To what extent was foreign intervention the main reason for the Nationalist victory in the Spanish Civil War?
The bitterly fought civil war in Spain between 1936 and 1939 was no local affair. Notwithstanding attempts by the then international community initially to apply a policy of non-intervention, the Spanish Civil War saw countries, interest groups and individuals within and outside Europe overtly and covertly provide support to the Republican and Nationalist causes, typically reflecting their respective political allegiances to socialism or fascism.
It is estimated that at the time of the military coup in July 1936 the Republicans had available about 87,000 troops and the Nationalists about 77,000 troops.[footnoteRef:1] By the Civil War’s end, it is estimated that well over 1 million men had been involved in fighting.[footnoteRef:2] Whilst both sides made use of conscription, the indigenous Spaniards were joined by volunteers from supporters from both sides such as the International Brigade and Germany’s Legion Condor. In addition to troops, the conflict saw significant escalation in arms and equipment. Having successfully imposed units in such areas as Pamplona, Burgos and Seville, the Nationalists laid siege to Madrid for 3 years and, during this time from their western strongholds, swept across Spain, taking control of areas and effectively isolating Barcelona and Madrid until, eventually, Republican Madrid fell. What enabled the Nationalists to secure this victory? [1: Payne, S (1969). The Spanish Revolution. New York: W W Norton, p315] [2: Payne , S (1969). The Spanish Revolution. New York: W W Norton, p343]
That foreign intervention was the main reason for the Nationalists’ success is the most compelling argument put forward and notably adopted by Brown, Brennan and Thomas, with Brennan emphasising how there was ‘little to choose’ in terms of the political and strategic capability in either side.[footnoteRef:3] The Nationalists and the Republicans were in need of assistance because Spain had not undergone the massive industrial and economic reform experienced by most other European countries by the 1930s, which meant that they could not mass produce weapons and equipment needed for a major conflict. In his seminal work, Brown noted how important foreign military equipment proved to be in an ‘industrially underdeveloped country such as Spain’, indicating that whichever side could gain and make use of the greatest foreign aid would win the War. [footnoteRef:4] Both sides were able to access aid from sources sympathetic to or supportive of them: the Nationalists received aid from Germany, Italy and Portugal; whilst the Republicans received support from the Soviet Union, Mexico and international brigades. This occurred against the backdrop of the Non-Intervention Agreement, which proscribed the sale of arms and the provision of troops to the warring sides in the Spanish Civil War. This Agreement, famously honoured more in the breach...