By United Press
Twenty divisions of Gen. Francisco Franco's Fascist armies crashed the last main defenses of the republicans today and closed in on the great city of Barcelona.
The rebel headquarters at Lerida declared that Franco's troops had smashed through the Llobregat River defense line west of Barcelona, northwest of the rebels occupied Manresa.
The fourth Navarrese division under Gen. Juan Solchaga, broke through the Llobergat line after circling Martorelli.
Franco's troops were moving on Barcelona north, west and south, not only to capture Spain's most important city, but also to cut off the escape of the great loyalist defending force.
As Franco batteries brought the outskirts of the city under fire and airplanes bombed the city again and again, syndicalist and anarchist labor unions mobilized their members today to join Gen. Juan Sarabia in a last-ditch defense stand. Americans who had remained in the city until almost the last minute fled to Caldetas. The United States cruiser Omaha arrived there this afternoon from Villefranche, on the French Riviera, took them aboard.
President Manuel Azanza and Prime Minister Juan Negrin had fled during the night to Spanish town closer to the French border.
Spanish Foreign Minister Julio Alvarez Del Vayo pleaded without success for 11th hour assistance. Barcelona is short of food and so short of ammunition that the republic guns must be rationed he said.
Alvarez Del Vayo also asked for French sanctuary for fleeing republicans and Spanish officials. The French government responded by sending additional detachments to guard the closed French-Spanish frontier.
Barcelona is normally a city of 1,060,000 population. As the emergency seat of the Spanish government and a center for refugees, its population had swollen to 2,000,000. But hundreds of thousands have fled the city, seeking to escape Franco's guns and the repeated air raids.
A large population remains, helpless, but hopeful and determined.
"Barcelona is the bulwark of Spain's independence," was the cry as the city's workers rushed to the barricades, to attempt, with unskilled hands, to throw back Franco's trained regions.
Barcelona has loved its independence.
But Franco's troops, strong in numbers, strong in guns, tanks, motor equipment, planes and ammunition, moved relentlessly forward.
Up the coastal highway, south of Barcelona, moved the Moorish corps of Gen. Juan Yague. The village of Gays, seven miles by direct line from Barcelona, fell. That put Barcelona harbor within range of Franco's guns.
Yague moved on toward the Llobregat. But a crossing from this position, where the river is wide, would be dangerous.
After crossing the Llobregat at Martorell the rebels fanned out, moved on Olesa and Sabadell.
The fascist lines now forms a curve around Barcelona. There is much hilly territory to cross, but in crossing the Llobregat, a "natural moat," the rebels say they have crashed the last major defense lines of the republicans.
Franco's armies reported this midafternoon that the average advance for the day on the whole line had been five miles. The rebel headquarters at Lerida said that a "definite new phase" of the battle had begun.
Franco's dispatch described the republicans as being "hungry, demoralized and leaderless."
Hungry they may be, but they are not demoralized or leaderless. The entire Barcelona district is under the military rule of Gen. Sarabia. The reported fall of Manresa came only after a hard fight in which republicans delayed the rebel advance.
The republicans, however, were taking terrific punishment. On the front they were hammered by Franco's artillery, harassed by planes. A hot rifle and machine gun fire kept up all along the whole front.
The fascists regarded the fall of Barcelona as almost an accomplished fact. Gen. Franco's Burgos government appointed Miguel Mateu Pla, manager of the Hispano-Suiza Motor works, mayor of Barcelona. The rebel forces massed food supplies with which to seek the friendship of Barcelonans.