The Spanish Civil War

The_International_Brigade_during_the_Spanish_Civil_War,_December_1936_-_January_1937_HU71509There were many conflicts throughout European History. An often overlooked on is the Spanish civil war as it fell between the First World War and the Second World War. This article takes a brief look at the conflict and the reasons why it ended the way it did.

The Spanish civil war was a conflict that took place between 1936 and 1939. The conflict is often seen as a war between right wing and left wing ideologies although this may be a simplified surface view due to Spain’s recent history at the time which included several military dictatorships.

The conflict started when a number of Generals declared opposition to the republican government. Some of these had been involved in previous political conflicts within Spain. The military dictators that I mentioned above still had support and many of the officers in the Spanish army sided with the nationalist forces when the Spanish civil war broke out. One of the leading figures in the initial uprising was General Franco who would become the leader of the Spanish government after the Spanish civil war had ended.

The uprising was led largely from the south of the Spanish territories. Notably, the uprising centred in Spain where it was set to start slightly earlier than the uprisings on the mainland. This was in part due to the rebellious generals mainly commanding forces on the Spanish islands in the Mediterranean and in the Spanish territory of Morocco. While the uprising drew a large amount of the officer corps of the Spanish military the forces that backed either side at the outset of the Spanish civil war were relatively even with the Republican government forces controlling a slight majority.

The equipment that was seized led to the nationalists gaining the most advanced equipment in the Spanish forces. The two best ships and also the majority of the modern tanks although there were less than 20 of these to start off with. The majority of Spanish equipment was outdated compared to the standards of the time although both sides were in effect using comparative equipment as they drew from the same sources.

The initial rebellion resulted in a large amount of land going to the nationalist forces in the first couple of months. The west of mainland Spain and the territories to the south of the mainland were all in the rebels’ hands. The government managed to retain control over the major urban centres on the whole. This was not particularly surprising as this is where their main political support had come from.

When the Spanish civil war broke out there were several different political groups in the country who aligned with each side. On the whole, the Catholics and the fascist groups joined the nationalist forces while the left-leaning groups moved to support the government. One of the groups which became important was the anarchists. The anarchists did not support the government ideologically but they did join forces with them. This was an alliance of convenience as they were strongly opposed to the nationalist forces.

Internationally there were mixed reactions to the outbreak of the Spanish civil war. The League of Nations tried to set up a non-interference pact which was joined by many of the nations especially those who had been hard hit by the First World War. This has been suggested to be a fear of the Spanish civil war leading to the outbreak of a second world war which none of the nations of Europe could afford at that time. While there were many nations who signed up to the non-intervention pact the League of Nations had very little clout and each individual country focused on its own actions. Notably, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, as well as fascist Italy, involved themselves in the war quite heavily. Other nations such as France and the UK officially did not intervene although many volunteers did come from these countries even though in the case of Britain it was illegal. France actively aided the republican government near the end of the conflict. This was a small amount of aid in planes and was kept relatively quiet.

The nations that actively declared involvement were the Soviet Union and Mexico on the side of the republican government; and, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy on the side of the nationalists. Portugal also supported the Nationalist side.

The Soviet support sent to the Republican forces was larger than that sent by the Nazi’s in terms of material. The issue was that the small arms and artillery pieces were often out of date although the aircraft and tanks were modern. The Soviet Union also sent relatively few military personnel to the Spanish civil war. Mexico diplomatically held itself as the place where refugees from the conflict could escape to. They also sent an amount of small arms and ammunition as well as loaning some money.

The support for the nationalist side in the Spanish civil war came from both Nazi Germany and Italy. Hitler didn’t want the Second World War to break out this early as he was not prepared and also needed to test the new military equipment that Germany had produced. The infamous Stuka dive bomber and the aerial bombardment tactics that were used by the Nazi’s in their blitzkrieg operations were tested during this conflict. The tanks and tactics were also tested. One of the worst atrocities carried out in the conflict was at Guernica where the Condor legion (the name for the Nazi forces fighting in the Spanish civil war) killed several hundred civilians with a sustained bombing. The Italians sent more troops to the conflict than the Germans did. This was partly because of the political and military dynamics in the western Mediterranean. The amount of tanks and aircraft sent to the nationalist forces equalled that of the amount sent by Nazi Germany but they also sent large amounts of small arms and ammunition as well as a greater number of troops.

Both sides in the conflict conscripted troops from the local populations but the Republicans conscripted more heavily. The support that had been sent from Italy and Germany in the form of manpower was not able to be contracted though and by the end of the conflict the nationalist forces were around 10% larger than those of the republicans.

