Sample IAs & EE on the Bombing of Guernica

Bombing of Guernica


The Desolation of Guernica

An Analysis of the Motives for and the Justifications of the Bombing of Guernica on 26 April 1937

This essay investigates the motives for and justifications of the bombing of Guernica on 26 April 1937, carried out by the German Condor Legion, the Italian Aviazone Legionara and the Spanish Nationalist officials in the Basque country. The introduction discusses the context of the issue as well as the significance of the topic of Guernica, and ends with stating how the question shall be examined. This is followed by a paragraph focusing on portraying the town of Guernica, its location, strategic importance and symbolic significance. After this section, the investigation will move on to the full analysis of the question, which is divided into two main parts. The first section, entitled the Military Thesis, will focus on the arguments supporting the theory that Guernica had been attacked for strategic motives, such as its position as a communication centre near the front, but also analyse possible limitations of the justifications. Subsequently, the second part of the main investigation shall concentrate on discussing the opposing Morale theory and the validity of the arguments presented. These include the views that as Guernica symbolised Basque liberties and independence, the destruction of this important town would consequently shatter Basque morale and ease the Nationalist advance towards Bilbao. The main analysis will be succeeded by a brief summary of the discussed arguments. Through the analysis the conclusion will be reached that while the main justifications had, in the view of the Condor Legion which, unlike the Spanish officials, did not know of the town’s symbolic worth, been strategic, the bombing had been intended to have a psychological impact and shatter Basque morale.

The Bombing of Guernica – Apotheosis of the Spanish Civil War

During the ideological conflict that shook and divided Spain between 1936 - 1939, many events ignited international interest – yet perhaps none of them as much as the bombing of Guernica on the 26 April 1937. This event, often seen as the ‘first total destruction of an undefended target by aerial bombardment‘[1] was to become one of the most tragic symbols of war and a monument to the atrocities of modern air warfare. Guernica, the ancient capital of the Basques as well as the historic center of their cultural heritage[2], traditions and political ceremonies was a target whose destruction could not but have produced an extreme uproar in the Basque nation as well as in Republican Spain. Picasso’s famous painting ‘Guernica’ in addition to the fortunate presence of several foreign, English-speaking journalists[3] - amongst them the journalist George Steer of The Times – rendered the event a matter of global importance, both politically and emotionally. The desolation of the Basque town overshadowed many preceding as well as subsequent bombings and destructions of other cities, some of them even more disastrous than Guernica. Yet it gave rise to more controversy both within Spain and on a global scale than any other. In countries involved in the event, such as the author’s home country Germany, the bombing of Guernica is even nowadays referred to as the apotheosis of the Spanish Civil War. The many factors which contributed to the broad interest in and popularity of the topic have been explained by the most knowledgeable scholars on multiple occasions, and these analyses might have lessened the interest or the belief in the singularity of the event. None of this was the case. It seems as though Guernica, indeed, was ‘burned into the European consciousness’[4]. The question as to who was to blame for the atrocity can nowadays, thanks to much thorough research and study[5], be answered - the responsibility of the Condor Legion and the Aviazione Legionara as actors as well as of the Spanish rebel command as initiators are no longer a matter of doubt. The motives of the bombing, however, remain a controversy. While many historians support the theory which assumes that Guernica had been a military target, others firmly support the idea that it was bombed to crush Basque morale. This essay’s aim will be to assess the validity, coherence and objectivity of the proof given for each argument and thus analyse to what extent the aims and actions of both the Spanish and the Germans before as well as during the bombing justify each theory.

Guernica  - Ancient symbol and sentinel over Basque culture

Guernica, although not the official capital of the Biscay province, was the center of Basque tradition, culture and national pride. It was not in Bilbao, but in front of Guernica’s famous oak[6] where political decisions concerning Basque rights had been made for centuries[7]. While a source of pride to the Basques, the Spanish Nationalists saw in it the threat of autonomy and possible opposition towards the regime.[8] Several other factors, however, added to the town’s importance and eventual danger to the rebels. Located less than 10 miles from the front and from the Iron Ring around Bilbao, it was home to about 7000 inhabitants and 3000 refugees[9] at the time of its destruction. The short distance to several surrounding villages as well as regular Monday markets – as was the case on Monday 26 April 1937 – meant that the town was a vital center for communication, commerce and political discussions, partly owing to the fact that the headquarters of the Izquierda Republicana, too, were located in the centre. On the outskirts of the town and unknown to many, putatively also the Nationalist army and the Condor Legion, Guernica was also home to two small-arms factories, ‘Unceta y Cía’ and ‘Talleres de Guernica’. The bridge over the river Oca, which connected Guernica with the adjoining district of Renteria, as well as the crossroads leading from the village, made Guernica one of the few places through which retreating Basque soldiers or fleeing civilians could pass.

Guernica as a military target – The Military Thesis

As the Nationalist army, led by General Emilio Mola and his chief of staff, Colonel Juan Vigón Suerodiaz, advanced through the areas of Navarre and Guizpoca  towards Bilbao, they left a trail of death and destruction behind them. Where they passed, cities and towns in the Basque country were reduced to heaps of debris, often despite not being of symbolic or strategic importance. The towns of Durango and Ochandiano, both of which were of less significance symbolically than Guernica, were destroyed on 31March[10] and only serve as two examples of the many towns in the Basque country which experienced a similar treatment. That Guernica was a strategic target and destroyed in the general wave of destruction which rolled over Basque villages is a thesis which caused both dispute and acclaim worldwide. Due to the fact that consequential reasoning has to be applied for several arguments which justify the military thesis and also owing to a scarcity in original historic sources, historians’ account often stress different aspects. As a result, the opposing school of thought frequently portrays the military thesis as lacking in coherence and cogency. The following paragraphs, however, will focus on the most widely established and plausible arguments which support the theory that Guernica had indeed been a strategic target.

