On December 23, 1938, the Nationalist forces, under Francisco Franco, launched a massive offensive against Catalonia during the last stage of the Spanish Civil War. Having been defeated at the Battle of the Ebro, the Soviet-backed Republican Army had fallen back to Catalonia, preparing the defesive positions to meet the full brunt of this Nationalist attack. Thus, this Spanish region had become the last of two surviving Republican bastions, with the city of Barcelona as the seat of the Second Spanish Republic’s government, headed by Manuel Azaña. The other stubborn pocket of resistance in this armed conflict was Madrid, which would fall in March 1939.
The Nationalist Army was composed of 300,000 troops, commanded by General Fidel Davila Arrondo, and beefed up by the German Condor Legion and the Italian Volunteer Troops Corps. The socialist forces consisted of 290,000 men, under General Juan Hernandez Saravia, plus one regiment of Russian troops. The attack began in the ealy hours of December 23, after the Nationalists had crossed the Segre River. They launched an assault on the Republican positions, breaching the enemy lines and advancing 5 miles. Other Nationalist divisions, under General Muñoz Grandes, attacked the Republican positions at the cities of Cervera and Artesa. However, the onslaught ground to a halt due to fierce enemy resistance and the offensive became a battle of attrition which wore on for weeks. But the air support provided by the Condor Legion was vital for the Nationalist victory.
In January 1939, Artesa, Cervera, and other cities and towns in Catalonia fell to the Nationalists and, on February 10, Barcelona finally surrendered as the Republican government dissolved on February 27.