Prototype of a Jet Engine
In March 1935, Captain Virgilio Leret patented a jet engine, a revolutionary device that was ahead of the most advanced aviation technology of the time in Germany and Great Britain. Even though the government of the Republic was interested, the development of Leret’s engine was interrupted by the Civil War. Not only that, Leret himself was shot by his military comrades in Melilla in the first hours after the uprising because he had remained loyal to the government. He was likely the first officer murdered during the war. The importance of Leret’s plans is twofold. First, it reflects the rebirth of Spanish scientific and intellectual life that the war and the subsequent dictatorship cut off. Second, it demonstrates that the outbreak of the war was not, as Francoist propagandists would claim, the product of an uprising of the entire army to save Spain. Rather, like other Spaniards, members of the military had to respond to events and were divided by them.
The Second Republic is often remembered for its mistakes and problems, and for its liquidation at the hands of the rebels, but it was much more than this. The Republic was also a modernizing dream carried out in a country that had been undergoing economic and cultural modernization for some decades. In many ways, the Republic was the result of the imbalance between that changing Spanish society and a stagnant political system. The years before the Civil War were a true “silver age”. The country was vibrant, diverse, and full of a desire to improve. As a soldier and scientist of liberal ideas married to the feminist writer Carlota O’Neill, Captain Leret was the embodiment of this moment.
In the same way, the execution of Leret and the imprisonment of his wife, represent the sudden end of this period. The military rebels had planned a violent uprising that involved killing anyone who opposed them, including their comrades who defended the legal government, and they carried it out. First in the protectorate of Morocco, and almost immediately afterward in Spain itself, officers, NCOs and ordinary soldiers were executed, almost always without any kind of trial. These victims were then erased from official memory. As with other victims of the Civil War, the rebels, and then the subsequent dictatorship, remembered and honoured only their own dead and provided their relatives with material and moral compensation. In contrast, the relatives of the Republican dead had to endure ridicule and often persecution. The irony of this patent injustice is that many military men, and not a few civilians, found themselves in the territory of one side or another out of a sense of duty, one that often conflicted with their personal ideological or religious beliefs.