On the Civil War in Spain

On the Civil War in Spain

On July 17, 1936, a pronunciamiento (a military rebellion in Spanish) started in Morocco. On July 19, the mutiny came to mainland Spain. Thus began the Spanish Civil War, which engulfed the country for three years. This war became one of the most tragic episodes not only in Spanish, but also in world history and the history of the world communist and anti-fascist movement in general. The words of the leader of the Spanish Communist Party, Dolores Ibarruri, became prophetic:

“If the fascists are allowed to continue the crimes they are committing in Spain, aggressive fascism will fall upon other peoples of Europe. We need help, we need planes and guns for our struggle … The Spanish people prefer to die standing rather than live on their knees”.

Indeed, after the victory of the right-wing forces in Spain, a series of wars began in Europe. On March 15, 1939, German troops entered Czechoslovakia (the war in Spain had not yet ended, but its outcome had already been decided); On April 7, Italy occupied Albania; On September 1, German troops entered the territory of Poland. The Second World War began.

The Spanish Civil War was the result of a chain of events. The days of the great Spanish Empire were long gone: the army became weaker, Spain had lost all its colonies in the New World. A huge gap was formed between the rich and the poor: the living conditions of ordinary workers and peasants were extremely harsh, and any attempts to rebel were brutally suppressed by the army. However, this could not last forever: in 1931 the monarchy was nevertheless overthrown. Thus the Second Spanish Republic was born.

However, there was no unity in society. The Spaniards held a wide variety of ideologies, from the radical right to the radical left. In addition, not all of the native inhabitants of Spain were Spanish: some, such as the Basques and Catalans, had their own language and culture.

The right bloc was represented mainly by conservatives, phalangists, monarchists, and Catholics. The left consisted of many different parties: mostly numerous but extremely disunited socialists, and a few but close-knit communists. In addition to them, millions of Spaniards adhered to anarcho-syndicalist ideas, and did not have leaders (for in such groups all its members were equal) and parties.

The struggle between these blocs peaked in 1936. It was then that the next elections to the Cortes were held. The left-wing parties tried to avoid the mistake made in Germany, when, due to the fragmentation of the left-wing parties, no counterbalance was created to the Nazis; they united into a bloc called the Popular Front. The right-wing parties united in the National Front. The elections were extremely tense. The Popular Front won by a small margin (4,176,156 against 3,783,601 votes). The right began to accuse the government of electoral fraud. A series of street fights began between representatives of different ideologies, some of which ended in death. Many representatives of right-wing ideas held prominent positions in the army: they were the ones who planned the mutiny. Its main organizer was general Emilio Mola.

Barcelona, 1936.

The uprising started in Spanish Morocco, the last colony of Spain, but two days later it crossed over to the continent. The revolt swept through all Spanish cities and provinces, in some places it was successful, in others it was suppressed. But the rebels mainly captured only the cities: the surrounding areas were out of their control, so they had no way of contacting each other. The situation was disastrous, and then the rightists turned to Germany and Italy for help. Both Germany and Italy reacted positively to this action: during the entire war, they supplied hundreds of thousands of weapons, tens of thousands of soldiers, more than a thousand tanks and aircraft to Spain.

Due to outside help, the rebellion was able to survive its most difficult period, after which the rebels regrouped and launched attacks on those cities that the uprisings could not capture. They won victory after victory, as they possessed a trained, professional army, had a sufficient amount of ammunition thanks to the allies, while the defenders of the republic consisted of the people’s militia, in other words, of the common people who did not have serious knowledge and experience of military operations.

In Fall, 1936 the nationalists went out to Madrid. They hoped for a weak resistance from the Republicans and for the help of the inhabitants: it was the battle for Madrid that the world owes the expression “the fifth column”, taken from the arrogant statement of General Mola about four columns with him and about the fifth, which was already in Madrid. The fifth column really existed and carried out anti-republican activities, but ordinary townspeople treated it extremely negatively and often brutally dealt with its members. The battle for Madrid, despite the expectations of the nationalists, turned out to be fierce: the suburbs of Madrid, for example, the university town, were turned into ruins, where there was a struggle for every floor and staircase. Something similar the world saw only six years later, in Stalingrad. In addition, the chairman of the Spanish government, Largo Caballero, approved the Soviet proposal for help: Soviet tanks, aircraft, weapons, and, most importantly, military instructors who made the main contribution to the victory in this battle came to Spain. The dreams of the nationalists to take the city by November 7 collapsed: with considerable losses, the Republic managed to win. However, the Republicans were unable to organize a successful counteroffensive: for almost the entire war, the nationalists stood close to the city.

