Frank Baglietto: Gibraltar and the Spanish Civil War. The José Luis Díez

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By the end of the Spanish Civil War, the destroyer José Luis Díez attempted to pass the Straits of Gibraltar to join the republican fleet on the Mediterranean. However, she was intercepted by the Canarias and other fascist warships on August 1938. The republican destroyer was damaged and compelled to take refuge in Gibraltar. The ship was repaired in secret by Gibraltarians who sympathised with the republican cause. On 30 December 1938, the José Luis Díez left port, but someone warned the fascist fleet, forcing the destroyer to return to Gibraltar. According to different newspapers, the casualties from her crew were 5 killed and 10 wounded. During the sea battle, stray shells “damaged two houses in Catalan Bay, injuring several people, including the village policeman”[1] (the father of our interviewee). Frank Baglietto (1927) was just a child, but he remembers that night perfectly:


Audio interview (11 February 2015):



IN: I wanted to ask you about the José Luis Díez, because, no sé si te acuerdas, dijeron que había alguien en… me habían dicho en el Rock Hotel, que soltó un cohete o algo así…

FB: Oh, yes.

IN: Y, y… cuéntame un poco de eso ¿quién lo hizo? ¿A quién le echaron, bueno, la culpa, o quién tiene…?

FB: [Mira, there was…] there was a villager here, he’s dead now, who had… who used to know the captain of the José Luis Díez.

IN: Right.

FB: And he told us that the night that the Luis Díez was about to leave, eh… because in the… he was anchoring in the buoy, ¿estamos?

FB: And there was always a light at night in the buoy. So the captain ordered one of the sailors to stay on the buoy with a lamp.

IN: Ah, right.

FB: To deceive the Spanish…

IN: Los espías, sí

FB: Sí, ¿estamos?

FB: But someone – I reserve what I think about it – fired two flares from the upper rock and alerted the Spanish ships.

IN: I heard it was from the Rock Hotel, you think it was higher up?

FB: About, about, about there. And…

IN: And do you know who it was?

FB: And of course, alerted the Spanish ships and they cut off the retreat to the Atlantic so they had to come this way. And I saw… when I saw the José Luis Díez… The funnel was just, you know, huge sparks, flames and sparks going everywhere. There was a fear of the boat, of the ship exploding.

IN: Sí.

FB: Now, we knew that it was damaged by the Canarias, the battleship Canarias.

IN: Sí.

FB: And we couldn’t appreciate it because it was aground that way pointing to Spain and of course you know that the left side of the ship is port.

IN: Port.

FB: But, it had the damage on the starboard side.

IN: So you couldn’t see it?

FB: So we couldn’t see it. But there was evidence that he was hit pretty well because I remember I used to be in the veranda that night watching what was going on, the village was pitch dark, eh? You couldn’t see a thing. HMS Vanoc, the destroyer, came and put on the searchlights on the José Luis Díez all the night until early in the morning[2].

IN: Why?

FB: ¿Eh?

IN: Why?

FB: Because they feared that the Spanish might shoot, might fire a torpedo to the ship aground.

IN: Right, it was to protect the José Luis Díez?

FB: Bueno, yes, oh yes. I mean, they couldn’t say that if they fired, if they fired a torpedo they couldn’t say that they thought it was something else, ¿estamos?

IN: Right.

FB: I suppose that but I know that the Vanoc was all the night with the torch.

IN: ¿No fue por… para rescatar a los heridos ni nada de eso?

FB: No, no, because I hear… I heard a voice, my goodness! As I hear it now: “¡Caleta, por favor, traed los botes que tenemos muertos y heridos a bordo!” ¿estamos? “Villagers, please bring… please, launch your boats to take our injured and dead ashore!”

FB: I waited when the boat came back and to my amazement I, the injured were taken care of, but I saw a lot of men bringing pieces, of something covered in canvas. It was pieces of human bodies.

FB: Only pieces, there wasn’t, there was not a whole dead body, all were in pieces. So he must have had a direct hit.

IN: Sí, sí. Let’s get back to…luz de bengala. Eh… ¿quién lo soltó? Había… algunos dicen que tenía que ver con Talía Larios, la… la [viuda del Marqués]…[3]

FB: [Algún…] Algún fascista.

