Five Events to Understand the Spanish Civil War

General Fransisco Franco at the Victory Parade celebrating the end of the war, courtesy of Wikimedia Common.
General Fransisco Franco at the Victory Parade celebrating the end of the war, courtesy of Wikimedia Common.

July 18th marks 79 years since the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, which brought deep cultural divides in Spanish society to the forefront and stirred up political issues within Europe. Why did war break out and what were the long-term consequences, you ask? Below we’ve summarized 5 keys events that will help you understand this important moment in Spain’s history, which is also the subject of our Spanish Civil War walk in Madrid.

King Alfonso XIII as a young man, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
King Alfonso XIII as a young man, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
  1. Leftists win the election, king abdicates. Although war doesn’t officially break out in Spain until 1936, the cracks begin to show several years earlier. From 1923 to 1931, Spain is ruled by an authoritarian government, which is backed by the monarchy. In 1930 General Primo de Rivera resigns as the head of government. The following year, the monarchic parties do poorly in the elections and King Alfonso XIII resigns. The following day the Second Republic of Spain is announced.
  2. The Popular Front wins the national election. The Popular Front, a coalition of leftist and communist parties just barely overtakes the conservatives in the national election. They introduce a wave of social reforms including the woman’s right to vote, language rights and land reforms to the poor. These reforms do not sit well with the conservatives, the military or the Catholic church. Civil unrest ensues.
  3. Two murders spark an uprising. On July 12th 1936 police officer and member of an anti-fascist organization, José Castillo, was assassinated after receiving a threatening letter just one month prior. In retaliation, a number of police officers and socialist party members shoot and kill José Calvo Sotelo, the leader of the monarchist party, at his home. Four murders occur in Madrid over the following days. Three days later the fascist militia attempt a military coup led by Francisco Franco, starting in Northern Morocco, which was under Spanish protectorate at the time. Emilio Mola directed the mainland uprising. The rebels are unsuccessful at securing most of the major cities with the exception of Seville. The war has officially broken out.
  4. The Non-Intervention Committee. The Non-Intervention Committee is formed in order to limit foreign intervention in the Spanish Civil War. Members of the committee include the Soviet Union, France, Britain, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Despite this agreement, the Soviet Union decides to give limited support to the Republicans, with the aim of spreading communism. The German and Italian governments, however, give significant aid to the Nationalists in the form of soldiers and weapons in an effort to create a fascist government in Spain. Britain is the staunchest supporter of the Non-Intervention Committee while France finds itself in an awkward position, not wanting a communist government in Spain and not wanting to be surrounded by fascist countries.

    Bombing of the Bilbao port by italian planes, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
    Bombing of the Bilbao port by Italian planes, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
  5. Nationalists win the war. In January 1939 Barcelona is captured. Soon the rest of Catalonia falls. The Republicans, on the verge of defeat, try to negotiate a peace treaty but Franco refuses. The war ends on March 28, 1939, when the Nationalist march triumphantly into the capital city. Franco’s authoritarian regime remains in place until his death in 1975.