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|Spanish Civil War|
|Part of Interwar period|
Republican International Brigadiers at the Battle of Belchite ride on a T-26 tank
|Commanders and leaders|
Francisco Largo Caballero
Vicente Rojo Lluch
Juan Hernández Saravia
Carlos Romero Giménez
Buenaventura Durruti †
José Antonio Aguirre
José Sanjurjo †
Emilio Mola †
Manuel Goded Llopis †
Manuel Fal Condé
Gonzalo Queipo de Llano
|Casualties and losses|
|estimated 500,000 killed[nb 1]|
|The neutrality of this article is questioned because of its systemic bias. (December 2012)|
|Spanish Civil War|
|Part of Interwar period|
Republican International Brigadiers at the Battle of Belchite ride on a T-26 tank
|Commanders and leaders|
Francisco Largo Caballero
Vicente Rojo Lluch
Juan Hernández Saravia
Carlos Romero Giménez
Buenaventura Durruti †
José Antonio Aguirre
José Sanjurjo †
Emilio Mola †
Manuel Goded Llopis †
Manuel Fal Condé
Gonzalo Queipo de Llano
|Casualties and losses|
|estimated 500,000 killed[nb 1]|
|Part of a series on the|
|History of Spain|
The Spanish Civil War (Spanish: Guerra Civil Española)[nb 2] was fought from 17 July 1936 to 1 April 1939 between the Republicans, who were loyal to the democratically elected Spanish Republic, and the Nationalists, a rebel group led by General Francisco Franco. The Nationalists prevailed, and Franco ruled Spain for the next 36 years, from 1939 until his death in 1975.
The war began after a pronunciamiento (declaration of opposition) by a group of generals of the Spanish Republican Armed Forces, under the leadership of José Sanjurjo, against the elected government of the Second Spanish Republic, at the time under the leadership of President Manuel Azaña. The rebel coup was supported by a number of conservative groups, including the Spanish Confederation of the Autonomous Right,[nb 3] monarchists such as the religious conservative Carlists, and the Fascist Falange.[nb 4]
The coup was supported by military units in Morocco, Pamplona, Burgos, Valladolid, Cádiz, Cordova, and Seville. However, rebelling units in important cities—such as Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Bilbao, and Málaga—were unable to capture their objectives, and those cities remained in control of the government. Spain was thus left militarily and politically divided. The Nationalists, now led by General Francisco Franco, and the Republican government fought for control of the country. The Nationalist forces received munitions and soldiers from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, while the Soviet Union and Mexico intervened in support of the "Loyalist", or "Republican", side. Other countries, such as Britain and France, operated an official policy of non-intervention, although France did send in some munitions.
The Nationalists advanced from their strongholds in the south and west, capturing most of Spain's northern coastline in 1937. They also besieged Madrid and the area to its south and west for much of the war. Capturing large parts of Catalonia in 1938 and 1939, the war ended with the victory of the Nationalists and the exile of thousands of leftist Spaniards, many of whom fled to refugee camps in southern France. Those associated with the losing Republicans were persecuted by the victorious Nationalists. With the establishment of a fascist dictatorship led by General Francisco Franco in the aftermath of the war, all right-wing parties were fused into the structure of the Franco regime.
The war became notable for the passion and political division it inspired, and for the atrocities committed by both sides. Organized purges occurred in territory captured by Franco's forces to consolidate the future regime. A smaller but significant number of killings took place in areas controlled by the Republicans, normally associated with a breakdown in law and order. The extent to which Republican authorities connived in Republican territory killings varied.
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At the end of the 19th century, the owners of large estates, called latifundia, held most of the power in a land-based oligarchy. The landowners' power was unsuccessfully challenged by the industrial and merchant sectors. In 1868, popular uprisings led to the overthrow of Queen Isabella II of the House of Bourbon. In 1873, Isabella's replacement, King Amadeo I of the House of Savoy, abdicated due to increasing political pressure, and the short-lived First Spanish Republic was proclaimed. After the restoration of the Bourbons in December 1874, Carlists and Anarchists emerged in opposition to the monarchy. Alejandro Lerroux, Spanish politician and leader of the Radical Republican Party, helped bring republicanism to the fore in Catalonia, where poverty was particularly acute. Growing resentment of conscription and of the military culminated in the Tragic Week in Barcelona in 1909.
Spain was neutral in the First World War. Afterwards the working class, the industrial class, and the military united in hopes of removing the corrupt central government, but were unsuccessful. Fears of communism grew. A military coup brought Miguel Primo de Rivera to power in 1923, and he ran Spain as a military dictatorship. Support for his regime gradually faded, and he resigned in January 1930. There was little support for the monarchy in the major cities, and King Alfonso XIII abdicated. The Second Spanish Republic was formed and would remain in power until the culmination of the Spanish Civil War.
Niceto Alcalá-Zamora became the first prime minister. The republic had broad support from all segments of society. Elections in June 1931 returned a large majority of Republicans and Socialists. With the onset of the Great Depression, the government attempted to assist rural Spain by instituting an eight-hour day and giving tenure to farm workers. Fascism remained a reactive threat, helped by controversial reforms to the military. In December, a new reformist, liberal, and democratic constitution was declared. It included strong provisions enforcing a broad secularization of the Catholic country, which many moderate committed Catholics opposed. In October 1931, Republican Manuel Azaña became prime minister of a minority government. In 1933, the right won the general elections, following an unsuccessful uprising by General José Sanjurjo in August 1932.
Events in the period following November 1933, called the "black two years," seemed to make a civil war more likely. Alejandro Lerroux of the Radical Republican Party (RRP) formed a government and rolled back changes made under the previous administration. Some monarchists joined with the Fascist Falange Española to help achieve their aims. Open violence occurred in the streets of Spanish cities, and militancy continued to increase, reflecting a movement towards radical upheaval, rather than peaceful democratic means as solutions.
