Spanish civil war (1936-1939)

Spanish Civil War. It is part of the preamble of the Second World War – led by Italian fascism, German Nazism and Spanish Phalangism, Spanish anarchism, and communism, with the “neutrality” complicit in the capitalist powers. Occurred between the 17 as July as 1936 and 1 as April as 1939 . The defeat of government forces in Spain left the European stage ready for the rise of militarism.


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  • 1 Background
  • 2 Republican side
  • 3 Rebel side
  • 4 The war
  • 5 International dimension of the conflict
  • 6 Cost of war
  • 7 References
  • 8 Sources


Since the election of the Constituent Cortes in 1931, the Second Spanish Republic lived through five years of more sorrows than glories, due to internal divisions and government vacillations.

In February 1936, the Popular Front narrowly won the elections, but left prominent fascist leaders at the top command of the army and the civil guard , which allowed them to appeal to the military coup, as a resource to seize power.

The Coup d’état of the “Movement”, led by General José Sanjurjo , former head of the Civil Guard, who died in a plane crash on July 20 , was quickly capitalized on by General Francisco Franco , who since 18 had decreed the “ state of war ”in the Canary Islands. After the “three days of July” (18, 19 and 20) the pronouncement phase was closed and the conflict between “Black Spain” and “Red Spain” was raised in all starkness.

Republican side

Support: Communist Party of Spain , PSOE , CNT , PNV , ERC

To make matters worse, the French prime minister “socialist”, Leon Blum , led a crusade of “no intervention” to which 21 European states joined. The Franco-Spanish border was closed and the international diplomatic community sided with the coup leaders, including Spanish foreign service officials, who deserted en masse.

The official means of communication was the “Gazette of the Republic” [1]

On August 5, 1936, the autonomy of the Basque Country was proclaimed (although only de facto in Guipúzcoa and Vizcaya).
On February 4, 1937, decree of the Spanish Ministry of Justice that provides equal civil rights for both sexes.
On August 23, 1937, the Basque Lehendakari went into exile until 1979.

Rebel side

Support: conservatives, monarchists (Alfonsinos and the Carlist Party ), faithful of the Catholic Church

National Defense Board July 24-October 1, 1936, Miguel Cabanellas Ferrer (d. 1938)

Francisco Franco
The main forces: Moroccan colonial units and the foreign legion, were in Africa , but an effective collaboration of the German aviation, which transported more than 18,000 troops with their war material from Tetouan, together with the slow reaction of the Republicans, allowed them to land on the Peninsula and initiate offensive actions that prompted many undecided chiefs to go over to the side of the “Movement”. Moreover, in Germany he organized the ” Legion Condor ” aircraft, already in November of 1936 acted from Spanish territory.

At the same time, special staffs were operating in both Berlin and Rome to ensure the uninterrupted and multilateral supply of the seditious, as well as the dispatch of new war material, military specialists, and units. Fascism also appealed to piracy in the Mediterranean. Only in August of 1937 , 15 merchant ships with supplies for Republicans were attacked by aircraft, torpedo boats and “unknown” submarines.

  • Decree of February 27, 1937, the rebel side, chooses hymn.
  • On March 17, 1939, Treaty of non-aggression with Portugal.

The official means of communication was the “Official State Gazette” [2]


  • Battle of the Ebro
  • Battle of Brunete

The seditious conceived a quick victory and from the first moments tried to capture the Spanish capital, but their heroic defense, which lasted from November 1936 to March 28 , 1939 , was recorded in history as the Battle of Madrid and made the slogan They will not pass! became a world motto in the fight against fascism.

  • In March 1937, Republican victory for Guadalajara.
  • In October 1937, Bilbaofalls
  • In January 1938, Teruel republican victory
  • On April 5, 1938, the Generalitat of Catalonia was abolished by the rebel troops, but it would continue in exile until October 23, 1977.
  • On January 26, 1939, Barcelona falls
  • On March 28, 1939, Madrid fell.

Among the most significant actions are the savage aerial bombardment of Guernica by the Condor Legion, the republican defeat in the Battle of Brunete and the fall of Bilbao , Santander , Gijón and Ávila. Despite the heroism displayed by the Spanish people, the colossal material technical disadvantage prevailed, and in February 1939 Catalonia fell into the hands of the seditious. On the 27th of that month France and England broke diplomatic relations with the Republic and recognized Franco. On March 3the Cartagena naval base rose against the legitimate government and two days later units within the capital did the same. The front of the republican army collapsed, and by April 1 the entire territory of the Republic was occupied by Franco’s troops and interventionists.

International dimension of the conflict

The Spanish civil war was one of the conflicts of the 20th century that caused the most international repercussions. In the Spanish conflict, the strategic interests of the powers and the ideological commitment of the great political currents of the moment intersected at the same time.