IN: Algún fascista ¿Pero de Gibraltar, había fascistas en Gibraltar?

FB: Sí.

IN: Pero, ¿sabemos quién fue?

FB: No, no sé quién es, hijo, no sé.

IN: ¿Había mucho conflicto en Gibraltar entre los fascistas o los que estaban a favor de los fascistas y los republicanos? ¿Había… se sentía eso aquí?

FB: [Bueno…] en aquel tiempo había… sí porque… there were very outspoken about the sympathy of his regime, you see?

IN: Sí.

FB: Pero…

IN: Y, y ¿qué te acuerdas? Eso es importante, porque me gustaría saber más quiénes eran los que estaban a favor de los fascistas y quiénes estaban a favor de los republicanos… ¿O no era tan claro?

FB: No, that was difficult because those who were fascists were always very quiet, you know? They didn’t want to let people know that they had sympathy for the fascist government, pero…

IN: But did you know who they were? ¿Tú sabías quiénes eran?

FB: No, no me acuerdo. And the republicans were… eran republicanos, decían, pero yo soy republicano, maldita sea, y sé lo…

IN: ¿Pero la gente de aquí?

FB: Bueno, gente de Gibraltar también, claro.

IN: Yo me acuerdo… alguien me estaba contando que en el Bull and Bush siempre se cantaba… En el Bull and Bush es que se cantaba canciones de la República, de que eran comunistas y…

FB: (Cantando) “Arriba los pobres del mundo”… Muchas cosas, pero…

IN: Y tu padre, ¿te comentó alguna vez que estaba a favor de los fascistas o de los republicanos o no tenía opinión?

FB: Nunca.

IN: Nunca, ¿nunca ofreció ninguna opinión sobre la guerra…?

FB: You know that my father was injured by one of the shells…

IN: Sí. Y tu hermana aún tiene el pedazo de metralla ¿no?

FB: Mi hermana. Teníamos dos…

IN: ¿Dos?

FB: Uno, uno, no sé, se extravió, pero mi hermana tiene el más grande y tiene the medal of the Police Gallantry medal de mi padre también. Mi hermana tiene…

IN: Y, a pesar de tener un pedazo de (ríe) metralla en la pierna… él nunca comentó…

FB: [No, no], en el pecho.

IN: En el pecho.

FB: En el pecho. According to the doctor, only centimetres from the…

IN: ¡No me digas!

FB: … destroying it…

IN: ¿Y había otros heridos aquí, en La Caleta, por las metrallas, o no?

FB: Eso te voy a decir. One shell crashing one of the houses here… well, it’s different now as it was then, no?

FB: And my father, at about half past one in the morning, it was the 31st of December 1938[4]. My, we heard distant gunfire. So, my father immediately went down, and about five minutes later he came back in a haze and said to my mother “dress up the children and take them down as I think there’s going to be a battle between the Spanish fascists and the José Luis Díez”. My mother took us down and my father told her “stay in the dining room, because we had two, you know, we had the… two flats teníamos.

IN: Ah, ¿sí?

FB: So, I saw my mother was opening the door, a neighbour of her, said “Mary” (my mother used to…), “bring, come here with the children, it’s safer here”. My goodness…

IN: ¿Tenía razón o no?

FB: I was the last to get into the house, but I only… I was in the…threshold in the door. And the shell crashed on the roof of the house, bringing all the roof down, and there was such a huge explosion… And, you know, it was a mystery to me, when they found out that the three people who were living there, a couple and their daughter, they were only covered in dust, they had not the slightest injury. My goodness! That was a big miracle! Anyway… I remember I swallowed a lot of explosive smoke and I was feeling… vomiting [xxx in the middle of the night]

IN: [Ah, ¿sí?]

FB: And… in the morning, I went to see… because my father… everybody used to… in the darkness everybody was shouting, trying to locate their relatives, because there was a great confusion in the village. And my father was missing. And when everybody found everybody else, the only person missing was my father.

IN: The only one?

FB: The only one. So, a cousin of my father, a lady, she went to the upper road and from the upper road she said “my cousin Joseph is injured and bleeding, he’s unconscious and bleeding profusely in the pavement”. You can imagine the state of my mother. I remember my mother lifting us up as though were toys.

