Book Review: The Spanish Civil War at Sea: Dark and Dangerous Waters


by Michael Alpert

Barnsley, Eng.: Pen & Sword / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2021. Pp. vi, 226+. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $42.95. ISBN: 1526764369

A Major Naval between the World Wars

Prof. Alpert (Westminster, Emeritus), among the leading contemporary scholars of the Spanish Civil War, adds to his The Republican Army in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939, Franco and the Condor Legion: The Spanish Civil War in the Air, and other works, this look at the maritime dimension of the conflict, a very neglected topic.

Alpert opens by reviewing some basic ideas in naval policy and strategy and outlining the recent history of the Spanish Navy through the eve of the Civil War, which split the fleet. He makes a good case that while not actively involved in the July 1936 coup plot to overthrow the Republic, most senior naval officers were apparently aware of it, while, on the other side, that there was little significant “Red” penetration of the crews. The failed “Nationalist” coup left the Republic in control of most of the ships, usually by action of their crews. But the Republic never developed a coherent naval policy, and, lacking substantial numbers of properly trained officers, many of whom defected, were killed, or were considered unreliable, essentially conceded the initiative at sea to the Nationalists, who used their more limited resources more aggressively.

Alpert gives some excellent coverage of the role of foreign navies in the sea war, from protecting their own commerce to – often feebly – enforcing non-intervention, and, in the case of the Axis powers, particularly Italy, actively intervening in support of the insurgents.

Alpert gives us accounts of a surprising number of encounters between ships of both sides, only one or two of which might be characterized as a “battle”, and covers efforts to impose blockades by both sides, the Nationalists being generally more successful at that than the Republicans. He also discusses Republican efforts to train officers and restore more traditional command relationships in the fleet, deemed essential for greater efficiency.

Although some better maps would have been useful, The Spanish Civil War at Sea is an excellent treatment of the largest sea war between the world wars.



Note: The Spanish Civil War at Sea is also available in several e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: A.A. Nofi   

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