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.

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The books I picked & why

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

Why did I love 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.

By Giles Tremlett,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The International Brigades as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Magnificent. Narrative history at its vivid and compelling best' Fergal Keane

The first major history of the International Brigades: a tale of blood, ideals and tragedy in the fight against fascism.

The Spanish Civil War was the first armed battle in the fight against fascism, and a rallying cry for a generation. Over 35,000 volunteers from sixty-one countries around the world came to defend democracy against the troops of Franco, Hitler and Mussolini.

Ill-equipped and disorderly, yet fuelled by a shared sense of purpose and potential glory, disparate groups of idealistic young men and women banded together to form a…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Sebastian Balfour,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Deadly Embrace as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Combining military, political, cultural, social, and oral history, Sebastian Balfour narrates for the first time the development of a brutalised, interventionist army that played a crucial role in the victory of the Francoists in the Spanish Civil War. Spain's new colonial venture in Morocco in the early twentieth-century turned into a bloody war against the tribes resisting the Spanish invasion of their lands. After suffering a succession of heavy military disasters
against some of the most accomplished guerrillas in the world, the Spanish army turned to chemical warfare and dropped massive quantities of mustard gas on civilians. Dr Balfour exposes…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Michael Alpert,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Franco and the Condor Legion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Spanish Civil War was fought on land and at sea but also in an age of great interest in air warfare and the rapid development of warplanes. The war in Spain came a turning point in the development of military aircraft and was the arena in which new techniques of air war were rehearsed including high-speed dogfights, attacks on ships, bombing of civilian areas and tactical air-ground cooperation. At the heart of the air war were the Condor Legion, a unit composed of military personnel from Hitler's Germany who fought for Franco's Nationalists in Spain. In this book, Michael…

Mine Were of Trouble

By Peter Kemp,

Book cover of Mine Were of Trouble

Why did I love 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.

By Peter Kemp,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mine Were of Trouble as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Spain, 1936. Escalating violence between left- and right-wing political factions boils over. Military officers stage a coup against a democratically elected, Soviet-backed, government. The country is thrown into chaos as centuries-old tensions return to the forefront. Hundreds of thousands of Spaniards choose sides and engage in the most devastating combat since the First World War. For loyalists to the Republic, the fight is seen as one for equality and their idea of progress. For the rebels, the struggle is a preemptive strike by tradition against an attempted communist takeover.

Thousands of foreigners, too, join the struggle. Most fight with the…

Homage to Catalonia

By George Orwell,

Book cover of Homage to Catalonia

Why did I love 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.

By George Orwell,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Homage to Catalonia as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Homage to Catalonia remains one of the most famous accounts of the Spanish Civil War. With characteristic scrutiny, Orwell questions the actions and motives of all sides whilst retaining his firm beliefs in human courage and the need for radical social change.

Part of the Macmillan Collector's Library; a series of stunning, clothbound, pocket sized classics with gold foiled edges and ribbon markers. These beautiful books make perfect gifts or a treat for any book lover. This edition is introduced by Helen Graham, a leading historian on the Spanish Civil War.

When George Orwell arrived in Spain in 1936, he…

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