Its situation less than 10 miles from the front[11] on the evening of the 25 April 1937 or the proximity to the Iron Ring surrounding Bilbao were not the only attributes which rendered Guernica a town of strategic importance. The bridge over the river Oca, which connected the district of Rentaria with Guernica, was a vital means for fleeing Basque soldiers and civilians, especially since it provided one of the last opportunities to cross the river. Crossroads leading through Guernica to several other villages also permitted the passage of soldiers, civilians and war matériel through the town. In nearly all accounts of the bombing, the existence of these two factors are listed as the major objectives for the bombing of Guernica. In his diary entry from the 26th April, General Freiherr von Richthofen, head of staff of the Condor Legion and theoretically under Mola’s control, clearly states that both the bridge and crossroads had been the only targets.[12] The same is expressed in the statement of Freiherr von Beust, who himself flew aircraft over Guernica on Monday the 26.4.1937.[13] To destroy the bridge and block the crossroads would have had the highly desired effect of ‘closing off’[14] Republican traffic both within Guernica, but also around nearby villages such as Marquina[15].

Plans showing the distribution of the bomb holes over the city and the two routes of the aircraft – from North to South and from West to East – indicate clearly that the routes crossed exactly over the bridge (see Appendix I). This consequential reasoning does not necessarily supply concrete evidence, yet it can be argued that as in the case of Guernica most justifications had to be gathered in hindsight, it is a logically convincing assumption. As aforementioned, both the bridge and crossroads were essential factors in rendering Guernica a centre of communication and commerce.

As the majority of planes raiding Guernica were part of the Condor Legion and flown by German pilots, the aims behind the bombing are often explained with the trials of war tactics carried out by the Germans during the Spanish Civil War. The Condor Legion in Spain, especially during its mission in the North, was a dominant power under command of the Spanish officials such as Emilio Mola, but mostly directed by its own will. Colonel Freiherr Wolfram von Richthofen condescendingly stated in his diary entry of 24.3.1937: ‘We are basically directing the entire enterprise, without any responsibility.’[16] Indeed the German commanders enjoyed high respect and were accustomed to having their orders fulfilled. The officials of the Condor Legion - as most notably shown in Richthofen’s diary entries from 18 and 23 April 1937 - were discontented with the slow advance in the Basque region as well as eager for another occasion to test their aircraft tactis and matériel in order to secure a successful strategic move towards Bilbao.[17]

Father Onaindía, a priest who arrived in Guernica on the very day and became an often quoted eye-witness of the bombing, was convinced that the attack was ‘a trial in totalitarian warfare’[18] carried out by the Condor Legion. This argument is often accompanied by the statement of Reichsmarschall Göring during the Nuremberg trials in 1945, in which he mentioned that air support was given to Franco partly because it supplied the occasion to ‘test my young Luftwaffe in this or that technical respect’. [19] The credibility of this quite general statement should be questioned, especially as it was made eight years after the end of the Spanish Civil War and used as a justification rather than an explanation for the actions of Nazi Germany in Spain. Yet it does highlight again that especially for new divisions of the Luftwaffe, such as the Condor Legion, the testing of their warfare was certainly a prerequisite.

That the German officials did indeed perceive the mission in the North as a testing ground for ground attacks and carpet bombing can easily be noted in Richthofen’s diary. In an entry from 5 April 1937, Richthofen referred to earlier advances through the Basque region as ‘A good first success, which served especially to get to know the apparatus, which had not been used in this way beforehand.’[20] Reflecting on the destruction of Guernica, he stated that ‘the streets were hardly hit’ and thus ‘the planned aim not fulfilled‘ but called it a ‘full technical success for our 250er and EC.B.’ (explosive and incendiary bombs) and praised the bomb holes which were still visible on the streets[21]. Reports of the Condor Legion suggest that the combination of explosives and incendiaries was not necessarily uncommon, but used for bombing trials of several Spanish towns, due to it having proved most successful.[22] Indeed, the technique used in Guernica had already been practiced in Madrid in late 1936[23] and only ceased to be practiced on towns after the international controversy of Guernica.[24]

It is necessary to summarise these various aspects in order to conclude how much credibility can be attributed to the thesis that Guernica was a military target. That the German Condor Legion used the bombing as another opportunity to test their tactis cannot be questioned. It is also certain that the military aspects of the bridge and crossroads, as well as the importance of Guernica as a comunication centre were – at least at first – the only reasons known to the German officials for the bombing. The location of the town certainly also played and important role – it is unlikely that Guernica would have become a target of such utter annihilation or indeed destroyed at all had it been very far away from the front. It is, however, even less likely that the two arms factories were major causes for the bombing. None of these can be proved without a remaining, yet minimal amount of ambiguity. It is, however, reasonable to accept that Guernica certainly had several aspects which possibly made it a military target.

Guernica as a psychological target - The Morale Thesis

The bombing of Guernica had a highly destructive impact, both physically and psychologically on the inhabitants of the town as well as on the Basque Nation itself. Although the event did not succeed in convincing the Basques to surrender Bilbao, it was a severe blow and insult to Basque national pride, liberty and beliefs. Very soon, the question as to why Guernica had been the target of such calamitous forces spread far over the Spanish borders and thus the theory that the destruction had been solely for the purpose of crushing Basque morale was established internationally. George Steer, a journalist of The Times who had visited Guernica while still in flames, published his article on the 28.4.1937 in which he clearly stated that ‘Guernica was not a military target’[25]. Over the years, both historians and non-scholars sought proof for this theory. The principle argument that Guernica’s destruction was for psychological motives is ubiquitous in the works of this school of thought, yet scholars’ views do diverge to some extent. As is the case with the military thesis, the paucity of historic documents, the many falsified press reports and the often differing accounts by eye-witnesses explain why no complete consensus has been reached. The subsequent paragraphs will concentrate on the main arguments, presented in all works of this school of thought, supporting the thesis that the destruction of Guernica had been carried out due to psychological motives.

During the Spanish Civil War and especially under the German Condor Legion as well as the Francoist air force, the techniques of carpet and terror bombing reached fatal dimensions. It is highly likely, if not certain, that despite remaining inexperience in the first years the commanders of the Condor Legion knew of the destruction the incendiaries would cause - both physically and psychologically – on the town of Guernica and its inhabitants. Richthofen was, as Preston states in his work, experienced in the field of terror bombing and thought it a highly effective method of shattering morale.[26] Emilio Mola, the Spanish General in charge of the campaign in the North and cognisant of the towns symbolism, while addressing himself to the Nationalist mayors of Navarra, famously stated that: “It is necessary to spread terror. We must create the impression of mastery, eliminating without scruples or hesitation all those who do not think as we do.”[27] In a campaign to ‘spread terror’ at the end of March and early April 1937, Mola initiated the printing of leaflets thrown onto Basque towns reading “If your submission is not immediate, I will raze Vizcaya to the ground, beginning with the industries of war. I have ample means to do so.”[28] Clearly, the use of terror to secure victory was both welcomed and intended by the Spanish generals. No evidence has been found to prove that the German officials were aware of the symbolic importance of Guernica and it remains unknown whether they were indeed ignorant of the town’s significance or whether documents proving the contrary were removed. Yet it can be stated that as terror bombing and the shattering of morale had been deployed by the Condor Legion before 26 April 1937, most notably at Durango, it is highly probable that Guernica had been, at least partly, targeted for psychological motives.

