind cutting like a razor in full winter, but they stood up again and managed to survive.

80 of the 150 combatants of La Nueve in Pocklington (England) in June 1944.

And then they had the guts to enlist in the 9th Company of general Leclerc´s Armoured Division of the Free France to fight against fascism, being the first ones entering Paris and liberating the city on August 24, 1944, a pivotal historical feat that wasn´t by chance at all.


And those ones thinking that La Nueve had a minor role during the Allied Offensive through Normandy until reaching Paris and that anyway they took advantage of going between the American and British troops protected by the great deployment of Allied resources as to aviation, massive quantities of tanks, artillery and so forth, are completely wrong.

Not in vain, the findings made by Evelyn Mesquida during her ten years of research between 1998 and 2008, when she had to constantly work apiece in the nights and early mornings and even do without part of her holiday, the many conversations she had with some survivors of La Nueve all over France and the extraordinary performance of La Nueve in the Battles of Alençon and Écouché between August 12 and 16, 1944, the latter being the date in which they were immersed in very hard street fighting defending Écouché on being attacked by a joint counteroffensive launched by part of the 1 SS Leibstandarte Division, the II SS Division Das Reich (Otto Baum), the 9th Panzer Division (Max Sperling), the 116th Panzer Division (Gerhardt von Schwerin) and the 3rd Fallschirmjäger Division (Richard Schimpf), all of them German units whose commanders had huge previous experience of fighting to the death in the Russian Front, verify time and again the major significance these Spanish Republicans had within the Allied Offensive in France and Germany.

La Nueve managed to stand up to this very powerful attack of the aforementiomed German armoured units and paratroopers throughout two days (August 16 and 17, 1944), which enabled the rest of forces of general Patton´s III American Army to gain a precious time, until Bernard Montgomery´s II British Army could countertattack and raise the siege of Écouché on August 18 and 19, 1944.

A similar situation had happened ten days before, on August 7, 1944, when the American High Command, realizing that it was necessary to stop or slow down as much as possible any German counterattack, decided to send its 3rd Armoured Division with Sherman tanks to engage the heavy and medium German tanks of the XLVII Panzer Corps (part of the 1 SS Leibstandarte Division, the II SS Das Reich Division, the 2nd Panzer Division and the 116th Panzer Division) which had started Lüttich Operation trying to destroy the U.S 30th Infantry Division near Mortain and which had as a top priority target the conquest of Avranches.

Almost certainly, the tanks of the U.S 3rd Armoured Division under the command of lieutenant general Leroy H. Watson that had been sent by the American High Command to delay as much as they could the advance of the German panzers (knowing that the Tiger I and Panther V tanks were far superior to American Shermans in fire power and accuracy, and also as to combat experience in their crews) and gain time, would have been destroyed by the panzers with their high velocity 88 mm and 75 mm cannons, if it hadn´t been for the British Ultra Military Intelligence which three days before had deciphered (thanks to the genius Alan Turing) the encrypted German messages of the Enigma machine regarding the Lüttich Operation (which were delivered by Stewart Menzies to the Allied High Command) and the dissappearance of the fog at midday of August 7, 1944, so the American fighter bombers of the 9th Air Force and the RAF could massively attack the German armoured units, destroying approximately 150 of its 300 tanks.

But the stubborn resistance of La Nueve in Écouché, with considerably fewer means than the American troops, without any aircraft support, and facing German armoured units with Panther V and PzKpfw IV tanks along with Sturmgeschütz III assault guns (all of them sporting far superior tonnage and fire power in comparison to the M3 armoured half-tracks of La Nueve), stopping their onslaught — as well as making 129 German officers and soldiers prisoners —, was something impressive and a key factor to be able to achieve the almost entire closing of the Falaise Pocket by Allied forces a few days later.

Therefore, evidence clearly suggests that the fact that the Spanish Republicans of La Nueve were the first one to enter Paris and liberate the city on August 24, 1944 wasn´t at all by chance.

It was the result of a decision coming from top.

