Spanish Civil War

did the Republic, through a catalogue of errors, lose to the Nationalists? Had it, moreover, seized defeat from the jaws of victory? Two hypotheses, admittedly qualified by hindsight, suggest that the Republic might have done just that. Hills, for example, argues that the Republic could have defeated the rebels by August 1936 had it executed a workable masterplan for cordoning Franco in Morocco and Mola in Navarre. Did a combination of mistakes and misfortune cost the Republic the war? Or were the Nationalists such brilliant tacticians and strategists, with such superior logistics and leadership, that the Republic had no hope of victory?

Payne has written of how Francisco Franco was ‘keenly aware of the importance of politicopsychological factors in civil war that made it dangerous not to annul immediately any leftist triumph’.2 Hence, for example, the relief of the Alcázar, Toledo, in September 1936 and the retaking of Teruel in February 1938 and, by that November, the Republican bridgeheads on the Ebro.

Franco was normally well served by his generals. These included the tireless Dávila, who succeeded Mola in June 1937 as Commander of the Army of the North; Orgaz, efficient overlord of mass conscription from March 1937; and Yagüe, a field commander skilled in rapid movement and the annihilation of resistance, as shown by the Army of Africa’s bloody advance from the south in August–October 1936 which brought the Nationalists close to Madrid.

Nationalist air supremacy was gained in 1937, and was decisive in the Northern campaign. On the ground, Franco’s speed in deploying reinforcements was put to critical use in July 1937 at Brunete, where the Republic’s ultimate failure was to have grave consequences for their position in the north, already jeopardized by the loss of Bilbao. Though the Italian CTV played an important role in this now-renewed Nationalist offensive, the Italian Foreign Minister Ciano was exaggerating matters when, referring to the...