Diputación Foral de Guipúzcoa
June 18, 2024

The Auxiliary Navy of the Basque Country

Chronology of activities of The Basque Auxiliary Navy (1936-37)

Joaquín de Egia y Untzueta was appointed Navy Section Head of the Basque Government's Ministry of Defence.
The Soviet merchant ship A.Andreev arrived in Bilbao armed with weapons. It was met at sea and brought into port by Joaquín de Egía himself on board the Domayo.
The Basque Country Official Gazette published the decrees dated 30th October to requisition the cod fishing boats Hispania, Euzkal-Erria, Mistral and Vendaval.
Destructor VELASCO
The Basque Country Official Gazette published the decree dated 4th November creating the Sea Volunteers, which established the regulations for recruiting staff for the Basque Auxiliary Navy.
The rebel destroyer Velasco (Corvette Captain Francisco Nuñez) attacked the Mistral (Captain Manuel Galdós) and Euzkal-Erria (Captain Augusto Fernández) trawlers, some 40 miles from Pasajes, when they were making their way to France to collect four merchant ships. The trawlers fought back and in the exchange of fire, the Velasco was hit and had to withdraw as it was damaged. The Mistral was also hit by some machinegun shot that only caused slight damage.
Vessel Tonnage Speed Crew Armament Casualties
Mistral 1,252 ton 11 knots 42 1-101,6 mm.,1-76,2 mm. 2 wounded
Euzkal-Erria 1,190 ton 10,5 knots 38 1-101,6 mm.  
Velasco 1,315 ton 34 knots 86 3-101,6 mm., 2-47 mm., 1 mg. - 20 mm. 1 wounded
Mercante Artza Mendi.jpg
The Mistral and Euzkal-Erria returned to Bilbao without the merchant ships. The Hispania (Captain Santiago Asolo) came out to protect them as they returned and also escorted the merchant ship Artza-Mendi with a large cargo of weapons from Leningrad.
On the 17th, four merchant ships left Bayonne at dusk that entered Bilbao on the 18th escorted by Euzkal-Erria and Vendaval.
The Euzkal-Erria, Mistral and Vendaval escorted the merchant ship Mar Rojo from Bayonne and entered Bilbao on the 3rd.
The crew of the trawler Virgen del Carmen in Franco's navy rebelled and took it to Bilbao. It would then become the Donostia of the Basque Navy.
The Official Gazette of the Basque Country published the decrees dated 9th December rechristening the trawlers with the names of Araba (former Hispania), Bizkaya (former Euzkal-Erria), Gipuzkoa (former Mistral) and Nabarra (former Vendaval) and appointing their commanders.
The four trawlers set sail together for the first time, to carry out firing exercises and on a surveillance mission. On 20th, the Bizkaya (Commander Alejo Bilbao) stopped the German merchant ship Pluto 6 miles to the north of Cape Machichaco. The Nabarra met them and as they were accompanying it to Bilbao, they received orders from the Headquarters of the Republican Marine to let it go free.
Bou BIZKAYA atracando
The Bizkaya halted the German merchant ship Palos to the north of Cape Ogoño. The Nabarra joined them and the two escorted the ship back to Bilbao, where it was retained.
The Gipuzkoa sighted the merchant ship Isla de Gran Canaria of Santander, which was coming from Valencia loaded with provisions and escorted it to Bilbao. The German cruiser Königsberg arrived off Bilbao at dusk to demand that the Palos be returned, whose release had already been decided. The Palos left Bilbao at night, but without part of its cargo that had been confiscated and without a passenger travelling on a Spanish passport.
The Gipuzkoa and Bizkaya set sail to protect the British merchant ship Blackhill attacked by Franco trawlers and they then escorted the merchant ship Miguel.
Bou Nabarra
The presence of the Nabarra (Commandant Enrique Moreno) stopped the Velasco (Corvette Captain Francisco Núñez) and Genoveva (Corvette Captain José Mª Ragel) laying mines off Bilbao at night. There was a short burst of canon shot between the Velasco and the Nabarra without any consequences.
Vessel Tonnage Speed Crew Armament Casualties
Nabarra 1,204 ton 11 knots 44 1-101,6 mm., 2 mg.-8 mm.  
Velasco 1,315 ton 34 knots 86 3-101,6 mm., 2-47 mm., 1 mg.- 20 mm.,
60 mines
Genoveva 1,869 ton 10 knots   100 mines  
The Gipuzkoa and Nabarra escorted the merchant ship Candina from Bayonne and then accompanied the oil tanker Gobeo which arrived from England.
