The Spanish Civil War (1936-39)
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© Cor Faber en Ellen Bijma
The siege of the Alcázar The Spanish Civil War started on July 18, 1936 as an uprising and after about two months degenerated into an actual civil war. On April 1, 1939, almost three years later, the war came to an end with the fall of the capital Madrid. Yet the uprising could have come to an end after two months, had it not been for General Franco's strategic decision that could have brought that swift end. How was that then? The Alcázar is located in the city of Toledo, 60 kilometers south of Madrid. The Alcázar was a training garrison for officers of the Spanish army. Today it houses a library and museum. Before 1931, when Spain was still a kingdom under Alfonso XIII, the Alcázar was highly regarded because the army was still highly regarded. Of course, especially within the army itself. But the army had grown out of its strength—one officer for every five soldiers. Before 1931, there were some 1,000 cadets in training in Toledo at some point. Already in the third century, the Alcázar fortress was built by the Romans and has always played an important role, partly due to the fact that Toledo, before Madrid, was the place where politics took place. In that role, the Alcázar went along as an important symbol for the military. With the proclamation of the republic in 1931, the government decided that the number of officers should be reduced and 8,000 officers were sent home. While retaining their benefits, they were afraid that a revolt would break out. In addition, the number of cadets to be trained in the Alcázar was reduced from 1,000 to 100. This hurt the army considerably and the status of the academy was seriously affected. When the uprising broke out on July 18, 1936, civilian militias from Madrid quickly moved towards Toledo to besiege and capture the Alcázar. As a symbol for the Nationalists, this would be a victory. Strategically, the Alcázar was not much, but it would be a moral rather than a strategic victory. The cadets were on vacation at the time of the uprising. An officer was ordered to get as many cadets as possible back to the Alcázar. This was only successful in six cases, the rest were untraceable or wanted to be untraceable. Before the actual siege began, a group of anarchists joined the group in the Alcázar, along with women and children, including officers. Remarkable in itself, given that anarchists were more likely to align themselves with the republic. Again, not so strange when you consider that the anarchists were (and are) a group that only goes for their own business and does not (want to) know a hierarchy. The siege would last two months, two months with the Alcázar running out of just about everything because supplies were impossible. The cause of this prolonged siege must be sought in particular in the fact that the streets and alleys of Toledo look more like a maze than a well thought-out planning. It is actually a nightmare for those who wanted to attempt to make a map of the city of Toledo. Mainly due to the lack of overview of the city, the militias from Madrid had the greatest difficulty in planning attacks. The Alcázar was heavily damaged by artillery and bombers, which had meanwhile been brought in. At one point, miners from the Asturias region were even brought in to dig tunnels under the Alcázar. After digging, explosives were detonated under the building. The effects of this turned out to be overestimated, but there were still gaps through which attacks could be launched. The siege lasted until mid-September. General Franco was on his way to Madrid from mid-July with his army of Moors and Spanish Foreign Legion. The idea was to take Madrid as quickly as possible before they could get the defense in order. With the actual overthrow of the government there, the uprising would soon be over and Spain would be subject to dictatorship. However, in view of the symbolic value of the Alcázar, Franco decided to clear it first. It would bring him great prestige from the nationalists and deal a sensitive, if symbolic, blow to the republic. Considering what he had achieved before with the Moors and the Foreign Legion, he had won the necessary victories in Spanish Morocco. Seeing whatever had caused those soldiers to blindly follow him to mainland Spain. Eventually the Alcázar was indeed relieved by Franco, but it caused the advance to Madrid to be delayed by about three weeks. Three weeks in which Madrid ensured that the defense was in good enough order to fend off Franco's attacks for more than two years. Franco completely rebuilt the Alcázar to make it a training garrison again. Obviously if you think of its symbolic value. Today it is a library and museum.
Het Alcázar present day
The Alcazar turned into a mess