Hell and Good Company
News Arrives of the Death of Others
Barcelona, 25 July 1936: In the glare of Spanish summer, the first witnesses to the igniting civil war are leaving to tell the world. Many are American and European athletes enrolled for the anti-fascist People’s Olympiad, canceled now, meant to be an alternative to the official Olympics about to open in Nazi Berlin. They crowd the deck of an overburdened Spanish boat hired to evacuate them, pressing at the dockside railing for a last look. Above the harbor the high pedestaled statue of Christopher Columbus, its gilding gone like Spanish power, points them west to the New World, but the promenade of the Ramblas behind it that follows an old streambed up into the heart of the city is strewn with shattered trees, dead horses, burned cars. Bullets have pockmarked the façades of churches; blood dries on barricades of paving stones. The city has been pacified and crowds sing, but fascist snipers still hammer death from rooftops and empty windows.
A young American woman at the railing, Muriel Rukeyser, poet leaving to tell the world, locates her Bavarian lover on the crowded pier—
At the end of July, exile. We watch the gangplank go. . . .
They met on the tourist train coming down from Paris, the tall, voluptuous woman and the tall, lean man, a runner, an exiled anti-Nazi. They wasted no time. Three days and nights of lovemaking with no common language on the hot train halted by the general strike outside the battling city and then he released her, joined the International Column—
. . . first of the faces going home into war
the brave man Otto Boch, the German exile . . .
he kept his life straight as a single issue—
left at that dock we left, his gazing Brueghel face,
square forehead and eyes, strong square breast fading,
the narrow runner’s hips diminishing dark.
An English journal had commissioned her to cover the People’s Olympiad, a last-minute substitute for an editor who had begged off to attend a wedding. She had departed London for Spain that late July unaware that the shooting had already begun. From mid-June to mid-July more than sixty people had been
assassinated in Spain and ten churches set on fire; a spate of bombings had shaken the country. In that season she would remember as the
“hot, beautiful summer of 1936” she was twenty-two, with dark, thick hair and gray eyes, intensely intelligent, already a prizewinning poet. It was her first time out of America.
Muriel Rukeyser was an early eyewitness to Spain’s civil war. Those germinal days would change her; the war would be a touchstone of her poetry for the rest of her life. The war of Spanish democracy against its fascist generals and landed rich and their North African mercenaries would change the lives of everyone it touched. Enlarging to a
“little world war”—Time magazine’s coinage—it would serve as a test bed for new technologies both of life and of death.
In London the porter at Victoria Station had spoken to Rukeyser of European war. She found Paris bannered with
“posters and notices of gas-masks.” There she had boarded the metal-green night express to
little Cerbère in its Mediterranean cove, the last stop in France, where a fan of rail yard behind the town narrowed to cross the border through a tunnel and fanned out again behind Spain’s Port Bou.
The different gauges of the two countries’ tracks required a change of trains. While Rukeyser and her fellow passengers transferred on the shuttle train that Sunday, the forty-three-year-old traitor Francisco Franco Bahamonde, once the youngest general in the Spanish army, approached his country from the Atlantic side. Since March Franco had been idling in rustic exile in the Canary Islands, a thousand miles from Madrid, expelled there by the Republic to limit his influence. Now the London correspondent of a Spanish royalist newspaper was spiriting him in a chartered twin-engine Dragon Rapide to Tetuan, in North Africa opposite Gibraltar, where Spain’s faithless Army of Africa awaited him. The generals’ rebellion on the mainland needed reinforcements for its coup to succeed; the Spanish people, taking up arms, were already putting down rebel uprisings in cities all over Spain.
After Rukeyser passed through customs in Port Bou there was time for a swim. The train on the Spanish side was slow, local, and hot, Olympic teams and Spanish and foreign passengers stifling now on benches in wooden third-class cars. Beyond the train windows the terrain turned mountainous, the earth red-gold.
