Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Guest Post: 18 September 1937 - Juan Negrin Calls for Intervention

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

By 1937, all of the Great Powers were prepared to give up on non-intervention in the Spanish Civil War. The Republic's Prime Minister Juan Negrín forced the issue with a formal request to the League of Nations in Geneva. This request was considered by the League's Political Committee that publicly acknowledged the "failure of non-intervention," recognizing General Franco's Nationalists as belligerents.

This starkly apparent reality had been recognized a week earlier at a multilateral diplomatic conference held in Nyon, Switzerland. It began once it was clear the Non-Intervention Agreement was not preventing Italian and German aid to the Nationalists. The United Kingdom and France led the conference, which was also attended by Bulgaria, Egypt, Greece, Romania, Turkey, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Their collective goal was to use naval forces to impose the embargo because Mussolini's Italy had been carrying out unrestricted submarine warfare. In an incredible show of joint strength, their final conference agreement accused Italy directly. In so doing, the British delegation got ahead of themselves, encouraging Negrín to call for intervention, a premature action that would disastrously backfire.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, elements of the Tory Caucus clung to the delusional belief that Fascist Italy was a diplomatic conduit with Nazi Germany that could personally influence the situation due to Mussolini and Hitler's close personal relationship. However, the Italian-Ethiopian War created enormous tensions after the British tried in vain to persuade Mussolini to submit the dispute to the League of Nations. British newspapers overwhelmingly demanded that Winston Churchill be made a member of the Cabinet, the Daily Telegraph declaring "That one who has so firm a grasp of the realities of European politics should not be included in the Government must be as bewildering to foreigners as it is regrettable to most of his own countrymen."

Now into his third term of office at Downing Street, Stanley Baldwin reluctantly chose to temporarily stay on as Prime Minister, taking the incredibly brave decision to appoint Churchill as Foreign Secretary, overlooking the younger Minister of Affairs, Antony Eden who was only thirty-eight years old. Baldwin's misjudgement was that Eden would curb the excesses of Churchill's over-bold character but at the same time satisfy the country's demand for a robust Foreign Policy spokesman. Baldwin's intention was to use Winston to coerce Mussolini back into the fold, but the recalcitrant Churchill was far more concerned that Hitler's "air bridge" in southern Spain provided the decisive element that would allow the Nationalists to quickly take over the country.

Il Duce was enraged, over-reacting to the wording of the final agreement to the Nyon Conference by committing full support to the Nationalists with the enthusiastic support of Nazi Germany. But almost nobody in Great Britain wanted the Spanish Civil War to widen to a general conflict, leading to a fierce public reaction and the drama of an emergency debate in the House of Commons. The most damaging allegation of Government Policy was that Churchill's provocative multilateral attempts had undermined collective security in the League of Nations. The inevitable result was that Baldwin had to take the painful decision to replace Churchill with Eden. Baldwin himself would resign shortly afterwards, making way for his Chancellor of the Exchequer, Neville Chamberlain a full-throated advocate of appeasement who rashly promised the country "peace in our time."

Allen W. McDonnell's Addendum

Following the termination of the Non-Intervention Agreement, Great Britain and France shipped a million bolt action rifles to Negrin's Republican Government. However, Fascist Italy shipped Franco's Nationalists a hundred thousand semi-automatic rifles. This superior rifle technology,  the Breda PG chambered for 7mmx54mm Spanish Mauser, enabled the Nationalists to win the Spanish Civil War eighteen months sooner than OTL. This POD led Hitler to order a switch over of the German military to semi-automatic rifles and when the Second World War broke out in 1939, the Axis Powers were victorious over the Allies and USSR by December 1941. This conclusion meant no Pearl Harbor because Japan does not dare start a war when Europe is peaceful and there are no distractions for the USA.

OTL, the only country that bought the bolt action rifles from Italy was Costa Rica OTL and they lived it. Most of central and South America including Cuba used the 7mm Spanish Mauser from 1895-to 1955. Italy was supposed to adopt it for their soldiers before WW II but corruption and incompetent leaders in the Army blocked it until the manufacturer gave up. As a result, Italy went into the war using surplus World War One rifles just like Germany and UK did.

Author's Note

In reality, the Daily Telegraph article quoted was published two years later and the Nyon Conference did not accuse Italy directly; instead, the attacks were referred to as "piracy" by an unidentified body. 

British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden would end up resigning from his post. Mussolini scoffed at him publicly as "the best-dressed fool in Europe." This was after he had grudgingly tried to protect non-intervention in the Anglo-Italian meeting with the argument of avoiding escalation into a European-wide conflict.
The General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, Walter Citrine, recalled a conversation he had had with Baldwin on 5 April 1943: "Baldwin thought his [Churchill's] political recovery was marvelous. He, personally, had always thought that if war came Winston would be the right man for the job."

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