The Spanish Civil War may have finished eighty years ago today, but Spain is still healing from the deep wounds.
April 1st 1939, General Francisco Franco announced that his fascist forces had won the Spanish Civil War.
What Was The Spanish Civil War
In the years 1936 to 1939, a military coup was launched against the elected “Republican” government of Spain, ending democracy and beginning many years of a fascist regime.
The War Starts
What triggered the war? The 1936 elections were won by the “Popular Front” (a coalition of left-wing political parties), that sent shockwaves through the Spanish landowner establishment – When just a month after the elections General Franco instigated a meeting of army officers in Madrid to discuss a military coup against the government.
See an illustrated timeline here showing all the events from 1936 to 39.
The coup was supported by conservative elements within the country. When an initial military coup failed to win control of the entire country (most of the army supported the government), a bloody civil war ensued, fought with great ferocity on both sides. The “Nationalists”, as Franco’s side was called, received aid from fascist Italy and Nazi Germany while even enlisting a large mercenary army from Morocco. The Republicans (the government at the time) received aid from International Brigades, composed of volunteers from Europe and the United States.
A Global Conflict
To liberals and leftists across the world, the Civil War represented a beginning for World War II, the fight between the forces of fascism and freedom. By the 1930’s, fascism seemed to be on the rise in Europe. In 1936, when Franco launched his rebellion, right-wing regimes were in power in Germany, Italy, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Portugal, Finland, Austria, and Greece. While openly pro-Fascist political parties existed in many other countries, including France, Great Britain, and the United States.
Some 35,000 to 40,000 volunteers from more than 50 countries rushed to join the International Brigades to defend the Spanish Republic; including George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway. A smaller number of foreign recruits joined Franco’s forces.
The Cracks In Society
The war was also an outcome of a deep set polarization of Spanish life between land owners and the poorer classes; the newly elected leftist government was trying to alleviate the many symptoms of extreme poverty at that time in Spain, but many communist groups were also aggressively calling for land re-distribution from wealthy families to the poor.
The Differing Sides To The Conflict
On one side you had the Republicans who were the government, low class workers and agricultural laborers; while also enlisting many from the middle class. They also comprised of many political groups who fought in separate local groups ie communists, socialists, liberals and anarchists. The disunity of each of these groups and their mistrust of each other being a big reason they lost the war with a disunited approach unable to defend against the professional force led by Franco.
Franco’s Army of Mercenaries
Mercenaries played a decisive role in all the battles that led to Franco’s final victory. With military aircraft and crews supplied from both Hitler in Germany and Mussolini in Italy. A large contingent of troops also came from Morocco (one of Spain’s colonies at that time).
The first group of African soldiers arrived in Cadiz in July 1936, with the beginning of what would total 80,000 Moroccan soldiers, instructed by their Spanish officers to terrorize villages and civilians. While the Moroccan soldiers committed war atrocities approved by Franco, the fascist army planted fear in Spanish citizens’ hearts and demonstrated its ruthless power.
Who Supported The Nationalists?
The Nationalists, courted a lot of support from the Roman Catholic church, elements of the military (mostly officers), most landowners and many businessmen who were all alarmed by policies aimed to reduce poverty among the working classes. Many in the Church openly supported Franco until some saw the atrocities inflicted upon women and children by the mercenary force.
The Church Regrets Its Support
During the conflict many church observers expecting to witness a liberation from a perceived Communist threat instead saw first hand evidence of civilian massacres against whole cities, with rape and murder being an everyday occurrence.
Attention was also gripped by news of anti-clerical violence that swept through Spain after Franco’s rebellion and resulted in the murder of twelve bishops, 4,000 priests, 2,000 monks and 300 nuns.
What People Online Are Saying
Everything I know about the Spanish Civil War I learned from The Clash’s Spanish Bombs and googling Hemingway and Orwell’s role in the war. Look forward to reading this!
— Tailfoot McWalshy (@BuglegsMcWalshy) April 1, 2019
On the 80th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War, take a look at our films on the subject: ‘Teachers of the Republic,’ ‘Amerikanuak,’ ‘Clandestine Filmmaking,’ and ‘In A Foreign Land.’ https://t.co/5gWBWDvSJg pic.twitter.com/qGuFV5Sera
— Pragda Films (@pragda) April 1, 2019
About the war – link
WW2 in colour – the Spanish Civil War – link
Deadly Embrace – Morocco and the Road to the Spanish Civil War – link
Franco enlisting Moroccan mercenaries – link
Veteran accounts from Franco’s army – link
Accounts from the republican side – link