“The train stops at every little station,” Rukeyser notices, “rests, moves as if exhausted when it does move.” Two Spanish soldiers pass through the car in black patent-leather hats and “comic-opera uniforms with natty yellow leather straps,” smoking English cigarettes and pointing out olive orchards, castles, and churches. “There is time to point out any amount of landscape,” Rukeyser notes drily. At the stations the soldiers stick their guns out the windows, saluting the armed workers patrolling the platforms.
Nearer Barcelona the signs of fighting increase, militiamen with rifles guarding road intersections along the way. At one station a miliciana, a girl in a simple cotton dress leading a troop of boys with guns, works through the train. The determined girl searches bags and
luggage for photographs, fotografías, confiscating them, pulling film from cameras. A panicked American woman tells Rukeyser the girl and the armed boys must be communists bent on stealing, but a calmer Spanish passenger says the “fascists”—Franco’s nationalists—have been killing any armed civilians they identify from photographs. The young people handle the cameras carefully and return them to their owners intact.
Around midday that Sunday the train halts in Montcada, a small town seven miles above Barcelona: the beleaguered government in Madrid has called a general strike. How long they would be stuck there no one knew. They would not have wanted to continue into the Catalan capital yet; the uprising was still raging. The New York Times’s Barcelona correspondent, Lawrence Fernsworth, described hearing
“continuous volleys of rifle fire” in the city that bloody Sunday, “clattering hoofs and bugle calls . . . men shouting and others screaming in anguish . . . screeching flocks of swallows flying back and forth in a frenzy as bullets whistle among them.” Fernsworth saw
“riderless horses [that] galloped over the bodies of the dead and the dying. From windows and rooftops everywhere spat more rifle and machine-gun fire. Motorcars overfilled with armed men raced through the streets. . . . Fieldpieces, now in the hands of the populace, boomed from street intersections. Their shells tore through the length of the streets, slicing off trees, exploding against a building or blowing a stalled streetcar or an automobile to bits.”
By Monday evening the republic’s militias had gained control and Fernsworth found only
“splotches of blood drying on the pavement where the wounded had been taken away” in the Plaza Cataluña, the city center at the head of the long, tree-lined walk of the Ramblas. “Empty cartridges and bandoliers were lying about everywhere.” With bloodshed and more broken walls and Dolores Ibárruri, the woman they called La Pasionaria, on the radio crying “No pasaran! [They shall not pass!]” Madrid had been secured as well.
The Spanish people were fighting alone. Even the government they had elected, a coalition just six months old, was riven with dissent. In the past decade they had endured a rump monarchy and then a
right-wing dictatorship. In 1934 the coal miners in the northern mining district of Asturias had revolted. Franco, hastily appointed army chief of staff, had been called in to put down the revolt and had done so brutally with mercenaries from Spanish Morocco, the people the Spanish called Moros. The Moroccans were enthusiastic and inventive killers: castrating the wounded was a favorite sport, robbing the dead a recreation.
When Spain voted for democracy in February 1936 the new leaders had banished Franco to his post in the Canaries. From that exile he had plotted with his fellow generals to stage a coup d’état. Moors had first invaded the Iberian Peninsula in A.D. 711 and it had taken the Spanish seven hundred years to drive them out. Ferdinand and Isabella had completed that reconquista and Columbus had sailed in the banner year 1492. Now the rebel generals were rallying the Moors’ descendants in the name of Christian Spain to overthrow the legitimate Spanish government and hack their way to power.
“Glory to the heroic Army of Africa,” Franco radioed the mainland army and navy bases in late July 1936, floridly, when he had secured North Africa at the beginning of the coup. “Spain above everything! Accept the enthusiastic greetings of those garrisons which join you and all other comrades in the Peninsula in these historic moments. Blind faith in victory! Long live Spain with honor!”
It was urgent that Franco move the Moroccan mercenaries and Spanish Foreign Legionaries who supported the rebel generals to the Peninsula—to mainland Spain—or the nationalist coup d’état would fail. But ordinary seamen in the Spanish navy rejected the rebellion. When their nationalist officers resisted, the seamen killed them. In those first days of conflict the chemist José Giral, for a few brief weeks the prime minister of republican Spain—it was he who had dissolved the army and ordered the people armed when the coup began on 19 July—sent the navy to blockade Morocco and quarantine the colonial rebellion in North Africa.
