Here is a term paper on the ‘Spanish Civil War (1936-39)’ especially written for school and college students.

Spain offered Hitler a field to test his policy and to take the measure of the great powers. In Spain a republican government had been set up in 1931. But the Republic was progressively drifting towards Communism and so General Franco headed a nationalist revolt to deliver the country from the toils of Moscow (1937).

Thus broke out a terrible civil war between the Republican government communistically inclined and Franco’s government which was inclining towards Fas­cism. Socialists and Communists from almost all over the world gave support to the Republicans while Hitler and Mussolini took up the cause of Franco. The struggle was more than a conflict between the ideologies of Democracy and Dic­tatorship.

The struggle ended in victory for Franco. Taylor points out Britain clan­destinely helped Germany by “supplying us (Germany) with information of Rus­sian arms deliveries to the Red Government….” In all probability, the League of Nations averted its eyes from what was happening around it despite the appeal made by the Spanish government.


Winning the election, the Republicans came to power in 1931 headed by Alcala Zamora. The government wanted to bring about liberal and progressive measures for the upliftment of the country, but failed to agglomerate between different sections of the people having diverse interests accentuating the divisions and conflicts of Spanish political life. “Provincial nationalism, native and imported anarchy, Communist and Fascist intervention” prepared the bitter and brutal civil war of 1936-39 from which General Franco emerged victorious with the Fascist and Nazi help.

The Spanish Civil War became the dominating topic of international affairs. The great issue of the age between democracy and Fascism seemed to be at stake in Spain. But Taylor does not accept this theory. According to him, Spain had never been a democratic country and as the Civil War was going on, Spain fell increasingly under the direction of the Communists who controlled the supply of the arms.

Italian Fascism was, in original, partly an answer to Communism, and wrested victory from it. The government of Spain, led by Catholic Popular Action Party, formed a “Popular Front” coalition of the Republican Left, Socialists, and Communists, opposed the Right-wing combination of monarchists and con­servatives. While the former determined to establish a parliamentary republic, the latter demanded to replace it by a more authoritarian regime.

The Right-wing combination resorted to violence. Manuel Azana, the Republican leader, was elected President of the Republic in 1936. Largo Caballero, the Socialist leader, contemplated an alliance with the anarchists and syndicalists rather than with the more moderate Socialists or Republicans. The Communists backed by Asturias and Seville were few in number.


The moderate republican government headed by Casares Quiroga was harassed from both factions and the government was weak and not able to resist the harassment. The Falangists attacked both the Right and Left supporters and murdered them indiscriminately. The army officers, traditionalists and monar­chists took advantage of this situation.

This was first led by Calvo Sotelo who was murdered on 13 July 1936 and then the military junta led by General Sanjuro. Sanjuro was killed in a plane accident and his place was taken by General Fransisco Franco. The revolt of the army and the Falangists against the Popular Front turned into a civil war. But Spanish navy was against the rebel forces of the two battle­ships, one was seized by the rebel forces and the other by the opponents.

The Republican side was formed by a few army officers, especially General Miaja and General Rojo, a vast number of workers and peasants trained in military service, large sections of the urban workers and miners, and most of the Basques and Catalans. They occupied important farming and industrial areas having sufficient economic resources.

The industrial areas they held were mainly in Madrid, Barcelona and Austrias. By the end of 1936 the Nationalists captured almost half of Spain, mostly in the south, west and north-west, and the Balearic Islands. General Franco made himself chief of the Spanish State and the Nationalist Government.


The Republican government led by the Socialist Premier, Largo Caballero fled to Valencia. The Nationalists envisaged rapid victory in three steps: seizure of Spanish Morocco, capture of the provincial capitals, and overthrow of the government in Madrid. Gradually by 1938 all eastern and south-eastern Spain, Madrid, the capital, and most of the northern coastline belt came under the influence of Franco.

David Thomson has painted the war as “the classical case of open civil war.” It broke out on July 17, 1936 at Morocco and lasted until 1939. A host of foreign countries of Europe joined the civil war with one or the other. The most important among them was Russia, Germany and Italy. Interestingly, all these States were one of authoritarian nature. No democratic European country came forward to defend democracy in Spain.

On the contrary, the countries maintained “Policy of Non-intervention”. Non-intervention Agreement was signed by several European powers; nevertheless, Italy, Germany and Russia began supporting the belligerents with men, money and materials. While Italy and Germany assisted Franco, Russia supported the Republicans. Almost 1,50,000 Italian soldiers joined the war on behalf of General Franco. Germany helped Franco with munitions and 5,000 air- force personnel.

Russia offered only 136 fighter planes, 60,000 rifles, 3,727 machine guns, but no soldier to the Republican government. Roy Medvedev has shown that quantity of Russian contribution decreased to a great extent since 1937 because Russia did not want to sever her friendly relation with Germany. Moreover, Vatican regarded Russia as “Anti-Christ” and, therefore, the Western Powers disliked her.