In favor of the rebels:
The fascist powers decided from the outset to offer significant help to the rebels led by Franco. Mussolini and Hitler could not only achieve strategic benefits, Italy continued its policy of Mediterranean expansion and Germany could obtain an ally that threatened the French rear, but they helped an ideological ally in their fight against democratic systems and workers’ ideologies. Portugal joined this aid to Franco from the beginning.

  • Mussolini sent 70,000 Italian soldiers, ammunition and war material
  • Hitler commanded the Condor Legionwhich decisively increased Franco’s air superiority.

The collaboration of Portugal, although it was not decisive in the military field, allowed the free passage of arms for the Franco army through Portuguese territory. Finally, it is necessary to point out the Moroccan troops integrated into the Francoist Army and that were often used as shock forces.

In favor of the Republic
The USSR , on the other hand, was very clear from the outset of its commitment to help the Republic and Mexico ( Lázaro Cárdenas ).

The war between the professional army and the national militias, which were joined by thousands of brigadistas and volunteers

The International Brigades were made up of groups of volunteers, not all communists but recruited by the Communist International in many countries of the world. They were about 40,000 from 54 countries and had an important role in the defense of Madrid and in the battles of Jarama and Teruel.

  • Cuba1,000 Cubans, became a long and bloody civil war. “I am going to Spain, to the Spanish revolution … where the anguishes of the world of the oppressed are palpitating today,” said Pablo de la Torriente Brau , as a synthesis of the progressive sentiment of the time.

The great democracies had an attitude that we can classify as one of the great diplomatic deceptions of the century. Britain was determined from the beginning to remain neutral. The British Conservative government viewed with apprehension the extension of German-Italian influence to the peninsula and the consequent endangerment of its base in Gibraltar and its imperial route to India ; however, the revolutionary orientation that events soon took in the republican zone definitively removed from the head of the conservative government the possibility of aid to the Republic. The French government, despite being made up of the leftist Popular Front, followed the line from London.

The attitude of democracies towards the Spanish war is part of their illusory search for a policy of conciliation with Hitler. The United Kingdom , and with it France , had long chosen to try to avoid any confrontation that could lead to a general war.

The greatest example of this attitude was the policy of appeasement before the fascist powers, which reached its zenith with the signing of the Munich Pact in September 1938. It can be said that from that moment, the hopes of the Republic disappeared.

Another good example of this attitude was the policy of the American government. While the United States Congress passed the so-called Neutrality Act , the Roosevelt government looked the other way when US oil companies sold fuel to Franco.

The French government of Léon Blum , with British support, offered the other powers a pact of non-intervention in the Spanish conflict: it was a matter of providing neither men nor material of war to any of the parties in conflict. Thus the so-called Non-Intervention Committee was born, to which all powers adhered.

The pressure of the Non-Intervention Committee and Stalin’s disinterest made Negrín accept his departure from Spain at the end of 1938 . Again, the Non-Intervention Committee failed in its attempt to have the Italian troops supporting Franco leave Spain.

Cost of war

Demographic consequences
Very different figures have been given when quantifying the demographic losses caused by the conflict: the deaths at the front and by the repression in the war and in the postwar period, hunger, epidemics; consequent birth reduction.

The most accepted calculations estimate the death cost of the war and the postwar period at five hundred thousand deaths. To this should be added the number of unborn and the loss of young population.

Another key element of the demographic consequences was republican exile. Already during the conflict, “war children” were evacuated to foreign countries, but the great exodus took place in January and February of 1939 , following the conquest of Catalonia .

Altogether, it is calculated that there were some four hundred and fifty thousand exiles. Although some were returning during the dictatorship, many did not return to Spain or wait for the dictator’s death in 1975 . This exile was a significant demographic loss for the country: a young and active population, which included a large part of the most prepared sectors of the country: the scientific, literary and artistic elites of the Silver Age.

Economic consequences
The war was a true economic catastrophe. One piece of information reveals its magnitude: national and per capita income will not recover to the 1936 level until the 1950s .

These were the main elements of that economic catastrophe:

  • Destruction of the country’s industrial fabric, which led to a return to a basically agrarian economy in the 1940s.
  • Destruction of houses, they are calculated in about two hundred and fifty thousand, communications, infrastructures …
  • Increase of the external debt and loss of the gold reserves of the Bank of Spain, used by the government of the Republic to pay the Soviet aid.

Social consequences

The result of the war brought with it the recovery of economic and social hegemony by the landowning, industrial and financial oligarchy. At the same time, the loss of all the rights acquired by the workers occurred.

Moral consequences

The war supposed a true moral fracture of the country. Several generations marked by the suffering of the war and the repression of the long postwar period.

The Franco regime never sought reconciliation from the Spanish and always remembered and celebrated its warlike origin. The wounds of the civil war endured for decades and the persecution and repression of those defeated by a key feature of Francoism.


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