Before your bones were dry,
And the lie that slew you is buried
Under a deeper lie;
No power can disinherit:
No bomb that ever burst
Shatters the crystal spirit."
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. This mixture of fascist aesthetics and rhetoric over a more mainstream form of traditionalist and overtly religious ideological core is sometimes referred to as parafascism, a term also used to describe the Integralist currents in Portugal and Brazil.
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.
Notable events and battles
- The Bombing of Guernica
One of the war's most infamous atrocities was the bombing of Guernica on 26th April 1937, perpetrated by the German expeditionary force, the Condor Legion and the Italian volunteer Legionary Air Force, lasting for three hours in total. 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. The reason behind the bombings remain unknown, but what is currently known is that Franco wanted to destroy a bridge in the town to cut off the retreating Republicans from Vizcaya province, where a successful Nationalist assault had occurred earlier. Many refugees had also headed into Guernica. Guernica was also home to a large Basque population, a minority group that the Nationalists thoroughly distrusted. However, Guernica's population had largely stayed out of the war itself.
The first wave of bombing arrived at 4:30 pm, as a German Dornier Do 17 dropped 12 bombs when it arrived from the south. Three Italian SM.79s took off from Soria at 3:30 with orders to not bomb the town itself and target the road and bridge east of Guernica. In their one-minute pass over Guernica, the Italians dropped 36 bombs, damaging the San Juan church and the local IR (Republican Left) party headquarters. The third wave was carried out by a Heinkel He 111 escorted by Fiat CR.32 biplanes. The fourth and fifth waves were carried out by German planes. The town was badly shaken, but then the main attack began.
The 1st, 2nd and 3rd squadrons of the Condor Legion, made up of Junker Ju 52 bombers, were escorted by Fiat biplanes and Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters. From 6:30 to 6:45, the Condor Legion dropped hundreds of incendiary bombs and high explosives on the defenseless population, burning dozens of civilians alive or crushing them under collapsing rubble. Those who tried to leave Guernica by the town roads were machine-gunned by the German and Italian fighters. In just 15 terrible minutes, the bombing raid was complete, leaving three-quarters of the town was completely destroyed and hundreds of men, women and children dead in the ruins. Soon, the advancing Nationalists overran the town, as any defenders were too shattered to resist.
The international community was horrified and disgusted, as well as the Basque community. The fact that the Nationalists had managed to miss two arms factories and the bridge lead many to believe that their goal was to simply bomb Guernica to the ground. The Nationalists quickly denied this, claiming to journalists that the Republicans had deliberately destroyed the town and blamed the surviving Basques for 'assisting' in the destruction. Although the Republicans used a scorched earth policy before, the sheer level of damage and the delay of firemen arriving from Bilbao lead many journalists to discredit Nationalist claims. To this day, Guernica remains a hotly disputed topic within Spain, with the Basques viewing it as deliberate mass murder.
- The Siege of Madrid:
One of the most famous and iconic events of the war in Spanish culture, the Siege of Madrid began in 1937 and ended in 1939. It is notable for the debut of the International Brigades, the failure of the Nationalists to encircle and take the capital for 3 years and the creation of the legendary Republican slogan-'¡No Pasarán!'
When the war began in 1936, the Republic was extremely slow to respond. As many of the military had defected to Franco, the majority of loyalist troops were hastily armed and equipped militias with little training. As well as that, the Republic was struggling to get functioning weapons, with one problem being that the government had stored the bolts to the Mauser rifles in a separate warehouse to prevent a military coup. Worsening the problem was a trade embargo was placed on Spain by the Non-Intervention Committee, headed by France and Britain, eager to continue their policy of appeasement. The only source of aid came from the USSR and the Comintern, but it was taking days to arrive. The Nationalists, meanwhile, had already been well-equipped by the Nazis and Italy, and were crushing every militia they came across. This was helped by the extremely competent Army of Africa, made up of Moroccan shock troops who were fiercely loyal to Franco and excelled in fighting in rural terrain. Soon, the Nationalists were preparing to encircle and seize Madrid.
