“Franco’s soldiers'” hostility to the war

January 4, 2013

Summary of the essay “Political surveillance measures against the soldiers of the rebel army: ‘Franco’s soldiers’ and their gradual hostility to and rejection of the war, December 1937-1939,” which received an Honorary Mention in the Graduate category of the 2012 Watt Award.

In July 1936 the military forces stationed in Africa rose against the Republican regime. The failure of the coup d’état in some territories triggered a ‘total war’ that no sector of society was able to escape. In Galicia, the success of the coup was accompanied by selective, unexpected repression; however, the violence suffered by Galician society did not result exclusively from the repression perpetrated by the insurgent coalition. After the first weeks of uncertainty, Galicia became one of the main recruitment hubs of the rebel army. As a consequence of the state of war that had been declared, part of the Galician youth had to enlist in the army’s ranks, as otherwise they would run the risk of being tried as deserters.

This group of people has gone unnoticed in historiographical studies on the civil war. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to analyse the war experiences of the soldiers of the rebel army who were mobilised in Galicia. How did they behave in the face of the coup d’état? How did they behave on the front? The answers to these questions will help us interpret the social and political consequences of their involvement in the Civil War. We will also look into the measures adopted by the military authorities to control their war contingent. The aim of this research is to give a historical account of a group of which there is a conflictive memory, and to show the diversity of this often stereotyped social group.

Our investigations reveal that this group deployed heterogeneous attitudes when confronted with the news of the mobilisation of the first conscripts. Their behaviour comprises different stances that range from voluntary mobilisation or passive acceptance to outright rejection. The data obtained from military archives, oral memory and diaries show the complex universe of war mobilisation that stemmed from the incipient civil society. There was a sector that rejected the coup d’état morally and politically, but the impact of the repression, fear and survival led this group not to take a stance of overt rejection of the coup.

This essay has been prepared in the context of one of the research lines developed by the HISTAGRA Research Group (histagra.usc.es/gl) and the Inter-University Research Project Nomes e Voces (Names and Voices, www.nomesevoces.net), both of which belong to the Department of Contemporary History of the Universidade de Santiago de Compostela. The essay focuses on soldiers’ social attitudes and the measures adopted by the Generalissimo’s Headquarters since late 1937. Repression, their involvement in a situation of violence and the duration of the war gradually undermined soldiers’ morale. This generated disaffection even in the sectors that were the most supportive of the rebel army, as shown by some journals and the reports of the Servicio de Información Militar or Military Information Department, which also warned of the existence of soldiers deemed hostile and ‘dangerous’ because of their political past. The Army, for its part, began to toughen the measures of surveillance and punishment of the troops in early 1938. Its aim was to impose a strict military discipline through the establishment of the Servicio de Información y Policía Militar or Military Information and Police Department, which centralised all the information on soldiers, and the creation of disciplinary units in each corps of the Army in August 1938, to which those soldiers who had displayed a bad behaviour were sent, and where they were condemned to work in slave-like conditions.

Francisco J. Leira Castiñeira is researcher of the Grupo Historia Agraria e Política do Mundo Rural (Agricultural and Political History of the Rural World, HISTAGRA, <ttp://histagra.usc.es/gl/), at theDepartment of Contemporary and American History of the Universidade de Santiago de Compostela.