In the last months of 1934, two government collapses brought members of the right-wing Confederation of the Autonomous Right (CEDA) into the government. Farm workers' wages were cut in half, and the military was purged of Republican members. A Popular Front alliance was organized, which narrowly won the 1936 elections. Azaña led a weak minority government, but soon replaced Zamora as president in April. Prime Minister Santiago Casares Quiroga ignored warnings of a military conspiracy involving several generals, who decided that the government had to be replaced to prevent the dissolution of Spain.
In an attempt to remove suspect generals from their posts, the Republican government sacked Franco as chief of staff and transferred him to command of the Canary Islands. Manuel Goded Llopis was removed as Inspector General and was made general of the Balearic islands. Emilio Mola was moved from head of the Army of Africa to military commander of Pamplona in Navarre. This, however, allowed Mola to direct the mainland uprising. General José Sanjurjo became the figurehead of the operation and helped reach an agreement with the Carlists. Mola was chief planner and second in command. José Antonio Primo de Rivera was put in prison in mid-March in order to restrict the Falange. However, government actions were not as thorough as they might have been, and warnings by the Director of Security and other figures were not acted upon.
On 12 June, Prime Minister Casares Quiroga met General Juan Yagüe, who managed to falsely convince Casares of his loyalty to the republic. Mola began serious planning in the spring. Franco was a key player because of his prestige as a former director of the military academy and as the man who suppressed the Socialist uprising of 1934. He was well respected in the Army of Africa, the Spanish Republican Army's toughest military force. He wrote a cryptic letter to Casares on 23 June, suggesting that the military was disloyal, but could be restrained if he were put in charge. Casares did nothing, failing to arrest or buy off Franco. On 5 July, an aircraft was chartered to take Franco from the Canary Islands to Morocco. It arrived on 14 July.
On 12 July 1936, in Madrid, members of the Falange murdered Lieutenant José Castillo—a Socialist party member—of the Assault Guards police force. The next day, members of the Assault Guards arrested José Calvo Sotelo, a leading Spanish monarchist and a prominent parliamentary conservative. Calvo Sotelo was shot by the Guards without trial. The killing of Calvo Sotelo, with involvement of the police, aroused suspicions and strong reactions among the government's opponents on the right.[nb 5] Massive reprisals followed. Although the conservative Nationalist generals were already in the advanced stages of a planned uprising, the event provided a catalyst and convenient public justification for their coup. The Socialists and Communists (led by Prieto) demanded that arms be distributed to the people before the military took over. The prime minister was hesitant.
The uprising's timing was fixed at 17 July, at 17:01, agreed to by the leader of the Carlists, Manuel Fal Condé. However, the timing was changed—the men in Spanish Morocco were to rise up at 05:00, and those in Spain itself starting exactly a day later, so that control of Spanish Morocco could be achieved and forces sent to Iberia from Morocco to coincide with the risings there. The rising was intended to be a swift coup d'état, but the government retained control of most of the country.
Control over Spanish Morocco was all but certain. The plan was discovered in Morocco on 17 July, which prompted the conspirators to enact it immediately. Little resistance was encountered. In total, the rebels shot 189 people. Goded and Franco immediately took control of the islands to which they were assigned. On 18 July, Casares Quiroga refused an offer of help from the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) and Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT), leading the groups to proclaim a general strike—in effect, mobilizing. They opened weapons caches, some buried since the 1934 risings. The paramilitary forces[clarification needed] often waited to see the outcome of militia action before either joining or suppressing the rebellion. Quick action by either the rebels or anarchist militias was often enough to decide the fate of a town. General Queipo de Llano managed to secure Seville for the rebels, arresting a number of other officers.
The rebels failed to take any major cities, with the critical exception of Seville, which provided a landing point for Franco's African troops, and the primarily conservative and Catholic areas of Old Castile and León, which fell quickly. Cadiz was taken for the rebels, with the help of the first troops from the Army of Africa.
The government retained control of Málaga, Jaén, and Almería. In Madrid, the rebels were hemmed into the Montaña barracks, which fell with considerable bloodshed. Republican leader Casares Quiroga was replaced by José Giral, who ordered the distribution of weapons among the civilian population. This facilitated the defeat of the army insurrection in the main industrial centres, including Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia, but it allowed the anarchists to take control of Barcelona, along with large swathes of Aragon and Catalonia. General Goded surrendered in Barcelona and was later condemned to death.
The rebels termed themselves Nacionales, normally translated as Nationalists, though the former implies "true Spaniards" rather than a pure nationalistic cause. The result of the coup was a nationalist area of control containing 11 million of Spain's population of 25 million. The Nationalists had secured the support of around half of Spain's territorial army, some 60,000 men, joined by the Army of Africa, made up of 35,000 men, and a little under half of Spain's militaristic police forces, the Assault Guards, the Civil Guards, and the Carabineers. Republicans controlled under half of the rifles and about a third of both machine guns and artillery pieces.
The Spanish Republican Army had just 18 tanks of a sufficiently modern design, and the Republicans took control of 10. Naval capacity was uneven, with the Republicans retaining a numerical advantage, but with the Navy's top commanders and two of the most modern ships, heavy cruisers Canarias —captured at the Ferrol shipyard— and Baleares, in Nationalist hands. The Spanish Republican Navy suffered from the same problems as the army—many officers had defected or had been killed after trying to do so. Two-thirds of air capability was retained by the government – however, the whole of the Republican Air Force was very outdated.
The war was cast by Republican sympathizers as a struggle between tyranny and democracy, and by Nationalist supporters as between communist and anarchist "red hordes" and "Christian civilization". Nationalists also claimed they were protecting the establishment and bringing security and direction to an ungoverned and lawless society.
