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The Spanish Civil War: a proxy war and a dress-rehearsal

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Nationalist troops in a position overlooking Madrid in early 1939.
Nationalist troops in a position overlooking Madrid in early 1939.

Franco’s air bridge from North Africa to the Spanish mainland was made possible by the first consignment of German-supplied aircraft in July 1936. The following month, 20 heavy Junkers bombers and five chaser planes piloted by Luftwaffe pilots in plain clothes landed in Sevilla as support for the Nationalist air force.

Hitler’s financial contribution to the Nationalist cause amounted to £43 million at 1939 prices, more than £2.3 billion in today’s money.

Fascist Italy likewise supported its Spanish brothers-in-arms by supplying, over the course of the war, nearly 2,000 artillery pieces, 763 aircraft, and more than 60,000 ‘volunteer’ troops.

At the outset, Poland was the only country to send arms to the Republic in significant quantitites. Russian aid is more difficult to quanitfy because of conflicting accounts in Soviet archives, but it is estimated that Mocow sent up to 1,000 aircraft, at least 300 tanks, and between 1,200 and 1,5000 artillery pieces.

This massive foreign involvement lends credibility to the claim of Manuel Chaves Nogales, a leading Spanish journalist in Madrid during the siege, that ‘Spanish Civil War’ was a misnomer.

Chaves Nogales was one of the first to assert that this was a dress-rehearsal for the Second World War, and that the real combatants were Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy on one side, an the Soviet Union and Stalinist ‘rabble’ (as he termed them) from the US and Europe on the other. Without German and Italian support, Chaves Nogales argues, the Nationalist insurgents would have been defeated in a matter of months.


This is an article from the September 2015 issue of Military History Matters. To find out more about the magazine and how to subscribe, click here.

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