Spanish Civil War – July 1936

July 17

The uprising by the Army of Africa supported by the Spanish Foreign Legion begins in Morocco. The coup is intially led by General Sanjurjo, but he dies three days later in a plane crash. (see below)

Loyal police troops from the Guardia Civil and Guardia de Asalto hold the cities Tetouan and Larache, but come under heavy fire from the rebels. General Franco orders the killing of his nephew, a major in Tetuán, for staying loyal to the government. By late evening, all of Spanish Morocco is in the hands of the rebels.

From his base in the Canary Islands, Franco declares a “state of war” for all of Spain. Back in Madrid, republican Prime Minister Santiago Casares Quiroga spends the whole day telephoning different regional military administrations desperately trying to clarify the situation.Pamplona, Zaragoza, Oviedo, Salamanca, Ávila, Segovia, and Cadiz have  already fallen to the rebels.

Francisco Franco, speech (17th July 1936) Spartacus

Spaniards! The nation calls to her defense all those of you who hear the holy name of Spain, those in the ranks of the Army and Navy who have made a profession of faith in the service of the Motherland, all those who swore to defend her to the death against her enemies. The situation in Spain grows more critical every day; anarchy reigns in most of the countryside and towns; government-appointed authorities encourage revolts, when they do not actually lead them; murderers use pistols and machine guns to settle their differences and to treacherously assassinate innocent people, while the public authorities fail to impose law and order. Revolutionary strikes of all kinds paralyze the life of the nation, destroying its sources of wealth and creating hunger, forcing working men to the point of desperation. The most savage attacks are made upon national monuments and artistic treasures by revolutionary hordes who obey the orders of foreign governments, with the complicity and negligence of local authorities. The most serious crimes are committed in the cities and countryside, while the forces that should defend public order remain in their barracks, bound by blind obedience to those governing authorities that are intent on dishonoring them. The Army, Navy, and other armed forces are the target of the most obscene and slanderous attacks, which are carried out by the very people who should be protecting their prestige. Meanwhile, martial law is imposed to gag the nation, to hide what is happening in its towns and cities, and to imprison alleged political opponents.

A note on the Spanish army in 1936

The Spanish Army was divided into two distinct forces: The Peninsular Army and the Army of Africa. The coupsters distrusted the former because many of its officers were pro-Republican, and considered it as poor-trained and ill-equipped. The Army of Africa was seen as a superior fighting force, formed by the Spanish Army units and the Spanish Foriegn Legion based in Morocco with a force of 34,047 men. The Peninsular Army was staffed by 8,851 officers and 112,228 men, and at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War over 40,000 men were on leave. It is estimated that 4,660 officers and 19,000 men joined the Nationalist forces in the struggle with the Republicans. Of the remaining 4,191 officers, around 2,000 supported the Popular Front government. Spartacus

18 July

The rebels now control about a third of Spain.

This is how The Times reported the attempted coup by the “turncoat general” Civil war in Spain begins

And The Guardian: Spanish republic fighting grave revolt

· “The Situation in Control” – Government claim
· Rebels still hold Seville wirless station
· British Destroyers Stand by

A military, Monarchist and Fascist revolt on a large scale began in Spanish Morocco during the night of Friday-Saturday, and in a number of towns in Spain itself, as well as in the Canaries and the Balearic Islands. News from Spain is heavily censored, but it is evident from the messages that were being allowed to come through last night that the threat to the Republic has been-and may still be-very grave.

President Manuel Azaña appoints Diego Martinez Barrio as prime minister and asks him to negotiate with the rebels. Barrio contacted General Mola offering him the post of Minister of War in the government. Mola unsuprisingly refused, and Azaña realizing that the coupsters were unwilling to compromise, removed Martinez Barrio,  replacing him with José Giral, who then gave orders for arms to be distributed to left-wing organizations that opposed the military uprising.

19 July

On the Rebel side: Franco flies from the Canary Islands to Tetuán and takes command of the army in Africa. General Emilio Mola issued his proclamation of revolt in Navarra.

On the Republican side: Casares Quiroga resigns as head of the Republican government. The government’s paralysis reduced it to issuing desperate assurances of public order even as crowds gathered in the Puerta del Sol calling for the distribution of arms to the workers. After a failed attempt by Diego Martínez Barrio, Professor Jose Giral (of the Republican Party) forms a government, and orders arms to be handed out to the workers organisations.