Spanish politics, especially on the left, were quite fragmented, since socialists and communists supported the republic. During the republic, anarchists had had mixed opinions, but major groups opposed the Nationalists during the Civil War. The Conservatives, in contrast, were united by their fervent opposition to the Republican government and presented a more unified front.
The Republicans received weapons and volunteers from the Soviet Union, Mexico, the international Marxists movement, and International Brigades. Their supporters ranged from centrists who supported a moderately capitalist liberal democracy to revolutionary anarchists. Their base was primarily secular and urban, but also included landless peasants, and was particularly strong in industrial regions like Asturias and Catalonia.
This faction was called variously leales ("loyalists") by supporters; Republicans, the Popular Front, or the government by all parties; and/or los rojos ("the reds") by their opponents. Republicans were supported by most urban workers, a large share of peasants, and much of the educated middle class.
The conservative, strongly Catholic Basque country, along with Galicia and the more left-leaning Catalonia, sought autonomy, or even independence, from the central government of Madrid. The Republican government allowed for the possibility of self-government for the two regions, whose forces were gathered under the People's Republican Army (Ejército Popular Republicano, or EPR), which was reorganized into mixed brigades after October 1936.
The Nationalists (nacionales)—also called "insurgents", "rebels", or, by opponents, "Franquists" or "fascists"—feared national fragmentation and opposed the separatist movements. They were chiefly defined by their anti-communism, which galvanized diverse or opposed movements like falangists and monarchists. Their leaders had a generally wealthier, more conservative, monarchist, landowning background.
The Nationalist side included the Carlists and Alfonsist monarchists, Spanish nationalists, the fascist Falange, and most conservatives and monarchist liberals. Virtually all Nationalist groups had strong Catholic convictions and supported the native Spanish clergy. The Nationals included the majority of the Catholic clergy and practitioners (outside of the Basque region), important elements of the army, most large landowners, and many businessmen.
One of the rightists' principal motives was to confront the anti-clericalism of the Republican regime and to defend the Church, which had been targeted by opponents, including Republicans, who blamed the institution for the country's ills. On the other hand, the Church was against the Republicans' liberal principles, which were fortified by the Spanish Constitution of 1931. Prior to the war, in the Asturias uprising of 1934, religious buildings were burnt and at least 100 clergy, religious civilians, and police were killed by revolutionaries.
Franco had brought in the mercenaries of Spain's colonial Army of Africa and reduced the miners to submission by heavy artillery attacks and bombing raids. The Spanish Foreign Legion committed atrocities—many women and children were killed, and the army carried out summary execution of leftists. The repression in the aftermath was brutal. In Asturias, prisoners were tortured. Franco believed that he was justified in the brutal use of troops against Spanish civilians. Historian Paul Preston said, "Unmoved by the fact that the central symbol of rightist values was the reconquest of Spain from the Moors, Franco did not hesitate to ship Moorish mercenaries to fight in Asturias, the only part of Spain where the crescent had never flown. He saw no contradiction about using the Moors, because he regarded left-wing workers with the same racialist contempt he possessed towards the tribesmen of the Rif".
Articles 24 and 26 of the 1931 constitution had banned the Jesuits. This proscription deeply offended many within the conservative fold. The revolution in the Republican zone at the outset of the war, in which 7,000 clergy and thousands of lay people were killed, deepened Catholic support for the Nationalists.
The Moroccan Regulares joined the rebellion and played a significant role in the civil war. In a 2009 news story, Reuters reported, "About 136,000 Moroccan fighters fought for the Generalissimo's Army of Africa, the feared vanguard of a force that, ironically, Franco portrayed as a Christian crusade against godless communists".
Catalan and Basque nationalists were not univocal. Left-wing Catalan nationalists sided with the Republicans, while Conservative Catalan nationalists were far less vocal in supporting the government due to anti-clericalism and confiscations occurring in areas within its control. Basque nationalists, heralded by the conservative Basque Nationalist Party, were mildly supportive of the Republican government, even though some in Navarre sided with the uprising for the same reasons influencing conservative Catalans. Notwithstanding religious matters, Basque nationalists, who were for the most part Catholic, generally sided with the Republicans.
The Spanish Civil War seized the fears and hopes of the world, including not just diplomats and politicians, but intellectuals, religious leaders, and labor unions, as well. Opinion divided three ways. The right and the Catholics supported the Nationalists as a way to stop the expansion of Bolshevism. On the left, including labor unions, students and intellectuals, the war represented a necessary battle to stop the spread of fascism. Antiwar and pacifist sentiment was strong in many countries, leading to warnings that the Civil War had the potential of escalating into a second world war. In retrospect, however, the Spanish Civil War was not a prelude to the Second World War, but rather an indicator of the growing instability encompassing the whole of Europe.
The Civil War involved large numbers of non-Spanish citizens who participated in combat and advisory positions. Germany sent a Luftwaffe unit and modern warplanes. Italy sent 100,000 men. Britain and France led a bloc of 27 nations that promised an embargo on all arms to Spain. The United States unofficially went along. Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union also signed on officially, but blatantly ignored the embargo. The attempted suppression of imported materials was largely ineffective, however, and France especially was accused of allowing large shipments to Republican troops. The clandestine actions of the various European powers were, at the time, considered to be risking another "Great War", alarming antiwar elements across the world.
The League of Nations' reaction to the war was slightly biased against communism, and insufficient to contain the massive importation by fighting factions of arms and other war resources. Although a Non-Intervention Committee was formed, its policies accomplished little, and its directives were ineffective. The official Spanish Government of Juan Negrín was gradually abandoned within the organization during this period.
