City Target
by Nick Lloyd
in Barcelona Metropolitan

"Seventy-five years ago, on the evening of February 13th, 1937, an Italian cruiser off the coast of Barcelona fired shells at an arms factory on Passeig Sant Joan. They missed their target and 18 people were killed. A month later came the first raid from the skies when Mussolini’s planes hit Poble Sec. Six people died and 39 were injured. From that day, the city would be hit almost 200 times until its fall on January 26th, 1939. Some 2,500 to 3,000 Barcelona residents were killed and thousands more were injured. It was the beginning of the 20th century’s murderous affair with the mass bombardment of civilians. Although Madrid had already been shelled as a military target on the front line, and Baghdad, Kabul and other places had been bombed by the colonial powers before, this was the first time a city had been targeted systematically over a sustained period.
At the end of the war, the British brought the chief engineer of Barcelona’s civil defence programme, Ramon Perera, to London. He advised them to do the same as the Catalans had done: dig deep and to get the whole population involved in the work. Churchill decided against this approach, arguing that making such public shelters would make people “cowardly and lazy”, and claiming that the British working class lacked the solidarity to engage in the digging. Instead the people were given the Anderson shelter, often a death trap. Confidential reports later expressed regret that the Perera model had not been adopted and estimated thousands had died needlessly in the Blitz."
Anti-personnel bombs were also used. British nurse Anne Murray passed through the city with the retreating Republican army a few weeks before it fell. She saw the horrors of war: “We found a whole lot of children, dozens of them, with their hands off, completely off. The Italians had dropped anti-personnel bombs marked ‘Chocolatti’. The children were picking up these things—they hadn’t had chocolate for years—and they just blew their hands off. This Spanish surgeon that I worked with, he was in tears. We all were.”

full article here

Photo: Christine Jones April 2011

Nick Lloyd leads historical tours in Barcelona and runs the website www.iberianature.com

More info on the Scottish nurse Annie Murray can be found here