The opposing thesis, or rather the facts used for this line of argument, provide ample scope for counterclaims which in turn reinforce the theory that the devastation of morale had been the main objective. Such is the case with the often discussed claim that the two arms factories in the South-East of the town rendered Guernica an important military target. It is highly questionable that the existence of the small-arms factories was at all known to the commanders of the Condor Legion. A telegram the Condor Legion received by the General Headquarters staff from Salamanca on the 7.5.1937, to be further passed on to Berlin, reports – and stresses - the several factors which made Guernica a military target.[29] These include that Guernica:

‘was six kilometers from the fighting line, is a highly important communications crossroad, has a factory for munitions, bombs and pistols; on the 26th  it was a place for passage of units in flight and for the stationing of reserves.’[30]

This statement which Berlin – unaware of the exact details and objectives of the bombing – was to receive, is the only genuine historic document which passed between the Spanish command and Berlin concerning the destruction of Guernica after 26 April 1937. As is to be expected, the statement’s uniqueness significantly increased its value as a primary source for historians of this school of thought.  That the telegram stresses the existence of these factors, refers to the bombing as an accident due to ‘lack of visibility’[31] and most importantly clearly takes on the responsibility for the event, remarkably lessens the credibility of the statement and indicates its purpose as an excuse for the Condor Legion.[32]

The very process of the bombing and the types of bombs used are very cogent arguments for the theory that Guernica was bombed to destroy Basque morale. According to the Spanish historian César Vidal, the second waves of planes consisted of three Italian Savoia 79 which - despite orders to bomb only the bridge and crossroads – dropped 36 bombs during a single sixty seconds flight from North to South over the entire town.[33] While destruction was then still limited to a few buildings, including the headquarters of the Izquierda Republicana, the subsequent waves would be all the more destructive: German Junkers 52s carrying over 22 tons of 50 kg and 250 kg explosives as well as the certainly lighter, but all the more disastrous 1kg incendiaries were to bomb the whole town, and by doing so would destroy 71% of all buildings completely.[34] Several planes which had already dropped their load onto the town then followed and machine - gunned fleeing inhabitants[35], a fact which suggests that terrorisation and elimination of the inhabitants must have been purposed. The peculiar choice of bombs is also rather indicative – incendiary bombs are not suited to destroy a specific target, yet alone crossroads or a stone bridge. Paul Preston, in his work ‘The Destruction of Guernica’ argues that ‘the incendiary effects of the attack cannot have been a side-effect’ or intended to destroy the stone bridge, but were solely meant for ‘terrorising the residential sector of the town, which was largely of wooden construction.’[36] Although most houses in Guernica were indeed built

Moreover, the fact that the alleged targets – the bridge, crossroads and, as often added, the two small-arms factories – were undamaged, but the centre of the town and especially the residential areas destroyed[37], indicates that the annihilation of Guernica was not accidental. The statement that the aircraft missed the actual aims due to smoke and dust blocking their vision[38] cannot be taken into consideration as an explanation – evidently after incendiaries and explosives had hit near the centre, it was impossible to discern specific targets. Furthermore, if the attack had only been aimed at the bridge and the crossroads, it would have sufficed to fly the bombers in a single route from East to West over Guernica – it would not have been necessary to cross the whole town in routes from North to South as well as east to West and thus maximise the area of possible destruction (see Appendix I).


Both the military and morale thesis sound plausible and both are supported by facts and arguments which – in general – are objective and rational. Regarded from a purely military and objective point of view, Guernica – as many other smaller villages – was a communication centre with the possible threat of giving refuge or passage possibilities to retreating Republican soldiers. The German comanders used the opportunity to further test their aircraft and bombing tactics, while also, as they had done before, experimenting with terror bombing. They were, however, unaware of the symbolic importance and the international impact such an attack would provoke. The Spanish officials Mola and Vigón both had experience in terrorising civilian population and, as shown before, had no scrupel to use it. They, in contrast to Richthofen, were well acquainted with the significance of the town for the Basque nation. The bridge and crossroads were the two major aspects which allegedly rendered the town a target - yet neither was fully destroyed. The tow arms factories, the Tree of Guernica and the Casa de Juntas also remained untouched. What was destroyed however, was the centre of the town and with it Basque morale. Given the detail concerning both theories, it is reasonable to assume that although in the eyes of the German commanders, it had at first been a military target, they did not hesitate to destroy the entire town. By doing so – as they assumed – a possible danger could be easily eliminated. The Spanish officials, although not directly and actively taking part in the bombing, ordered Guernica’s destruction, knowing that it was the ancient capital of the Basque region and that its military importance – although existing – was not significant enough to fully destroy the entire town.


The controversy that raged over Guernica once has ebbed, but not died. The horrific annihilation, so perfectly captured in Picasso’s immortal and world-famous painting, still is a widely discussed and analysed topic. It owns its longeveity not only to the extreme horror – other bombings, such as Durango, were at least as atrocious – nor only to the vast amount of press it once created – rather it is the fact that it is still unsolved, still not completely explained or proved and thus again and again provokes polemics and investigations. This essay attempted to show as objectively as possible the facts supporting each theory, analysing their validity by contrasting them with the counterarguments of the opposing thesis. As already stated in the summary, an evaluation of the arguments given for both theories indicates that the destruction of Guernica was neither only for military, nor entirely for psychological reasons. The Condor Legion percieved Guernica – at least at first – as a military objective. While a partial destruction was also effective, it was in their eyes clearly even more effective to eliminate the whole town and with it every ounce of a possible threat. The Germans were certainly aware of and welcomed that the full destruction of the town had a severe and immediate psychological impact on the inhabitants, but they were unaware of the symbolism of Guernica. The Spanish commanders – Mola and Vigón – gratefully took advantage of the willingness of the Condor Legion and Aviazione Legionara to bomb the town. They knew of its symbolic significance and of the morale shattering efects its annihilation would have on the enemy. In this way, the attack on Guernica was both a military and psychological target – and – unfortunately – successful in both aspects. There will, however, never be an entirely correct and unambiguous answer – depending on the arguments at hand, the political tendency or the research carried out, the conclusion on whether Guernica was a military or moral target will always vary.

