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A Treatise of Schemes and Tropes.png This a Useful Notes page. A Treatise of Schemes and Tropes.png

The Spanish Civil War was fought from 1936-1939 by Spaniards, against Spaniards with foreign powers directly assisting both sides. Though it is known as 'The' Spanish Civil War, it was but the last and bloodiest of 3 4 Civil Wars that Spain had fought in since Napoleon Bonaparte was ejected from Spain in 1812.

The war first got going when the left-wing Republicans post-victory election celebrations got out of hand, with Republican supporters attacking members of the bourgeoisie in an escalation of the simmering ideological conflict that had been threatening to destabilise the social order in Spain for decades. A previously planned coup d'etat by the Spanish Army Generals Jose Sanjurjo and Emilio Mola was put into play against the Second Spanish Republic (which was only established just 5 years prior). Caught between a military revolt and a revolution of socialists and anarchists at the same time, the Republican government decided to throw its support behind the revolution. The army coup, which became the Nationalists, seized the northwestern, north, and a section of the southwest parts of Spain. The Republicans controlled most of the East coast as well as the capital Madrid in the center. This led to a conflict between the Nationalists and the Republicans fighting over the right to rule Spain. Short story: the Nationalists under Francisco Franco won and he ruled Spain as a dictatorship until his death in 1975.

Interestingly, while Franco played a major role in starting the rebellion, he was a latecomer, as he vacillated on whether or not he would support Sanjurjo and Mola. A short while after the revolution started he decided to support them as third in command of the rebel forces. During the war, both Sanjurjo and Mola died in semi-mysterious plane crashes. Another interesting note is that while Franco was undoubtedly authoritarian, most historians do not consider him to have actually been a fascist, since he was more of a traditional conservative, enjoying support of both the Catholic Church and the Carlists, whereas genuine fascists like Falange, Mussolini, and the Nazis subscribed to a revolutionary policy that was in many ways critical of both factions. In fact, once Franco came to power he suppressed most of the fascist elements of Falange, replacing it with his own, more traditionalist ideology.

It was noted that the Nationalists were supported by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy (and to a lesser extent, their neighbor Portugal; even democratic but ferociously Catholic and anti-communist Ireland sent volunteers). As such, the weapons used in the early stages of World War II were tested in the Spanish conflict, especially the German Condor Legion, a volunteer Air unit whose vets would eventually take part in World War II. Oddly, Franco was fairly unenthusiastic about his Irish volunteers (after their initial propaganda use as Catholics ended), perhaps because they were volunteers like the International Brigades, and thus not a regular military unit in the way his German and Italian allies were (at least they didn't unburden themselves in their own trenches like the anarcho-syndicalists). In the end O'Duffy (the Irish fascist leader) was forced to charter a ship of his own to even get to Spain and in 1937 the force withdrew. Presumably for similar reasons Franco also turned down offers of Belgian, Greek, and exiled White Russian volunteer brigades.

The Republicans, conversely, were placed under embargoes by France and the United Kingdom, which most nations followed. The exception came from the Soviet Union (which tried to keep its involvement secret) and Mexico (who also sent in financial aid). The Comintern also recruited volunteers from the US, UK, France, Poland and even Germany and Italy for the International Brigades. The sad/funny part of this is that different factions from the USSR sent different volunteers, often leading to clashes between the Republicans.

While all this was going on, Anarcho-Syndicalists, starting in 1936, pulled off the Spanish Revolution, one of the few historical examples of a genuine workers' social revolution, with the workers taking control of the factories (for real), and agrarian areas collectivized and run as libertarian communes in Catalonia, Aragon and Andalusia. All this, of course, was not in line with Stalin's vision of centralized state socialism, and the increasingly Soviet-dominated government of the Republic ultimately crushed it.

