Spain during World War I

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Sprinklings of the War: "Without fashions coming from Paris, I don't know what to put on."

Spain remained neutral throughout World War I between 28 July 1914 and 11 November 1918, and despite domestic economic difficulties,[1] it was considered "one of the most important neutral countries in Europe by 1915".[2] Spain had enjoyed neutrality during the political difficulties of pre-war Europe, and continued its neutrality after the war until the Spanish Civil War began in 1936.[2] While there was no direct military involvement in the war, German forces were interned in Spanish Guinea in late 1915.

The Spanish prime minister, Eduardo Dato, a Conservative, declared neutrality the same day the war in Europe began. For this he was applauded in the Cortes when they reconvened on 30 October. Opinion among the public was divided. The upper classes (the aristocracy and the rich bourgeoisie), the Catholic Church and the Spanish Army generally favoured the Central Powers, usually identified with Germany. Among political parties, the Germanophile tendency was represented among the reactionary Carlists and the conservative Mauristas, followers of Antonio Maura, who himself favoured closer ties with the Allies because of Spain's 1907 pact with Britain and France, which was designed to head off German colonialism in north Africa. Pro-Allied sentiment, which was generally Francophile, was most common among the middle and professional classes and intellectuals. It was common among Catalan nationalists, Republicans and Socialists. A few Liberals, including Álvaro de Figueroa, leader of the opposition in the Cortes, were also pro-Allied.[3]

As early as August 1914, some Catalans were volunteering in the French Army, mainly the Foreign Legion. In 1915, they founded their own magazine, Iberia, to defend and propagate their cause. In February 1916, the Comitè de Germanor (Committee of Brotherhood) was set up in Barcelona to recruit for the Legion. Over 2,000 Spaniards ultimately served in the Legion, the majority of them Catalans.[4]

Spanish industry in the north and east of the country expanded as demand rose among the warring powers for Spanish goods. The inflow of capital produced inflation and imports dropped, exacerbating the poverty of the rural areas and the south. The growing poverty intensified internal migration to the industrial areas, and the railway system was unable to bear the increased demand. The shortage of basic commodities became known as the crisis de subsistencias. In 1915, food riots erupted in some cities, and in December 1915, the government resigned, to be replaced by a Liberal government under Figueroa.[5] In July 1916, the two main trade unions, the socialist Unión General de Trabajadores and the anarchosyndicalist Confederación Nacional del Trabajo, joined forces to put pressure on the Liberal government. In March 1917 they even threatened to start a general strike. Their example inspired military officers to form unions of their own, the juntas de defensa. The officers' goal was to prevent the passage of the Bill of Military Reform tabled in the Cortes in 1916. It sought to professionalise the military by introducing intellectual and physical tests as prerequisites for promotions; the ultimate goal was a reduction in the size of the bloated officers corps. The juntas de defensa demanded promotions and pay increases based strictly on seniority.[6]

The war had a significant impact on the construction program of the Spanish Navy. The second and third España-class battleships, built in Spain between 1910 and 1919, were delayed significantly because of material shortages from Britain.[7] Most importantly, the main battery guns for Jaime I did not arrive until 1919, after the war had ended.[8] The projected Reina Victoria Eugenia-class battleships, which also would have relied heavily on imported guns and armour plate, were cancelled outright after the war started.[9]


  1. ^ Tirado 2000, pp. 18–41.
  2. ^ a b McEvoy 2003.
  3. ^ Romero 1999, pp. 32–34.
  4. ^ Romero 1999, p. 35.
  5. ^ Romero 1999, p. 36.
  6. ^ Romero 1999, p. 37.
  7. ^ Fitzsimons 1979, p. 856.
  8. ^ Fernández, Mitiukov & Crawford 2007, p. 73.
  9. ^ Garzke & Dulin 1985, p. 438.


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  • Fitzsimons, Bernard, ed. (1979). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of 20th Century Weapons and Warfare. 8. Phoebus Publishing: London, UK. pp. 856–57. ISBN 0-8393-6175-0. 
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  • Tirado, Daniel A. (2000). Economic Integration and Industrial Location: The Case of Spain Before WWI. European University Institute. 
  • Vilaró i Güell, Miquel (2014). "Río Muni en el contexto de la I Guerra Mundial". Hispania Nova. 12. 
  • Woolman, David S. (1968). Rebels in the Rif: Abd el Krim and the Rif Rebellion. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.