Air raid on Guernica

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Guernica, destroyed by the Condor Legion

The air attack on Guernica ( Basque Gernika ) on April 26, 1937 by German fighter planes of the Condor Legion was a military operation during the Spanish Civil War in the Basque Country . The Condor Legion was responsible for the main part of the bombing, the Italian Corpo Troop Volontarie was involved in the operation.

The attack on Guernica (now Gernika ) was led by Wolfram von Richthofen . Guernica was just one of the defenseless cities destroyed by the air force of the nationalist armed forces during the campaign in the Basque province of Vizcaya . The Guernica case gained international importance because of the obvious German involvement, especially in England the public and parliament took sides, but without consequences. German diplomats denied the guilt of the German pilot, Francisco Franco even accused José Antonio Aguirre , the President of the Basque Republic, he has had Guernica destroy to this deed him to push Franco into the shoes and thus the already defeated Basques to a to motivate last riot.

Shortly after the bombing of Guernica became known, Pablo Picasso designed his monumental painting Guernica , which shows the horror of that April day in black, gray and white tones. This image is still considered a memorable indictment against the war to this day.

In 1997, during a visit to Spain , Federal President Roman Herzog officially apologized on behalf of Germany for the attack.


Between 1936 and 1939, a civil war raged in Spain between the troops of the democratically elected government of the Second Spanish Republic and the nationalist putschists under General Francisco Franco . Both sides received support from foreign troops and arms deliveries. The Stalinist Soviet Union supplied the Republicans, while Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy supported the nationalists.

When the military's attempted coup threatened to fail, the Spanish Franquists received help from the governments in Germany and Italy. In doing so, the German Air Force, which had been rebuilt since 1935, was to gain combat experience and the development of new types of aircraft and aerial combat tactics should be promoted.

The War in the North (March – September 1937)

Already on March 31, 1937, almost a month before Guernica , the small town of Durango, about 20 kilometers away, was bombed by German aircraft (see air raid on Durango and the war in the north ). Over 330 people died in the attacks. The bombing gained little publicity. Today it is commonly assumed that the Germans wanted to test their planes and weapon systems in Durango for the upcoming air raid on Guernica.

Guernica, a small town in the Basque Country on the north coast of Spain on the Bay of Biscay , with 5,000 to 6,000 inhabitants at the time, was at that time in a narrow strip controlled by the Republicans, which, however, was due to the advances led by General Francisco Franco in July by 1936 had been separated from the other republican areas.

The attack

The aim of the German attack on Guernica was to destroy a 25 meter long and 10 meter wide stone bridge over the Oca River, which connected the center with the eastern district of Rentería. This should destroy the infrastructure and enable Franco's troops to conquer the city more easily.

On the morning of April 26, 1937, a Monday, the crew of a Dornier Do 17 of the test bomber squadron 88 (VB / 88) incorrectly reported large concentrations of troops on the outskirts of Guernica. In reality, they were civilians on their way to the market. The chief of staff of the Condor Legion, Wolfram von Richthofen , saw this as a tactical opportunity to isolate and destroy the supposed "reserves" of the enemy - 23 Basque battalions were believed to be here - and received permission to attack from Colonel Vigón , Emilio Mola's chief of staff . The communication between von Richthofen's command post and the National Headquarters in Burgos is said not to have worked properly and so there was instead a direct attack on Guernica.

In the afternoon at 3:45 p.m. , a Do 17 with four men on board took off from Burgos Airport , about 140 kilometers southwest of Guernica. Accompanied by fighter pilots from Vitoria as protection, the machine first flew about ten kilometers out onto the Bay of Biscay (the Spaniards did not expect any attacks from the sea side) and then returned in a loop to Guernica. The bombs, unlocked at 4:30 p.m., did not hit the building, but fell into the city center.

Ten minutes later the aircraft was leading the first squadron, consisting of three Savoia-Marchetti SM.79s of the Italian Legion , over the coast. This steered over the city and dropped the bombs from a height of about 700 meters.

At 5:00 p.m., 10 Heinkel He 51 fighters took off 50 kilometers south of the city in Vitoria  ; at the same time 27 bombers took off from Burgos. These were temporarily converted transport aircraft of the Junkers Ju 52 / 3m type , which were only equipped with makeshift bomb sights. The larger aircraft belonged to Kampfgruppe 88 (K / 88) and VB / 88, the single-engine Heinkels to 3rd squadron of Jagdgruppe 88 (3rd J / 88). Escorts flew Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters of the first two squadrons of the same formation (1st and 2nd J / 88).

15 minutes later the He 51 arrived in Guernica. A little later the Ju 52 dropped their bombs in three waves. At about 6:50 p.m. several Bf 109s of the 2.J / 88 reached the place again and shot at the fugitives. Ten minutes later, another He 51 flew the final attack.

About 80 percent of all buildings were destroyed by the bombs and the subsequent large fire, including the train station and an olive factory, the fire of which resulted in thick clouds of smoke and impaired the accuracy of the subsequent waves of attack. The Rentería Bridge, however, had not been hit by a single bomb. It was just as undamaged as a smaller arms factory and both hospitals.

The Times reported from Guernica the day after the attack that hundreds of people were likely to have died from the attack. The Basque government at the time reported 1,654 dead and 889 injured. This figure has been questioned in later research; around 200 to 300 fatalities were assumed. The exact determination of the number of victims was and is not possible because (unregistered) refugees were staying in Guernica.

