Book Review, December 1999:

Arms for Spain
by Gerald Howson
St. Martins Press, 1999
Hardcover, 354 pages 
ISBN 0312241771
Arms for Spain

The story of the Spanish Civil War is one of the most misunderstood, and shameful  chapters in history.  Central to it are roles played (or not played) by many of the Curio or Relic firearms that grace our collections.  This linkage is dramatically explained by Gerald Howson in his work, Arms for Spain.

In terms of military history, the Spanish Civil War has always been characterized quite conventionally.  Ostensibly, the Republican and Nationalist forces were roughly equal in size and armaments.  Mausers and Carcanos faced Mausers and Mosin-Nagants.  Astra and Star and Luger faced Astra and Star and Tokarev.  Heinkels, Messerschmitts and Fiats faced Polikarpovs, Dewoitines, and Vultees.  The Fascist victory was due to the mismanagement, internecine squabbling, and ineptitude of the Rebpublican forces.

Gerald Howson's Arms for Spain exposes that characterization of the war as a lie.  Through page after page of meticulous research Howson shows how the Fascist victory in Spain was ensured by the non-Fascist European nations.   In the midst of an internal rebellion, the Spanish Republic found itself abandoned by a Europe (and a United States) all too willing to sacrifice a democratically elected government that had the unmitigated gall to include socialists, communists and anarchists.   In the name of preventing a world war, an international arms embargo was declared against Spain.

This arms embargo gave Franco's Fascists an immense advantage over the Republic's forces.  While it hindered arms from reaching the Republic, it enabled Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany to provide the arms that Franco's Fascists needed to win the war.

As a result of the embargo, the Republic was forced to buy arms illicitly.  And, in the shady world of international arms traffickers, Republican officials found themselves paying extortionate bribes to foreign officials for arms that were never delivered.  Banks and private arms concerns swindled the Republic by sending ancient and unusable weapons.

And then there was the Soviet Union.  Long believed to be the Republic's staunchest supporter, the Russians were one of the most egregious offenders in the wholesale fleecing of the Republic.  Howson explains how the Soviets provided far less aid than has been thought, and in the process defrauded the Spanish government of millions of dollars by secretly manipulating the exchange rates.

Gerald Howson skillfully blends his command of the English language, forensic skills, expertise on armaments, and exhaustive research on the subject to establish that the embargo played a much greater role in the fall of the Republic, and the establishment of the longest lived fascist dictatorship in Europe.  As a result, it is necessary to reassess issues of  culpability and the nature of what is surely one of the greatest political tragedies of the twentieth century.

Arms for Spain is available from  Click on the image to order:
Arms for Spain

Note:  The history of the Spanish Civil War is difficult material to assimilate, owing to the huge, and often indistinguishable cast of characters and events.  There are two excellent books on the subject that do a magnificent job of shedding light on this difficult and obscure subject matter click on the images to order:

Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell,
Homage to Catalonia

The Spanish Civil War by Hugh Thomas,
The Spanish Civil War

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