What was the Spanish Civil War?

Spanish flag against a blue sky
Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/spain-banner-flag-flutter-spanish-379535/

In the 16th and 17th centuries, Spain had been a global superpower.


Its conquistadors had conquered much of South America and enormous wealth was generated by the gold fleets which transported the precious metals they had taken from the local inhabitants back to Europe.


However, in early 19th century, Spain's empire fell apart.


Less conquests meant less money, and the territories Spain had conquered wanted their independence back.

Spain after the empire

Throughout the 19th century, Spain gradually lost each of its colonies in a series of wars of independence.


By the dawn of the 20th century, Spain was a country struggling to reestablish itself on the international stage.


At home, Spanish politics became a tense battleground between politicians who supported liberal ideologies verses those who wanted to remain conservative and keep to the 'old ways'. 


Even though there was still a king in charge in Spain, a constitutional monarchy had been created in 1874 where a parliament made the real decisions.


However, the tensions between the two political groups only increased in the early years of the 20th century, which created the conditions for an all-out civil war, as each side resolved to use the military to get what they wanted.


Into this conflict stepped a man who would dominate Spain for decades.


His name was Francisco Franco.

Franco's early life

Francisco Franco was born on the 4th of December 1892. As a young man, Franco desperately wanted to become a sailor.


Unfortunately, the Spanish Naval Academy did not have an opening for him. As a result, Franco joined the army and entered the Infantry Academy in 1907.


He completed his studies in 1910 and volunteered to join a war in Spanish Morocco in 1912. During this conflict, Franco earned a reputation as a skilled and dedicated commander who showed a genuine concern for the wellbeing of his men.


His efforts were awarded in 1915 when he became the youngest captain in the Spanish army.


After further military conflicts and promotions in the Spanish Foreign Legion, he reached the position brigadier general in 1926 and was a household name throughout Spain.


Then, in the late 1920s Spain experienced a massive political upheaval. Politicians who supported liberal ideologies seized power and founded a Spanish Republic, and exiling the Spanish monarchy.


Franco was a strong supporter of the Spanish king and many leaders in the new government fully expected Franco to rise up and lead the army against them.


But, Franco declared that he was a loyal commander of the Spanish army and served under the republican government.


Then, when a conservative government came to power in 1934, he was promoted to be a Major General and then Chief of the Central General Staff of the Spanish Army in 1935.

The civil war begins

By the mid-1930s, the political conflict between conservative and liberal factions threatened to destroy the Spanish government all together.


When a liberal alliance came to power again, Franco finally spoke up and called for the government to enforce a state of emergency, because he feared that a communist group was about to seize power.


By finally speaking out against the government, Franco was sacked from his position and, as an extra punishment, sent to the Canary Islands to neutralise him as a threat.


At this point, Franco joined a planned conservative rebellion against the Spanish government. 


On the 18th of July 1936, Franco telegraphed his announcement of his military rebellion and troops on the Spanish mainland rose up to support him. 


Franco flew to Morocco, where he took control of the army stationed there, and then led it to Spain. Franco marched his troops towards Madrid.


There, Franco was elected by nationalist politicians to become the leader of Spain and fight against the supporters of the liberal government.

The end of the civil war

Franco’s nationalist army signed an agreement with Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy, who sent their own soldiers, equipment and funding to support him. 


With these new resources, Franco organised a carefully planned and executed war against the Spanish liberals.


Each stage of the conflict was marked by brutal battles with high casualties, followed by vicious reprisal killings of soldiers and civilians that opposed them.


Franco desired to not only achieve military success, but to also wipe out any communist elements in Spain entirely.


He finally achieved victory in 1939. Now with control over all of Spain, Franco implemented laws that made any republican movements a crime. Franco remained in power during the Second World War and became a military dictator of Spain.


His control over the government and military removed any threats to his power.


Franco died in 1975 and, three years later, Spain became a democracy under a constitutional monarchy once more.