Here is the first installment of a new series, a weekly post chronicling the Spanish Civil War, 80 years after the uprising in July 1936. The Spanish Civil War is a complex subject, but if you are new, here is a super simple round-up.
A country with a rocky past, but the more recent Spanish troubles started in 1931, when the monarchy was exiled, creating the Second Spanish Republic. Left-wingers won an election, but as people tried fighting for basics, like fair wages, workers’ rights, women’s rights, education etc, nothing went well, no one agreed, and right-wing conservatives and the church resisted in every which way. Power switched in every direction, but when the Republican left-wing Popular Front took power in February 1936, the military considered an uprising to restore conservative control. Tensions ran high for several months, and when several prominent left and right-wing leaders were murdered in Madrid in July, the match was lit for battle.
The Republicans, the Spanish left, consisted of the Popular Front government, combined with socialists, communists, anarchists, workers’ unions, Marxists, leaders of autonomous Spanish regions like Catalonia and Galicia, and later the International Volunteers. The Spanish right consisted of the military, the Falange fascists, the religious Carlists and the monarchists.
People quickly had to decide which side they were on, though this would have been obvious in most people’s lives already. Within days, thousands were killed for being on the ‘wrong’ side, depending on the consensus of their town or city. What happened next was three years of bloody murder, fighting and executions.
Week 1 – July 17-24 1936
A military rebellion starts in Morocco, with the Spanish Legion soldiers killing or imprisoning their Generals. Guardia Civil police try to hold back the military in Tetuán and Larache, resulting in bloody battles. Within a day, Spanish Morocco has fallen to the rebel soldiers. Three Generals – Franco, Mola, and Sanjurjo, all recently demoted within the army, have set up much of the plans. Franco declares a state of war, a call for soldiers to rebel all over mainland Spain and take control of their towns and cities. Anyone who resists gets a bullet.
The Prime Minster, Santiago Casares Quiroga, does nothing to arm the population of Spain, instead spending all day on the phone, ensuring no military barracks decide to rise up in support of the angry Generals.
Armed workers’ militia in July 1936
Word has spread and the socialists, communists, anarchists and workers’ unions are ready to fight to preserve the Republican government. By dawn, Pamplona, Segovia, Cadiz, Avila, Salamanca and Zaragoza are already overcome by the military, with many deaths. Zaragoza was a stronghold of the anarchists, so it is a huge blow to the Republicans.
The rebel Nationalists already have 1/3 of the country under their control and systemic executions start as other locations rise to protect themselves. Unions offer to help if given weapons, but are refused. Workers strike and start building barricades in the streets.
By dawn, the prime minister has resigned, and after negotiations, José Giral takes over, giving weapons to the population to defend themselves after formally disbanding the army.
Weapons handed out to the populace
Seville fights but is defeated by the rebels. Much of southern Spain is invaded and executions begin. Navarre in the north falls to the rebels in a bloody massacre. The city of Burgos has no fighting, totally in support of the military.
Jaén, San Sebastian, Santander and Malaga manage to hold back the rebels. The important cities of Madrid and Barcelona have not yet been taken by the military. Madrid is on a knife-edge as workers are armed, ready to do battle, the assault guards personnel on their side.
General Franco leaves his post in the Canary Islands to take control in Morocco. Barcelona faces battle in the streets, with armed workers and police fighting the large military contingent. The police divisions could not hold the city on their own, and arms are given to the public to help with the siege.
After two days fighting in the streets, Barcelona is won by the Republican population. In Madrid, workers lay siege to the military barracks, killing many and saving the capital city with people power, as in Barcelona.
Mallorca, Coruña, Vigo, Bilbao and Granada are all won by the rebels. Valencia is still in confusion, when the army did not take sides. Fighting begins as workers strike and attack the military barracks.
The rebel military leader, General Sanjurjo, flies from exile in Portugal but is killed when his plane crashes due to plane overloading.
All chances of ending the rebellion is over, although Seville is the only main city controlled by the military.
Areas controlled by Republicans and nationalists in the early days of the war
The Siege of the Alcázar starts in Toledo, south of Madrid. The Alcázar (castle/fort) is filled with rebels and their hostages as Republicans fight to free the women and children inside and defeat the rebels.
The People’s Olympiad, (an event held in protest against Germany holding the Olympics) get cancelled with the outbreak of war, with many athletes in the city at the outbreak. Many were trapped in Barcelona as fighting started; some choose to fight.
The navy is loyal to the government and the Republicans. Sailors got word of the uprising and defied and killed most navy officers, saving the navy from the rebels. The air force never intended to turn against the government, but didn’t have much in the way of planes or power anyway.
People’s Olympiad poster
The Nationalist rebels start their own military government, the Junta de Defensa Nacional, based in right-wing Burgos. General Miguel Cabanellas is their leader.
All areas are suffering from killings and prisoner-takings, regardless of who won the uprising.
The Durruti Column, led by leader Buenaventura Durruti volunteer to leave safe Barcelona and head to Aragon to start fighting back the rebels. About 3000 workers leave in their first group to begin a take back of rebel-held areas.
From now on, each weekly round-up will be posted on a Monday. All photos are linked to original sources for photo credit.
This is not an in-depth analysis, merely a weekly highlight (lowlight?) round-up. Comments on any extra details anyone wishes to add are welcome.