The Nationalists and Republicans proceeded to organize their respective territories and to repress opposition or suspected opposition. Republican violence occurred primarily during the early stages of the war before the rule of law was restored, but the Nationalist violence was part of a conscious policy of terror. The matter of how many were killed remains highly contentious; however, it is generally believed that the toll of Nationalist violence was higher.
In any event, the proliferation of executions, murders, and assassinations on both sides reflects the great passions that the Civil War unleashed.
The captaincy of the Nationalists was gradually assumed by General Franco, leading forces he had brought from Morocco. On October 1, , he was named head of state and set up a government in Burgos.
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The Republican government, beginning in September , was headed by the socialist leader Francisco Largo Caballero. Internecine conflict compromised the Republican effort from the outset.
On one side were the anarchists and militant socialists, who viewed the war as a revolutionary struggle and spearheaded widespread collectivization of agriculture, industry , and services; on the other were the more moderate socialists and republicans, whose objective was the preservation of the Republic. Seeking allies against the threat of Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union had embraced a Popular Front strategy, and, as a result, the Comintern directed Spanish communists to support the Republicans.
Both the Nationalist and Republican sides, seeing themselves as too weak to win a quick victory, turned abroad for help. Germany and Italy sent troops, tanks, and planes to aid the Nationalists. The Soviet Union contributed equipment and supplies to the Republicans, who also received help from the Mexican government. During the first weeks of the war, the Popular Front government of France also supported the Republicans, but internal opposition forced a change of policy. About 40, foreigners fought on the Republican side in the International Brigades largely under the command of the Comintern, and 20, others served in medical or auxiliary units.
By November the Nationalists had advanced to the outskirts of Madrid. They laid siege to it but were unable to get beyond the University City area. They captured the Basque northern provinces in the summer of and then Asturias, so that by October they held the whole northern coast. A war of attrition began. The Nationalists drove a salient eastward through Teruel , reaching the Mediterranean and splitting the republic in two in April In December they moved upon Catalonia in the northeast, forcing the Republican armies there northward toward France.
By February , , Republican soldiers, together with an equal number of civilians, had fled across the border into France. On March 5 the Republican government flew to exile in France. On March 7 a civil war broke out in Madrid between communist and anticommunist factions. By March 28 all of the Republican armies had begun to disband and surrender, and Nationalist forces entered Madrid on that day.
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The number of persons killed in the Spanish Civil War can be only roughly estimated. Nationalist forces put the figure at 1,,, including not only those killed in battle but also the victims of bombardment, execution, and assassination.
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More recent estimates have been closer to , or less. This does not include all those who died from malnutrition, starvation, and war-engendered disease. The political and emotional reverberations of the war far transcended those of a national conflict, for many in other countries saw the Spanish Civil War as part of an international conflict between—depending on their point of view—tyranny and democracy , or fascism and freedom, or communism and civilization.
For Germany and Italy, Spain was a testing ground for new methods of tank and air warfare. For Britain and France, the conflict represented a new threat to the international equilibrium that they were struggling to preserve, which in collapsed into World War II. The war also had mobilized many artists and intellectuals to take up arms. We welcome suggested improvements to any of our articles.
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Jan 16, See Article History. Timeline of the Spanish Civil War. Learn More in these related Britannica articles: The French and British governments pursued a policy of nonintervention, although an International Brigade of private volunteers fought alongside the Republicans. It quickly became apparent that the revolutionaries were supported by Italy and, to a lesser extent, Germany, not only with money and arms but also with men.
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