How to use an air raid shelter
Repository: Centro Documental de Memoria Histórica, Salamanca, Spain
Creator: López Padilla, Ángel
Contributor: Consejo Interprovincial de Santander, Palencia y Burgos
Fond or Collection
Repository and Location
Centro Documental de Memoria Histórica, Salamanca, Spain
Extent: 1 item
Geographic Region: Santander, Spain
It was civilians who experienced the major military innovation of the conflict: the systematic aerial bombardment of cities, almost all of it carried out by the Francoist air force and its German and Italian allies. As a result, authorities had to develop new forms of protection and then teach their citizens how to use them. This poster issued by the Interprovincial Council of Santander, Palencia and Burgos between December 1936 and September 1937, is one example of how they did this.
Italy had pioneered aerial bombardment of civilians during its invasion of Libya in 1911; Germany used Zeppelins to drop bombs on London during World War I; and the British bombed civilians in Iraq in 1922. Italy again raised the bar during its invasion of Abyssinia in 1935. But it was not until the war in Spain that this tactic played a major role.
The powerful reporting of George Steer and Pablo Picasso’s famous painting have made the bombing of Guernica by the German Condor Legion on 26 April 1937 by far the most famous case, but the long list of Republican cities bombed by Francoist, German or Italian planes includes the largest, such as Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia, provincial capitals such as Alicante, Almería, Jaén, and Lérida, and others such as Durango, Figueres and Reus. Barcelona suffered the largest number of casualties: 2,500. Almost half were killed in three days in March 1938 during attacks by Italian planes based in Mallorca. In Alcañiz, a town of 11,000 people, Italian bombs killed some 500 on 3 March 1938.
All told, Francoist bombing attacks killed 9,000 people. The Republican air force, with fewer and less modern planes, carried out many fewer bombings. A report prepared by Nationalist authorities at the end of the war put the number of deaths from Republican aerial attacks at 1,088.
In Madrid, the first Spanish city to endure sustained aerial bombardment, the attacks started on 4 November 1936. Terrified civilians sheltered where they could. In scenes that foreshadowed World War II London, many took refuge in subway stations.
Republican authorities soon constructed air raid shelters in a number of cities. In Almería, which endured 52 bombardments from Francoist and German naval vessels as well as from the air, in the first six months of 1937 the city built 38 shelters with a total extension of 4.5 kilometres and a capacity of 40,000 people. The underground world also featured storehouses for food and water, a kitchen, first aid stations, and even an operating theatre. 101 access points built across the city meant that any resident could reach the tunnels within four minutes of the air raid alarm sounding.
In Barcelona, the Civil Defence Committee of the government of Catalonia built more than 1,200 shelters. The key figure in this initiative was the engineer Ramón Perera (1907-1984). Perera conducted field work to study the effects of bombs and experimented with materials, including concrete, and designs to invent a bomb-resistant model. After the war, British Intelligence officers helped Perera go into exile in the United Kingdom. During World War II, he tried to convince the British government to build shelters on his design, but it preferred the less effective Anderson shelters which individuals built in their backyards. The government also believed that providing Perera’s collective shelters would make the population “cowardly and lazy.”