From The Mad Monarchist (9 May 2017)
Although it may not seem so today, the Spanish have been a fighting nation and a country of great martial glory for the vast majority of their history. Perhaps because the Spanish had the good sense to stay out of the two World Wars, many people tend to forget this, particularly in the present when most of the countries of Europe have ceased to take the issue of national defense seriously. However, Spain is a country that was, in a sense, created on the field of battle, born out of the longest war in the history of the world. This produced a proud nation forged from the most intense flames of holy war. In the aftermath, innovation, a politically advantageous royal marriage or two and intense zeal surged the Kingdom of Spain rapidly forward as the most militarily powerful country in the western world, on land or sea, even though it had only recently freed itself from the shackles of foreign rule. The King of Spain had no equal in Europe and so looked to the west, from the “Land of the Setting Sun” to distant shores where the Spanish conquered the first empire upon which “the sun never sets”. This period of dominance was not able to be maintained but in the centuries that followed, the Spanish proved that they were perfectly capable of rising to the top again. Unfortunately, as with most great empires, the decline in Spanish fortunes only became disastrous when the Spanish started fighting each other rather than a foreign foe.
|Don Pelayo de Asturias|
This period of the Reconquista produced the great Christian warrior-culture of the Kingdom of Spain. It also produced a number of legendary military heroes such as “El Cid” and King St Fernando III of Castile as well as the great Spanish religious-military orders of knighthood; the Order of Calatrava, the Order of Santiago, the Order of Alcantara and the Order of Montesa. As it was a religious war, it also imbued the Spanish with a special regard for the ‘fighting faith’ with particular devotions such as to St James the Moor Slayer and Our Lady of Los Remedios. It was also this long era of struggle which produced the component parts of the Kingdom of Spain as we know it today. Eventually, the Christian states came to be dominated by two factions; the Kingdom of Castile (or Leon-Castile) and the Kingdom of Aragon. The driving force behind the final victory over the Muslims was Queen Isabella I of Castile, a formidable, pious and shrewd woman, and by her marriage to King Fernando of Aragon, Spain became united for the first time.
|El Gran Capitan|
Meanwhile, closer to home, the Spanish combination of pikemen and musketeers quickly rose to dominate the battlefields of Europe. Habsburg Spain possessed the most powerful navy in the world and, contrary to some assertions, this did not end with the defeat of the mis-named “Invincible Armada” in 1588, though that was certainly a blow. One of the most important naval victories was, of course, the Battle of Lepanto which was fought by a largely Italian fleet against the Ottoman Turks, however, there was a sizeable Spanish contingent and it was a Spaniard, Don Juan of Austria, who was in command. On land, the Spanish were also heavily engaged in the Dutch Revolt and The Netherlands really became, for a time at least, the epicenter of the Catholic-Protestant war that was raging across Europe. The Dutch proved to be extremely formidable foes, yet they seemed to have met their match in the person of the Italian soldier Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma, who commanded the Spanish army (and was the son of a natural daughter of the King of Spain).
|Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma|
The era that followed saw a decline in Spanish fortunes which coincided with the rising power of France and during this period, any Spanish loss was usually France’s gain. Spain was also badly hit by the War of Spanish Succession (Queen Anne’s War for Americans) in which Spanish forces were engaged on both sides. Spain lost numerous territories in Italy, the Mediterranean and had to hand Belgium over to Austria but the loss of Gibraltar would prove the point that has hurt the most, obsessing Spanish governments ever since. However, this overall period of decline did not go on indefinitely and during the reign of King Carlos III, the Kingdom of Spain was able to regain that glorious reputation from the past. During the American War for Independence, Spanish forces were almost everywhere successful, taking back total control of the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, repelling a British invasion of Central America, retaking Minorca and capturing Pensacola, Florida. Spanish forces in North America raided British outposts to a greater extent than most are aware, even capturing a British fort in southern Michigan. The only Spanish operation which failed was the effort to re-take Gibraltar. Other than that, though, the Spanish forces had achieved every goal on their agenda.
|El marques de la Romana|
There were also a number of notable Spanish victories in the colonies during this period. In 1806-07, when Spain was allied to France, Spanish colonial forces successfully repelled a British invasion of what is now Argentina/Uruguay and in 1813 another Spanish colonial army defeated an army of Mexican revolutionaries and American land pirates at the Battle of Medina in Texas. In 1812 rebel forces in Venezuela were defeated by General Juan Domingo de Monteverde at the Battle of San Mateo, stopping the first republican effort at independence in that area. A year previously, the Count of Calderon, after a brilliantly fought campaign, led Spanish forces to victory at the Battle of Calderon bridge, defeating 100,000 Mexican rebels with only 6,000 royalists which put off Mexican independence for another decade. 1809 had similarly seen Jose Manuel de Goyeneche defeat rebel forces in Bolivia and blocked the expansion of the revolutionary movement out of Argentina until he was outflanked by General Belgrano and forced to retreat. Throughout all of this period, the Spanish forces were obviously capable of success and achieved incredible victories, however, the overall war effort was crippled by the internal divisions that would plague Spain for most of the rest of the century.