The rebels’ few gunboats were no match for the Spanish navy—no match, for that matter, for even the antiquated Spanish air force, which could strafe and bomb the nationalist transports. To move his forces to
the Peninsula, Franco realized, he needed aircraft. A mission he sent to Italian prime minister and fascist Duce Benito Mussolini in Rome collided with one sent there from Navarre by Franco’s fellow rebel general Emilio Mola, confusing Mussolini about who was in charge. The nationalists’ leader at the outset had been sixty-four-year-old senior general José Sanjurjo, styled “the Lion of the Rif” for his victories in the coastal Rif region of northern Morocco, but with a trunkful of uniforms he had overloaded the little Puss Moth biplane sent to fetch him from Lisbon and it had crashed on takeoff and burned. Mola now commanded in the north, operating independently, and Franco in the south. Mussolini hesitated.
Franco had better luck in Germany. His first message went out through diplomatic channels on 22 July, asking for ten transport aircraft, payment to be deferred. The German foreign ministry saw no benefit in supporting the rebellion and denied the request within twenty-four hours. Fortunately for Franco, Adolf Hitler’s Germany had a dual-track government. Franco’s second appeal passed through Nazi Party channels directly to Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess, who alerted the Führer. The two expatriate German businessmen who carried Franco’s appeal from Morocco to Berlin in a commandeered Lufthansa Junkers-52 traveled on with Hess to Bayreuth, where Hitler was attending the annual Wagner festival.
Fresh from a performance of Die Walküre, “The Ride of the Valkyries” slow-rolling in his head, Hitler met Franco’s delegates in the Wagner villa at ten thirty on the evening of 25 July 1936. They had not had their dinner. The Führer asked a few skeptical questions. The rebels had no money?
“You cannot begin a war like that.” Without help, Franco would lose? “He is lost.” But he warmed to the challenge and lectured Franco’s delegates undined for the next three hours. He called in his war and air ministers, Werner von Blomberg and Hermann Goering. Goering misread the Führer’s mood and objected to supporting the rebels—the Luftwaffe itself, he complained, only recently emerged from its Lufthansa camouflage, was short of planes—until he
realized that Hitler had made up his mind. Then Goering discovered his enthusiasm for the Spanish project. At his Nuremberg trial the air marshal claimed he urged Hitler
“to give support under all circumstances, firstly, in order to prevent the further spread of communism in that theater and, secondly, to test my young Luftwaffe at this opportunity in this or that technical respect.”
Hitler had different motives. He paid lip service to keeping the Strait of Gibraltar free of communist control—to the Nazis, Spain’s Popular Front coalition was communist—but in fact he wanted to distract England and France from German rearmament with a challenge to France’s rear and Britain’s access to the Suez Canal. To fuel rearmament he wanted Spanish iron ore, mercury, and especially pyrites, the cubic crystals of fool’s gold—iron and copper sulfide—that yielded iron, copper, lead, zinc, and sulfuric acid for industrial processing. Spain, a country rich in metals, had mountains of pyrites to trade. Franco had asked for ten transports. Grandly, Hitler decided to send him twenty trimotor Junkers-52s that could be converted into bombers, with crews and maintenance personnel and six fighter escorts. With a nod to Wagner, he christened the operation Feuerzauber—Magic Fire—and went to bed contented; for the Führer, wizarding the fate of whole populations was all in a night’s work.
The Spanish republican forces needed aircraft as well. Giral had telegraphed Léon Blum, the socialist French prime minister, on 20 July, asking for bombs and bombers, but the French right wing howled. Blum in London on 23 July heard, he said later,
“counsels of prudence . . . dispensed and sharp fears expressed.” English prime minister Stanley Baldwin put it bluntly enough.