The situation looked hopeless by October 1936. Reporters in Madrid were so confident that the city would fall that they sent communiques congratulating the Nationalists for taking Madrid. The government quickly abandoned the city for Valencia, an act seen as cowardice by many Republicans. The Nationalists also not only had German and Italian volunteers already, but air support, light tanks and lots of artillery. In contrast, Madrid was defended by some very green loyalist troops commanded by a few loyal generals, the police force and several militias mainly equipped with small arms and a tiny amount of artillery. Most of the defenders had never seen combat before-some didn't even know how to operate their weapons properly-and were short of ammunition to boot. Their only advantage was that they had more manpower than the Nationalists surrounding them. Nevertheless, they and the civilian population vowed to resist and turn Madrid into the tomb of fascism. From children to the elderly, ordinary civilians dug trenches, learned to shoot in their street clothes, set up barricades, fortified buildings as best as they could, supplied ammo to defenders and kept watch for air raids. Inspired by this show of resistance, Spanish communist Dolores Ibárruri, aka La Pasionara, made a radio speech telling the defenders to do everything to stop the Nationalists. Very soon, '¡No Pasarán!' became the Battlecry for the Republicans and giant banners painted with it were hung up in the city. Similarly, in a newsreel, Spanish poet Rafael Aberti wrote an emotional poem persuading the Republicans to fight to the end.
The Nationalists attacked on 8th November, supported by the Condor Legion and armor, but were stopped at the River Manzazares that separated them from the city centre. 30000 Republican troops were sent to defend the Casa de Campo park and successfully held off the Nationalist assault, some even throwing rocks or fighting hand-to-hand. Some Nationalist troops broke through, but they were stopped at the western edge of the city. Late in the day, the very first volunteers arrived as the XI International Brigade, numbering 1900 men. Their arrival was a huge morale boost, as it proved that people did give a damn about Spain. On 9th November, the Nationalists assaulted the Carabanchel suburb. However, the area was heavily fortified and the Moroccan troops, lacking experience in urban warfare, were pinned down and killed by militiamen who knew the area well. In the evening, General Kleber sent the XI brigade to attack the Nationalist positions in Casa de Campo, lasting until the next morning. The Nationalists were forced to retreat, while the brigade had lost a third of its men. On the 10th, the defenders were strengthened by the arrival of 4000 CNT anarchist militiamen from Aragon. On the 12th, the XII International Brigade, under General Zalka, attacked Nationalist positions on the Cerro los Angeles hill south of the city to stop the Valencia road from being cut off. The attack collapsed due to language and communication problems, as well as lack of artillery support, but the road remained open in the end. Republican troops counterattacked all along the front in Madrid until 17th November, driving back the Nationalists in some areas despite heavy casualties. The 19th saw the Nationalists making their final assault, as Moroccan and Spanish Foreign Legionnaires attacked the University City supported by artillery, establishing a bridgehead across the Manzazares as they advanced. The Republicans counterattacked in bloody street fighting, but the Nationalists defended well and by the end of the battle, they controlled three quarters of the building complex. However, their attempts to storm Madrid had failed due to the massive resistance they faced.
Franco stopped any further infantry assaults to avoid losing more of his best men. Instead, he stuck to bombing and shelling Madrid (with the exception of the upper-class Salamanca district, which supposedly held Nationalist sympathizers) to terrify the population into surrender. From 19th to 23rd November, German bombers rained explosives on the city. However, this only pissed off the defenders even more and the Nationalists found themselves being lambasted by foreign journalists, including Ernest Hemingway, for targeting civilians. Casualties were also relatively low, thanks to the preparations the Republicans had made.
