July 1936 - April 1939

War in Madrid: Images of the Spanish Civil War

Agencia EFE

Agencia EFE, counts with an archive of 12 million historical photographs that spans from early 20th Century to nowadays including the greatest collection of photographs of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) taken by different reporters, both spanish and foreigners. This collection is a small sample.

During the Spanish Civil War Madrid was frontline. From November 1936 to March 1937, when the front stabilized, it’s inhabitants were witnesses to one of the most important battles of a conflict that began with the uprising of most of the army against the republican Government the 18th of July of 1936, supported by different political forces, that would soon call themselves Nationals. The military uprising failed in Catalonia, Valencia and Madrid and the Cuartel de la Montaña barracks where the rebels had dug in was assaulted and taken by left wing and anarchist militias. In the northeast of Spain, Navarra, part of Andalusia and the North of Morocco, then a Spanish colony, the rebellion was successful. From those areas the insurgent army directed itself to the capital advancing quickly from two directions, from the north under the command of General Emilio Mola and from the southwest the troops of Brigadier General José Enrique Varela.

A Captain of the revolted army, Emilio Vela, same as all other rebel military in Spanish cities, reads in Toledo the declaration that proclaims the state of war which initiates the rebellion against the legitimate republican government.

This phrase, thought to be said by general Emilio Mola is where the expression “Fifth Column” was coined, referring to sympathizers of the Coup d’Etat that were hidden in Madrid during the civil war sabotaging and distributing propaganda. Ever since then the expression is used to refer to an enemy infiltrated in an organization. In the picture: Military Proclaim of general Emilio Mola, one of the organizers of the rebellion, with other generals like Francisco Franco, and published in Pamplona the 19th of July of 1936, where the state of war was declared in all the territory under his command.

Not being able of taking Madrid, the rebel troops dig in the Cuartel de la Montaña Barracks, that is assaulted by different militias of the left wing parties and anarchists, Madrid 7/20/1936.

Many of the rebels at the Cuartel de la Montaña Barracks died in the fighting and later, after the barracks were taken by the republican militia and anarchist groups. Madrid 7/20/1936

The defeat of the military revolt in Madrid caused euphoria and the militia that had taken part in the assault to the Cuartel de la Montaña barracks celebrated its victory all over the city. Madrid, 7/20/1936.

The military forces loyal to the republic also celebrated with parades the defeat of the revolted. However the conflict became a long war for which Madrid’s control was very important for both parts. The rebel columns from the north under general Mola’s command weren’t able to get through the mountain passes defended by the republicans. July 1936.

The revolted troops from the south had better luck and quickly advanced towards Madrid and sighted it in November 1936. The republican government left Madrid and general Jose Miaja, in command of the Junta de Defensa led the republican resistance. In the picture, National army troops attacking an enemy position near the south of Madrid. October 1936.

In the Spanish Capital, the actions of certain armed militias of the workers party and unions lead to waves of murders in summer 1936 against suspects of being part of the “Fifth Column” or sympathizing with the revolt. These groups acted out of the courts and confiscated the goods of the arrested after murdering them, like this Milicia Popular de Investigación, called “The Squadron of Dawn” that appears in the picture lead by Agapito Garcia Atadell, (with glasses), and surrounded by some of the militiamen that worked under his command. When the nationals approached Madrid, in November 1936, Atadell fled to France, and later attempted to reach America from Marseille with substantial loot. However his boat made a stopover in a dock in the Canary Islands and Garcia Atadell was arrested and, later, executed by the rebels. Madrid 8/18/1936

From November 1936, the republicans managed to impose their authority over the autonomous anarchist groups and militias of the different parties that acted on their own and they created the seed of the future republican army that was always subject to intromissions by the different political parties. They all took part in the repression, including the government with help of the soviets, when a part of the political prisoners were transferred to Valencia that ended in a massive firing line in the outskirts of Madrid. In the picture, anarchists part of the “Ateneo Libertario de las Cuarenta Fanegas”

“[…] The author, José Bergamín […] asked for a minute of silence in memory of Federico, and the assistants, standing up, raised their fists, moved”
Repression and murder of the opposite were also common in the national zone and one of the first murdered in his birthplace in Granada, by supporters of the revolt, was the poet Federico García Lorca that would be remembered in this meeting in a theatre of Madrid organized by the Antifascist Intellectuals Alliance and the assistants held their fists up in silence for a minute in tribute to the murdered poet. Madrid 9/27/1936.

