Guest Post: T. Frohock – A Primer for The Spanish Civil War

tfrohock-withoutlightorguideI’m currently in the midst of reading T. Frohock’s latest novella Without Guide or Light. It is the second book in the Los Nefilim series and I’m really loving the setting and characters. The first book In Midnight’s Silence was wonderful and halfway through Without Guide or Light is even better, so you should absolutely pick it up. But after reading the first book I found myself googling and searching Wikipedia for some of the history underpinning the setting, as I wasn’t as familiar with the Spanish Civil War. Since I figured I wouldn’t be the only one, I asked T whether she could write me a sort of cheat sheet. She did me one better and sent me the following text. A great companion piece to this post can be found on Bibliosanctum where T provides the origins for Los Nefilim.


This stems from a question Mieneke asked me about the Spanish Civil War. She wanted a quick reference to the some of the events leading up to the Spanish Civil War.

What I’ve come to find is that a lot of folks have a great deal of knowledge about World War I or World War II, but the Spanish Civil remains something of an enigma.

Part of this has to do with Francisco Franco’s long fascist dictatorship, which lasted from the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939 until his death in 1975. Now that the archives have opened their files, more histories of the Spanish Civil War are beginning to appear in English and other languages. These histories round out the fascist propaganda with a more abstract historical judgement.

I’m going to try and answer a few quick questions that might help readers better understand what was going on during that time period.

Wasn’t the Spanish Civil War part of World War II?

No. This is a common misconception, because Italy, Germany, Mexico, France, Russia and several other countries did involve themselves in the war on some level.

In spite of signing onto the Non-Intervention Agreement of 1937, both Hitler and Mussolini used the Spanish Civil War as the testing ground for new military hardware while supporting Franco’s Nationalists. Russia also became involved in an effort to assist the Spanish communists. France sent assistance to the Republicans as did Mexico.

So even though the Spanish Civil War is sometimes considered the first official battlefield of World War II, it was a completely separate conflict from Germany’s aggression in World War II.

What events led to the Spanish Civil War?

That’s complicated, and goes back in Spanish history to the late 19th century. Essentially, the landowners (known as latifundias) of the large estates held the power and formed an oligarchy. They dictated excruciating work hours for very little pay.

I forget where I read it now, but in one history it was noted by a politician that in Spain “those who worked starved while those didn’t work (the upper-classes) ate.” The description stuck in my mind, because it adequately summed up the resentment of the working classes against the upper classes.

The latifundias’ oligarchy maintained a stranglehold on the people in the south, and in the north, working conditions in the factories and cities was not much better. Likewise, both the Church and the military were deeply corrupt and entwined with the political machine.

Growing resentment over class divisions and governmental corruption led to a meeting of several members from different political factions who supported a republican government (i.e. the people hold sovereignty). This group of politicians met at San Sebastián, Spain on August 17, 1930, and formed the Pact of San Sebastián. At this time, Spain was a monarchy. Alfonso the XIII was a weak king, who supported the military and gave them enormous power. His Prime Minister was a man named Miquel Primo de Rivera, and Primo de Rivera formed a military dictatorship over Spain during the last part of Alfonso’s reign.

The Republicans, who had met at San Sebastián, gathered support for their cause and eventually forced Primo de Rivera to resign. In the face of civil unrest, King Alfonso XIII fled the country; although it has been pointed out by historians that Alfonso’s decision to leave Spain was the correct one. His absence prevented the unnecessary bloodshed of a revolution. Even though he left Spain, Alfonso didn’t officially abdicate until 1941.

Who were the major players in the Second Republic?

This is an exceptionally short list:

Retrato_oficial_de_Niceto_Alcalá-ZamoraNiceto Alcalá Zamora (President, December 1931-April 1936 ) — He was one of the main instigators of the Pact of San Sebastián. Once they had forced Primo de Rivera out of office and Alfonso left the country, Alcalá Zamora became Prime Minister. He was officially confirmed as Prime Minister in June 1931, resigned in October over ideological issues in the creation of the new Spanish constitution, and then was elected President in December.

