BREAKING BILBAO’S BLOCKADE

The precarious situation facing British merchant ships entering Bilbao during the Spanish Civil War demanded delicate initiative on behalf of the Royal Navy’s commanders and, as Professor Eric Grove details, careful shows of force.

In July 1936, elements of the Spanish military launched a major coup. Intended to be a swift takeover to oust the recently elected left leaning government, Franco’s Nationalists fell short of their aim. The Republican government retained control of most of Spain’s industrial centres, Madrid and the gold reserve, but it was a fractured body. Much of the Spanish Navy remained loyal, although vessels were consumed by turmoil as crews overcame their Nationalist-aligned officers. The Nationalists did seize the light cruiser Almirante Cervera and the battleship Espana at Ferrol and also the Canarias and Baleares; heavy cruisers being completed there.

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