The decision to send volunteers to fight in the Spanish Civil War was adopted on 18 September 1936 by the Comintern Secretariat. The recruitment centre was Paris, and the organisational aspects were put into the hands of French Communist Party leaders, with André Marty at the head, and other leading agents of the International, such as Luigi Longo ('Gallo') and Josep Broz ('Tito'). According to Antonio Elorza and Marta Bizcarrondo, this decision 'is well documented
20 Daniel Kowalsky, La Unión Soviética y la guerra civil española, Crítica, Barcelona, 2003. (English edition: Stalin and the Spanish Civil War, Columbia University Press, New York, 2004.)
and belies the typical interpretations that have hitherto been circulating' since the beginning of the Communist International, that the International Brigades were spontaneously made up of 'freedom volunteers', and other interpretations that present them as 'the army of the Comintern', 'an instrument of Stalin's Machiavellian policy with regard to Spain'. There were a good many in the Brigades who were Stalinists, especially at the organisational level, but there were thousands who were not.21
They started arriving in Spain in October, from Poland, Italy, Germany and other countries under the control of dictatorships and Fascism, although it was France that provided the largest number. Those from North America arrived later, at the end of the year, and the Lincoln Battalion, the subject of some of the legends most widely spread by writers and intellectuals, did not enter into action until the Battle of the Jarama, in February 1937. Before them, several hundred left-wing sympathisers, who at the time of the coup happened to be in Barcelona, attending the Popular (also known as Anti-Fascist) Olympics, organised as an alternative event to the Olympic Games being held in Berlin, had already joined the anarchist and socialist militias.
The number of brigadists varies according to sources, from the 100,000 quoted by the Nationalists, to exaggerate their influence and the significance of international Communism, to the 40,000 referred to by Hugh Thomas in his classic study on the civil war. One of the latest and most exhaustive studies on the International Brigades, by Michel Lefebvre and Rémi Skoutelsky, provides a figure of nearly 35,000, accepted today by quite a few historians, although there were never more than 20,000 combatants at a time, and in 1938 the number had reduced considerably.22 Some 10,000 volunteers died in combat; they came from over fifty countries, with France providing almost 9,000, while barely 150 came from Portugal. The military reports logging their presence in the training base in Albacete tell us that the two greatest concentrations of volunteers there coincided with the first few months of their intervention, from October 1936 to March 1937, and with the battles of Teruel and Aragón, from December 1937 to April 1938.
21 Elorza and Bizcarrondo, Queridos camaradas, pp. 459-63.
22 Michel Lefebvre and Rémi Skoutelsky, Brigadas Internacionales. Imágenes recuperadas, Lunwerg Editores, Barcelona, 2003.
Many of the volunteers arriving in Spain were unemployed, but many others left behind their jobs. There were also adventurers, looking for excitement, intellectuals and middle-class professionals, who were the ones who later wrote about their experiences. Most of them, however, were convinced that Fascism was an international threat and that Spain was the right venue to combat it. So wrote an English worker, neither a poet nor an intellectual, in a letter to his daughter, reproduced by Watkins in his study on the division caused by the Spanish Civil War within British society: 'Now I want to explain to you why I left England. You will have heard about the War going on here. From every country in the world working people like myself have come to Spain to stop Fascism here. So although I am miles away from you, I am fighting to protect you and all children in England as well as people all over the world'.23
These manual labourers, making up 80 per cent of the volunteers from the United Kingdom, had felt drawn by the Communist Party, which provided them with protection and a solid doctrine to adhere to. This was also the time that vast numbers of exiles from eastern and central Europe and the Balkan States converged on Paris, fleeing from Fascist and military repression. From there, they went through Barcelona and Valencia, to end up in Albacete, where they were galvanised into action by André Marty, the head of the International Brigades, about whom much has been written, including the story that he had 500 brigadists shot, although no one has presented any proof as to when and how 'the butcher of Albacete' did this.