Manuel_Azaña,_1933Manuel Azaña Díaz (President, May 1936 – March 1939) — Another signatory of the Pact of San Sebastián, Azaña introduced insurance to compensate workers for job-related injuries, worked to reduce the size of the military, and sponsored legislation for land reforms. He considered himself a “middle class republican” and had no use for the Church or the military.

Largo_CaballeroFrancisco Largo Caballero — Largo Caballero began his political career as a moderate, but as time went on, he became a strident Marxist, who wanted to be remembered as the “second Lenin.” He used his vision of a “socialist revolution” to inspire his followers, and essentially terrified Spain’s middle- and upper-classes with his saber-rattling rhetoric, which evoked Russia’s February Revolution of 1917.This didn’t make him incredibly popular with members of CEDA (the Spanish Confederation of Autonomous Right-wing Groups), Spain’s middle- and upper-classes, or to his more moderate counterpart, Indalecio Prieto.

Indalecio_Prieto,_1936Indalecio Prieto Tuero — Prieto (no relation to the Prieto in Los Nefilim) led the Spanish Socialists Workers’ Party (PSOE). Unlike Largo Caballero, Prieto did not believe a call to arms was the best way in which to bring about the Republican reforms. He was a moderate, who sought to bring about reforms without using strikes or armed uprisings, yet he was involved in later violence against his enemies.

José_María_Gil-RoblesJosé Maria Gil-Robles — Gil-Robles formed the CEDA (the Spanish Confederation of Autonomous Right-wing Groups), which represented the right-government and the conservative Catholics, the monarchists, and the Carlists. Gil-Robles fancied himself the Spanish leader on par with Hitler and Mussolini. He had his followers call him el Jefe (meaning the chief).

Why couldn’t they govern?

The Second Republic began with good intentions, as these things tend to do. The Cortes (the Spanish legislature) initiated land reforms to help the farm workers, attempted to extradite the Church from the government, in addition to seeking military and other governmental reforms to reduce taxation.

Unfortunately, they enacted laws without enforcing them. Landowners essentially ignored the reforms and made life even more miserable for the workers. The unions attempted several strikes, but were never able to coordinate their activities in such a way as to bring lasting change.

The Cortes became mass of increasingly radical political ideologies without a firm nucleus to hold them together and give them direction.

The Butcher of Asturias

In 1933, Largo Caballero led CEDA (the Spanish Confederation of Autonomous Right-wing Groups) into winning the most seats in government. By virtue of this, three CEDA ministers were included in the new government. This didn’t sit well with the general population, and they reacted with a general strike along with a far more dangerous situation in Asturias (a province in northwestern Spain).

Anarchists and socialists in Asturias rebelled and took the capital of Asturias, Oviedo. There, they killed municipal officials and clergy, set fire to the university along with several theaters. The rebellion lasted for two weeks before the army was sent to quell the disturbance. General Francisco Franco led the army into the Asturias and crushed the rebellion, destroying parts of the city in the process. From that operation, he earned the nickname “The Butcher of Asturias.”

Another rebellion in Catalonia was also suppressed without a lot of bloodshed (not by Franco); however, mass arrests and trials imprisoned a great number of citizens. During this time, Largo Caballero’s extremism began to drown out Prieto’s more moderate voice in the Cortes. People were angry, and they were listening to politicians who mirrored their anger.


The massacre at Asturias was only the beginning. This map shows all known locations of Spanish Civil War graves.

Essentially, everyone was talking, no one was listening, and compromise was seen as weakness.

Three years later, the socialists, communists, and other left-wing Republicans better prepared themselves. In 1936, they joined together under the name the Popular Front. This time, the Popular Front took the most seats in the Cortes.

The right-wing politicians grouped themselves as the National Front. CEDA dissolved with its members bleeding into the fascist Falange Española, which was a fascist National party led by Miguel Primo de Rivera’s son, José.

