Book Review: Red Tarancón

May 20, 2022

Red Tarancón: Spaniards and Internationals in a Tarancón at War. Cuenca: Asociación para la Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica, 2022.

The Association for the Recovery in Historical Memory in Cuenca, Spain, recently published this book the history of the city of Tarancón during the Spanish Civil War, which has come out in both Spanish and English. Research was carried out largely by members of the Association and members of the organization Brunete en la Memoria.

When researchers began their work ten years ago, they simply wanted to save a civil-war era hospital in Tarancón. However, as they learned more, they expanded their efforts to claim the entire history of the city’s civil war period. To do this, they would have to obtain enough credible information to adequately describe military, civilian and medical aspects of life in Tarancón during the civil war.  They did so over time, bit by bit. When the pieces were put together, as they have been in Red Tarancon, we have “…a history that no one had written before, and, in doing so, have refuted the silence and lies that were created by the Francoist dictatorship.” “Red Tarancón” takes us far along in the search for the historic truth of the civil war period in Tarancón.

A review of the materials the authors collected shows the breadth of the research. Documents were obtained from archival and contemporary sources; loyalist and fascist military records; oral accounts and contemporaneous letters from residents of Tarancón; newspaper accounts; public records; accounts by members of the international medical services and brigaders’ family; medical records from republican and international sources.

In the pages of Red Tarancón you will find accounts of: the lives of brigaders; the role of Tarancón in military supply and transport; the organization of rear-guard units to protect roads and railways; the military defenses used to protect Tarancón from aerial bombing; the death and destruction that resulted from fascist aerial bombing; the efforts of civilians to protect themselves from aerial bombing; the efforts of medical personnel to protect their patients from aerial bombing; the transformation of militia columns into regular military units; the arrival of international medical personnel.

It turns out that this small behind-the-lines city played a crucial role in the defense of Madrid. During the Battle of Jarama, Tarancón was critical with respect to getting weapons, ammunition, and food to the besieged Madrid. First, this was because it was on the Madrid-Valencia Road, the only road that allowed direct traffic between Madrid and loyalist territories. Second, because an alternative rail connection to Madrid had been built, the Torreon-Tarancón railway, with Tarancón as one of its important stations.

Tarancón was also significant in treatment of the war wounded from the battles of Jarama, Brunete and Teruel. At the time of the insurgency, military hospitals in Tarancón    provided the only treatment for the war wounded. With the arrival of the International Brigades and the creation of the International Sanitary Service, Tarancón became the center of a complex of medical services that treated Spanish and Internationals.

By 1937, there were six hospitals operating in Tarancón. The existing military medical services had been meshed with the later arriving international medical services. This expansion was prompted by the large number of wounded from the Battle of Jarama, but the means for this expansion were the hundreds of international medical personnel who came to Spain in an expression of solidarity with the Spanish people.


Red Tarancón includes recollections of a number of American medical personnel who worked in Tarancón and whose experiences are vividly described in letters and memoirs. We see the very difficult conditions under which they worked and the innovative strategies they developed with respect to the treatment of war injuries.

The book also includes substantial information on how Tarancón’s citizens fared during the civil war. Fascist airforce records in late1937 make it clear that the town itself was a target, not just the military sites within it; this is consistent with the Condor Legion’s well-known practice of brutally attacking cities in the rear such as Tarancón during important battles.

We read citizens’ accounts of their efforts to protect themselves and their families from aerial bombs by seeking underground shelter. These accounts allow us to have a clearer picture than previously of the effects of fascist bombings on Tarancón’s citizens, although we cannot quantify the frequency of aerial bombings; we can only say that the available evidence shows that they were numerous through 1937 into 1938.

Available documentation shows that 63 citizens were killed as a result of bombings, but it is likely that further research will yield additional numbers. As to property destruction, a July 1939 newspaper account states that 300 Tarancón houses had been destroyed. The true extent of civilian death, civilian injury and property destruction resulting from fascist bombings awaits further research.

ALBA members can buy either the Spanish version or the abridged English version or both. The Spanish version is 15 euros (17 dollars); the abridged English version is 10 euros (11 dollars); shipping cost for either one or two books is the same: 36 euros (40 dollars). Payment is by PayPal or bank transfer. Ninety percent of the money from sales of the book goes to Asociación para la Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica Cuenca. The remaining ten percent goes to a solidarity fund for causes considered worthwhile, such as support for striking workers.

To purchase Red Tarancón, contact Rober at