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During the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939) to what extent did the International Brigades play a role in fighting the fascists coup? My understanding is that they were a relatively minor element, mostly dramatized by the Republican government and socialist parties world wide. However, I am really interested to know if they were effective in any major battles.

I would also like to know the level of Soviet support that was given to the brigades, in comparison to international support for the Republican government and fascist support for the military coup. Wikipedia provides some interesting statistics apparently heavily from Antony Beevor's The Battle for Spain, but some context and additional sources would be appreciated.

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Beevor is a revisioist historian, I would not trust his statistics very much. –  Anixx Apr 11 '12 at 9:04
    
Given that Beevor works primarily as someone who produces synthetic histories with large scopes, and is not a Spanish Civil War specialist, I would rely on other works. –  Samuel Russell May 12 '13 at 9:50

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From what I can tell, the International Brigades were mostly effective only for propaganda purposes and to camouflage the presence of Soviet assistance to the Republican government. The 32,000-35,000 men in the brigades were a grab bag of unemployed workers, middle class non-combatants, veterans from the first world war, etc; all motivated by a shared socialist ideology and anti-fascist outlook. Despite their generally noble intentions (a few were certainly adventure seekers), they were mostly unused to combat and lacked military training [2006, Beevor].

This was a problem given that one of the motivations of the International Brigades were to provide an example in military discipline and tactics to the equally unready Republican army. Soviet military advisors tried to provide adequate training to the brigades, but often ran into problems such as political squabbles between soviet and republican leaders, cultural differences, and varying quality of equipment (which was mostly poor). The International Brigades only lasted for about a year during which the battles in which they played a decisive roll appear to have been bloody stalemates or in the case of the Battle of Guadalajara, due more to the incompetence of the Italian allies of the nationalists.

The International Brigades, were driven in their formation and ultimate dissolution by larger regional factors. The Soviet Union was unwilling to provide too much open support for the Republican government for fear of straining relationships with Britain and France, which they felt they needed to maintain as an anti-fascist block against Italy and Germany. Britain and France were unwilling to involve themselves because the general governments of those countries were ambivalent of the fascist countries (in some sectors, most notably the navy and business, open supporters of the fascists) and were put off by the left-wing characteristics of the Republican government. America was unwilling to get involved in another major European war, but many of her prominent businessmen (such as Ford) openly supported the fascist rebellion.

The International Brigades were never able to achieve the same level of military effectiveness as the nationalist Army of Africa, and only appear to have made it more difficult for Republican Spain to gain the support of the non-fascist governments. It seems to me that despite the undoubted courage shown by the International Brigades, they faced the same insurmountable problems of the Republic at large; it is no wonder that they were not capable of changing what was ultimately a losing battle.

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Another unfortunate circumstance for Republican Spain was in the fact that their most important ally (the Soviet Union) was only half heartedly supporting them. From "The Battle for Spain" by Antony Beevor, "Hitler evidently did not realize that Stalin was afraid of provoking him and that he was unwilling to let Spanish affairs embarrass Soviet foreign policy". –  BrotherJack Apr 29 '12 at 17:46

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