The Luftwaffe: Spanish Civil War (1936-39)

Spasnish Civil War Luftwaffe
Figure 1.--Unlike German cities during World War II, Madrid and other Spanish cities did not have well prepared bomb shelters. Here a Madriud mother scans the sky aprehensively for German or Italian bombers. Her daughter is less concerned because her mother is holding herr hand. Robert Capa writes, "Nowhere is there safety for anyone in this war. The women stay behind, but the death, the ingenious death from the skies finds them out. There is littkle protection in the cities. The bombs break through the shelters. In Valencia, in Madrid, there is a daily toll. Always the same: the sirens, the panic rush, the fracas of the bombs and then, as the dust settles, people go moff to the morgue to wait, to see if by chance the son, the father, the mpther whob did not come home is on the list." Photographer: Robert Capa.

It was the Germans who began bombing civilian populations rather than military targets as a terror tactict calculated to destroy civilian morale. Visionary military planners in the 1930s built the world's most advanced air force at the time--the Luftwaffe. [Corum] Germany was the first European World War II combatant to use bombers to terrorize urban populations. This began even before World War II during the Spanish Civil War. Luftwaffe units were dispatched to Spain (November 1936). Both the German Luftwaffe Condor Legion and the Italian Fascist Aviazione Legionaria conducted the attacks. Republican cities for the most part did not have air defenses. Madrid was heavily bombed throughout much of the War. It was, however, a large city and the force of the bombing dipersed. It is the Luftwaffe's bombing of Guernica that has most endured in the popular mind (April 1937). This is probably because Guernica was a small town of very little military importance. The town had no air defense. Estimates of the number of deaths range from about 200-1,600 people. The small size of the town allowed the Luftwaffe to concentrate its force. The results were devestating, although only a small taste of what would transpire during World War II itself. We are not sure at this time who planned the Luftwaffe bombing raids and what was military assessment of the impact. We also are unsure how Goebbels Propaganda Ministry handeled the Luftwaffe's activities in Spain. The bombing was, however, heavily reported by the Western media and depicted in the movie newsreels. Perhaps most importantly, the fledgling Luftwaffe learned a great deal from the Spanish War in the way of strategy, tactics, logistics, and operations.

Luftwaffe

It was the Germans who began bombing civilian populations rather than military targets as a terror tactict calculated to destroy civilian morale. Visionary military planners in the 1930s built the world's most advanced air force at the time--the Luftwaffe. [Corum] Germany was the first World War II combatant to use bombers to terrorize urban populations. This began even before World War II during the Spanish Civil War.

Deployment

Luftwaffe units were dispatched to Spain (November 1936). Both the German Luftwaffe Condor Legion and the Italian Fascist Aviazione Legionaria conducted the attacks.. The Fascist powers (Germany and Italy) provided substantial air forces, essentially transffering whole units to Spain. The Germans introduced their new modern Heinkel bombers and Messerschmidts Fightrs. The Hartmann BF-109 and the subsequent Messerschmidt ME109 were the most advanced fighters in the world at the time. The Italian introduces their Chabolotos and Bredas.

Republican Air Force

Republican cities for the most part did not have air defenses. The Republic also received foreign aid, but not in the same quanity. Nor did other countries transfer whole units to Spain. The Republics obtained some American, French, and Soviet planes, although arms embargos made it difficult for the Republic to obtain aircraft. Foreign pilots desiring to fight Fascism formed an international brigade of pilots.

Air Operations

Madrid was heavily bombed throughout much of the War. It was, however, a large city and the force of the bombing dipersed. It is the Luftwaffe's bombing of Guernica that has most endured in the popular mind (April 1937). This is probably because Guernica was a small town of very little military importance. The town had no air defense. Estimates of the number of deaths range from about 200-1,600 people. The small size of the town allowed the Luftwaffe to concentrate its force. The results were devestating, although only a small taste of what would transpire during World War II itself.

Operational Control

We are not sure at this time who planned the Luftwaffe bombing raids.

Military Assessmenbt

We are not sdure what the Luftwaffe's assessment was of the impact of its operations.

German Propasganda

We also are unsure how Goebbels Propaganda Ministry handeled the Luftwaffe's activities in Spain.

Western Media

The bombing was heavily reported by the Western media and depicted in the movie newsreels.

Benefit to the Luftwaffe

The fledgling Luftwaffe bebefited a great deal from the Spanish campaign. There is no doubt that the Luftwaffe commanders and air crews gained invaluable experience. [Oppenheimer] An indisputable military maximum is that there is no training that can rival actual combat. Luftwaffe commanders gined invaluable experience in strategy, tactics, logistics, and operations. It was one reason that they outclassed the British and Frrench air forces in the all important Western campaign (May-June 1940).

Sources

Corum, James S. Luftwaffe: Creating the Operational Air War, 1918-1940 (University Press of Kansas, 2000).

Oppenheimer, Peter H. "From the Spanish Civil War to the Fall of France: Luftwaffe Lessons Learned and Applied," Institute for Historical Review.







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Created: 7:24 AM 4/22/2011
Last updated: 7:24 AM 4/22/2011