The battle finally came to a halt in December, with both sides exhausted. The Nationalists resorted to continually bombing and shelling Madrid, with food becoming short as the siege went on. The UGT trade union used some underground tunnels to send vital industries underground. The Republican air force, made up of French and Russian planes, were also fiercely attacking the Nationalist air support until the Nationalists cancelled all daylight bombing raids.
Weapons of the war
The war is also famous as not only being a prelude to WW2, but for the huge amount of foreign aid in weapons provided to both sides.
Regarding small arms, the Nationalists, who ended up controlling most of Spain's arms factories, stuck to using their Spanish Mauser rifles, namely the M1893 long rifle and the shortened M1916, both chambered in 7x57mm Mauser. However, they also received huge amounts of weapons from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. For the long run, it seems that Franco's army preferred German weapons, adopting the MP28 as their main submachine gun and switched to using 7.92mm Mauser as the standard rifle round after their victory. The Nationalists also adopted large amounts of German artillery despite the large amount of Italian guns-most famous of all, the civil war was where the 8.8cm German anti-aircraft guns were discovered to be wonderful in anti-tank duties, to the bane of every WW2 Allied tank crew that were knocked out by one in a few years' time.
The Republicans, on the other hand, used anything they could get their hands on, from Spanish mortars to Polish hand grenades to Swedish anti-aircraft guns. As the USSR was their biggest source of aid, the Popular Army and International Brigades were mainly equipped with Soviet small arms, most prominently the Mosin-Nagant 1891 long rifle, the Mosin-Nagant 91/30, the PM M1910 and the DP light machine gun. By the later years of the war, Soviet artillery was common, such as 37mm anti-tank guns and 85mm anti-aircraft guns. All these proved to be reliable and hard-hitting, putting lots of holes in Nationalist troops throughout the war. Infamously, these were not provided for free-the entire Spanish gold reserve was sent to the USSR as payment and never returned to Spain.
The Republic's suppliers, including Poland, Mexico, France and Czechoslovakia alongside the USSR, also unloaded all their outdated or unwanted small arms on them, such as Colt-Browning M1895 machine guns and Steyr-Mannlicher rifles. More often than not, the Republic received guns that had mismatched parts, were past their prime and chambered in various calibers, or obsolete cannons and howitzers from the previous world war. Poland in particular was guilty of this, with only a quarter of their shipments being Polish weapons. The result was a logistical nightmare for Republican quartermasters, who had to now supply their men with up to twenty different types of ammo, something made even more difficult by an international arms embargo on Spain. The Republic also purchased insufficient stocks of ammo for these weapons, as well as doing the same with any artillery bought from arms dealers. As well as that, the level of Soviet and Mexican aid for the Republic never reached the same levels as the German and Italian sales to the Nationalists, meaning that the Republic was typically short of rounds for artillery and armor, having to take on the well-equipped Nationalists with rifles, pistols and whatever automatic weapons they had sufficient ammo for most of the time, with little to no artillery or air support.
Also, Molotov cocktails were used for the first time in this war, by Nationalist troops against Republican T-26 tanks. Franco spoke highly of their effectiveness and his men later made petrol bombs and petrol-soaked blankets to repel tanks. The Republicans instantly caught on and made their own cocktails out of glass jars or baby bottles, something that many a Brigade veteran remembers doing whenever Nationalist tanks showed up.
- 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 who serves in the POUM militia, then in the International Brigades as his POUM comrades get violently purged under Stalin's orders. 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.
- The Ballad Of Johnny Longstaff is a piece of folk theatre covering the life of an English teenager who fought in the war.
- 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, 19361939".
- Guernica, by Pablo Picasso.
- Premonition of Civil War, by Salvador Dalí.
- The Clash song Spanish Bombs celebrates the Republicans who fought in the conflict.
- Manic Street Preachers' "If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next".
- Misery Index' "Ghosts of Catalonia".
- Al Stewart's "Always the Cause" and "On the Border."
- Appears in the Hearts of Iron series 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.