Nazi Germany and the Spanish Civil War
Continuity in Hitler’s Foreign Policy
May 15, 2001
The Spanish Civil War (1936-9) was a very important event during the tense1930s in Europe. Although it did not make World War II inevitable, it increased the likelihood of a general war a great deal. The war had a tremendous impact on Spain itself, leaving much of the state’s economic and social infrastructure in ruins and leaving thousands dead. But the war also saw involvement from other European states as both sides of the conflict – the Right-wing Nationalists and the Left-wing Republicans (a.k.a. Loyalists) – requested and ...view middle of the document...
In all these ways then, the Spanish Civil War was a major step toward World War II. In order to understand more thoroughly how the war did this, I will first will explore the background of the Spanish Civil War as well as present a general survey of the progression of the war, highlighting the role that foreign nations - and particularly Germany – played. Then I will consider the larger background of Europe in the 1930s in relation to Hitler’s broad foreign policy goals. Finally, with the context thus set, I will discuss the implications of the Spanish Civil War as a component of Hitler’s broad foreign policy goals and its ramifications for the peace of Europe.
The Spanish Civil War
Understanding the Spanish Civil War in regard to its place in a larger European context requires first understanding the war itself. The war, after all, was caused mainly by internal forces, not external ones, although external forces certainly played a part. Spain since the nineteenth century had been struggling with its fall as a great power and the ensuing social tension that this fall had caused. In the early twentieth century it was economically backward and in many ways highly traditional. Spain remained neutral in World War I, causing many both inside the former world power and abroad to see the state as internationally insignificant. Furthermore, the war exacerbated social and political division within the country, and despite modernizing efforts during the reign of Dictator Miguel Primo de Rivera (1923-30), in the words of historian Tom Buchanan, “Spain was an anachronism.”
In 1931 King Alfonso XIII, along with the entire Spanish monarchy was overthrown and a Republic was installed. Yet political tensions reemerged as liberal politicians desiring to modernize Spain encountered stiff resistance from traditional elements in society such as the military, the Catholic Church, and large landowners. By 1936 the electorate was virtually split down the middle, and the leftist Popular Front coalition (including Socialists, Communists, liberal Republicans) barely defeated rightist parties in the elections that year. After their narrow electoral victory, the Popular Front attempted to instigate more social reforms. Disappointed with rightists’ failure to gain power through political means, the army, under Generals Sanjurjo, Mola, and Franco, led a rebellion of “Nationalists” in July against the Republic. In short, the Republic failed, and as a result, both sides requested help from abroad.
The three generals, though, were actually not all in Spain at the start of the rebellion. Sanjurjo was in Portugal, and was killed in a plane crash en route back to Spain before any major military action could occur. Mola, meanwhile, had raised 6,000 troops in Pamplona in eastern Spain, but still needed Franco’s Army of Africa, which was stationed in Spanish Morocco just across the Straits of Gibraltar. The Army of Africa was Spain’s most effective...