THROUGH THE ARCHIVES: General Franco asked for prompt explanation after British ships bombed

From the News Letter, June 24, 1938

Thursday, 24th June 2021, 11:32 am
General Franco at Burgos Cathedral after attending the Requiem for the late Primo de Rivera, founder of the Nationalist Movement in Spain
General Franco at Burgos Cathedral after attending the Requiem for the late Primo de Rivera, founder of the Nationalist Movement in Spain

Mr Chamberlain had announced in the House of Commons, Westminster, the previous night that the British government had asked General Franco of Spain form a prompt explanation after the sinking of the British steamers, Thorpness and Sunion, at Valencia earlier that week, reported the News Letter on this day in June 1938.

Sir Robert Hodgson, the British agent in Burgos, had been instructed to return to London as soon as he received Franco’s reply, in order that he may be consulted on the situation.

“As to what may take place in the future,” Mr Chamberlain added, “I can only ask the House of wait a little longer until we have had the reply of the Burgos authorities, and have had an opportunity of considering it.”

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Reaffirming his adherence to non-intervention, Mr Chamberlain rejected suggestions of reprisals, and declared that if, in spite of the government’s previous warnings, British ships continued to go into Spanish territorial waters for the purpose “of making high profits, they must take the risk themselves”.

Meanwhile photographs of the wrecked saloon of the British ship Stanwell after it had been attacked in Spanish waters had been shown to the British Prime Minister the previous day when he had received first-hand accounts of the bombing by aeroplanes only 300 feet up and of raids on Barcelona and Valencia.

In his private room at the House of Commons Mr Chamberlain had received Captain Lewis J Llewellyn of Cardiff, skipper of the Stanhope, and Captain D E Jones, also of Cardiff, the master of the Stanwell. They had been invited to see him a result of a request by Mr Wedgwood Benn at question time.

During the interview he asked numerous questions about the numbers of aeroplanes and the times and dates of the bombings. Full details were handed to him in a typewritten document.

After the interview with the Prime Minister a lobby correspondent spoke to Captain Llewellyn and asked him if he knew the identity of the aeroplanes that bombed his vessel.

“We did not stop on deck long to look after the machines arrived,” he replied. “If one is coming with an aerial torpedo, you are not going to wait to examine him.”

Captain Llewellyn continued: “On approximately 30th April we sent the following protest from Barcelona to the Foreign Secretary at the Foreign Office in London: ‘Undersigned masters of British ships in Barcelona harbour strongly protest against brutal attack by Italian aircraft, deliberately aimed at shipping and civil objectives.”

He added: “I with others signed this telegram, but I could not vouch myself that the aeroplanes were Italian. I could not swear to that. But some of the other signatories could tell you the make and they said that they were Italian.

“There is no possibility that they were Spanish government machines. We do know the difference. Franco’s aeroplanes are of a silvery grey colour, whereas the government machines are red.

“During the rain on Barcelona I was blown back into my room by the force of a bomb exploding outside my ship.

“We had the red, white and blue painted on top of the deckhouses over an area as large of this room. Also the sides of the houses on the boat-deck were painted red, white and blue, and the name Stanhope was painted in lettering 6 feet in size on the ship’s side.”