In September 1936, Lieutenant Colonel Walther Warlimont of the German General Staff arrived as the German commander and military adviser to General Bahamond Francisco Franco. The following month Warlimont suggested that a German Condor Legion should be formed to fight in the Spanish Civil War.
The Condor Legion, upon establishment, consisted of the Kampfgruppe 88, with three squadrons of JU 52 bombers and the Jagdgruppe 88 with three squadrons of Heinkel HE 51 fighters, the reconnaissance Aufklärungsgruppe 88, an anti-aircraft group, the Flakbteilung 88, and a signals group, the Nachrichtenabteilung 88. Overall command was given to Hugo Sperrle, with Generalleutnant der Luftwaffe, Alexander Holle as Chief of Staff. Holle survived the war and died, age 80 on 16-07-1978,in Munich. Two armoured units under the command of Wilhelm Ritter von Thoma with four tanks each, were also operational.
The Nationalists were supported by German and Italian units and equipment during the Battle of Madrid. However, the military situation in Madrid remained poor for the Nationalists, and both German and Italian aircraft (under Franco’s direction) began bombing raids on the city as a whole. The Germans were keen to observe the effects of civilian bombings and the deliberate burning of the city. Offensives involving German aircraft, as well as the bombings, were unsuccessful. Increasing Republican air superiority became apparent, particularly the strength of the Soviet Polikarpov I-15 and I-16 aircraft. Historian and writer Hugh Thomas described their armaments as “primitive”. General Wilhelm Freiherr von Faupel , in November–December, urged the creation of a single German unit of 15.000–30.000, believing it would be enough to turn the tide of the war to the Nationalists. Von Faupel committed suicide age 71 on 01-05-1945 in Berlin. Hans-Heinrich Dieckhoff argued this would be insufficient, and that larger measures could provoke the wrath of the Spanish. Dieckhoff who was related through marriage to Joachim von Ribbentrop, being the brother-in-law of Ribbentrop’s sister, died age 67 on 21-03-1952. Between late 1936 and early 1937, new aircraft were sent to the Condor Legion. Older aircraft were passed onto the Nationalists. By the end of 1936, 7.000 Germans were in Spain. The British estimated that between January 1937 and August 1938, 320.000 rifles and 550.000 revolvers were transferred to the Nationalists from Germany.
The bombing of Guernica on 26-04-1937, was an aerial attack on the Basque town of Guernica. It was carried out at the behest of the Spanish nationalist government by its allies, the German air force’s Condor Legion and the Italian Aviazione Legionaria, under the code name Operation Rügen.
German forces also operated in the Battle of Jarama, which began with a Nationalist offensive on 06-02-1937. It included German-supplied ground forces, including two batteries of machine guns, a tank division, and the Condor Legion’s anti-aircraft guns. Bombing by both Republican and Nationalist aircraft helped ensure a stalemate. It showed up the inadequacy of the Legion’s aircraft, faced with superior Soviet-made fighters. The Legion’s efforts only partly mitigated what was a significant defeat for the Nationalists at the Battle of Guadalajara during March. A joint Italian-German general had been set up in January 1937 to advise Franco on war planning. The defeat of a significant Italian force and the growing Soviet superiority in tanks and aircraft led the Germans to support a plan to abandon the offensive on Madrid and instead concentrate a series of attacks on weaker Republican-controlled areas. While many countries believed motorised troops to have been proven less effective than first thought, it was the inadequacy of the Italians as a fighting force that dominated German thought.
The Condor Legion lost 298 during active service in Spain. 173 of those men losing their lives in combat, mostly in the air campaign. In combat during Condor Legions limited operations against their enemies they collected 72 air victories, destroying another 160 enemy planes on the ground.
A total of 19,000 Germans served in the Spanish. Of these, 298 were lost, with 173 being killed by the enemy. This included 102 aircrew, 27 fighter pilots and 21 anti-aircraft crew. A large number were killed in accidents and others died of illness. The Condor Legion lost 72 aircraft to enemy action. Another 160 were lost in flying accidents.
The, volunteered for the Condor Legion, General Werner “Vati” Mölders and arrived by sea in Cadiz. He became a famous flyer ace. He took over from General der Flieger, Kommodore Jagd Geschwader 26 “Schlageter”, Adolf ‘Dolfo” Galland.
Available information suggests that there were about 500,000 deaths from all causes during the Spanish Civil War. An estimated 200.000 died from combat-related causes. Of these, 110,000 fought for the Republicans and 90.000 for the Nationalists. This implies that 10 per cent of all soldiers who fought in the war were killed.
It has been calculated that the Nationalist Army executed 75.000 people in the war whereas the Republican Army accounted for 55.000. These deaths takes into account the murders of members of rival political groups.
It is estimated that about 5.300 foreign soldiers died while fighting for the Nationalists (4.000 Italians, 300 Germans, 1.000 others). The International Brigades suffered heavy losses during the war. Approximately 4.900 soldiers died fighting for the Republicans (2.000 Germans, 1.000 French, 900 Americans, 500 British and 500 others).
Around 10.000 Spanish people were killed in bombing raids. The vast majority of these were victims of the German Condor Legion.