Introduction to the Spanish Civil War

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The military uprising

The murder of Calvo Sotelo, a prominent Catholic conservative politician, on 13 July 1936 by members of the Republican Assault Guard (itself a response to the murder of one of their comrades, Lieutenant Jose Castillo, the previous day) served as the perfect excuse for the leader of the plot, General Emilio Mola. On the evening of 17 July 1936, the military garrisons rose in Morocco, and the revolt quickly spread to the mainland. The rising began with army garrisons disarming loyal Republican Officers, then declaring the region for the Rebels. The rising was usually supported by Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera's Falange and the Civil Guard, who often acted on their own if the local town had no military garrison.

In Morocco, Mallorca, Old Castile, Navarre, Aragon and South Andalusia the rising was generally successful. However, in other areas, including the major cities of Madrid and Barcelona, the generals met with bitter and effective resistance from loyal members of the Civil Guard and Assault Guards, and from workers' militiamen who seized arms despite initial government opposition.

The uprising unleashed a terror in both Republican and Rebel held areas. In the 'Nationalist' sector, the military insurgents, aided by elements of the Falange, brutally demonstrated their determination to win by the cold and deliberate application of terror. Opponents of the rising, particularly members of the PSOE and the PCE or the UGT and CNT, but also many thousands of others with Republican sympathies were arrested and executed. In one of the most infamous events of the civil war, Federico Garci­a Lorca, the celebrated poet whose offense was to have Republican leanings, was arrested by a local member of the CEDA and murdered. Meanwhile, in the Republican sector, church burnings and the murder of suspected Rightists continued apace as militia units and 'uncontrollables' pursued their own revolutionary justice, despite attempts made by the government to contain the terror. The murder of 2,000 rightist prisoners in early November 1936 at Paracuellos del Jarama and the execution of Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera on the 20th were both used by the Nationalists to accuse the Republic of 'red barbarism'.