Spanish Civil War

What is the Spanish Civil War?

The Spanish Civil War was a military conflict developed in Spain from July 18, 1936 to April 1, 1939 between the Republican side and the rebel or national side.

It was the result of a long process of political, economic and social instability during the Second Spanish Republic. The crisis fueled the polarization between left and right, in an international context of growing ideological tensions.

The trigger for the war was the attempted coup d’état, perpetrated by Generals Emilio Mola and Francisco Franco, among others, who initially only managed to control part of the territory. The rebels won the war in 1939 and established a military dictatorship that ended with the death of Franco in 1975.

Causes of the Spanish Civil War

Socioeconomic inequality. Spain suffered from profound socioeconomic inequality, marked by high unemployment and numerous workers’ strikes.

Left expansion. Faced with the frustrations of the people, worker and peasant sectors adhered to the revolutionary agenda of the left in its different aspects, some moderate and others radical.

The spread of fascism. Conservatives feared the establishment of a Bolshevik-style communist regime. Consequently, many resisted and affirmed themselves in the fascist nationalism that was then growing in Europe.

Concern about agrarian reform. The government of the Second Republic promoted an agrarian reform, whose terms aroused the fears of the affected sectors and left its beneficiaries dissatisfied.

Anticlericalism. The Second Republic encouraged the persecution of the Catholic Church, radicalized between February and June 1936. In its beginnings, it involved the confiscation of property, the dissolution of religious orders and the prohibition of Christian education in schools. Later, it led to the destruction of churches and the murder of priests.

Independence in emergency. Spanish political unity was threatened by the strengthening of Basque and Catalan independence, which affirmed state nationalism among conservatives.

Political instability and radicalization. Since its proclamation in 1931, the Second Republic faced several coups and internal rebellions. The growing radicalization of both the right and the left pushed aside the moderate sectors.

The attempted coup of 1936. The coup attempt perpetrated between July 17 and 18, 1936 was the trigger for the Spanish civil war. By not winning throughout the territory, he unleashed the armed conflict for control of Spain.

Summary of the Spanish Civil War


On April 14, 1931, the Second Spanish Republic was proclaimed and, on December 9 of the same year, the new democratic Constitution was approved. This meant the end of a period of military dictatorships, such as those of General Manuel Primo de Rivera (1923-1930), Dámaso Berenguer (1930-1931) and Juan Bautista Aznar (February-April 1931).

You may be interested:  Imperialism

Republican policies generated fierce opposition from conservatives. The most radical sectors of the right undertook various coups between 1932 and 1936. The political crisis also divided the left between moderates and radicals, and there were soon fractures that led to the rebellion of October 1934.

In January 1936, a coalition of left-wing parties called the Popular Front was formed, which won the elections in February of that year. Two months later, however, the PSOE split internally, weakening the elected government.

The coup of July 1936

Spanish Civil War

Political-military map (by cities) of Spain after the coup in July 1936

On July 17, 1936, an uprising of the military in Spanish Africa began. It was perpetrated by Emilio Mola, José Sanjurjo, Francisco Franco, Miguel Cabanellas, Gonzalo Queipo de Llano, Joaquín Fanjul and Manuel Goded. By July 18, the rebels had managed to control only part of the territory, which divided the country into two zones.

The rebels controlled rural Spain: León, Castilla la Vieja, part of Cáceres and Aragón, Galicia, Navarra, Álava, the Moroccan protectorate, the Balearic Islands (except Menorca), the Canary Islands (except La Palma). They also controlled the cities Seville, Córdoba, Cádiz and Granada.

The Popular Front controlled the large urban centers of the country, such as Madrid, Barcelona, ​​Valencia, Bilbao, Malaga and Murcia, along with the rest of the territory.

Sides of the Spanish Civil War

Spanish Civil War

Left: flag of the Second Republic. Right: Flag of the rebels (nationals) since 1938.

The rebel sideself-styled national, was formed in its beginnings by the National Defense Board. The main parties and movements that supported the national side were:

  • Spanish Falange Party,
  • carlist movement,
  • Spanish Renewal Monarchist Party,
  • Spanish Confederation of Autonomous Rights,
  • Regionalist League, among others.

The troops of the nationals were made up mainly of professional soldiers. In September 1936, Francisco Franco was appointed generalissimo and head of government of the nationals.

The republican side it was made up of the Popular Front, a coalition of leftist parties that led the government of the Second Republic. It brought together parties of different approaches: republicanism, social democracy, liberalism, socialism, communism and anarchism. They all shared the anti-fascist spirit. Among the main parties of the Republican side are:

  • Republican Left (IR),
  • Republican Union (UR),
  • Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE),
  • Communist Party of Spain (PCE),
  • Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification (POUM),
  • Syndicalist Party,
  • Galician Party,
  • Basque Nationalist Action,
  • Republican Left of Catalonia (Esquerra), and others.