German involvement began days after fighting broke out in July 1936. Adolf Hitler quickly sent in powerful air and armored units to assist the Nationalists. The war provided combat experience with the latest technology for the German military. However, the intervention also posed the risk of escalating into a world war for which Hitler was not ready. He therefore limited his aid, and instead encouraged Benito Mussolini to send in large Italian units.
Nazi actions included the formation of the multitasking Condor Legion, while German efforts to move the Army of Africa to mainland Spain proved successful in the war's early stages. German operations slowly expanded to include strike targets, most notably – and controversially – the bombing of Guernica which, on 26 April 1937, killed 200 to 300 civilians.
German involvement was further manifested through undertakings such as Operation Ursula, a U-boat undertaking, and contributions from the Kriegsmarine. The Legion spearheaded many Nationalist victories, particularly in aerial combat, while Spain further provided a proving ground for German tank tactics. The training German units provided to Nationalist forces would prove valuable. By the War's end, perhaps 56,000 Nationalist soldiers, encompassing infantry, artillery, aerial and naval forces, had been trained by German detachments.
A total of approximately 16,000 German citizens fought in the war, including approximately 300 killed, though no more than 10,000 participated at any one time. German aid to the Nationalists amounted to approximately £43,000,000 ($215,000,000) in 1939 prices,[nb 6] 15.5% of which was used for salaries and expenses and 21.9% for direct delivery of supplies to Spain, while 62.6% was expended on the Condor Legion. In total, Germany provided the Nationalists with 600 planes and 200 tanks.
After Francisco Franco's request and encouragement by Hitler, Benito Mussolini joined the war. While the conquest of Ethiopia made Italy confident in its power, a Spanish ally would nonetheless help secure Italian control of the Mediterranean. The Royal Italian Navy (Regia Marina) played a substantial role in the Mediterranean blockade, and ultimately Italy supplied machine guns, artillery, aircraft, tankettes, the Legionary Air Force (Italian: Aviazione Legionaria), and the Corps of Volunteer Troops (Italian: Corpo Truppe Volontarie, or CTV) to the Nationalist cause. The Italian CTV would, at its peak, supply the Nationalists with 50,000 men. Italian warships took part in breaking the Republican navy's blockade of Nationalist-held Spanish Morocco and took part in naval bombardment of Republican-held Malaga, Valencia, and Barcelona. In total, Italy provided the Nationalists with 660 planes, 150 tanks, 800 artillery pieces, 10,000 machine guns, and 240,000 rifles.
The Estado Novo regime of Portuguese Prime Minister António de Oliveira Salazar played an important role in supplying Franco's forces with ammunition and logistical help. Despite its discreet direct military involvement –restrained to a somewhat "semi-official" endorsement, by its authoritarian regime, of a volunteer force of up to 20,000, so-called "Viriatos" –for the whole duration of the conflict, Portugal was instrumental in providing the Nationalists with organizational skills and reassurance from the Iberian neighbour to Franco and his allies that no interference would hinder the supply traffic directed to the Nationalist cause.
The United Kingdom maintained a position of strong neutrality. It refused to allow arms shipments and sent warships to try to stop shipments. It became a crime to volunteer to fight in Spain, but about 4,000 went anyway. Intellectuals strongly favoured the Republicans. Many visited, hoping to find authenticity and anti-fascism. They had little impact on the government, and could not shake the strong public mood for peace. The Labour Party was split, with its Catholic element favouring the Nationalists. It finally voiced some support to Loyalists.
Romanian volunteers were led by Ion I Moţa, deputy-leader of the Legion of the Archangel Michael (or Iron Guard), whose group of seven Legionaries visited Spain in December 1936 to ally their movement with the Nationalists.
Despite the Irish government's prohibition against participating in the war, around 600 Irishmen, followers of Irish political activist Eoin O'Duffy, known as the "Irish Brigade", went to Spain to fight alongside Franco.
Many non-Spaniards, often affiliated with radical communist or socialist entities, joined the International Brigades, believing that the Spanish Republic was a front line in the war against fascism. The units represented the largest foreign contingent of those fighting for the Republicans. Roughly 40,000 foreign nationals fought with the Brigades, though no more than 18,000 were entered into the conflict at any given time. They claimed to represent 53 nations.
Significant numbers of volunteers originated in France (10,000), Germany and Austria (5,000), and Italy (3,350). More than 1,000 each came from the Soviet Union, the United States, the United Kingdom, Poland, Yugoslavia, Hungary, and Canada. The Thälmann Battalion, a group of Germans, and the Garibaldi Battalion, a group of Italians, distinguished their units during the Siege of Madrid. Americans fought in units such as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, while Canadians joined the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion.
Over 500 Romanians fought on the Republican side, including Romanian Communist Party members Petre Borilă and Valter Roman. About 80 volunteers from Ireland formed the Connolly Column, which was immortalized by Irish folk singer Christy Moore in the song "Viva la Quinta Brigada." Some Chinese joined the Brigades, and the majority of them eventually returned to China, while some went to prison or French refugee camps, and a handful remained in Spain.
Though General Secretary Joseph Stalin had signed the Non-Intervention Agreement, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics contravened the League of Nations embargo by providing material assistance to the Republican forces, becoming their only source of major weapons. Unlike Hitler and Mussolini, Stalin tried to do this covertly. In total, estimates of material provided by the USSR to the Republicans vary between 634 and 806 planes, 331 and 362 tanks, and 1,034 and 1,895 artillery pieces.
Stalin also created Section X of the Soviet Union military to head the weapons shipment operation, called Operation X. Despite Stalin's interest in aiding the Republicans, the quality of arms was inconsistent. On one hand, many of the rifles and field guns provided were old, obsolete or otherwise of limited use. On the other hand, the T-26 and BT-5 tanks were modern and effective in combat. The Soviet Union supplied aircraft that were in current service with their own forces, but the aircraft provided by Germany to the Nationalists proved superior by the end of the war.