“We hate Fascism,” he is supposed to have said. “But we hate Bolshevism just as much. If, therefore, there is a country where Fascists and Bolsheviks kill each other, it is a boon for mankind.” Under pressure from the English, who favored Franco, Blum decided that nonintervention was the better part of valor.
The French were not opposed to private sales, however. The air ministry dispatched thirty-four-year-old André Malraux,
the novelist and cultural buccaneer, to Madrid on 23 July to assess republican requirements. Briefed about the vicissitudes of the Spanish air force, most of whose officers however had remained loyal, Malraux toured the Madrid area and met with the Spanish president, Manuel Azaña. In an optimistic dispatch to the Paris newspaper L’Humanité he reported,
“Madrid has been completely cleared as far south as Andalucía, to the east as far as the sea, to the west as far as Portugal. It is only in the north that the rebel army has sent out small advance guards, which have been beaten and pushed back beyond the hillsides of the Sierra de Guadarrama”—the mountain range that barricaded Madrid to the northwest. Back in Paris Malraux began buying planes and recruiting pilots. Both were dear, the planes antiquated, most of the pilots mercenaries prepared to engage the fascists in aerial dogfights for
a monthly 25,000 francs in combat pay (about $35,000 today).
Mussolini, having sorted out who among the rebels was in charge, wanted cash for his aircraft. A fascist Spanish financier, Juan March, put up almost $5 million for the first twelve Italian planes, a mix of fighters and transports. Later March would buy the factory and recoup his investment several times over. The Italian aircraft began arriving in Morocco at the end of July, as did the German Feuerzauber flight.
In the harbor in Barcelona on 25 July, while Hitler in Bayreuth was tumefying over Wagner, Muriel Rukeyser spoke to her lover for the last time:
When I left you, you stood on the pier and held
your face up and never smiled, saying what we had found
was a gift of the revolution—and the boat sailed. . . .
At a mass meeting that afternoon the head of the games had celebrated
“the beautiful and great victory of the people” in driving the rebels out of Barcelona. Instead of the games, he said, the athletes and visitors would carry to their home countries—it would be their duty—the story of what they had seen in Spain. Rukeyser did her duty on the
crossing to France, drafting her great poem “Mediterranean.” The New Masses published it in mid-September.
“If we had not seen fighting,” it urges,
if we had not looked there
the plane flew low
the plaster ripped by shots
the peasant’s house
if we had stayed in our world
between the table and the desk
between the town and the suburb . . .
If we had lived in our city
sixty years might not prove
the power this week
the overthrown past. . . .
Franco had not waited until the German Feuerzauber transports arrived to initiate his airlift. He used the few planes he had on hand and supplemented his fleet with Italian Savoia bombers as he received them. By 1 August he had moved eight hundred legionaries across to Spain. Frustrated at the slow pace, he began shipping legionaries and Moroccans by sea as well, using his available fighter aircraft to fly cover. The Feuerzauber flights began a week into August. Thus bootstrapping, by the end of September Franco had
thirteen thousand men on the Peninsula and some four hundred tons of equipment.
Another thousand men and another hundred tons of gear would follow in October. It was the world’s first large-scale military airlift, and it kept the rebellion alive.
“Barcelona’s black July 19 passed into history,” the New York Times’s Fernsworth reports, but rebellion was spreading through Spain like an underground fire, “burst[ing] out again in new places.” The Republic had secured most of the major cities—Madrid, Valencia, Málaga, Alicante, Almería, Bilbao. There was still fighting in the cities of Old Castile, the region of central Spain north of Madrid beyond the
Guadarrama Mountains that extends up to the Bay of Biscay; in Extremadura touching Portugal to the west; in Galicia, the far northwestern Spanish province that was Franco’s birthplace; in Asturias along the Bay of Biscay east of Galicia; in Catholic Navarre in the northeastern corner of the country, from the Ebro River up into the Pyrenees. “In these regions,” says Fernsworth, “the rebels held Burgos and Valladolid; Granada, Seville and Cadiz; Badajoz, La Coruna, Oviedo, Santander and Pamplona. And across the Straits of Gibraltar the Moroccans had come under the standard of revolt and were being poured into Spain.”