   [1] Paul Preston, A Concise History of the Spanish Civil War, (London: Fontana Press 1996) pg. 5  [2]  [3] Herbert R. Southworth, Guernica! Guernica! A Study of Journalism, Diplomacy, Propaganda and History , (London: University of California Press Ltd. 1977), 12  [4] Paul Preston, ibid.  [5]  [6] Author’s note: The oak of Guernica, according to records planted in the 14th century, first became significant in 1512 when the government of Biscay province began holding its assemblies in Guernica. Since then, the tree has evolved into the symbol of liberty as well as autonomy for the Basque region and is even nowadays depicted on the Basque coat of arms.  [7] Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War, (London, Penguin Books 2012, 50th anniversary edition), 606  [8] Paul Preston, The Destruction of Guernica, (London: Harper Press 2012), Kindle edition, 60  [9] George Steer, The Tragedy of Guernica, (London, (Thomas 2012) The Times, 28.4.1937)  [10] Thomas, 598 - 9  [11] Thomas, 606  [12] Maier, 103  [13] Oberst a.D.Frhr. von Beust, Die deutsche Luftwaffe im spanischen Krieg (..., 1955)  [14] Wolfram Frhr. von Richthofen, Spanien-Tagebuch, (Spain: Bundesarchiv 136-7), 121  [15] ibid. 121  [16] Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen, ‘Spanien-Tagebuch‘ (..., 1937)  [18] Father Alberto Onaindía, ‘Hombre de Paz en la Guerra’ (Buenos Aires, Editorial Vasca Ekin, 1937) 238-240  [19] Nürnberger Prozesse gegen die Hauptkriegsverbrecher, (Nürnberg: 14 November 1945 to 1 October 1946, bd. XI Nürnberg 1948)  [20] Richthofen, Spanien-Tagebuch 1937, (59 in Maier Buch)  [21] Richthofen, Spanien-Tagebuch, 1937  [22] Maier, 59  [23] Robert H. Whealy, Hitler and Spain, (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1989), 102  [24] Ángel Viñas, Guerra, Dinero, Dictadura: Ayuda facista y autarquía en la España de Franco (Barcelona: Editarial Crítical, 1984), 102 – 106, 112  [25] George Steer, The Tragedy of Guernica (London, The Times 1937)  [26] Preston, The Destruction of Guernica, 89  [27] Juan José Usabiaga Irazustabarenna, ‘La Guerra de Franco, los Vascos y la Iglesia’, (San Sebastián, Puplicaciones del Clero Vasco, 1978), 433  [28] George Steer, The Tree of Gernika: A Field Study of Modern War (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1938), 159  [29] Herbert Rutledge Southworth, Guernica! Guernica! A Study of Journalism, Diplomacy, Propaganda and History, Berkeley: University of California Press 1977  [30] Salamanca Telegram – citation needed.  [31] Salamanca Telegram  [32] Southworth, 372-3  [33] César Vidal, La Destrucción de Guernica: Un Balance Sesenta Años después, (Madrid, Editorial Espasa Calpe 1997)  [34] nationalist report (found in Guernica 26.4.1937 by Klaus Maier)  [35] Alberto Onaindia, Hombre de Paz en la Guerra, (Buenos Aires, Editorial Vasca Ekin, 1973) ???  [36] Paul Preston, The Destruction of Guernica, 503  [37] Vidal, 102  [38] Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War (London, Penguin Books, 2012, fourth edition)

Extended Essay in History

What were the reasons for the bombing of Guernica on the 26th of April of 1937?

Guernica then and now
Guernica then and now


My Extended Essay Research Question is what were the reasons for the bombing in Guernica on the 26th of April of 1937? The topic of this essay is the bombing of the city of Guernica, and the investigation of what the possible reasons were. Rather than saying whether it was the Germans or the Spanish who bombed the city, I would rather just explore, analyse and support the different reasons for this catastrophe. I would thought be very focused on the German involvement in the Spanish Civil War and to what degree this destruction was horrific and what effect it had on the Spanish as well as the whole world.

I read Spanish and English books, as well as Germans documents and newspapers. By reading different kinds of sources, I got different idea  A book which really made me understands the different reasons and how they were all connected to one theory is the book “Historia Ilustrada de la Guerra Civil Española” by Ricardo de la Cierva.

 I started reading the article about Guernica from George Steer and I thought that his evidence that it had been the Germans who bombed the city for hours to test their planes was a good reason and made sense. However when I started reading more books about it, I realized that this journalist was paid by the Republicans so that he would write their propagandist version In the conclusion all of these reasons were added up together and come to be only one, as they are all related and if they are added up together they form the conclusion that it was a puzzle and the entire pieces match.

Word count: 285

The bombing of the Basque city of Guernica was something that left the whole world in shock, when on the 26th of April of 1937, “as a result of 185 minutes’ bombing, the market town was left a smouldering and bloody skeleton- an act of grotesque perfection by over fifty aircraft of the Condor Legion and Italian Aviazione Legionaria”[1]. Though it happened more than seven decades ago, there are still investigations and books being written about this atrocity that destroyed the most ancient and significant Basque city during the Spanish Civil War.

The Spanish fascist had asked Italy and Germany for help to go against the communist band, the Republicans, and they had agreed to destroy the bridge which entered the city, so that no access was possible for the Republicans to conquer the city of Guernica and thus, the Basque land. It was said that was a market day that Monday, this happened to be when the city’s population was at its highest point. Some argue and state that the Germans used Guernica as an excuse to test their planes[2].  They took advantage of the Spanish Civil War because they saw it as “an exploitable opportunity to test destructive technologies and terror strategies”[3] to get ready for the Second World War. This backs up James Corum’s statement, who is an American air power historian and authority on counter-insurgency, who says that the Luftwaffe, and so the German air force, adopted a doctrine of terror bombing. Others like George Steer a journalist from the English “The Times”, suggested that Guernica’s bombing objective was “the demoralization of the civil population and the destruction of the cradle of the Basque race”[4], because then it would make the communist band in Spain demoralized, which seems to be consistent since the bridge and a war factory outside the city was untouched. .