Map of Spain in November 1936 with both areas in hands of the disputing parts. Blue for the nationalists and red for the republicans.

After many short lived republican governments, in November the first Frente Popular Government was formed, with Francisco Largo Caballero as president, and which included republicans, Catalonian and Basque nationalist and communist. From left to right: Bernado GIner de los Rios (Communications), Anastasio de Gracia (Commerce and Industry), José Tomas y Piera (Employment and Public Health) Jose Giral (No portfolio), Julio Alvarez del Vayo (State Affairs), Largo Caballero (President), Mariano Ruiz Funes (Justice), Ángel Galarza (Government), Indalecio Prieto (Airforce and Navy) Jesus Hernandez (Arts and Public Instruction) and Vicente Uribe (Agriculture) Madrid, 9/4/1936.

Several republican military watch the enemy sixty kilometers from Madrid from a position with a 1922 7 mm Hotchkiss machine gun, standard in the Spanish army in 1936. October 1936.

“Better to be the widow of a hero than the wife of a coward” Madrid 10/14/1936
DOLORES IBÁRRURI GÓMEZ “LA PASIONARIA”, was a historical member of the Spanish communism that was born in Gallarta (Basque Country) the 9th of December 1895. Her pseudonym “Passionaria” she chose herself and was the handler she used in her newspaper works as leader of the Spanish Communist Party (PCE). Member of the parliament during the second republic (1931-1939) she became one of the leaders of the republic with the civil war and created the slogan “No Pasarán” (They won’t pass) to encourage the resistance against the revolted troops. At the end of the war she exiled to Russia and returned in May 1977 dying the 12 of November 1989 in Madrid. In the picture the communist leader Dolores Ibarrruri takes part in a meeting to support the defense of Madrid organized by the Frente Popular. Madrid 10/14/1936.

The republican propaganda and of the several parties that formed the Frente Popular as well as the anarchists was very superior to the one of the Nationalists during the whole war, partly because the best illustrators were sympathizers with the republic, like Mauricio Amster or the communist Josep Renau.
In the image, a poster by the Propaganda Section of the Public Instruction Ministry encouraging the people of Madrid to defend the capital. Madrid, November 1936.

While the first to help the revolted were the fascist Italian regime and Germany under Hitler, the Spanish republic received the support of Stalin’s USSR, what gave great influence to the Spanish communist party to both government and population. As is seen in the image the Soviet Union Friends Association did a constant work of propaganda pro-soviets. Here you see some sympathizers carrying a bulletin board commemorating the 19th anniversary of the Russian revolution. Madrid, November 1936.

Also Madrid got full of posters that depicted the Soviet Leaders, particularly Joseph Stalin, for all kind of reasons and within the personality cult that totalitarian regimes leaders received. Alike to Hitler in Nazi Germany and Mussolini in Fascist Italy. This poster, placed in the downtown square of Madrid of the Puerta del Sol is a portrait of Stalin and a fragment of a letter sent by him to the Spanish “Antifascists” commemorating the 19th anniversary of the Soviet Revolution. Madrid, 11/11/1936.


General José Enrique Varela, one of the most important generals in Franco’s army during the civil war, was born in San Fernando (Cádiz) on April the 17th 1891 and commanded the national offensive against Madrid in 1936. Son of a military, he fought in the colonial war in the north of Morocco, then a Spanish colony, and was granted the most honored medal in Spain, the Cruz Laureada de San Fernando. Of traditional ideology he revolted in 1932 against the republic formed in 1931 and he was arrested for it. He recovered his freedom two years later and was promoted to the rank of general. He took part preparing the military coup of July the 18th 1936, that initiated the civil war.
Once the war ended he was designated minister of the army in general Francisco Franco’s first government, though political differences with him made him friendlier to the allies. In 1942 Franco accepted his resign as minister and in 1945 he was appointed High Commissioner of Spain in Morocco. On march the 24th 1951 he died in Tangier (Morocco).
In the picture, the final offensive of the revolted troops against the republican Madrid was leaded by general José Enrique Varela Iglesias. Here we see him with a Moroccan djellaba in a town in the Madrid frontline during the Spanish Civil War. Madrid, around November 1936.

