Bombing of Barcelona
|Bombing of Barcelona|
|Part of the Spanish Civil War|
Bombing in Barcelona, 1938.
|Commanders and leaders|
|Andrés García Calle||Unknown|
Sa-79 and Sa-81 Italian bombers
|Casualties and losses|
|1,000–1,300 civilians dead||None|
On March 1938, the Nationalists started an offensive in Aragon, after the Battle of Teruel, and Germany occupied Austria. On 15 March, the French government, led by Léon Blum, decided to reopen the Spanish frontier and Russian supplies began to pass to Barcelona. Then, Mussolini decided to carry out massive air bombings against Barcelona in order to "weaken the morale of the Reds". Mussolini thought, like the Italian general Giulio Douhet, that aircraft could win a war with terror.
Between 16 and 18 March 1938, Barcelona was bombed by bombers of the Italian Aviazione Legionaria, the branch of the Italian Air Force fighting in the Spanish Civil War These bombers flew from Mallorca with Spanish markings. The first raid came at 22:00 of 16 March by German Heinkel He 51s. After that, there were 17 air raids by the Italian Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 and Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 bombers at three hour intervals until 15:00 of 18 March. Barcelona had little anti-aircraft artillery and no fighter cover. The Spanish Republican Air Force (FARE) didn't send fighters to Barcelona until the morning of 17 March.
The repeated wave of attacks carried out by the Italians would render irrelevant the air-raid alarm system since it would no longer be clear if the sirens were announcing the beginning or the end of an attack. Furthermore, they used delayed-fuse bombs designed to pass through the roof and then explode inside the building and a new type of bomb which exploded with a strong lateral force, so as to destroy things and persons within a few inches of the ground. The bombings affected all the city and the bombers didn't attempt to destroy military targets. On the night of 18 the working class districts were badly hit. The Italian bombers dropped 44 tons of bombs, and there were more than 1,000 civilians dead (Beevor: 1,000 dead and 2,000 wounded; Preston: around 1,000 dead; and Thomas: 1,300 dead and 2,000 wounded).
The attack was condemned by Western democracies all around the world. The American Secretary of State, Cordell Hull said: "No theory of war can justify such conduct. . . . I feel that I am speaking for the whole American people!". And on 19 March, Franco asked for the suspension of the bombings, for fear of "complications abroad". Mussolini, on the other hand, was very pleased with the bombings. Italian Foreign Minister and Mussolini's son-in-law Galeazzo Ciano said that: "He was pleased by the fact that the Italians have managed to provoke horror, by their aggression instead of complacency with their mandolins. This will send up our stock in Germany, where they love total and ruthless war."
Later in the year, the British journalist John Langdon-Davies - who had been present in Barcelona at the time - published an account of the attacks. He reported that the bombers had glided in at high altitude to avoid being detected by the (pre-radar) acoustic aircraft detection means available, and only restarted their engines after releasing their bomb loads, which he termed the "silent approach" method. The effect of this was that the aircraft were not detected and the alert sounded until after their bombs had exploded on target. Along with the variance of the times between each individual attack, this had a demoralizing effect on the civilian population, which suffered prolonged anxiety quite out of proportion to the number of bombs dropped over a long period of time. Coupled with the fact that there was little discernible military value in the choice of targets within the city, and the cessation of the attacks for no apparent reason, Langdon-Davies determined that the raids constituted a deliberate experiment in the use of such tactics in preparation for their application in any subsequent conflict by the Germans and Italians against the United Kingdom.
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