However, the fascists initially said that the Republicans had fired the city and make the nationalists guilty to cover their weak situation in losing control of the north, afterwards they added that it was a mistake and that the Germans planes were not aiming to destroy the city, but an unwelcome fog came by and would not let them see[5]. These are all the most common reasons for Guernica’s bombing, but it is still not clear what really the reason was. Though destruction and bomb-testing are the most heard and discussed reasons with  Spanish fascist leader in the North, General Mola, or Franco not knowing about this or  planning to do this or the Republicans potential participation. So therefore what were the reasons for the Guernica bombing on the 26th of April of 1937?

Word Count: 517

The bombing of Guernica was aiming for bomb-testing for the Germans

Hitler wanted an ally like Spain for the coming World War due to its geographical position, and the Spanish nationalists needed international help from a fascist country like Germany in the Spanish Civil War to balance the international support of the Republicans[6] (Russia, United Kingdom, France, USA…). Germany contributed with 500 planes in total to help Spain during the Spanish Civil War, the majority of them ended up piloted by Spanish, except for the Condor Legion. This one started fighting in November 1936 in the Battle of Madrid and never went over 100 planes, as the contract stated[7]. The Condor Legion was always piloted by the Germans, but the command was taken by the Spanish. However, the Luftwaffe took advantage of the situation and decided to use the Spanish Civil War as his playground to test the Condor Legion’s planes, arms and bombs. It was agreed with General Mola plans   to bomb a certain bridge, however General Hugo Sperrle or his boss Lieutenant colonel Wolfram von Richthoffen was in charge of the bombing of Guernica, and he selected this precise city because it was one on few untouched cities in Spain. This shows that a possible reason why Guernica was bombed was because they wanted to try their planes and see what the effect was in a non-destroyed city and also the effect of people in cities and villages. By bombing Guernica, the Germans could see the horrible effect it had, and how they could improve their tactics. “A total of 31 tons of munitions fell on Guernica that day”[8] and more than a thousand people were killed and around 800 were wounded[9]. The Germans intentions to test their planes, was successfully finished as they came back intact and the city was completely destroyed. Again, stated by Wolfgang Schmidt, the commander of the Condor Legion: "For the German air force, Guernica was a trial run on how one can spread horror and distress through attacks on cities and towns". This theory is also supported by Indalecio Prieto, the representative of the parliament of Bilbao, who was very determined to his theory that Guernica was a deliberate bombing. He says that since the Condor Legion, which were German planes, played a role in Spain, Goering[10] was anxious to have “un banco de pruebas”[11]  (a place where to test) to rehearse the effects of massive bombardment.

Word count: 495

The bombing of Guernica was aiming German strategic for destruction

“A Spanish Nationalist victory could divide France’s in time of war by burdening it with the defence of a second front. It could also block the pass of French colonial troops by sea and land”[12] . This would suggest that it was convenient for Hitler to have a respectable and decent relationship with Spain and therefore with Franco. By having Spain as an ally, Germany could protect their future colonies in Morocco from any French colonial troops as Spain would not make it easy for France to pass through. To have Spain blocking the pass to Africa by land and sea would give Germany a better self-defence as well as more tranquility that France would not have it easy to attack or conquer Morocco. Germany did not only have France as an enemy, Russia was also an enemy, and the Spanish Republic was allied to Russia[13]. The Communist from Russia wanted to extend their Communism along Europe and Spain was the best and most strategic point in which they could finish their task of putting Communism along Europe. Spain was at the end of Europe and had access to all seas, The Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean, which would also give Russia more access to the Western World. For Russia it was a very significant and an essential country to have Communism in, it would mean for them to have Communism influence until the last country in Europe. However, this Spain-Russian alliance for Germany was very damaging because it would mean that Spain could fall Communist and Germany was Fascist and that would not be compatible then. Germany wanted to protect Spain from those Communist interventions, but Russians were helping the Spanish Republicans in the Spanish Civil War to end with Fascism and the Spanish Republicans were delighted, “The help you are providing us to the Spanish people… considering it as your duty… has been and continues to be greatly beneficial[…] we assure you our gratitude”[14]. But Franco was by that time the “father” of Spain; he loved his people and did not want anyone to be murdered. That is why after Guernica was bombed Franco was indignant about the act and the relationship between Spain and Germany “turned cold”. This then advocates than Franco possibly did not have anything to do with this massacre.

Word count: 430

The reason for Guernica’s bombing was destruction: “the demoralisation of the civil population and the destruction of the cradle of the Basque race”[15]

It was the official version of the Republican side and was published by several international journalists such as George Steer; who state that, as Monday was market day, it was when most people were on the streets and the Guernica’s population grew. Especially by 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon, this was the time in which peasants came into the city. It was the exact time when the first planes flew down to Guernica’s sky. They were also aiming for destruction and did not follow the orders they were told, they did not destroy the bridge they had to or the arms factory, those were left intact. Hundreds of people were killed; the city was absolutely destroyed and burned except for the Casa de Juntas, the famous oak of Guernica, and the church of Santa Maria, these happened to be the most famous and significant monuments for the Basque race (this key untouched elements sound a bit strange for the credibility of this hypothesis) . They bombed the water pipes and pumps, therefore people could not put the fire out, this was not a coincidence, for obvious reasons, and therefore another prove of destruction (another element that sounds strange).  Furthermore, Von Richthoffen (boss of Sperrle in charge of German side of Legion Condor), again states indirectly the obvious, that Guernica’s bombing was aiming for destruction: “Guernica, city with 5,000 residents, has been literally razed to the ground. Bomb craters can be seen in the streets. Simply wonderful[16]".  The city was nearly completely destroyed that day, most of the buildings were destroyed and the center of the city was ruined. Thus, Guernica was not mistakenly bombed, it was very intentionally and purposely bombed. If it would have been a mistake, then the bombing would not have lasted 185 minutes[17].