In the end, the Nationalists defeated the Republicans and managed to gain control and establish Franco as a dictator, ruling over Spain for a little over 35 years. Interestingly enough Franco would extend his protection over Jews, in particular Sephardic Jews and refuse to fight democracies though he supported the Axis against the communists with the Blue Division in return for the past favors. Neutral for most of the time, Franco's Spain would change its official policy from neutrality to non-belligerent support of the Axis when France fell in 1940, then back to neutrality in 1943. This may in fact stem from the fact that Franco was not, in spite of his ties to the Nazis and Italian Fascists, a genuine fascist and his ideology, while undoubtedly authoritarian, differed greatly from either Hitler or Mussolini's policies, having more in common with military juntas in South America than Central European fascism. As a result, while the war was construed as a fight between democracy/communism vs. fascism/monarchism, Spain ended up choosing neither side.

Another notable fact of the war was the Bombing of Guernica, being the first widely known example of the carpet bombing of a civilian target (and the inspiration for Pablo Picasso's heart-wrenching and monumental mural Guernica).

The Spanish Civil War provides examples of the following tropes:
  • Black and Grey Morality: Fascists, Autocratic Monarchists, and the religious versus Communists, Socialists, Anarchists, and Liberals.
  • Blind Mistake: A ceasefire occurred at least twice a day during the siege of the Alcázar due to a blind beggar who regularly traversed a road between the battle lines.
  • Bomb-Throwing Anarchists - Simultaneously averted and played straight depending on which individual band of anarchists you're referring to; it's not exactly a unified ideology. The Spanish Civil War featured a large and active Anarchist contribution to the Republican side, but many of them were working to organize resistance against Franco rather than spread pointless terror and chaos. Odds are some of them probably threw bombs at the enemy in the literal sense during the course of the war, but that doesn't quite fit the trope. That said, tens of thousands of people died in Anarchist-inspired mob violence in the early days of the war. Churches and other buildings were burned to the ground regardless of their political allegiance, alienating many potential Catholic Republic sympathizers. The anarchists also had a tendency to fight each other; there's evidence that the destruction of an anarchist commune by Soviet supporters was actually done primarily by another anarchist band with which the commune was feuding.
  • Butt Monkey: The Italians of the CTV got so badly pwned at Guadalajara that their own allies came with the song "Spain is not Abyssinia" to mock them.
    • To be fair to them, Guadalajara was the very lowest point of the Italian participation, and they fared more or less as well as any other Nationalist force, and certainly not like they suffered Later.
  • Church Militant: The Carlist requetés, who fought on the Nationalist side.
  • Civil War
  • Defector From Decadence: The Internationales fighting alongside the Republican forces included the Garibaldi Brigade, a unit of Italian antifascists, as well as several units of German anti-Nazi activists.
  • Democracy Is Bad: Many of the groups involved in the war believed this. The fascists and hardline monarchists rejected democracy outright. Most communists (particularly those loyal to Stalin) pretended to uphold it, but the reality was different. Anarchists and some socialists rejected the idea of representative democracy, insisting that the only true democracy is a direct democracy.
  • Downer Ending: The Nazi-allied Nationalists won, who bombed Guernica into rubble, who after the war murdered a quarter of a million people with a blasé regularity that shocked the visiting German envoy (said envoy's name was Heinrich Himmler) ruled Spain until Franco's death in 1975. Of course, as soon as Franco died, his successor immediately went about dismantling the Nationalist regime and had converted the country back into a democracy in a few short years. Considering the Communist-allied Republicans were just as ruthless and backed by Stalin, the alternative would have been no better.
  • Dying Like Animals: The Non-Intervention Committee, an international body which was ostensibly formed to keep non-Spanish actors from supplying the Republicans and Nationalists.
  • Eagle Squadron: Fighting on the Nationalist side were the German Condor Legion, the Italian Corps of Volunteer Troops, Portuguese Viriatros and the Irish Brigade, as well as the Spanish army's "Foreign" Legion. Foreigners who fought on the Republican side included Soviet advisers, pilots and tank drivers as well as the International Brigades: an estimated 32,000 anti-fascist volunteers from 53 different countries.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The rebels didn't define themselves as anti-republican at first and continued to use the red-gold-purple flag for a month and a half, after which they adopted the red and gold. The Francoist coat of arms with the black eagle wasn't even adopted until 1938. And Franco himself wasn't supposed to originally be their leader.
  • Enemy Mine: The Republican forces included Stalinist and Anarchist factions, two groups who normally hated each other but agreed to work together (mostly) to fight the Nationalists.
    • The Basque Nationalist Party was pro-big business, conservative and declared Catholic. It supported the Republican side after it was granted territorial authonomy.
    • On the other side we have the Carlists (monarchist, ultra-conservative, Catholic and pro-local autonomy but not nationalistic) and the Falangists (fascist, revolutionary, authoritarian and anticlericalist) at least at first.
