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Spanish coup of July 1936

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Title: Spanish coup of July 1936  
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Subject: Spanish Civil War, Spanish Republican Navy, Nationalist faction (Spanish Civil War), Bombing of Jaén, Carabineros
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Spanish coup of July 1936

The coup began the Spanish Civil War, timeline:

The Spanish coup of July 1936 fractured the Spanish Republican Armed Forces and marked the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. Following a period of troubles in the Second Spanish Republic, a group of officers attempted to overthrow the democratic government in a military coup. Planning started in early 1936, and the coup was launched on 17 and 18 July. The coup failed to take complete control of the country and civil war ensued.

The rising was intended to be swift, but the government retained control of most of the country including Málaga, Jaén and Almería. Cadiz was taken for the rebels and General Queipo de Llano managed to secure Seville. In Madrid, the rebels were hemmed into the Montaña barracks, which fell with much bloodshed. Prime Minister José Giral ordered the distribution of weapons among the population, helping to defeat the rebels in Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia; however, it allowed the anarchists to take control of large parts of Aragon and Catalonia. Rebel General Goded surrendered in Barcelona and was later condemned to death. The rebels had secured the support of around half of Spain's Peninsular army, some 60,000 men, and all of the 35,000-strong Army of Africa. The Army of Africa was Spain's most professional and effective military force. The government retained less than half the supply of rifles, heavy and light machine guns and artillery pieces. Both sides had few tanks and outdated aircraft, and naval capacity was fairly even. Officers' defections weakened Republican units of all types.


Following the elections of November 1933, Spain entered a period called the "black two years" (Spanish: bienio negro).[1] Both Carlists and Alfonsist monarchists continued to prepare,[2] receiving the backing of Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini. José-María Gil-Robles struggled to control the CEDA's youth wing, which copied Germany's and Italy's youth movements. Monarchists, however, turned their attention to the Fascist Falange Española, under the leadership of José Antonio Primo de Rivera.[3] Open violence occurred in the streets of Spanish cities.[4] Gil-Robles' CEDA continued to mimic the German Nazi Party, staging a rally in March 1934.[5][6] Gil Robles used an anti-strike law to successfully provoke and break up unions one at a time.[7] Efforts to remove local councils from socialist control prompted a general strike, which was brutally put down, with the arrest of four deputies and other significant breaches of articles 55 and 56 of the constitution.[8]

On 26 September, the CEDA announced it would no longer support the Radical Republican Party's minority government; it was replaced by an RRP cabinet that included three members of the CEDA.[9] A UGT general strike was unsuccessful in most of Spain.[10] General Francisco Franco was put in informal command of the military effort against the revolt in Asturias, the only place it had succeeded.[11] Around 30,000 workers had been called to arms in ten days.[12] Franco's men, some brought in from Spain's Army of Africa,[13] acted horrifically, killing men, women and children, and carrying out summary executions when the main cities of Asturias had been retaken.[14] About 1,000 workers were killed, and about 250 government soldiers.[15] In aligning the political right with the military, and the left with purely legal means, it marked the effective end of the republic.[16] Months of retaliation and repression followed; torture was used on political prisoners.[17] The two generals in charge of the campaign, Franco and Manuel Goded Llopis, were seen as heroes.[18] Gil-Robles once again prompted a cabinet collapse, and five members of Lerroux's new government were conceded to CEDA. The military was purged of Republicanist members and reformed; those loyal to Gil-Robles were promoted – Franco was made Chief of Staff.[19]

[28] Several generals decided that the government had to be replaced if the dissolution of Spain was to be prevented. They held a contempt for professional politicians.[29]


Francisco Franco pictured in later life.

