Sunday, 31 July 2016

Six Days in July 12th - 17th July 1936

The Puerta del Sol, the 'hub' of Madrid in 1932. It must have looked very similar to this on the 18th July 1936, with people going about their everyday lives and oblivious to what was happening elsewhere in the country.
Anyone reading ABC, one of Spain's leading newspapers, on the morning of 18th July 1936, would have sensed little was out of the ordinary. The front page story reported on an attempt that had been made on the life of the British King Edward VIII by a pistolero, a concept Spaniards were very familiar with. Otherwise things largely appeared normal, as much as events in Spain could be considered normal since the January elections at least.

Politically motivated violence had become almost routine, whether it was clashes between striking workers and Assault Guards, or random acts of violence against minor political leaders by pistoleros of groups opposed to their organisations. Besides seemingly random assassinations, there had also been numerous strikes and armed uprisings over the last few years. The current wave of violence might have been expected in the time of the monarchy and the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, but this was the Republic that the Rojos had wanted and gained in the election. What was wrong with these people? They had gotten their Republic and their reforms, what more did they want?

Our newspaper reader may indeed shake his head, as he sips his morning amaretto, or his cafe con leche, and wonder what will come of all this. As he ponders this thought, elsewhere events are taking place that will answer that question. Our reader will have no newspaper tomorrow and the one he buys subsequent to that will be heavily censored, and depending on whether his paper is printed in Seville or Madrid, will tell a completely different story to the 'other' edition. For while he read his paper on the 18th, elsewhere there is open warfare on the streets of Spain's cities. Spain is at war with itself.

Death In The Afternoon

José de Castillo

On the evening of Sunday 12th July 1936, Teniente José del Castillo Sáez de Tejada of the Assault Guards, was shot dead by four gunmen as he left his home for work. His assailants managed to escape through the usual Sunday evening street crowd.  

Castillo was not a prominent political figure, but had been identified as the officer leading the Assault Guards, that in April had attempted to disperse the funeral procession of a murdered Civil Guard Teniente, Anastasio de los Reyes. Despite an anonymous death threat sent to his wife in June, Castillo had taken no particular precautions for his security in the intervening period.

Later that same evening, Guardia Civil Captain Fernando Condés, accompanied by Assault Guards and members of the JSU and PSOE, arrived at the home of José Calvo Sotelo, deputy leader of the RE (Renovación Española - Spain's right-wing monarchist party and current leaders of the opposition to the Government). Condés presented an arrest warrant and Sotelo was dragged out to a vehicle in front of his wife and children.

Sotelo had perpetrated a somewhat particularly vitriolic and scathing attack on Government policies in the Cortes and while he might have thought an arrest was somewhat of an overreaction to that, he appears to have been largely unconcerned by it. After all José Antonio Primo de Rivera, head of the Falange, who could not claim parliamentary privilege like Sotelo, had himself been arrested, tried and imprisoned in March, and had come to no harm. Sotelo probably expected a few hours in custody, followed by a release from which a degree of political capital could be obtained.

In the early hours of the 13th July, Sotelo's body was discovered near the gates of Madrid's Eastern Cemetary, he had been shot twice in the head. While an investigation was undertaken, no prosecution resulted. Accounts vary but it seems that Condés, a close friend of Castillo, was accompanied by Luis Cuenca, one of Indalecio Prieto's (a PSOE leader) bodyguards, along with two or more Asalto Tenientes, in the vehicle which conveyed Sotelo from his home. At some point Cuenca shot Sotelo. Condés claimed to have had no inkling that Sotelo's arrest was the prelude to murder, but given Sotelo's position, no other reason is likely.

One of many reconstructed photos of Sotelo's body lying in the street, which were perpetuated in Spain's newspapers following his murder. 
The national daily newspaper of all right-thinking right-wing monarchists - ABC, went to great lengths to motivate public indignation over Sotelo's murder. It cited Sotelo's last comments in the Cortes on the 10th July, in a speech which castigated the Government for its lack of action to neither prevent, investigate, or convict, the murderers of right-wing victims.

Both funerals, in line with Spanish traditions, were scheduled for the 14th July and the streets were filled with supporters of the factions both men had belonged to. Castillo's funeral party came under fire from right-wing militiamen (although it is difficult to determine whether they were CEDA or Falange, or possibly both). Many Assault Guards were in Castillo's procession and they returned fire. The fire-fight in the streets surrounding the cemetery resulted in four deaths and numerous wounded.

While similar violence had been witnessed in recent months, it was the scale of the violence which was to mark this day as significant, as well as essentially identifying the Asaltos in the public mind as being 'left-wing' (although the 'left-wing' saw them somewhat differently).

