The build up – 1 January – 16 July 1936


January 15

The Popular Front is founded, partly at the instance of Manual Azaña.

It was comprised of
  • Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE),
  • Communist Party of Spain (PCE),
  • Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification (POUM, independent communist)
  • Republican Left (IR), (led by Azaña)
  • Republican Union Party (UR)

The pact was also supported by:

  • Galician nationalists (PG)
  • Esquerra Repblican de Catalunya
  • The socialist union Workers’ General Union (UGT),

One of the chief policies of the PF was to free the political prisoners who had been imprisoned since the 1934 Asturian October Revolution, in part to win the anarcho-syndicalist vote.  As a result and crucially, the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) gave its tacit support.

In response, the Right formed its own National Front, which included the CEDA and the Carlists. The Falange did not officially join the coalition, though gave its support.

February 16
The Popular Front win the election. Out of an electoral roll of 13.5 million, more than 9,870,000 cast their vote. 4,654,116 (34.3%) voted for the Popular Front, and 4,503,505 (33.2%) for the National Front. The centre parties received just 526,615 (5.4%). Due to the electoral system, the Popular Front, took a disprotionate 263 seats out of the 473 in the Cortes. Alejandro Lerroux’s group was trounced, falling from 104 representatives in 1934 to just 9. In Catalonia, a different sister left-wing coalition stood called Front d’Esquerres.

The Popular Front government immediately released almost all left-wing political prisoners, includimg those involved in the 1934 rising.

The Falange only won 0.7 per cent of the votes in the election, but by July 1936 had swollen to 40,000 members.

Azaña became prime minister on 19 February, leading a government including the PSOE and the Communists.

  • Video (Spanish) about Popular Front
  • Film from Pathe “Communists march in unidentified city (Madrid?) streets celebrating victory of Popular Front candidates in the elections. Various shots of Spanish communist party members marching. At first it seems peaceful; they march in an orderly fashion behind banners with communist slogans and hammer and sickles on, many wear uniforms. The police watch, leaning on their motorbikes.”

Picking up again the policies of the first popular front of 1931-33, agrigultural reform is renewed, autonomy is restored to Cataluña, and statutes of autonomy for the Basque Country and Galicia are planned.

February 1936,

Spanish Army officers, including Franco, Emilio Mola, Juan Yague, Gonzalo Queipo de Llano and José Sanjurjo, meet and begin to plan a coup against the Popular Front government. The group was led initially by Mola. At this stage Franco was still unwilling to fully commit himself to joining any possible uprising.

The wealthy take vast sums of capital out of Spain, demonstrating the dint of their nationalism. This created an economic crisis and the value of the peseta declined, damaging trade, and leading to higher prices and tension and strikes as workers demanded higher wages.

March 14

Falange leader José Primo de Rivera is arrested in Madrid for illegal possession of firearms. Nine weeks later he was transferred to Alicante. Prison security was lax, and he was able to communicate with Nationalist conspirators by post until a new director of the prison took charge and his cell was searched. The search turned up two handguns and a hundred rounds of ammunition, so thereafter he was held incommunicado


The Falange is also banned

Tension is growing. Street fighting erupts between left- and right-wing groups.

Speech by PSOE leader Francisco Largo Caballero in Madrid. March 1936 Spartacus

The illusion that the proletarian socialist revolution can be achieved by reforming the existing state must be eliminated. There is no course but to destroy its roots. Imperceptibly, the dictatorship of the proletariat or workers’ democracy will be converted into a full democracy, without classes from which the coercive state will gradually disappear. The instrument of the dictatorship will be the Socialist party, which will exercise this dictatorship during the period of transition from one society to another and as long as the surrounding capitalist states make a strong proletarian state necessary.

May 10

Conservative leader Niceto Alcala Zamora ousted as president and replaced by Manuel Azaña. The coupsters begin plotting in earnest to overthrow the government.

July 11

Franco flies secretly from Tenerife to North Africa (Wikipedia)

At 07.15 on the morning of July 11, 1936, Cecil Bebb, a BritishMI6 officer and freelance pilot, took off from Croydon airport, London, in a Dragon Rapide aircraft, with a navigator, his friend Major Hugh Pollard, and two female companions. The flight log records that the aircraft was bound for the Canary Islands. The purpose of Bebb’s flight was to collect General Franco from the Canaries and fly him to Tetuán in Spanish Morocco, at that time a Spanish colony, where the Spanish African Army was garrisoned.

