The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) was really the first proxy war of the 20th century, and the dress rehearsal for World War 2. The Nationalists (led by Francisco Franco) were actually the rebel group, breaking away from the popularly elected leftist government of the Republic of Spain. The Republicans at first held most of the territory of the nation, but due to their lack of cohesion between communists, anarchists, and moderate socialists, along with the fact that the Nationalists/Fascists had a large corps of professional troops, the Republicans eventually lost ground until they were finally destroyed in the spring of 1939.
The Nationalists/Fascists were supported by their pals, the German Nazis and Italian Fascists. The German Luftwaffe (air force) and navy, alongside the Italian air force and navy, transported Spanish fascist troops, blockaded Republican ports, and bombed/strafed cities. The Germans and Italians also poured weapons into Spain, and some 60,000 Italian troops fought with the Spanish fascists.
The Soviet Union, being much further away and lacking an ocean-going navy, could not lend support by air or sea to their Republican allies, but Stalin called for all communists world-wide to come to the aid of the leftist government. Some 40,000 “anti-fascist volunteers” flocked to the aid of their brethren in Spain. Roughly 10,000 of the volunteers were communists from France, coupled with an assortment of leftists from Italy, Ireland, Belgium, Holland, Mexico, and the United States. The American leftists formed the 2,500 strong “Abraham Lincoln Brigade”. The communists from other countries named their brigades after their favorite communist or anarchistic revolutionary leaders. Their goal was to free the oppressed masses from religious superstition (the Catholic Church), and from “greedy capitalist” landowners and industrialists.
The fascists had their own supporters from overseas as well. Fascist supporters from Ireland were called “the Blue Shirts”, and their brethren from America, France, Norway, and elsewhere all joined forces with Franco to, in their eyes, wipe out “Zionist Bolshevism”, and save Western Christian Civilization from atheism.
The war was a brutal, no holds barred war of extermination with atrocities committed by both sides (the most famous atrocity being the Nazi bombing of the Basque city of Guernica). The fascists were anything but “Christian.”
In the end, Franco and his fascists “won.” Spain would be under the heel of a fascist dictator until Franco’s death in 1975. Some 500,000 people were killed in the war (out of a population of under 30 million). Approximately 450,000 were exiles (mainly leftists who fled, fearing fascist death squads), and the economy was in absolute ruins. Food was rationed for the next ten years. As in every civil war, families were hopelessly divided for the next few generations.
But in 1975…freedom was restored to the people of Spain.