The republican government had been attempting to remove suspect generals from their posts, and so Franco was sacked as chief of staff and transferred to command of the Canary islands.[30] Goded was sacked as Inspector General and made general of the Balearic islands; Emilio Mola was moved from head of the Army of Africa to be military commander of Pamplona in Navarre.[30] However, this allowed Mola to direct the mainland uprising, although the relationship between him and Carlist leaders was problematic. General José Sanjurjo became the figurehead of the operation, and helped to come to an agreement with the Carlists.[30] Mola was chief planner and second in command.[31] José Antonio Primo de Rivera was put in prison in mid-March in order to restrict the Falange.[30] However, government actions were not as thorough as they might have been: warnings by the Director of Security and other figures were not acted upon.[32]

On 12 June, Prime Minister Casares Quiroga met General Juan Yagüe, who was rightly accused of masterminding the growing conspiracy in North Africa, but Yagüe managed to convince Casares of his loyalty to the republic.[33] Mola held a meeting between garrison commanders in the north of Spain on 15 June, and local authorities, on hearing of the meeting, surrounded it with Civil Guards.[33] However, Casares ordered their removal, saying he trusted Mola.[34] Mola began serious planning in the spring, but General Francisco Franco hesitated until early July, inspiring other plotters to refer to him as "Miss Canary Islands 1936".[31] Franco was a key player because of his prestige as a former director of the military academy and as the man who suppressed the Socialist uprising of 1934.[31] He was well respected in the Spanish Moroccan Army, Spain's strongest military force.[34] He wrote a cryptic letter to Casares on 23 June, suggesting that the military was disloyal, but could be restrained if he were put in charge.[34] Casares did nothing, failing to arrest or buy off Franco, even if placing him in overall command was impossible.[34] Franco was to be assigned control of Morocco in the new regime, and largely sidelined.[35] On July 5, an aircraft was chartered to take Franco from the Canary Islands to Morocco.[36] It arrived on July 14.[36]

Murder of Calvo Sotelo

On 12 July 1936, in Madrid, members of the Falange murdered Lieutenant José Castillo of the Assault Guards police force.[36] Castillo was a member of the Socialist party. The next day, members of the Assault Guards arrested José Calvo Sotelo, a leading Spanish monarchist and a prominent parliamentary conservative; the original target was Gil Robles but he could not be found.[37] Calvo Sotelo had protested against agricultural reforms, expropriations, and restrictions on the authority of the Catholic Church, which he considered Bolshevist and anarchist. He instead advocated the creation of a corporative state.[38] Calvo Sotelo was shot by the Guards without trial.[37]

The killing of Sotelo, a prominent member of Parliament, with involvement of the police, aroused suspicions and strong reactions among the government's opponents on the right.[39][nb 1] Massive reprisals followed.[37] Although the conservative Nationalist generals were already in advanced stages of a planned uprising, the event provided a catalyst and convenient public justification for their coup, and in particular that Spain would have to be saved from anarchy by military rather than democratic means.[37] The Socialists and Communists (lead by Prieto) demanded that arms be distributed to the people, before the military took over. The Prime Minister was hesitant.[37]

Franco's plane landed in Gran Canaria on July 14, but, based in Tenerife, he would have been unable to make the plane without the death of General Amado Balmes, military commander in Gran Canaria, who was killed in a shooting accident on July 16.[40] Whether his death was an accident, suicide, or murder is unknown.[40]

Beginning of the coup

Map showing Spain in July 1936:
  Area under Nationalist control
  Area under Republican control

The uprising's timing was fixed at 17 July, at 5:00 p.m.; this was agreed to by the leader of the Carlists, Manuel Fal Condé.[41] However, the timing was changed: the men in Spanish Morocco were to rise up at 5:00 a.m. and those in Spain itself starting exactly a day later, so control of Spanish Morocco could be achieved and forces sent to Iberia from Morocco to coincide with the risings there.[42] The rising was intended to be a swift coup d'état, but the government retained control of most of the country.[43]

Control in Spanish Morocco was all but certain; many of the soldiers acted as mercenaries and the vast majority of officers backed the rebel cause. The regulares (troops recruited from the local populace) were predominantly Muslim and were told that the Republic wished to abolish Allah.[44] The plan was discovered in Morocco during 17 July, which prompted it to be enacted immediately. By the scheduled time, Spanish Morocco had already been secured as legionnaires moved in working-class areas and shot unionists and loyalist generals. Little resistance was encountered; in total, 189 people were shot by the rebels.[45] Goded and Franco immediately took control of the islands to which they were assigned. Warned that a coup was imminent, leftists barricaded the roads on 17 July, but Franco avoided capture by taking a tugboat to the airport.[31]