Militarily the Spanish civil war was hard fought with the total casualties reaching around 500,000 by the end of the conflict. This number is an estimate and does not include those killed by executions and other similar atrocities as there is little to no data on large amounts of those killed by the winning side. The large amount of executions is indicative of the political and ideological nature of the conflict or at least the ideologies that underlay the conflict.

The Nationalist forces increased the land they had grabbed in the opening months of the conflict slowly pushing the republicans into the South east of the Iberian Peninsula. The republicans were defeated in early 1939 which led to Franco ruling over nationalist Spain until his death in 1975.

There are many reasons for the outcome of the conflict. One of the likely reasons that the conflict went against the republican forces was the unity of the people that were on its side. The nationalist forces were united with very little difference in their ideologies. The forces were all conservatives. While there were some with stronger nationalist views and further right ideologies they were focused on their main ideology of having a conservative government. The republican forces were, however, quite divided. As I have already mentioned they were in an alliance of convenience with anarchist groups. The ideologies of the state government did not fit with the ideology of the capitalists. The communists on the ranks of the republican forces were looked down on and politically smeared by their erstwhile allies within the more centrist elements of the Republican government that still existed. The only focus of the republican side was to fight against Franco’s nationalist forces. They did not have a more overall unifying purpose internally. When you add to this the support that was given from across the world the support for the republican side of the conflict was a patchwork and not all from the same place. While both Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy had sent organised troops with the latest weapons of war the Soviet Union only supported the republicans with equipment and relatively few military personnel. When you add in the difficulties that this support had in arriving in Spain and the poor nature of large amounts of the equipment it can be seen that the nationalists had a clear advantage from a purely hardware perspective. The attitude towards the communists amongst the centrist and centre-left elements was likely a large part of the reason why this pact never truly worked.

The Spanish Civil war was won by the nationalist forces under General Franco who, as mentioned above ruled Spain for over 35 years after they won the conflict. The conflict was also the scene of many atrocities. Those that were committed by the nationalist forces were often covered up lest the government post Spanish civil war were made to look bad. The amount of people executed by the nationalists is disputed although it seems to be a minimum of around 150,000 people. When this is added to the nearly half a million people who fled Spain during and after the war the impact of the conflict can clearly be seen. The Spanish civil war is much like any of the civil wars that we see in the disastrous outcome especially in death toll and to the national psyche. This can be compared to the effects of the English civil war or that of the US.


Early years of the Nazi Party

The Nazi Party in Germany did not appear out of nowhere. They grew during the interwar years and had their beginning not long after the first world war and relatively soon after the signing of the treaty of Versailles. Here are some key points of that rise.

Early years of the Nazi party

The rise of the Nazi party from 1920 to 1933.

The Freikorps were an important movement that came about after the demobilisation of the Germany military after the First World War.

  • They were largely made up of the officer class who had been made redundant by the treaty of Versailles. This group felt disenfranchised and were proud of their military traditions.
  • As with many militaries, they liked the structure that they had been part of and liked the Kaiser and his way of running the country.
  • Due to their liking of the previous system under the Kaiser, and the feeling that they wanted to feel needed again as well as wanting a strong Germany with a strong military, they hoped to return the Kaiser to power and along with it the strong military that they were part of.

Early years of the Nazi party  1920-1933  Freikorps 	made up largely of the officer class who had been made redundant by the treaty of Versailles 	liked the Kaiser and his ways 	hoped to bring back the Kaiser and the power of his army  Kapp Putsch 	1920 	Dr Kapp led an attempted Putsch 	Eberts government was unable to be strong enough to put it down 	Only put down by a German workers strike  Munich Putsch 	November 1923 	attempted rebellion by the early nazis 	had been an economic crisis in bavaria 	General ludendorf and Hitler led the Munich beer hall Putsch 	both were arrested 	stresserman was already starting to put things right 	Hitler had impressed the judges and he got off lightly 	wrote his book in prison (Mein Kampf translated to my struggle)   Nazi points 	25 point program 	one of the chief points was the destruction fo the treaty of Versailles  	Anschluss 	Strong central government  	Nazis had started as the German workers party 	Under Hitler it became the National Socialist workers party Nazis for short 	put forward nationalist views 	looked for scapegoats 	blamed allies, Eberts government, communists and Jews 	SA was founded a private army 	Hitler watched the communists to see how they worked 	communists trained members young 	Nazi party enlarged the SA and established the SS these were Hitlers personal troops. 	Brought in Goebbels to look after the use of propaganda 	in 1925 the Nazis had 32 seats (5% of the Reichstag) 	in 1928 their proportion dropped by two percent as stresserman had been so successful. 	Wall street crash and death of stresserman in 1929  	Germany was badly affected 	It had to repay loans sooner and thus became bankrupt. 	Unemployment rose 	reparations were suspended 	Under the Weimar constitution it was impossible for the government to take decisive actions 	young plan suspended 	Nazi party offered strength and the destruction of the treaty of Versailles 	reunite all Germans and make Germany big again 	Nazis offer employment in the SA 	this gave them a sense of pride 	no shortage of men in the SA ex-servicemen got jobs 	It had risen to 107 seats and then nearly doubled again 	by 1932 the Nazi party had become the biggest single party 	main enemy was the communists 	in business and industry there was fear of communism 	middle classes supported the Nazis to stop inflationThe Kapp Putsch