The trawlers Araba and Nabarra and the Republican destroyer José Luis Díez escorted the steamship Mar Rojo which entered Bilbao in the early hours of the morning. That same night, the Velasco and the Genoveva resumed the mining operation at night. In the early hours of the 17th, the Goizeko-Izarra (Captain Antonio de Zinkunegi) hit ones of the mines and sank with its crew of 17.
Destructor Jose Luis Diez
As they were attempting to sweep the mine field laid by the Velasco, the minesweeper Mary-Toya hit another mine and sank. Six members of its crew died. These included the Republican officer who was in charge of the mine recovery division.
The Basque Navy took over the work of mining sweeping. Captain José Mª Burgaña was appointed the Navy Delegate in Portugalete and took over the organization of the division. Another captain was appointed to command the Minesweeping Flotilla. All the channels into Bilbao were free of mines by the end of March.
The trawlers Gipuzkoa, Nabarra and Bizkaya and the destroyer José Luis Díez escorted the steamship Briquetas Zorroza from Bayonne to Bilbao.
The same vessels as in the previous week escorted the merchant ships María Amalia and Fernando L. de Ibarra from Bayonne to Bilbao.
The Velasco again laid mines off Bilbao in the area near to Castro Urdiales.
The trawlers Donostia and Iparreko-Izarra on a surveillance mission protected the entry into Bilbao by the merchant ship Blackhill from Bayonne.
Bou Gipuzkoa en el Abra Febreo 1937
Cuando el Gipuzkoa (Com. When the Gipuzkoa (Com. Manuel Galdós), Bizkaya (Com. Alejo Bilbao), Nabarra (Com. Enrique Moreno) and Donostia (Com. Francisco Elortegi) escorted the merchant ship Galdames from Bayonne to Bilbao, they ran across the rebel cruiser Canarias (Lieutenant Salvador Moreno) that had just seized the merchant ship Yorkbrook. The Canarias attacked the Gipuzkoa and hit it. The Punta Galea and Punta Lucero batteries fired against Canarias, which withdrew, while the Gipuzkoa, on fire, made for Portugalete with several dead and injured on board. Meanwhile, the Bizkaya freed the Yorkbrook and entered with it into Bermeo. The Canarias then found the rest of the convoy and opened fire, first against the Galdames and then against the escort vessels. After a long and hard battle, the Nabarra was sunk and 29 of its crew members, including its commander, went down with them. The Canarias recovered the survivors and seized the Galdames. The Donostia withdrew to France with slight damage. It entered into Arcachón on the 6th and, after suffering more damage, into La Pallice on the 12th, where it would be held until the end of the war.
Vessel Tonnage Speed Crew Armament Casualties
Gipuzkoa 1,252 ton 11 knots 51 2-101,6 mm., 2 mg.-8 mm. 5 k. and 12 w.
Bizkaya 1,190 ton 10,5 knots 51 2-101,6 mm., 2 mg.-8 mm.  
Nabarra 1,204 ton 11 knots 49 2-101,6 mm., 2 mg.-8 mm. 29 k. and 20 taken (2w.)
Donostia 287 ton 10 knots 30 1-76,2 mm., 1-47 mm., 2 mg.-8 mm., 6 DC.  
Canarias 12,230 ton 33 knots 1,000 8-203,2 mm., 8-120 mm., 2-57 mm., 4-40 mm. 1 k. and 1 w.
Bou Nabarra Vista de perfil Febrero 37.jpg
The Bizkaya escorted the Yorkbrook from Bermeo to Bilbao.
The Iparreko-Izarra (Captain Pedro Ruiz de Loizaga) escorted the Altsu-Mendi and the barge Virgen del Carmen which would take mineral to Saltacaballo.
The Iparreko-Izarra this time escorted the tug Ayeta-Mendi and the barge Virgen del Carmen which repeated the earlier operation.
The Franco Government published their decision to establish a sea blockade of Bilbao. Great Britain and France did not recognise it and only accepted control of merchant vessels within the 3 mile territorial waters. The first incident occurred on that same day when the Franco-controlled vessels Galerna and Almirante Cervera tried to halt the British merchant ship Thorpehall. Three English destroyers came to its aid and manage to enter Bilbao.
