Book Review: The Spanish Foreign Legion in the Spanish Civil War, 1936


by José E. Álvarez

Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri, 2016. Pp. xxii, 292. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $50.00. ISBN: 0826220835

The Spanish Legion in the Opening Phase of the Civil War

Prof. Álvarez (Houston) follows up his excellent The Betrothed of Death: The Spanish Foreign Legion During the Rif Rebellion, 1920-1927 (Praeger, 2001), with a detailed look at the role of the Legion in the opening months of the civil war of 1936-1939.

Although the Legion was small, just eight battalion-sized banderas at the outbreak of the Civil War, it was solidly pro-Nationalist, and with a handful of Moroccan Regulares formed the spearhead the Nationalist sweep across Spain from Seville to the gates of Madrid in July-October 1936, a campaign conducted with notable ferocity.

Although Álvarez does give some attention to the bigger picture, he generally avoid politics, concentrating on giving the reader an operational and tactical account. So there’s a great deal on the movements of often very small columns of troops – often fewer than a thousand men, and covering considerable distances while engaged against superior numbers. Much of the fighting is discussed in considerable detail at the tactical level, and Álvarez offers profiles of numerous soldiers. While he doesn’t excuse atrocities committed by the legionaries – nor the often overlooked ones committed by the Republicans -– Álvarez shows them to have been outstanding assault troops, largely responsible for the surprising success of the Nationalists in the opening weeks of the war.

Although his treatment tends to be thin for the Republican side of the actions he covers (albeit that Republic documentation is often sparse) and the book could use more and better maps, Álvarez gives the reader an interesting account of the opening campaigns of the Spanish Civil War and of one of the world’s elite combat forces.

During the civil war, the Legion expanded considerably, and a further volume on its later operations would be very welcome.

A valuable read for students of the Spanish Civil War, and particularly its opening phase, this will also prove a useful read for anyone interested in small units operations.

Note: The Spanish Foreign Legion in the Spanish Civil War, is also available as an e-book, ISBN 978-0-8262-2083-7


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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