  • The Kapp Putsch happened in 1920.
  • The Putsch was lead by Dr. Kapp.
  • As the government, led by Ebert, was not strong enough the Putsch was unable to be put down.
  • The Putsch was eventually ended by a strike from the German workers which halted production.

The Munich Putsch

  • The Munich Putsch took place in November 1923.
  • This was an attempted rebellion by the early nazis before the party became what we know from history today.
  • There had been an economic crisis in Bavaria where the Putsch took place which had led to anger at the government.
  • General Ludendorff and Hitler led the Munich beer hall Putsch. The Putsch was known as the beer hall Putsch as that is where it had started.
  • Both of them were arrested when the Putsch was put down.
  • Stressermann was already starting to resolve some of the issues that had led to the unrest and also to the Putsch.
  • Hitler had impressed the judges when he was taken to court. Because of this, the judges gave him a light sentence as they sympathised with him.
  • It was while Hitler was in prison for this Putsch that he wrote Mein Kampf which set out his ideas and also why he had come to those conclusions.


The Nazi’s 25 points

  • The Nazi’s moved forward to formulate a plan of action which became their 25 point program.
  • One of the chief points was the destruction fo the treaty of Versailles which was hated by a lot of Germans. It was especially hated by those who had been in the military such as Hitler and members of the various Freikorps.
  • The idea of Anschluss was put forward which was a move to connect Austria and Germany and a start to bringing the Germanic peoples together as one nation.
  • The 25 points proposed a strong central government. This was born out of the idea that the current German Weimar republic was weak and under it Germany was suffering. It harked back to the days under the Kaiser that were seen as a great period for Germans.

Other important points to consider.

  • The Nazis had started as the German Workers Party. There was a general move across Europe for representation of workers which World War One had catalysed. This can be seen in the Russian revolution and the move for women’s rights in the UK.
  • Under Hitler, it became the National Socialist workers party. This change was to reflect some of the opinions that Hitler was putting forward that had their roots in Socialism. Nazis is short for this as it is derived from the Party name, as an acronym, in German.
  • They put forward nationalist views. The idea of Nationalism had been prevalent in Europe since the days of the French revolution over 100 years previously.
  • They looked for scapegoats. As there was a lot of anger and they didn’t believe that Germany could have lost like it did they believed someone was to blame for the state of the country and why they lost the First World War
  • They then blamed the allies, Ebert’s government, communists, and Jews.
  • SA was founded as a private army under the employ of the Nazi party. They were there to give both protection and a look of professionalism.
  • Hitler watched the communists to see how they worked. The communists had been quite successful in creating change. This was most apparent in Russia. The German communists were trying to use the same methods as the Russian ones had. The growth in the movement was due to Germany being in a similar position to Russia on the eve of their revolution. Hitler’s use of socialism in the party name and putting the Nazi party forward as a party for workers (as is shown by their name) show this quite clearly.
  • The communists trained members young which helped keep their numbers strong it also allowed indoctrination to take place more easily. This idea would eventually become the Hitler Youth in Nazi Germany.
  • The Nazi party enlarged the SA and established the SS these were Hitler’s personal troops.
  • They brought in Goebbels to be the head of their propaganda arm as they saw that it would be vital if they ever wished to get into power.
  • In 1925 the Nazis had a total of 32 seats which was 5% of the Reichstag seats. It was enough to have a strong presence but not enough to control the proceedings.
  • In 1928 their proportion dropped by two percent because the Chancellor Stressermann had been so successful with his policies. This showed that the Nazi party was a clear reaction to the countries issues. When more centrist ideas were tried that were successful the extreme attitudes within the Nazi party were seen as likely to cause more harm than good.
  • Wall street crash and death of Stressermann both hit Germany in 1929. This changed the political playing field quite dramatically.
  • Germany was badly affected by the Wall street crash and following depression. This was partly due to the Germany economy only starting to recover under Stressermann’s policies.
  • It had to repay loans sooner and thus became bankrupt.
  • Unemployment rose as businessess didn’t have enough money to keep their employees let alone employ more due to the effects of the depression.
  • Reparations payments were suspended as they simply could not be paid.
  • Under the Weimar constitution, it was impossible for the government to take decisive actions. This was due to the way that they had constructed the government under proportional representation.
  • The Young plan which had aided the German economy was suspended due to the great depression.
  • Nazi party offered strength and the destruction of the treaty of Versailles. Many saw the current government as ineffectual and the treaty of Versailles hanging over their heads was seen as something that was crippling their country.
  • Hitler’s plan was to reunite all Germans and make Germany big again with the concept that they would be stronger together.
  • The Nazis offered employment in the SA. This was seen as attractive as there were few jobs around and the wearing of a uniform and being part of something bigger gave the applicants a sense of purpose.
  • Not only did this give them a sense of purpose but it also b=gave them something to be proud of and that pride had taken a large hit amongst supporters of the military due to the defeat and the dismantling of the German military.
  • As such there was no shortage of men in the SA ex-servicemen got jobs and felt at home.
  • Due to these events, the Nazi party had risen to 107 seats and then it nearly doubled again.
  • This meant that by 1932 the Nazi party had become the biggest single party in the Reichstag.
  • Their main enemy was the communists. This was partly due to the communists using the same or similar methods but also as the underlying ideologies clashed completely.
  • Hitler was helped because in business and industry there was fear of communism. This meant that he had the support of those who still had money and wealth and had managed to ride out the great depression.
  • The middle classes supported the Nazis to stop inflation to protect what little they had left after the Great Depression.

