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Guernica was obliterated to showcase the Nazi war machine

Posted in Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, War on Friday, 20 December 2013

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This edited article about the Spanish Civil War first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 500 published on 14 August 1971.

Guernica, picture, image, illustration

German Junkers bombed Guernica to demonstrate the will and power of the Nazi regime

German bombing planes roared over the Spanish coast from the Bay of Biscay.

Beneath them slid a panorama of fields and villages, of farms and towns, of people scratching a living from the hard soil or quietly going about their business.

A few miles from the coast, they began approaching a small country town of a few thousand inhabitants called Guernica. At that time, it was just a name on the map to most people – those who did not live there.

The squadron leader shouted some terse orders over his radio to the other planes. “Target ahead. Open bomb hatches!”

As the planes roared over the little Spanish town, 4,000 bombs dropped from the German aircraft and exploded in a mighty holocaust of destruction.

After that, there was not much of Guernica left – or of its population. And Guernica, from being a place hardly anybody had heard of, shot into the world’s headlines.

The date was 27th April, 1937, and the Spanish civil war had been on for less than a year.

Why had Guernica been destroyed? It was completely undefended; of no military importance at all. And why were the Nazis involved? This was a civil war to overthrow a government to which there was a great deal of opposition. It was called the Popular Front and it was composed of Liberals, Socialists and a few Communists, who took office after an election in 1936.

Almost at once, there had been a military revolt. General Francisco Franco led a Moorish army across to Spain from Morocco, which then had a Spanish zone in north-west Africa. They were supported by another force brought down from the north from around Pamplona and Saragossa. Their target was Madrid, the capital, and Guernica was certainly not in their path.

The uprising was almost the signal for a miniature world war to begin, a kind of rehearsal for the Second World War due to start a few years later in 1939. Germany and Italy sided with the rebels with arms, ammunition, bombing planes and soldiers in the guise of trained “volunteers”. Towns like Guernica were bombed by the Nazis to intimidate the Spanish government and to let the world know that Germany could be a terrifying enemy. But the destruction of Guernica was a disaster that did not further the rebels’ cause.

Russia showed herself on the side of the government. It sent munitions and, through an international Communist organisation, formed an International Brigade of anti-Fascist volunteers from other lands. Fascism is a policy which puts the control of a country into the hands of one man, a dictator.

This is what Franco eventually became after the rebel armies had fought their way through to Madrid, besieged the city and driven the government to Valencia. Franco claimed that he was the head of the real government of Spain, and was immediately recognised as such by Portugal, Germany and Italy.

The war dragged on until early in 1939, when Madrid fell.

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