Repression in Seville
On July 18, 1936 the government of the Republic, headed by Santiago Casares Quiroga, was made up of moderate, middle class reformers. There were no ministers from the revolutionary left, if that label can be applied to the Socialist and Communist parties whose radical rhetoric was not matched by any revolutionary plans. Even so, the government feared the possibility of revolution, especially from the anarchists, and this prevented it from reacting in a decisive manner when news of the uprising in Melilla reached Madrid on the afternoon of July 17 and of the extension of the movement to other parts of the country the next day. At this crucial moment, the government tried to deal with the situation by working through the military chain of command even as the rebels were doing the same when they could or destroying it by arresting and murdering its commanders when they had to.
It was only on the morning of July 19, after José Giral Pereira, a close friend and political ally of President Manuel Azaña, replaced Casares Quiroga as prime minister, that the government abandoned this clearly unsuccessful legalist tactic and decided to do what the workers’ organizations had been demanding from the outset: give them arms. In general, so long as at least some of the police and army remained loyal, wherever arms were distributed the rebellion was defeated. In some places, however, this decision was taken too late and this proved fatal.
Sevilla was the outstanding example of this. By early afternoon on July 18, General Gonzalo Queipo de Llano was in control of the city’s garrison. He was helped by the hesitant and far from courageous attitude of the commanding officers there, starting with General José Fernández de Villa-Abrille. On the other hand, the Assault Guard and the nearby Tablada airfield remained loyal to the government. In addition, thousands of workers were in the streets, and many converged on the barracks and the city centre demanding to be armed. In some places, the rebels fired on them. In another, they managed to join 500 Assault Guards who gave them 80 rifles, but were subdued by the rebels who turned artillery on them. The police surrendered and the isolated airfield did so that night.
The fighting continued, however, as the workers retreated to the Triana and Macarena districts of the city where they erected barricades. Lacking real weapons of any kind, they held out until July 22, even though the rebels had been reinforced by troops brought from Morocco. It had been a heroic but unequal fight.
The combination of their bravery and the shortage of weapons meant the workers of Sevilla would pay a high price. The rebels took no prisoners and executed anyone they even suspected of having taken part in the defence of the worker districts. And the executions continued after the fighting was over. In the months that followed, some 6,000 people were executed in Sevilla and their bodies thrown into mass graves.