|Tomas de Zumalacarregui|
The Carlist Wars also meant that focus tended to shift away from the remnants of the Spanish empire and major insurrections broke out in The Philippines and Cuba. The long, bitter struggle in Cuba eventually prompted intervention from the United States and the result was the Spanish-American War of 1898. Spain was outmatched and easily defeated at sea, however, if one looks at the battles fought in Cuba, one could still see the gallantry and determination of the glory days of Spain. The Spanish forces were defeated but they showed immense courage and inflicted considerably more losses on the enemy than they sustained themselves. Their valor and gallantry in the midst of a hopeless struggle was so impressive that they earned the admiration of their American foes. However, as the situation in Spain became, at least temporarily, more stable, military victories were still possible. In the First Melillan campaign (aka First Rif War) in Morocco, Spanish colonial forces won a decisive victory. The Second Melillan campaign (or Second Rif War) of 1909-1910 was a bit more intense and Spain took some heavy blows at the outset but, in the end, the Spanish army was once more victorious and the Spanish foothold in North Africa was expanded.
|Spanish troops landing in Morocco|
The civil war was a brutal and nasty business but there still stands out numerous examples of the finest martial tradition of the heroes of Spain. One such illustration was the heroic stand of General Jose Moscardo Ituarte at the siege of the Alcazar in Toledo where a thousand nationalists held out against a republican force eight times larger and with the general’s own son as a hostage. Franco took his army to relieve the siege and the result was a decisive nationalist victory. In 1937 Spanish nationalists with Italian support won a decisive victory at the Battle of Malaga which opened the way for a major string of successes for the nationalist side. In fact, the 1937 Battle of Guadalajara would largely be the only major republican victory of the entire war. Even in battles in which they held superior forces on land and in the air, the republicans proved unable to match the nationalists whose ranks included most of the professional soldiers of the Spanish army. In March of 1939 the last major nationalist offensive was launched and by April 1 Generalissimo Francisco Franco was able to announce the end of the war and his ultimate victory.
|Agustin Munoz Grandes|
After World War II, Spanish military activities have grown increasingly limited but still achieved success in the modest operations undertaken. There was the “Forgotten War” in Spanish West Africa fought in late 1957 to early 1958, assisted by the French, which ended in a Spanish victory. However, the Western Sahara War which lasted officially from 1975 to 1991 saw Spain abandon the area which remains disputed by several native groups all claiming ownership of the region. In the decades since, Spain has undertaken no major military operations but has participated modestly in numerous NATO military campaigns. The Kingdom of Spain sent a medical team to the Vietnam conflict, a team of engineers to the First Gulf War, engaged several aircraft in the NATO interventions in Bosnia, Kosovo and Libya. In the (ongoing) war in Afghanistan, Spain contributed a rapid response force, logistical support personnel and military instructors but operated under orders not to engage the enemy, not to leave their area of operations and to fight only when directly attacked. Leadership of this international force is on a rotational basis and the Spanish contingent has declined to take charge each time their turn has come. To date, 102 Spanish military personnel have been killed in Afghanistan from all causes.
|Spanish troops parade in Afghanistan|
In conclusion, we can see that the proper will, ambition and unity is all that is holding Spain back from being as powerful as it once was. Like many others, the people today have become comfortable with being a less than top-tier power. Throughout its history, the Kingdom of Spain has accomplished some of the greatest military feats of all time and those heroes of the past like Cordoba or Cortez possessed no magic, their blood was the same as that which flows through Spanish veins today. No one now would consider Spain a significant military power and they would have a number of explanations for this and excuses for why it cannot be otherwise. However, consider that, in economic terms, Spain is about equal to Russia. Yet, Russia is much more militarily significant because they devote more of their economy to national defense and developed their own nuclear deterrent. In other words, even with an economy little if any more productive than that of Spain, they have made different choices, they have made their military and an independent foreign policy their top priorities. Spain, as these pages have shown, can be and has been an extremely strong nation, a top-tier power and there is no reason that Spain cannot be again with the right decisions, a united people and something more than the material to believe in. ¡Viva el Rey! ¡Arriba España!
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