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The Spanish Civil War

In 1923 a military coup removed a corrupt government in Madrid and Miguel Primo de Rivera ran the country until January 1930. King Alfonso XIII abdicated because he had little support and a Second Spanish Republic was formed. Spain suffered in the Great Depression of the early 1930s and left wing Republicans and right wing Nationalists became popular during the frequent elections.

Following military successes in Morocco, General Franco appointed Captain General of the Balearics in February 1933 and over the next 18 months he set in place improvements to Mallorca's defences. Read the Gun Batteries webpage to discover how the island was protected over the centuries.

When the Republican government sacked and imprisoned leading Nationalist military commanders to avoid a coup, they stirred up support for one. On 12 July 1936 Falangist murdered an officer of the Assault Guard and his comrades murdered politician José Calvo Sotelo in retaliation. The reprisals which followed served as both catalyst and justification for a military coup and on 14 July an aircraft landed in the Canary Islands to take General Franco to Morocco so he could take control of the Army of Africa.

spanish civil war from mallorca days outThe uprising was set for 17 July but while troops seized control of Spanish Morocco, success on the mainland was patchy. It left the country in chaos and the disorder increased when general strike was announced. The only city taken by the Nationalists was Seville but it allowed German planes to fly Franco's African troops to the mainland. Coup leader José Sanjurjo was killed in a plane crash on 20 July, leaving General Mola in command of the north and General Franco in command of the south.

While left wing groups dug up their weapons caches, José Giral was appointed the Republican leader and gave the order to arm civilians so they could take control of Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and other industrial areas. The anarchists also took control of Aragon and Catalonia. On Mallorca, General Manuel Goded seized control of the Balearic Islands on the behalf of the Falangists (he later flew to the mainland to take control of Barcelona only to be taken prisoner and executed).

The Republicans called themselves loyalists but their enemies called them 'the Reds'; most were urban workers, peasants or from the middle classes. They would soon have support from the Soviet Union, Mexico, Marxists and International Brigades, mainly from France, Italy, Germany and Austria. The Republicans would eventually spend Spain's entire gold reserve of around 175 tonnes on Soviet weapons and ammunition.

The Nationalists called themselves 'Francoists' others called them 'Fascists'. The army had support of Falangists, landowners, businessmen, nationalists, monarchists and the clergy (7,000 clergy and thousands of lay people were executed by the Republicans). They were also supported by Nazi Germany, Italy and Portugal in the form of men, weapons, ammunition and money.

By the end of July the Republicans controlled the east coast, the central area around Madrid, and the north; the Nationalists controlled the rest. All over the country there were hundreds of executions as each side murdered their political opponents in what became known as the 'Red and White Terrors'.

Mallorca was controlled by the Nationalists and in August the Republicans landed at Porto Cristo on the east coast of the island. The full story of the landings and the battle that followed is on the Porto Cristo webpage.

spanish civil war from mallorca days outItalian Arconovaldo Bonaccorsi, who was known as Count Rossi, took control of Mallorca and was often seen driving around the island dressed in black robes accompanied by an armed priest and his bodyguard. Rossi's paramilitary unit, the Black Dragons, rounded up hundreds of 'enemies', including the Palma's Mayor, Emili Darder Cànaves. Many were held in Bellver Castle in Palma outskirts and Can Mir prison in Plaza Espanyol in the city centre. Around 3,000 were executed on Mallorca, and a memorial remembered those who were shot behind the city cemetery. A memorial wood in Illetes, west of Palma, also remembers them.

Mallorca was also turned into a military base and both Italian and German troops were garrisoned on the island. Italian bombers flew from Son Bonet airfield, German seaplanes flew from the base in Pollença Bay and submarine used Port de Sóller. While the planes targeted Republican held cities along the east coast of the mainland, the submarines stalked their convoys.

spanish civil war from mallorca days outOn the mainland the Nationalist forces fought around Gipuzkoa in the northeast from July to September and when they captured Irún on 5 September it cut off Republican militias along the north coast. San Sebastián was taken on 15 September but the militias held onto Bilbao.

The Republican government resigned on 4 September and while the new Socialist organization under Largo Caballero unified Republican command, Generalísimo Franco was appointed Nationalist commander on 21 September. While the relief of troops besieged in Toledo Castle was an early propaganda victory, when Nationalist troops turned their attentions on Madrid in October, the Republicans were waiting for them.

The first assault in November 1936 was stopped as did a second one in the New Year. Franco needed a victory to steady his command and it came on the south coast when his troops cleared Málaga by early February 1937. Pincer attacks either side of Madrid along the Jarama River to the south of the capital and the Battle of Guadalajara to the northeast, failed to break the deadlock. The Republican counterattack at Brunete, west of Madrid was also a bloody failure.

spanish civil war from mallorca days outIn the north the Nationalists resumed their attacks towards the north coast in April 1937 and on 26 April, planes from the German Condor Legion bombed the town of Guernica, killing around 250 civilians; the attack changed international attitudes towards the war. Bilbao fell in June and when Gijón fell in October Franco's troops had won the north.

In the northeast, Republican troops failed to capture Zaragoza and when the Nationalists struck back in August they took Santander. The Republicans captured Teurel in January but the Nationalists retook it a month later and on 7 March they began their Aragón Offensive , reaching the Mediterranean coast on 14 April; they had cut the Republican held territory in two.

spanish civil war from mallorca days outAlthough the Republican government wanted to sue for peace in May, Franco demanded unconditional surrender and in July his troops advanced south from Teruel and along the coast towards Valencia . At the end of the month another attack pushed north across the River Ebro at the start of a five month long campaign. Franco launched an invasion of Catalonia in December and by early February Tarragona, Barcelona and Gerona had fallen. With only Madrid and a few strongholds remained in Republican hands, the end was in sight and the United Kingdom and France recognized the Franco regime on 27 February 1939.

On 5 March Colonel Segismundo Casado and politician Julián Besteiro formed the Council of National Defense, a military Junta, while Prime Minister Juan Negrin fled to France. A communist uprising against the Junta in the Madrid area had to be put down but Franco still demanded unconditional surrender. The final attack came on 26 March 1939 and two days later Madrid was taken; Franco proclaimed victory on the radio speech on 1 April.

Although the war was over the terror for many still continued. Thousands were imprisoned used as forced labour while at least 30,000 executed by the new regime. Over half a million Republicans fled, Spain crossed the border into France where they were held in internment camps . Those who were convinced to return home were turned over to the authorities while those who did not were sent to concentration camps when France fell to Germany; the majority died there.

While the Spanish Civil war was overshadowed by World War II, the country still struggle to come to terms with its past. The 2007 Law for the Recovery of the Historical Memory recognises victims on both sides and the victims of the Franco regime.

spanish civil war from mallorca days out

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