Spain divides

The initial division of forces and resources was unsatisfactory to both Republicans and rebels. The rebels lost their leader, General Sanjurjo, in a plane crash as he set off from Portugal on 20 July 1936 to take command in Burgos. They held Spanish Morocco, where Franco had reached Tetuán on the 19th, after the rising had already succeeded. Franco therefore had the Army of Africa at his command, and a small detachment of the air force, which had attempted resistance but been overwhelmed. But he faced the problem of how to get his formidable forces to the mainland, since the crews on board Spanish ships in the Mediterranean disobeyed their rebel naval officers, executed them and remained loyal to the Republic. Cádiz, held by the rebel generals Varela and Lopez Pinto, could not be reached. Beyond it, Queipo de Llano took Seville, including the airport. This permitted a group of the Foreign Legion to fly there from Morocco in a Fokker, and take part in the merciless assault on the working-class district of Triana. But the rest of the forces in north Africa were stuck.

The rising also triumphed in the agrarian conservative heartlands of Old Castile, Navarre and the far north-west, including the naval base of El Ferrol. But it failed along most of the north coast, including Bilbao with its all-important iron and steel works, and across a great swathe of central, eastern and north-eastern Spain, including Madrid, and the great industrial city of Barcelona. Not only was north Africa cut off from southern Spain by Republican ships, but western Andalusia was cut off from rebel territory in the north. It was impossible for anyone to exercise overall command. Moreover, army officers were not the undisputed leaders everywhere of the rebellion. In Navarre. General Mola was well aware of the strength of the Carlist militias. Elsewhere, Falangist militias or monarchist activists operated independently, and in many towns where there was no military garrison, they led the rising. Meanwhile the Falange leader, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, was in a Republican prison far away in Alicante.

On the government side, it was depressing enough that within just a few days about a third of the country was in the hands of its enemies. But the military rebellion sparked a furious popular reaction that stripped the government, and the Republican state, of authority. Everywhere trade unionists and left-wing parties demanded that arms be distributed to them. Prime Minister Casares Quiroga resisted these demands on 18 July, then resigned. President Azana appointed Diego Martinez Barrio in his place, who tried futilely to win over General Mola, then also resigned early on the 19th.

The new Prime Minister was José Giral, who took the inevitable step of arming the Madrid proletariat by supplying the Socialist and Anarchist trade unions with army rifles. When the Madrid garrisons were ordered to hand over the bolts that the rifles needed, they refused. General Fanjul, leader of the rebellion in Madrid, was trapped in the Montana barracks by crowds of hostile workers, some of them now armed. Giral's decision to arm left-wing organisations was also implemented elsewhere. Power seeped away from the government to the streets, and from the institutions of the state to the revolutionary masses.

On 20 July the Montana barracks were attacked by the crowds, aided by a few aircraft, some artillery, and loyal Assault Guards and Civil Guards. Fanjul's forces, numbering about 2,000, with about 150 additional right-wing sympathisers, replied with machine-guns. But at noon the assault

Soldiers involved in the armed rising in Barcelona in July 1936 collect ammunition. But in Barcelona, as in Madrid, the rising failed because arms were also distributed to workers, who joined forces with loyal Assault Guards and prevented the soldiers garrisoned in Spain's two most important cities from gaining control of them. (Roger-Viollet)

succeeded, and crowds surged into the courtyard of the barracks, fighting hand to hand with its defenders. Several hundred people died. Fanjul was imprisoned, and in the following month court-martialled and shot. The other Madrid garrisons were either persuaded into loyalty or overwhelmed.

Events in Barcelona were similar, except that the rebel plan there was for the troops of the various garrisons, about 5,000 men in all, to converge on the Plaza de Catalunya in the centre, and then take the city. The President of the autonomous government of Catalonia, Luis Companys, had refused to distribute arms to the masses, just as Casares Quiroga and Martinez Barrio had done. But he could not prevent some Guards doing so independently. Approximately 5,000 loyal Assault and Civil Guards, some police and crowds of Anarchists, a few of them now armed, fought bravely with the columns of infantrymen making their way to the Plaza de Catalunya. They prevented the planned meeting there, and took control of the city, completing it with an attack on the AtarAzañas barracks on the night of 20-21 July. At least 500 people died in the confrontation in Barcelona. General Goded was taken prisoner, and in August was tried for military rebellion and shot. Local air bases remained loyal.

In several other places, the outcome of the rising was in doubt in the first days. In Oviedo, centre of the October 1934 revolution, the local military commander, Colonel Antonio Aranda, assured miners' leaders that the city was safe in his hands. After they set off by train to help defend Madrid on 19 July, he claimed the city for the rebels. His actions produced the extraordinary phenomenon of a city thoroughly identified with revolutionary fervour falling without a fight into the camp of counter-revolution. But Oviedo was isolated in hostile Republican territory.

At the other end of the country, Granada was similarly isolated, a rebel city in the middle of an anti-rebel area, after the military commander, General Muñoz, was imprisoned by rebel officers, and the working-class quarter violently subdued. In many cities, the issue was decided by the personal decision for or against the rising made by the commanding officer, as was the case in Badajoz, with General Luis Castelló (for the government), and Cordoba, with Colonel Ciriaco Cascajo (for the rebels). Sometimes, however, the commanding officer discovered that no one was following him. General José Bosch was prevented by his own troops from taking Minorca for the rebels, even though in Majorca and Ibiza they had triumphed.

