Wars Ignored by Video Games: The Spanish Civil War (1936–1939)

Before World War II ravaged Europe, it was the Spanish Civil War where fascist nations first fought alongside a dictator against democracy. Spain’s Civil War began as a conflict between right-wing Nationalists that rejected the newly formed left-wing republican government; but by the time it was over the European continent was on the brink of an ideological battle to assert how governments would rule their nations.

Lead by Francisco Franco, the Nationalists were mainly supported by future Axis powers Italy and Germany. The opposing Republican faction were largley supported by future Allied nations including the Soviet Union, and an International Brigade comprised of volunteer fighters from the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and many others. To Nationalists, though King Alfonso XIII was ousted by voters and replaced with a liberal republic in 1931, it was viewed as an illegitimate strike against the Crown, the Church, and future of the country as socialism was increasingly embraced by a struggling population that was angered by the wide gulf between the rich and poor. To Republicans, the newly formed government instituted a new constitution that established principles such as divisions of power, freedom of speech and extended suffrage to women, but it also contributed to a rise of church burnings and persecution of thousands of clergy members and citizens suspected as being royalists. While no faction was without its atrocities (mass executions were in fact committed by both), each one was comprised of fighters willing to die for its cause.

(Via John L. Heineman Professor Emeritus)

After an arduous three year campaign to reclaim the county, Axis support to Franco’s Nationalists would be too much for the Republicans to bear and in March of 1939 Madrid would finally fall. When it was over the cost of the war would end up being close to half a million deaths, much of them innocent civilians caught in between opposing ideologies.

(Via John L. Heineman Professor Emeritus)

Historically, the Spanish Civil War would go down as a dramatic spectacle that exposed the world to the horrors of modern military equipment being unleashed on innocent civilians, specifically carpet bombing. Pablo Picasso’s famous Guernica painting was created as a response to an air raid in the Basque countryside in which German and Italian pilots supposedly targeted a bridge but instead turned into the destruction of an entire civilian town and the deaths of hundreds innocent lives. The bombing is largely considered the start of a new tactic that would become a regular occurrence during WWII: City-targeted Air Raids.

Guernica. Pablo Picasso 1937

In Franco’s ruthless march to reclaim the country, Hitler was rewarded with iron that helped build the German war machine while also distracting the rest of the world from his massive military buildup. It is also believed that Great Britain and France’s reluctance to get involved might have influenced Hitler’s zeal to dominate Europe. While the Spanish Civil War may not be familiar to many, in many ways it probably should be considered the opening shots of the Second World War shortly to come.

How would this work in a Battlefield game?

The heart of every Battlefield game may be it’s multiplayer mode, but the story of the Spanish Civil War will not be able to fully unfold for players unless an engaging campaign mode is created. Since most campaigns are linear experiences, the campaign of this should oscillate between Nationalist and Republican driven viewpoints in order for players to experience different sides of the conflict. Eight stages (four for each faction) should take players through the major points of the war’s timeline. The campaign should start at the war’s beginings in 1936 during the Nationalist uprising against the Spanish government’s forces in Morocco. From there, the campaign should rotate back and forth between factions as the war moves through Spain and ultimately end with the fall of Madrid in 1939 as seen in the maps above.

Throughout the campaign, mission objectives should be driven by historical accuracy and have an overarching goal of explaining the course of the war as the campaign moves along. Battlefield I obviously hasn’t been released yet but it should be interesting to see how they navigate through the difficulty of explaining the many different sides of World War I. However, if they could figure out how to tell the story of WWI in a game, my sense is that they should have no problem recreating that experience with the Spanish Civil War. Overall, the goal of the game shouldn’t be to teach the entire story of the war, it should be to create a fair depiction that reveals both sides of the conflict in a way that is both engaging to players and inspires them to learn more about it on their own.


The weaponry used during the Spanish Civil War would fit seamlessly into a Battlefield game. The most effective weaponry of the war was largely supplied by Russia and Germany, but not entirely new for a videogame. Much of this weaponry was more advanced and refined versions of equipment used in World War I forged from a burgeoning industrial military complex. Some of it was also bizarre such as makeshift armored cars (see above) that would never be seen again but nonetheless fun to see make an appearance in a game. The aircraft ranged from WWI era bi-planes to larger bombers while ground weapons included fiercer machine guns that would soon become an integral part of modern armies. Hitler specifically used the war as a testing ground for much of the aircraft he would later use in WWII such as Heinkels. Likewise, Stalin also used the war as a chance to introduce its popular T-26 tank. All in all much of the weaponry seen in the game would not be too disorientating for gamers that are not familiar with this period of history since many of them have appeared in games before.

The following links depict images and details of Spanish Civil War era weaponry.

Aircraft (via MilitaryFactory.com)

Vehicles (via Balagan.info)

Ground Weapons (via Sociedad Benefica de Historiadores Aricionados y Creadores)


The battlefields of the war ranged from wide-open landscapes seen in the Spanish countryside to the clustered streets of its capital city Madrid. Though these environments are not something gamers haven’t seen before, if done right, they could really be engrossing with the right mix of beautiful scenery turning into dread in real-time during the course of each battle. The air combat would probably be most entertaining since slower moving bi-planes would give pilots a greater appreciation for the vast battlefields against the background of the strong Spanish sun.

Recommended Reading:

Hell and Good Company: The Spanish Civil War and the World it Made (2015). By Richard Rhodes

Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939 (2016). By Adam Hochschild

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