Street fighting, Barcelona
In Barcelona, the military uprising was short-lived but intense. Its outcome was crucial for the subsequent course of the war.
The conspirators knew that they had little chance of being successful in Barcelona. The local military commander, General Francisco Llano de la Encomienda, was loyal to the government. So were the Air Force and the police, especially the Assault Guards, a force created by the Republic. Finally, the city was home to a militant working class with experience of direct struggle that could quickly put thousands of armed militants in the streets. For their part, the rebels felt they could count on the commitment of many officers with direct command over troops, hopefully the support of the Civil Guard, and the element of surprise. The last two failed to materialize.
Barcelona had been getting ready for the Popular Olympics, a left-wing, anti-racist and anti-colonialist response to the Berlin Olympic Games. Some 6,000 athletes were in the city to compete. They never got the chance as the inauguration was scheduled for July 19, the same day the fighting in Barcelona broke out. Some 200 of these athletes from around the world, especially Jews and Italian and German exiles, stayed to fight against fascism.
The rebels lost the element of surprise because the uprising began in Melilla on July 17, earlier than they had expected, and across Spain on the 18th. By the time they ordered their troops into the streets of Barcelona on the morning of July 19, the Generalitat was on alert and the unions, especially the CNT, had begun to erect barricades. In addition, the rebel officers had lied to their soldiers, telling them they were going to participate in the Olympic parade or put down a rebellion. The troops didn’t want to fight, but they soon found themselves in bitter street fighting that prevented them from advancing towards their objectives. With the rebels facing workers, soldiers, airmen, and the police, including the Civil Guard which, in the end, remained loyal to the government, the arrival of Goded by plane from Mallorca at midday on July 19 served only to delay the defeat by a few hours.
In the fighting of July 19, the anarchists seized at least 30,000 rifles and a number of artillery pieces. They were the real victors of the fighting. This was recognized when the president of the Generalitat, Lluis Companys, invited the Central Antifascist Militias Committee of Catalonia, which had been created on July 21, to share power. Catalonia was now living a situation of dual power that would last for two months. The revolution had begun.