Friday 25 November 2022

Visit to the Refugios Antiaéros, Alicante

 Refugios Antiaéros, Alicante

As some of you may (of may not) know we are desparately trying to improve our Spanish by taking a part-time university course at Alicante Uni. 

Whilst day-to-day we get on fine and I understand a lot of what is being said to me, my brain just can`t translate quickly enough to actually have a conversation particulary once it progresses beyond what I`ve planned to say.

Anyway the Centro Superior de Idiomas runs trips which students can attend to museums and art galleries, etc, all in Spanish and Debbie and I have attended three this month. The lastest, last evening was a guided tour to Los Refugios - the Civil War era air-raid shelters and the Civil War Interpretation Centre.

The tour group was quite small - the guide, Debbie and I, four other students, three Spanish ladies and a member of the University Idiomas Center who we had already met at the other outings.  

The guide was very good and I found her talk quite easy to follow, but of course I was already primed and knew something of the local and national history.

The Civil War Interpretation Centre was an interesting building situated on Plaza de Séneca

The brickwork and even the iron railings show signs of shrapnel damage!

In the main courtyard are three large banner type plaques listing those killed during the bombings in English, Spanish and German. The guide explained about the bombings and how the city had tried to plan ahead and create the bomb shelters, she also talked about the bombings themselves including the worse one the city suffered on 25th May 1938.For more info on these attacks against Alicante, follow this link to a piece I wrote on it:  
She then took us inside to a room dedicated to the bombings and gave a brief talk about life in the city and the shelters. The walls were covered in enlarged photos, newpaper cuttings and information boards, there was a mock-up with life sized cut-outs running towards a shelter entrance (as it was at the time).
The bomb was original discovered in the 1980s

This mural was on the floor giving a birds eye view of Italian bombers diving onto the port and city
There was an impressive 1/35th scale diorama of the mercado site after the 25th May incident

Another model of the layout of shelter R31 (not a great photo sorry), this shelter could house 1,200 people!!
Among other stuff on the walls I did note the insignia of the various Italian squadrons (mostly based in Mallorca) whos planes attacked Alicante.
1st Squadron of group 2-G2-62
2nd Squadron of group 2-G2-62 
Squadron AS/88
2nd Squadron of group 62-73

At this point I ask a question that has been bugging me for ages since I`ve lived here and began my simplistic research. 
In my faltering Spanish acutely aware that at least five of the audience were Spanish I asked - 
"Why no Republican planes seem to have tried to intervene in any of the attacks upon Alicante, I`ve found not mention of air-to-combat over or around the city, which was attacked a number of times"?
The guide tried to explain that Alicante wasn`t a military target, so the Republic was using its aircraft elsewhere. I continued -
"But the port was important and a strategic target for the enemy and Rabassa airfield (where Alicnate University is now) is very close and the 6th Republican Air Group was based there; I just couldn`t understand why those aircraft never came to the defence of the city"?
She accepted my confusion, and understood my point but couldn`t come up with an explaination.

She then took us across the courtyard to a second hall which told the story of the end of the war, first thing I saw was a 1/35th scale model of the SS Stanbrook, which I recognised and said the Captain`s name "Dickson", the guide seemed surprised and pleased and I then explained (again in faltering Spanish) that Dickson was from Cardiff, Wales and I was from Wales and had written a brief article about him and this incident. Follow this link to read it -   

The guide told the story and them moved on to tell about the last days of the war and the internment camps. Alicante was virtally the last city to fall at the end of the war on 30th March 1939, the first enemy troops to enter the city were Italians of the Littorio Division part of the CTV. The city was filled with thousands of refugees both civilian and military who had hoped to get passage on ships from the harbour. Upon taking control, the Nationalists herded these refugees into areas where they could be contained and processed - the Bullring, the Castle of Santa Barbara and La Goteta Camp; a bare field located just off modern day Avenida de Denia (near the International Hospital at Alta Vista). This camp became known as Campo de los Almendros (Field of Almond Trees), was just a temporary holding area, but between 600 and 2,000 died there!
Eventually a more permanent camp was build down the coast near Orihuela on the site of what is now San Isidro Railway Station. This camp called Albatera was truly and awful place where maybe as many as 25,000 died!
Alicante Municiple Cemetary has a memorial to more than 700 Republicans executed by Franco`s forces in and around Alicante between 1939 and `45 (after the war had ended)!