The British merchant vessel Seven Seas Spray arrived in Bilbao from Saint Jean de Luz, loaded with food supplies and which completed its journey uneventfully. The José Luis Díez, Císcar, Bizkaya and Iparreko-Izarra set off to escort it on the final stretch.
The Galerna and Cervera intercepted three British merchants that tried to enter Bilbao. English warships came to its aid and the Bizkaya and Iparreko-Izarra went out to welcome them. The Punta Galea battery opened fired on the Franco ships and finally the merchant ships entered Bilbao. On the following days, other merchant ships continued to arrive with supplies for Bilbao.
Various minesweepers until the command of the head of the flotilla (Captain Angel Gabiña) helped to evacuated the civilian population of Lequeitio. The following day, Italian troops arrived by sea and land and took the town. Elanchove, Bermeo, Mundaca, ... were evacuated on the following days.
The Velasco laid mines off Bilbao at night. All the mines were recovered by the Basque minesweeper in four days without suffering any casualties.
The Franco-controlled battleship España hit one its own mines off Santander and sank. It was the largest loss of the mines laid by the rebels.
The Císcar, Gipuzkoa and Bizkaya bombed Bermeo to support a counterattack by the Basque army on the town, occupied by the Italians on the previous day. A member of the crew of the motorboat San Isidro was drowned during an air raid on Portugalete.
Bou Bizkaya en servicio de escolta el 21-4-37
The evacuation by sea of the civilian population of Bilbao began and would last until 15th June. Numerous merchant ships from different countries took part and particularly, the liner Habana and the yacht Goizeko-Izarra. The vessels were escorted to international waters by the destroyer Císcar and the trawlers Bizkaya and Gipuzkoa and from there, by the British and, sometimes, by the French fleet.
The Císcar accidentally collided minesweeper D-18 in El Abra and sunk it.
The fast motor launch Txepetx (Captain Policarpo Bilbao) moved the alleged remains of Sabino Arana from Portugalete to Bayonne, in a manoeuvre to hide the true location where they were buried.
At the end of the day, forces of the Basque Navy and Police took control of the destroyers José Luis Díez and Císcar and seized their crew at the request of the Republican command. On the following days, over 200 officers and sailors of the Basque Navy embarked to replace their former crews, which they did not trust. One day earlier, 9 leading seamen and sailors had also embarked on the submarine C-6 to cover the casualties.
Destructor CISCAR
The Císcar, with a Basque crew, escorted the oil tanker Gobeo to Bilbao from 50 miles out.
The Císcar (Lieutenant Juan Antonio Castro) and José Luis Díez (Lieutenant Evaristo López) exchanged fire with the Cervera (Captain Manuel Moreu) with no consequences.
Vessel Tonnage Speed Crew Armament Casualties
Jose Luis Diez 2,087 ton 36 knots 175 5-120 mm., 1-76,2 mm., 6 TT  
Ciscar 2,175 ton 36 knots 175 4-120 mm., 2-76,2 mm., 6 TT  
Alm. Cervera 9,237 ton 33 knots 566 8-152,4 mm., 4-101,6 mm., 2-47 mm.,
12 TT
During an air raid on Portugalete, the minesweepers D-15 and D-24 were sunk. Other vessels were high by the air raids at that time and were rendered useless, such as the D-20 and the L-2.
The yacht Epailla 5 fled to Bayonne at night.
The destroyers Císcar and José Luis Díez left Bilbao for France loaded with refugees and with various military and civilian personalities that used the voyage to dessert. The Gipuzkoa, Bizkaya and Iparreko-Izarra set sail to Santoña, where they would be enjoyed by the Gazteiz.
The D-12, D-16, D-17 and L-6 minesweepers set sail to Santoña.. The L-4 would go to France and the rest of the minesweepers and auxiliary motor boats to Santander, except for the D-5 and D-6, sent to Belgium to bring a cargo of weapons, and the D-3 and D-4 which were in France at that time. The rebel cruiser Cervera (Captain Manuel Moreu) protected by three trawlers bombed the Basque vessels sheltering in Santoña, and the Gipuzkoa (Com. Policarpo Bilbao) was hit. Its crew jumped into the water and one of them drowned. The Bizkaya (First Officer Avelino González) fired back and its shot fell near to the escort trawlers. Several days later, the Basque were stripped of their weapons.
Vessel Tonnage Speed Crew Armament Casualties
Gipuzkoa 1,252 ton 11 knots 55 2-101,6 mm., 2 mg.-8 mm. 1 k. and 3 w.