Staging inland from Gibraltar, which the British continued to control, Franco intended to drive northeast toward Madrid, the Spanish capital. Taking it while the republican government scrambled to train and organize an army that had lost its officer corps might have shortened the war. But partly because his experience had been limited to field command in Africa, partly because he was fighting a civil war, Franco determined to advance only as rapidly as he could pacify the territory behind him. Otherwise, he feared, any opposition could reemerge to attack him from the rear.
For all his nationalistic rhetoric, Franco was politically credulous. One of his first acts as commander of the nationalist army was to outlaw Freemasonry; he believed that the Masons, of all people, were the dark force behind the socialists and liberals of the Popular Front. Short on imagination, he was physically short as well: five feet four, with small, girlish hands, a high-pitched voice, and a paunch he had acquired early in adulthood. In the Academy for Infantry Cadets in the Alcázar fortress in Toledo, which he entered at fourteen in 1907 and from which he graduated as a second lieutenant at seventeen in 1910, his classmates had nicknamed him Franquito, little Frankie,
“Frankie-boy.” The school disciplined with physical punishment. Fastidious and sexually inhibited, Franco was bullied as well. He learned to hold a grudge.
His school experiences compounded a childhood under an abusive father who regularly beat his children while his unresisting wife, the pious mother Franco idealized, stood by. Both home and school
experiences preconditioned the boy for the
violent socialization required of military men. Franco’s father, Don Nicolás, was everything his fragile son came to despise, one of Franco’s biographers writes, a womanizer, garrulous, explosive,
“a political free-thinker with a marked sympathy for the freemasons and profound distaste for religion.” Childhood is always the first arena of personality, but few childhoods map more directly onto adult identity than Franco’s. In pursuing a latter-day, reverse reconquista he was less a fascist than an aggrandized martinet.
Pacification as the rebels conceived it meant torture, rape, and slaughter. General Mola, Franco’s northern counterpart, proclaiming martial law in Pamplona on 19 July, made his intentions explicit:
“It is necessary to spread terror. . . . Anyone who helps or hides a communist or a supporter of the Popular Front will be shot.”
The colonial forces that Mola and Franco commanded were conditioned to violent repression; they repatriated to Spain the extreme violence that Spanish officers had encouraged them to use to dominate the Moroccan countryside. Chicago Tribune correspondent Edmond Taylor met them socially and observed them in action. “The Moors,” he writes, “many of whom were irregulars recruited in the mountains for the occasion, were simply savage mercenaries fighting for infidels against infidels, and the Sacred Heart scapulars they wore pinned to the burnooses of Islam were the badges of their tragic Berber blood that was always ready to spill itself for alien faiths.”
The legionaries were something more, Taylor goes on: nearly all Spanish, the creation of a bitter, one-armed general named José Millán-Astray,
not just mercenaries but also “exalted pessimists,” fearless fighters who made a cult of duty, killing, and death, “the kind of soldiers who would shoot their officers if they tried to turn back.”
The record of nationalist atrocities is sickening, extending to gang rape, castration, and mutilation in the name of restoring the glory of Christian Spain. In the towns the nationalists occupied they routinely set up markets to sell their thievings from the houses and bodies of the dead.
Crossing the strait in increasing numbers in August 1936, Franco’s forces had begun methodically conquering the southwestern Spanish region of Andalusia. The booty of that conquest included the valuable Rio Tinto district, where gold, silver, and copper had been mined since the Bronze Age. In the towns and villages behind the line of advance, reprisals extended not only to men but sometimes also to women and children.
A particularly brutal atrocity followed the mid-August battle of Badajoz, a city on the Portuguese border 250 miles northwest of Gibraltar. Chicago Tribune reporter Jay Allen heard the story from eyewitnesses, nine days after the city fell, and went in to see for himself.
“This was the upshot,” he writes—“thousands of Republican, Socialist, and Communist militias and militiawomen were butchered after the fall of Badajoz for the crime of defending their Republic against the onslaught of the Generals and the landowners.”