During the first few months of recruitment, five International Brigades were organised, numbered from XI to XV. The XI, under the command of the Soviet General Emilio Cléber, and the XII, under the Hungarian writer Maté Zalka 'Luckács', played a decisive role in the republican defence of Madrid in November 1936, although some authors, including Beevor, consider that their exploits were exaggerated by the Francoists and conservative and anti-Communist Britons, such as the ambassador Henry Chilton, who thought that Madrid was being defended by foreigners only. The Thalmann battalion, made up of German and some British Communists, had its first taste of action in the battle for Madrid. One of them, the Briton
23 Watkins, Britain Divided, p. 170.
Esmond Romilly, later recalled many of the dead in that battle: 'I remember hearing them speak of their lives as exiles ... persecuted by the immigration laws and relentlessly persecuted - even in England -by the Nazi secret police'.24
There were also many foreigners fighting with Franco's troops. They, like the International Brigades, came from a wide range of countries. Not many of them were volunteers, because the majority of those who fought, particularly Germans and Italians, were regular soldiers, well prepared, who were paid in their countries of origin. Chief among the genuine volunteers, between 1,000 and 1,500, were Irish Catholics, under the command of General Eoin O'Duffy, who subscribed to the idea of a crusade as held by the Spanish Catholic Church and Pope Pius XI in the Vatican. They bore various religious emblems, rosaries, images of the agnus dei and the Sacred Heart, as did the Carlists, and they left Ireland, according to O'Duffy himself, to fight Christianity's battle against Communism. They only fought in the Battle of the Jarama, in February 1937, where, in view of their lack of military experience, they failed to acquit themselves well, and a few months later they returned home.
As well as these Irish 'blueshirts', among Franco's troops were White Russians who had honed their skills in the struggle against the Bolsheviks, a mixed group of Fascists and anti-Semites from eastern Europe, and some 300 Frenchmen from the ultra-right Croix de Feu making up the Jeanne d'Arc battalion. The almost 10,000 Viriatos (Portuguese volunteers) who had enlisted and were paid in Portugal were not volunteers, however. Although Franco's camp always presented them as such, with all these new forces and the intensive recruitment of Rif tribesmen for the Africa army, Franco's troops numbered some 200,000 men by the end of 1936.
In answer to the International Brigades, Germany and Italy sent tens of thousands of soldiers to fight alongside the military rebels. So that there would be no doubt as to the purpose of this intervention, on 18 November 1936, the month of the major Francoist offensive on Madrid, the governments of the two Axis powers officially recognised Franco and his Junta Técnica del Estado, set up on 2 October to replace the Junta de Defensa Nacional, and soon afterwards the first
24 Quoted in Preston, La guerra civil española, p. 181.
two ambassadors arrived in Burgos: General Wilhelm von Faupel and the Fascist journalist, Roberto Cantalupo.
At around this time, Hitler decided to send an airborne unit that would fight as an independent corps, with its own officers, in the Francoist ranks. Called the Condor Legion, it arrived in Spain by sea in the middle of November under the command of General Hugo von Sperle, and later of Colonel Baron Wolfram von Richthofen, both Luftwaffe officers. It consisted of some 140 aircraft, divided into four fighter squadrons with Heinkel 51 biplanes, plus another four squadrons of Junkers 52s, backed up by one battalion of forty-eight tanks and another of sixty anti-aircraft guns. Thus the Spanish Civil War became the Luftwaffe's testing ground, a rehearsal for the fighters and bombers that would shortly afterwards be used in the Second World War.
