The Civil War began on 18 July 1936. The Moroccan uprising had been betrayed at the last minute. The rebels therefore missed the element of surprise upon which they had been relying. The government-controlled radio reported that the rebellion was confined to Morocco and would soon be crushed. In reality, several important cities — Seville, Córdoba, Cádiz in the south, Valladolid, Zaragoza and the entire Carlist stronghold of Navarre in the north — were soon secured by the rebels. During the first phase of the war, however, most of the country remained under Republican control.
In Madrid and Barcelona, socialist, Communist and anarchist militias led a lawless reign of terror. General Lopez Ochoa, although himself a Republican and Freemason, had quashed the Revolution in Asturias alongside Franco two years earlier. He was decapitated in his hospital bed on 19 August. His severed head was then displayed in the streets of Madrid by a bloodthirsty Red mob in one of many scenes reminiscent of the French Revolution.
Real or imagined political opponents and their families — indeed, anyone perceived as a “class enemy” — were fair game for the Red rabble. Torture, rape and executions, often in front of family members, were not uncommon. As always, the revolutionary hatred was primarily directed against the Church. What took place in Red Spain during the first six months of the Civil War was one of the worst religious persecutions in modern times. Thirteen bishops, and over 7,000 priests, monks and nuns were murdered, in many cases after having been cruelly tortured. Exactly how many Catholic lay men and women were martyred for their faith is difficult to estimate.
In order to assist the Spanish Reds in their campaign of terror, Moscow sent some of their best, led by General Alexander Orlov of the NKVD, the Soviet secret police. His real name was Leiba Lazarevich Feldbin, but, like many other prominent Jewish Bolsheviks, he had changed it to a Russian name. In August,Moscowalso sent a new ambassador, Marcel (Moses)Rosenberg, toMadrid. The leading politician in the Republican camp was no longer the Freemason and liberal Manuel Azaña, but the Freemason and socialist radical Largo Caballero, who fancied himself as the “Spanish Lenin.” However, Rosenberg, and ultimately Stalin, now held the real power in Republican Spain. Those who still cling to the lie that the Republican side was really “democratic” would do well to consider what became of the Spanish gold reserve. On 14 September 1936, only two months after the outbreak of the war, it was shipped from Cartagena to Moscow (a smaller part was transferred to France) by order of the Republican authorities. It was, of course, never returned.
Yet the propagandists of the Left to this day continue to portray the Republican Reds as inadequately equipped and poorly financed compared to the nationalists. The truth is that not only did the Republicans criminally give away their country’s gold to their master in Moscow, but it is also the case that during most of the war they also controlled Spain’s main industrial centers. They also had the support of the worldwide media, which was heavily biased against everything that traditional Spain represented.
The Spanish Civil War is often described as an “international Civil War” or as a final rehearsal for the Second World War. The nationalists received military support from Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany, while the Reds were backed by the Soviet Union, and more discreetly by France, which was being ruled by Jewish Prime Minister Léon Blum’s socialist/Communist Popular Front government. A typical propaganda lie still rehashed in history books and television documentaries is that the German and Italian support for the nationalists was much more significant than that which the Soviets gave to the Reds. The fact is that the military support of both powers combined just nearly matched the Communists’ backing of the Republic.
The Communist International, or Comintern, opened recruiting offices all over the world. Between 30,000 and 35,000 volunteers, mostly Communists, enlisted with the International Brigades, so lauded by Hollywood. Three times as many volunteers, primarily from Italy and Germany, fought on the nationalist side. Many more would probably have joined if the nationalists had been able and willing to accept them. But that was often not the case; many who, on their own, made it down to Spain to fight for the nationalists were turned down or reluctantly accepted. The attitude of the Carlists and the Falangists, who both had good international contacts, was different, but they had relinquished command over their troops to the army for the good of the common cause. In many cases, perhaps out of a sense of national and professional pride, the army’s officers regarded foreign volunteers with suspicion.
After the Italians and the Germans, the biggest foreign contingent on the rebel side was General Eoin O’Duffy’s Irish Brigade. The support for the nationalist cause was very strong in staunchly Catholic Ireland. O’Duffy had been the Chief of Staff of the legendary Michael Collins, Commander-in-chief of the Irish Republican Army during the Anglo-Irish war. He became the youngest general in Europe, as well as Commissioner of the Garda (police) and the first leader of the Fine Gael, to this day one of the country’s two dominating parties. After he was approached by a Carlist representative, O’ Duffy organized an Irish volunteer force in the late summer and early autumn of 1936 to fight for the nationalists. More than 7,000 Irishmen answered the call of the Spanish Crusade, of which 700 were accepted in the first batch. More would have followed were it not for the fact that, by early 1937, Franco’s interest in Irish participation had cooled. This change of attitude was most likely the result of Franco not wanting to provoke the British, who were displeased with the mass recruitment of Irish Catholics by a former IRA leader turned unabashedly fascist.
Few truly idealistic ventures in modern history have been as unjustly maligned by the Leftist establishment of the post-war West as the Irish Brigade, and few persons have been as belittled and smeared as Eoin O’Duffy. He is still systematically ridiculed and portrayed by establishment historians as an alcoholic clown, even though few in his great generation of Irishmen were as prominent as he for being a freedom fighter, an officer and a politician. It is often said of the Irish volunteers that they saw virtually no action, and spent their time in Spain doing nothing but getting drunk on cheap wine until the Spaniards had had enough and sent them home. This is not true. The Irish were disciplined and courageous. Even though they did not see as much fighting as they would have wished, they still suffered a dozen dead and over a hundred wounded. When they returned to Dublin on 22 June 1937, they were greeted as heroes at the pier by a crowd of over ten thousand well-wishers.