General José Miaja Menant, key figure of the republican forces during the defense of Madrid in the Spanish Civil War, was born in Oviedo in april the 20th 1878 and died exiled in Mexico in January the 14th 1958. His career was the military and took part in the colonial war in Morocco. Promoted to general in 1932 during the 2nd Republic he was appointed minister of war four years later. In face of the advances of the national troops, the republican government moved to Valencia and entrusted him the defense of the capital, managing to halt the enemy in Ciudad Universitaria, west from the city.
General Miaja was also the republican leader in other significant battles, in fact during the war he held more military power than any other republican general.

Avance de las tropas nacionales al inicio de la batalla de Madrid en noviembre de 1936 con los responsables nacionales y republicanos de los distintos sectores del frente.

Militiamen aim their rifles at enemy positions, in the Casa de Campo y road of Extremadura sector, places where the toughest fights took place at the beginning of the national offensive. Madrid, around November 1936.

Group of soldiers of the international brigades of the “Commune de Paris” battalion, who joined the11th Brigade when they reached Madrid. They wore an ample beret of the French alpine and a leather jerkin of English origin. The international brigades, troops formed by volunteers of 54 countries were created by the communist international and peaked up to 40000 combatants in different moments (of which 10000 were French) and became decisive in stopping the national offensive in Ciudad Universitaria. Madrid 11/8/1936.

Anarchist leader Buenaventura Durruti (c), was the leader of the column that had his name, he was an archetype of an active anarchist before and during the Civil War, and after taking part in different combats during the initial months in the Civil War, he died in Ciudad Universitaria on November the 20th victim of a stray bullet. In the image he’s with second lieutenant Antonino Uriel (2nd R) and a reporter of a republican newspaper. Around November 1936.
“There are only two outcomes, victory for the working class, freedom or victory for the fascist which means tyranny. Both sides know what awaits the looser. We are ready to end up fascism once and for all despite the Republican government” Buenaventura Durruti

In the north range of Madrid the front was stabilized though there were constant skirmishes. Here you see national soldiers, taking cover in the snow in their trenches of the Guadarrama Range in the north of Madrid. January 1937.

The Soviet Union supplied the Republic with 700 airplanes and 400 tanks, besides weapons, technicians, pilots, military advisers and espionage agents, besides that also food clothes and fuel partly payed by popular donations partly with the gold reserves of the bank of Spain. The Russian tanks T-26 manned by soviets and the Russian airplanes took part in the battle of Madrid.
In the image you can see republican soldiers that salute with their fists up riding a T 26-B Tank of soviet manufacture in the Madrid frontline, around 1937.

The Roman Catholic Church was hounded in many parts of the republican Spain due to the anticlericalism of certain political parties and sided with the rebels. Eventually it became one of the pillars of the new regime that was being created in the National Spain directed by general Francisco Franco once general Mola died in an airplane accident. In the picture you see a priest celebrating communion facing the republican positions during the celebration of epiphany. Guadarrama Range in the north of Madrid 1/6/1937.

By the start of 1937 the nationals gave up conquering Madrid and the frontline became stable. The national outposts in the Madrid front where the Clinical Hospital and the Schools of Medicine and Literature and Philosophy that can be seen in the photograph from the republican side. Madrid, March 1937.

The same position of the Ciudad Universitaria frontline, but this time seen from the position of the revolted. In the image a guard of the Regulares of Franco in front of the Ciudad Universitaria. Madrid, 5/9/1938.

From that year on, the defense of the capital became a long trench warfare that would last til the end of the war. In the picture the communications post of the 21st Joint Republican Brigade under the command of Juan de Pablo Janssen. Usera (Madrid), 6/13/1937

The republican offensive of Brunete was an attempt of the republican army to lessen the pressure on Madrid and, regardless of the great amount of losses by both sides, was not won by either side. In the image general José Enrique Varela Iglesias monitors the advance of the national troops over Brunete. Madrid, July 1937.

Communist leader Enrique Líster was entrusted the defense of a sector of the city during the Battle of Madrid, commanding the first Joint Brigade of the EPR. He later was in charge of one of the best divisions of the republican army that took part in the toughest battles. In the image he’s seen with officers and soldiers of his division after the battle of Brunete. July 1937.