Research by Raymond L. Proctor reveals that the total number of Condor Legion combatants during the course of the war amounted to 19,000 men, including pilots, tank crews and artillerymen, although there were never more than 5,500 at a time, as they were frequently relieved so that as many soldiers as possible could gain experience. The Condor Legion took part in nearly all the military operations conducted during the civil war, and 371 of its members lost their lives in action.25 A much larger contribution was made by the Italians, who began to arrive in Spain in December 1936 and January 1937, after the secret pact of friendship signed by Franco and Mussolini on 28 November. Up to that time, the Italians piloting the Savoia 81s and Fiat fighters had been fighting in the Foreign Legion. After the signing of this pact, Mussolini organised the Corpo di Truppe Volontarie (CTV), commanded by General Mario Roatta until the disaster at Guadalajara in March 1937, and then by Generals Ettore Bastico, Mario Berti and Gastone Gambara. The CTV had a permanent force of 40,000 soldiers, and its total number, according to figures published by John Coverdale, rose to 72,775 men: 43,129 from the army and 29,646 from the Fascist militia. They were joined by 5,699 men from the Aviazione Legionaria, thus bringing the total number of Italian combatants to 78,474, much higher than the German or International Brigades figures.26
25 Raymond L. Proctor, Hitler's Luftwaffe in the Spanish Civil War, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT, 1983.
26 Coverdale, La intervención fascista en la guerra civil española, pp. 152-71, 372-3.
Thus tens of thousands of foreigners fought in the Spanish Civil War. It was, in fact, a European civil war, with the tacit sanction of the British and French governments. A little over 100,000 fought on Franco's side: 78,000 Italians, 19,000 Germans, 10,000 Portuguese, plus more than 1,000 volunteers from other countries, not counting the 70,000 Moroccans who made up the native Regulares. On the Republican side, the figures given by Rémi Skoutelsky show nearly 35,000 volunteers in the International Brigades and 2,000 Soviets, of whom 600 were non-combatant advisers. Contrary to the myth of the Communist and revolutionary threat, what in fact hit Spain through an open military intervention was Fascism.
Furthermore, the Fascists went home later, with the end of the war and Franco's victory, while the members of the International Brigades had laid down their arms beforehand. On 21 September 1938, Juan Negrín, the Prime Minister of the Republic, announced in Geneva, before the League of Nations General Assembly, the immediate, unconditional withdrawal of all non-Spanish combatants in the republican army, in the hope that Franco's camp would do the same. At the time, about one-third of all those who had come to fight against Fascism were still in Spain, and on 28 October, one month after their withdrawal from the front, the International Brigades paraded in Barcelona in front of over 250,000 people. Presiding over the farewell ceremony were Manuel Azaña, Juan Negrín, Lluís Companys and Generals Rojo and Riquelme. 'You can leave with pride. You have made history ... you are a heroic example of the solidarity and ubiquity of democracy', they were told by Dolores Ibárruri, La Pasionaria. 'We shall never forget you, and when the leaves once more begin to bud on the olive branch of peace, together with the victory laurels of the Spanish Republic, come back!'27
They did not return, because the Republic was defeated a few months later, and besides, many of them, close to 10,000, had died on Spanish soil, and another 7,000 were missing. Some of those who survived later became distinguished figures, writers and politicians, in their respective countries, including Josep Broz ('Tito'), Pietro Nenni, Luigi Longo, Walter Ulbricht and André Malraux.
At the same time as the International Brigades were leaving Spain, Mussolini withdrew 10,000 combatants 'as a goodwill gesture'
27 Quoted in Preston, La guerra civil española, p. 300.
towards the Non-intervention Committee, just one-quarter of those who were still fighting alongside Franco's army. They were seen off in Cádiz by Generals Queipo de Llano and Millán Astray, and received in Naples by King Victor Manuel III. The last units of the Condor Legion were transported to Germany by sea after the victory parade of 19 May 1939. They were received in the port of Hamburg by Hermann Goering, Nazi Germany's Air Minister.
The Republic spent as much money losing the war as the Francoists did winning it. To pay for the war expenses, the Republic used the country's gold reserves. Franco resorted to Italian and German loans. The amount of war materiel entering republican Spain was lower than that received by Franco, and it was of poorer quality. So how did the two sides finance the war?
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