On 27th July, 1936, Adolf Hitler sent the the Nationalists 26 German fighter aircraft. He also sent 30 Junkers 52s from Berlin and Stuttgart to Morocco. Over the next couple of weeks the aircraft transported over 15,000 troops to Spain. The fighter aircraft soon went into action and the Germans suffered their first losses when airmen Helmut Schulze and Herbert Zeck were killed on 15th August.
In September 1936, Lieutenant Colonel Walther Warlimont of the German General Staff arrived as the German commander and military adviser to General Francisco Franco. The following month Warlimont suggested that a German Condor Legion should be formed to fight in the Spanish Civil War.
The initial force consisted a Bomber Group of three squadrons of Ju-52 bombers; a Fighter Group with three squadrons of He-51 fighters; a Reconnaissance Group with two squadrons of He-99 and He-70 reconnaissance bombers; and a Seaplane Squadron of He-59 and He-60 floatplanes.
Adolf Hitler hoped this would not be necessary as General Francisco Franco claimed he was on the verge of victory. This prediction proved to be wrong and in November the International Brigades and aircraft and tanks from the Soviet Union began arriving in Madrid.
Hitler now gave permission for the formation of the Condor Legion. The initial force consisted a Bomber Group of three squadrons of Ju-52 bombers; a Fighter Group with three squadrons of He-51 fighters; a Reconnaissance Group with two squadrons of He-99 and He-70 reconnaissance bombers; and a Seaplane Squadron of He-59 and He-60 floatplanes.
The Condor Legion, under the command of General Hugo Sperrle, was an autonomous unit responsible only to Franco. The legion would eventually total nearly 12,000 men. Sperrle demanded higher performance aircraft from Germany and he eventually received the Heinkel He111, Junkers Stuka and the Messerschmitt Bf109. It participated in all the major engagements including Brunete, Teruel, Aragon and Ebro.
The Condor Legion was initially equipped with around 100 aircraft and 5,136 men. Sperrle demanded higher performance aircraft from Germany and he eventually received the Heinkel He111, Junkers Stuka and the Messerschmitt Bf109.
The Condor Legion participated in all the major engagements including Brunete, Teruel, Aragon and Ebro. During the war Werner Moelders was credited with fourteen kills, more than any other German pilot.
In the Asturias campaign in September 1937, Adolf Galland experimented with new bombing tactics. This became known as carpet bombing (dropping all bombs on the enemy from every aircraft at one time for maximum damage). German aircraft dropped 16,953,700 kilos of bombs during the war and air units expended 4,327,949 rounds of machine-gun ammunition.
A total of 19,000 Germans served in the Spanish Civil War. Of these, 298 were lost, with 173 being killed by the enemy. This included 102 aircrew, 27 fighter pilots and 21 anti-aircraft crew. A large number were killed in accidents and others died of illness. The Condor Legion lost 72 aircraft to enemy action. Another 160 were lost in flying accidents.
When the civil war broke out in Spain Franco sent a call for help to Germany and asked for support, particularly in the air. Franco with his troops was stationed in Africa and he could not get his troops across, as the fleet was in the hands of the communists. The decisive factor was, first of all, to get his troops to Spain. The Führer thought the matter over. I urged him to give support under all circumstances: firstly, to prevent the further spread of communism; secondly, to test my young Luftwaffe in this or that technical respect.
Though German aid to Franco never equalled that given by Italy, which dispatched between sixty and seventy thousand troops as well as vast supplies of arms and planes, it was considerable. The Germans estimated later that they spent half a billion marks on the venture 37 besides furnishing planes, tanks, technicians and the Condor Legion, an Air Force unit which distinguished itself by the obliteration of the Spanish town of Guernica and its civilian inhabitants. Relative to Germany's own massive rearmament it was not much, but it paid handsome dividends to Hitler.
It gave France a third unfriendly fascist power on its borders. It exacerbated the internal strife in France between Right and Left and thus weakened Germany's principal rival in the West. Above all it rendered impossible a rapprochement of Britain and France with Italy, which the Paris and London governments had hoped for after the termination of the Abyssinian War, and thus drove Mussolini into the arms of Hitler.
From the very beginning the Fuehrer's Spanish policy was shrewd, calculated and far-seeing. A perusal of the captured German documents makes plain that one of Hitler's purposes was to prolong the Spanish Civil War in order to keep the Western democracies and Italy at loggerheads and draw Mussolini toward him.
The role played by the Spanish conflict as regards Italy's relations with France and England could be similar to that of the Abyssinian conflict, bringing out clearly the actual, opposing interests of the powers and thus preventing Italy from being drawn into the net of the Western powers and used for their machinations. The struggle for dominant political influence in Spain lays bare the natural opposition between Italy and France; at the same time the position of Italy as a power in the western Mediterranean comes into competition with that of Britain. All the more clearly will Italy recognize the advisability of confronting the Western powers shoulder to shoulder with Germany.
In the course of the next three years Germany sent men and military supplies, including experts and technicians of all kinds and the famous Condor Air Legion. German aid to Franco was never on a major scale, never sufficient to win the war for him or even to equal the forces sent by Mussolini, which in March 1937 reached the figure of sixty to seventy thousand men. Hitler's policy, unlike Mussolini's, was not to secure Franco's victory, but to prolong the war. In April 1939, an official of the German Economic Policy Department, trying to reckon what Germany had spent on help to Franco up to that date, gave a round figure of five hundred million Reichsmarks, not a large sum by comparison with the amounts spent on rearmament. But the advantages Germany secured in return were disproportionate - economic advantages (valuable sources of raw materials in Spanish mines); useful experience in training her airmen and testing equipment such as tanks in battle conditions; above all, strategic and political advantages.
It only needed a glance at the map to show how seriously France's position was affected by events across the Pyrenees. A victory for Franco would mean a third Fascist State on her frontiers, three instead of two frontiers to be guarded in the event of war. France, for geographical reasons alone, was more deeply interested in what happened in Spain than any other of the Great Powers, yet the ideological character of the Spanish Civil War divided, instead of uniting, French opinion. The French elections shortly before the outbreak of the troubles in Spain had produced the Left-wing Popular Front Government of Leon Blum. So bitter had class and political conflicts grown in France that - as in the case of the Franco-Soviet Treaty - foreign affairs were again subordinated to internal faction, and many Frenchmen were prepared to support Franco as a way of hitting at their own Government.
In 1936-9 Great Britain and other European and American countries were beginning to think in terms of the coming world conflict. The fact that Hitler and Mussolini helped the Spanish Nationalists was a cause of great and perhaps natural prejudice in those countries, though it should be noted that those who criticized us for accepting Hitler's help saw nothing strange in the acceptance of Stalin, who had invaded Poland with Hitler, as their ally in World War II. When men are fighting for all that is dear to them they accept help from wherever it comes. But the loose habit of referring to all authoritarian regimes other than the Communist as 'Fascist' made it hard for people to appreciate the vast differences that separate the Spanish Falange from Nazism.