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The Spanish Civil War: air-delivered terror

Airplanes had been in their infancy when first used in World War I. The fragile cloth-covered biplanes played only a marginal role in reconnaissance, occasional dogfights, or harassment of enemy infantry with light machine-gun fire and hand grenades. But the 1920's and 30's saw great advances in aeronautics, and along with improved technologies came disturbing new military strategies.

In 1935, German General Erich Ludendorff published Die Totale Krieg (The Total War) in which he presented the view that in war, no one is innocent; everyone is a combatant and everyone a target, soldier and civilian alike. Italian General Giulio Douhet further suggested an enemy's morale could be crushed by air-delivered terror. Such theories intrigued Nazi Germany's new Fuhrer, but they needed testing. Spain seemed to be the perfect laboratory.

The Commander of the Condor Legion was Lt. Colonel Wolfram von Richthofen, cousin of Manfred von Richthofen, the infamous Red Baron of World War I. It was Von Richthofen who earmarked Guernica for bombardment, on behalf of Franco. At precisely 3:45 PM, Monday, April 26, 1937, the first German bomber took off. Three-quarters of an hour later, the first bomb fell on Guernica - a direct hit on the plaza at the center of town, a full quarter mile from the targeted bridge.

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