Remembering the S.S. Ciudad de Barcelona

June 14, 2017
SS Ciudad de Barcelona

SS Ciudad de Barcelona

Last month was the 80th anniversary of the sinking of the Ciudad de Barcelona. For those who don’t know about this event, or may have only a foggy recollection, here is a brief summary of what happened in May 1937.

The ship Ciudad de Barcelona had been nationalized by the Republican government, and in May 1937 she was transporting IB volunteers and other passengers from France to Spain.  It is estimated that she carried more than 300 IB volunteers.  There were some 50 volunteers from the United States, but also volunteers from Britain, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Austria, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, and likely from other countries as well.  We simply don’t know.
Ciudad de Barcelona was hit by a torpedo from an Italian submarine off the coast of Malgrat and sank quickly.  Rescue was carried out, but many perished.  Estimates vary greatly, but recent estimates indicate that between 60 and 65 volunteers perished along with about 100 passengers and crew.  Only a few names of the volunteers who perished are known.  Most volunteers who survived joined the IB’s, and some of these died later in Spain.  More detailed information about those involved in the sinking of the Ciudad de Barcelona (along with photos, letters) can be found at
Currently there is a campaign underway to erect a memorial at Malgrat de Mar to the IBs who died on the Ciudad de Barcelona.  More information here.



2 Responses to “ Remembering the S.S. Ciudad de Barcelona

  1. Bruce Hearn Mackinnon on July 9, 2021 at 3:24 am

    I understand that around 10 Australian members of the International Brigades died in the sinking of the ‘City of Barcelona’. However, I have been unable to find any confirmation. If any relatives of Lincoln Brigadists have any info on the Australians involvement I’d love to hear from you. Comradely greetings. Bruce

  2. Josep Martí on September 19, 2022 at 11:52 am

    The ‘Ciudad de Barcelona’ was sunk by the torpedoes of the Italian submarine ‘Torricelli’, renamed ‘General Sanjurjo’, based in Sóller (Mallorca), then in the hands of the fascist rebels. In a first attack at 10 in the morning, he launched 2 projectiles against ‘Ciudad de Barcelona’ near Lloret de Mar, both missing the target. Later, around 2:00 p.m. and off Malgrat de Mar, very close to the mouth of the Tordera River and about 700 meters from the coast, the same submarine again attacked the motor ship ‘Ciudad de Barcelona’ in Republican jurisdictional waters. ‘, this time successfully.

    The crew members of the Ciudad de Barcelona were able to realize that a torpedo was following them, but they could not see the submarine, since the aggression was so fast that the motor ship did not have time to carry out any maneuver to avoid the danger and dodge the projectile. The ship was hit by the stern, penetrating the torpedo through the hold number three, which quickly filled with water through the open route, sinking in just five minutes. In that space of time the crew, who according to the republican press competed in acts of heroism3, had time to jump into the water, including some sailors who were injured by the effects of the explosion. The total number of people transported by the motorboat was 280 passengers, of whom 50 drowned.

    The witnesses explained that a small seaplane that was escorting the City of Barcelona chased the submarine, throwing two bombs at it, which missed the target.

    The attack took place in the middle of the day with many people on the beaches who were able to see the events, which also helped many fishermen from the nearby Catalan coastal towns, especially Malgrat de Mar, to come immediately to try to rescue the passengers. Thanks to his action, most of them could be saved.

    The burial of the victims took place in the afternoon of the following day and was attended by practically the entire town of Malgrat de Mar, thus demonstrating the indignation and pain contained by the torpedoing of the City of Barcelona.

    Presiding over the act was Dr. Serra Hunier, who was accompanied by the General Director of the local Administration, Antonio Soler, representing the President of the Generalitat, Lluís Companys. The delegation was also accompanied by a large representation of the official centers, political parties and unions, among them the representative of the P.S.U.C. Regional, Ángel Estivill; all the representatives of the CNT of Canet de Mar and representatives of the CNT of the towns of the coast. The women’s section of Esquerra Republicana; the Libertarian Youth and an important representation of the local municipal schools. During the ceremony, a large number of wreaths were offered to the victims of the shipwreck, including a section of the 6th Artillery Battery, which was estimated at around four thousand people attending the funeral.

    The population of Malgrat de Mar would live another tragic day on January 21, 1939, in the last days of the Civil War, when there was no longer any kind of resistance and the roads were full of people who were leaving for France, the fascist aviation bombed the town killing 16 people.

    The squadron had the objective of sinking a naval convoy in the port of Barcelona. The five S-79 aircraft that participated in the episode were unable to comply because the sky was very cloudy and did not allow them to guarantee the success of the expedition. The option that was taken involved finding another destination for the weapons and, in this case, they decided on an attack with the population as the only victim. The planes unloaded 49 100-kilo bombs and 20 20-kilo bombs in the most central streets.

    We applaud the creation of the Solidarity Park and the Memorial to the International Brigadistas of the ‘Ciudad de Barcelona’.

    Fascism never again!