National soldiers examine a T-26 B tank of soviet manufacture, taken from the enemy. Madrid front, circa 1937.

Republican soldiers protect themselves behind sandbags during the defense of Madrid. Madrid frontline, 1937.

With general Franco’s victory, most of their victims were exhumed and buried which not happened with the ones of the other side. Exhumation of the corpses of 500 nationalist prisoners, taken out of the Madrid prisons in the first days of November 1936 and murdered by the republicans in the outskirts of Torrejón de Ardóz. Madrid 12/16/1939.

Daily life in Madrid during the Civil War was altered, besides by the war, that brought with it the revolt that reached its apex during the first months of war, but also by unknown phenomena like bombardments and refugees, usual images in later conflicts but unseen till then. However, faithful to their traditions, the inhabitants of Madrid made normal life regardless of the drama of the children, the continuous exodus, the tragedy of the bombardments and the fight for survival mixed in with Spanish traditions like soccer, bullfighting and different shows like clubs or walking that showed both sides of the city the war and the one that wanted to forget and survive. In the image giveaway of toys for the children of Madrid for Epiphany. Madrid 1/6/1937.
“They Won’t Pass” phrase coined during the Battle of Verdun during the 1st World War some say by French General Robert Nivelle others by his commandant Philippe Pétain. It was the longest and one of the bloodiest battles in the 1st World War. In the picture, sign with the slogan “They Won’t Pass” placed in a street of Madrid, near the Plaza Mayor. Madrid 10/5/1936

Volunteers of the Fifth Regiment, the first military unit created by the communists, peel potatoes to prepare the food of the militiamen in the kitchens of the barracks of Francos Rodríguez street. Madrid, 8/7/1936.

Daily life image near a fortification in the neighborhood of Argüelles. Madrid, April 1937.

Daily Life: Children learning socialist instruction and doctrine. Madrid, 8/10/1936.

Soccer teams salute with their fists up before starting a match in the Chamartín Stadium, as homage to the 21st Joint Brigade. Madrid, May 1937.

Women making clothes for republican soldiers in a tailor workshop. Madrid, circa July 1936.

Front of a chemist situated in Gran Via, protected with sandbags from the bombardments. Madrid, circa December 1936.

Donation campaign for Christmas Eve dinner for the militiamen that fight in the Madrid frontline. Madrid 12/20/1936.

A group of passersby in Puerta del Sol watch the dogfights between the republican and national aircraft. Whilst most of the planes of the republican air force were Russian the national air force ones were Italian. Madrid 10/29/1936.

A child observes a poster that advices the civil population to leave the city to avoid the national bombardments. Madrid 1/20/1937.

Victims of the national bombardment over the Red de San Luis. The continuous bombardment over the city caused many losses. The authorities decided to evacuate the civilian population from the city, around 200.000 people left Madrid. Madrid, 5/13/1937

Old lady with a wounded child and other civilians in Atocha Station during the evacuation of the city. Madrid, December 1936.

Packages stored in a room of the Prado Museum with paintings and other forms of art that have recently returned to Spain from Geneva. The paintings where spread out all over Europe to avoid them being damaged by the bombardments during the Civil War. Madrid, 9/10/1939.

“Today, with the Red Army prisoner and disarmed, the national troops have reached their final military goals. The War is over.”
Franco’s troops entered Madrid on March the 28th 1939 after the surrender of the republican forces of colonel Segismundo Casado who made a coup against the communist forces opposed to surrendering. On April the 1st the Republican Army surrendered in all Spain. In the image a group of young women parade happily the streets of Madrid with an image of Franco and a red and yellow flag. Madrid 4/7/1939. General FRANCISCO FRANCO, head of state in Spain between 1939 and 1975, was born in Ferrol on December the 4th 1892. His military career was brilliant and turned him in the youngest general of his time. On July the 18th 1936 he took part in the revolt against the government of the 2nd Republic that begat the Civil War that lasted until 1939. After imposing himself as leader of the rebels and winning the war he established a dictatorial regime clearly conservative, catholic and anticommunist. After almost four decades of dictatorship he died on November the 20th 1975 in Madrid. “Today, with the Red Army prisoner and disarmed, the national troops have reached their final military goals. The War is over.” (Official war report of April the 1st 1939 that ended the Spanish Civil War).
A war among Spanish.
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