The process of shipping arms from Russia to Spain was extremely slow. Many shipments were lost or arrived only partially matching what had been authorized. Stalin ordered shipbuilders to include false decks in the original designs of ships and, while at sea, Soviet captains employed deceptive flags and paint schemes to evade detection by the Nationalists.
The Republic paid for Soviet arms with official Bank of Spain gold reserves. This would later be the frequent subject of Franquist propaganda, under the term "Moscow Gold". The cost of the Soviet Union arms was more than the value of Spain's gold reserves, the fourth-largest in the world, estimated at US $500 million (1936 prices), 176 tonnes of which was transferred through France.
The USSR sent a number of military advisers to Spain (2,000–3,000), and, while Soviet troops were fewer than 500 men at a time, Soviet volunteers often operated Soviet-made tanks and aircraft, particularly at the beginning of the war. In addition, the Soviet Union directed Communist parties around the world to organize and recruit the International Brigades.
Another significant Soviet involvement was the activity of the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) inside the Republican rearguard. Communist figures including Vittorio Vidali ("Comandante Contreras"), Iosif Grigulevich, Mikhail Koltsov and, most prominently, Alexander Orlov led operations that included the murders of Catalan anti-stalinist Communist politician Andreu Nin and independent left-wing activist José Robles. Also, the shooting down in December 1936 of the French aircraft in which the delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Georges Henny, carried to France extensive documentation on the Paracuellos massacres was a NKVD-led operation.
Unlike the United States and major Latin American governments, such as the ABC Powers and Peru, the Mexican government supported the Republicans. Mexico refused to follow the French-British non-intervention proposals, furnishing $2,000,000 in aid and material assistance, which included 20,000 rifles and 20 million cartridges.
Mexico's most important contributions to the Spanish Republic was its diplomatic help, as well as the sanctuary the nation arranged for Republican refugees, including Spanish intellectuals and orphaned children from Republican families. Some 50,000 took refuge, primarily in Mexico City, accompanied by $300 million in various treasures still owned by the Left.
Fearing it might spark a civil war inside France, the leftist "Popular Front" government in France did not send direct support to the Republicans. French Prime Minister Léon Blum was sympathetic to the republic, fearing that the success of Nationalist forces in Spain would result in the creation of an ally state of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy (largely surrounding France). Right-wing politicians opposed any aid and attacked the Blum government. In July 1936, British officials convinced Blum not to send arms to the Republicans and, on 27 July, the French government declared that it would not send military aid, technology or forces to assist the Republican forces. However, Blum made clear that France reserved the right to provide aid should it wish to the Republic:
On 1 August 1936, a pro-Republican rally of 20,000 people confronted Blum, demanding that he send aircraft to the Republicans, at the same time as right-wing politicians attacked Blum for supporting the Republic and being responsible for provoking Italian intervention on the side of Franco. Germany informed the French ambassador in Berlin that Germany would hold France responsible if it supported "the manoeuvres of Moscow" by supporting the Republicans. On 21 August 1936, France signed the Non-Intervention Agreement.
However, the Blum government provided aircraft to the Republicans through covert means with Potez 54 bomber aircraft, Dewoitine aircraft, and Loire 46 fighter aircraft being sent from 7 August 1936 to December of that year to Republican forces. The French also sent pilots and engineers to the Republicans. Also, until 8 September 1936, aircraft could freely pass from France into Spain if they were bought in other countries.
Even after covert support by France to the Republicans ended in December 1936, the possibility of French intervention against the Nationalists remained a serious possibility throughout the war. German intelligence reported to Franco and the Nationalists that the French military was engaging in open discussions about intervention in the war through French military intervention in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands. In 1938, Franco feared an immediate French intervention against a potential Nationalist victory in Spain through French occupation of Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, and Spanish Morocco.
A large air and sealift of Nationalist troops in Spanish Morocco was organized to the southwest of Spain. Coup leader Sanjurjo was killed in a plane crash on 20 July, leaving an effective command split between Mola in the North and Franco in the South. This period also saw the worst actions of the so-called "Red" and "White" "Terrors" in Spain. On 21 July, the fifth day of the rebellion, the Nationalists captured the central Spanish naval base, located in Ferrol in northwestern Spain.
A rebel force under Colonel Beorlegui Canet, sent by General Mola and Colonel Esteban Garcia, undertook the Campaign of Gipuzkoa from July to September. The capture of Gipuzkoa isolated the Republican provinces in the north. On 5 September, after heavy fighting, the force took Irún, closing the French border to the Republicans. On 15 September, San Sebastián, home to a divided Republican force of anarchists and Basque nationalists, was taken by Nationalist soldiers. The Nationalists then advanced toward their capital, Bilbao, but were halted by Republican militias on the border of Biscay at the end of September.
The Republican government under Giral resigned on 4 September, unable to cope with the situation, and was replaced by a mostly Socialist organization under Largo Caballero. The new leadership began to unify central command in the republican zone. On the Nationalist side, Franco was chosen as chief military commander at a meeting of ranking generals at Salamanca on 21 September, now called by the title Generalísimo.
Franco won another victory on 27 September when his troops relieved the Alcázar in Toledo, which had been held by a Nationalist garrison under Colonel Moscardo since the beginning of the rebellion, resisting thousands of Republican troops, who completely surrounded the isolated building. Two days after relieving the siege, Franco proclaimed himself Caudillo ("chieftain"), while forcibly unifying the various and diverse falangist, Royalist, and other elements within the Nationalist cause. The diversion to Toledo gave Madrid time to prepare a defense, but was hailed as a major propaganda victory and personal success for Franco. A similar dramatic success for the Nationalist occurred on 17 October, when troops coming from Galicia relieved the besieged town of Oviedo, in Northern Spain.
