The best books on international intervention in the Spanish Civil War

Christopher Othen Author Of Franco's International Brigades: Adventurers, Fascists, and Christian Crusaders in the Spanish Civil War
By Christopher Othen

Who am I?

Christopher Othen is the author of Franco’s International Brigades: Adventurers, Fascists, and Christian Crusaders in the Spanish Civil War (Hurst, 2013) and four other books on subjects such as French gangsters in Nazi Paris, mercenaries in post-colonial Africa, and political opposition to Islam in Europe and America. He lives in Eastern Europe and his day jobs have included journalist, legal representative for asylum seekers, and English language teacher. In off-the-clock adventures, he has interviewed retired mercenaries about forgotten wars and got drunk with an ex-mujahidin who knew Osama Bin Laden.


I wrote...

Franco's International Brigades: Adventurers, Fascists, and Christian Crusaders in the Spanish Civil War

By Christopher Othen,

Book cover of Franco's International Brigades: Adventurers, Fascists, and Christian Crusaders in the Spanish Civil War

What is my book about?

Foreign volunteers fought on behalf of General Franco and the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War for a right-wing cause whose aim was to smash democracy. These assorted adventurers, fascists, and Catholic crusaders were on the winning side, but their role has remained strangely hidden until now. 

Men from Portugal and Morocco signed on for money and adventure. General Eoin O'Duffy organized 700 Irishmen in a modern Crusade; 500 Catholic Frenchmen fought in the 'Jeanne D'Arc' unit; and thirty British volunteers, including aristocrats and working-class fascists, also took up arms. Romanian Iron Guard extremists died at Majadahonda and an Indian volunteer fought in the fascist militia. There were Russians, Americans, Finns, Belgians, Greeks, Cubans, and many more. Goose-stepping alongside the volunteers were fascist conscripts from Germany and Italy, in training for the next world war. Foreigners, whether unknown individuals like British pilot Cecil Bebb or infamous figures like the German dictator Adolf Hitler, were essential to Franco's victory. Without Bebb - - who flew General Francisco Franco from the Canary Islands to Spanish Morocco in 1936, a journey which was to precipitate the onset of the Spanish Civil War - - the war would never have started; without Hitler, Franco would never have won.

The books I picked & why

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The International Brigades: Fascism, Freedom and the Spanish Civil War

By Giles Tremlett,

Book cover of The International Brigades: Fascism, Freedom and the Spanish Civil War

Why this book?

In 1936 an attempt by a coalition of reactionary army officers to overthrow the Spanish government outraged left-wingers around the world. By the start of the next year the International Brigades had been formed under the watchful eye of the Soviet Union to help the beleaguered Republic. At least 35,000 men from countries as diverse as Britain, China, Sweden, and Cuba fought and died on Spanish battlefields for a lost cause. Giles Tremlett’s expansive narrative history brings them vividly to life, with both their heroism and flaws, and shows why their struggle is still remembered today.


Deadly Embrace: Morocco and the Road to the Spanish Civil War

By Sebastian Balfour,

Book cover of Deadly Embrace: Morocco and the Road to the Spanish Civil War

Why this book?

Foreigners also joined the other side. Around 80,000 volunteers from Morocco, a Spanish protectorate, signed up to fight with the rightist rebels for money, adventure, and jihad. Sebastian Balfour’s fascinating book traces the intertwined history of the two countries to show why poor North African Muslims ground under the heel of Spanish imperialism felt they had more in common with General Francisco Franco’s right-wing Nationalists than with the Popular Front government in Madrid. Moroccan soldiers were vital to Franco’s eventual victory even if many would become bitter that their country never got the independence the nationalists had promised.


Franco and the Condor Legion: The Spanish Civil War in the Air

By Michael Alpert,

Book cover of Franco and the Condor Legion: The Spanish Civil War in the Air

Why this book?

General Franco’s rebellion would never have stood a chance without the support of Nazi Germany. The rebels lacked airpower and Hitler was happy to supply some in the form of the Condor Legion, intended both to support Franco and give the fledgling Luftwaffe a taste of battle. The Legion’s most notorious action was the bombing of Guernica but Michael Alpert shows Germany’s influence on all aspects of the Spanish Civil War in his very readable and wide-ranging  book that also takes in Russian and Italian airborne intervention.


Mine Were of Trouble: A Nationalist Account of the Spanish Civil War

By Peter Kemp,

Book cover of Mine Were of Trouble: A Nationalist Account of the Spanish Civil War

Why this book?

The Nationalists had their own International Brigades in the form of the many thousands of foreigners who came to support Franco’s cause. Most ended up in the Spanish Foreign Legion, among them the Cambridge-educated conservative Peter Kemp. Motivated to take part by a fierce hatred of communism, he saw sharp end of the Civil War and had most of his teeth smashed out by a mortar shell at the Ebro but never lost faith in the rightness of Franco’s cause.  Years later he wrote this, recently republished, memoir of the war that is equally vivid and disturbing, never more so than when he describes executing a British deserter from the Internationalist Brigades.


Homage to Catalonia

By George Orwell,

Book cover of Homage to Catalonia

Why this book?

The best known book about the Spanish Civil War in English remains George Orwell’s memoir of his time in a Trotskyite militia group. Having gone to Spain convinced he was joining a crusade against fascism, the British democratic socialist found himself fighting not only Franco’s Nationalists but other left-wingers on his own side when powerbrokers loyal to the Soviet Union began cracking down on political dissenters. Soon Orwell was fleeing Spain in fear of his life. Homage to Catalonia remains a classic account of how idealism can curdle on the battlefield and comradeship take second place to the demands of war.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Spanish Civil War, Spain, and Morocco?

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