Useful Notes / Spanish Civil War
The Falling Soldier, by Robert Capa

"Your name and your deeds were forgotten
Before your bones were dry,
And the lie that slew you is buried
Under a deeper lie;

But the thing that I saw in your face
No power can disinherit:
No bomb that ever burst
Shatters the crystal spirit."
George Orwell's poem about an unknown Italian Republican volunteer, Looking Back On The Spanish War

The Spanish Civil War was fought from 1936-1939 by Spaniards, against Spaniards, with foreign powers directly assisting both sides. Though it is known as 'The' Spanish Civil War, it was but the last and bloodiest of four Civil Wars that Spain had fought in since Napoleon Bonaparte was ejected from Spain in 1812 (and the Peninsular War was arguably a civil war itself given that some Spaniards fought for Joseph Bonaparte's regime).

The war first got going when the left-wing Republicans post-victory election celebrations got out of hand, with Republican supporters attacking members of the bourgeoisie in an escalation of the simmering ideological conflict that had been threatening to destabilise the social order in Spain for decades. A previously planned coup d'etat by the Spanish Army Generals Jose Sanjurjo and Emilio Mola was put into play against the Second Spanish Republic (which was only established just 5 years prior). Caught between a military revolt and a revolution of socialists and anarchists at the same time, the Republican government decided to throw its support behind the revolution. The army coup, which became the Nationalists, seized the northwestern, north, and a section of the southwest parts of Spain. The Republicans controlled most of the East coast as well as the capital Madrid in the center. This led to a conflict between the Nationalists and the Republicans fighting over the right to rule Spain. Short story: the Nationalists under Francisco Franco won and he ruled Spain as a dictatorship until his death in 1975.

Interestingly, while Franco played a major role in starting the rebellion, he was a latecomer, as he vacillated on whether or not he would support Sanjurjo and Mola. A short while after the revolution started he decided to support them as third in command of the rebel forces. During the war, both Sanjurjo and Mola died in semi-mysterious plane crashes. Another interesting note is that while Franco was undoubtedly authoritarian, most historians do not consider him to have actually been a fascist since he was more of a traditional conservative enjoying support of both the Catholic Church and the Carlists, whereas genuine fascists like Falange, Mussolini, and the Nazis subscribed to a revolutionary policy that was in many ways critical of both factions. In fact, once Franco came to power he suppressed most of the fascist elements of Falange, replacing it with his own, more traditionalist ideology.

It was noted that the Nationalists were supported by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, and to a lesser extent their neighbor Portugal. The fascist and ferociously Catholic Blue Shirts in Ireland send volunteers to fight with the Nationalists, while Irish socialists, communists and some IRA members joined the International Brigades. Given this international involvement, the weapons used in the early stages of World War II were tested in the Spanish conflict, especially the German Condor Legion, a volunteer Air unit whose vets would eventually take part in World War II. Franco was fairly unenthusiastic about his Irish volunteers (after their initial propaganda use as Catholics ended).full story  In the end O'Duffy (the Irish fascist leader) was essentially sent home by Franco. Presumably for similar reasons Franco also turned down offers of Belgian, Greek, and exiled White Russian volunteer brigades.

The Republicans, conversely, were placed under embargoes by France and the United Kingdom, which most nations followed. The exception came from the Soviet Union (which tried to keep its involvement secret) and Mexico (who also sent in financial aid). The Comintern also recruited volunteers from the US, UK, France, Poland and even Germany and Italy for the International Brigades. The sad/funny part of this is that different factions from the USSR sent different volunteers, often leading to clashes between the Republicans.

While all this was going on, Anarcho-Syndicalists, starting in 1936, pulled off the Spanish Revolution, one of the few historical examples of a genuine workers' social revolution, with the workers taking control of the factories (for real), and agrarian areas collectivized and run as libertarian communes in Catalonia, Aragon and Andalusia. All this, of course, was not in line with Stalin's vision of centralized state socialism, and the increasingly Soviet-dominated government of the Republic ultimately crushed them, with another mini-civil war fought behind the Republican lines which severely weakened their resolve.

