Italian Fascists Bombard Barcelona
Repository: Gerardo María Thomás Sabater Personal Collection, Palma, Spain
Date Created: 1938-03
Extent: 1 item
Geographic Region: Palma, Spain
This photograph shows a squadron of Italian Savoia-Marchetti S.M. 79 (“Sparviero”) bombers on a mission to bomb the city of Barcelona after leaving their base on the island of Mallorca. These aircraft, as well as SM type. 81 (“Pipistrello”) and Fiat CR.32 fighters of the Royal Italian Air Force were dispatched by Mussolini after Franco requested them at the beginning of the military uprising. They would be integrated into a specific Italian fascist unit, the Aviazione Legionaria, made up of bombers and fighters, hydroplanes, cargo planes and reconnaissance aircraft. Mussolini also sent planes for Franco’s own air force. In total, Italy sent “National” Spain close to 800 planes.
The bombing of Barcelona from March 16 to 18, 1938 has gone down in history as one of the most brutal of those carried out by Franco's aviation during the Civil War. They came after the attack on Guernica on April 26, 1937 and were followed by others on Alicante and Granollers in May 1938, all of which were deadly for the civilian population. The twelve raids on Barcelona during which fifty tons of bombs were dropped, killing 979 people - some of them children, wounding 1,500, and destroying or damaging 273 buildings, were ordered personally by Mussolini. The tactic used was that of continuous attacks intended to create terror among the civilian population. Despite having a network of 1,322 bomb shelters, as well using stations belonging to the city's subway network, a practice that would be copied by London during World War II, the impact of these bombings on the population was huge. One bomb hit a Popular Army truck loaded with dynamite, causing the destruction of part of the city center and a panic that during the next few days produced an exodus of residents from the city.
The brutality of this attack, directed exclusively against civilian targets, provoked official protests from the United States, France, the United Kingdom and the Vatican, to name a few. Concerned by this reaction, Franco ordered the Italian command to halt the attacks. The respite was only temporary, and in May the Aviazione Legionaria attacked Alicante, causing about 400 deaths, and Granollers, killing more than 200, as well as many other targets, especially along the Mediterranean coast.
All told, Barcelona endured more than 400 aerial attacks in 240 raids that killed more than 2,750 people, injured more than 7,000, and destroyed 6,000 buildings. It was also bombarded by sea by Francoist and Italian warships.