and welcome to the history page. This week we will turn our attention to the military
event that stands out in collective island memory as the single most dramatic
episode to occur in the Pitiusan theatre of civil war: the Republican attack on
the Nazi battleship, the Deutschland in the bay of Ibiza. This incident, terrible
enough in itself, towers to even greater proportions if we keep in mind that,
at the time of the attack, 1937, the brunt of military action had moved away from
the Pitiuses so that the islands, though still living in the shadow of wartime,
had been exempt from enemy attack for nearly a year. The return of mortal bombings
to the island at a time when assault was least expected is one of the reasons
why this event is generally considered the cruellest cut of all. This battle was
not, in fact, part of a premeditated military stratagem against Ibiza, per se.
Rather it was the random result of a German ship being chased into the nearest
safe port - which happened to be Ibiza - by a Republican flotilla. But we are
getting ahead of ourselves.
The Militarization of Island
Before going on to examine the Deutschland incident,
let us first establish the military climate of the island during the months that
intervened between the National takeover on 20th September 1936 and the time of
the attack. In addition to the unrelieved shortages of food, fuel, manufactured
goods and raw materials (which we discussed last week), and developing parallel
to the systematic witch-hunts of the National warlords (which we will discuss
next week), was an almost complete militarization of island life both materially
As is natural in any wartime society, news
regarding the conduct of war appeared daily in the local press and dominated every
conversation. Curfews were strictly enforced by the Prefecture of Passive Defence
and continual edicts were issued as to the proper course of action in case of
attack. At a more tangible level, two hydro-aviation stations were installed,
one in Ibiza and one in Formentera, to serve as ancillary bases in air raids launched
from Majorca against the mainland. Many young Pitiusan men - as well as a good
number of not-so-young men - were sent to the front to replace casualties in the
National ranks. Failure to sign up at the recruitment office was considered tantamount
to political rebellion and was harshly persecuted by the Military Court. As a
deterrent to the evasion of military duty, all judicial proceedings and subsequent
sanctions against draft dodgers were publicly posted.
there seemed to be little chance of either Ibiza or Formentera coming back into
the spotlight of war, an elaborate defence system was set up to guard against
the possibility of a Republican attack. Look-out points were established along
the coast and bomb shelters were fitted out in various strategic spots such as
sa Talaia in Sant Josep and other hard-to-reach areas. By mid-1937 there were
as many as twenty-one bomb shelters in Ibiza Town alone - a precaution which,
ironically, did not serve to safeguard the islanders against the Deutschland incident
due to the unexpectedness and rapidity of the assault.
Attack on the Deutschland
Rather than attempting to
describe this incident with my paltry second-hand words, I shall instead let the
tale be told, with far greater eloquence, by one who witnessed the battle in person,
from beginning to end. The following excerpt from island historian Enrique Fajarnéss
memoirs, Lo que Ibiza me inspiró, provides a detailed first-hand account
of that fateful days events.
The 29th of May,
1937 was a fair day, with that languidness that characterizes late spring afternoons
in Ibiza. A small German warship, the Leopard, was tied up in the harbour and
an oil tanker, also German, was anchored in the bay.
the middle of the afternoon, while on my way home, I met my friend Domingo Ribas
in la Marina. He was overcome by a strange excitement. Any minute a shower
of bombs is going to fall over Ibiza, he said at the close of a brief conversation.
Was it a premonition?
Neither he nor I knew what awaited us in a short
space of time.
When I reached the Plaza de España
I saw a group of neighbours contemplating the sea with rapt interest. Their curiosity
was justified. Only minutes earlier the German battleship Deutschland had lowered
its anchor between sIlla Negra and es Daus. The visit seemed natural; two
other ships from the German war squadron were in Ibiza. But soon, a long line
of warships appeared on the horizon, blurred from the haze of the calm afternoon.
Eight or nine silhouettes that seemed to be destroyers
were quickly approaching. One or two of them, however, must have been cruisers
judging from their large size. We all realized they were from the Spanish Armada.
They had come from the direction of Cap de la Mola, having circled round Formentera,
and now occupied a large arc of the horizon. Obviously, they were following the
Deutschland, which seemed to be a hunted ship seeking shelter in friendly waters.
The great majority of Ibizas population was incognizant
of these happenings. The appearance of the boats was quite sudden, visible only
to those of us who chanced to be near the eastern littoral. This explains why
the element of surprise was so great and why people were caught unawares when
the bombs began to fly.
Suddenly, the sound of airplanes
could be heard in the sky. Two planes, flying in twin formation, came out of the
west, invading the air space over the bay. The last rays of the evening sun flashed
on their metallic members; I clearly saw balls of incandescence fall from their
A dark boom made me lower my gaze to the deck
of the Deutschland where several tall columns of black smoke began to curl up
into the air. The columns quickly merged into one, revealing at their base an
inferno of red flames issuing from the centre of the German battleship. It was
the ships plane we later learned that had suddenly incinerated
as it was preparing to take off. Their mission accomplished, the visiting aircraft
spun toward the south and disappeared.
As if that had been
a predetermined signal, the squadron opened fire on the city. My friend, Fermín
Soriano, and I watched the bombing from behind the parapet at the lookout point.
Several jets of water suddenly surged up around the oil-tanker which in the end
was not hit; other projectiles tore up the land around the lower part of the port
toward Talamanca. However none were aimed at the Deutschland. Perhaps the Armada
felt it had been ravaged enough and feared its powerful artillery.
my range of vision, a large number of projectiles rained down on the harbour and
the city. We could hear them whistling above our heads. One fell in the northern
corner of the Plaza de la Constitutión, killing Miss Eulalia Noguera, called
na Noguereta, as well as an elderly woman. Another one fell in a rather unprotected
area of the wall at Portal Nou, where many people had taken quick shelter. In
a second the spot had turned into a bloodbath. I believe some soldiers were killed
there too. There was also one victim on the Calle Mayor.
bombing stopped as suddenly as it had started and the ships disappeared. With
the conflagration subdued, the Deutschland made its way slowly to sEspardell
[off Formentera]. Its smoke seemed to precipitate nightfall. The city was full
of people rushing about reporting the names of the dead and wounded. Emotion was
raw; some were affected more than others. My uncle-in-law, Miguel Villalonga,
became totally unhinged and temporarily lost the power of speech.
goes on to explain certain aspects of the aftermath of battle, particularly those
aspects related to the German presence. In brief, all three of the German vessels
withdrew from Ibicenco waters directly after the battle, although the many wounded
soldiers from the Deutschland were received at the small hospital in Dalt Vila,
some of them dying in the following days from their burns. The Leopard returned
to Ibiza shortly afterwards to collect the bodies of the dead and then left as
quickly as it had come. Once again we have ended our instalment on a rather fragile
note, and I cannot promise anything too much better for next week. Join us, if
you care to or dare to, as we explore the systematic, bloody and unjust eradication
of all liberal sympathizers from Pitiusan society. Until then.