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Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939

In July 1936, Spanish army units stationed in Morocco proclaimed a revolution against Spain's government. Most army units in Spain then rose in revolt, and they soon won control of about a third of the country. The rebels hoped to overthrow the government quickly and restore order in Spain, but Popular Front forces took up arms against the military.

In October, the rebel leaders chose General Francisco Franco as their commander in chief. They also made him head of the revolutionary government, called the Council of National Defense. By this time the revolt had developed into a full-scale civil war. Franco's forces became known as Nationalists or Rebels and were supported by Spain's fascist political party, the Falange Española. The forces that fought to save the republic were called Loyalists or Republicans.

The Spanish Civil War drew international attention. Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy supported Franco's forces, and Communist Russia aided the Loyalists. In addition, Loyalist sympathizers from the United States and many other countries joined the International Brigades that were formed by Communists to fight in Spain.

By the end of 1937, the Nationalists clearly held the upper hand in Spain. They had taken most of western Spain in the summer of 1936 and were gradually pushing the Loyalist forces to the east and north. Russia ended large-scale aid to the Loyalists in 1938, and Franco launched a mighty offensive against Loyalists armies that same year.

Franco entered Madrid in March 1939, and the remaining Loyalist forces surrendered on April 1st. Several hundred thousand Spaniards had died in the war, much of Spain lay in ruins, and the short-lived republic had been replaced by a dictatorship under Franco.

Chronology of Major Events


Miguel Primo de Rivera seized power in a military coup.


January 28 Miguel Primo de Rivera was forced to resign.


April 14 The Second Spanish Repulic was proclaimed and King Alfonso XIII went into exile.

May 25 Niceto Zamora resigned as Prime Minister and was replaced by Manuel Azaña.

December 11 Niceto Zamora was elected President of the Second Spanish Republic.


August 10 General Jose Sanjurjo led a failed miliary uprising against the government.


January 8 Anarchists led uprisings in Saragossa, Seville, Bilbao and Madrid.

October 29 José Antonio Primo de Rivera established the Falange Española.

November 19 Right-wing parties won the general elections.

December 2 Anarchists staged uprisings in Catalonia and Aragon.


October 7 Manuel Azaña was arrested and interned in Barcelona.


April 6 A Tribunal of Constitutional Guarantees acquitted Manuel Azaña of all charges.


Spain in 1936 (Nationalist-held areas are in pink)
Spain in 1936 (Nationalist-held areas are in pink)

January 15 Manuel Azaña organized the Popular Front.

February 16 The Popular Front won the general election.

February 19 President Niceto Alcalà Zamora appoined Manuel Azaña as Prime Minister.

February 22 General Francisco Franco was relieved of his command and sent to the Canary Islands.

February 28 General Emilio Mola was relieved of his command and sent to Pamplona.

March 14 José Antonio Primo de Rivera was arrested and charged with arms trafficking.

April 7 President Niceto Alcalà Zamora was deposed.

May 8 Manuel Azaña was elected President of the Spanish Republic.

July 18 Successful military uprisings were staged in Morocco and Seville.

July 20 Coup leader General Jose Sanjurjo was killed in a plane crash.

July 21 Nationalists captured the central Spanish naval base at Ferrol.

July 24 Nationalists captured Granada.

August 4 Nationalists captured Badajoz.

August 28 Nationalist forces bombed Madrid.

Septenber 4 The Republican government resigned.

September 5 Nationalists took Irún.

September 15 Nationalists took San Sebastián.

September 21 Francisco Franco was chosen Chief Military Commander of the Nationalists.

November 2 Nationalists captured Brunete.

November 6 Nationalists began a siege on Madrid.

November 20 Miguel Primo de Rivera was esecuted in Alicante.


Spain in 1937 (Nationalist areas in pink)

February 8 Nationalists captured Málaga.

March 8 The Italian Corp captured Guadalajara.

March 18 The Republican Army defeated the Italian Corps outside Madrid.

April 26 Guernica, the Basque capital, was bombed by German planes.

June 3 General Emilio Mola was killed in an air crash.

June 19 Nationalists captured Bilbao.

August 26 Nationalists captured Santander.

August 28 Nationalists began bombing Madrid.

October 1 Republican forces captured Belchite.
Republican tanks entering Belchite
Republican tanks entering Belchite

December 8 Nationalist aircraft bombed Barcelona.


Spain in 1938 (Nationalist area in pink)

January 9 The Republican Army captured Teruel from the Nationalists.

February 22 The Nationalist Army recaptured Teruel.

March 16 An Italian air force began bombing Barcelona.

April 15 The Nationalist Army captured Vinaroz.

November 15 International Brigades paraded through the streets of Barcelona.


Spain in 1939 (Nationalist areas in pink)

January 26 Barcelona was captured by the Nationalists.

February 4 President Manuel Azaña went into exile.

March 27 The Nationalist Army entered Madrid.

March 30 The Nationalist Army captured Valencia.

April 1 Francisco Franco announced the end of the Spanish Civil War.

King Alfonso XIII
Canary Islands

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The Robinson Library >> General and Old World History >> Spain >> 1886-Present

This page was last updated on October 23, 2017.