Spanish Civil War

Spanish Civil War
   With the absorption of Ethiopia, Italy had reason to be a “satisfied” power that could be expected to sustain the status quo. But at the same time, Fascist doctrine insisted that it was “unfascist” to be “satisfied.” This division largely reflected the differences between “Fascists of the first hour” and the younger members of the party hierarchy. When Count Galeazzo Ciano, Benito Mussolini’s son-in-law, was suddenly elevated to be minister for foreign affairs in June 1936, an opportunity was presented to him to make his own mark. Pressed by the Vatican, which was in an uproar over the mistreatment and murder of priests by the revolutionary parties in Spain, Italy was soon drawn into the Spanish conflict. By October 1936, Italian ground troops were in Spain. The first troops sent were a “Legion” of blackshirt militia under the command of General Carlo Roatta. Mostly squadristi, they found combat even against the relatively shabbily armed and poorly disciplined Republican forces little to their liking. After a stinging defeat at Guadalajara in March 1937, Mussolini made success in Spain a matter of national prestige. The blackshirts were stiffened by an infusion of regular Italian army troops. By 1937, their number exceeded 70,000. The Spanish Civil War was also a watershed for the antifascist opposition. Many Italian partisans received their battlefield training on the rugged soil of Spain: Luigi Longo, Pietro Nenni, Carlo Rosselli, and at least 3,500 others all fought in Spain. At Guadalajara, Italians fought Italians, and the Garibaldi Battalion of the International Brigades played an important role in the Republic’s victory. The murder of the Rosselli brothers, Carlo and Nello, in Paris in 1937 was carried out in revenge for their activities in Spain. By March 1939, when Madrid fell to Francisco Franco, Italy had expended, according to official figures, about 8,500 million lire and lost nearly 4,000 dead and 12,000 wounded to help Franco’s cause. The Spanish war, coming on top of the involvement in Ethiopia, weakened Italy at the very moment that Mussolini was raising the rhetorical tone of his foreign policy ambitions.
   See also Squadrismo.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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