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Study Notes

International involvement in the Spanish Civil War


Last updated 31 Jul 2018

Western democracies such as Britain and France were reluctant to become involved in the Spanish Civil War for fear that they may escalate or broaden the conflict. Fascist Germany and Italy, however, were quick to aid the Nationalist side and played a key part in the defeat of the Republicans.

Non-intervention Pact (August 1936)

Leading European leaders met in London in August 1936 to sign a non-intervention pact regarding foreign involvement in the Civil War. The Pact was signed by 30 nations including Britain, France, the Soviet Union, Germany and Italy. France, governed at the time by a left-wing Popular Front government, hoped that non-intervention would benefit the Republican side who had territorial and numerical advantages over the Nationalists at the start of the war. However, non-intervention actually helped the Nationalists as Germany and Italy failed to honour the agreement, sending military aid to Francisco Franco's forces.

The role of Germany and Italy

Germany and Italy's involvement was crucial in allowing the Nationalists to gain a foothold in the Civil War after Emilio Mola's failed military coup. By July 1936, Hitler had sent 6,000 rifles, nearly 500 machine guns and 10,000 grenades over to the Nationalists. The Condor Legion of the Luftwaffe was also authorised to support the Nationalists and would commit one of the worst atrocities of the Civil war in April 1937 with the bombing of Guernica. Mussolini provided 130 aircraft, 12,000 machine guns and 2,500 tonnes of explosives as well as sending over 75,000 Blackshirt volunteers. The presence of foreign troops from Italy helped to counter the influence of the 35,000 volunteers from the International Brigades who fought for the Republicans.

International Brigades

The International Brigades were made up of volunteers who came to Spain from all over the world to support the Republicans. Many came in order to stop the spread of fascism in Europe, others came to support the rise of communism or socialism. The arrival of the first batch of International Brigades was crucial to the Republican's defence of Madrid in November 1936, however, in general volunteers from the International Brigades were much less skilled and experienced than Nationalist soldiers.

The Soviet Union

Stalin's Soviet Union also broke the Non-intervention Pact by sending large amounts of aid to the Popular Army. Over 1,000 tonnes of ammunition and 500 tonnes of military hardware were sent to the Republicans in October 1936 which also helped their defence of Madrid. In addition, Soviet planes used by the Republicans out-performed the German aircraft used by the Nationalists at the start of the war. However, Soviet support came at a huge economic and political cost for the Republicans. Whilst the Nationalists were able to pay for their military aid using long-term loans, Stalin demanded immediate payment for any equipment which caused Spain's gold reserves to decline rapidly. Moreover, it return for military support, the Soviet Union demanded that the communists within the Republican side were given important roles within the Popular Front government. This alienated many left-wing Spaniards as Trotskyists from the POUM and anarchists from the CNT militias were less willing to fight for an authoritarian, communist-dominated government.

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