In July 1936, Spain was ruled as a monarchist republic. Strikes and political maneuvering marked months of economic turmoil. Into this cauldron stepped Spanish Army General Francisco Franco, commander of the armies of Spanish Morocco. He attempted a coup de état in late July 1936, coming to Madrid from Morocco borne by German and Italian aircraft.
What was seemingly a local dispute between different political factions became an international incident. The Loyalists, true to their Communist affiliation, were hostile to religion. Catholic churches were closed. Franco sought and received the support of the Church. The forces loyal to the Monarchy were supported by the Soviets, and thousands of foreign nationals came to form “Brigades” that would fight for Spain. Franco was supported by Germany and Italy. The world was not prepared for the glimpse of the weapons and tactics that would mark the Second World War.
Hundreds of Junkers Ju-52 sorties flew 13,000 troops and their equipment from Franco’s Moroccan Army to Spain in July 1936. Over 100,000 troops came from Italy, with modern equipment and advisors for the Fascists. The Germans sent the Condor Legion, 18,000 men from the Wehrmacht and the Luftwaffe, to use the new arms Germany was producing in “test” situations — actual combat. The Germans perfected the dive-bombing techniques using Ju-87 Stukas, and began the terror from the air — unrestricted area bombing of civilian centers — attacking the town of Durango on March 31, 1937.
But the world would take notice of the total destruction of the town of Guernica, the old Basque capital, on April 26, 1937. Ju-52s pushed incendiaries, high explosives, and antipersonnel bombs out of their cargo doors. The town had no military targets. 1,654 people were killed and 889 injured out of 5,000 residents.