30 Amazing Photos of Female Combatants in the Spanish Civil War

During the first few days of the Spanish Civil War, women played an integral role in the spontaneous uprising that prevented the immediate success of the Nationalist coup. Around one thousand of these women went on to join the militias who fought at the front. Women also played an important role in the defense of cities, with another several thousand forming sections of the armed rearguard. Indeed, women’s participation in the anti-fascist resistance constituted one of the greatest mass political mobilizations of women in Spain’s history.

By late 1936, attitudes towards women in combat began to change drastically, and by March 1937, the majority of milicianas had been removed from their combat positions. Though there existed a consensus around this issue among the male leadership of both the Republican government and left-wing political groups, female combatants viewed this turn of events differently. The majority of the milicianas had deep reservations about their recall from the front, and saw it as a retreat from the gains women had made during the war and revolution. Indeed, while the political leadership within the Republic presented numerous arguments for why it was necessary to remove women from combat, this book argues that the reason it was initially considered acceptable for women to fight, and then seen as undesirable eight months later, was connected to the course of the social revolution.

The Spanish Civil War (Spanish: Guerra Civil Española) was a civil war in Spain fought from 1936 to 1939. Republicans were loyal to the left-leaning Popular Front government of the Second Spanish Republic. The Popular Front was constituted by the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), Communist Party of Spain (PCE), and the republicans: Republican Left (IR), (led by Azaña) and Republican Union (UR), led by Diego Martínez Barrio. This pact was supported by Galician (PG) and Catalan nationalists (ERC), the POUM, socialist union Workers’ General Union (UGT), and the anarchist trade union, the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT). Many anarchists who would later fight alongside Popular Front forces during the Spanish Civil War did not support them in the election, urging abstention instead. The Popular Front, fought against an insurrection by the Nationalists, an alliance of Falangists, monarchists, conservatives and traditionalists, led by a military junta among whom General Francisco Franco quickly achieved a preponderant role. Due to the international political climate at the time, the war had many facets and was variously viewed as class struggle, a religious struggle, a struggle between dictatorship and republican democracy, between revolution and counterrevolution, and between fascism and communism. According to Claude Bowers, U.S. ambassador to Spain during the war, it was the “dress rehearsal” for World War II. The Nationalists won the war, which ended in early 1939, and ruled Spain until Franco’s death in November 1975.

The war began after a pronunciamiento (a declaration of military opposition, of revolt) against the Republican government by a group of generals of the Spanish Republican Armed Forces, with General Emilio Mola as the primary planner and leader and having General José Sanjurjo as a figurehead. The government at the time was a coalition of Republicans, supported in the Cortes by communist and socialist parties, under the leadership of centre-left President Manuel Azaña. The Nationalist group was supported by a number of conservative groups, including CEDA, monarchists, including both the opposing Alfonsists and the religious conservative Carlists, and the Falange Española de las JONS, a fascist political party. After the deaths of Sanjurjo, Emilio Mola and Manuel Goded Llopis, Franco emerged as the remaining leader of the Nationalist side.

The coup was supported by military units in Morocco, Pamplona, Burgos, Zaragoza, Valladolid, Cádiz, Córdoba, and Seville. However, rebelling units in almost all important cities—such as Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Bilbao, and Málaga—did not gain control, and those cities remained under the control of the government. This left Spain militarily and politically divided. The Nationalists and the Republican government fought for control of the country. The Nationalist forces received munitions, soldiers, and air support from Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, while the Republican side received support from the Soviet Union and Mexico. Other countries, such as the United Kingdom, the French Third Republic, and the United States, continued to recognise the Republican government but followed an official policy of non-intervention. Despite this policy, tens of thousands of citizens from non-interventionist countries directly participated in the conflict. They fought mostly in the pro-Republican International Brigades, which also included several thousand exiles from pro-Nationalist regimes.

The Nationalists advanced from their strongholds in the south and west, capturing most of Spain’s northern coastline in 1937. They also besieged Madrid and the area to its south and west for much of the war. After much of Catalonia was captured in 1938 and 1939, and Madrid cut off from Barcelona, the Republican military position became hopeless. Following the fall without resistance of Barcelona in January 1939, the Francoist regime was recognised by France and the United Kingdom in February 1939. On 5 March 1939, Colonel Segismundo Casado led a military coup against the Republican government. Following internal conflict between Republican factions in Madrid in the same month, Franco entered the capital and declared victory on 1 April 1939. Hundreds of thousands of Spaniards fled to refugee camps in southern France. Those associated with the losing Republicans who stayed were persecuted by the victorious Nationalists. Franco established a dictatorship in which all right-wing parties were fused into the structure of the Franco regime.

The war became notable for the passion and political division it inspired and for the many atrocities that occurred, on both sides. Organised purges occurred in territory captured by Franco’s forces so they could consolidate their future regime. Mass executions on a lesser scale also took place in areas controlled by the Republicans, with the participation of local authorities varying from location to location. (Wikipedia)

Here, below is a collection of 30 vintage photographs of female combatants during the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939.

ca. 1936, Spain — A young Spanish woman who has joined the Republicans to fight against the rebel nationalist forces in the Civil War.

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