While there are many more events that became part of the rise fo the Nazi party this article attempts to sum up the most important points that became part of the rise of the Nazi party.




5 ways World War Two could have been avoided

Creative commons picture, treaty of VersaillesA question that comes up when talking about the devastation caused by wars is Could this war have been avoided? Particularly could World War Two have been avoided? There are many ways that world war 2 could have been avoided. This is mainly due to there being a lot of reasons why the war started in the first place. While there are lots the following are some ways in which it could have been avoided.


I shall start from the declarations of war in 1939 and go backwards.

1. If Hitler had have believed there was a credible threat of war (including an invasion by France on his western flank) then he may have held off from an invasion of Poland. This would mean that there would have to have been stronger actions against Hitler gobbling up territory in central Europe leading up to that point. If the threat was dealt with accordingly then there may well have been a serious build-up of men and material. A cold war may have then ensued but there would still be a high likelihood of the war turning hot. Max Werner in his book the strength of the Powers (published in 1939) suggested that Hitler should have waited until 1942 to start the war so that he could have consolidated his position and built up a more advanced military. This is a plausible scenario but still leaves everything on the brink of war and potentially leaves Hitler in a better position. Perhaps then the possibility of averting the war is smaller than delaying it. While it could be argued that the threat of war was credible as it did happen the years of appeasement may have emboldened Hitler and removed his cautiousness. This scenario is based on whether appeasement was the right path for nations to take with regard to Hitler.


2. Let’s go back in time a little further to see if we can make a more concrete stop. How about Anschluss in 1938? In simple terms, this was the joining of Austria to Germany to create a larger Germanic state. This gave Hitler a lot more power in both terms of Industry and manpower. It is also the point at which he starts to feel truly safe about annexing territory. If World leaders had have declared war over this rather than over Poland the story could well have been very different. After the invasion of Poland, there was the period of the phoney war. This was the part of World war two between the declarations of War caused by the invasion of Poland and the offensives in the West against France and Belgium etc. This period had some conflict but not on a major scale. Without the confidence that Hitler had gained he may well have backed down and sought peace treaties. The Phoney war lends a bit of weight to this as the war would have been a minor skirmish. if you consider that Poland may have been roped in to attack Germany on its eastern flank in concert with a western attack by the French then you could suggest that Hitler may have backed down at the threat of War at this time. Again this would have several outcomes. A shorter and less expansive war, A war held off much like the First option or no war at all as the strength shown by the other powers may well have translated into more action and strict pressure with regards to the terms of the treaties after WW1.

This one again hits on the point of appeasement. It also brings up the subject of the Phoney war which showed that there was still a reluctance to fight even after declarations had been made. This can be partially mitigated by the time it takes to mobilise an armed force. This would not explain the whole period though and it could be suggested that there was some thinking that a full-scale war akin to that of the First world war was to be avoided at all costs.


