Digital History Seminar: 20th Century Spain

Legion Condor

The Legion Condor was a unit composed of military personnel mainly from the air force of Germany, which served with the Nationalist during the Spanish Civil War of July 1936 to March 1939. This exhibit will introduce the Legion Condor, the aircraft and military personnel utilized, the impact of the Legion Condor on Spain and how the unit was used as a terrorist unit during the Spanish Civil War. It will also examine how Hitler used the Legion’s experiences in the Spanish Civil War to prepare his Luftwaffe for World War II.

Following the military coup that started the Spanish Civil War in Spain on 17 July 1936, the Nationalists requested the support of Hitler's Germany and fascist Italy[1]. The first request for German aircraft was made on 22 July, with an order for 10 transport aircraft. Hitler decided to support the Nationalists on 25 or 26 July, but was wary of provoking a Europe-wide war[2]. Therefore, Germany signed the Non-Intervention Agreement on 24 August 1936, but consistently broke it.

The German Ministry of Aviation concluded that Nationalist forces would need at least 20 Junker Ju 52s, flown by Luft Hansa pilots, to carry the Army of Africa from Spanish Morocco to Spain. This mission became known as Operation Magic Fire [3]. In the two weeks following 27 July, under pseudonym companies the German air force moved nearly 2,500 troops of the Army of Africa to Spain. By 11 October, the mission's official end, 13,500 troops, 127 machine guns and 36 field guns had been carried into Spain from Morocco[4]. Over this period there was a movement from training and supply missions to overt combat. The operation leader, Alexander von Scheele, was replaced by Walter Warlimont[5]. In September, 86 tons of bombs, 40 Panzer I tanks and 122 personnel had been landed in Spain; they were accompanied with 108 aircraft in the July–October period, split between aircraft for the Nationalist faction itself and planes for German volunteers in Spain[6].
German air crews supported the Nationalist advance on Madrid[7] and the successful relief of the Siege of Alcazar[8]. Ultimately, this phase of the Siege of Madrid would be unsuccessful[9]. Soviet air support for the Republicans was growing, particularly through the supply of Polikarpov aircraft[10]. Warlimont appealed to Nazi Germany to step up support. Following German recognition of Franco's government on 30 September, German efforts in Spain were reorganized and expanded [11]. The existing command structure was replaced and the military units already in Spain were formed into a new legion, which was briefly called the Iron Rations and then Iron Legion before Hermann Goering renamed it the Legion Condor[12].

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