Allen describes driving out along the city walls to the bullring, where he remembers having seen the bullfighter Juan Belmonte once
“on the eve of the fight, on a night like this, when he came down to watch the bulls brought in.” The massacre was continuing before Allen’s eyes, “files of men, arms in the air,” herded into the bullring as the bulls had been herded for Belmonte. “They were young, mostly peasants in blue blouses, mechanics in jumpers. ‘The Reds.’ They are still being rounded up. At four o’clock in the morning they are turned out into the ring through the gate by which the initial parade of the bullfight enters. There machine guns await them.” After the first night, Allen adds, “the blood was supposed to be palm deep on the far side of the lane. I don’t doubt it. Eighteen hundred men—there were women, too—were mowed down there in some twelve hours. There is more blood than you would think in eighteen hundred bodies.”
If the republican people’s militias were less brutal, their violence more often defensive, they were only somewhat less homicidal. But the nationalists’ repression was deliberate, planned in advance and based on their colonial experience of dominating with violence a native
population they believed to be savage and inferior—and for the Africanista rebels, the proletarian population of Spain was savage and inferior or worse.
From a distance, wars and revolutions can seem uniform in their moil of blood and death. Close up, they sometimes reveal strange singularities. One oddity of the Spanish Civil War was the fascist dosing of women prisoners with volumes of castor oil sufficient to cause uncontrollable and humiliating diarrhea; the practice emigrated from Italy, where Mussolini’s Blackshirts similarly used castor oil, a well-known folk laxative, for intimidation.
The Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel, who participated in the defense of Madrid in the first days of the rebellion, recalls another and larger oddity, one that opens a window into the depths of the conflict.
“Certain exploits,” Buñuel writes of that time, “seemed to me both absurd and glorious—like the workers who climbed into a truck one day and drove out to the monument to the Sacred Heart of Jesus about twenty kilometers south of the city, formed a firing squad, and executed the statue of Christ.” The London Daily Mail published a photograph of that exuberant “execution” on 7 August 1936, claiming it illustrated
“the Spanish Reds’ war on religion.” Within a month, workers with chisels and explosives had destroyed the ninety-two-foot statue at the geographic center of the country in Getafe as they were destroying similar religious monuments throughout republican Spain.
The demolitions had more to do with fighting oppression than with warring against religion. The Getafe monument had been unveiled by Alfonso XIII in May 1919, at the end of the Great War, when he reconsecrated Spain to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a long-standing Roman Catholic cult associated with royalty since before the French Revolution. With the king’s endorsement, Sacred Heart statues and plaques had proliferated all over Spain. Many of Spain’s urban and rural poor lived from season to season in abject poverty, on the raw edge of starvation. The Spanish school system in the 1930s was
17,500 schools short. More than 30 percent of Spanish men and an even higher percentage of
Spanish women were illiterate. To that exploited population, the proliferation of monuments meant no escape from the presence of a corrupt church that flaunted its wealth and power.
When the people voted for a republic in 1931, the new government went to work reclaiming public spaces; removing religious symbols from schools, streets, and cemeteries; and opening secular equivalents.
A new constitution decreed the separation of church and state and the dissolution of some religious orders and prohibited religious orders from engaging in commerce, industry, and teaching. The Church fought its increasing disenfranchisement with new lay organizations, political action, and lawsuits. Processions, festivals, and retreats became demonstrations, which leftist groups in turn found ways to interrupt. In those years, the historian Hugh Thomas writes, the Getafe monument
“became the spiritual and physical centre of Catholic mobilization.” Whatever else they were doing, the young militiamen who executed Christ at Getafe were expressing a commitment to social transformation.