On 18 July, Casares Quiroga refused an offer of help from the CNT and UGT, proclaiming that nowhere outside Spanish Morocco had joined the rebels and that the populace should trust legal methods to deal with the uprising. Handing out weapons would be illegal. The CNT and UGT proclaimed a general strike, in effect mobilising. They opened weapons caches, some buried since the 1934 risings.[44] The paramilitary forces, better trained than the army, often waited to see the outcome of militia action before either joining or suppressing the rebellion. Quick action by either the rebels or anarchist militias was often enough to decide the fate of a town.[46] General Queipo de Llano managed to secure Seville for the rebels, arresting a number of other officers.[47]


The rebels failed to take any major cities with the critical exception of Seville which provided a landing point for Franco’s African troops. The primarily conservative and Catholic areas of Old Castile and León fell quickly, and in Pamplona they celebrated the uprising as if it were a festival.[43] The government retained control of Málaga, Jaén and Almería. Cadiz was taken for the rebels with the help of the first troops from the Army of Africa.[48] In Madrid they were hemmed into the Montaña barracks. The barracks fell the next day, with much bloodshed. Republican leader Santiago Casares Quiroga was replaced by José Giral who ordered the distribution of weapons among the civilian population.[49] This facilitated the defeat of the army insurrection in the main industrial centres, including Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and other main cities in the Mediterranean area,[50] but it allowed the anarchists to arm themselves and take control of Barcelona and large swathes of Aragon and Catalonia. In Barcelona, the official government lost control of security, essential services and welfare.[51] However, the anarchists held back from demanding too much political power, which could have had even more serious consequences.[51] General Goded surrendered in Barcelona and was later condemned to death, despite broadcasting a message explaining his captivity over the radio at the request of the authorities.[52]

Meanwhile the Army of Africa crossed the Gibraltar Strait and met General Queipo de Llano's forces in Seville. Their quick movement allowed them to meet General Mola's Northern Army and secure most of northern and northwestern Spain, as well as central and western Andalusia. The Republican Government ended up with controlling almost all of the Eastern Spanish coast and central area around Madrid, as well as Asturias, Cantabria and part of the Basque Country in the north. Mola was keen to create a sense of fear within Nationalist-controlled areas. There was a massive purge of freemasons, and a wide part of the left, including some moderate socialists.[53] The rebels termed themselves "Nacionales", normally translated as "Nationalists", although the former implies "true Spaniards" rather than a pure nationalistic cause.[54]

The result of the coup was a Nationalist area of control containing 11 million of Spain's population of 25 million.[55] The Nationalists had secured the support of around half of Spain's territorial army, some 60,000 men. In Republican units, however, as much as 90% of officers either rebelled, defected or merely disappeared; some would later turn up in Nationalist ranks. This considerably reduced the units' effectiveness as a new command structure had to be fashioned. No such problem occurred in Nationalist units.[56] The Army of Africa, however, was entirely under Nationalist control, and was made of 35,000 men considered Spain's top fighting force.[56] The rebels were also joined by 30,000 members of Spain's militarized police forces, the Assault Guards, the Civil Guards, and the Carabineers.[57] 50,000 members of the latter stayed loyal to the government.[57] Of 500,000 rifles, around 200,000 were retained by the government. 65,000 were issued to the Madrid populace in the days following the uprising – of these, only 7,000 were usable. 70,000 or so were lost following early Nationalist advances in the war.[56] Republicans controlled about a third of both heavy and light machine guns; of 1,007 artillery pieces, 387 were in Republican hands.[58] The Spanish Army had, before the coup, just 18 tanks of a sufficiently modern design, and the Republicans retained 10.[59] In terms of numbers, the Nationalists had seized control of 17 warships, leaving the Republicans with 27. However, the two most modern (both cruisers of the Canarias class) were in Nationalist hands; although not ready for service when the war broke out, when launched they compensated for the lack in numbers. The Spanish Republican Navy suffered from the same problems as the army: many officers had defected or had been killed after trying to do so.[59] Due to the concerns of a Republican officer that such a coup was imminent, two-thirds of air capability were retained by the government – however, the whole of the air service was very outdated and vulnerable both during flight and to mechanical problems.[60]