In the end, the Nationalists defeated the Republicans and managed to gain control and establish Franco as a dictator, ruling over Spain for a little over 35 years. Franco made the country something of a haven for Jews (especially Sepharadim, Jews originally from Spain, who had been expelled by Fernand and Isabel 500 years before), and stayed neutral in the war: being supported by Hitler against Stalin was one thing, supporting Hitler against the Western Allies was another. He remained entirely neutral until the fall of France, then shifted to non-belligerent support for the Axis, then shifted back to neutrality once France got un-fallen. Hitler thought Franco's debt of gratitude to the Axis cause extended further than that. Franco thought it didn't. The only token of support he gave to the Axis was a single troop unit, the Blue Division, which fought against the USSR on the Eastern Front alongside the Wehrmacht. Hilter was quite unimpressed.

The classic fascist leader was an "artist of souls," eager to reshape the world into his particular vision by whatever means necessary; Franco was a cop. He was most similar to the leaders of juntas in Latin America (and even referred to the Nationalist cause as a junta). Neutrality was probably inevitable for him; in the apocalyptic war between democracy and communism on the one hand, and fascism and monarchism on the other, his first concern was that none of it happened in Spain. He went on to become an American ally in the Cold War, and died peacefully in his sleep, still in power. He handed over power beforehand to the monarchy, hoping that it would keep a regime similar to his own, but it didn't stick, as his chosen successor (King Juan Carlos) soon gave up absolute power. Spain is now a democracy-with a much smaller dose of crazy than in the 1930s.

Another notable incident in the war was the Bombing of Guernica, perpetrated by the German expeditionary force, the Condor Legion. It was the first widely-known example of carpet bombing of a civilian target, and inspired Pablo Picasso's heart-wrenching and monumental mural Guernica.