James Corum, states that the Luftwaffe was aiming for their doctrine of terror bombing. Though the Luftwaffe rejected the term “terror bombing”, they did it again in Rotterdam in 1940[18], but it was not accepted until 1942 that the Luftwaffe practiced terror bombing. This is a strategy of deliberately bombing and/or strafing civilian targets in order to break the morale of the enemy, make its civilian population panic, bend the enemy's political leadership to the attacker's will, or to "punish" an enemy[19]. This was though the best excuse to bomb the city of Guernica as there were no specific reasons to do so, just a terrorist attack. As Wolfgang Schmidt said: "Of course the bombing of Guernica was a blatant violation of human rights and had a terrorist character”[20], this points out that the Germans were aiming for a terrorist attack. However, it is questionable whether this was Schmidt’s own plan, or Germany’s deliberate terrorist attack. On one side, Hitler and the Spanish Nationalists had a good relationship that needed to be kept in order to have good political allies. Hitler wanted to establish another authoritarian state next to his enemy, France, but he also used Spain for Guernica’s bomb/plane-testing. The reasons why everyone thinks that it was the Germans is because this information was banned and censured by the nationals and so, Franco. So it was surely not Schmidt’s decision to bomb Guernica, it could have been an accorded pronouncement between Hitler and Franco.

Assuming that these were Franco’s intentions, then Guernica was just a simple massive-murder to make a free and easy pathway for Franco so set his future Dictatorship. However, it is very significant as well to see that Guernica did not play a big role in the Spanish Civil War or simply Spain, because people around the world know more about this event than the actual Spanish people. Again, the same open issues as above, these facts cannot support the argument that the atrocious crime over a civil population could not be supported by nationalists. The massacred populations were formed by republicans and nationals, without discrimination and would be considered unpopular by the affected nationals in the Basque land. Moreover, another relevant consideration is that despite the international relevance of the bombing in Spain this was never considered a key step in the internal control of the war positions. Also, it is very significant that Franco was not in the north of Spain by that time, he was leading in the zone of Jaen, in south of Spain. The General Mola was the one leading on the North of Spain by that time. So, the bombing of Guernica did not have a big impact in Spain and its position in war, and Franco could not have been involved because he was not lead up the north, and thus he had no intention of bombing Guernica.  As well as his textual words as he heard about the bombing were: “¡Qué error! ¡Qué terrible error!”[21](“What a mistake! What a terrible mistake!”) Once Franco discovered who was leading the Condor Legion, which was Sperrle, he fired him who was substituted by Von Richthoffen and was ever forgiven. So the theory that it was Franco who planned it, is not possible for those reasons, he could not have possibly been involved in something that happened in the north when he was in the south.

Word count: 954

Guernica bombing was a mistake of Legion Condor and the firing massacre was created by own Republicans, this was the official nationalists/fascist version with the journalist as Luis Bolin[22], boss of the national Propaganda, as his first sponsor.

 “A mistake can be committed by anyone”, this is a famous Spanish that people say in everyday life (in Spanish: “Un error lo tiene cualquiera”) that can be linked to Guernica’s bombing. Some people think, Guernica’s bombing was a simple mistake caused by a fog during that Monday morning. “The German and the Franco governments vehemently denied that the atrocity had taken place, claiming that fog had grounded their planes at the time of the attack”[23]. Another point of view from an interview with Petra Diaz-Guerra Sánchez[24], a woman who lived during the Spanish Civil war, was that the German’s intentions were to bomb France but they mistakenly bombed Guernica.

The Germans always wanted to conquer France and always tried to invade it years before like during the First World War[25], for that reason, this time probably just wanted to bomb France and then mistakenly bombed Guernica. This is apparently what was being told by the media (radio, newspapers) by that time[26]. In Spain it was forbidden to say that it had been Franco the one that said that Guernica was to be bombed, as people were tortured, imprisoned or simply shot just for expressing their opinion and what the actual and real truth was[27]. Franco wanted the Spanish to believe that the Anarchists, which were part of the Republican side, were the ones who bombed Guernica. Therefore, some agree that Franco created the clever plan of making the Condor Legion bomb with incendiary bombs[28], which were what the Anarchists would have used. This was done so that Franco could debilitate the Revolutionaries in order to settle his Dictatorship.

People started to know more about the bombing of Guernica as time went pass, as information in Spain was censured during the Civil War. This can be seen from the statement that Petra Diaz-Guerra Martinez said[29], that she still thinks that it was a mistake because this is what Franco had made them think. To understand why people thought so differently than how people think now about Guernica, it is to be considered that the Spanish government only said what was good for them to say and the rest was censured. This is the same as the Holocaust in Hitler’s regime; Germans never knew the entire truth about the Jewish massive-murderers until years after it had happened. Not as such a horrible atrocity, the bombing in Guernica had a similar approach. People only found out about the truth of it, many years after it had taken place. Though the actual truth is not known either nowadays.

Notwithstanding, it is very suspicious that monuments like La Casa de Juntas and the Oak tree in Guernica were not destroyed though they were by its position the perfect place to be bombed. Therefore, it suggests that as Luis Bolin[30], boss of the national Propaganda proves Guernica was bombed by Basques themselves, and that is why the freedom symbols and monuments were kept untouched. Luis Bolin states the possible theory, in which he is very determined that Brigades were sent with Asturias’ dynamiters who were supposed to fire and bomb the houses as they had previously done in 1934. After, the Basques then assured that it had been the Condor Legion who did it.  The purpose of Guernica was to hide the inevitable defeat by the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, and by making propaganda about something else which involved the nationals and not the defeat of the Republicans.  The opposing theory, which has been repeated over and over the years, that it was the Condor Legion who bombed Guernica, was supported by the journalist of the Times as well as other journalists around the World. Thus, the whole world thinks that the Condor Legion bombed Guernica, though they do not know the other side of the story. 

On the 29th of April, just 3 days after Guernica, it was published in the newspaper ABC from Seville that the bombing was caused by the Basques. It was very short time after Guernica had been bombed when this article was published, stating that Aguirre, the president of the Euskadi or Basque Republic, was the criminal who lied to the whole world about Guernica saying that it was the Condor Legion[31] . Aguirre’s astonishing lies, say that “la aviación nacional no voló ayer” [32] (“Our planes did not fly yesterday”), but this yesterday is talking about the 28th not the 26th. The reasons why they apparently did not fly around Guernica or any point close to the Basque land were because it was foggy. However, there were explosions after the bombing, these explosions were caused by fire, and as Ricardo de la Cierva, states it could have the republicans from Oviedo, in Asturias, which were told by Aguirre to fire Guernica with its same intentions. But still, Aguirre had invented the most terrible, tragic and despicable lie to such a horrible event.