  1. ^ Thomas (2001). pp. 196–198, 309: Condés was a close personal friend of Castillo. His squad had originally sought to arrest Gil Robles as a reprisal for Castillo's murder, but Robles was not at home, so they went to the house of Calvo Sotelo. Thomas concluded that the intention of Condés was to arrest Calvo Sotelo and that Cuenca acted on his own initiative, although he acknowledges other sources that dispute this finding.


  1. ^ Preston (2006). p. 66.
  2. ^ Thomas (1961). p. 75.
  3. ^ Preston (2006). pp. 69–70.
  4. ^ Preston (2006). p. 70.
  5. ^ Thomas (1961). p. 67.
  6. ^ Preston (2006). p. 72.
  7. ^ Preston (2006). pp. 73–74.
  8. ^ Preston (2006). p. 75.
  9. ^ Thomas (1961). p. 78.
  10. ^ Preston (2006). p. 77.
  11. ^ Preston (2006). pp. 78–79.
  12. ^ Thomas (1961). p. 80.
  13. ^ Thomas (1961). p. 81.
  14. ^ Preston (2006). p. 79.
  15. ^ Thomas (1961). p. 84.
  16. ^ Preston (2006). pp. 79–80.
  17. ^ Thomas (1961). pp. 84–85.
  18. ^ Thomas (1961). p. 85.
  19. ^ Preston (2006). p. 81.
  20. ^ Preston (2006). pp. 82–83.
  21. ^ Preston (2006). p. 83.
  22. ^ a b Preston (2006). p. 84.
  23. ^ Preston (2006). p. 85.
  24. ^ Payne (1973). p. 642.
  25. ^ a b Preston (1999). pp. 17–23.
  26. ^ Thomas (1961). p. 100.
  27. ^ Preston (2006). p. 90.
  28. ^ Preston (2006). pp. 90–91.
  29. ^ Preston (2006). p. 93.
  30. ^ a b c d Preston (2006). p. 94.
  31. ^ a b c d Preston (1983). pp. 4–10.
  32. ^ Preston (2006). pp. 94–95.
  33. ^ a b Preston (2006). p. 95.
  34. ^ a b c d Preston (2006). p. 96.
  35. ^ Preston (2006). p. 97.
  36. ^ a b c Preston (2006). p. 98.
  37. ^ a b c d e Preston (2006). p. 99.
  38. ^ Thomas (1987). p. 8.
  39. ^ Thomas (2001). pp. 196–198, 309.
  40. ^ a b Preston (2006). p. 100.
  41. ^ Thomas (1961). p. 126.
  42. ^ Beevor (2006). pp. 55–56.
  43. ^ a b Preston (2006). p. 102.
  44. ^ a b Beevor (2006). p. 56.
  45. ^ Beevor (2006). pp. 56–57.
  46. ^ Beevor (2006). pp. 58–59.
  47. ^ Beevor (2006). p. 59.
  48. ^ Beevor (2006). pp. 60–61.
  49. ^ Beevor (2006). p. 62.
  50. ^ Beevor (2006). pp. 58–70.
  51. ^ a b Beevor (2006). pp. 106–107.
  52. ^ Beevor (2006). p. 69.
  53. ^ Preston (2006). p. 103.
  54. ^ Preston (2006). pp. 102–3.
  55. ^ Westwell (2004). p. 9.
  56. ^ a b c Howson (1998). p. 28.
  57. ^ a b Westwell (2004). p. 10.
  58. ^ Howson (1998). p. 20.
  59. ^ a b Howson (1998). p. 21.
  60. ^ Howson (1998). pp. 21–22.


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