In July 1936, a military coup led by the right-wing nationalist General Francisco Franco began in Spanish Morocco against the democratically elected Popular Front government of the Second Spanish Republic in Madrid. Due to logistical difficulties in moving troops between North Africa and the Spanish peninsula, the fascist General Francisco Franco first asked the Italian fascist Mussolini and shortly afterwards the German fascist Adolf Hitler for support. For Hitler, the military intervention in Spanish Morocco was an opportunity to test the Luftwaffe in particular. The first ships with the dismantled aircraft arrived in the Andalusian port city of Cadiz as early as August 1936. From the end of July to mid-October 1936, 13,000 soldiers and 270 tons of war equipment were transported via an established military airlift/ship route.  

Once the military preparations were complete, Franco’s “African army” marched to Madrid together with the Italians and Germans. There they encountered resistance from Republicans and international brigades. Hitler then sent the military air unit “Legion Condor” and an experimental squadron. On March 31, 1937, as part of General Francisco Franco’s northern offensive, the first air raids began against the defenseless city of Durango with 256 casualties, carried out by Italian pilots and planned by German officers of the “Legion Condor”. A few weeks later, on April 26, 1937 at around 4:30 pm, an air raid alert was triggered in the Basque town of Guernica in the north of the country.

Over 40 German planes flew into Guernica and bombed the town to rubble. It is estimated that between 200 and 300 to 2000 people died in the process. The exact number of victims is still disputed among historians today.

Representatives of the Basque government estimate that over 1600 people died based on the testimony of medical staff in Guernica. Wolfram von Richthofen, chief of staff of the “Condor Legion”, noted the following: “Guernica, town of 5,000 inhabitants, literally razed to the ground. Bomb holes still visible on streets. Simply amazing.”

To this day, the 1937 painting (approx. 3.50 m * 7.80 m, oil on canvas) by the famous artist Picasso “Guernica” is considered one of the most powerful denunciations of the fascist war and the crimes committed in Guernica. Picasso himself said the following in December 1937: “It is my wish to remind you that I have always been and still am convinced that an artist who lives and works with spiritual values cannot remain indifferent in the face of a conflict in which the highest values of humanity and civilization are at stake.” Today, a “Guernica” tapestry hangs outside the UN Security Council in New York.