In October, the Francoist troops launched a major offensive toward Madrid, reaching it in early November and launching a major assault on the city on 8 November. The Republican government was forced to shift from Madrid to Valencia, outside the combat zone, on 6 November. However, the Nationalists' attack on the capital was repulsed in fierce fighting between 8 and 23 November. A contributory factor in the successful Republican defense was the arrival of the International Brigades, though only an approximate 3,000 foreign volunteers participated in the battle. Having failed to take the capital, Franco bombarded it from the air and, in the following two years, mounted several offensives to try to encircle Madrid. The battle of the Corunna Road, a Nationalist offensive to the northwest, pushed Republican forces back, but failed to isolate Madrid. The battle lasted into January.
With his ranks swelled by Italian troops and Spanish colonial soldiers from Morocco, Franco made another attempt to capture Madrid in January and February 1937, but was again unsuccessful. The Battle of Málaga started in mid-January, and this Nationalist offensive in Spain's southeast would turn into a disaster for the Republicans, who were poorly organised and armed. The city was taken by Franco on 8 February. The consolidation of various militias into the Republican Army had started in December 1936. The main Nationalist advance to cross the Jarama river and cut the supply of Madrid by the Valencia road, termed the Battle of Jarama, led to heavy casualties (6,000–20,000) on both sides. The operation's main objective was not met, though Nationalists gained a modest amount of territory.
A similar Nationalist offensive, the Battle of Guadalajara, was a more significant defeat for Franco and his armies. It proved the only publicised Republican victory of the war. Italian troops and blitzkrieg tactics were used by Franco, and while many strategists blamed the latter for the rightists' defeat, the Germans believed it was the former at fault for the Nationalists' 5,000 casualties and loss of valuable equipment. The German strategists successfully argued that the Nationalists needed to concentrate on vulnerable areas first.
The "War in the North" began in mid-March, with Biscay as a first target. The Basques suffered most from the lack of a suitable air force. On 26 April, the Condor Legion bombed the town of Guernica, killing 200-300. The destruction had a significant effect on international opinion. The Basques retreated.
April and May saw infighting among Republican groups in Catalonia. The dispute was between an ultimately victorious government –Communist forces and the anarchist CNT. The disturbance pleased Nationalist command, but little was done to exploit Republican divisions. After the fall of Guernica, the Republican government began to fight back with increasing effectiveness. In July, it made a move to recapture Segovia, forcing Franco to delay his advance on the Bilbao front, but for only two weeks. A similar Republican attack on Huesca failed similarly.
Mola, Franco's second-in-command, was killed on 3 June. In early July, despite the earlier fall in June of Bilbao, the government launched a strong counter-offensive to the west of Madrid, focusing on Brunete. The Battle of Brunete, however, was a significant defeat for the Republic, which lost many of its most accomplished troops. The offensive led to an advance of 50 square kilometres (19 sq mi), and left 25,000 Republican casualties.
A Republican offensive against Zaragoza was also a failure. Despite having land and aerial advantages, the Battle of Belchite resulted in an advance of only 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) and the loss of much equipment. Franco invaded Aragón in August and took the city of Santander. With the surrender of the Republican army in the Basque territory came the Santoña Agreement. Gijón finally fell in late October. Franco had effectively won in the north. At November's end, with Franco's troops closing in on Valencia, the government had to move again, this time to Barcelona.
The Battle of Teruel was an important confrontation. The city, which had formerly belonged to the Nationalists, was conquered by Republicans in January. The Francoist troops launched an offensive and recovered the city by 22 February, but Franco was forced to rely heavily on German and Italian air support.
On 7 March, Nationalists launched the Aragon Offensive and, by 14 April, they had pushed through to the Mediterranean, cutting the Republican-held portion of Spain in two. The Republican government attempted to sue for peace in May, but Franco demanded unconditional surrender, and the war raged on. In July, the Nationalist army pressed southward from Teruel and south along the coast toward the capital of the Republic at Valencia, but was halted in heavy fighting along the XYZ Line, a system of fortifications defending Valencia.
The Republican government then launched an all-out campaign to reconnect their territory in the Battle of the Ebro, from 24 July until 26 November. The campaign was unsuccessful, and was undermined by the Franco-British appeasement of Hitler in Munich. The agreement with Britain effectively destroyed Republican morale by ending hope of an anti-fascist alliance with Western powers. The retreat from the Ebro all but determined the final outcome of the war. Eight days before the new year, Franco threw massive forces into an invasion of Catalonia.
Franco's troops conquered Catalonia in a whirlwind campaign during the first two months of 1939. Tarragona fell on 15 January, followed by Barcelona on 26 January and Girona on 2 February. On 27 February, the United Kingdom and France recognized the Franco regime.
Only Madrid and a few other strongholds remained for the Republican forces. On 5 March 1939, the Republican army, led by the colonel Segismundo Casado and the politician Julián Besteiro, rose against the prime minister Juan Negrin and formed a military junta with the Council of National Defense (Consejo Nacional de Defensa or CND) to negotiate a peace deal. Negrin fled to France on 6 March, but the Communist troops around Madrid rose against the junta, starting a brief civil war within the civil war. Casado defeated them, and began peace negotiations with the Nationalists, but Francisco Franco only accepted an unconditional surrender.
On 26 March, the Nationalists started a general offensive, on 28 March the Nationalists occupied Madrid and, by 31 March, they controlled all the Spanish territory. Franco proclaimed victory in a radio speech aired on 1 April, when the last of the Republican forces surrendered.