The important city of Sevilla falls to the Rebels under General Queipo de Llano who crushes the restistance by local police and a poorly armed workers’ militia. Queipo de Llano’s role in capture of the city entered the Pantheon of Francoist mythology. Initially, he claimed that he had seized control of the city with just 200 men (and later went on to claim in a radio interview that he had done so with only 15 soldiers). This account of military brilliance became the accepted version of events, until recent research Paul Preston has shown that the successful capture of the city was the result of careful planning and the use of at least 4,000 nationalist troops.

Red soldiers, lower you arms. The Caudillo forgives and redeems. Follow the example of those comrades before you who have joined our ranks. Only like that will you achieve victory. Happiness in your homes and peace in your souls. Queipo de Llano’s radio address on Radio Sevilla to Republican soldiers in Seville

Barcelona sees heavy fighting breaks out between workers militias (principally the CNT), the police, and loyal troops on one side and around 12,000 rebel soldiers on the other.

The defeat of the military coup in Barcelona

Writers such as Jackson, Mitchell, Esenwein and Shubert, and Preston stress the initiatives taken by the anarchist CNT and independent Marxist POUM militias in seizing arms and defeating what was in any case a half-hearted revolt. Sources quoted in Fraser’s innovative oral history, Blood of Spain, point to a mutual dependency between civilian resistance and security forces loyal to the Republic. But whatever the case, the loyal Assault and Civil Guards in Barcelona outnumbered the insurgents; and the workers seized arms the government had refused to distribute. Rebel general Goded, who had flown into this humiliating situation from Majorca, lacked the military power base for a successful coup. But his defeat had a much wider significance for, as Paul Preston has observed, with Barcelona secure for the Republic, so was Catalonia. Catalonia’s resources would do much to sustain the Republican war effort. The Catalan historian Albert Balcells underlines the weakness of Carlism and the Falange in Catalonia, and the opposition to the coup by the Catalan Regional League (Lliga). Therefore, the ‘political constituency’ in Catalonia was deeply unsympathetic to the military revolt.

Historic speech by La Pasionaria in Madrid on July 18th ¡No Pasarán! (complete speech here

Workers! Farmers! Anti-fascists! Spanish Patriots! Confronted with the fascist military uprising, all must rise to their feet, to defend the Republic, to defend the people’s freedoms as well as their achievements towards democracy!

Through the statements by the government and the Popular Front (parties), the people understand the graveness of the moment. In Morroco, as well as in the Canary Islands, the workers are battling, united with the forces still loyal to the Republic, against the uprising militants and fascists.

The attempted coup in Madrid (Wikipedia) Government forces and the workers militias defeat the military 18-20th July

In Madrid, the Republican government was unsure of what to do. It wanted to put down the coup, but was unsure if it could trust the armed forces and did not want to arm the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) and Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT) trade unions and potentially accelerate the ongoing Spanish revolution. On 18 July, the government sent units of the Guardia Civil to Seville to put down the rebellion there. However, on reaching the city the guardias defected to the insurgents. On 19 July Santiago Casares Quiroga resigned as Prime Minister, to be succeeded by Diego Martinez Barrio. He tried to arrange a truce with the insurgent general Emilio Mola by telephone, but Mola refused the offer and Martinez Barrio was ousted as Prime Minister by José Giral. Giral agreed to arm the trade unionists in defence of the Republic, and had 60,000 rifles delivered to the CNT and UGT headquarters, although only 5,000 were in working order. In a radio broadcast on the 18th, the communist leader Dolores Ibarruri coined the famous slogan ¡No pasarán! (“They shall not pass”), urging resistance against the coup. The slogan was to become synonymous with the defence of Madrid and the Republican cause in general.At the same time, General Fanjul, commander of the military garrison based in Montaña barracks in Madrid, was preparing to launch the military rebellion in the city. However, when he tried to march out of the barracks, his 2,500 troops were forced back inside the compound by hostile crowds and armed trade unionists. On the 20th, the barracks was stormed by a mixture of workers and asaltos (“assault guards”, an urban police force) loyal to the government (perhaps 10,000 fighters in total). The fighting was chaotic, and on several occasions some soldiers within the barracks indicated their willingness to surrender. The rebels then immediately fire heavy machine guns and grenades into the masses, leaving many wounded or dead

Eventually the barracks fell when the asaltos brought up a 75 mm field gun to bombard the complex and its gate was opened by a sapper sergeant sympathetic to the Republican side. The sergeant was killed by one of his officers, but his action allowed the Republicans to breach the walls. The crowd storms the Barracks and massacres the defenders. General Fanjul is among the few captured alive.

