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1936 - the Spanish Civil War

The Spanish Civil War was the biggest conflict to take place in Europe between the First and Second World Wars.

Its origins lay in bitter social and political divisions within Spain. In April 1931 Republicans were victorious in the elections and declared Spain a Republic and also began implementing social reforms. They were strongly opposed by the landowners, Catholic church and traditional elements within the army. In the elections held in November 1933 Spain swung to the right and the new government reversed many of the changes. Parties of the left then united in the Popular Front and won the elections of February 1936. There were increasingly violent clashes on the streets between left and right.

On 17 July army officers staged a coup seeking to overthrow the Republic. The Nationalists, led by General Franco, were only partly successful and initially only a third of the country was under their control. They had the advantage, however, of controlling most the army and were openly aided by fascist Italy and Nazi Germany which supplied money, weapons and troops. France and Britain refused to help the Republic. The Soviet Union sent some aid and arms. In addition 30,000 foreign volunteers, including many from Britain and Ireland, came to fight in the International Brigades for the Republic and successfully defended Madrid in November 1936. Thwarted, Nationalists bombed the city repeatedly, inflicting many civilian casualties.

In 1937 Franco's forces seized Malaga and the Basque region. The town of Guernica was destroyed by bombing. Republicans counter-attacked at Brunete but were eventually repulsed with many casualties. There was fighting in Barcelona between different political factions of the left. (This is described by George Orwell in Homage to Barcelona).

In 1938 Republicans recaptured Teruel but then lost it to the Nationalists after a fierce battle. Nationalists broke through to the sea, cutting the Republican zone in half. A Republican offensive to re-unite its territory on the River Ebro failed and exhausted their forces. The International Brigade was withdrawn and sent home.

In the first months of 1939 Nationalists overwhelmed the remnants of Republican forces, finally taking Madrid, and the war ended. In the aftermath tens of thousands of Republican men and women were executed or imprisoned. Franco remained in power until his death in 1975. Spain then managed the transition to modern European democracy. A socialist government was elected in 1982.

The Library holds many items of interest to those wanting to learn more about these events. Our collections have a particular focus on the volunteers from the North West of England who joined the International Brigade.  For more information click here