After the end of the war, there were harsh reprisals against Franco's former enemies. Thousands of Republicans were imprisoned and at least 30,000 executed. Other calculations of these deaths range from 50,000 to 200,000, depending on which killings are included. Many others were put to forced labour, building railways, drying out swamps, and digging canals.
Hundreds of thousands of Republicans fled abroad, with some 500,000 fleeing to France. Refugees were confined in internment camps of the French Third Republic, such as Camp Gurs or Camp Vernet, where 12,000 Republicans were housed in squalid conditions. In his capacity as consul in Paris, Chilean poet and politician Pablo Neruda organized the immigration to Chile of 2,200 Republican exiles in France using the ship SS Winnipeg.
Of the 17,000 refugees housed in Gurs, farmers and others who could not find relations in France were encouraged by the Third Republic, in agreement with the Franquist government, to return to Spain. The great majority did so and were turned over to the Franquist authorities in Irún. From there, they were transferred to the Miranda de Ebro camp for "purification" according to the Law of Political Responsibilities. After the proclamation by Marshal Philippe Pétain of the Vichy regime, the refugees became political prisoners, and the French police attempted to round up those who had been liberated from the camp. Along with other "undesirable" people, the Spaniards were sent to the Drancy internment camp before being deported to Nazi Germany. About 5,000 Spaniards died in the Mauthausen concentration camp.
After the official end of the war, guerrilla warfare was waged on an irregular basis by the Spanish Maquis well into the 1950s, gradually reduced by military defeats and scant support from the exhausted population. In 1944, a group of republican veterans, who also fought in the French resistance against the Nazis, invaded the Val d'Aran in northwest Catalonia, but were defeated after 10 days.
The Republicans oversaw the evacuation of 30,000–35,000 children from their zone, starting with Basque areas, from which 20,000 were evacuated. Their destinations included the United Kingdom and the USSR, and many other locations in Europe, along with Mexico. On May 21, 1937, around 4,000 Basque children were taken to the UK on the aging steamship SS Habana from the Spanish port of Santurtzi. This was against initial opposition from both the government and charitable groups, who saw the removal of children from their native country as potentially harmful. On arrival two days later in Southampton, the children were dispersed all over England, with over 200 children accommodated in Wales. The upper age limit was initially set at 12, but raised to 15. By mid-September, all of los niños, as they became known, had found homes with families. Most were repatriated to Spain after the war, but some 250 still remained in Britain by the end of the Second World War in 1945.
Death totals remain debated. British historian Antony Beevor wrote in his history of the Civil War that Franco's ensuing "white terror" resulted in the deaths of 200,000 people and that the "red terror" killed 38,000. Julius Ruiz contends that, "Although the figures remain disputed, a minimum of 37,843 executions were carried out in the Republican zone, with a maximum of 150,000 executions (including 50,000 after the war) in Nationalist Spain".
In 2008 a Spanish judge, Baltasar Garzón, opened an investigation into the executions and disappearances of 114,266 people between 17 July 1936 and December 1951. (Garzón has since been indicted for violating a 1977 amnesty law through his actions.) Among the executions investigated was that of the poet and dramatist Federico García Lorca. Mention of his death was forbidden during Franco's regime.
The view of historians, including Helen Graham, Paul Preston, Antony Beevor, Gabriel Jackson and Hugh Thomas, is that the mass executions behind the Nationalists lines were organized and approved by the Nationalists rebel authorities, while the executions behind the Republican lines were the result of the breakdown of the Republican state and anarchy:
Though there was much wanton killing in rebel Spain, the idea of the limpieza, the "cleaning up", of the country from the evils which had overtaken it, was a disciplined policy of the new authorities and a part of their programme of regeneration. In republican Spain, most of the killing was the consequence of anarchy, the outcome of a national breakdown, and not the work of the state, even though some political parties in some cities abetted the enormities, and even though some of those responsible ultimately rose to positions of authority.
– Hugh Thomas
Nationalists atrocities, which authorities frequently ordered to eradicate any trace of "leftism" in Spain, were common. The notion of a limpieza (cleansing) formed an essential part of the rebel strategy, and the process began immediately after an area had been captured. According to historian Paul Preston, the minimum number of those executed by the rebels is 130,000, and is likely to have been far higher, with other historians placing the figure at 200,000 dead. The violence was carried out in the rebel zone by the military, the Civil Guard and the Falange in the name of the regime.
Many such acts were committed by reactionary groups during the first weeks of the war. This included the execution of school teachers, because the efforts of the Second Spanish Republic to promote laicism and displace the Church from schools by closing religious educational institutions were considered by the Nationalists as an attack on the Roman Catholic Church. Extensive killings of civilians were carried out in the cities captured by the Nationalists, along with the execution of unwanted individuals. These included non-combatants such as trade-unionists, Popular Front politicians, suspected Freemasons, Basque, Catalan, Andalusian, and Galician Nationalists, Republican intellectuals, relatives of known Republicans, and those suspected of voting for the Popular Front.
Nationalist forces massacred civilians in Seville, where some 8,000 people were shot; 10,000 were killed in Cordoba; 6,000–12,000 were killed in Badajoz. In Granada, where working-class neighborhoods were hit with artillery and right-wing squads were given free rein to kill government sympathizers, at least 2,000 people were murdered. In February 1937, over 7,000 were killed after the capture of Málaga. When Bilbao was conquered, thousands of people were sent to prison. There were fewer executions than usual, however, because of the effect Guernica left on Nationalists' reputations internationally. The numbers killed as the columns of the Army of Africa devastated and pillaged their way between Seville and Madrid are particularly difficult to calculate.
Nationalists also murdered Catholic clerics. In one particular incident, following the capture of Bilbao, they took hundreds of people, including 16 priests who had served as chaplains for the Republican forces, to the countryside or graveyards and murdered them.