A Very Spanish Coup

The violence demonstrated at the funerals coincided rather neatly with the culmination of months of preparation by a select group of army officers, to undertake a coup d'etat and remove the government. While he was Minister for War, José María Gil-Robles of CEDA, had placed known right-wing Generals in the top positions of the military and these developed somewhat close relationships as a result. While one of the first acts of the incoming left-wing government was to replace them by reliable Republicans, the relationships between them had already developed.

Prior to their effective exile to lacklustre postings and substantive demotions, a number of them met and took the decision to save Spain by overthrowing the government. Gil-Robles pledged almost the entire political funds of CEDA to the project as a 'war chest' and the noted industrialist, Juan March was already engaged in obtaining external support and the purchase of arms to supply right-wing militias for when the time came to involve them.

General Emilio Mola, the brains of the rebel

General Emilio Mola Vidal, formerly commander of the Moroccan Army Corps and prior to that Director General of State Security, was the meticulous planner behind the coup. He had suffered what was effectively a demotion and was now just a brigade commander in Pamplona. He was joined by Joaquin Fanjul Goñi, former secretary of war and former commander of the 6th Division, who now had no actual military command, but had numerous contacts in the garrisons around Madrid.

Mola initially recruited two further conspirators, Manuel Goded Llopis and Francisco Franco Bahamonde. Franco had been the former Chief of Staff, but was now relegated to governing the Canary Islands. Franco had excellent contacts and support within the Moroccan Army Corps. Goded had been Director of Aeronautics, but was now Governor of the Balearic Islands. Both of these men had distinguished themselves in the Rif War and were known to each other, and more importantly, between them had extensive contacts within the Moroccan formations.

The final active conspirator was Gonzalo Queipo de Llano, head of the Carabineros, who Mola discovered, was planning an entirely separate coup. Queipo and Mola met and Queipo was persuaded to join the coup being planned and coordinated by Mola. Out of the conspirators, Queipo was the odd fish indeed. He was a somewhat larger than life character regarding his military service in the cavalry, but had been critical of Primo de Rivera's dictatorship and had lost his commission, as well as suffering a period of imprisonment as a result.

He had been involved in an attempted coup in 1930 and forced into exile in France, where he became acquainted with future Popular Front supporters. He was a close friend of Ramón Franco, with whom he had taken part in the 1930 coup and who shared his political views, but disliked his brother Francisco intently, a feeling which was apparently reciprocated.

When King Alfonso XIII abdicated he was re-instated in the army and became commander of the 1st Division and subsequently President Zamora's Chief of Staff. His subsequent support of the Popular Front had gained him the command of the Carabineros after the election, but he grew increasingly opposed to the regime and openly spoke out about both land reform measures and the banning of the Falange.

Mola had also circled amongst other right-wing leaders and prominent figures and had recruited Sotelo's Renovación Española party on board and after some rather tense negotiations, the Carlists of the Comunión Tradicionalista too. While it was initially decided that the Army would undertake the coup alone, subsequent plans incorporated the involvement of the Falange and the Requetés.

José Sanjurjo 'Marquis of the Rif'.

As a figurehead for the coup, it was agreed amongst the conspirators that the exiled José Sanjurjo Sacanell, who had headed an attempted coup in 1932, which became known after him; 'La Sanjurjada'. Despite receiving a death sentence, he had been pardoned by the subsequent right-wing government and exiled to Portugal. Sanjurjo was held in high regard amongst the various elements of the right as a whole and seemed the perfect choice for a leader behind which the various factions could unite.

By July Mola and others had suborned quite a number of military and political supporters, although there were still many that wavered. While in an ideal world they would have continued to increase the support they had gained, the shock waves generated throughout Spain by Sotelo's assassination was an opportunity unlikely to be repeated, as it gave the plotters a casus belli for their taking action to 'save Spain'.

Mola had sent previously sent portions of the overall plan to each member of the conspiracy, but only as far as it related to their role. While this preserved overall security, the loss of any one member would mean that there was no one to take their place, unless they had themselves passed that information on. The other unintended effect was that few would know who their allies were, which would result in a degree of confusion when the plan was put into action.

The final plan disseminated to the plotters was for the coup to commence on the night of the 17th July in Morocco, followed by action at key points on the Peninsula on the morning of the 18th, followed by everywhere else on the 19th. Presuming that everyone performed their role as planned, it seemed likely that the coup would be successful. As it was many participants would fail to act until they were sure that the preceding stages had been successful, which was to cause inevitable delays and in some cases, no action at all. Even the initial action was triggered early, causing some confusion, when conspirators where betrayed to a local commander.

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