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The bombing of Guernica

THE German concept of Blitzkrieg or total war was used to the full at the start of the Second World War. It involved major use of air power, both to destroy military targets and to intimidate the civilian population.
Since 1918, Germany was not supposed to develop their army or air force, or engae in military planning but there were ways around these restrictions. They needed to test their men and tactics in a combat situation and this they did with the Condor Legion during the Spanish Civil War.
Very early in the Spanish War, the rebels under Franco appealed to Germany for help. The leaders of the army were reluctant to get involved but Goring, head of the Luftwaffe, was anxious to have his men in Spain and it was there that Messerschmitts, Heinkels and Stuka Dive Bombers were first used in combat. At its height, the Condor Legion was a force 12,000 strong but it is the actions of the Luftwaffe that were the most horrific and which made a lasting impression. Their most nefarious involvement was against the Basque people.
The Basques were, and still are, an ancient people with their own language and culture whose territory around the shores of the Bay of Biscay straddled parts of modern Spain and France. Their centre of power was the city of Guernica. It was their spiritual home where, since the Middle Ages, their governing councils met around an ancient oak tree. It was to the Basques what Tara was to the ancient Irish. 
The serenity of the place was shattered in April of 1937. On a sunny afternoon, wave after wave of German planes descended on the town and pounded it for over three hours. They could fly low because there was no air defence and to make matters worse, it was market day. Fighter planes fired on the people on the ground running for cover, while bombers dropped an estimated 100,000lbs of  high explosive, fragmentation and incendiary bombs. It could actually be described as an experiment. Until then, nobody knew what a bombing raid could do to a city. Unfortunately for the Basque people, somebody decided to find out at Guernica. At the time, the population was approximately 10,000 – 7,000 residents and 3,000 refugees. Over 1,500 were killed.
The raid had far-reaching consequences. It is said that it frightened Chamberlain so much that his fear of a similar fate befalling an English city helped lead to the Munich Agreement. The people of the rest of Europe suffered as a result.
The tactic was used many times by the German forces at the start of the war but before the war had ended, both sides were using it. Indeed, the Allies continued with it right to the very end, not just in Japan but also in Germany and particularly Dresden.
Typical of all victors, particularly in civil wars where the winners write the history, France denied that it had ever taken place and blamed the destruction on the residents, saying the Basques themselves had set the town alight.
Unfortunately it did take place. The terrible bombing of the Basque city of Guernica took place on April 26, 1937 – 73 years ago this week.
Michael Torpey

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