The military historian Klaus A. Maier regards the bombing of the city as the first violation of the German Air Force against international law . Sven Felix Kellerhoff , on the other hand, writes that it was “just covered by international martial law as a borderline case”.


23:00 - almost four hours after the departure of the last He 51 - arrived from Bilbao coming Firefighters of the fire department a. But even this was unable to extinguish the fire, as most of the water pipes in the city had burst. The fire could only be extinguished after 16 hours on the following day at 3:00 p.m.

A one-kilogram stick incendiary bomb

Drop quantity and bombs used

In the course of the attack, the Germans dropped about 22 to a maximum of 40 tons of aerial bombs on Guernica. The dropping material used consisted of 250-kilogram explosive bombs , 10- or 50-kilogram fragmentation bombs and one-kilogram incendiary stick bombs . The latter made up about a third of the total amount dropped.

Invasion of the Franquists

A few days after the bombing , the Franco troops came over the Rentería Bridge and took the area and the city. They no longer met any resistance.

See also

Artistic arrangements


  • Antony Beevor : The Spanish Civil War. Penguin Books, New York NY 2001, ISBN 0-14-100148-8 . (German: The Spanish Civil War: 1936–1939 . Pantheon, Munich 2016, ISBN 978-3-570-55147-9 .)
  • Images of the Spanish Civil War. Introduction by Raymond Carr . Allen & Unwin, London et al. 1986, ISBN 0-04-940089-4 (Guernica on pp. 116-121).
  • Klaus A. Maier : The destruction of Gernika on April 26, 1937. In: Military history. Historical Education Journal. Issue 1, 2007, ISSN  0940-4163 , pp. 18-22, digital version (PDF; 3 MB) .
  • Klaus A. Maier: Guernica, April 26, 1937. The German intervention in Spain and the “Fall Guernica” (= individual writings on the military history of the Second World War. 17). Rombach, Freiburg (Breisgau) 1975, ISBN 3-7930-0176-8 .
  • Pío Moa: Guernica. In: Pío Moa: Los mitos de la Guerra Civil. Editorial Planeta DeAgostini SA, Barcelona 2005, ISBN 84-674-1473-1 , pp. 369-390.
  • Paul Preston : A Concise History of the Spanish Civil War. Revised and updated. Fontana Press, London 1996, ISBN 0-00-686373-6 .
  • Raúl Arias Ramos: La Legión Cóndor en la Guerra Civil. El Apoyo Militar Alemán a Franco. La Esfera de los Libros, Madrid 2003, ISBN 84-9734-137-6 .
  • Jesús M. Salas-Larrazabal: Guernica (= Libros de Historia Rialp. 22). Ediciones Rialp SA, Madrid 1987, ISBN 84-321-2375-7 .
  • Jens Schröder: Guernica, April 26, 1937. In: GEO . Issue 5/2007.
  • Stefanie Schüler-Springorum : War and Flying - the Condor Legion in the Spanish Civil War. Schöningh, Paderborn et al. 2010, ISBN 978-3-506-76747-9 .
  • Gordon Thomas , Max Morgan-Witts: The Day Guernica Died. A tragedy in European history. Edition Bergh in the Europabuch AG, Zug 1978, ISBN 3-88065-074-8 .
  • Hannes Heer : The fire. Guernica April 26, 1937. In: Stefan Vogt et al. (Ed.): History of ideas as political enlightenment. Festschrift for Wolfgang Wippermann on the occasion of his 65th birthday. Berlin 2010, pp. 243-298.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Marta Aranbarri: "Nunca más se habló del bombardeo". Durango homenajea a las víctimas del dramático ataque aéreo que causó más de 330 muertos hace 75 años. From:, Edición bizkaia, April 1, 2012. Retrieved December 4, 2015.
  2. ^ Robert N. Forsyth: Aces of the Legion Condor (= Osprey Aircraft of the Aces. 99). Osprey, Oxford 2011, ISBN 978-1-84908-347-8 , pp. 58 f.
  3. Lutz Mäurer: Intervention - Bloody dress rehearsal.( Memento from September 5, 2013 in the web archive ) In: Y. Das Magazin der Bundeswehr.Bd. April 7, 2007, ISSN  1617-5212 . Retrieved December 4, 2015.
  4. Ulrich Baron: The story of Picasso's "Guernica". On: Welt Online , April 22, 2007. Retrieved December 4, 2015.
  5. a b Jörg Diehl: Hitler's bombs on Guernica - “They cremated the city”. On: Spiegel Online . April 26, 2007. Retrieved December 4, 2015.
  6. ^ André Corvisier (Ed.): A dictionary of military history and the art of war. English edition, revised, expanded and edited by John Childs. Blackwell, Oxford et al. 1994, ISBN 0-631-16848-6 , p. 339.
  7. Hubert Kahl (dpa): 70 years of destruction of Guernica. On: April 24, 2007.
  8. ^ Klaus A. Maier: The destruction of Gernika on April 26, 1937. In: Military history. Issue 1, 2007, pp. 18–22, here p. 22.
  9. ^ Sven Felix Kellerhoff : Bomb warfare and martial law: The example of Dresden. Die Welt , February 9, 2005, accessed February 16, 2017 .