Emilio Mola

Emilio Mola

Emilio Mola, the son of an army officer, was born on 9th June, 1887. When he was 20 years old he was commissioned in the infantry.

In 1919 he was assigned to the Moorish Regulares. An intelligent man, he wrote extensively on military affairs. Good-natured, he was popular with his men and in 1927 was promoted to brigadier general.

Mola was made director of general security in 1930. In this post he clashed with some of Spain's leading left-wing politicians. He became military commander in Morocco but was recalled to Spain after the Popular Front victory in February 1936 and reassigned as military governor in Pamplona.

In February 1936 Mola joined other Spanish Army officers, such as Francisco Franco, Juan Yague, Gonzalo Queipo de Llano and José Sanjurjo, in talking about overthrowing the Popular Front government. Mola became leader of this group.

On the 10th May 1936 the conservative Niceto Alcala Zamora was ousted as president and replaced by the left-wing Manuel Azaña. As a result of the government's economic measures the wealthy took vast sums of capital out of the country. This created an economic crisis and the value of the peseta declined which damaged trade and tourism. With prices rising workers demanded higher wages. This led to a series of strikes in Spain.

President Manuel Azaña appointed Diego Martinez Barrio as prime minister on 18th July 1936 and asked him to negotiate with the rebels. He contacted Mola and offered him the post of Minister of War in his government. He refused and when Azaña realized that the Nationalists were unwilling to compromise, he sacked Martinez Barrio and replaced him with José Giral. To protect the Popular Front government, Giral gave orders for arms to be distributed to left-wing organizations that opposed the military uprising.

General Mola issued his proclamation of revolt in Navarre on 19th July, 1936. The coup got off to a bad start with José Sanjurjo being killed in an air crash on 20th July. The uprising was a failure in most parts of Spain but Mola's forces were successful in the Canary Islands, Morocco, Seville and Aragon.

By the end of September 1936, the nine other generals involved in the military uprising came to the conclusion that General Francisco Franco should become commander of the Nationalist Army. He was also appointed chief of state. Mola agreed to serve under him and was placed in charge of the Army of the North.

Emilio Mola was killed on 3rd June 1937 when his plane crashed during bad weather. As General José Sanjurjo had been killed in a similar accident on 20th July 1936, rumours began to circulate that General Francisco Franco was responsible for the deaths of his two fellow leaders. However, no evidence has ever been found to substantiate this accusation.

Primary Sources

(1) General Emilio Mola to General José Sanjurjo (July 1936)

It will be borne in mind that the action, in order to crush, as soon as possible, a strong and well-organized enemy, will have to be very violent. Hence, all directors of political parties, societies, or unions not pledged to the movement will be imprisoned: such people will be administered exemplary punishments, so that movements of rebellion or strikes will be strangled.

(2) Manchester Guardian (12th August 1936)

One day about the beginning of July I was walking down the principal street in Malaga. As I passed the Club Mercantil an old gentleman whom I know slightly came to me and in a state of great excitement exclaimed: 'Good news, good news. Within a fortnight Calvo Sotelo (the monarchist leader) will be King of Spain.'

Then on July 12 Calvo Sotelo was taken from his house by night and shot. There is some mystery in this assassination. The usual reason given for it is that it was committed by the Storm Troops or republican police as a reprisal for the murder of one of their officers the day before by Fascists. It is also said that it was done on the orders of those who wished to precipitate a rising of the Right, as they considered that was the only way to a Communist revolution. The one thing that seems certain is that the Government, which was extremely anxious to avoid trouble, had nothing to do with it.

It was decided by the rebel generals to utilise the feeling of indignation which the assassination had caused among their own partisans. The rising, which I am told had been arranged for July 25, therefore broke out on the evening of July 18 in Spain. It had begun on the previous day in Morocco.

What happened in Malaga was this. At five o'clock on the evening of July 18 a company of infantry marched out of the barracks and proceeded, with bands playing, towards the centre of the town. There was already great tension, since the news of the rising in Morocco had become known. As they marched the soldiers were asked where they were going. 'To proclaim a state of war.' This is the legal procedure in such cases, and the soldiers thought that it was by order of the Government. The Governor's office was rung up, and it was learned that no such order had been given. This news quickly spread among the bystanders. The company had reached the Custom offices. Suddenly a workman stepped forward, saluted with the clenched fist, and cried 'Viva la Republica!' The officer in command drew his revolver and shot him. This was the signal. The Storm Troops on the steps of the Custom-house opened fire. Workmen from behind trees and Fascists from windows joined in. The troops tried to storm the Custom-house. But this they failed to do, and after a great deal of firing they were driven into the Calle Larios, the main shopping street of the city, where they were left alone.

Meanwhile the Governor had released the soldiers from their duty to their officers, and they began to stream out of the barracks into the town. They were the less disposed to fight for having been inoculated two days before against typhoid. Some of them approached the pickets of the rebel company. One by one the men slunk away till only one sentry was left. The officers got back to the barracks, where they were taken prisoners. Apart from isolated Fascists, who continued sniping from the roofs - and this did not altogether cease for two days, - the fighting was over. What seems rather rather odd considering the tens of thousands of rounds let off, less than twenty were killed on that night. On both sides they were bad shots.

At dawn the workmen began to stream out of their quarters of the city. Brandishing revolvers and red flags, singing the 'Internationale,' and making a strange rhythmical sound- 'Uh-uh-uh,' which those who heard it told me was most terrifying, - they marched into the Calle Larios. Selecting particular houses, sometimes those from which snipers fired at them, sometimes those of people particularly hated or known to be concerned in this movement, they began to set fire to them.

It was done methodically. The house was first searched, householders on either side were warned, efforts were made to prevent the fire from spreading. In this way half the houses in the Calle Larios were burnt, about twenty houses in other parts of the town and in the garden suburb to the east of the city some thirty or forty villas. But no churches or convents. These burnings went on all day until about midnight, and then, apart from a small recrudescence, stopped. No one was killed and there was no looting.

A grocer's shop, for example, was broken into: the hams, wines, and liqueurs were piled in the street and set fire to. The workmen, many of whom must have had hungry families at home, watched them burn. I asked one of them why they did not send the food to their union and distribute it. 'No,' he replied, 'Spanish workmen do not steal. They have too much sense of honour.' If one is horrified at the material destruction - and much of it is, of course, perfectly stupid, - one should not forget the provocation.