The Republican offensive on the Ebro front in the summer of 1938 was a complex military operation. Once the passage of the infantry was consolidated, it was the turn of the boatmen (pontoners) to build the various means of passage in order to allow communication between the two banks of the Ebro river. Their mission was essential: to allow the passage of heavy weapons and to facilitate the evacuation of wounded combatants. The units in charge of achieving this mission were the “Batalló de Pontoners Número 1” (Battalion of Boatmen Number 1) and the “Batalló de Ponts Pesats Número 3” (Battalion of Heavy Bridges Number 3). The former was focused on the installation of light means of passage such as infantry’s walkways and front line bridges, and the latter was devoted to the construction of heavy metal and wooden bridges. Their work was constantly interrupted by two practices carried out by Franco: a massive aerial bombardment action and the devastating impact of the floods caused by the opening of the dams of the Pyrenean reservoirs. This procedure resulted in the temporary destruction of the bridges and the halting of the Republican offensive. However, throughout the battle, the boatmen managed to keep the bridges operational and constant traffic on the river.
The old boat passage of Ascó was a relevant place since a sluice gate was installed there. The Republican forces used a barge to communicate during the initial moments of the offensive, when the boatmen had not yet built the bridges or when they were destroyed. In this exact same place, the forces of general Franco’s boatmen set up a bridge for boats during their offensive to occupy Catalonia in the beginning of January 1939.
Another spot around Ascó that was important for the communication between the two river shores is the Reguers’ area. The Republican boatmen built a heavy wooden bridge there that remained operational during the first days of the Battle of the Ebro.