If the Western Powers allying with Russia could have opposed Germany, and Italy, there was least possibility of pulling down the world peace. D. Smyth, the Spanish historian, suggests “Defence of Republican Spain could have became a good basis for co-operation between the USSR and Western democracies — and the first association which could later turn into a strong military alliance with France and Great Britain.”

The role of Britain and France in this conflict was somewhat ambiguous. It has been assumed that British government was striving to preserve the peace of Europe, not to win a war. Their policy was determined not by strategical calcula­tions, but by morality. According to Russian Communists, the correct response to the Spanish Civil War was a common front of all democrats, liberals, socialists and Communists to preserve democracy and defeat reaction.

But the universal distrust of communism proved to be a stumbling block against this common front. In France, though it began helping the Republicans, the Right was against it. If France continued to support the Republicans there was every possibility in France that her internal programme of reforms would have been jeopardized.

In Britain, the Labour opposition favoured the Spanish government, but the Conservative government of Baldwin was against this and in favour of the nationalists. This was because Britain wanted Italy to be involved in Spain and kept herself apart Germany.

The role of Germany cannot be understood without the Documents on Ger­man Foreign Policy in matters of the Spanish Civil War. From those documents it is gleaned that Germany was reluctant to take part in the Civil War. It took the “Germans entirely by surprise and it was a long time before they decided what use to make of it.” The German authorities, according to those documents, ex­pected Franco to be defeated and, therefore, at the initial stage they did not in­volve themselves seriously.

At one time Germany intended to accept British and League of Nations proposal of non-intervention as a means to- escape herself from an embarrassing situation. To keep Italy estranged from England and France, German policy was to push Italy to intervene in Spain. Once this was done and Mussolini deeply involved in Spain, Germany lost all charms in Spain or about the fortunes of war.

Franco’s victory, however, gave the anti-democratic force everywhere a, sort of stimulation, though it failed to bring the Germans any solid advantage. As soon as Franco had won he cut down the German concessions and began to seek capi­tal aid from Britain. Some argue that Franco tricked Hitler and the version is accepted by A. J. P. Taylor. The Non-intervention Policy of Britain was severely criticised by the Liberals and Labour and accused the government of betraying the democratic cause.

In the doldrums of Spanish Civil War the attention of both Britain and France had escaped the real danger of the revival of German power. The civil war drove a further wedge between Britain and Russia. Britain wanted the war to be ended as soon as possible which both Italy and Germany also wanted, provided Franco became the winner. Hence all the British resentment was turned against Russia as it was evident that Russia played an open part in Civil War of Spain, though Italy and Germany played the same role in Spain.

The Western powers took Russia as a country that fomented political disintegration and eco­nomic disorder, creating problems in other countries which were not easy to meet, inviting counter-measures of proscription and expulsion, and embittering politi­cal life. Hence, to Britain, Italian and German counter-measures were just and inevitable and, therefore, no question arises to join Russia for common front. Though on the other side, the rebels were certainly enemies of democracy.

After six months the war was likely to be a lengthy and exhausting struggle. Britain worried at the prospect of the war and assumed that without Russian aid to the republic the war would have been ended soon. On the other hand, Russia suspected Britain wanted the victory of Fascism. These mutual suspicions produced wrangle between them. Spain was strategically important for Britain.

British policy was, therefore, directed towards an attempt to hold the ring for the contestants and to prevent intervention by other powers. It was assumed that it would be perfectly possible to establish good relations with the victors in the Spanish War, whatever their political complexion, provided that they had not become too dependent upon some foreign power or powers.

As it turned out, British policy could not prevent continuous German and Italian intervention against him, but in the end the .presumption that a new Spanish government of any complexion would consult its own interests before it responded to those of its civil war allies was vindicated by Spanish neutrality in the World War.

There is no denying the fact that Franco-British policy of non-intervention made the victory possible for Franco. A. J. P. Taylor concludes that “British and French policy or lack of it, not the policy of Hitler and Mussolini decided the out-come of the Spanish Civil War.” It should be noted that after the victory of Franco with the help of Italy and Germany, the latter found the foreign policy of Western Powers was weak and timid. Italy came under the control of Germany. The skill of German air-force and potentiality of her deadly weapons were successfully tested in the Spanish war.

David Thomson rightly remarks that “The chief beneficiary of the war was not Mussolini, who had helped most, but Hitler. He had succeeded not only in inflicting another defeat on Britain and France and on the prestige of democracy in Europe, and in securing a potential ally on France’s southern frontier; he had also contrived to keep Mussolini preoccupied in Spain while Germany extended her own influence into the Balkans at Italy’s expense. Italy, not for the first time, had been used as Germany’s cat’s-paw.”

Soon Hitler remilitarized the Rhineland, annexed Austria in March 1938 and the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia in October 1938, seized Memel in March 1939 and even dared to destroy the independence of Czechoslovakia. Thus Hitler pushed himself towards the path of the greater war i.e. Second World War. Hence it can be said the Spanish Civil War a preface to the Second World War.

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