July 20

The coup is defeated in Madrid (see above). Beginning of the Siege of the Alcázar in Toledo.

After heavy resistance, especially at the Air Base, the rebels take Mallorca

Barcelona: The combined forces of the workers, police and loyal troops defeat the military in a dramatic two-day barricade fight. See Barcelona in the Civil War

Prime Minister Giral appeals to the French Socialist Government for arms. Meanwhile, Franco sends emissaries to Mussolini and Hitler asking for military aid and technical assistance.

Franco begins, with the aid of a small group of 22 mainly German Junkers Ju 52 planes, to air bridge his Army of Africa to Seville, where his troops helped to ensure the rebel control of the city.

The official leader of the uprising, General Sanjurjo is killed in an air accident in a small aircraft bringing him back to Spain from his exile in Portugal.  He chose to fly in a small airplane, and he insisted, against the advice of the pilot, on taking all of his possessions with him. Ansaldo warned him that the load was too heavy, but Sanjurjo retorted:

I need to wear proper clothes as the new caudillo of Spain.

Ironically, Sanjurjo insisted on flying in Ansaldo’s plane rather than a larger airplane that was available: an 8-passenger de Havilland Dragon Rapide, the same model which had transported Franco from the Canary Islands to Morocco. Sanjurjo apparently preferred the drama of flying with a “daring aviator”. Incidently, the “daring” pilot survived the crash, , despite suffering extensive injuries.

Sanjurjo had not trusted the cagey Franco very much saying: “With or without Frankie-boy we will go ahead to rescue Spain! Wikipedia

July 21

The insurgents now control of the Spanish Morocco, the Canary Islands, the Balearics (except for Menorca), mainland Spain north of the Sierra de Guadarrama and the Río Ebro (except for Asturias, Cantabria, the north of the País Vasco (Basque Country), and Catalonia, which have all been held by the Republic). The most important cities taken by the coupsters are Sevilla and Zaragoza, but most of the large cities including Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Malaga and Bilbao are in Republican hands.

Toledo: After fiece street battles in Madrid and surroundings, the insurgent force made up of some 1000 Civil and Assault Guards, Falangists and a handful of infantry cadets, under the leadership of Colonel Moscardo, retreat into the Alcázar de Toledo, a stone fortress set on high ground overlooking the Tagus River and the city. They take with them their own families, plus a few hundred women and children as hostages, most of them families of well known leftists. The stage is set for the famous siege.

Photographs of the siege and aftermath (photo sometime in August)

Many famous buildings, some of the finest examples of architecture in Spain, have been reduced to masses of smoking ruins in the civil war now raging throughout the country. Seized at the outbreak of the revolution by the insurgents, the buildings have been mercilessly bombarded by Government forces. The famous Alcazar in Toledo, where the rebels held out for days against the Government, was razed to the ground. Photo shows Government militia closing in on rebels barricaded in the ruins of the Alcazar in Toledo.”

The Siege

The garrison was mainly drawn from the local Guardia Civil and Falange, and was commanded by the Commandant of the Academy, Colonel Jose Moscardo. For two months the defenders held out against the Republican Militia units besieging them; they were finally relieved when troops from the Army of Africa, led by Colonel Jose Varela, stormed Toledo. The raising of the siege of the Alcazar did much to enhance General Franco’s reputation, but the diversion of Varela’s troops from the advance on Madrid gave the capital’s defenders further time to prepare their defences.

El Ferrol, the main naval base in the Northwest of Spain, surrenders to the Nationalists. As a result the Nationalists gained a battleship, Espana, two cruisers, Republica and Almirante Cervera (with another two, Baleares and Canarias, under construction), and a destroyer, Velasco. Because of the outbreak of the war and due to fear of social unrest in the naval station, the Foreign Office in London, organized a ship to repatriate all British citizens from the El Ferrol area.

Comité de Milicias Antifascistas, dominated by the CNT-FAI, is created in Barcelona, the effective “government” in the city.

July 22

The Spanish navy and air force have remained loyal to the government.