In the second hall there were a number of interesting items on display and again posters, documents and photos on the walls
Hand fire pump
Fire engine
Russian Maxim
Now this column is very interesting I only took the photo because it has the symbol of the Spanish facist Falange party, I didn`t at the time notice the writing which talks about Jose Antonio - who I can only assume is Jose Antonio Prima de Rivera founder of the Falange who was arrested and imprisoned before the Civil War started, he was executed by firing squad in Alicante on November 20th 1936! I wish I`d have seen the writing and asked the guide about the column - hey ho.... 

The guide then took us across Plaza de Séneca to R-31
The original entrances (as depicted in the center) were destroyed when the government filled in the shelters after the war
Steep stairs leading down, the original entrance would have had no door, the bottom of the stairs has a blast-wall to protect those inside 
Original signs still on the walls

It was hard to imagine how up to 1,200 men, women and children could possibly fit inside. At the end of the tour the guide had us go into the side chambers and started a recording of and air-raid - the lights flickered and died, the sirens wailed, the aircraft engines droned and then the explosions started all the time the lights flickered on and off at random intervals - very atmospheric.

This was the end of the Centro de Idiomas part of the tour, but we were allowed to go with the guide to another small shelter R-46 just across town. 
Very steep stairs lead down into this was a much smaller local community shelter which could hold up to 250 people!
At the bottom there was a sharp 90 degree bend again blast protection as the doorway above had no door

Shoes and boots laid out to give the visual idea of how many people would be in each room
Each room had these raised doorways, the idea was heavier than air gases - Chlorine, mustard gas, etc would sink down and be trapped giving people time to get out. 
We have to remember gas attacks were a great worry to all governments after the horrors of WW1.
The second entrance to this shelter leads up into the cellar of a local bar (now blocked off)

Air vent in the ceiling, the notch in the wall is where the original light fitting would have been.
The vent pipe bends and twists to avoid debris or shrapnel falling straight into the shelter.

All-in-all an interesting couple of hours.







  1. Richard, you are becoming a historian. Beautiful and (with its images / your photos) moving piece about a history that Spain is still coming to terms with; as the old saying goes "The victors write the [really their] history" and you are reporting and narrating efforts (of the modern liberal democrats of Spain) to reveal more of the 'truth' of those dark times when Franco and his partners felt able and justified to shoot or bomb anyone who opposed him and his partners and their beliefs. Great use of links too. Keep up the good work on recording your discoveries and on learning the language. As I know from my own feeble attempts listening to the beautiful Castillian language in real time is like a speeding train passing you on a country railway station platform. All best for your forthcoming birthday too. Carl, in windy wet North Yorkshire!!

    1. Hi Carl, thank you for commenting. Historian - I hardly think so, I`m just bumbling about :) That piece of wall near the International Hospital - I`d walked past it a dozen times and not known what it was?? Next time I`ll take a decent photo. Spanish is proving a tough ask for my aging brain, some lessons go well but after others I`m totally lost - hey ho. Thanks for the early birthday wishes, I`ll be surprised if my kids send me even a card :)

  2. Just to let you know your links led me to other observations and comments (at end of the linked pieces)!! Not sure if that's ok!!?? Carl

    1. No worries, comment anywhere you feel the need

  3. Happy birthday Richard! all best to you and your family for Xmas too. Apologies for merging the two! (I had an an aunt whose birthday was on 25Dec she felt she had been robbed of her birthday! Long gone, but happy memories.) Enjoy building those in Spain. And keep up your dual retirement jobs: wargamer and historian reporter! (I suppose thats several jobs!) All best Carl

    1. Cheers Carl, we`re busy studying for our end or term Spanish exam next week. But I am hoping to get my December game run later this week. I then have two models to finish - an I-16 plane and a T-26 tank both for my Republicans and that will probably be it for 2022.