SPANISH CIVIL WAR: 80 years on

ON APRIL 1 1939 the guns of both sides in Spain’s Civil War fell silent.

General Francisco Franco, whose nationalist troops stood victorious over forces loyal to Spain’s Second Republic, told the country over the radio: “the war is over”.

Franco’s nationalist uprising against the Republic began as a botched military coup backed by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.

It would end following a three-year long struggle for Spain, pitting progressive, liberal and democratic ideals against those of tradition, conservatism, religion and nationalism.

Origins of the conflict

The conflict would leave hundreds of thousands dead and missing. The true death toll remains unknown, but estimates range from around 150,000 to as high as two million when starvation and disease are taken into account.

King Alfonso XIII abdication and the founding of the Republic in 1931 set events in motion.

Economic and social reforms and rising tension which saw churches looted and politicians murdered led traditionalists, the church and parts of the army and business class to plot an uprising.


The nationalists began the war with an advantage in weapons and foreign backing but controlled less territory than the Republic.

The Republic was bolstered by a groundswell of popular support.

A banner declaring: “No Pasaran!” (They Shall Not Pass) hung in Madrid, which itself held out under siege against Franco’s forces for much of the conflict.

The nationalists maintained a unified command structure during the war while the Republic was more divided.

Cataluña effectively broke away early in the conflict and began an experiment in revolutionary anarchism.

Victory and defeat

The Republic was aided by support from the Soviet Union and from thousands of volunteers who travelled to Spain to fight in International Brigades.

British writers George Orwell and Laurie Lee both made the journey and later wrote about their experiences.

But this international backing was not enough. Franco had allowed German dictator Adolf to use Spain as a testing ground for a host of new weapons and tactics.

The result of this can still be seen today in the Basque town of Guernica. It was left ruined as a memorial to the conflict and immortalised by Pablo Picasso’s painting.

By February 1939 the nationalist had swept over much of Spain and were pushing the Republicans back towards the Costa Blanca Eastern Mediterranean coast. The last Republican force surrendered in Alicante City on April 1.

The Civil War ushered in Franco’s regime which only ended with the man himself in 1975. The 1936 to 1939 conflict is often regarded as a dress rehearsal for the Second World War.

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Written by

Joe Gerrard

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