Word count: 952


To answer my research question: What were the reasons for the bombing in Guernica on the 26th of April of 1937?, and after reading all of these theories about Guernica’s bombing, I come to the conclusion that there is not a simple answer to this terrible event. It has all been so manipulated by the different propaganda, missing information and absurd statements by different historians and witnesses for years. Ricardo de la Cierva, the famous Spanish historian of the Spanish Civil War showed that the events of Guernica happened in a way that all theories can possibly match and therefore make the puzzle of this whole tragedy.

Ricardo de la Cierva  states that: Guernica was bombed on the 26th of April of 1937 and Herrán states that most of the cavities done in the floor of Guernica by the bombs were close by the bridge which Franco wanted to destroy so the Republicans wouldn’t be able to enter the city and get to Bilbao[33]. After the bombing there were some fire explosions[34] which then support the theory that it was the Asturians who put Guernica on fire as they had done before in Irún, Potes, Éibar and Amorrebiera[35]. The Casa de Juntas and the Oak tree were never destroyed, which is very mysterious as those were the Basque’s freedom symbols in Guernica and they had been kept intact[36]. The city was bombed by the Condor Legion and it is also true that the Republicans put it on fire afterwards, which explains the full massacre result.

Franco was not directly involved in this bombing, as he was presiding up in the north of Spain, it was the General Mola who controlled the north of Spain[37] until his also mysterious death in June of 1937[38].It couldn’t have been Franco as he was in the north and also had a bad reaction to when he found out about the bombing. Then as George Steer from The Times says that the numbers of deaths were not as high as they were said to be. This shows those propagandist journalists and reporters make up results or that the real story has never been shown. As well as the number of deaths, the legend that it had been Market day like Ricardo de la Cierva said was not true either.

There is many different types of stories about this massacre, but what really is fascinating to see is that Republican, National and Propagandist journalists or reporters, they all have different points of view and different stories. That is why there is no answer to who bombed Guernica and no real reason. Only that all the actual reasons that have been found out, they all match together and make sense. So what happened was that the Germans wanted to bomb Spain to test their planes, then the Asturians came and put the city on fire like they had done before, and that is why the city had apparently be bombed for that many hours. Because people from other villages could see fire coming out of the city and thus they thought it was because of the bombs. Therefore the concurrences in Guernica that 26th of April made those entire possible theses about the event possible, because all theories matched what actually happened.

Word count: 630

Total Word Count: 3978

FOOTNOTES: [1] Andrew Forrest. The Spanish Civil War. London, England, UK; New York, USA: Routledge. Print.[2] "The Bombing of Guernica, 1937." EyeWitness to History - History through the Eyes of Those Who Lived It. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. .[3] La Tertulia. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. .[4] "Times: The Tragedy of Guernica | Nationalencyklopedin." Nationalencyklopedin – Uppslagsverk | Svensk Ordbok | Engelskt Lexikon. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. .[5]  Southworth, Herbert. Guernica! Guernica! A Study of Journalism, Diplomacy, Propaganda and History, 1977[6] De la Cierva, Ricardo. Historia Ilustrada de la Guerra Civil (page 163). Editorial Danae 1973.[7] De la Cierva, Ricardo. Historia Ilustrada de la Guerra Civil (page 314). Editorial Danae 1973.[8] Diehl, Null. "Hitler's Destruction of Guernica: Practicing Blitzkrieg in Basque Country - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International." SPIEGEL ONLINE - Nachrichten. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. .[9] The Times | UK News, World News and Opinion. 27 Nov. 2011. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. .[10] "Biografia De Hermann Goering." Biografias Y Vidas .com. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. .[11] De la Cierva, Ricardo. Historia Ilustrada de la Guerra Civil (page 154). Editorial Danae 1973.[12] Andrew Forrest. The Spanish Civil War. London, England, UK; New York, USA: Routledge. Print[13] Andrew Forrest. The Spanish Civil War. London, England, UK; New York, USA: Routledge. Print[14]( Source F: Prime Minister Largo Caballero writes to Stalin, Molotov and Voroshilov, 12 January 1937. ) Andrew Forrest. The Spanish Civil War. London, England, UK; New York, USA: Routledge. Print[15] "Picasso Guernica - the Horror behind the Painting." Spain Travel Guide - The Definitive Guide to Travel in Spain. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. .[16] Diehl, Null. "Hitler's Destruction of Guernica: Practicing Blitzkrieg in Basque Country -SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International." SPIEGEL ONLINE - Nachrichten. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. .[17] Andrew Forrest. The Spanish Civil War. London, England, UK; New York, USA: Routledge. Prin[18]"Articulos." 15 Aniversario Panzernet. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. .[20] Diehl, Null. "Hitler's Destruction of Guernica: Practicing Blitzkrieg in Basque Country - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International." SPIEGEL ONLINE - Nachrichten. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. .[21] De la Cierva, Ricardo. Historia Ilustrada de la Guerra Civil (page 154). Editorial Danae 1973[22] Bolin, L. España los años vitales, 1967[23] "The Bombing of Guernica, 1937." EyeWitness to History - History through the Eyes of Those Who Lived It. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. .[24] Petra Diaz Guera Martinez. Personal Interview by Cecilia Beltran. 2 November 2011[25] "The Franco Prussian War." World History International: World History Essays From Prehistory To The Present. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. .[26]"GUERNICA." VIVE LA RÉVOLUTION. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. .[27] "GUERNICA." VIVE LA RÉVOLUTION. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. .[28] "GUERNICA." VIVE LA RÉVOLUTION. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. .[29] Petra Diaz Guera Martinez. Personal Interview by Cecilia Beltran. 2 November 2011[30] Bolin, L. España los años vitales, 1967[31] De la Cierva, Ricardo. Historia Ilustrada de la Guerra Civil (page 154). Editorial Danae 1973[32] De la Cierva, Ricardo. Historia Ilustrada de la Guerra Civil (page 154). Editorial Danae 1973[33] De la Cierva, Ricardo. Historia Ilustrada de la Guerra Civil (page 155). Editorial Danae 1973[34] De la Cierva, Ricardo. Historia Ilustrada de la Guerra Civil (page 155). Editorial Danae 1973[35] De la Cierva, Ricardo. Historia Ilustrada de la Guerra Civil (page 158). Editorial Danae 1973[36] De la Cierva, Ricardo. Historia Ilustrada de la Guerra Civil (page 158). Editorial Danae 1973[37] De la Cierva, Ricardo. Historia Ilustrada de la Guerra Civil (page 162). Editorial Danae 1973[38] "LA AVENTURA DE LA HISTORIA." Líder De Información En Español. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. 