Bizkaya 1,190 ton 10,5 knots 56 2-101,6 mm., 2 mg.-8 mm.  
Iparreko Izarra 136 ton 10 knots 23 1-57 mm., 1 mg.-8 mm.  
Alm. Cervera 7,975 ton 33 knots 566 8-152,4 mm., 4-101,6 mm.,
2-47 mm., 12 TT
Galerna 1,204 ton 11 knots 69 2-101,6 mm., 2-47 mm.  
Ciriza 262 ton 9 knots 34 1-76,2 mm., 1-47 mm.  
Fantastico 254 ton 10,5 knots 34 2-57 mm., 2 mg.  
Bou ARABA Semihundido en Sestao Julio 37
Bilbao was occupied by Franco’s troops. The Araba (sunk to avoid it being taken), the Iruña (in dry dock), D-20 and L-2 (rendered useless) were abandoned in the estuary.
The Císcar and José Luis Díez returned to the Peninsula. Shortly afterwards, the majority of their Basque crew disembarked.
The Júpiter lay mines off Santander. The Basque minesweepers D-9, D-10, D-19, D-21, D-22 and D-23 and the L-1 and L-3 motor boats are used to sweep the mines.
Franco agents seized the Epailla 5 in Bayonne and took it to Fuenterrabía.
The small auxiliary minelayers Felisa Rodal and Rodal Barreiro laid mines between Gijón and Avilés. In September and October, some Basque minesweepers would also be involved in the tasks of sweeping these fields.
The Basque Auxiliary Navy transferred the L-1, L-3, D-9, D-10, D-11, D-21, D-22 and D-23 vessels with their respective crews to the Republican Navy to organize their own minesweeping services in the Cantabrian Sea.
In Santoña, the ikurriña or Basque flag was lowered on the Gipuzkoa, Bizkaya and Iparreko-Izarra which had to be handed over to the Republican Navy. The 3 trawlers were taken to Santander at night.
The D-5 and the D-6, which had been secretly transporting weapons over the previous months, entered in La Pallice. Shortly afterwards, they would be moved to Sables d’Olonne and would be finally held.
When the D-12, D-16, D-17 and L-6 minesweepers were taken from Santoña to Santander, the D-12 and D-17 collided in a shallows near to Noja. The D-17 was seriously damaged and would be run aground on the beach and explode accidentally. Two members of the crew were killed and a further 2 injured.
34 crew members were ordered to disembark from the Gipuzkoa and Bizkaya and were replaced by crew from Santander. They tried to rearm the trawlers, but only work was completed on the Gipuzkoa.
When the majority of the Republican vessels had already been evacuated to Santander, the Bizkaya, Gipuzkoa, Iparreko-Izarra, L-1, L-3, D-9, D-21 and D-22 would go to Gijón. The remaining minesweepers and motor boats were sent to La Pallice and then taken to Rochefort and held.
Bou Gipuzkoa cuadro de Julio Pardo
The Gipuzkoa and Bizkaya were sent to Santander to collect evacuees. Along the route, they learnt that Santander had already fallen and decided to set course for France. They entered into Bordeaux on the 28th and were held there for the duration of the war.
After the Basque Army surrendered in Santoña, the trawler Gazteiz (Com. Alejo Bilbao) was arrested and his crew sent to the Dueso prison. There, the second engineer was shot by the Franco troops on October 15th.
The Iparreko-Izarra broke through the Gijón blockade at night and set sail to Bordeaux where it arrived on the 9th and was held there until the end of the war.
During these months, the L-1 and L-3 and the D-9, D-21 and D-22 took part with the Republican Navy to sweep the mines off Gijón. Halfway through October, the L-3 and the D-21 and D-22 were moved to Avilés and continued their work there.
The evacuation of Asturias ended. The L-1 and L-3 motorboats and the D-9, D-21 and D-22 minesweepers that operated there with the Republican Navy set sail to France, where they reached Bordeaux and Arcachon and remained there until the end of the war.
Bou Donostia
The Republican Navy took control of the trawler Donostia moored in La Pallice.
During this time, the vessels were held in France. The Gipuzkoa was fitted out as a privateer vessel, but the French authorities would not allow it to leave. The majority of the crew were disembarked and sent to Republican territory, where they served in the Navy, the Army or the Sea Carabineers. The vessels would be returned to their owners at the end of the war.