A good part of the republican troops were made up of civil militias.

international supports

The rebel side had the resolute support of Germany and Italy mainly, nations identified with fascism. Hitler collaborated with weapons on credit and sent the Condor Legion. Benito Mussolini sent the Legionary Aviation and his troops. Portugal also sent the so-called “viriatos”, a group of eight thousand volunteer recruits attached to the cause.

The Republican side had the support of the Soviet Union and Mexico, whose president was Lázaro Cárdenas. The republicans received military units of foreign volunteers, known as International Brigades. They also received weapons. However, the armament had to be paid for in cash and was often obsolete.

You may be interested:  What is an Empire

Milestones of the Spanish Civil War

Spanish Civil War

International Brigade members in the Battle of Belchite

There were many offensives, battles and maneuvers that took place during the Spanish Civil War. Therefore, below we will make a list of the most influential milestones in the definition of the conflict.

The Battle of Irun. Between August 27 and September 5, 1936, the Battle of Irún (Guipúzcoa, Basque Country) took place. The rebels’ offensive cut communication by land with France and interrupted the supply of weapons through this route.

The massacre of Paracuellos. In November 1936, the Republican side carried out the so-called Paracuellos Massacre. It was about the murder of almost five thousand prisoners in his custody, including 276 minors, considered political enemies.

The battle of Jarama. With the battle of Jarama, carried out between February 6 and 27, 1937, the rebels tried to count the communications between Madrid and Valencia, but the Republican side managed to resist.

Northern offensive. Also called Northern Campaign or Northern Front, it was an offensive by the rebels carried out between April and October 1937. The rebels managed to take Vizcaya, Asturias and Santander. With this, they ensured control of industrial, coal and steel production in the occupied region, a decisive strategy in the conflict.

The bombing of Guernica. In the month of April 1937, the Condor Legion and the Legionary Aviation bombed the city of Guernica, in the Basque country. The event had a great impact on international public opinion.

There is no consensus on who ordered the bombing and what its purpose was due to a lack of documentation. The nationals denied having given the order. Some historians think that it could be an initiative of the Nazis, who intended to send a message to England.

The Battle of Brunete. Between July 6 and 25, 1937, the Battle of Brunete took place on the outskirts of Madrid. The Republican offensive sought to contain the rebels. But the maneuver only weakened them.

The battle of Belchite. Between August 24 and September 7, 1937, the Battle of Belchite (Zaragoza, Aragón) took place in the context of the Zaragoza offensive. The Republicans went on the offensive to prevent the fall of Bilbao and reduce the pressure exerted by the rebels on the Northern Front. The strategy failed.

You may be interested:  Meaning of Modernity

Internal debugging. Throughout the development of the civil war, there was a process of repression and internal purification within each area dominated by the opposing sides. This involved the persecution and death of dissidents on both sides.

The Battle of the Ebro. On July 25, 1938, the Battle of the Ebro (Tarragona, Catalonia) began, known for being the longest and cruelest confrontation of the war. The battle lasted until November 16. The rebel side was victorious and clearly emerged as the winner of the war.

The end of the Spanish civil war

Spanish Civil War

Political-military map (by cities) of Spain in February 1939.

Once Catalonia was controlled, the nationals advanced towards Madrid in February 1939, and Francisco Franco was recognized by the governments of the United Kingdom and France. In March of that year the Second Republic presented its surrender.

The war ended when Francisco Franco declared its end in the so-called last part of the spanish civil warissued on April 1, 1939.

Consequences of the Spanish Civil War

Spanish Civil War

Guernica after the bombing of 1937.

Destruction of the agricultural sector. The war destroyed much of life in the countryside, affecting the food production and supply chain.

Direct and indirect deaths. It is estimated that the war left at least half a million dead. Of this figure, some 175,000 were casualties of the popular or republican army; Some 110,000 were casualties of the rebel army; close to one hundred thousand deaths were caused by famine and disease. The rest were civilian deaths during the attacks and executions.

Destruction of infrastructure. The war destroyed a significant number of buildings, including homes, civil service buildings, industries, heritage buildings, churches, etc.

Establishment of the dictatorship. After the victory of the national side, Francisco Franco established a dictatorship that lasted until his death in 1975. The dictatorship maintained the practice of political violence, through persecution, disappearances, assassinations and institutional purges.

Economic crisis. The economic crisis left by the war lasted some years. It is estimated that, on average, Spaniards lost 30% of their income.

exiles. A significant number of representatives and supporters of the defeated side was exiled by Francisco Franco. It is estimated that there were about two hundred and fifty thousand cases.

radicalization of society. The radicalization continued to turn into mutual accusations about the responsibilities of the left and right in the civil war, even causing the division of families.

Political isolation from Spain. The Franco government’s relations with Italian and German fascism isolated Spain from the international community. However, the isolation was diluted with the Cold War, as the Franco dictatorship came to represent a bastion of the fight against communism.

It may interest you:

  • The Second Spanish Republic
  • Fascism
  • characteristics of fascism
  • Second World War
  • Cold War