Background Narrative

The twelve turbulent months from mid-July 1936 showed significant, though not decisive, advances against the Republic by the rebel forces of Mola and Franco. These victories followed their initial failure to seize power in a coordinated coup throughout Spain. They had been successful in areas that centred on Pamplona in Navarre, Vitoria in the neighbouring Basque province of Alava, Zaragoza in Aragón, Burgos in Old Castile, Valladolid in León and La Coruña in Galicia. In the south of Spain, in Andalucía, their prizes, again often after fierce initial resistance, included Seville, Granada, Cádiz and Córdoba. The rebel insurgents, or Nationalists (Nacionales) also controlled Morocco, the Canaries and the Balearic Islands (except for Minorca). Their forces now proceeded to take Badajoz (Estremadura) in August, and Toledo (New Castile) and San Sebastián (in the agriculture- and industry-rich Basque province of Guipúzcoa) in September. In October the Republican siege of Oviedo, capital of Asturias, was lifted.

The capture of Badajoz and Toledo from the Republic had marked important steps in the Nationalist advance from the south-west on Madrid, the outskirts of which were reached in early November 1936. Attempts to take the city by frontal assault were abandoned by 23 November, and in December General Franco changed to a strategy of encirclement. But neither the Battle of the Jarama (February 1937) nor the Battle of Guadalajara in March achieved this goal. The Nationalists' focus now switched once more to the northern front: at the end of March General Mola opened a new offensive in the Basque province of Vizcaya. The devastating fire-bombing of Guernica took place in April and by mid-June 1937 the port and industrial city of Bilbao had fallen to the Nationalists. But two weeks later on 6 July it was to be the Republican Popular Army that took the offensive: at Brunete on the Madrid front it attempted to relieve pressure on the north and to split the Nationalists west of the capital. However, this Republican success was to be short-lived. Furthermore, by this time the USSR had significantly changed its strategy from assisting in the Republic's victory to helping to delay its defeat. Recruitment into the Comintern-organized International Brigades began to fall.

Twelve months before, the Republic had had no international aid at all - in contrast to the Nationalists whose assistance from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy had kept their rebellion afloat after its failure to achieve outright victory. On 18-19 July 1936, with military revolt against 'communism, separatism and anarchy' biting into the Republic, the governments of Casares Quiroga and Martinez Barrio fell in rapid succession. The new Prime Minister, Giral, at last armed the Communist militia (MAOC), Socialist trade union (UGT) and anarchist CNT, previously denied weapons for fear they would be used for revolution. More anti-fascist militias were formed, for example, in Barcelona where the military rebels had also failed to seize power. By early September Giral had been replaced as Prime Minister by Largo Caballero. Largo headed a Popular Front government led by Socialists, Communists and Left Republicans. At the end of that month a more efficient Popular Army was created out of the militias. Though Britain, France and the United States adopted an official policy of non-intervention, the first Russian military aid to the Republic arrived in mid-October 1936, and the Popular Army was reorganized into brigades. On 7 November, with the Largo Caballero government relocating to Valencia on the eastern coast, the protection of Madrid fell to a 'Defence Junta' under General Miaja. Now the International Brigades began to join the Republican forces in strength, playing a vital role in the military defence of the capital along with the predominantly Communist 'Fifth Regiment' under Colonel Enrique Lister. Nationalist attempts in February and March 1937 to encircle the capital were repulsed.

Besides these military confrontations, the period from July

1936 witnessed both Republican and Nationalist terror campaigns in their respective zones. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were murdered. Within the Republican zone a social and economic revolution of sorts established collectives in both agriculture and industry, though these transformations were controversial: would they really help to win the war? Political disputes undermined Republican unity, not least in Catalonia where in March 1937 the anarchist CNT quit the regional government, the Generalitat. By early May the CNT and antiStalinist POUM were literally at war with the Catalan government and Communist Party. On 15 May Largo Caballero resigned as Prime Minister, to be replaced by fellow-Socialist Juan Negrín, and his ringing mandate: 'Victory at all costs'.

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