The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939)
The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939)
In 1936, Spain was politically divided into two camps: the National Front and the Popular Front. The Front National was a conservative party, with nationalist and fascist ideas, while the Popular Front was a Republican party, with socialists, communists, and anarchists’ ideas. Because of the opposition of those two camps, a huge conflict led to the bloodshed of thousands of Spaniards and became the forerunner of World War II.
The conflict began in 1936 with the elections won by the Popular Front ("Frente Popular” in Spanish). The National Front believed the Popular Front was attempting to bring up a communist revolution. The Popular Front feared a coup d’État of the National Front. The fears of the National Front were doubled due to the participation in the Popular Front’s anarchists. They usually refrained from these things but this time, they decided to support the Popular Front because the party promised to release all their political prisoners.
The Popular Front took power of the new government, but their actions were uncertain. Because of dissension within the majority that included different ideologies: republicanism, socialism, communism and anarchism, the promised reforms were slow in coming. Suddenly, people began to implement reforms themselves: collectivization of land and factories sometimes through violence. Community leaders and industrialists, who have no confidence in the Popular Front maintaining order, were scared. Workers' militias and nationalists competed. The country was falling into chaos.
The assassination by Republican militias of the Deputy and Head of the monarchist right, José Calvo Sotelo, triggered the civil war on July 13th, 1936. The coup d'État began July 17th, 1936 when Franco, a general in the army, took control of the Spanish army in Morocco. The government was attempting reconciliation by proposing a compromise but it failed because neither the Republican side nor the Nationalist side wanted to compromise.
Some regions fell quickly into the hands of nationalists lead by Franco: Navarre, Castile, Galicia, a part of Andalucía and Aragon. Madrid, Valencia and Barcelona were able to remain in the hands of Republicans. After one week, Spain was divided into two equal areas: one in the hands of the nationalists, the other at the hands of the Republicans that kept the richest and most industrious regions.
The civil war became the first fruits of World War II: the Nationalist army was supported by two powerful countries, Germany and Italy; they supplied the Nationalists with arms while the Republican army had the support of Soviet Russia. Help from Germany and Italy allowed Franco’s troops to pass the Strait of Gibraltar on August 5th to join the rest of the army. They progressed to the north. Republicans counter attacked by forming columns that they used to launch an attack on Nationalists territories: the most famous of these was the “Durruti Column”, composed of fighters and anarchists lead by General Durruti (Episode 1: The Battle of Badajoz).
Franco arrived at the gates of Madrid but preferred diverting his troops to the south to lend a hand to Alcazar’s insurgents (Episode 2: The Battle of Toledo). When he returned to the gates of Madrid in November 1936, Republicans had time to organize their defense (Episode 3: The Battle of Madrid I and Episode 4: The Battle of Madrid II). The fight was hard but the city was good and in March 1937, Franco had to acknowledge that he has failed.
He could not stand the failure so he decided to tackle the Republican resistance in the Basque Country and Asturias. The fight progressed into the Santander region which fell on August 26th. Asturias capitulated on October 17th making Nationalists forces the masters of the entire Atlantic coast (Episodes 5-9).
Among the Republican troops’ counter-offensives, two were remarkable. The first was in the city of Teruel which led to one of the fiercest fights of the Civil War. In it, the Republicans took the town from the hands of Nationalists in the early days of 1937 but lost control after less than a month (Episode 10: The Battle of Teruel). Another was the battle of Ebro, which began July 25th 1938 but was also a failure (Episodes 11 and 12: the Battle of Ebro).
Therefore, Catalonia was easily conquered by the Nationalists in February 1939 (Episode 13: The Battle of Cataluna). Shortly after, Madrid too was conquered by the Nationalists (Episode 14: The Fall of Madrid). On April 1st 1939, Franco declared the war to be over.