Legion Condor



For the first time in 7 years, Alphonso XIII, King of Spain permitted elections in the country on April 12, 1931. When the votes were counted the following day, the handwriting was on the wall. The political trends within the country were unmistakably evident and the King immediately abdicated. Riots had broken out, support for the monarchy was disappearing rapidly, and the country was headed for civil war. Over the next five years, Spain watched 30 different coalition governments come and go in the midst of political, social and economic chaos. These events took place within a framework of a catastrophic worldwide depression.

Spain represented the classic conflict between the HAVES and the HAVE NOTS. On the left were the labor unions and the working poor, the peasants, the intellectuals, the Communists and much of the military. On the right were the conservative landowners, the Catholic Church, the business community, the Spanish fascist party (Falange) and portions of the military. The country, led by a liberal, Socialist Republican government, was torn apart by strikes, violent demonstrations, political assassinations, riots and civil unrest.

Civil war broke out in July of 1936 with a rebellion of army officers in Spain's African colony of Spanish Morocco. Waiting in the wings watching events unfold in Spain were Joseph Stalin and Adolph Hitler. Stalin saw in Spain the opportunity for a Soviet-styled satellite modeled after the Russian Revolution of 1917. Hitler recognized the danger that outcome posed for Germany. With his recent unopposed success in occupying the Rhineland, his rearmament program flaunting the Treaty of Versailles, and his upcoming plans for annexing Austria and Czechoslovakia, Hitler badly needed the world's attention turned elsewhere in Europe.

The Soviet government immediately began shipping military aid to the Republican government while issuing a call for volunteers to all Communists worldwide (including 2800 members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade from the United States). 50,000 sympathizers ultimately came to Spain to fight for the Republican (Communist) cause. The French joined in sending military supplies to Spain although the British were more reluctant because of their economic interests in the country. The Germans, barely three years after Hitler had come to power, and in the midst of rearming, were in no position to risk potential confrontations with Britain and France as a result of their involvement in Spain. Consequently, they discreetly provided limited military assistance to the Nationalist government of Francisco Franco using "dummy companies" to "lease" planes and tanks and recruited "volunteers" from the Luftwaffe and the Panzer Corps to serve in Spain. The "volunteers" wore no German uniforms and the planes carried no German markings. Active participation in the war by the "volunteers" was initially discouraged in order to cover up German participation. However, as the Spanish pilots had difficulty flying and maintaining the planes, direct German involvement became unavoidable. In addition, Mussolini and the Italian government sent substantial military aid and personnel to assist Franco's fascist struggle.


The German military presence in Spain was designated the Legion Condor and was mainly an air effort. By November, 1936, German military assistance to Franco consisted of a small naval presence, the North Sea Group (mainly 2 pocket battleships, 4 cruisers, a flotilla of torpedo boats and several U-boats); a land-based force (Army Group Imker) consisting of mainly 3 Panzer tank companies; and a substantial air force contingent. Initially this involved a bomber group consisting of three Ju-52 squadrons, a fighter group consisting of three He-51 squadrons, a reconnaissance squadron of twelve He-70 aircraft, a flak battalion, a communications battalion, a transport battalion and a supply battalion. Over the duration of the war, the German "volunteers" in Spain at any one time numbered only 5000-6000. Almost from the beginning, Hitler's policy provided sufficient military aid to Franco to prevent a Republican victory but not enough for a decisive Nationalist victory. He wanted to "keep the conflict going" and keep the world's attention focused on something other than his own territorial objectives.