The winter period of 1936-1937 was in general quite successful for the Republic. Attacks on Madrid were repulsed during two battles, while in the South the Republicans managed to defend valuable mines. During the battles of this year, it became clear that everything would not end quickly: the war has become a trench war.

Franco quickly recovered from his defeats: in the spring he gathered an powerful army and transferred the war to the north of Spain, to the Basque country. Despite the powerful defensive structures, called the “iron belt”, the Basques did not manage to repel the blow: there were many fortifications, but they were not placed quite correctly. After this victory, the superiority of the nationalists became apparent. The Republic urgently needed to turn the tide of the war, and an attempt to do this was carried out during the Teruel operation, however, it turned out to be a failure, despite some successes of the Republican fleet (which, unlike the army, remained loyal to the republic), and the Republicans suffered huge losses.

In 1937, Largo Caballero resigned: he did not like the increasing influence of the communists and the USSR. His post was taken by Juan Negrin, much more friendly to the latter than Caballero, but much less initiative than him.

Francist Trenches near Barcelona. May, 1937

During the spring offensive, the nationalists came close to Barcelona and Valencia. It was at Valencia in 1938 that the nationalists directed their new blow towards. The Republicans were inferior to the nationalists both in technology and in manpower, but managed to prepare for the battle and create powerful fortifications: not as expensive as the “iron belt”, but more conveniently located. All attempts by nationalists to break through the front ended in failure, after which, together with Soviet instructors, the republicans developed a plan for a counteroffensive on the Ebro River. It lasted 113 days and was very fierce. But in November, General Yagüe forced the Republican forces to retreat. Thus, the Republic was able to defend Valencia, but lost its last strength.

The last major battle of the war was the Battle of Barcelona. The nationalists concentrated huge forces for the offensive, hundreds of tanks, aircraft, armoured vehicles supplied by Germany and Italy. The Republicans, on the other hand, lost almost all of their equipment, and its new batch, purchased from the USSR, did not get to Spain by the decision of the French authorities, who feared any conflicts with Germany after the Munich Agreement. The fighting spirit of the Republicans was very low, all the international brigades were finally disbanded.

On January 26, the nationalists entered Barcelona. The city, which was the first to suppress the rebellion, surrendered without a fight. In half-empty Barcelona, ​​the nationalists held a magnificent parade. The republic formally controlled a large part of the country, including Madrid, but the outcome of the war was clear. Many Spanish generals and politicians either emigrated or insisted on a peace. During the March 6 putsch, the Negrin government was overthrown, and the coup generals began negotiating surrender. On March 26, the nationalists launched the offensive again, but nowhere else did they meet with resistance. On March 28, they entered Madrid without a fight, where on April 1 they held a magnificent parade. Then Franco solemnly announced:

“Today, when the Red Army has been captured and disarmed, the national troops have achieved their ultimate goal in the war. The war is over. “

For the Spaniards, the era of Franco’s dictatorship began, which lasted until the death of the caudillo in 1975. It cost Spain huge sacrifices: about 450 thousand died from all sides combined, 600 thousand emigrated (as a result, more than 10% of the pre-war population), destroyed cities, villages, roads, bridges, Spain’s dependence on Germany and Italy. Both Germany and the Soviet Union gained valuable experience in warfare.

There are many reasons why the Spanish Republic lost the war: the support of the Phalangists by Germany and Italy, well-trained rebel soldiers. But the main reason for the defeat of the Republic is the lack of strong unity. In the ranks of the republicans there was no single ideology – the Communists who supported the USSR, the Trotskyists, the anarcho-syndicalists, and even the right-wing Basque nationalists, who declared the north of Spain as their country, independent of the Republic itself, fought for the Republic, and fought against Franco only by for the understandable reason that if the Francoists managed to capture the north of Spain, there would be no talk of any independence.

The Spaniards remembered the experience of the war with Napoleon, when the scattered gangs, who were more like bandits than partisans were able to repel the French. All of Europe admired their struggle. The Republicans were confident that it was possible to defeat the enemy without one-man command, they would have had enough courage and faith in victory.

The Francoists were of a different opinion. Franco himself studied the experience of the war in Russia and was sure that in a civil war only a sole leader can win, only the consolidation of forces and one-man command can help win the war, as he was convinced by the example of the Bolsheviks. In 1937, he became the sole leader of the nationalists, removing Manuel Edilia and uniting “Falange Española” with the monarchists (Carlists), later adding other right-wing forces to it. Franco was able to organize his own rear and establish external relations: rifles and ammunition were always supplied to the nationalists.