In his 1938 book, Crusade in Spain, O’Duffy writes in its conclusion:
Our little unit did not, because it could not, play a very prominent part in the Spanish war, but we ensured that our country was represented in the fight against world communism. The guilt which might justly be ascribed to Ireland in days to come has been mitigated by the Brigade offering. Our very presence on the Madrid front focused attention on the significance of the struggle, and where the sympathy of the bravest and best Irish hearts lay.
Our volunteers were not mere adventurers. Over ninety percent were true Crusaders, who left behind them comfortable homes — many left secretly, lest anything should arise to prevent them from carrying out their resolve. They were not mercenary soldiers. Every man made a real personal sacrifice in going to Spain, and every one returned poorer in the world’s goods. Many have been refused their former positions again and are still unemployed. They are undismayed because, as they proved so well in Spain, they are men of spirit and merit.
We have been criticized, sneered at, slandered, but truth, charity and justice shall prevail. We seek no praise. We did our duty. We went to Spain.
Among the many foreigners who “did their duty and went to Spain” were the Romanians Ion Mota and Vasile Marin, both leading lights in the Legion of St. Michael theArchangel, also known as the Iron Guard. Mota was the movement’s second-in-command, confidant and brother-in-law of its leader, Corneliu Codreanu, married to his sister Iridenta. Mota and Marin joined the Spanish Foreign Legion and were killed in action at Majadahonda, outside Madrid, on 13 January 1937. Their original intention had not been to volunteer for the Spanish war. They did so after having gone to Spain as part of a Romanian delegation that was to hand over a gift, a ceremonial sword, to Colonel José Moscardó, the commander of Alcázar.
That brings us to one of the most epic chapters of the war.
Alcázar is a stone fortress that towers above Toledo, the old City of Kings in the middle of Spain. At the time of the Civil War it had for many years served as an infantry academy. There, in the days following the uprising, some 1,800 nationalists entrenched themselves, led by the head of the Academy, Colonel Moscardó. The core of the defenders was made up of some 600 Civil Guards and 200 Army officers, who were joined by another 100 Falangists, Carlists and other fighting men. The fortress also sheltered some 600–700 elderly people, women and children who sought refuge from the pending Red terror.
Toledo lies in the middle of what was the Republican zone at the outset of the war, and is located 45 miles from Madrid. The rebels could not hold the city when vastly superior government forces arrived on 21 July 1936, but retreated to the castle on the heights above. They had managed to seize a great deal of ammunition from the city’s arms factory, but were only equipped with rifles, a few machine guns and some grenades.
For over two months, the castle was bombarded to rubble by the overwhelmingly stronger Republican forces, from the air, by Soviet-made tanks and by heavy artillery. In spite of an almost hopeless situation, those besieged held their ground until, starved and exhausted, they were liberated by nationalist troops on 27 September.
In the epic stand of the Alcázar, there is one particularly moving episode that has gone down in history. In Republican Spain, the Communists and Anarchists had set up committees for dealing with those suspected of ”disloyalty to the Republic.” The Reds called these committees chekas, after the infamous Soviet secret police force which had operated in the early days of the Russian Revolution. On 23 July, the boss of the Toledo cheka, a lawyer named Candido Cabello, phoned Colonel Moscardó to inform him that they had captured his 17-year-old son Luis, and were going to shoot him unless Alcazár’s garrison capitulated. Cabello then handed the phone to the boy. Father and son had the following short conversation:
- What’s happening, my boy?
- Nothing, only they say they will shoot me if the Alcázar does not surrender.
- My dearest son, if they do — commend your soul to God, shout Viva España and die like a hero! Goodbye my son, leave me a kiss!
- Goodbye father, a very big kiss!
Luis Moscardó was executed three or four weeks later.
On 20 November 1936, the Falangist leader José Antonio Primo de Rivera was executed in prison; another one of countless prisoners murdered during the first six months of a war which was to last until April 1939.
Was there not brutality and atrocities committed by both sides? Yes, unquestionably. For example, no one defends the execution of the liberal poet Federico García Lorca by a nationalist militia. However, there is no doubt that the Republican side initiated the Terror, and was generally more brutal, cruel and lawless than the nationalist side. And most importantly: this was not a conflict between “fascism” and “democracy,” but between Christian civilization and Communism. The only likely alternative to Franco’s relatively mild dictatorship would have been an Iberian Soviet state. The geopolitical consequences of such a scenario would have been dire.
From that perspective, we all have reason to be grateful to the men and women who fought in the Spanish Crusade against Communism.
Jonas De Geer is a Swedish writer who lives in Orkney, Scotland. He was the editor of the Swedish conservative magazine Samtidsmagasinet Salt between 1999 and 2002, and has written extensively on nationalist subjects. This article was previously published in Swedish in the Stockholm nationalist weekly Nationell Idag.
Blinkhorn, Martin, Carlism and Crisis in Spain, 1931-1939 (Cambridge, 1975).
Carrol, Warren, The Last Crusade (Front Royal, Virginia 1996).
Dolbeau, Christophe, Ce qu’on ne vous a jamais dit sur la guerre d’Espagne(Atelier Fol’fer 2010).
Othen, Christopher, Franco’s International Brigades (Chippenham,Wiltshire 2008).
O’Duffy, Crusade in Spain, (Clonskeagh, 1938).
Payne, Stanley, The Civil War in Spain (New York, 1962).
Poncins, Léon de, Histoire secrète de la Révolution Espagnole (Paris, 1942).