  • Equal Opportunity Evil: The rebels employed a large number of Muslim soldiers in the war: one of them, Mohamed ben Mizzian, was made at some point captain-general of Galicia. During WW 2 they also turned a blind eye to the passage of Jewish refugees that used Spain as a door to escape Nazi-ruled Europe.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: None of the great Republican offensives launched during the Negrín's government (Brunete, Belchite, Teruel, Ebro) was successful.
  • Fighting For a Homeland: The men of the Thälmann Battalion, a unit made up entirely of German anti-fascists either exiled or frightened off by the Nazis, fought for the Republic in the hopes that they might be able to one day call it home - most of them had already given up on the possibility of ever going back to Germany again.
  • Foreshadowing: One of the wars that foreshadowed World War II.
    • Also, the Catalan Uprising of 1934 brought the factional hatred, the decaying ground for compromise, and mutual disregard for liberal democracy to the fore from an abortive attack on the Republic... launched from the Left. Which was put down by Francisco Franco.
  • Grey and Gray Morality: Became more and more evident as the war went on and the Spanish Republic became increasingly dominated by the USSR and its ideological allies, which unfortunately led to infighting and soldiers deserting, hastening its collapse.
    • It doesn't help that the Nationalists weren't much better off, despite using Catholicism to justify themselves. Especially by the time Franco came to power.
    • The Republicans and the International Brigades, despite being nowhere near as bad as the rebels, were, according to the Nationalists (and, in several cases, independent third-party observers), still responsible for committing numerous atrocities, although not quite to the degree of their enemies.
  • Hopeless War: For the Republicans after the 1938 Munich Conference.
  • Improvised Weapon: The trench warfare saw the use of Molotov cocktails (before they were named that), dynamite and grenades thrown with "slings" made of belts, among other things.
  • Irony: Due to many of the Republicans fleeing to France after the end of the war, the French Resistance eventually came to include a unit of Germans leftover from the International Brigades.
    • One of the proposed reasons for the attempt of coup d'état was that the Communists were in charge of the Popular Front left-wing coalition and ready to turn Spain into a USSR-style nation. In fact, the Spanish Communist Party was not very influential then. It was during the Civil War that they became the most influential party because most help came from communist USSR - meaning that the attempted coup itself ended up essentially creating the problem it was supposedly trying to solve.
    • The CEDA, despite being the most influential pre-war right-wing party and one of the main supporters of the military uprising lost support quickly in the early stages of the war and was dissolved in 1937, its leader Gil Robles even going into exile and contacting exiled leftist politicians to conspire against Franco at some point.
    • Franco likened his campaign to the Spanish Reconquista. While leading an army from Morocco to Toledo along the very same route used by Tariq ibn Zyad in 711 that included thousands of Muslim regulars (many of which had Jesus' Sacred Heart embroidered on their tunics).
  • It Got Worse: Again, World War II.
    • Except for Spain, who mostly sat it out despite Franco sending the Blue Division in help of Nazi Germany, and the exiled Republican veterans who joined the combat in the Allied side.
  • I Will Fight Some More Forever: Many of the surviving Republican soldiers and leaders never stopped fighting against the Nationalists despite having absolutely no chance of victory, and as a result many of them were systematically hunted down and destroyed over the course of the next thirty years. A few of them were still around when Franco, on his deathbed, inadvertently appointed a covert supporter of democracy as his successor, and the new king proceeded to dismantle the dictatorship and restore democracy entirely non-violently, doing in months what his allies had been unable to do in thirty years.
  • La Résistance: The Republicans became this after the Nationalist victory. Many of them fled to France, where they would join the ranks of the Trope Namer.
  • Load-Bearing Boss: More like a load bearing 'city'. The civil war went on for years until effective Republican resistance ended completely with the fall of Madrid. They fought on for some time after that, but after Madrid fell it was obvious to all involved that a Nationalist victory was now a foregone conclusion, it was only a matter of time.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Mola planned to be this but it didn't quite work.
  • Monumental Damage: Extensive during the sieges of the Alcázar de Toledo and the Cuartel de la Montaña, and the three years long battle for the University City of Madrid.
  • My Government Right, Or Wrong: General Antonio Escobar Huertas, conservative and devote Catholic, fought on the Republican side even though his son (later KIA) was on the opposite side. He was also the only general of the People's Army to not flee the country after the defeat even though his captor Juan Yagüe offered him a plane to do so. Sentenced to death, he directed his own execution by firing squad.
