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History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

The Spanish Civil War In The Pitiuses
Part Eleven

Spanish Wars

Hello 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 Life

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 and socially.

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.

Although 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.

The 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 Fajarnés’s memoirs, Lo que Ibiza me inspiró, provides a detailed first-hand account of that fateful day’s 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.

Towards 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 s’Illa 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 Ibiza’s 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 bellies.

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 ship’s 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.

Outside 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.

The bombing stopped as suddenly as it had started and the ships disappeared. With the conflagration subdued, the Deutschland made its way slowly to s’Espardell [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.”


Fajarnés 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.

Emily Kaufman