I could go blow by blow for many years but I will stick to three more.


3. The Wall Street crash and Depression. If US internal policy had managed to stop this happening then Germany would not have been in a state where Hitler could have taken power. His original Putsch failed and that may well have been the end of his political career if the Weimar republic wasn’t bankrupt. While they weren’t a very good government they didn’t exactly have a lot to work with either. Changing a whole country’s system of government that rapidly will always have teething problems. If you add to that the effects of the treaty and the Depression they didn’t stand a chance. The treaty was seen as harsh so people were pulling back on some restrictions (I’ll go into more in a second) if the money had have still been coming in Germany may well have rebuilt itself and seen that another world war was not the answer. So this bit leaves you without a war and removes Hitler’s route to power.

It is important to consider that while there were general feelings of anger at the way that Germany had been treated after the First world war it was Hitler and the Nazi’s that were pushing the hardest when it came to rebuilding the military and retaking the territory it had owned in 1914.


4. The next one would be to look at the treaty of Versailles. There are two schools of thought on what would have prevented it creating a scenario in which Germany would be likely to start another war. The First of these was the US argument. A modicum of oversight but a general rebuilding effort across Europe and bringing the powers close together (horrendously simplified but that is the general viewpoint). The other was the French idea to tear apart Germany into its constituent states and not let them have a military. This is the revenge scenario. As everyone who has briefly looked at the period knows a middle ground was found. Well sort of. It is often put down as the British position to reconcile both ideas. The logic of the US ideas, tempered with the anger about the destruction of a generation of British youth and a near bankrupting of its empire. The upshot of this was that it made a crippled and angry Germany who still had the potential for another war. This could have prevented war one way or the other. The first way would be an effort by the British to shore up its financial situation and empire. To do this a strong Germany with a decent economy would be a great trading partner. You could also go the complete other direction. Neuter Germany to the point where it couldn’t start a war. To do that the idea was to de-unify Germany. Split it into its constituent states each with restrictions on its military and also having to pay war reparations. If Hitler had have taken over say Bavaria then he would have to try to take over every single other state. Each of these states could have had their own Hitler figure. Some would not have. You then have a bunch of willful and stubborn leaders trying to come together which completely neutralises the threat. Any that do become a threat could easily be picked off by France without much effort.

This one is the one that you will see most frequently as a factor in the build-up to the Second World War. Personally, this treaty sealed the deal and very little could have been done to change the effect it had. Above I mentioned appeasement which was an effort to rectify the situation yet may well have had the opposite effect.


5. That leads to the final scenario.

Stop German unification. Here is a quote from Wikipedia

The unification of Germany into a politically and administratively integrated nation state officially occurred on 18 January 1871 in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles in France. Princes of the German states gathered there to proclaim Wilhelm I of Prussia as German Emperor after the French capitulation in the Franco-Prussian War.

(Unification of Germany – Wikipedia.)

Apart from the slap in the face of where the treaty was signed look at why it was signed. Germany, as it was unified, was only really galvanised by winning the Franco-Prussian War. There are numerous ways to put a spanner in the works here. France could have won the War. Unification wouldn’t have been such a massive issue.

The effects of the unification and this war are massive catalysts (From a French perspective) for both the First World War, the treaties after the war and its fear of a unified Germany. The French winning that war may have been a little far-fetched and not particularly plausible but look deeper. The driving force behind this was Otto von Bismark. Bismark was from a military family and was himself in the military. The rebellions that happened in 1848 across Europe also hit Prussia. he wanted to attack the revolutionaries. If they had let him there is a likelihood he could have been shot. Right there a stray bullet could have ended this before it started. The unification would eventually have happened but would have likely taken a very different form.

A side note here. Hitler fought in the First World War. He was wounded and gassed. Both things could have killed him or disabled him for life, this is a similar situation. The difference is that Hitler could have been replaced by someone else with his views. Potentially Ernst Rohm could have pushed for the same ideas. I digress, however, so shall leave that aside there.

As you can see there are a lot of different things that led to the war. The most plausible way is to remove the conditions that were needed for the war. That meant no Treaty of Versailles as is. To get that into a plausible state you need to change the motives of the First World War. To do that you need to stop German unification by a militaristic Prussian. The most plausible way may well be to have Bismark die before his career gets off the ground which would change the course of the entire 20th century and the latter half of the 19th century. but that would be a topic for another post.


(This post has been adapted from an answer I gave on Quora, check me out here