  • Not So Different: Yeee *Gods*, where do we start? Both sides were basically an uneasy patchwork of loose alliances between different parts of Spanish society which were dominated by or came to be dominated by the worst of their alliance (the ultra-authoritarians that made up the Nationalists and the Communist hardliners backed by Stalin for the Republicans). The runner ups for power not being that much better (monarchists in the style of the old absolutists and radical Socialists and Anarchists) both of whom held nothing but contempt for things like "bourgeois democracy" or "religious tolerance" (and who were readily indulged in this by patrons like the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, and Fascist Italy. However, they also included moderate and (at least to most modern audiences) more sympathetic parties on both sides (the small-c religious conservatives who were horrified by the Republic's persecution of Christians and other "undesirables" more prominently and obviously the number of people both from Spain and elsewhere who came to fight for democracy against the Right's coup attempt. And to cap it all off? In 1934 another (far smaller and localized) revolt had been launched against the Republic from the opposite end of the spectrum, and which was put down by young(er) Francisco Franco.
  • Post Apunkalyptic Armor: The CNT's "tiznaos".
  • Scary African Man: The Moroccan Regulares were specially feared by militias and civilians. Queipo de Llano took advantage of this when seizing power in Seville by dressing his Spanish supporters in Moroccan garb.
  • Scavenger World: The Non-Intervention Committee left the Republicans with no choice but to recycle everything, even captured barbed wire. They ended using 60 different types of rifles (versus 10 for the Nacionales), 19 callibers and half a dozen helmets.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Colonel Casado's coup and the rendition of Madrid.
  • Secret Police: The Republicans' SIM and the Soviet NKVD.
  • Shot At Dawn: The infamous "paseos".
  • Submarine Pirates: Italian submarines operating without identification — in the words of one historian, as pirates — sank several Soviet and other merchant ships attempting to bring weapons to the Loyalist side
  • Wafer-Thin Mint: The murder of José Calvo Sotelo is widely considered to be the catalyst for the generals' revolt.
    • Disputable. Plans for the coup that would start the war were already months underway by the time of the Sotelo and Castillo murders, and the war itself had been a long time in the coming. What it WAS likely a Wafer-Thin Mint for was the participation of Franco and the parts of the Army of Africa loyal to him.
  • Warrior Poet: Lots of them - the Republican cause attracted an extremely large number of academics and intellectuals, more so than almost any other military in recent history. These included Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell.
  • We Are Everywhere: As his forces approached Madrid, the Nationalist general Emilio Mola said that the four columns of soldiers who he commanded would be assisted by a "fifth column" of covert Nationalist supporters residing in the city. While this didn't provide any significant support to the attack, it did make the Republicans fiercely paranoid of each other.
    • And that "fifth column" rumor might even have been the catalyst for the Paracuellos massacre of November-December 1936. When the war started, many Nationalist sympathizers in Madrid were arrested and taken to prison. When the Nationalists began advancing towards Madrid, the Republican government left for Valencia, on the Mediterranean coast, leaving behind a "Defence Council" in charge of Madrid and its defence. The "Defence Council" was basically controlled by the communist party and its soviet advisors. After the "fifth column" comment by Mola, the "Defence Council" (likely goaded by their Soviet advisors) took several thousands of Nationalist sympathisers from jail to a place near Paracuellos (a village not far from Madrid) and shot them there. To this date it is not known precisely how many people were killed there; estimates range from 2000 to 12000.
  • We ARE Struggling Together!: Both sides got this to some extent, but whereas Franco took control of the Nationalists fairly easily and peacefully (which is to say that there's no conclusive evidence that he killed Generals Sanjurjo or Mola), the Republic was burdened down by obscenely costly infighting between Pro-Soviet and Anti-Soviet factions with Anarchists and the Basques complicating the matter even further. The resulting purges probably sped the defeat.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: The Nationalists enjoyed support from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, and the Republicans had support from Soviet Russia. As a result, the western democracies refused to support the Republicans. Nonintervention protocols and embargoes were introduced, which were only broken by the USSR, Mexico, and a few volunteer and activist groups from other countries.
  • Written by the Winners: Inverted outside of Spain and fascist countries: Thanks to the many authors and other artists fighting in the international brigades, their side of the story is better known.
  • X Meets Y: Third Carlist War meets World War I meets World War Two.
  • You Shall Not Pass: "No pasarán!". Followed by a Take That from Franco after Madrid finally fell: "We have passed."
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: More like your criminals are our freedom fighters - the Nationalist government prohibited the country's media from reporting on the actions of Republican Maquis as anything other than isolated bandit attacks or crime sprees; one of the reasons the Maquis finally lost was that their political motivations - and, in some cases, their very existence - were usually completely unknown outside of the immediate area they operated in.
Examples of The Spanish Civil War include:

