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The Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939 Essay

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Updated: Sep 1st, 2021


Coup d’état is a terminology used to explain the overthrowing of a government usually by a military force. The reason is to replace the incapable part of the government with another civil leadership or military leadership. Coup d’état became the major reason of the Spanish civil war. This civil war started from July 17, 1936 and lasted till April 1, 1939. This war started when the army of Spain overthrew the Second Spanish Republic’s government.

The war ended when the National General Francisco Franco became the dictator. The people who supported this rebellion were supported by Italy and Germany, whereas the Republicans were supported by the Soviet Union and Mexico. The people who supported this rebellion were known as the nacionales. Though it is believed that the US remained neutral but they sold planes to the Republics. Moreover, it has also been found that they sold gasoline to the rebels also. The Germans used this rebellion as a rehearsing era for the World War II. This war was a prelude of the Second World War.

Background of the Civil War

There had been quite a number of civil wars in Spain. The main reasons were the reformist and the conservatives. Both of them had their own point of view about running the country. The conservative thought that the present type of monarchy was absolutely right for running the country. Many political leaders had the same view. In case of the reformist, they wanted to get rid of the monarchy and start a new way of government.

This conflict between the two groups of people had already leaded to a civil war. The reformist wanted to make Spanish Republic state, and have a proper form of government which leads the country. The other party wanted Catholicism or we can say they were against a liberal Spain. Though it was one of the reasons of the war, but there were many other reasons which lead to war. Most of these had been building up during the years. There had been many different types of governments in Spain since the 19th century (Brenan, n.p). From 1887 to 1931, there was monarchy. This was under Alfonso XIII. Later on, this was replaced by dictatorship.

Primo de Rivera was the military dictator. In 1930 his dictatorship was overthrown. In 1931, the second republic came in to picture. Much of this was lead by the centre and left unions (Preston, n.p). Many reforms passed in this era. Much of these were controversial like the Agrarian Law of 1932 (Graham, n.p).. As many Spanish people were very poor, so in reform land was distributed among these poor. This became very controversial and had a very strong opposition (Spartacus Educational, n.p).

The political situation of the country was turbulent for many years. The Spanish elections were held in 1933 (Spartacus Educational, n.p). In this election the Confederación Española de Derechas Autónomas won the most seats in the Cortes. This was the Spanish Confederation of the Autonomous Right. The CEDA did not win enough seats to form a majority. Niceto Alcalá Zamora was the president a t that time.

Though José María Gil-Robles could form a government at that time, the president instead asked Alejandro Lerroux. He was the leader of the Republican Party and was a centrist. Later on, Confederación Española de Derechas Autónomas, also supported this party. On October 1, 1934, three ministerial positions were given to the CEDA. The CEDA along with Alejandro Lerroux, tried to terminate many legislations passed by the last government. These acts lead to strikes all over the country. These rebellions were brought to a halt later on. Many people got arrested and many went on trial (Si Spain, n.p).

Due to this brutal action of the government, they were very much disliked throughout the country. When the elections were again held in 1936, this government had very small number of people who supported them. During the elections, there were a lot of strikes. The Popular Front had won. They had the most seats in the parliament. This was lead by CEDA and got almost 33.2% of the total votes. The CEDA promised the members of CNT to get pardoned from the jail.

In response the CNT gave all its votes to the CEDA. The CNT was present in many elections before also. As Largo Caballero came down, people were expecting riots. Many people wanted a revolution and were working hard to have one, but others were against it and condemned it. The main aim of the left and right were to make a democratic government. Comintern’s agreed. Manuel Azaña was the prime minister at that time. Though he was in favor of a democratic government, but without the support from socialists he could not do anything. In April, the same year Manuel Azaña was replaced. Though Azaña came that year, people still did not like him.

They remembered the brutal act of his government during the previous street riots. He was called “the repulsive caterpillar of red Spain” (Preston, 17-23). Yet another reson of disliking him was the cut down in the budget of army when he was in power. He had also shut down the military academy.

This was the year of violence. Everybody was fighting and the streets became a place of crime. Almost 330 people were assassinated. This political violence lead to injury of almost 1,511 people and 113 strikes. Almost 160 religious buildings were burned. José Castillo tried to deal with this violence, but was murdered later in July. It was found out that the group from the left had killed him. José Calvo Sotelo, was also killed the next day.