At the same time, the Republicans had a split in the rear. Industrial Catalonia, called “Spanish New York” could fully provide the Republic with everything it needs. But the Republic did not control its factories, they were run by trade unions and various workers’ organizations, which were often concerned with their own benefit. A particularly strong blow for the republicans was the uprising of the Trotskyists from the POUM party and the anarchists who supported it, which took place in Barcelona in the spring of 1937. Units of the People’s Army had to be sent to Barcelona. This increased the fragmentation in the rear and forced the Prime Minister of the Republic, Largo Caballero, to resign.

The training of the People’s Army soldiers also left much to be desired. The soldiers of the nationalists underwent full-fledged training, while the republican soldiers, especially by the end of the war, underwent a short-term course of training, often they were not even given rifles during their training.

One of the anarchist leaders goes to the front. Barcelona, 1936

It is also necessary to say about the anarchists. Most of them shared the ideas of Kropotkin and Bakunin, as did the Russian anarchists during the Civil War in Russia. However, unlike Makhno, who had great authority in his army and was an unquestioning and sole leader, the Spanish anarchists did not have any unity. Most of them were syndicalists, that is, they did not recognize any power, even within their own ranks. The completely inexperienced anarchist soldier was equal in his position to the experienced veterans. One of the most famous Spanish anarchists, so authoritative that his fellow syndicalists obeyed him, Buenaventura Durruti was killed during the defense of Madrid back in 1936 under mysterious circumstances, according to one version he was shot by another anarchist.

The only organized force in the Republic was the Communists from the PCE. Their numbers grew rapidly, especially after the intervention of the Soviet Union in the war. We must not forget about volunteer internationalists. The merit of military advisers from the USSR was the victory in the defense of Madrid in 1936, which showed the effectiveness of the Soviet T-26 tanks, later called the best tanks in the civil war, and so on.

“Workers, peasants, soldiers, intellectuals, join the ranks of the Communist party”

Of course, we must not forget about the assistance to nationalists from abroad. The nationalists were supported by several countries: Portugal, Italy (moreover, the Duce saw the future part of his country in Spain), the Third Reich, in addition, the USA, Great Britain, and France recognized the nationalists. In total, 150 thousand Italians, 50 thousand Germans, 20 thousand Portuguese fought on Franco’s side throughout the war. Italy’s expenditures for participation in the war amounted to 14 million liras, about 1,000 aircraft, 950 armored vehicles, almost 8,000 vehicles, 2,000 artillery pieces, hundreds of thousands of rifles were delivered.

Germany sent the infamous Condor Legion, which wiped out the ancient Spanish city of Guernica, hundreds of tanks, artillery, communications equipment, etc. The Vatican also provided financial assistance to the Francoists. At the same time, Germany and Italy officially approved the “non-interference” in Spanish affairs.

The republic was supported and recognized only by the USSR and Mexico. The Republicans were supplied with hundreds of tanks and aircraft, 60 armored vehicles, more than a thousand artillery pieces, about 500,000 rifles, etc. The Soviet Union, unlike Italy and Germany, did not approve of the policy of “non-intervention”. The Soviets delivered more weapons and equipment to Spain than the Third Reich, but the amount of Soviet aid was far from the huge amount of weapons supplied by Italy. Mexico, on the other hand, did not produce its own modern weapons, moreover, it was at a very great distance from Spain. However, Mexico could be a formal intermediary for the secret supply of weapons from the USSR, and after the end of the war, it received many Spanish refugees.

Republican T-26

42,000 foreigners from 52 countries came to the aid of the Republic. 2,000 of them were citizens of the Soviet Union. Among them were the future marshals Malinovsky and Nedelin. The veterans of the republic emigrated to completely different parts of the world: to Britain, to France, to Latin America, to the USSR. Those who remained in their homeland were sentenced to work to rebuild the country, often forced to work in inhuman conditions. 15,000 Republican veterans were building “the Valley of the Fallen”, a monumental complex originally dedicated to veteran nationalists, but later becoming a memorial to all those who died in the Civil War.

Many veteran Republicans took part in World War II. It was the Spaniards who were entrusted with the defense of the Kremlin in 1941. The only son of la Pasionaria, Ruben Ruiz Ibarruri, died in Stalingrad in 1942, and was also the only Spaniard in the Great Patriotic War to be awarded the title of “Hero of the Soviet Union”.

The Spanish Civil War was the first war in which a very worthy rebuff was given to fascism. Looking at the bombed-out Barcelona, ​​Madrid, Guernica and other Spanish cities, the world learned what the whole brutal nature of fascism is. This war was a lesson for all lefts. It proved that courage and heroism are not the only indicators of victory: this requires consolidation of forces and one-man command.