Analysis 1 Why And To What Extent Did The Army Oppose The Second Republic

The Spanish army's deep resentment of politicians went back many decades, not least to the imperial disasters of 1898. So did the army's intervention in high politics - and its suppression of grassroots left-wing revolts. However, the history of the Rivera dictatorship and its shortlived successors, as well as that of the Second Republic, showed that many in the armed forces were themselves left-wing, for example, Ramón Franco, anarchist aviator brother of the future Chief of State. Francisco Franco himself was ambivalent about the peacetime Republic (April 1931 -July 1936). On the one hand, he derided Republican officers promoted during the 'two reformist years' (1931 -3); on the other, he had reason to be grateful for the 'bienio negro' (black biennium) which followed.4 Indeed, Franco was to play a significant auxiliary role in government during that time. At the outset, it had been two leading generals, Sanjurjo (the Director General of the Civil Guard) and Berenguer (Minister of War) who had in April 1931 made the Republic possible by not standing by the King and not obstructing the popular will.

However, from the first weeks of the Republic military plots to overthrow it were being hatched. Military hostility to the Republic reflected both public and private concerns. 'Publicly', the early Republican governments had displaced the monarchy, attacked the Church and landownership, and threatened to degrade the wholeness of Spain with their policy of autonomy for Catalonia. The constitution declared the Republic to be a 'Republic of workers', which alienated the conservatives. Furthermore, communism, much less subversively influential than Franco thought, became the future Caudillo's bête rouge as he consumed vast quantities of anti-Comintern propaganda. But what made the 'red threat' only too real was the revolution that was occurring in the Civil War Republican zone from July 1936, a factor that inevitably strengthened the Nationalists' casus belli. Freemasonry, a secret order which cut across national loyalties, was another scapegoat for the army right's resentment, while Hugh Thomas makes the interesting additional point that Sanjurjo, Mola and Franco saw the Spanish mainland as a Morocco writ large, 'infested by rebellious tribes masquerading as political parties'.5

Gil Robles had seen governments with himself as Prime Minister as ipso facto in the national interest, but he was not made Premier, in 1933, or in May or December 1935, much to the chagrin of the army right. Even worse, another right-wing politician with a messianic claim to lead,

José Calvo Sotelo, was murdered in the cataclysmic month of July 1936 by a hit-squad led by a Communist captain of the Civil Guard.

On the 'personal' level of issues more directly affecting the army, Michael Alpert offers in his essay Soldiers, Politics and War (1984) revealing insights into the long-standing sensitivity of the army to criticism.6 In the first years of the Second Republic itself, the army had to contend with Azana's military reforms, the earliest of which were promulgated by decree rather than by a parliament, thus placing their legitimacy in doubt. Personal grudges abounded. Sanjurjo was demoted in early 1932 and, after the Sanjurjada coup attempt, was sent to a grim civilian jail. Franco was dismissed as Commandant of the Zaragoza Military Academy, which, adding national insult to personal injury, was closed down by the despised Azana. In 1933, in what he saw as professional banishment, Franco was sent to become General Officer Commanding, Balearic Islands, and in 1936 was catapulted 'out of mischief' to the Canaries. Goded, too, had personal reasons for regarding the Republic with contempt, though his feelings were less cannily disguised than Franco's. But resentment was not exclusive to the army right - naturally enough, its keenly Republican wing condemned favours to rightists granted by the Lerroux-Gil Robles governments.

These 'public' and 'personal' factors combine to give some idea of why the rising in July 1936 was seen as 'necessary'. Moreover, the alzamiento, as it was called, was not only a reaction to the total catastrophe into which the Patria appeared to have been plunged but, according to Carr, was timed to outflank the arrival at barracks of the new, Republican draft.7

What, then, made the rising possible? Paul Preston makes the telling point that those officers who took retirement in 1931 now had time on their hands to plot.8 Individually, this may have had little significance, but by the summer of 1936 a broad coalition of army and civilian interests existed. Mola had established links to Alfonsists, to Carlists, to Franco, to the UME and to the Madrid Police HQ. Gil Robles was providing money; Italian and German arms had been sought by Generals Barrera and France respectively. The Spanish army's own military capability had been enhanced by both Azana and Gil Robles as Ministers of War; and if in a perverse sense this was an error of judgement, others are less debatable, such as moving Mola to Pamplona in early 1936 - a damage-limitation exercise that backfired. Thus the master-plan was coalescing well and by mid-July Franco too was on board. Fundamentally, the army, despite assaults upon it, still had power, as had the German Reichswehr after the Versailles Diktat.

The realities of experience for the army (as army, and as citizens with a responsibility to uphold the honour of the Patria) are inescapable: sweeping reform, left-wing agitation and amnesties for the left, whether Jaca mutineers (November 1932) or the Asturistas of October 1934. However, the army's bitterness also derived from threats (to make retirement compulsory), fears (would Azana replace the army with a red militia?) and assumptions (that Azana was bewitched by a 'black cabinet' of Republican officers).

