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The Outbreak of the Spanish Civil War

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Submitted By RuthMelton
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How accurate would it be to describe the Republican and Nationalist forces as being evenly balanced at the outbreak of Civil War in 1936?

The outbreak of Civil War, in July 1936, was due to the murder of Sotelo by a PSOE supporter on the 13th of July. Sotelo was murdered in retribution of the armed action taken against the Asturias rising in which 3,000 miners were killed and another 35,000 were taken prisoner. At the outbreak of war both the Republicans and the Nationalists were fairly evenly balanced, however taking into consideration: Territory and population; industry; armed forces and organization I am going to evaluate which side was stronger in July 1936.

The territory in Spain was split at about two-thirds to the Republicans against one-third to the Nationalist. The population was also split in favor of the Republicans with a difference of two million; the nationalist had a population of eleven million and the republicans had a population of thirteen million. However in spite of having control of the majority of the population and land the government could not simply overlook the fact that, in only a few days, they had lost one third of Spain to the rebels. Part of the reason for the Nationalist gain in the country was that a large portion population was in favor of the rebels. The Republicans had control of Madrid, Barcelona and Bilbao. By having the capital and also two other major cities put the Republicans in good stead as they occupied the heart of the Spanish economy. Where as the rebel Nationalists had Seville, Majorca, Ibiza and the Agrarian heartlands. These places were not in the forefront of industry therefore they didn’t produce the same sort of economic profits as the Republican areas; this left the Nationalists as an economic disadvantage. However in spite of having control of the majority of the population and land the government could not simply overlook the fact that, in only a few days, they had lost one third of Spain to the rebels. Part of the reason for the Nationalist gain in the country was that a large portion population was in favor of the rebels. Overall the Republicans had the advantage on the bases of land and pure quantity of the population however the Nationalists had the loyalty of the people on their side.

The split of industry also favors the Republicans. The government had two thirds of the merchant shipping; iron and steel factories; financial reserves; along with all the major arms factories. This put them at a serious advantage over the Nationalists because it enabled them to create larger quantity of weapons for their troops to use and also limit the supplies the Nationalists received from within Spain. The main industry on the rebel side was wheat growing, this was important however wasn’t as useful as munitions in trying to win a war. At the outset of war it appeared that the Republicans held the power in terms of munitions and industrial strength; however once foreign aid became a factor, in August 1936, the Nationalists received munitions from Germany and Italy the balance was swayed in favor of the rebels. Only taking into account July the Republicans certainly had the upper hand in terms of industry, in fact I believe this to be the largest difference between the two sides in terms of power.
In the armed forces however the two sides were fairly evenly balanced. The rebels controlled just under half of the army while the Republicans had just over half plus the navy. However the Nationalists had control of the major naval dockland at El Ferrol. The Nationalists had control of the Army of Africa this balanced out the Republican advantage in the militarized security forces. José Giral, a Republican politician, also decided to arm the militias, ordinary citizens. This decision my have helped to build up the Republican number but it did mean that the training in Republican Spain had to be increased. The Nationalists also stared to enlist men and both sides used very abbreviated training courses, to cut the time of training however this meant that the training was often of a poor quality. Them men, on both sides, complained about lack of training and the shortage of ammunition. They also complained about the outdated and poorly functioning equipment; both the rebels and the government were using rifles and bayonets that were pre-1914. Although both sides were enlisting, at roughly the same rate, many of the conscripts from the Republican side left their posts in the confusion, this went unnoticed and so the Republican forces were lacking in numbers; only a minority of officers could be considered reliable. Additionally the troops from the Army of Africa were well trained, experienced and disciplined, giving the Nationalists an advantage. If basing the balance of power on pure numbers then the Republicans could be seen as having the advantage, with 200 planes, 3 cruisers, 20 destroyers and 12 submarines. This is compared to the Nationalists having only 100 planes, 2 cruisers, 1 destroyer and 2 submarines. However the quality of the soldiers on the Nationalist side was considerably stronger than the Republicans. Therefore I believe that in terms of the armed forces both sides were evenly balanced in July 1936.

To conclude the balance of power at the outbreak of war was fairly even however it was not a completely central divide. Although on paper it would appear that the Republicans were the much stronger power the loyalty of the people of Spain rested mainly with the Nationalists. Even though in territory, population and industry the Republicans certainly had the advantage but the poor organization of their armed forces, compared to the precision training of the Army of Africa, allowed the Nationalists to even the playing field. At the outbreak of war I would say that the Republicans had the upper hand and if they had acted quicker, with better organization, they could have won the war. I believe that it is fairly ‘accurate’ to describe the two forces as ‘evenly balanced at the outbreak of Civil War’ however they were not completely even as the Republicans had a slight advantage due to the numerical evidence we have regarding territory, population, industry and armed forces. If they two sides were not fairly even though the war would have never lasted for three years so this advantage was only very slight.

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