Exactly seventy years ago, in late November and early December 1936, Madrid was being bombed. The way Antony Beevor describes it, it was the first attempt at something like a knock-out blow:
The nationialists' failure to break through on 19 November made Franco change his strategy. He could not risk any more of his best troops in fruitless assaults now that a quick victory looked much more difficult. So, for the first time in history, a capital city came under intense air as well as artillery bombardment. All residential areas except the fashionable Salamanca district were bombed in an attempt to break the morale of the civilian population. The Italian Aviazione Legionaria and the Luftwaffe conducted a methodical experiment with their Savoia 81s and Junkers 52s. The bombing did not, however, break morale as intended; on the contrary, it increased the defiance of the population. In London, Prince Otto von Bismarck, the German chargé d'affaires, derided British fears of air attacks 'since you see what little harm they have done in Madrid'.1
My first instinct was to scoff. The first capital to undergo intense aerial bombardment? London was bombed in 1915; Paris in 1914. But the key word is 'intense'. In the First World War, the only period when London was bombed repeatedly was at the end of September and start of October 1917, when Gothas and Zeppelins attacked on six nights out of nine. It sounds like the raids on Madrid were much more frequent than that, and they were certainly heavier: the Condor Legion dropped 36 tons of bombs on 4 December alone, about a tenth of the total dropped on Britain during the whole First World War. Casualties don't seem to have been markedly greater, though: nearly 100 deaths in those six London raids, maybe twice that in the Madrid ones (though contemporary reports gave higher estimates).
Antony Beevor, The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2006), 181. ↩