On the afternoon of 26th April 1937, the Basque town of Guernica experienced what is seen by many as the first large-scale modern air raid against a civilian population.

By the Spring of 1937, Guernica was just 30km away from the front line fighting of the Spanish Civil War, and lay within the focal area for the Nationalist army’s advance on the city of Bilbao.  The town was also a Republican communication centre, and was the location of a weapons factory.  Documents released in the 1970s show that the attack was part of a larger Nationalist strategy in the north, in which roads and bridges would be destroyed in order to upset Republican troop movements.

However, as historian César Vidal Manzanares notes, the level of destruction was disproportionate to the town’s strategic value.  At first, five waves of bombers attacked Guernica over a period of 90 minutes.  Further waves came in the early evening, along with a number of fighter planes that strafed the roads leading out of the devastated town, increasing the civilian death toll as people tried to escape the burning ruins.

The number of civilian casualties from the attack has never been fully determined.  However, figures in excess of a thousand that were cited until the 1980s are now known to have been exaggerated.  Historians now accept that between 170 and 300 civilians were killed in the bombing, although it’s likely that many more died from their injuries.

  • Previous Post

  • Next Post

3 comments on “26th April 1937: Guernica is bombed by the Nazi Condor Legion

© Scott Allsop