Thanks to the initiative of noncommissioned officer Benjamin Balboa, most of the Navy stayed loyal to the Republic. He was on duty in the central military radio station. As soon as he got notice of the uprising he informed the Naval Ministry and arrested his commanding officer, Captain Castor Ibáñez, then spent the night informing navy ships about the uprising. The sailors on the ships formed councils and gained control of the ships, despite heavy resistance from the officers. Spain lost three quarters of its navy officers that night, but the Navy was saved for the Republic. Wikipedia

The officers of the Spanish Air Force, popularly known as “La Gloriosa” (The Glorious One) were traditionally staunchly Republican in 1936, but the air force has only a few obsolete planes.

Fuerzas Aéreas de la República Española-FARE

There was great ineptitude and lack of decision-making in the command structure of the FARE throughout the Civil War. Starting from the crucial first weeks of the conflict in July 1936, the rebel side was able to undertake a massive airlift of troops from Spanish Morocco using mostly the slow Ju 52, without any Spanish Republican Air Force interference. This was the world’s first long-range combat airlift and the FARE failed to check it

Vallehermoso in La Gomera, a village of 4,000 was the last place in the Canary Islands to fall to the rebels. Police Officer Francisco Mas García organized the hopeless resistance in a desperate battle for the town lasting several hours. The councilor, the police officers and the leader of the local workers’ council were condemned to death. Wikipedia Such a pattern was repeated across Spain as villages fell to the fascists, even when as in many cases, they offered no resistance.

The Nationalists (insurgents) capture Alto de Leon to the Northwest of Madrid.

July 23

The Nationalists declare a government of sorts in the form of the Junta de Defensa Nacional, which meets for the first time in Burgos.

Alicante is now in Republican hands.

July 24

French aid starts to reach the Republic, in the form of a handful of obsolete aircraft for the Spanish Republican Air Force, but the very fact that France seems willing to help is a huge morale booster for the supporters of the Republic.

The legendary Durruti Column, formed by around three thousand men, mostly CNT workers, led by Buenaventura Durruti is the first volunteer militia to leave Barcelona. It sets off from Diagonal with the aim of taking back Zaragoza, but ends up establishing the Aragon front, 20-30 kilometres from the city. Several days later, the Durruti Column fought and won its first battle in Caspe, 100 kilometers southeast of Zaragoza, against a small group of militiamen fighting fascists. When they left Barcelona there were about 2,500 people in the column but by the time they reached the gates of Zaragoza, this had swelled to 6,000. The advance stopped near the city banks because Colonel Villalba, the leader of all the republican forces, convinced Durruti that if he had won back Zaragoza, he may have been isolated.

The Stalinist Partit Socialista Unificat de Catalunya (PSUC) is founded in Barcelona.

July 25

The Nationalists capture the key Somosierra Pass to the north of Madrid.

French planes arrive in Barcelona for the Republic.

The COMINTERN agree to send volunteers and funds to aid the Republic.


On June 21, 1936, i.e. three days later the revolt started, the meeting of ECCI Secretariate devoted to the situation in Spain was held. On July 23 during the next ECCI meeting G.Dimitrov
warned that the revolt could hardly be supposed and soon suggested that they be created army as a “state military organization” The next day in his letter to J.D´?az and Luis (V.Codavilla) Dimitrov insisted on avoiding of any measures which could undermine unity of the National Front in its struggle against rebels. For this purpose he considered it necessary to do the following: “As long as it possible to do without direct participation of Communists in the government for this will make it easier to safeguarding the unity of the National Front. To participate in the government only as a last resort, if it is extremely necessary for the purpose of the revolt supression”.

The solutions of Trade-Union International (Profintern) Bureau hold in Prague on July 26 witnessed to the effect that hopes for fast revolt suppression were hardly probable. The decision was taken that Profintern would undertake to initiate assistance to the Republic. It was also determined to establish the fund of 1 milliard of francs and the most part of the sum should be
collected by the USSR Trade Unions. Those means were to be transferred to Jos´e D´?az, Dolores Ibarruri, M.Torez, P.Togliatti, F.Largo Caballero i.e. to two leaders of the Spanish Communist Party, two members of ECCI and one socialist. At the same meeting the solution was accepted to create one, or in case of necessity, several brigades of foreign volunteers. At first, it was planned to recruit five thousand of soldiers supplied by necessary arms. S.A´ lvarez who was of immediate creators of the Republican army supposed that the decision layed the basis of the process of international brigades formation

See also

Meanwhile, Adolf Hitler agrees to send military aid to the Nationalists after negotiating with representatives sent to Berlin by General Franco.

