Spanish History: Who Won the Spanish Civil War?
Extensive conflict marked the 20th century. What most often comes to mind are the two world wars. However, there was also a critical internal conflict in Spain that impacted world affairs and foreshadowed some events to come.
This conflict was the Spanish Civil War.
Why did this war occur? Who won? Why is it important to world affairs? We will learn about all of that and more!
Why Was There a War?
Put simply, two polarizing political views came to a dangerous boiling point.
Prior to the Civil War, Europe suffered through the First World War and the Great Depression. While Spain did not play an active part in fighting World War I, they suffered greatly from economic setbacks.
The Spanish population was also frustrated after spending years under the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera.
All of these factors played into people’s frustration and desire for change. While there were two main groups in the Spanish Civil War, the reality of the conflict is much more complicated. People fought over religion, class issues, and various government types vying for control during that time.
The main event that led to the Spanish Civil War was when the leftist Popular Front government, supported by the Republicans, won the majority of parliament seats. Many people, who eventually banded together as rebels, or Nationalists, thought that the election was rigged. Protests erupted across the country in an attempt to overthrow the decision.
Unfortunately, the original peaceful intentions of the coup turned into the Spanish Civil War.
The Key Players
The two main groups were the Nationalists and the Republicans.
The leader of the Nationalist party was General Francisco Franco. Initially, this group called themselves the Rebel faction, or bando sublevado. The term “nationalists” came about during the war in 1936, thanks to a man named Joseph Goebbels. The rebel group wanted a more legitimate name that would hide the support they received from Nazi Germany. Captain Francisco Arranz asked for the name, and the group soon loved it.
While the Nationalists’ supporters called themselves nacionales, the opposing forces labeled them as fascists, just like some of their main foreign supporters: the fascist Italian leaders and Nazi Germany.
The majority of Nationalists were businessmen, Roman Catholics, military officials, and landowners. Their leading values were Christian ideology, law, and order throughout the country. They saw the Civil War as a fight against anarchism and communism.
- José Sanjurjo
- Emilio Mola
- Francisco Franco
- Gonzalo Queipo de Llano
- Juan Yague
- Miguel Cabanellas
The Republican group (bando republicano), or the Loyalist faction, was the group that won the majority of the parliament seats, sparking protests that led to the Civil War.
Francisco Largo Caballero led the Republicans at the beginning of the war. In May 1937, Jaun Negrín took his place.
The Spanish Republican party gained support from the Soviet Union, Mexico, and International Brigades volunteers from the United States and other European countries.
Many middle-class citizens, agricultural workers, and urban employees supported the Republican faction. They believed they were fighting for their freedom against a tyrannical regime.
- Manuel Azaña
- Francisco Largo Caballero
- Juan Negrín
- Indalecio Prieto
- Vicente Rojo Lluch
- José Miaja
Most Notable Events
Despite being a relatively short war, there were plenty of key events and battles that marked the Spanish Civil War.
When the leftist Popular Front won the general election in 1936, this sparked the rebels into action. With their opposing political views and belief that the election was rigged, people across the country began to protest.
There were hundreds of strikes and numerous churches, newspaper offices, and clubs set on fire. The purpose of these actions was to stage a coup, but the plan did not work.
The government killed one of the right-wing leaders, José Calvo Sotelo, and the rebels decided to avenge his death. Since many of the Nationalists were military officials, they began to take action.
The military officials begin the revolt in Morocco, and Francisco Franco declares that the rebellion has officially begun. This moment marks the start of the Spanish Civil War.
Siege of the Alcazar
Only a couple of days after the war started, the Nationalists took control of Toledo in the Siege of the Alcázar. This set the tone for Nationalist support for the rest of the war.
Battle of Madrid
This is one of the longest battles of the Spanish Civil War. It started with a Nationalist attack on November 8 in 1936 and lasted until the Republican surrender in March 1939.
Bombing of Guernica
The Nationalists bombed a Basque town called Guernica on April 26, 1937. This aerial attack, suggested to the Nationalist party by Nazi Germany, was a hint of what was to come during World War II.
This bombing was brutal, and many argued that it was a war crime to attack a civilian population.
Battle of Ebro
This brutal battle occurred from July to November 1938 along the Ebro River in areas not heavily populated. The Nationalists saw another victory here, although not as great. The Republicans lost tens of thousands of troops in this battle.
So, Who Won?
The Nationalist party won.
The Republican troops were worn down and exhausted, and on March 28, 1939, the Nationalists troops took Madrid with no fighting. They were too tired after two years of battle.
The Nationalist leader, Francisco Franco, soon took power as dictator and ruled until 1975.
A lot of the key players in World War II participated in the Spanish Civil War. The division between international countries was evident even years before.
Since Franco and the Nationalists received plenty of support from Axis Powers Germany and Italy, he offered his support to them during the Second World War. While Spain wanted to remain neutral, due to their dependence on American imports, Franco met with Hitler and supported in whatever way he could.
Even though the Spanish Civil War was relatively short, it played a large part in world events. Many historians even see the civil war as a foreshadowing of World War II, with the axis and allies supporting opposing sides. Even the attack style in the Second World War mimicked some of the Spanish battles that took place.
A Quick Look
There are numerous factors and events that played a part in the Spanish Civil War, so here are some basic dates and facts to make this complex historical event a bit easier to understand.
- February 16, 1936 – Popular Front wins the majority of parliament seats
- March to June 1936 – hundreds of strikes occur while churches, clubs, and newspaper offices burn
- July 17, 1936 – The revolt begins
- July 21 to September 27, 1936 – Siege of the Alcazar
- November 8 to 23, 1936 – First Battle of Madrid
- April 26, 1937 – Luftwaffe Bombs Guernica
- July 24 to November 18, 1938 – Battle of Ebro
- March 28, 1939 – Nationalist troops take Madrid, and Republicans surrender
- April 1, 1939 – Declaration of the end of the war
- Neither side of the Spanish Civil War was strong enough to win on their own, which is why they sought foreign support.
- Volunteers from around the world decided to fight on both sides of the war.
- The famous author George Orwell fought as a volunteer on the Republican side. His book Homage to Catalonia is about his experience in the war.
- Another America, Texaco’s chief executive Torkild Rieber, supported Hitler and the Nationalist cause. He provided the party with oil and secrets about the Republican party, openly going against the American support of the Republicans.
- While dividing political views were named as the main causes of the war, religion also played a huge part. The Republicans wanted to secularize theology, but the Nationalist party had many devout Roman Catholics that did not believe in that. The Nationalists Catholic beliefs actually helped unite the rebels, who came from various political backgrounds.
- Even though the Spanish were not happy with the previous dictator who ruled in the 1920s, the Nationalist leader, General Franco, became a dictator for over 35 years.
- Just like George Orwell, Pablo Picasso expressed what happened in the war through art. His piece, called Guernica, portrays the tragic events.
- While the Republicans and the Nationalists were the two major players in the war, each side had several subgroups.
- The Nationalist subgroups worked well together, but the Republican groups had internal conflicts, which weakened them.
- The war was brutal. Both groups tortured, executed, and shamed their opponents.
- Still, tourists traveled to Spain during the war, and many documented what they saw.
- Famous writers, like Ernest Hemingway, Langston Hughes, and Dorothy Parker, all were in Spain during the time.
What Did You Learn?
There were a lot of events and conflicting views that led up to the Spanish Civil War. It was also an interesting precursor to the travesties that were to come in World War II.
What do you think about the Civil War? What of this information is new to you? Do you have any additional questions about the war?
We would love to hear from you! Leave a comment below and let us know what you think or ask us a question!
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