Soon after the war’s outbreak, both the Nationalists and the Republicans realized that the war was not going to be quick. Franco was surprised at the initial resistance given by the Republicans. Both sides were unprepared for a long conflict. Weapons and men were in short supply and what weapons they did possess were old. Each side came to the conclusion that in order to have the advantage and sustain a war, they needed assistance. The Spaniards thus asked the other European powers—Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and the Soviet Union—and United States to provide men and weapons to their cause. The European countries and the United States responded unfavorably to the Spaniards’ requests. Several adopted non - intervention policies that would prevent involvement in the Spanish Civil War. Only three countries would provide any substantial aid at all: Germany and Italy to the Nationalists, and the Soviet Union to the Republicans.
“None of the great powers had a policy ready when the Spanish crisis broke out on them in the summer of 1936.” Thus, a widespread policy of non-intervention was adopted. The countries felt that it would be in their best interests to avoid involvement in the Spanish Civil War. Most adhered to this policy, but it was soon broken when Germany and Italy responded to the Spanish requests. The complicated situation of involvement and non-involvement would ultimately play out in the Nationalists’ favor. The Nationalists received the aid that they requested, while the Republicans’ attempts were ignored by all countries except the Soviet Union.
The reasons for non-intervention depend on the country. “The British were determined to avoid a general war.” The British felt that if they were to become involved in this conflict, the other powers would follow suit. They also did not want to be blamed for the results and effects of the conflict, nor risk their “Great Power” status in the Mediterranean if it “helped create a fascist Spain.” France felt that if it became involved, it would lose its alliance with Great Britain. Also, the French government was largely unpopular, and current leader Léon Blum firmly believed that there would have been a fascist rising in France if he intervened, and France would have turned from a “democracy to a fascist state.” Even the United States felt that it was necessary to keep international peace and imposed a “moral embargo” on Spain, despite support for both sides from citizens. Three denials dealt the Republic a serious blow early, and they would have to hope that assistance would be given or their chances of winning would be slim.
Despite the lack of support, the Republicans were promised assistance from the Soviet Union, which almost did not happen. Stalin wished to provide aid to the Republicans but struggled to find a way where the current balance of power would not be upset. The actual reason for involvement is debatable. Historian Paul Preston argues that Stalin only agreed to send aid when Germany and Italy became involved because the other powers were not, but historian Antony Beevor argues that it was Leon Trotsky who pushed him into involvement. Preston has extensive expertise in this area of study and his experiences as a historian are certainly valuable; however, his experiences may have developed a certain amount of bias towards the subject that can hinder the source’s worth. Likewise, Beevor has studied the Spanish Civil War in detail, and his research as a historian is valuable as it provides new insights, but it is limited from Beevor’s personal bias. After a request for arms received no reply, Trotsky used the silence to accuse Stalin of betraying the Spanish revolution and aiding the fascists, and upon realizing that Soviet communism would lose credibility, “decided to send aid to the Republicans.” Although most likely a combination of Trotsky’s threat and Germany and Italy’s intervention, the Soviet Union only supplied the minimum amount of aid requested. Though small, the Republicans had found the aid they desperately needed.
The Nationalists found aid through the two fascist European powers: Germany and Italy, though their desire to help was purely through advancing the powers’ own self-interests. Hitler’s reasons were strategically planned in order to give Germany a strong advantage over the democratic powers. “Hitler saw that having a fascist Spain would present a threat to France’s [south] and to Britain’s route to the Suez Canal, and could be an opportunity to have U-Boat bases on the Atlantic coast.” Mussolini also saw the Spanish Civil War as an opportunity to make Italy “great, respected, and feared.” Mussolini had previously attempted to advance Italian interests, and “he felt that having another fascist ally would be useful to him, especially one that could establish naval bases in the Balearic Islands. Mussolini also felt that he could impress Hitler and prove that he could be an indispensible ally to the Germans.” With that, both Germany and Italy sent men and weapons to the Nationalists in order to see that a fascist state would be established in the Mediterranean.
Though the war had just begun, the Nationalists already had an advantage over the Republicans. While the Soviets sent only the minimum necessary to sustain the Republic, the Germans and Italians delivered dozens of aircrafts, tanks, guns, and thousands of men. Hitler allowed Franco to use Germany’s trained pilot squad, the Condor Legion. The Nationalists were also “inundated with foreign advisors, observers, technical experts, and combat personnel, and within a month of the start of the war Franco had received 89 aircrafts, 41 from Germany and 48 from Italy. The Republicans, on the other hand, received no more than thirteen Dewoitine fighter planes and six Potez 54 bomber planes, which were outdated and lacked weapons and mountings.” The Nationalists also had the advantage of having trained soldiers to fight with in battle. Franco’s army, along with the trained German and Italian soldiers, was superior to the men fighting on the Republic’s side. The Republicans resorted to using Spanish and international volunteers. The newly-formed International Brigades were comprised of men willing to fight to defeat fascism in Spain, made of men from the United States, Great Britain, France and Spain, for example. Yet the members of the International Brigades were volunteers that lacked the training necessary to partake in an armed conflict of any kind. The Nationalists also had the advantage of numbers. Even at the International Brigades’ largest membership, the Nationalists still had tens of thousands more soldiers. The early advantages were helpful to the Nationalists, giving them an edge over the Republicans. Franco and his troops were now ready to engage in battle with the Republican armies. They were trained and ready to fight using their new weapons and aircrafts, which Franco would make full use of throughout the war.