By Alexander Apostolides on August 11, 2009

Interesting History – How the victory of the Fascists in the Spanish civil war saved Cyprus from invasion during the Second World War.

On 17th of July, 1936 the nationalist generals attempted to wrest control from the democratic socialist government in Spain. The result was one of the bloodiest civil wars in modern Europe, seen by many as a proxy war to the sides that would eventually fight in the Second World War. The war dragged on until the 1st of April in 1939, after much bloodshed. The reprisals of the Franco against its former enemies were awful, representing some of the most notorious crimes against humanity. As a result of the war Spain was ruled by the iron hand of dictatorship until 1975, and only became a democracy in 1978; it is noteworthy to see how far Spain managed to progress in economic, artistic and cultural spheres after decades of repression and state sponsored violence.

The nationalist side took an increasingly fascist ideology during the war. This was partly because of the increasing power of the falangist movement within the ranks of the nationalist army but mostly due to the fact that the generals were aided (in terms of men, materiel, tanks and air force) by Hitler and Mussolini, making a mockery of international agreements that prevented military aid to the combatants. Without the aid the generals attempt to wrest control from the government would have surely failed. However the aid came at a price: companies such as HISMA, ROWAK and SOFINDUS plundered Spain for raw materials both before and during the Second War World. Spain had to provide ore at bargain prices during the duration of the Second World War.

In the words of the historian Charles E. Harvey the Nazi regime of Germany was desperately trying to achieve autarky in raw materials, in order to be able to wage a sustained military campaign without facing the shortages of raw materials faced in the First World War. Out of most raw materials, Germany could not be self sufficient in four key materials: Oil, iron, copper, and sulphur (used in explosives production), as Germany simply did not have these elements in its territory.

Spain delivered over 9.4% of iron ore, 50% of copper pyrites and 85% of sulphur prior to the civil war, and the establishment of a friendly regime ensured that the supplies of these crucial raw materials would continue until well after d-day in 1944.

This undoubtedly saved Cyprus in 1941. With the start of the Spanish civil war, Spanish supplies to German chemical producers and smelters was halted; Cyprus, with the energetic American company, the Cyprus Mining Corporation at the forefront, filled the gap. The amounts of ore sent to Germany were tremendous, with up to 80% of all ore being sent to maintain Hitler’s drive to re-arm. Thus the copper sulfate ore from Cyprus ensured that the German re-militarization could continue at breakneck speed.

The invasion of Crete in May 1941 a costly success for Hitler. Since Germany could not control the seas, but controlled the skies in the Agean. Hitler launched the largest airdrop operation to that date; although the Germans took control of Crete, Hitler saw his crack paratroopers decimated. This put him off plans to invade Cyprus and Malta by air.

However if the Spanish civil war was won by the republicans, the situation might have been different. An invasion of Cyprus in order to gain crucial deposits iron, copper and sulfur ore might have been more tempting that an invasion of a militarized and victorious republican Spain. It was not unusual for Germany to invade territories for its resources: Polesti in Romania was occupied by the Germans to secure their oil supply, while vital manpower was diverted away from the attempt to capture Moscow in an attempt to wrest control of the oil and ore producing are of Baku in the Soviet Union.

For me this example shows that the history of one country can have a profound effect on the history of another, and that history can be taught to be a interesting and dynamic subject. It also emphasises how economics and politics can interact, and highlight the importance in understanding the economic motives of political actions.

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