The Spanish Civil War
Civil War(1936-39), was a military revolt against the Republican
government of Spain, supported by conservative elements within the
country. When an initial military coup failed to win control of the
entire country, a bloody civil war ensued, fought with great
ferocity on both sides. The Nationalists, as the rebels were called,
received aid from Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. The Republicans
received aid from the Soviet Union, as well as from International
Brigades, a great number of volunteers who came from other European
countries and the United States.
The war was an outcome of a polarization of Spanish life and politics that had developed over previous decades. On one side were most of the Roman Catholic Church in Spain, important elements of the military, most landowners, and many businessmen. On the other side were urban workers, most agricultural laborers, and many of the educated middle classes. Politically their differences often found extreme and vehement expression in parties such as the Fascist-oriented Falange and the militant left-wing anarchists. Between these extremes were other groups covering the political spectrum from monarchism and conservatism through liberalism to Socialism, including a small Communist movement divided among followers of the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and his archrival Leon Trotsky. Assassinations and other acts of violence were not uncommon. In 1934 there were general strikes in Valencia and Zaragoza, fighting in Madrid and Barcelona, and a bloody rising by miners in Asturias that was suppressed by troops led by Gen. Francisco Franco. A succession of governmental crises culminated in the elections of Feb. 16, 1936, which brought to power a Popular Front government supported by most of the parties of the left and opposed by the parties of the right and what remained of the center.
military uprising began on July 17, 1936, in garrison towns
throughout Spain. By July 21 the rebels had achieved control in
Spanish Morocco, the Canary Islands, and the Balearic Islands
(except Minorca) and in the part of Spain north of the Guadarrama
Mountains and the Ebro River, except for Asturias, Santander, and
the Basque provinces along the north coast and the region of
Catalonia in the northeast. The Republican forces had put down the
uprising in other areas, except for some of the larger Andalusian
cities, including Seville, Granada, and Córdoba. The Nationalists
and Republicans proceeded to organize their respective territories
and to repress opposition or suspected opposition. A minimum
estimate is that more than 50,000 persons were executed, murdered,
or assassinated on each side--an indication of the great strength of
the passions that the Civil War had unleashed.
The captaincy of
the Nationalists was gradually assumed by General Franco, leading
forces he had brought from Morocco. On Oct. 1, 1936, he was named
head of state and set up a government in Burgos. The Republican
government was headed, beginning in September 1936, by the Socialist
leader Francisco Largo Caballero. He was followed in May 1937 by
Juan Negrín, also a Socialist, who remained premier throughout the
remainder of the war and served as premier in exile until 1945. The
president of the Spanish Republic until nearly the end of the war
was Manuel Azaña, an anticlerical liberal.
seeing itself too weak to win a quick victory, turned abroad for
help. Germany and Italy sent troops, tanks, and planes to aid the
Nationalists. The Soviet Union contributed equipment and supplies to
the Republicans, who also received help from the governments of
France and Mexico. About 40,000 foreigners fought in the
International Brigades on the Republican side, and 20,000 others
served in medical or auxiliary units.
By November 1936
the Nationalists had advanced to the outskirts of Madrid. They laid
siege to it but were unable to get beyond the University City area.
They captured the Basque northern provinces in the summer of 1937
and then Asturias, so that by October they held the whole northern
coast. A war of attrition began. The Nationalists drove a salient
eastward through Teruel, reaching the Mediterranean and splitting
the republic in two in April 1938. In December 1938 they moved upon
Catalonia in the northeast, forcing the Republican armies there
northward toward France. By February 1939, 250,000 Republican
soldiers, together with an equal number of civilians, had fled
across the border into France. On March 5 the Republican government
flew to exile in France. On March 7 a civil war broke out in Madrid
between Communist and anti-Communist factions. By March 28 all of
the Republican armies had begun to disband and surrender, and
Nationalist forces entered Madrid on that day.
The number of
persons killed in the Spanish Civil War can be only roughly
estimated. Nationalist forces put the figure at 1,000,000, including
not only those killed in battle but also the victims of bombardment,
execution, and assassination. More recent estimates have been closer
to 500,000 or less. This does not include all those who died from
malnutrition, starvation, and war-engendered disease.
The political and emotional reverberations of the war far transcended those of a national conflict, for many in other countries saw the Spanish Civil War as part of an international conflict between--depending on their point of view--tyranny and democracy, or Fascism and freedom, or Communism and civilization. For Germany and Italy, Spain was a testing ground for new methods of tank and air warfare. For Britain and France, the conflict represented a new threat to the international equilibrium that they were struggling to preserve, which in 1939 collapsed into World War II.
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