I have been reading the Battle for Spain by Antony Beevor. One of the arguments the author makes is that the first 48 hours of the July 17th military uprising was the most vital period in which a strong government response could have crushed the nationalist rebellion. However, despite knowledge of the uprising the government Quiroga seemed completely unwilling to take the necessary action of arming the workers. In a message released the next day from Madrid notes the lack of urgency felt by the Republican government, "The government states that the movement is confined to certain areas in the Protectorate [Morocco] and that no one, absolutely no one, on the mainland has joined this absurd venture".[Beevor, 2006]

Despite this, there appears to have been numerous Republican generals and members of the CNT and UGT trade unions who warned the government to the intentions of the nationalists plotters of Sanjurjo, Mola, and Franco. It seems implausible that the government of Spain could be so blind to what was going on in Morocco. Granted I doubt that the more moderate socialists and liberals in the Republican government wanted to arm the workers and there seems to have been attempts to negotiate peace, but there seems to be more at play here. Why didn't the Republican government attempt some sort of possible military response to the right wing rebellion?

3 Answers 3


The Spanish Civil War started as a combination of an officers' revolt, plus a coup.

The coup "failed," as such (few government leaders were captured by the Nationalists). That may have led to a false sense of security by the government.

They probably thought that it was just a rising of a few disaffected officers, and not a full-scale rebellion that would require heroic measures to suppress. Nor could they see the Franco forces winning over about half of the population for a civil war, which the Nationalists could then win, given help from Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Of course the government soon changed its mind, but its "reaction time" was greater than 48 hours.

Plus the fact that the indicated course of action was to arm the workers to fight the army. That was a scenario that the basically centrist government feared about as much as the army itself. If they had followed this course of action, perhaps there would have been a workers' revolution that left us wondering: "Why didn't the government side with the generals against the workers?"

  • 1
    I like the ideas of false sense of security. It certainly sounds plausible. Can you perhaps beef the answer up with sources and more detail? Dec 8, 2012 at 14:20
  • @FelixGoldberg: I believe that this was the source I used.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Civil_War. Not the greatest, but my answer was mostly interpretation "probably thought it was just a rising," "nor could they see," "reaction time was greater than 48 hours," etc.
    – Tom Au
    Feb 25, 2013 at 17:55
  • a perfect answer! and, well, the source for it you can add to your post : estaticos.elperiodico.com/resources/jpg/4/6/…
    – CptEric
    Aug 31, 2016 at 13:49
  • the government expected the rest of the army to stay loyal after the 17th marrakesh army raising, and 12 hours later, the morning of the 18th, the (failed thanks to the CNT) coup started country-wide, which led to the army rising.
    – CptEric
    Aug 31, 2016 at 13:53

Points to be taken into account:

  • In the months leading to the coup, there had been lots of political violence and terrorism.

  • the workers that would be receiving weapons would not be under the government control, they would be managed by the trade unions/political parties they belonged to.

With the enemy (as far as the government knew) isolated in Africa (without German help it is dubious that they could have moved the army to mainlaind Spain with the required speed), it did not make a lot of sense to give weapons to workers in Sevilla or A Coruña. In fact, it could present more problems than advantages:

  • If the trade unions / political parties refused to return the weapons after the crisis. And even if they agreed, given the confussion, it would be most likely that many weapons would not be recovered and in the hands of the more radical grups or regular criminals.

  • It could convince military leaders that the Government was in the hands (or at least could not stop) the trade unions/political parties militias and that their only chance of keeping an stable government (or even their personal survival) was joining the rebels.

Even after a few months of war, the situation in the Republican zone remained chaotic so, while a posteriori it could be said that the best course of action was arming the militias, it is understandable that the Government hesitated to do so.


You concentrate in general Franco as the only leader. The Coup was lead by the commander Sanjurjo followed by Mola in the Peninsula and Franco as the leader of the Afrikan army (the best with the most experience in combat).

The republican side has the important industrial areas, major part of the navy and the whole Air force. While nationalists has the best part of the army with more professional soldiers, the legion (the best unit of the spanish army) was nationalists but was in Afrika. Thats why the nationalists were not enough to surrender madrid not even any offensive until General Franco arrived with the army. Mola achieved the conquest of the industrial north coast after the failure to conquer Madrid.

With the navy in Gibraltar strait waters, Franco was unable to land in the Peninsula so he asked for help to the Germans with transport planes. Germany accepted giving Franco total Air superiority in adition of Italian air force. The soviet union´s help arrived but after the arrive of Afrikan army lead by franco. Once afrikan army arrive to the war, the nationalists army was victory over victory. However, The Fall of th commander Sanjurjo and the marshall Mola provocked a military officer meeting. By prestige Franco was chosen as the supreme leader and head of State of Spain but with commitment to be a transitory government until the king came back.

The propaganda made Franco the leader of the crusade against the communist revolution started by Republican-left politicians (the counter-revolution against communism). The political from the center to Far-right gave him total loyalty. After, the victory of the war proclaim that "the red army has been defeated". However, when the moment arrive to give back the power to the king decided to delay the decision until ww2 ended.

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