Franco's forces also persecuted Protestants, including murdering 20 Protestant ministers. Franco's forces were determined to remove the "Protestant heresy" from Spain. The Nationalists also persecuted Basques, as they strove to eradicate Basque culture. According to Basque sources, some 22,000 Basques were murdered by Nationalists immediately after the Civil War.
The Nationalist side conducted aerial bombing of cities in Republican territory, carried out mainly by the Luftwaffe volunteers of the Condor Legion and the Italian air force volunteers of the Corpo Truppe Volontarie: Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Guernica, Durango, and other cities were attacked. The Bombing of Guernica was among the most controversial.
According to the Nationalists, an estimated 55,000 civilians died in Republican-held territories. This is considered excessive by Antony Beevor. However, it was much less than the half a million claimed during the war. The deaths would form the prevailing outside opinion of the republic up until the bombing of Guernica.
The Republican government was anticlerical, and supporters attacked and murdered Roman Catholic clergy in reaction to the news of military revolt. In his 1961 book, Spanish archbishop Antonio Montero Moreno, who at the time was director of the journal Ecclesia, wrote that 6,832 were killed during the war, including 4,184 priests, 2,365 monks and friars, and 283 nuns, in addition to 13 bishops, a figure accepted by historians, including Beevor. Some sources claim that by the conflict's end, 20 percent of the nation's clergy had been killed, though some argue the totals were lower.[nb 7] The "Execution" of the Sacred Heart of Jesus by Communist militiamen at Cerro de los Ángeles near Madrid, on 7 August 1936, was the most infamous of widespread desecration of religious property. In dioceses where the Republicans had general control, a large proportion – often a majority – of secular priests were killed.
Like clergy, civilians were executed in Republican territories. Some civilians were executed as suspected Falangists. Others died in acts of revenge after Republicans heard of massacres carried out in the Nationalist zone. Air raids committed against Republican cities were another driving factor. Republican authorities did not order such measures taken. Shopkeepers and industrialists were shot if they didn't sympathize with the Republicans, and were usually spared if they did. Fake justice was sought through a commission, known in Russia as checas.
As pressure mounted with the increasing success of the Nationalists, many civilians were executed by councils and tribunals controlled by competing Communist and anarchist groups. Some members of the latter were executed by Soviet-advised communist functionaries in Catalonia, as recounted by George Orwell's description of the purges in Barcelona in 1937 in Homage to Catalonia, which followed a period of increasing tension between competing elements of the Catalan political scene. Some individuals fled to friendly embassies, which would house up to 8,500 people during the war.
In the Andalusian town of Ronda, 512 suspected Nationalists were executed in the first month of the war. Communist Santiago Carrillo Solares was accused of the killing of Nationalists in the Paracuellos massacre near Paracuellos del Jarama. Pro-Soviet Communists committed numerous atrocities against fellow Republicans, including other Marxists: André Marty, known as the Butcher of Albacete, was responsible for the deaths of some 500 members of the International Brigades. Andreu Nin, leader of the POUM (Workers' Party of Marxist Unification), and many other prominent POUM members, were murdered by the Communists, with the help of the USSR's NKVD.
Thirty-eight thousand people were killed in the Republican zone during the war, 17,000 of whom were killed in Madrid or Catalonia within a month of the coup. Whilst the Communists were forthright in their support of extrajudicial killings, much of the Republican side was appalled by the murders. Azaña came close to resigning. He, alongside other members of Parliament and a great number of other local officials, attempted to prevent Nationalist supporters being lynched. Some of those in positions of power intervened personally to stop the killings.
In the anarchist-controlled areas, Aragón and Catalonia, in addition to the temporary military success, there was a vast social revolution in which the workers and peasants collectivised land and industry and set up councils parallel to the paralyzed Republican government. This revolution was opposed by the Soviet-supported communists who, perhaps surprisingly, campaigned against the loss of civil property rights.
As the war progressed, the government and the communists were able to exploit their access to Soviet arms to restore government control over the war effort, through diplomacy and force. Anarchists and the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification (Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista, POUM) were integrated into the regular army, albeit with resistance. The POUM was outlawed and falsely denounced as an instrument of the fascists. In the May Days of 1937, many thousands of anarchist and communist Republican soldiers fought for control of strategic points in Barcelona.
The pre-war Falange was a small party of some 30,000–40,000 members. It also called for a social revolution that would have seen Spanish society transformed by National Syndicalism. Following the execution of its leader, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, by the Republicans, the party swelled in size to several hundred thousand members. The leadership of the Falange suffered 60% casualties in the early days of the civil war, and the party was transformed by new members and rising new leaders, called camisas nuevas ("new shirts"), who were less interested in the revolutionary aspects of National Syndicalism. Subsequently, Franco united all rightist parties into the Traditionalist Spanish Falange and the National Syndicalist Offensive Juntas (Spanish: Falange Española Tradicionalista de las Juntas de Ofensiva Nacional-Sindicalista, FET y de las JONS).
The 1930s also saw Spain become a focus for pacifist organizations, including the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the War Resisters League, and the War Resisters' International. Many people including, as they are now called, the "insumisos" ("defiant ones", conscientious objectors) argued and worked for non-violent strategies. Prominent Spanish pacifists, such as Amparo Poch y Gascón and José Brocca, supported the Republicans. Brocca argued that Spanish pacifists had no alternative but to make a stand against fascism. He put this stand into practice by various means, including organizing agricultural workers to maintain food supplies, and through humanitarian work with war refugees.[nb 8]
Figures identified with the Republican side
Others identified with the Republican side (including volunteers)
Figures identified with the Nationalist side
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Lunn,Arnold: Spanish Rehearsal, 1937 Peers, Allison: //The Spanish Tragedy, 1936