He was the leader of the opposition. It was found that Luis Cuenca had killed him. He wanted to take revenge as Luis Cuenca, was a socialist leader. The parliament got very suspicious as Calvo Sotelo was a very prominent person. He had been protesting against the anti religious terror and other agricultural reforms. He rather wanted a corporative state. Moreover, he said that it would be foolish of the Spanish soldiers not to rise against this revolution. It is said that after this speech the nationalist leader said that they will make sure Calvo Sotelo is not able to give anymore speeches after this. The national generals at this stage had planned the revolution (Thomas, 8).

Spanish Civil War

A lot of people feared that a revolution will begin, and they were right. In mid f July 1936 the rebellion began. The radio of Spain announced the start of the rebellion. General Manuel Goded Llopis and General Francisco Franco were sent to Balearic Islands. They were sent by Casares Quiroga, as he knew there was something going on. Later Major Hugh Pollard came to Spain also (Michael, n.p).

This rebellion was what we called in the begging a coup d’état action. Major part of the country was still in the hands of the government. The people rebelling had only a very small part of the country. The rebels were confined in the Barracks in Madrid, which were taken down the very next day. In Barcelona also, the rebels could not do much. A general, who came in Barcelona, was soon caught. He was later terminated. The panic that was created by the rebellions in Barcelona and its surrounding areas soon broke the government. Almost all of the eastern coast and central area was under the republicans. Northern and western Spain was taken by the nationals.

The Americans fought with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. The Soviet Union and Mexico helped the Spanish loyalists by giving them weapons and other things. The republicans contained peasants also (Beevor, 30-33).

The Nacionales leaders, however, were wealthy and instead of being peasants owned the land. These people wanted the centralization of the power. Germnay, Italy and Roman Cathlics supported the Nacionales. Portugal’s Estado Novo, provided support to them.

Almost everybody supported either the republicans or the Nacionales. Each and every political party was involved. People supporting monarchy and Carlists supported Nacionales. Catholics and Falange were also on their side; whereas, the Catalan nationalists, socialists, communists, and anarchists were on Republicans side.

The rebellion started under General Jose Sanjurjo. Emilio Mola was the chief planner. Though in the beginning of spring all preparations of the preparations of the rebellion had been done, but General Franco wanted to wait till July. As Franco had prior experience in 1934, where he suppressed the socialist uprising, he was considered as the main person this time. Though people had all intentions of capturing Franco, Franco took another route to Morocco (Preston, 4-10). After the death of Sanjurjo, Franco was chosen as the commander. Though, Mola was also considered on of the candidate for this post, Franco got chosen due to his better past results.

The Roman Catholic Church had been the target of many attacks. The Nacionales’s were trying to help the church. They thought due to these attacks, the country was in such turmoil. Even before the attacks on the church, many other religious buildings were burned down. The republicans also made the catholic clergy the target. Many Catholics were mostly the republicans and they thought the church had not played a very good role during the revolution.

Though the Pope Paul II had beatified the people who died, he particularly accounted the priests and nuns. Almost 6000 people died in this revolution. Many people joined the International Brigades. These people thought that the republicans were against fascism and considered it a battle between “tyranny and democracy”. However, people who supported Franco thought it was a battle of the red hordes of communism. They considered that anarchism was on one hand and the Christian people on the other. Franco’s people thought that they were the ones bringing peace to the otherwise restless society (Beevor, 30-33).

Though it is known as the Spanish Civil war, there had been a lot of foreign people involved in this revolution. The foreign government helped the parties they supported by contributing weapons and military assistance. Though the republicans got little support yet they had a lot of problems due to England’s declaration of restriction on weapons. Italy and Germany were very much involved and sent a lot of weaponary and militiray help. It is said that almost 50,000 men came from Italy. The Germans sent a total of 31,000 personnel. Only 700 men were sent by the Soviet Union, but these were a great help as they were the operating the aircrafts and tanks.

They had to buy this support from the Soviet Union giving away almost US$500 million. This reserve was more than half the reserve of Spain. Almost 53 nations participated. Ireland had more people in the favor of Franco. Ireland later declared that it was on nobody’s side and will not take part in the war. As there were children also present in the war, an arrangement had to be made in order to evacuate them. The children in Spain were sent through ships.

