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History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939)
An Overview: XIX

Spanish Wars

Hello and welcome to the final episode of our overview. In last week’s instalment we reviewed the ‘official’ line followed by either side of Spain’s dangerously polarized government during the months prior to the outbreak of war. This week we will re-examine the same period, turning our attention now to the dark underworld in which Franco and his inner circle of generals incubated their plan to overthrow the Second Republic.

The idea of staging a military coup hatched in Franco’s mind on the very day the results of the February elections were announced. The soon-to-be superlative general, who at this point still held his influential post as Commander in Chief of the Spanish army, angled to get the Minister of War, General Molero, to declare a state of war in prevision of the disturbances that were bound to occur. By this measure, Franco hoped to effect a situation in which the army was in the driver’s seat, so to speak, and would thus be able to seize power. Molero, however, argued that a state of alert was entirely sufficient to allay any potential agitation.

Like Minds Machinate

Only weeks later, Franco and two of his top generals, Goded and Mola, were transferred out of Madrid to peripheral postings in the islands (Tenerife and Majorca) and Pamplona. But before the dispatched generals left for the provinces, they held a secret meeting on 9th March at the home of a politically Catholic businessman. In addition to Franco, Goded and Mola, several other likeminded generals attended the tryst, all of whom would participate actively in the coup four months later.

A number of these generals belonged to the ‘Unión Militar Española’ (UME), a rightist military organization formed in 1933 - the same year that the political right spawned the reactionary parties of CEDA, the Falangists and Calvo Sotelo’s monarchical Renovación Española. Significantly, UME was countered in 1934 by an equal and opposite military organization known as the ‘Unión Militar Republicana Anitfascista’ (UMRA), of marked liberal tendencies. The existence of these two diametrically opposed groups shows that, like government and society, the Spanish army had also polarized into to antagonistic blocks.

Initial Blunders and Parallel Plots

What transpired at the 9th March meeting was the hasty preparation of a coup that was to be executed by the generals who remained in the capital. The uprising however, staged on 17th April, failed, thus signalling to the conspirators the need to marshal a wider support base for their cause.

Meanwhile in a separate endeavour, two strains of monarchists (the Carlists and the Alfonsinos) had joined forces and were conspiring, independently of the generals, to overthrow the Republic themselves. Not surprisingly, Calvo Sotelo was one of the prime movers of the monarchical line of insurrection, whose strategy consisted of securing military aid from Mussolini via secret agents. The negotiations, initiated on 31st March, proved amenable to both parties, and the backup in troops and weaponry promised by the Italians was duly delivered when war broke out. It was, in fact, an Italian air fleet that would bomb Ibiza in September of 1936, driving out the Republican forces that had occupied the island during the previous five weeks.

Mola Rallies Support From Diverse Quarters: The Military

After the failure of the April coup, the organization of a second coup was entrusted to General Mola, henceforth known as ‘el director’. From his post in Pamplona, Mola launched a complex and systematic campaign aimed at conjoining as many anti-republican factions as possible under a single banner. He began by sending a series of coded circulars to the top-ranking generals in command of the army’s sixteen main divisions. In cases where a given general was esteemed to be unsympathetic to the overthrow, a lesser official would be approached, generally a colonel. Once allegiance had been pledged to the scheme, the ‘inside man’ would in turn induct the most trustworthy of his personnel into the circle of knowledge. In this way, minute information about the conspiracy filtered down through the military hierarchy, giving the Nationals a distinct strategic advantage over the Republicans in the subsequent conduct of war.

The Monarchists

On the political front, Mola initiated personal negotiations with the Carlists whose traditional hub had always centred on Pamplona. However, due to the internal dissention within this monarchical faction, Mola’s dealings with them proved entangled and inconclusive up until the final hour when, on 15th July, following Calvo Sotelo’s assassination, the Carlist volunteer military corps committed itself fully to the conspiracy. Mola also managed to enlist the support of Calvo Sotelo and his separate band of conspirators, whereby various currents of anti-republicanism ended up converging into a river of insurrection.

The Falangists

One of the most difficult challenges faced by Mola was that of persuading José Antonio (incarcerated as a result of his paramilitary activities) to join forces with the ever-growing plot. It must be remembered that, like his father, José Antonio advocated ‘national-syndicalism’, a brand of social welfare along the lines of Mussolini, with labour corporations as the basis of economy and the family as the basis of society. The capitalistic leanings of the oligarchy (which the conspiracy favoured) were as inimical to José Antonio’s ideology as the socialistic leanings of the Popular Front. Ergo his reluctance to pledge his support.

In his authoritative work, The Spanish Civil War, (vol. I), Hugh Thomas describes the tortured process by which the falangist leader finally acquiesced to Mola’s petitions:

José Antonio Primo de Rivera’s adhesion to the uprising came about after a long interchange of opinions with the conspirators. Contacts were initiated from the ‘Modelo’ prison in Madrid, where [José Antonio] had been interned since 15th March, and carried on through 5th June, the date on which he was transferred to the prison of Alicante; the leader of the Falange maintained correspondence with Mola, the missives being delivered in hand by intermediaries. José Antonio wavered, worried because he thought (events would prove him right) that the Falangist activists would be used as buffer troops for the purposes of the military, the grandees and the capitalists, [an eventuality] that would invalidate his organization’s own objectives of national-syndicalism. “We will not be used as the vanguard, or the buffer troops, or the irreplaceable ally of any confused reactionary movement.”

However, as the time of the uprising drew nearer and for fear that the Falange would be excluded, he stated that: “In the end, Spengler (author of a key book on anti-revolutionary thought, The Decadence of the West) has said that ‘it has always been a squad of soldiers that has saved civilization’. The Falange would participate actively in the overthrow with its paramilitary bands as well as the intervention of Falangist officials who seconded the movement: Colonel Seguí in Melilla, Colonel Yagüe in Ceuta (…)


The primary objective common to all of the coup’s participating factions was the eradication of the Popular Front. The idea was to temporarily replace the Republic with a military dictatorship which would abolish the reforms proposed by Azaña’s administration. It had still not been determined (at least not overtly) what the definitive form of government would be: the return of Alfonso XIII, the resuscitation of the Carlist line, a rightist republic, etc. This lack of clearly defined policy turned out to be the very factor that brought together such ideologically disparate groups in a common cause: the destruction of democracy.


Join us next week when we will finally return our focus to Ibiza and the effects of the Civil War on the island. Until then have a very good week.

Emily Kaufman