In fiction

  • In the final two episodes of When the Boat Comes In, Jack Ford takes a yacht to run rifles to the Republican forces. It doesn't end well. Jack's ultimately mortally wounded in a shootout.
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway. The main character is an American journalist who originally came to simply cover the war for a newspaper back home, but has, by the time the story begins, joined one side and become a respected demolition expert.
  • Pan's Labyrinth is set just after the civil war, and the plot includes the fascist Captain Vidal weeding out the last few Republican groups.
  • Land And Freedom by Ken Loach, follows the tragic fate of a volunteer in the International Brigades. There are many similarities with George Orwell's book cited below.
  • It is mentioned as a bit of foreshadowing that protagonist Rick Blaine fought in the Spanish Civil War on the Republican's side in Casablanca.
  • More than one Axis Powers Hetalia (dark) fanwork involve the civil war in one way or another. Whichever side Spain chooses, he's bound to wind up an insane wreck by the end.
  • In general, there are quite a few Spanish movies set on the Civil War, mostly human dramas and the like, but you can find most genres, even comedy. As a result, Memetic Mutation arose claiming every Spanish film is set on the Spanish Civil War.


  • Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell's classic memoir of his volunteer service in the International Brigades on the Republican side. Moreover, Orwell's experience of the bloody opposition between the POUM militia he served in and the Stalinists of the Communist Party probably gave birth to his criticism of the USSR later expressed in Animal Farm.