They were sent to Britain, Belgium, the Soviet Union, and Mexico. Many other European countries were also included. Many children came back after the war, but many of them also stayed. The children who stayed were mostly sent to Soviet Union and these children suffered through the Second World War also. The Nationalists and the republicans’ both, evacuated children, women and old people to other countries.

Almost 50,000 people died in this Spanish civil war (Telegraph UK, n.p). According to Julia Ruiz, there were almost 37,843 dead in the war (Ruiz, 97). Vidal came to a conclusion that the total number of people executed in Spain could have reached up to almost 110,965 (Montaner, n.p).

In the beginning of the war, almost 50,000 people were caught. These people were executed. This number accounts for the killings on both the sides. The person who died, was left were he was killed. Most of the times, before anybody was killed they were made to dig their own graves. People started to settle their long time disputes. People thought that the war might end quickly, but on the fifth day of the rebellion, Nacionales captured Spain.

Everything got charged up again and the enemies started looking for Franco. Franco won in the South, in September. His troops later reached in Madrid in November and started an attack. Due to all these things, Franco was later recognized by governments like Germany. They later sent him help. In January Franco made another try in order to get Madrid, but he did not succeed (Rosemont, n.p).

As there were a lot of foreign help coming in, the non-intervention committee banned all of them. Franco later invaded Argon. He also took the city of Santander. The Nacionales and the republicans faced each other in the battle of Teruel. The Nacionales lost the city and this battle. Franco’s trrops entered the Mediterranean Sea and got a portion of Spain. At this point the Republicans wanted peace and were ready to reconcile.

However, Franco did not stop. The war went on as it was with both of them fighting (Weisboard, n.p). In 1939, Franco declared the war over. Though it was officially over, many small rebels were still carried out. People in small troops still fought Franco’s army. In next two moths Franco also got Catalonia. Madrid and a few others were under the republicans. Later Madrid went to Nacionales. One after another and on April one all the Nacionales surrendered (Wolff, n.p).


When the war ended, almost 30,000 people were executed (Tremlett, n.p). People who were enemies of Francos were punished severely (Varia, n.p). It has been calculated that this numbers goes as high as 50,000 to 200,000. People who were not executed were forced to do labor (Geiser, n.p). Almost 500,000 republicans went to France (Caistor, n.p). Refugees were sent to camps with filthy conditions. Almost 12,000 republican soldiers, plus some other civilians were sent to these camps (Cohen, n.p).

After the official announcement about the end of the war, another war started. This guerrilla war went on till the 1950.

Works Cited

Alpert, Michael (2002).BBC History Magazine.

Beevor, Antony. (2006). The Battle for Spain; The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939. Penguin.

Brenan, Gerald. (n.d). The Spanish Labyrinth. Cambridge University Press.

Caistor, Nick. (2003). . Web.

Cohen, Monique and Lise-Malo (n.d). Les camps in the south-west of France 1939-1944. Web.

Geiser, Carl. (n.d). Prisoners of the Good Fight.Westport, Conn.: Lawrence Hill & Company.

Graham, Helen. (2005). The Spanish Civil War. A very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, USA

Montaner, Carlos Alberto. (2003). International justice begins at home. Web.

Preston, Paul. (n.d) Franco; A Biography. Fontana Press.

Preston, Paul (n.d). From rebel to Caudillo: Franco’s path to power, History Today Volume: 33 Issue: 11.

Preston, Paul. (n.d). The Coming of the Spanish Civil War. Routledge.

Ruiz, Julius (2007). Defending the Republic: The García Atadell Brigade in Madrid, 1936. Journal of Contemporary History. Web.

Rosemont, Franklin. Spanish Revolution of 1936. Web.

Spartacus Educational (n.d). Background to war. Web.

Spartacus Educational, (n.d). Chronology of the Spanish Civil war. Web.

Si Spain. (n.d). Spanish Civil War. Web.

Thomas, Hugh. (2003). The Spanish Civil War. Penguin Books Ltd

Telegraph. (2006). A revelatory account of the Spanish civil war. Web.

Tremlett, Giles (2003). . Web.

Varia. (2005). SPAIN: Repression under Franco after the Civil War. Web.

Wolff, Milton. (n.d). Another Hill: An Autobiographical Novel about the Spanish Civil War. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Weisboard, Albert. (n.d). The Spanish Revolution. Web.

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