The Spanish Civil War lasted from 1936 to 1939 and cost the lives of about 2 million people. It is often viewed at a mini World War 2, Communists vs. Fascists. It resulted in victory for Franco, who then ruled Spain as “El Gaudillo” until his death in 1975.
One of the most decisive factors in the Nationalists victory was German and Italian military aid. Mussolini supported the Nationalists as he claimed that he was “not prepared to see the establishment of a communist state” in Spain, however it is more likely that he realised the strategic advantage a right wing regime in Spain would give, as well as provide a place for testing weapons and strategies. Hitler gave many different reasons for helping Franco, that the war would allow German rearmament to carry on unnoticed, to prevent the spread of communism, to obtain much needed Spanish iron ore and to provide an ally for submarine bases. Both Hitler and Mussolini gave their aid only to Franco, so as to avoid conflicts between the generals.
Hitler thought that Franco would be easy to control and provide a useful ally in war; however this shows Franco’s dishonesty, that even when war came in Europe he managed to keep Spain out of the general conflict, much to Hitler’s annoyance. As Franco was the sole beneficiary of foreign aid this greatly strengthened his armies and was a key factor in him eventually emerging as leader of the Nationalists; his many victories had been due to the superior arms and advice he was receiving rather than any exceptional military abilities. Although the mistakes he made, in the end only prolonged the war and his successes were sufficient. “German transport planes provided the means for Franco to transport the Army of Africa across the Straights of Gibraltar as the navy had not joined the revolt. The importance of this act of intervention in holding the initiative shouldn’t be underestimated.”
The Italians sent 50,000 troops, 900 tanks and 700 aircraft, while the Germans sent their “condor legion” and 16,000 advisors. Moreover between them they provided $570 million total aid. It was ironic for the proudly Nationalist Francisco Franco to come to power on the backs of Italian, German and African troops. Within two months of German and Italian involvement, Army of African troops were involved in two separate but decisive victories. They were responsible for linking the two parts of Nationalist Spain. In Alcazar, a besieged garrison of Falange and Guardai were saved from near-certain defeat when troops reclaimed the military academy. An offensive early in 1937 in the Southern province of Malaga showed the Italian addition was having a definite impact, much better organised than the Republicans defending the city.
Before international intervention the Nationalist Navy consisted of few ships. However thanks to Italian aid twenty-six vessels were over-all involved. Technical and logistical support was offered, also from the Germans, to the Nationalist Navy. These ships were used in long and hard convoy warfare, shore bombardment, blockade and counter-blockade, and they were deadly. “Despite a common lack of personnel, the nationalist Navy was better organised and commanded, and that would translate into a more aggressive attitude”1
The weaknesses of the Republicans also played a significant role in the Nationalists victory. The different groups were much more internally divided than the Nationalists and there was a low degree of unity among them. Nationalist society was based on the military and this gave their armies a lot more strength, as well as having most of the officers and experienced soldiers such as the Army of Africa. One of the central divisions in the Republic was over whether to carry out social revolution first or win the war first. The anarchists believed that the war was part of a social revolution whereas the communists thought the war should be won then the social revolution carried out.
The socialist party was split into the left and right wings and the whole Republican movement was undermined by the separatist efforts of the Catalans and Basques. “The frictions in the Republic reached boiling point several times, with a large scale fighting taking place in Barcelona between the anarchists and Republican government in May 1937 and a civil war within a civil war erupting in the Republic in the last few weeks of the war.” The Republican armies were often poorly equipped and poorly disciplined, it was only the introduction of Soviet technicians that started to train the military properly, and ideological differences often hindered their efforts. This was especially the case when training the anarchists who often refused to dig trenches or use maps as they believed it cowardly yet who would often flee under heavy shelling or bombardment.
The Republics main source of aid was the USSR, which also resulted in it being tied to it ideologically, with the communist party receiving orders often direct from Moscow. Russian aid was of a much higher quality than German or Italian aid, for example in the first use of Russian arms, one T26 destroyed 11 Italian tanks, however this was due to their well trained Russian operators, Spaniards operated them with much less success. The dependence of the Republic on the USSR for aid and the propaganda of the Nationalists portraying the Republic as “Red” prevented other countries from wanting to help it, believing it to be a communist government, such as the Conservative Government in the UK, which often referred to “Red Spain”. This resulted in the Non-Intervention Committee, an organisation that prevented aid to the Republic but allowed Germany and Italy to carry on secretly supplying the Nationalists. This also accounted for the defeat of the Republic and again was not due to Franco or any of the Nationalists but due to external affairs beyond their control but which played into their hands.
“The conclusion is inescapable that the defeat and destruction of the Spanish Republic must be attributed as much to British diplomacy in the years 1936 to 1939 as to German aircraft and Italian infantry” (Puzzo)
The International Brigades that flocked to help the Republic provided mainly moral support to the Republic rather than an actual military assistance. They were weakened by speaking many different languages and often being under equipped and not very well trained but were very enthusiastic and brave. 80% of them were working class and 60% initially communists, some exiles from countries such as Germany or Italy, others workers from places such as the US or UK. They were also controlled mainly by the communists and thus were disliked by the anarchists, widening the gaps in the Republic. However, many of them were experienced at street and urban fighting, more so than the Army of Africa, which while very efficient in the countryside often struggled in the cities. The International Brigades were most significant at the battle for Madrid, where almost alone they held off the Nationalists till the end of the war. Many of the soldiers of the International Brigades had been naï¿½ve about war and were not ready for it, resulting in increasing levels of desertion and dissatisfaction, weakening the Republican army further.
Clearly, “mass influx” could be the term applied to foreign assistance in this war. The length of Franco’s leadership of Spain, his keeping the Republic of World War II through to his good choice of successor are aspects of evidence of the Nationalist strength outside foreign allegiance. There are however a number of other factors connected with the Nationalist victory having little to do with outside involvement. The superior military organisation and structure is one such factor, they possessed a greater number of middle-ranking officers and experienced soldiers. Franco’s armies were better supplied, with imaginative yet solid strategies. His motto, ‘Duty, Discipline and Order’. He was careful not to let one group become too dominant, and successfully united the politically diverse. His campaign was one fought with caution and discretion, confidence and well timed capture of opportunity.
The support of the church was also a critical element in Franco’s victory; the movement had from the outset portrayed itself as a religious one fighting against the godlessness of the “red” Republic and ensured the support of the middle classes and the latifundi (large estate owners). As well as his desire to create a “fight to the death” war. For the Nationalists terror was part of their campaign.
“It is borne in mind that are action will need to be very violent in order to crush a strong and well organised enemy as soon as possible.” (General Mola)
However it is hard to assess the effect of terror as a weapon of war. At first it may have stiffened Republican resistance, but later, when their morale was lower, contributed to defeatism.
It is difficult to draw definite conclusions however, the outcome of the war was massively promoted by interventions of foreign states, in the first place by the military support of Germany and Italy, secondly by the appeasement-policy of France and Great Britain and thirdly by the anti-anarchistic attitude of Russia. But if the Republicans had been stronger and more of a united body would the outcome still have been the same?
I think the reasons for Franco’s success were due to the vast amounts of foreign aid complemented by the weakness of the Republic. Without the aid it may not have been such a “walkover”.