Spanish Civil War

Spanish Civil War Summary

There were several factors that caused the Spanish Civil War (la Guerra Civil de España) of 1936-1939.

Spanish Civil War Cause

1923 saw the establishment of General Primo de Rivera dictator of Spain with Alfonzo XIII as King: a monarchist government. By 1930, opposition to Rivera’s right-wing government was a growing, and this ultimately led to his resignation and flight from Spain. In 1931 the monarchist government was rejected in the popular elections (las elecciones populares), which forced the abdication of Alfonzo XIII.

Spain, now a republic for the second time (la Segunda República), began to suffer a good deal of political unrest as various political factions within Spain argued about the extent and speed of political reform. Left-wing parties formed a coalition (which dominated the Spanish parliament) to call for significant social reform while. At the other end of the political continuum, conservative groups threatened this loose coalition and over the years leading up to 1936 political views in Spain became progressively polarised.

By the time the 1936 elections came around, the leftist Popular Front Party (el Frente Popular) had successfully unified various leftist factions to win at the polls. However, on July 18th 1936, an army rebellion started and thus the Spanish Civil War began. The conservative army generals led by General Francisco Franco, began a military coup to depose the elected government.

As the Spanish Civil War progressed, General Francisco Franco made agreements with Hitler and Mussolini: Franco traded very large quantities of Spain’s primary materials (iron ore, copper etc. for Germany and Italy’s growing weapons arsenal) in exchange for military support to capture the strategic port of Bilbao in the Basque Country. With this support, General Francisco Franco furthered his control of Spain.

Although republican forces responded valiantly to oppose Franco, they were hampered by many problems: supplies were limited, their weaponry being outdated and the international support for the republican cause, which was substantial at the start of the Spanish Civil War, began to wane: France, England and America had agreed a Non-Intervention Pact which refused aid to the republican forces. The republic sought support from the Soviet Union (la Únion Soviética) for arms and supplies. Unfortunately this came at a high price as Soviet involvement increased internal divisions between communist and non-communist republican supporters, causing the anti-nationalists to splinter.

At the same time, assisted by Hitler and Mussolini, General Francisco Franco took control of most of Spain. The thorn in Franco’s side was the Basque Country, which he had been unable to combat and thus control. Franco called for Hitler’s assistance to break the Basque Country through the use of the German Air Force. This request led to the most shocking incident of the Spanish Civil War: the bombing of Guernica (el Bombardeo de Guernica).

At around 16:30 on Monday 26th April 1937, a force of German planes (known as the Condor Legion) began the blanket bombing of the historical town of Guernica. This was the first time such a campaign had been carried out in any war; it marked the start of mass attacks on undefended civilians and was a testing ground for Hitler’s later campaigns during World War Two (la Segunda Guerra Mundial). The intention of this arial bombardment was to crush the spirit of the Basque people and bring the Basque region to its knees.

The actual death toll of the Guernica bombings is unknown but it is estimated that 10,000 civilians were killed. Pablo Picasso immortalized this horrific act through one of his most famous works: Guernica (which currently hangs in the Reína Sofía museum in Madrid).

Between March and June 1938, General Franco’s nationalists pressed on to the Mediterranean , mounting a fierce attack against the republican stronghold of Catalonia. After several months of fighting, the city of Barcelona was captured in January 1939. This victory effectively ended the republican fight, making way for General Francisco Franco to march upon Madrid where the Republican army unconditionally surrendered. On 1st October 1936, Franco was publicly proclaimed as Generalissimo of the Fascist army and Head of State (el Jefe del Estado).