In July of 1936, the government of Spain’s five-year-old Second Republic, an unstable popular front composed of liberal democrats, socialists, and communists, came under fire from the political right.
In July of 1936, the government of Spain’s five-year-old Second Republic, an unstable popular front composed of liberal democrats, socialists, and
Like these civilian political factions, Spain’s armed services were divided. Ninety percent of the army’s officers and fifty percent of its enlisted men chose to follow their rebellious generals. In the navy, however, the crews of all but three ships mutinied against rebel officers, and more than half of the air force remained loyal. Further confounding the Nationalist bid for an early victory were numerous unity of command problems. The Nationalist general Francisco
Whereas the socially disparate Nationalists gave vent to their hatred of the “Red Republic” by eventually conceding all command authority to Franco,
More unified in spirit than their enemies, the Nationalists were ultimately successful in their bid to overthrow the Republic. Nevertheless, several factors limited their efforts. First, because trade unionists sided with the Republic, the rebels had to take Spain’s industrial centers by force; the two largest cities, Madrid and Barcelona, remained under government control until the war’s final weeks. Second, Nationalist objectives, like Republican ones, were often chosen for political rather than military reasons. Third, because Franco often differed with his German and Italian advisers on tactics, troop dispositions, and objectives, some of the advantage that otherwise would have accrued from foreign military assistance was negated.
Division of Spain, 1936
During the war’s first phase, from July, 1936, to March, 1937, four Nationalist columns converged on the capital at Madrid but failed to break in, partly because of fanatical Republican resistance at University City, on the Jarama River, and at Guadalajara, and partly because Nationalist general Emilio
Despite some small-scale experimentation with tactical aviation and armor, the opposing armies were composed mainly of nonmechanized infantry. Often poorly supported and partially equipped with leftovers from World War I, the Riff War
All but a few pieces of artillery on both sides were towed, and these guns, like the infantrymen they supported, were far more thinly scattered than they had been on the western front from 1914 to 1918. The road and rail networks of Spain could not have supported massive World War I-style artillery barrages or supplied World War-sized armies.
The numerous irregular units, foreign volunteers, and shortages of supplies during the Spanish Civil War gave rise to a multitude of
Among these two opposing armies, the intervening powers placed small numbers of up-to-date weapons and advisory groups to train Spanish clients in their use. Several hundred German 5.8-ton Pzkw I light
Both opponents in the Spanish Civil War were undersupplied and employed semi-independent militias, and neither had an effective centralized replacement system. For these reasons, standardized tables of organization and equipment were slow to take hold. During the first year of the war, for example, the all-communist Fifth Regiment grew into the Popular Army’s V Corps. Other Republican units, notably the component battalions of the five International Brigades, shrank and consolidated as they sustained severe losses. Nationalist formations consolidated as well but more often retained prewar schemes of organization, which varied from Spain’s Army of Africa to its Peninsular Army.
By 1938, the
Historians who wrote during and immediately after World War II often regarded the Spanish Civil War as an ideal laboratory in which the Condor
Although Spain often proved a viable testing ground for prototypes of weapons later variants of which would see action in World War II, those prototypes were too few for reliable assessments of doctrine. Other factors compounded this deficiency. First, few Spanish commanders assigned doctrinal reform a high priority. Second, foreign luminaries who did, such as Germany’s Heinz
Three tanks in battle during the Spanish Civil War, which proved a testing ground for the European forces that later fought World War II.
Guderian, the principal designer of Germany’s tank forces, believed that
Wilhelm Ritter von
The Italians also experimented with mechanized forces, but the Italian
The senior Soviet tank officer in Spain, Dmitri
The relationship between Spanish Civil War
If Nationalist and Republican commanders had been more receptive to tactical innovation, a thoroughgoing doctrinal revolution would have been difficult anyway. Unlike the European battlefields of World War II, much of Spain was too mountainous for mechanized operations, and its road and rail networks were poor. Foreign instructors were few, and conducting hands-on training through translators was exceedingly difficult. On the Republican side, this lack of communication was especially problematic: In the first Soviet tank training detachment to arrive in October, 1936, only one man spoke Spanish.
Ferdinand Miksche’s Attack: A Study of Blitzkrieg Tactics (1942) argues that Spain was the perfect tactical laboratory for the intervening powers who would later fight World War II, and that the Allies failed to conduct the proper experiments or draw the correct conclusions when the Condor Legion did. More general accounts from the International Brigades are plentiful, but most mix political ideology with more strictly military matters. Arnold Vieth von Golssenau’s Der spanische Krieg (1955; the Spanish War), written under the pseudonym Ludwig Renn, is among the best. English-language sources concentrate mainly on the Fifteenth Brigade, in which most of the American, British, and Canadian volunteers served. These include Our Fight: Writings by Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, Spain, 1936-1939 (1969), edited by Alvah Bessie and Albert Prago, and English Captain (1939) by Tom Wintringham. Spanish Republican accounts, even when useful, often mix polemics and tactics, as in the memoirs of rival communist commanders Juan
Fewer Nationalist sources have made it into English, but no study of the tank attack at Fuentes de
Baxell, Richard. British Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War: The British Batallion in the International Brigades, 1936-1939. New York: Routledge, 2004. Beevor, Antony. The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939. Rev. ed. New York: Penguin Books, 2006. Bolloten, Burnett. The Spanish Civil War: Revolution and Counterrevolution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991. Carver, John. Airmen Without Portfolio: U.S. Mercenaries in Civil War Spain. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1997. Coverdale, John F. Italian Intervention in the Spanish Civil War. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1975. Eby, Cecil D. Comrades and Commissars: The Lincoln Battalion in the Spanish Civil War. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2007. Elstob, Peter. The Condor Legion. New York: Ballantine, 1973. Henry, Chris. The Ebro, 1938: Death Knell of the Republic. Botley, Oxford, England: Osprey, 1999. Reprint. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2004. Howson, Gerald. Arms for Spain: The Untold Story of the Spanish Civil War. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998. Jensen, Geoffrey. Franco: Soldier, Commander, Dictator. Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2005. Keene, Judith. Fighting for Franco: International Volunteers in Nationalist Spain During the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939. New York: Leicester University Press, 2001. Landis, Arthur. Death in the Olive Groves: American Volunteers and the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939. New York: Paragon House, 1989. Lannon, Frances. The Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939. Botley, Oxford, England: Osprey, 2002. Proctor, Raymond. Hitler’s Luftwaffe in the Spanish Civil War. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1983. Wyden, Peter. The Passionate War. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983. For Whom the Bell Tolls. Feature film. Paramount, 1943. Land and Freedom. Feature film. Kino Film Company, 1995. Libertarias. Feature film. Warner Home Video, 1996. Pan’s Labyrinth. Feature film. Warner Bros., 2006. The Spanish Civil War. Documentary. MPI Home Video, 1987. The Spanish Earth. Docudrama. Prometheus Pictures, 1937.
The Age of Bismarck
The “Great” War: World War I
World War II: United States, Britain, and France
World War II: The Soviet Union
World War II: Germany and Italy
World War II: Japan