Soviet T-26 tank
Repository: Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica, Salamanca, Spain
Repository: Colección de fotografías del Ejército Popular de la República
Extent: 1 item
Geographic Region: Madrid, Spain
On August 15, 1936, the United Kingdom prohibited the export of arms to Spain. France had done the same two weeks earlier. This decision sealed the fate of the Republic. While Germany and Italy were sending a continuous flow of men and materiel to the rebels, the legitimate government of Spain was isolated internationally and condemned to certain defeat. The Republic began a desperate search for armaments. It tried the shadowy channels of international arms dealers, often being swindled or sold poor quality goods at highly inflated prices. Even the petroleum it purchased in the United States failed to arrive as the oil companies began diverting the shipments to ports controlled by Franco. All the while, thanks to the professional Army of Africa and the new equipment, especially airplanes, that was arriving from abroad, the rebel troops advanced quickly on Madrid.
The Soviet Union was the Republic’s last hope. The problem was that, at first, Stalin was not much interested in the Spanish conflict. The Soviet Union signed the Non-Intervention Agreement in August and respected it for weeks despite obvious violations by Germany and Italy. It was only in mid-September that he authorized the creation of the International Brigades and then, at the end of the month, decided to supply the Republic with arms. By this time, the rebels had been receiving Fascist and Nazi assistance for two months.
The first Soviet tanks and planes reached Cartagena, the most important port for the Republican war effort, in mid-October. The first Soviet military instructors arrived at the same time. There were a total of 2,000 during the entire war. The number of Soviet tanks was similar to that provided by Italy and Germany, but they were of much higher quality. On the other hand, the 700 Soviet planes were only about half the number those two countries sent to Franco, and while at first, they were technologically superior, new German planes quickly made them obsolete. Everything else the Soviets sent was clearly inferior to that provided by the Fascist powers. Many of the weapons had been made before World War I; the rifles were old and of six different calibres; the machine guns jammed; the cannon were worn out; and the antiaircraft guns were ineffective.
Unlike the Nationalists, the Republic had to pay cash for these supplies, specifically with the gold reserves of the Bank of Spain. Also, this equipment had to travel a long and dangerous sea route, carefully watched by the German and Italian navies. When they came by land, French Customs often held them. Unlike the rebels, the Republic never enjoyed a secure and sufficient supply of quality arms and materiel to support its war effort.