FB: Anyway…

IN: And you were 11 years old?

FB: ¿Eh?

IN: You were… 9?

FB: 11, 11.

IN: 11? You were big.

FB: 1927 nací yo.

IN: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

FB: And… don’t tell me how my father reached hospital because at that time there was no transport at all here, only horse carriages and things like that.

FB: Anyway, I don’t know how my father was taken to the hospital, but in the morning, as I went to the door where the explo… near the door where I was stopping that night, and I saw about three or four pieces of shrapnel embedded in the framework of the door, otherwise, if they had gone a bit further down I would have been blown my… my…

IN: Sigue.. Conque llevaron a tu padre al hospital ¿en qué? ¿En una carroza, un coche de caballos…?

FB: Eso te digo, I don’t know. Well, in the morning, as I told you, on top of my head… if I’d have been taller where the shrapnel hit the framework I would have been blown my… my… it would have blown my head off. Anyway, in the morning I followed my father footsteps and I could see blood very near the door where I was. And I followed it up to the upper road and there was evidence… there was blood there because it was washed away…

IN: Sí.

FB: … By somebody, and then I realised that that lady, the cousin who gave the warning was up there because she and her husband and her daughter wanted to take shelter behind the big rock which is still there in Catalan Gardens. And that’s why she saw my father. Now, when my father came back, already recovered, and he was discharged from hospital, I asked him “Daddy, how did you manage to go up there?” Dice “don’t ask me, because I don’t know…”

IN: ¡Ja!

FB: “… What I know is that when that shell hit the house it was passing along there and…

IN: Está aquí, está aquí.

FB: Ahí está.

IN: Ahí está.

FB: … And it hit… and something hit me in the chest, it was a piercing pain and I don’t remember anything else. Hay que ver, de aquí abajo hasta ahí arriba.

IN: ¿Andando?

FB: Andando.

IN: Con… y…

FB: Until he fainted.

IN: Pero ¿llegó hasta la carretera?

FB: Llegó hasta el pavement de la carretera.

IN: No me digas. Buscando ayuda, se supone, ¿o…?

FB: Yo qué sé. No me puedo explicar por qué estaba ahí.

IN: Y también subiendo, o sea… es cuesta arriba, eso es… (ríe).

FB: There was blood all over where he was… going up, where he was… yeah. No compensation ever came from this Franco government, no…

IN: (Ríe a carcajadas). Did he try to get compensation?

FB: I don’t know, but I didn’t know anything about that…

IN: Pero… una cosa que me llama la atención, que a pesar de todo eso hay que tener un… ser herido por los franquistas… ¿él nunca habló contra el gobierno español en ese sentido de los fascistas, o en ese…?

FB: Bueno, he had more than… good reasons…

IN: Por eso te digo, por eso te digo.

FB: … But I never heard my father…

IN: ¿Y tu madre?

FB: … I never heard my father say…

IN: ¿Y tu madre?

FB: Mi madre tampoco.

IN: ¿Tampoco?

FB: Mi madre… bueno… pero no… And I wasn’t aware very much about that time…



[1]  See: “Beached Warship”, New Zealand Herald, Volume LXXVI, Issue 23235 (3 January 1939), page 9. [link]

[2] The HMS Vanoc was a British warship that patrolled the Straits, providing maritime security to the British territorial waters of Gibraltar. See: “Beached Warship”, New Zealand Herald, Volume LXXVI, Issue 23235 (3 January 1939), page 9.

[3] He means Natalia Larios Fernández de Villavicencio, who married the Marquis of Povar, Fernando Fernández de Córdoba (1906-1938). According to two authors, she was the person who fired the flares to warn the fascist fleet. See: Fernando Moreno and Salvador Moreno. 1998. La Guerra silenciosa y silenciada. La Historia de la campaña naval durante la guerra de 1936-39, Vol. IV, Madrid: Alboran.

[4] This naval fight took place on Friday, 30th December 1938 (around 1 am). See: “Naval Fight Off Gibraltar”, The Times (31 December 1938).

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On 05/02/2016
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