Germany was not involved intially in the coup

Like Mola, General Franco had cabled the German Foreign Ministry but, similarly rebuffed, cunningly approached the Nazi Party leadership through some German business contacts. Franco’s request reached Hitler on 25 July 1 936. Having cogitated for two hours, the Führer agreed to help lift the blockade on the Army of Africa – on grounds both strategic (for example, to undermine French security) and ideological (to exorcize the spectre of communism and anarchy). Thus, ten days after the rising had begun in Morocco, on 27 July German Junkers JU52 aircraft began their airlift of Spanish and Moorish troops to the peninsula. Recent scholarship demonstrates that Hitler’s decision to help the Nationalists had not been planned in advance.

Ribbentrop recalled Hitler’s fears in 1936

Germany could not tolerate a Communist Spain under any circumstances. As a National Socialist [Hitler] had the obligation to do everything to prevent that eventuality . . . If a Communist Spain actually does emerge, in view of the current situation in France the Bolshevisation of that country is only a matter of a short time and then Germany can ‘pack up’ . Hemmed in between the powerful Soviet bloc in the East and a strong Franco-Spanish communist bloc in the West we could hardly do anything, if Moscow decides to act against Germany.

95 priests are killed on 25 July 1936, feast day of St James, patron saint of Spain

The Splintering of Spain Chris Ealham, Michael Richards

The Spanish civil war was the occasion of the greatest anticlerical bloodletting Europe has ever seen. This extraordinary outpouring of violence claimed the lives of 4,184 priests and seminarians, among them twelve bishops, 2,365 monks and brothers and 283 religious sisters.1 In recent years the Catholic Church has beatified hundreds of the victims, 233 of them on 11 March 2001. This spectacular ceremony, the largest single number of beatifications in the church’s history, emphasised the scale of the violence, which began immediately after the generals’ coup on 17–18 July 1936. In the remaining days of July, 861 priests and religious lost their lives, 95 of them on 25 July, feast day of St James, patron saint of Spain. August took the lives of a further 2,077 clerical victims, killed at an average of nearly seventy a day. After a scant two months of civil war, 3,400 priests, monks and nuns had been murdered.

July 28

First lot of German and Italian planes arrive to aid the Nationalist side. In the world’s first major military airlift, German and Italian planes transport troops from Morocco to Spain, bypassing the naval blockade.

The Manchester Guardian (30th July 1936)

General Franco, the rebel Spanish leader, in an interview with a Press Association correspondent at his headquarters in Tetuan, made what appears to be virtually an appeal for international support, and also indicated the possibility of introducing large numbers of Riffs into Spain to fight against the Spanish Government.

He indicated that the revolutionaries had plenty of money, but did not explain where it came from. He adopted the revolutionaries’ favourite argument that time is of little consequence to them, and that all they have to do is to hold on until the Government’s funds and supplies are exhausted. He said:

‘It is not merely a national question, it is internnational. Surely Great Britain, Germany, and Italy must be in sympathy with our aims. I am absolutely disinterested personally. As long as the uprising benefits Spain by stamping out Communism I am content, but I have no wish to inflict unnecessary hardships. After all they are not all Communists.

‘If all goes well I shall establish my first headquarters at Seville. We are not short of money, but the danger lies in what help the Spanish Government may receive from Moscow and the Popular Front Government in France. On that depends how long the Government forces can hold out.

‘The Riffs, too, are anxious to help us. They have made representations asking to be allowed to form regiments of their own under my officers and go and fight against the Communists. The Foreign Legion, both Spanish and native, is entirely faithful to me.’

General Franco admitted his disappointment at the collapse of the rising in the navy, but went on:

‘Without the officers the men can do little. They are ignorant and have no idea of navigation. Fuel and food are short. It is only a matter of time until they finally surrender to us.’

The correspondent asked about the bombing of the Spanish warship Jaime I, at the entrance of Tangier harbour, when bombs fell close to a British steamer and caused alarm in Tangier. The General appeared to be upset. ‘The pilot responsible’, he stated, ‘was sent for and I severely reprimanded him. He had been looking for the boat and missed it until it was nearing Tangier harbour. Then he lost his head and dropped his bombs against my express order.’

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