Operation Feuerzauber (i)


'Feuerzauber' (i) was the German programme of military support for the nationalist forces of General Francisco Franco y Bahamonde in the early stages of the Spanish Civil War (1936/37).

The undertaking saw the delivery to Spain of German aircraft, pilots and troops, which supported the nationalist effort but, more importantly for the Germans, allowed the operational testing, validation and development of their recent weapons and tactics under conditions of real warfare.

The first stage of this German undertaking was the provision of Junkers Ju 52/3m three-engined transport aircraft, together with their associated flight and maintenance crews, to help move men and light equipment of Franco’s Ejército de África from Spanish Morocco to mainland Spain between 10 August and 11 October 1936. The Ejército de África played a major part during the Spanish Civil War, starting with its rising, in company with other Spanish army formations and units, against the Spanish Second Republic and took part in the Spanish coup of July 1936 on the side of the Nacionales (nationalists). On 18 July Franco assumed overall command of this force. Spanish Morocco fell to the rebels without significant opposition.

Franco’s initial intention was to transport the Ejército de África the Spanish mainland by sea, but the crews of Spanish warships whose officers had joined the revolt remained loyal to the Republican government in Madrid. Between 29 July and 5 August 1936 1,500 members of the Ejército de África were instead delivered to the Spanish mainland in a swiftly created and implemented airlift spearheaded by Ju 52/3m transport aircraft provided by Germany. The Fascist regime of Italy also provided Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 three-engined bombers to generate air cover for merchant ships carrying 3,000 soldiers and equipment from Morocco on 5 August. Thereafter daily flights continued until about 8,000 Moroccans and Spanish legionaries, together with their supporting artillery, had been concentrated at Seville.

After landing in Spain, the Ejército de África was divided into a pair of columns, one commanded by Tenente Coronel Juan Yagüe y Blanco and the other by Coronel José Enrique Varela Iglesias. Yagüe’s force advanced rapidly to the north and then wheeled to the north-east in the direction of Madrid and Toledo. Varela’s force entered Andalusia and took control of the key cities of Seville, Granada and Córdoba. As a result largely of the Ejército de África's advances, almost all of western Spain was in nationalist hands by the end of September 1936. By a time early in 1937 the Ejército de África's strength had increased to 60,000 men, and spearheaded the nationalist operations for the rest of the war, which ended in a nationalist victory.