Whether the rebels had to fight to gain control, or triumphed easily, their success was followed by the immediate, violent repression of those identified with the Popular Front. Members of the left-wing parties, trade unionists and freemasons were killed by rebel soldiers, Civil Guards, Carlists and Falangists, acting either on direct orders from the military commanding officer, or on their own initiative. Sometimes there was a summary trial, often not. Even where the rebels were obviously in complete control locally, such as in Navarre, rightist gangs summarily arrested political opponents, drove them out of the town or village, and shot them by the roadside. This terror was to intimidate, control and punish.

By 20 July it was obvious that, where the rising failed, the government nonetheless was not the victor. Anarchists, Socialists and Communists ruled the streets, setting up anti-fascist, revolutionary committees. As Luis Companys, President of the Catalan regional government, acknowledged to Anarchist leaders in Barcelona, 'Today, you are the masters of the city.' Except in the Republican Basque provinces of Vizcaya and Guipúzcoa, where the moderate Basque Nationalist party (PNV) dominated, revolutionary terror was directed against propertied elites, conservative politicians and the church. Except in the Basque country, Catholicism went underground in Republican Spain, as churches burned and religious images were destroyed.

The violence on both sides was sickening, sharpened by the class hatreds and cultural conflicts that had marked Spanish history for decades. The army officers who took up arms against the Republic in July 1936 bore the immediate responsibility for unleashing the whirlwind of violence. They argued, however, that the violence began not in July 1936, but in the revolution of October 1934, and that the Popular Front was the illegitimate continuation of the forces which made that revolution. This controversial claim was used in July 1936, and continuously thereafter, even when the war was over, to justify repression, reprisals and summary justice.

After the patchy fortunes of the coup, and after the first days of fighting, about 13 million Spaniards found themselves still in Republican Spain, which also contained almost all major industry and the financial reserves of the Bank of Spain. About 11 million were in territory taken by the rebels, now arrogating to themselves the title of 'nationals', or Nationalists. This territory at least had the advantage of including some of Spain's most productive wheat-growing areas.

The Spanish army on the mainland and in the Balearic and Canary Islands numbered something over 60,000 men at the time of the coup. It was organised into eight territorial divisions on the mainland, one in the Canary Islands and another in the Balearic Islands. Each of the mainland divisions had two infantry brigades, one artillery brigade and support units. Just over half were in Republican territory, the rest in Nationalist. In addition, the Army of Africa in rebel-held Morocco numbered about 25,000. It comprised five infantry battalions, six Foreign Legion banderasor battalions, 30 tabores or half-battalions of indigenous Moroccan Regulars, plus artillery, cavalry and engineers.

The Foreign Legion was the creation of José Millan Astray, a crazed militarist, and was renowned for its ruthless daring. It was a last resort for desperate men. Later in the war, Millan Astray caused a commotion when he shouted 'Death to intelligence' and the Legion's blood-curdling slogan 'Long live death' at Spain's most revered philosopher,

Miguel Unamuno, in Salamanca University. It was one of the most bizarre cultural confrontations of the war.

There were also about 80,000 men serving in the militarised law enforcement organisations - approximately 34,000 Civil Guards, over 31,000 Assault Guards and nearly 15,000 carabineers. The majority remained with the Republic - about 20,000 Civil Guards, 22,000 Assault Guards and 9,000 carabineers. On paper, therefore, the two sides seemed to have roughly equal numerical strength, with the Republic's advantage in the militarised security forces roughly balancing the Nationalists' control of the Army of Africa. Rifles, bayonets and artillery pieces were split between the two sides, although many of the rifles were pre-1914 issue, and ammunition was often in short supply.

Both sides needed to recruit and train soldiers swiftly, and both began enlisting men as soon as possible. Both sides set up very abbreviated officers' training courses, and the Nationalists used non-commissioned as well as commissioned officers. On both sides, men complained about lack of training, lack of ammunition, and old, poorly functioning equipment. But the impression of balance is misleading. Many of the conscripts on Republican territory simply left their posts in the confusion and melted away, while only a minority of officers were considered reliable. Moreover, the forces in north Africa were trained, disciplined and experienced, in stark contrast to the situation of many soldiers in mainland garrisons.

The Spanish air force was small. In late July 1936, the government had about 200 planes and the Nationalists about 100 - in both cases a mixture of reconnaissance planes (mainly Breguet XIX), fighters (mainly Nieuports) and bombers (a mixture of Fokker VHs, De Havilland Dragons and Douglas DC2s). The government could count on a battleship, three cruisers, 20 destroyers and 12 submarines, but the commanding officers of many of these had been killed by mutinous crews, who were loyal but lacked expertise. The Nationalists fared less well, with one

A Spanish government plane in action in September 1936. bombing a rebel position. The small Spanish Air Force remained loyal to the Republic. German and Italian planes were sent to Franco in Spanish Morocco within days of the military rising. By early November Soviet planes were in action to bolster the Republic. (Topham Picturepoint)

battleship, two cruisers, one destroyer and two submarines. Moreover, the government had over two-thirds of the merchant shipping.

Where new production was concerned, the Republic controlled the major arms factories, and the Nationalists the major naval dockyard at El Ferrol. All in all, considering territory, population, financial resources, industry, agriculture and armaments, the government looked better supplied for a long struggle, but had to rebuild its army, and translate the enthusiasm of the popular militias based on the left-wing parties and trade unions into military effectiveness. The rebels lacked industrial strength, but had greater military control of their (divided) territory. In these circumstances, in which neither side was assured of victory and both urgently needed arms, it was inevitable that both would look beyond Spain for foreign assistance. Within days of its outbreak, the Spanish Civil War would become an international problem.

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