Turning now to the second part of this analysis, namely the extent to which the army opposed the Second Republic, various sources have offered quantitative assessments. Preston, for example, has calculated that from the very beginning of the Second Republic a considerable number of officers were unequivocally republican but that a larger group had grave doubts about the new political system; nevertheless, that in July 1936 only four out of twenty-one major (i.e. full) generals supported the alzamiento. Thomas's estimate for 1931 is that about half of the officer corps were 'apolitical opportunists', with various minorities either radical, republican or right-wing. Hills's research suggested that only 10 per cent of officers supported the notion of a rebellion.9 But what seems inescapable is that from early 1936 there would be a significant, though not overwhelming, increase in the number of conspirators.

What of Francisco Franco, whose image as a ruthless belligerent has clouded the reality of the positions he adopted towards the Republic? It could easily be assumed that Franco opposed it. In fact, despite Azana's reforms, he was grudgingly tolerant, by necessity if not by choice. He may never have supported the Republic as an ideal, but he was prepared to engage with specific governments who were 'restoring honour, discipline, the basics'10 and whose priorities were the defence of the social order and the Catholic faith. Moreover, under the Lerroux-Robles governments Franco and other rightists were promoted, and the red cloud of Asturias was evaporated by the brutal heat of their repression. Franco much admired Gil Robles's reforms as Minister of War; and when ministers lacked detailed knowledge of things military, they turned to Franco for advice. Even so, when the durability of rightist governments was in doubt - for example, Lerroux's in September 1933 - Franco was wary and would not accept office. More consistently, he distanced himself from plans for a military coup until February 1936 when, following the PF victory, he sounded out the solidity of his colleagues' opinions for or against an insurrection.

Others, in the earlier years of the Republic, were less circumspect. For those such as General Orgaz, to conspire was their raison d'être. However, it might be taken 1er granted that Africanistas, Army of Africa veterans, necessarily opposed the Republic. But the Africanista General Pozas, Director General of the Civil Guard after Sanjurjo, was a loyal Republican who refused to respond to Franco's probings in February 1936. Equally loyal was Francisco Franco's cousin, the Republican leader in Ttuan, Morocco, whose execution in 1936 Francisco chillingly endorsed. Others came to oppose the Republic over a period of time: for example, General Queipo de Llano, son-in-law of the President but merciless chief of the Seville rising in July 1936. For Francisco Franco himself, support for the Republic was always qualified, but a number of further personal slights, notably removal as Chief ofthe General Staff by Quiroga in early 1936, corroded his already problematical 'loyalty'. General Mola, mastermind of the July 1936 alzamiento, only began to plot seriously during that year, whereas Generals Sanjurjo and Goded were committed conspirators much earlier. It was Goded who in August 1932 launched the abortive Sanjurjada in Madrid. Though feeble in execution, as with Hitler's Munich Putsch nine years before, the thinking behind the Sanjurjada did not lack passion. Had not the Second Republic set anarchy loose on the beloved Patria? Why did it not defend its own security forces? How could it be allowed to abuse sacred tradition? But the organization and the support were lacking. On the other hand, when General Rodriguez del Barrio plotted in the spring of 1936 he had more support, but various factors, including his own terminal illness, conspired to render his putsch stillborn.

Formal regimental organization alone would have held back the growth of a convincing conspiratorial base. Thus an underground movement, the Spanish Military Union (UME), was set up in 1933 to liaise secretly between garrisons. By 1935 it could claim members in all eight military regions and links with CEDA, the Alfonsists and the Carlists. Generals Goded and Fanjul were members. Franco, though he kept abreast of its activities, was not. Many other generals were sceptical, too, and Hills is very critical of UME's performance in July 1936.11 The pro-Republican challenge took the form of the Republican Antifascist Military Union (UMRA). Founded in 1934 by left-wing officers to oppose the UME and uphold the original ideals of the Republic, the UMRA was significant at various levels. It helped forge the PSOE (Socialist) militia into a serious fighting unit, while Stanley G. Payne has suggested that the UMRA was manipulated by the Communist Party (PCE) through a Marxist on the General Staff.12 Some police officers were UMRA; so was José Castillo, the Assault Guard lieutenant whose murder led to the (unpunished) assassination of José Calvo Sotelo on 13 July 1936.

Without military opponents, and supporters, of the Republic there would have been no Civil War. By letters, speeches, almost-candidacies (at one point Franco might have become a CEDA Deputy), organizations and conspiracies, the army right expressed anti-republican emotions ranging from extreme scepticism to downright loathing. Even so, the Second Republic experienced five years and three months of 'peace'. From July 1936, though, the latent became manifest: two years and nine months of war were to test the Republic's powers beyond endurance.

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