   Kampfgruppe 88 was made up initially of 3 (and later 4) squadrons of trimotored Junkers Ju-52 bombers. Jagdgruppe 88 was made up initially of 3 (and later 5) squadrons of Heinkel He-51 biwinged fighters. A squadron was typically 12-16 airplanes with 20-25 pilots and 80-100 ground support personnel. The slow, cumbersome Ju-52 bombers and He-51 fighters were no match for the superior Russian-made planes and did not fare well in the early

stages of the conflict. Gradually these out-of-date planes were replaced with state-of-the-art Heinkel He-111 bombers, Junkers Ju-87 Stuka dive bombers, and Messerschmitt Bf-109 fighters. Typically, Luftwaffe "volunteer" personnel spent 9 month tours in Spain before being rotated back to Germany.


Spain was used as a proving ground to test the new weapons and tactics of the fledgling Luftwaffe, a sort of "dress rehearsal" for the upcoming inevitable war in Europe. Since there were very few targets of strategic importance, the Luftwaffe's role evolved into one of mainly close support of ground operations. They regularly attacked forward enemy troop concentrations, enemy airfields and supply lines particularly with the Ju-87 Stuka dive bombers. Fighter pilots developed and refined dog fighting techniques for air-to-air combat situations as well as effective bomber escort techniques. Bomber crews experienced the difficulties

of hitting targets from high altitudes and night navigation problems. The Germans experimented with massive area bombing of a civilian area when they attacked the town of Guernica in Northern Spain on April 26, 1937. Like most other subsequent terror bombing attacks on urban areas later in the war, (London, Hamburg, Dresden, Berlin) the attempt to demoralize the population failed. Ironically, legitimate military targets including a key bridge and a munitions/arms factory were undamaged by the attack.


Despite early disappointments, by mid-1938, the tide of war was shifting in favor of the Franco's Nationalists. Stalin, faced with the spreading influence of fascism , declining prospects for victory in Spain and severe economic problems at home, stopped the massive Soviet aid. Ending Soviet involvement in Spain made possible the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact in August, 1939, on the eve of the German invasion of Poland. France and Britain had managed to extract an agreement from Franco to remain neutral and not to enter the upcoming war on the German side in exchange for not sending aid to the Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War. This was the end of the line for the Republican struggle. The Republican strongholds, historically in the cities, began to fall. Barcelona fell in January, 1939, followed by Catalonia a month later and culminating in the surrender of Valencia and Madrid in March, 1939. The Republican Army officially surrendered on April 1, 1939, and the Spanish Civil War was over.


The role of the Luftwaffe in Spain evolved primarily into one of close tactical support of ground operations best exemplified by the performance of the Stuka dive bombers. Their modern weapons and tactics were wildly successful. Long range strategic bombing was given a very low priority. Consequently no development work was undertaken on long range bombers, a fact that would return to haunt the Luftwaffe in the coming years of the war. Finally, since they saw no role for long range strategic bombing in their view of modern warfare, they mistakenly assumed their enemies would see it the same way. As a result, they devoted a comparatively small portion of their resources preparing to defend their homeland against long range bombers.


Uniforms, Organization and History Legion Condor, Roger James Bender, R. James Bender Publishing, San Jose, CA 95153, 1992 ISBN No. 0-912138-50-5.

The Legion Condor-A History of the Luftwaffe in the Spanish Civil War, Karl Ries and Hans Ring, Schiffer Military History, West Chester, PA, 1992 ISBN No. 0-88740-339-5.

Hitler's Luftwaffe in the Spanish Civil War, Raymond L. Proctor, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT, 1983 ISBN No. 0-313-22246-0.

The Spanish Civil War, Hugh Thomas, Harper & Row, New York, NY, 1977 ISBN No. 0-06-014278-2.

CONDOR: The Luftwaffe in Spain 1936-1939, Patrick Laureau, Hikoki Publications, 2000


http://www.swanseahistoryweb.org.uk/history/blitz/airwar3.htm - A detailed look at the role of the Legion Condor in the Spanish Civil War.

http://www.users.dircon.co.uk/~warden/scw/scwevent.htm - A synopsis of the Spanish Civil War.

http://usuarios.lycos.es/mrval/GCE.HTM Aircraft of the Spanish Civil War