With the challenge of the generals’ rebellion to the existence of the secular Spanish state, a challenge that Franco elevated to the status of a religious crusade, churches were burned, icons destroyed, religious vestments cut up and resewn into militia uniforms. More radical anticlericals went beyond slapping idols. They exhumed the desiccated bodies of priests and nuns from church crypts and put them on public display to expose their fetid mortality. In a period seemingly free of legal constraints, with bullets flying in both directions and artillery shattering buildings, the anarchist militias began killing priests, the living idols of a church that had conspired with their class enemies to oppress them. Four thousand, one hundred eighty-four priests, 283 nuns, and 2,365 other
religious would be murdered in republican territory in the course of the war—significantly, half during the first six weeks. Lluís Companys, the president of Catalonia, told a French journalist that the killings represented
“the explosion of an immense store of wrath, an immense need for vengeance, which had been gathering force from very early times.”
Long afterward, an anthropologist asked a Spaniard why they burned images of the Virgin Mary, the least of the anticlerical offenses of the civil war. He responded:
You don’t understand why the images of the Virgin were burned? . . . I will tell you. Because the Virgin was a shameless whore and God had no sense of justice. . . . A mother who sees her children go hungry and turns away is a whore. . . . What a little mother she is. . . . Tell me, has she ever answered [your prayers]? Does she speak to you? Has she helped you? No? Well, now you understand [why the images were burned]. It’s all lies. Those images were lies and lies have to be destroyed for the truth to live.
Of the twelve Italian Savoias that Mussolini had sent Franco at the end of July, only nine had reached him in Tetuan. Their navigators failing to account for headwinds, the other three had run short of fuel. Two had crashed, killing their crews. The third had landed in French Morocco, where the French impounded it. News that Italy was supplying Franco with aircraft forced the French prime minister’s hand. Léon Blum hoped the revelation would justify his support for what was, after all, a legitimate Spanish government resisting a rebellion, but his cabinet demurred. As an alternative, the French government proposed an embargo on arms sales to either side. While waiting for an agreement from the other governments of Europe, France announced, it would supply the Spanish government if asked.
Through this brief window, on 13 August, André
Malraux and the twenty pilots he had recruited delivered fourteen worn bi-wing Dewoitine D.372 fighters and six lumbering Potez 540 bombers to Barajas airport, outside Madrid. The French authorities had insisted that the aircraft be stripped of their armaments, which the Spanish now had to laboriously reinstall. Malraux was not himself a pilot, but his
Foreign Legion of the Air would fight the rebel air assault that intensified
throughout the rest of 1936 as Franco added German and Italian aircraft to his stock.
What had been a purely Spanish conflict was widening to take in alliances on both sides. The American oil company Texaco, betting that the nationalists would win, had begun supplying Franco with oil on credit in July; Shell, Standard Oil of New Jersey, and Atlantic Refining would supply the nationalist rebels as well. The first International Brigade volunteers, all Europeans like Otto Boch, had arrived in Spain the day before Malraux and his planes. A week later, on 23 August 1936, the first
British medical unit left London for Spain, volunteer doctors and nurses assembled in record time to aid the government forces. On 27 August, the first Russians arrived—Marcel Rosenberg, the new Soviet ambassador, and his large staff, billeted at Gaylord’s Hotel behind the Prado Museum in Madrid. Soviet aircraft and tanks would follow, and the pilots and crews to operate them.
War had been Ernest Hemingway’s best subject; the hazard of violent death enlivened him. That summer and fall he was busy writing To Have and Have Not, but he chafed to cover his third war.
“When finish this book hope to go to Spain if all not over there,” he telegraphed his editor, Max Perkins, from Wyoming at the end of September. “. . . I hate to have missed this Spanish thing worse than anything in the world but have to have this book finished first.”
Franco had promised Hitler and Mussolini a short war; Malraux had rushed in aircraft because he also believed the war would be brief and any delay fatal. How long the war would last was not yet clear, with Mola’s Column of Death grinding up from Andalusia toward Madrid. But when the nationalist forces turned aside on 22 September just forty-six miles from Madrid to relieve the republican siege of the Alcázar fortress in Toledo, the massive sixteenth-century compound that still housed Franquito’s cadet academy, it was obvious to all that Franco meant to fight a ground war: the conflict had only begun.