Franco was recognized by the government in Madrid as a danger to the Second Spanish Republic and had been sent to the Canaries in order to keep him away from political intrigue. Had a Spanish plane flown to the islands, the authorities would likely have been alerted, but the British aircraft attracted little or no attention. Bebb and Franco arrived in Tetuan on July 19 and the general quickly set about organising Moroccan troops to participate in the coming coup.

It is possible that British security services may have been complicit in Bebb’s flight. Certainly his companion Pollard was an MI6 agent. The flight itself was planned over lunch at Simpsons in the Strand, where Douglas Jerrold, the extreme right-wing editor of the Catholic English Review, met with the journalist Luis Bolín, London correspondent of the ABC Newspaper and later Franco’s senior press advisor. Jerrold then persuaded Pollard to join the enterprise, and Pollard in turn recruited Bebb as pilot, plus his daughter Diana, and a friend, as “cover”. It is not clear how much or to what level the British government knew about the activities of the secret services in aiding Franco.


  • Bebb himself was decorated by Franco in recognition of his services on sveral occassions.
  • In a 1983 interview for the British television documentary The Spanish Civil War, Bebb stated that he had been approached by “a gentleman from Spain, who asked me if I was prepared to go to the Canary islands to get a Rif leader to start an insurrection in Spanish Morocco. I thought ‘what a delightful idea, what a great adventure'”

See also

  • The Guardian July 2006 “Captain Cecil Bebb flew General Franco to Morocco 70 years ago, and unleashed a conflict that left a million people dead.
July 12

Lieutenant José Castillo, a leading member of the Republican military organisation Unión Militar Republicana Antifascista (UMRA) and linked with the with socialist youth is shot by Falangist gunmen in front of his house. He was a member of the UMRA, an antifascist organization for military members, and also worked with socialist youth.The incident was described by Stalinist journalist/progandist Claude Cockburn, in Reporter in Spain (1936) 

On 12th July 1936 gunmen in a touring car nosed slowly through sparse traffic under the arc lamps of a Madrid street, opened fire with a sub-machine-gun at the defenceless back of a man standing chatting on his doorstep, and roared off among the tram-lines, leaving him dying in a puddle of his young blood on the pavement.

That in a manner of speaking was the Sarajevo of the Spanish war. The young man they killed was Jose Castillo, Lieutenant of Assault Guards. I never saw Castillo, but afterwards I heard all sorts of people speak of him with a kind of urgency and heartbreak, as though it were impossible that you too should not have known, and therefore loved, so fine a young man.Spartacus
July 13
In retaliation for the murder of Castillo, just a few hours later at around 3am, UMRA members assassinate José Calvo Sotelo, leader of the right-wing opposition and the most prominent Spanish monarchist who, describing the government’s actions as Bolshevist and Anarchist, had been exhorting the army to violence. The Republican police officers, including Castillo’s close friend Fernando Condes. Paul Preston has speculated that the police officers may have acted of their own accord. Driving with him in a police car of the Assault Guard (Guardia de Asalto) police officer Luis Cuenca shot him in the back of the neck.

Wikipedia According to Hugh Thomas, although Cuenca was an “intimate friend” of Condés’, Condés mostly likely had no idea that Cuenca intended to kill Calvo Sotelo; as the officer with his name on the paperwork for Calvo Sotelo’s arrest, Condés considered killing himself; both Condés and Cuenca were soon arrested without incident). Calvo Sotelo’s dead body was given to a municipal undertaker, without informing the undertaker of who it was. Cuenca then drove to the offices of newspaper El Socialista and told them what had occurred.  In the days following, the Spanish Government undertook a routine investigation that never reached any conclusion.

The murder of Calvo Sotelo only accelerated the preparations for a military revolt that was being planned since the electoral triumph of the Popular Front in the month of February, now seizing on his death as a sign that the government has lost control and begin their uprising
July 14
People are shooting each other at funerals: Shootout between Police Assault Guard and fascist militias in the streets surrounding the cemetery of Madrid, where the burials of José Castillo and Calvo Sotelo are taking place. Four people were killed.

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