The Spanish Civil War: a brief narrative of events
On paper, the initial advantages lay with the rebels (Franco’s Nationalists). They enjoyed the advantages of surprise and had larger forces of trained soldiers. On the republican side were a few army officers, particularly Generals Miaja and Rojo, a mass of peasants trained in military service, large sections of urban workers and miners and the industrial centres of
Madrid, Barcelona and Asturias. By the end of 1936, thanks to the ferrying of his troops from Morocco by the German Luftwaffe, Franco held rather more than half of Spain, mostly in the south and west, with his headquarters at Burgos. The republican government, now based in Valencia, held all eastern and south-eastern Spain, Madrid and most of the industrial northern coastline (Map 2: Military Campaigns of the Spanish Civil War).
In November 1936, Germany and Italy officially recognised Franco’s government and clearly expected a speedy victory. But in early 1937, General Miaja speedily organised the defence of Madrid and among the strong reinforcements sent to him was the first International Brigade. In March 1937 came the first trial of strength between the major international contingents. Italian troops launched an attack on Guadalajara as part of Franco’s attempt to capture Madrid and were decisively defeated by the International Brigade. Checked at Madrid, Franco turned his attention to the northern regions and by July had captured the Basque capital of Bilbao. In October 1937, the republican government (now led by Don Juan Negrin) moved to Barcelona. In December, it defeated the Nationalists at
Teruel, where rebel advances had threatened to cut government-held territory in half (Map 2: Military Campaigns of the Spanish Civil War).
Thus, by the end of 1937, a stalemate had been reached. The Nationalists had taken Bilbao but not Madrid, and they had lost the key point of Teruel.
Two decisive factors broke the deadlock in 1938. The first of these was the massive amount of military aid supplied to the Nationalists by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany (in defiance of all international agreements about non-intervention). These arrived by way of Portugal, ruled at this time by the dictator Salazar, who was sympathetic to Franco. The second factor was the emergence of internal dissention on the republican side, in particular between communists and
anarchists, about how best to pursue the war. In the spring of 1938, Franco, with his new supplies, was strong enough to renew his advance. The military turning point was the retaking of Teruel by the nationalists, enabling them to drive eastwards to the sea and cut government-held territory in half. Franco then turned his attention to Madrid and Barcelona, the last outposts of republican resistance. He resorted to a policy of
bombing civilians and ignored all foreign protest against it. Both cities, despite repeated bombing, held out until early 1939. At last Barcelona fell in January and Madrid at the end of March. These events marked the end of the war and victory for Franco and the Nationalists.