Are you with me so far? Let the Assassinations Begin:

The infighting within the government bled down into the streets. Paramilitary units such as the Falange clashed with the Guardia de Asalto (the Guardia de Asalto, or Assault Guards, were essentially police, who were to maintain order in the streets). Street clashes turned deadly for both sides and culminated with the death of José Castillo, a lieutenant in the Guardia de Asalto, who was shot down by four Falangist gunmen on July 12, 1936.

Retaliation for Castillo’s death was swift. The next day, members of the Guardia de Asalto went to the home  of Gil-Robles (former head of CEDA), intending to arrest and assassinate him; however, Gil-Robles wasn’t there. The Guardia de Asalto left and went to the home of José Calvo Sotelo, who had been a politician in Primo de Rivera’s government. Calvo Sotelo had fled Spain during the first years of the Spanish Republic, but later returned when amnesty was offered. Upon his return, he became involved with José Primo de Rivera’s Falange.

The Guards arrested Calvo Sotelo, and a man named  Luis Cuenca shot Sotelo in the back of the head. This was important, because Cuenca was a bodyguard for Prieto, leader of the PSOE (the Socialist party). The Spanish government gave a tepid response to the assassination, and never charged Cuenca or any of the men with him with a crime.

What about Franco?


Francisco Franco in 1923

MEANWHILE, the Nationalist generals had been making plans for a coup for quite some time. The Popular Front’s victory did not sit well with them, nor were the military reforms posed by the Republican government popular with the generals. They were merely waiting for their moment.

Sotelo’s murder provided their catalyst. Governmental foot-dragging over a conviction for any of the murderers incited a great deal of civil unrest by the right. The Nationalist generals seized the moment and used the public’s outrage over Sotelo’s murder as their reason for moving forward.

The uprising was supposed to be swift; however, the Republicans managed to secure heavy weaponry and hold the majority of Spain. The Nationalists did take Seville, which was where Franco, who had been stationed in the Canary Islands, landed with his African troops.

The war dragged on for several reasons. One was that in spite of the Non-Intervention Agreement of 1937, several countries did involve themselves in the war in some fashion. Mexico refused to sign the Non-Intervention Agreement, and sided with the Republicans. They sent a great of money to help arm the Republican Army.

Germany, Italy, Portugal, Great Britain, and the United States favored the Nationalists over what they saw as the communist Popular Front. The United States unofficially went along with the arms embargo to Spain. Other countries sent weapons.

International brigades involved themselves in the war, most fought for the Republican side. The Abraham Lincoln Brigade came from the United States; Edgar André Battalion was mostly German; Español Battalion was comprised of fighters from Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia; Figlio Battalion, who were mostly Italian; and many more.

As the war dragged on, Germany and Italy’s support of Franco’s Nationalists was the fulcrum that pivoted Franco to power. He had superior firepower, and he utilized the same vicious tactics that earned him the name The Butcher of Asturias. It was a long brutal war, and Franco was not a popular ruler.

In 1969, Franco wanted to restore the monarchy, so he designated the grandson of Alfonso XIII, Juan Carlos, as his successor. Franco died in 1975, and once Prince Juan Carlos was in power as King of Spain, he facilitated Spain’s transition to a democracy.

There was an attempted coup in 1981 when 200 members of the Civil Guard took the Spanish Congress of Deputies hostage for about 18 hours. King Juan Carlos I took to the airwaves and denounced the coup. He called for respect of the rule of the land and fully supported the democratically elected government. The Civil Guards surrendered without harming anyone.

Spain finally had a firm nucleus that supported the right of her many ideologies to exist side-by-side.


Bio: T. Frohock has turned a love of dark fantasy and horror into tales of deliciously creepy fiction. She lives in North Carolina where she has long been accused of telling stories, which is a southern colloquialism for lying.
Her newest series, Los Nefilim – In Midnight’s Silence: Los Nefilim, Part I and Without Light or Guide: Los Nefilim, Part II – is from Harper Voyager Impulse.

You can find T online at her website and on Twitter.