Italian Cr-32 plane
Italian intervention in the Civil War was massive and decisive, and it began even before the war broke out. In March 1934, Mussolini signed an agreement with anti-Republican conspirators to supply them with arms, money, and training for their militias. On July 1, 1936, he signed another in which he guaranteed direct military aid, including sending airplanes. Not only was Italy aware of the conspiracy behind the revolt that started on July 18; it facilitated it as well. Even so, Mussolini delayed a few days before he actually supplied the aid he had promised, perhaps because he was suspicious of the revolt’s implications and chances of success.
On July 30, 1936, 9 Savioa-Marchetti 81 bombers touched down near Melilla. Three others didn’t arrive: two made emergency landings in Algeria and another crashed into the Mediterranean. The planes were unmarked and their crews had instructions to deny that they were members of the Italian armed forces, but the evidence that they were the advance guard of an Italian intervention was overwhelming. Tanks, machine guns, and soldiers arrived soon afterwards. So did more planes, including 27 Fiat Cr 32 fighters on August 7. These versatile and manoeuvrable planes quickly became the favourite of Francoist pilots. The Italians also converted Mallorca into a major air and naval base in the Mediterranean, using it to obstruct the flow of arms, gasoline, and food to the Republic. They also bombarded Republican cities on the Mediterranean from there, killing large numbers of civilians.
Italy’s intervention was illegal, and took place in spite of the country having signed the Non-Intervention Agreement. Mussolini sent Franco almost 78,000 well armed troops, twice as many men as those who, unarmed, joined the International Brigades. He also sent 150 tanks, hundreds of artillery pieces, and thousands of machine guns and other weapons. Like its German counterpart, the Italian navy conducted many illegal espionage, attack and harassment missions against the Republic. It also gave Franco two destroyers and two submarines, as well as secretly lending him four other submarines. The Italian air force sent at least 758 planes. Together with those sent by the Nazis, they doubled the number of planes the Republic received from the Soviet Union.
Franco got this massive Italian aid on credit, which allowed him to rely on a stable flow of resources. All this would have been much less useful if the Italians and the other combatants on the rebel side had not been able to move their vehicles. For this they needed petroleum, which the American companies Standard Oil and Texaco provided at a discount price and on credit. Franco and his allies were also short of trucks. These, also on credit, came from other US firms: Ford, General Motors and Studebaker.