In fiction

  • In the final two episodes of When The Boat Comes In, Jack Ford takes a yacht to run rifles to the Republican forces. It doesn't end well. Jack's ultimately mortally wounded in a shootout.
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway. The main character is an American university professor and Demolitions Expert who joined the International Brigades when the war started, and the plot deals with his idealism being eroded away by the realities of the war.
  • Pan's Labyrinth is set just after the civil war, and the plot includes the terrifying fascist Captain Vidal weeding out the last few Republican holdout groups. It is a Spiritual Successor to the same director's The Devil's Backbone, which is also set during the Spanish Civil War.
  • Del Toro was himself influenced by the 1973 film, The Spirit of the Beehive, which is also set just after the civil war and is told through the eyes of a young girl, who briefly befriends a Republican fugitive.
  • Land and Freedom by Ken Loach follows the tragic fate of a volunteer in the International Brigades. There are many similarities with George Orwell's book cited below. The historian Paul Preston criticized it for being incredibly biased and obscure and for implying that Stalin was responsible for Republican defeat.note 
  • Libertarias, a film following the exploits of a group of women who together join an anarcha-feminist militia fighting for the Republic.
  • It is mentioned as a bit of foreshadowing that protagonist Rick Blaine fought in the Spanish Civil War on the Republicans' side in Casablanca.
  • Near the end of Peter Jackson's Mockumentary Forgotten Silver, it is revealed that New Zealand filmmaker Colin McKenzie met his end during the Spanish Civil War, while fighting on the Republicans' side in northern Africa.
    • Which is either a research failure or a clue as to the documentary's "mock" nature, since there was no such fighting in Spain's African territories: the rebels imposed themselves there without resistance, and any Republicans were promptly rounded up and summarily executed.
  • More than one Axis Powers Hetalia (dark) fan work involve the civil war in one way or another. Whichever side Spain chooses, he's bound to wind up an insane wreck by the end.
  • In general, there are quite a few Spanish movies set during the Civil War, mostly human dramas and the like, but you can find most genres, even comedy. As a result, Memetic Mutation arose claiming every Spanish film is set on the Spanish Civil War.
  • Condors, one of Garth Ennis' War Stories is set during the Battle of the Ebro in 1938, in which a Spanish Republican and survivor of Guernica, an apolitical German pilot, a socialist English International Brigades volunteer, and a psychopathic Irish fascist find themselves seeking cover in the same crater. They all declare an uneasy truce until the battle ends and tell each other their stories. The Spanish guy ends it with a "Reason You Suck" Speech to each of them: to the German because Germany is using Spain to test their equipment for the next one, the Englishman because he's a Naïve Newcomer believing in bringing socialism to Spain without knowing anything about the country's situation, and the Irishman because he's completely insane. They all split off after the artillery stops without shooting at each other, except for the Irishman who jumps back with the Englishman's Nagant M1895 and waits (in vain) for 'those bastards' to ambush him. The ending finally reveals their names and their fates. Juan-Miguel Martinez opened up a seafood restaurant in Francoist Spain where he actually masturbated into the German diners' food. Joachim Reinert fought on the Eastern Front, became a leading Luftwaffe commander and was one of the very few Nazis to treat prisoners with decency, but was machine-gunned by Soviet fighters while parachuting to safety in 1945. Thomas Kirkpatrick's car bomb prematurely detonated and killed him in 1952, with the IRA still having no idea on what he was planning to do. Billy Gardner survived the war but lost a hand, and continued working in the Labour party until he was beaten to death for his pension, shortly before Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. The comic is also notable for its truly horrific and graphic depiction of the bombing of Guernica, which can be summed up as putting Picasso's mural into realistic art.
  • No Spanish Civil War in 1936 is an Alternate History where, well, it's Exactly What It Says on the Tin. The war is averted by the answering of a letter from General Franco by Prime Minister Casares which didn't get answered in our timeline. This leads to the coup attempt that sparked the civil war in the first place being neutralized before it happens.
  • Winter of the World, a Ken Follett's historical novel set during The Thirties and The '40s (although mostly focused on World War II), has a chapter in which one of the protagonists (Lloyd Williams) fights in the International Brigades.
  • The Last Circus plays against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War and Franco's Spain with the two main characters being representations of the Nationalists and the Republicans.


  • Mourir à Madrid (To Die in Madrid), French documentary film directed by Frédéric Rossif.
  • Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell's classic memoir of his volunteer service in the International Brigades on the Republican side. Moreover, Orwell's experience of the bloody opposition between the POUM militia he served in and the Stalinists of the Communist Party probably gave birth to his criticism of the USSR later expressed in Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. The historian Paul Preston has criticized the book, not so much for its content, but for its elevation in Orwell's other works:
    Paul Preston: Orwell's Homage to Catalonia is a brilliant and painfully honest book but it is not a "true" book. That is to say, it is not true if it is taken, as it is by most readers, as an overview of the Spanish civil war, when, in reality, it is a narrow and partisan account of one relatively marginal issue within the war.
  • Franco's International Brigades, a book which proves there were actually more volunteers fighting for Franco than for the Republic, even if they did include gay Norwegian Nazis and drunken Belgian aristocrats.
  • Mitos al descubierto, a TV documentary series created by the Telemadrid channel, is a rare example of a moderately pro-Francoist stance in contemporary media. All 13 parts are available on Youtube.
  • The Anarchist Collectives is a 1974 book by American author Sam Dolgoff on the anarchist social revolution which took place during the war, subtitled "Workers’ Self-Management in the Spanish Revolution, 1936–1939".


  • Guernica, by Pablo Picasso.
  • Premonition of Civil War, by Salvador Dalí.


Video Games

  • Appears in Hearts Of Iron IV as a main event for 1936 Spain that will nearly always fire up no matter what the circumstances. You can choose to side with the Republicans or Nationalists as Spain, then fight the civil war. Germany, Italy and the USSR will also send volunteers over and begin a lend-lease with your faction. Interestingly, the event begins shortly after the Siege of Madrid and the formation of the Popular Army, with Franco's troops already airlifted into Spain.