Book Review: The Republican Army in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939


by Michael Alpert

New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Pp. xviii, 374. Maps, tables, appends., notes, biblio., index. $99.00. ISBN: 1107028736

An outstanding account of the Ejercito popolar republicana

Originally published in Spanish in 1977 and revised in 2007, this excellent work is finally available in English.  Prof. Alpert (emeritus Westminster) gives us a comprehensive, sympathetic, but by no means uncritical look at a surprisingly effective “improvised” army.  

Alpert opens with a look at the Spanish Army and the relationship of the officer corps to the nascent Spanish Republic during the early 1930s.  He follows this with a discussion of the military coup of July 1936, which ignited civil war and divided the army.  Alpert then focuses on the birth of the new Republican Army, during the period of improvised revolutionary militia resistance, followed by the “militarization” of the many militia columns into a coherent army. 

Alpert then examines the role of the several groups that helped form, train, and led the new army, loyal officers and former officers, political commissars, and the anarchists, communists, and other groups, giving us quick profiles of many of the men involved, with even more included in an appendix. 

Though certainly sympathetic to the Republic, Alpert is not  as ideologically committed as many writers on the subject.  He argues that ideological factors often prevented the army from becoming even more effective than was the case.  Alpert is also critical of many of the myths that have come to surround the war, such as the “decisiveness” of the Battle of Guadalajara or the role of the International Brigades in the war, both inflated for propaganda reasons, which have gained wide acceptance by historians. 

Although essentially an institutional history of the army, Alpert gives the reader enough fighting to help explain why the war unfolded as it did.  He provides useful analyses of organization, equipment, tactics, and strategy, often making comparisons with “Nationalist” practice, and has a good, clear account of the internal rifts that sparked a “civil war within the civil war” during the closing weeks of the struggle. 

While Alpert might have updated the book more than was the case, it remains an essential read for anyone interested in the Spanish Civil War or the improvisation of military armies.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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