...the Spanish Civil War
The circumstances that led to the Spanish Civil War had been developing for years. In 1923, a coup d'etat had established General Miguel Primo de Rivera as virtual dictator of Spain, though King Alfonzo XIII remained the royal figurehead. But by 1930, growing opposition to de Rivera's right-wing government led to his resignation. The following year, popular elections threw out the monarchist government and forced the abdication of King Alfonso XIII.

The Second Republic, as the new Spain was called, suffered much political turmoil, while factions fought over how much reform should be undertaken and at what pace. A coalition of leftist parties joined together to dominate the parliament, calling for sweeping social reforms. But competing conservative factions in Spain continually threatened the loose union, and over the next several years the political situation became increasingly polarized.

By the election of 1936, the Popular Front party had united members of the left and won the election. But five months later, on July 18, a rebellion broke out among army units, marking the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. The right-wing generals, led by General Francisco Franco, launched a military coup to overthrow the elected parliament.

As the civil war dragged on, Hitler and Mussolini made a pact with Franco. In return for large quantities of iron ore, copper and other raw materials - resources for their growing war machine - they would lend Franco the support necessary to take and hold the Basque port of Bilbao, a strategic gateway to the shipbuilding and heavy industry facilities of the north. With their support, Franco took control of more and more Spanish territory.

Republican forces mounted heroic opposition, but their supplies were limited, their weapons outdated and their international support was faltering. In an effort to contain the civil war, France, England and the United States had signed a controversial Non-Intervention Pact, which denied assistance to the Republic.

In spite of unlimited resources from his fascist allies, Franco was unable to break the spirited resistance in the mountainous Basque region of northern Spain. He turned again to Hitler for the loan of the Fuhrer's latest bombers and fighters. This force would be known as the "Condor Legion."

Airplanes had been in their infancy when first used in World War I. The fragile cloth-covered biplanes played only a marginal role in reconnaissance, occasional dogfights, or harassment of enemy infantry with light machine-gun fire and hand grenades. But the 1920's and 30's saw great advances in aeronautics, and along with improved technologies came disturbing new military strategies.

In 1935, German General Erich Ludendorff published Die Totale Krieg (The Total War) in which he presented the view that in war, no one is innocent; everyone is a combatant and everyone a target, soldier and civilian alike. Italian General Giulio Douhet further suggested an enemy's morale could be crushed by air-delivered terror. Such theories intrigued Nazi Germany's new Fuhrer, but they needed testing. Spain seemed to be the perfect laboratory.

The Commander of the Condor Legion was Lt. Colonel Wolfram von Richthofen, cousin of Manfred von Richthofen, the infamous Red Baron of World War I. It was Von Richthofen who earmarked Guernica for bombardment, on behalf of Franco. At precisely 3:45 PM, Monday, April 26, 1937, the first German bomber took off. Three-quarters of an hour later, the first bomb fell on Guernica - a direct hit on the plaza at the center of town, a full quarter mile from the targeted bridge.

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Mona Lisa
detail from Guernica
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