1936: Spanish Civil War


The Spanish Civil War broke out on the 17th of July 1936 as the Socialists and Republicans, who had won control of the Government in 1931, tried to abolish the monarchy, angering the Nationalists.

In September 1936, the republican government appealed to the league for assistance against the nationalist.

Who were the Republicans?

  • The republicans were loyal to the politically 'left-leaning' Popular Front government which came to power by winning the General Elections on 16 February 1936.

  • They deposed King Alfonso XIII, abolishing the Spanish monarchy, and sparking the Spanish Civil War.

  • After the Republicans were defeated on 1 April 1939, the Popular Front was dissolved.

Who were the Nationalists?

  • In July 1936, Nationalist generals (consisting of mainly conservatives, monarchists and fascists) instigated a coup and seizing control on loyal territory.

  • The Nationalists were led by a military group, with General Francisco France serving as the leader.

Foreign Responses to the Civil War in Spain

Non-Intervention Committee

Members of the League were unwilling to intervene as they perceived the Civil War as being part of Spanish internal affairs.

Therefore, they set up the Non-Intervention Committee with the aim of preventing foreign involvement in the Spanish Civil War. It consisted of representatives for 27 countries, including Germany and Italy.



  • Transported men, planes, tanks, and munitions via Portugal.

  • Germans helped nationalists from the air (bombing)

  • Hitler also gave permission for the formation of the Condor Legion. The Legion, under the command of General Hugo Sperrle, was an autonomous unit responsible only to Franco that consisted of 600 planes.

  • Adolf Hitler told General Francisco Franco on 26th July 1936 that Germany would support his rebellion.

  • Hitler believed that providing military aid to the Nationalist Army would give him the opportunity to test out his commanders, weapons and tactics.

  • In September 1936 a Non-Intervention Agreement was drawn-up in London and signed by 27 countries including Germany, Britain, France, the Soviet Union and Italy. Hitler continued to give aid but attempted to disguise this by sending the men, planes, tanks, and munitions via Portugal.

  • Why did Germany get involved in the Spanish Civil War? (click for more details)


  • A total of 19,000 Germans served in the Spanish Civil War.

  • 298 were lost

  • 173 killed by the enemy

    • 102 aircrew

    • 27 fighter pilots

    • 21 anti-aircraft crew.

    • The Condor Legion lost 72 aircraft to enemy action. Another 160 were lost in flying accidents.



  • Provided 60,000 soldiers, including 20,000 Italian Army members.

  • Mussolini and Franco were supporters of the Catholics and used some attacks on nuns and priests as propaganda against the Republicans.

  • Mussolini promised the Nationalists 10,000 rifles, 10,000 hand grenades, 200 machine-guns and a million pesetas in cash in event of a military uprising. However, on the outbreak of the Civil War, Mussolini failed to provide immediate aid. Although, a week of negotiations passed and he agreed to sell the Nationalists twelve Savoia S81 bombers.

  • Mussolini continued to give aid to Nationalist forces during the first three months of the Non-intervention Agreement as he sent 90 Italian aircraft and refitted the cruiser Canaris, the largest ship owned by the Nationalists.

  • On 28th November the Italian government signed a secret treaty with the Spanish Nationalists. In return for military aid, the Nationalist agreed to allow Italy to establish bases in Spain if there was a war with France. Over the next three months Mussolini sent to Spain 130 aircraft, 2,500 tons of bombs, 500 cannons, 700 mortars, 12,000 machine-guns, 50 whippet tanks and 3,800 motor vehicles.

  • The Italians also played a prominent role in the Guadalajara offensive. Mussolini insisted that his forces should be used as a single unit, but General Francisco Franco was unhappy about this as he wanted the Italians dispersed among his own Spanish units.


  • The Republicans held the Nationalist for over a week before launching its own counter-offensive on 18th March. Using its best troops, including the International Brigades, the Republicans were able to force the Italians to retreat.

  • During the failed offensive at Guadalajara, the Italians had 400 killed, 1,800 wounded and had 500 men taken prisoner. The Italians also lost significant quantities of arms and supplies, including 25 artillery pieces, 10 mortars, 85 machine-guns and 67 trucks.

  • General Francisco Franco blamed the Italians for the Nationalist defeat and banned them from operating again as an independent unit in Spain. He insisted that in future the Italians would have to operate in larger units made up primarily of Spanish troops and commanded by Spanish generals.

  • In August 1937 Italian submarines began torpedoing ships heading for Republican ports. The governments of Britain and France both made protests at this action and the following month Benito Mussolini brought an end to these attacks on shipping.

  • During the Spanish Civil War Italy sent 80,000 men, of whom almost 6,000 belonged to the Italian Air Force, 45,000 to the army and 29,000 to the fascist militia. Italy also supplied 1,800 cannon, 1,400 mortars, 3,400 machine-guns, 6,800 motor vehicles, 157 tanks, 213 bombers, 44 assault planes and 414 fighters.



  • Stalin supported the idea of the Non Intervention Agreement, but was now willing to supply the necessary military aid to stop a fascist regime being established in Spain.

  • Stalin encouraged the Comintern to organise the formation of International Brigades. He also sent Alexander Orlov of the NKVD to advise the Popular Front government. Orlov supervised a large-scale guerrilla operation behind Nationalist lines, later claiming that around 14,000 people had been trained for this work by 1938.

  • The Soviet Union provided considerable help to the Spanish Communist Party to improve its position in the Popular Front government.

  • The Soviet Union were the main suppliers of military aid to the Republican Army. This included 1,000 aircraft, 900 tanks, 1,500 artillery pieces, 300 armoured cars, 15,000 machine-guns, 30,000 automatic firearms, 30,000 mortars, 500,000 riles and 30,000 tons of ammunition.


  • The Soviets expected the Republicans to pay for these military supplies in gold. On the outbreak of the war Spain had the world's fourth largest reserves of gold. During the war approximately $500 million, or two-thirds of Spain's gold reserves, were shipped to the Soviet Union.


The Spanish Civil War drew to a close on the 1st of April 1939 when the remaining Republican forces surrendered.

Francisco Franco ruled as Caudillo of Spain from 1 October 1936 until his death on 20 November 1975. His death marked the beginning of the Spanish transition to democracy.

Following Franco, the position of Caudillo was abolished, and Juan Carlos I was proclaimed King of Spain on 22 November 1975.

The whole of Spain remained under a dictatorship following the Spanish Civil War until the 1977 Spanish general election, which made Spain a democracy, and the 1978 passing of the Constitution of Spain.