Crickets against Rats. Vol. I.

In mid July of 1936 Benito Mussolini could consider himself an accomplished man.

His risky game with the conquest of Ethiopia ended with success. In May of that year Italian army triumphantly entered the capital of this country, Addis Abeba. Mussolini announced from the balcony of Palazzo Venezia the establishment of the new Italian Empire. Italians rushed to Ethiopia to make fortunes and rest from the provincial boredom. The Duce was popular and Italian navy and air force were the strongest in the Mediterranean region. On 15 July the sanctions imposed by the League of Nations against Italy during the conquest of this African country were lifted. The proposal of lifting of all sanctions was submitted by England itself. This way the world’s greatest colonial power approved Italian conquests and was offering the hand for reconciliation, at least apparent. The General Assembly of the League of Nations acclaimed the proposal. The Ethiopian war lasted 216 days and the economical siege of Italy – exactly 240 days.

When the war broke out, the Breguet XIX light bomber was the mainstay of the Spanish bomber squadrons. Spain purchased license for production of these aircraft as early as in 1923. In this country they were manufactured by CASA.  [Archivo Histórico del Ejército del Aire]

On 17 July the serenity of the Italian dictator was disturbed by news from nearby Spain, important for Italy because they concerned the Mediterranean Sea, their sea, the antic Mare Nostrum, considered by the Italians as their zone of influence. The putsch of Spanish generals was probably a surprise for the Duce, who had not known about the preparations for it. The uprising soon met problems; its leaders soon concluded that without foreign aid it is doomed to fall. Their set their eyes on potential allies – Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. On 19 July General Franco, little known in Rome, sent a monarchist journalist Luis Bolin, the correspondent of the “ABC” daily in Tetuan to the Italian capital aboard a Dragon Rapide airplane. Bolin had a letter to Mussolini signed by Generals Franco and Sanjurjo. The next day Franco contacted Italian consul in Tanger, Pier Filippo De Rossi del Lion Nero, asking for sending a telegram to Rome with a request for eight Caproni aircraft. The telegram was signed by Italian military attaché in Tanger Magg. Giuseppe Luccardi. The next day the telegram found its way to the desk of the commander of the Italian military intelligence - Servizio Militare Italiano (S.I.M.) Col. Mario Roatta, who passed it over to the Duce with negative opinion. The Duce wrote on it only “NO” in blue pencil. Mussolini refused, thinking that the uprising has poor chances to succeed and not willing to interfere in Spain’s internal affairs.

The combat debut of these aircraft in Spanish colours was during the fights with insurgents in Morocco. Even during the civil war the Nationalists bought 20 of these aircraft in Poland, but due to heavy losses they were being gradually withdrawn from the first line beginning in 1937. [Archivo Histórico del Ejército del Aire]

During the next days meetings of Bolin’s delegation, who had obtained credentials from the king of Spain Alfonso XIII living in exile in Rome with Count Galeazzo Ciano, Italian foreign minister were taking place. Pleas for help were still coming from Morocco. The decisive factor for Italian commitment on the side of the rebels was French commitment on the side of the republicans. In the meantime another telegram from Magg. Luccardi arrived. He delivered a message from Franco that 25 aircraft were to fly from Marseille to Barcelona. He also threatened that if the Italians refused, Franco would have accepted the German aid. Luccardi informed also that the French were instigating the Moroccans against the rebellion. On 25 July the German ambassador Ulrich von Hassel also talked about it with Ciano. He informed that the Germans had information about the planned shipping of weapons and troops by France. Similar conclusions were drawn from the lecture of the French press. It was the information about the French intervention that changed Italian attitude to the intervention. In Rome it was speculated that the establishment of friendly nationalist Spanish government would significantly weaken the position of France in the Mediterranean region. It was good to have an ally in the Mediterranean region, especially one who would owe Italy something. In distant perspective the capture of Gibraltar and establishment of bases in the Balearic Islands could be considered, as well as craving for exploitation of mother lodes of Spanish copper, iron, zinc and lead.

The French Nieuport-Delage NiD 52 won the competition for the new fighter for the Spanish Air Force in 1928. The license for production of 125 of these aircraft at Hispano-Suiza factory in Guadalajara was purchased then. [Archivo Histórico del Ejército del Aire]

The news about the atrocities of the civil war, looting of churches, killing of clergymen and other lynches obviously reached Rome. It was not a secret that the government of the republic virtually ceased to exist and the tone of the actions of the other side was set by communists, socialists, anarchists or Trotskyists. All this was very useful for the Fascist propaganda, which could announce the anti-Bolshevik crusade and Mussolini could squander the argument that he did not want a “red” government in his zone of influence. Along with the change of the dictator’s attitude towards the uprising the attitude of the press to the events in Spain changed. The first mentions about the situation in Spain were published in Italian press on 21 July. The nationalist block was sometimes referred to as the “rebels”. However as early as on 22 July “Giornale d’Italia” informed about the danger of “Bolshevik rules” in Spain and on 24 July “Osservatore Romano” wrote about the “red bath” given to the government’s opponents.

A pre – war photo of the NiD 52 fighters of Grupo 12 of Granada. The first aircraft manufactured in Spain entered service in 1930 and production continued until 1933. The fighters equipped the 11., 12. and 13. Grupo. [Archivo Histórico del Ejército del Aire]

On the evening of 24 July another delegation, presided by Antonio Goicoechea, the leader of the Spanish monarchist faction „Renovacion Espanola” arrived in the Italian capital. As early as in March of 1934 Goicoechea met Italo Balbo to obtain his assistance in the planned uprising. Then the uprising did not succeed. Currently the rebels were also endangered by the defeat. Next morning Goicoechea met Galeazzo Ciano. The Italians were ready to consider granting assistance to the rebels. The Spaniards had a ready wish list, they claimed that only a dozen or so airplanes and more weapons were needed to take the initiative over and capture Madrid. A request to Franco for specifying his needs was sent via consul De Rossi del Lion Nero. On 26 July a response from Franco came: 12 transport and 12 reconnaissance aircraft, 10 fighters, three thousands of aerial bombs, 40 anti-aircraft machine guns and 4-5 transport ships. The demands seemed reasonable and the stake was tempting. Finally the Italians decided to support the Spanish rebellion. The machine was set in motion.


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