Half-track M3 Brunete of La Nueve

General Leclerc and captain Raymond Dronne (commander of La Nueve) were perfectly aware of the huge experience acquired by the Spanish Republican combatants during their fight against the Moroccan tabors of Regulares and legionnaires of the Francoist Army of Africa in the Spanish Civil War and their reckless courage in combat making them much more efficient against German troops when there was need to occupy particularly difficult areas well defended by the enemy and either fighting hand-to-hand or approaching to the utmost to the German Panther V, PzKpfw and Tiger I (the latter much less abundant) tanks, as happened in Écouché and many other places of France and Germany where La Nueve combated in 1944 and 1945, taking huge risks to be able to destroy them, with very few means and relying on great doses of skill and fearlessness, as when they used the 57 mm M1 antitank guns towed by the armoured M3 half-tracks of the company, which could penetrate the 100 mm thick front armour of the Tiger I Ausf. E and the 80 mm armour of the Panther V Ausf. D and Pz IV front area) with shots up to roughly 400 meters, though if possible they preferred to do flank shots between approximately 50 and 300 meters (because the armour of the lateral zone of the Panther V hull was between 40 and 50 mm, 30 mm in the Pz IV and 60 mm in the Tiger I, so they were more vulnerable in their sides) or rear ones.

All of it always with the enormous danger of death that meant for the three Spanish soldiers crew of each 57 mm M1 AT gun of La Nueve to be spotted by the Germans, since the towed AT guns (unlike the self-propelled assault guns or tanks destroyers like the American M10 of the time) couldn´t change position quickly or run away at full speed after firing, and the men handling them needed some seconds to roll the 57 mm gun on the ground until making it arrive again at the M3 half-track, hitch it up to it and go on the vehicle to take cover, so they turned into very easy targets for the German artillery, tanks and assault guns, to such an extent that in practice, the towed 57 mm gun which was highly fast and versatile on deploying it, lacked utterly of any mobility under enemy fire and coudn´t be coupled to the half-track vechicle once again, and even less the chance of driving the vehicle with the gun towed in the middle of the battle, so the Spanish Republicans of La Nueve were bound to resist on their positions with fixed bayonets, which gives a comprehensive picture of their immense bravery.

This incredible deed carried out by La Nueve in Écouché facing the German panzers and infantry and the exceedingly bloody close combats in which they fought with great courage and prevailed after fierce clashes, conferred the unit made up by Spanish Republicans a sizeable prestige in the French, American and British high commands, something that would be upheld by the headlong bravery shown by the Spaniards of La Nueve in subsequent battles, above all during the Franco-American Offensive to encircle Los Vosgos — in the northeast of France, mostly belonging to Lorena region, beside the frontier with Germany — that began on November 14, 1944 and in which La Nueve took part in very hard combats against German troops, including ambushes made by Fallschirmjägers specialized in antitank fighting and equipped with the lethal Panzerschreck RPzB Ofenrohr rocket launchers shooting projectiles with 88 mm shaped charge warheads able to pierce 100 mm armours, after which they would advance with two marching trajectories in the north of the Saverne Gap, through Falsbour and La Petite Pierre on November 22, 1944, conquering Strasbourg after covering the 30 km separating Saverne from the Alsacian capital in little more than three hours.

Very few days after the fierce fight in Écouché on August 16 and 17, 1944, the French Resistance rose up in Paris on August 20, 1944 against the 20,000 armed German soldiers defending the city under the command of general von Choltitz.

Thanks to some cryptographic messages of the German Enigma machine deciphered by Alan Turing with his ingenuity and intuition transcending the Entscheidungs decision problem, the British M16 knew that Hitler had ordered general von Choltitz to destroy all the bridges over Seine river and the most important buildings in Paris, threatening him not to surrender any way, to turn the city in a kind of Stalingrad and resist as much as possible with the German troops sheltered behind the debris of the city, an information that was quickly sent to the Allied High Command in the area of Normandy.

General Leclerc grasped clearly that a battle street by street in Paris would entail the utter destruction of the city, for the Allied forces would be forced to use a massive firepower to minimize their own ones, so he decided to send La Nueve in a very risky and daring mission, making a full speed sortie across the Porte d´Italia until reaching the Town Hall.

The attack was successful, the German garrison was surprised by the quickness of La Nueve attack and it made von Choltitz doubt.

This way, a battle for Paris which would have meant thousands of dead and the obliteration of the city could be avoided.




© Text and Photos: José Manuel Serrano Esparza