IBDP Internal Assessment


Code: hsb669 Word Count: 1955
How many were killed in the bombing of Guernica? To investigate the number of fatalities, two main sources will be looked at.

Source A: Steer, George L. The Tree of Guernica: A Field Study of Modern War. Faber & Faber, 1938. London.
Steer, a respected journalist, took a train to Guernica immediately as the news arrived to write an article for The Times. The origin is valuable because Steer was there before Franco's troops occupied the city on April 29th, witnessing evidence of the types of weapons used and the true damages caused, making him a primary source and giving him an insight into the topic which no modern historian is able to have. Additionally, as a highly respected war correspondent who had been in Abyssinia, Steer is a crucial source because he knew what to look for, who to ask and how to interpret the information acquired. Nevertheless, as a journalist, he wrote in an exaggerated style.
The limitation of the book’s purpose is that he aimed to attract readers rather than to accurately inform them. Yet, it also tries to clarify information that was ambiguous in the initial article. Source A’s content is beneficial because he offered information which he hadn’t shared in his initial article, including casualty figures, estimating between "800 and 3000 fatalities" from a population of 5000 inhabitants.1 However, this later addition suggests that Steer’s work may have been influenced by the victimization of the Guernicans by red propaganda. Furthermore, the wide range in the number of deaths is noteworthy, showing continued uncertainty of the full facts.

  Source B: Muñoz Bolaños, Roberto. Guernica: Una nueva historia. Espasa, 2017. Barcelona.
Published in 2017, Muñoz chose to write yet another book about the bombing of Guernica. His purpose is valuable because, even though a lot of information about the how the bombing was executed has been recorded, little has been written about the why it occurred.2 Muñoz examines the circumstances in which claims of the number of deaths were made, on top of assessing the feasibility, to evaluate their validity. However, he does not solely focus on the number of fatalities but rather the bombing as a whole, including other myths built around it, which can make the information limited.
As a Spaniard, Muñoz is able to interpret sources more accurately because he is intimately aware of the culture and language, not being in danger of information lost to translation. Additionally, he is a doctor in Historia Contemporanea by the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, expert in military history, making him a valuable origin because he knows what information to look for, where to find it and he has access to the archives. For example, he had access to El Informe Herrán, which is a restricted document written by the Nationalists, claiming that fatalities in Guernica didn’t even reach 100, among other things.
Nevertheless, citing information the public doesn’t have access to impedes the double checking of facts presented, a limitation of the content. Yet the content is valuable because his work was more recently published and therefore more modern sources are considered, for example Sustrai Erreak 2: Guernica 1937, an intense study conducted in 2012 that looked at the number of deaths in the bombing.

Overnight, the recondite town of Guernica became world famous after being bombed by the Condor Legion and Aviazione Legionaria on April 26th, 1937. Guernica is crucial because, since the bombing, it has become the poster-town of the horrors of terror bombings, attracting a notable level of hyperbole: rooted in George L. Steer’s initial article, Guernica’s bombing has been described as “the first time in history that attacks were carried out against a city and civilians exclusively from the air”3 and, more importantly, a raid that resulted in “thousands of civilian casualties.”4 However, this common perception of a great amount of deaths has been questioned by modern historians, such as Roberto Muñoz Bolaños, who argue that, in fact, the fatalities were under 200.

On the 60th anniversary of the bombing, the German government apologized for killing “1000 Spaniards”5, a number that easily stems from Steer, who had presented a figure of “800 to 3000 fatalities”6. In fact, the impact of Guernica on the world’s consciousness began by Steer, honored with a public bust in that town today which proclaims him the first to report “the truth”.7 But, why is his estimate trusted? For this, there are three reasons: he was a respected journalist and war correspondent, other people in Guernica supported his claim and because of Guernica’s comparisons to Cabra. Firstly, his Telegram to Guernica wasn’t the first article to be published, having been beaten by Reuters’ Christopher Holme, Star’s Keith Watson and Daily Express’ Noel Monks, but considered “undoubtedly the best account”, being the “turnover article”.8 Even though he hadn’t presented figures yet, people at the time backed him, which is shown in the immense support his article received. His article was even being picked up by The New York Times, a respectable paper, in their front page.9 He had been in Abyssinia, and was therefore seen as confident, brave and trustworthy. And, even though Steer wasn’t an eye-witness of the bombing10, he was a witness of the aftermath, reporting German and Italian planes heading for Guernica, and being attacked at Arbacegui-Gerrikaiz by fighter-planes.11 When he did present figures in his book a year later, although certainly disparate, they were verified by other journalists who visited Guernica: both Monks and Ce Soir’s Mathieu Corman estimated 600 and 800 deaths respectively. This overlap is especially noteworthy because, as journalists, they were trying to attract as many readers as possible, and yet their numbers were still similar. Additionally, two nurses, interviewed in Paris during the exhibition of Picasso’s Guernica, affirmed an amount of 2000 casualties, and José Antonio Aguirre, the president of the autonomous Basque government, informed of the death of 1645 citizens and the 889 that were injured in a telegram to Indalecio Prieto, leader of the Spanish socialists. Furthermore, when looking at the bombing of Guernica today, historians often compare it to the bombing of Cabra12, a rural town in Córdoba, Spain, that was bombed by the reds. Even though only three planes participated in bombing the city for a mere 15 minutes, an overwhelming amount of 110 deaths were counted due to the fact that it happened on a market day, meaning more people were out on the street than on a normal day. In the case of Guernica, the number of deaths must, following the logic, shockingly surpass that of Cabra as around 12 planes were involved, which bombed the city for three hours on a market day. Overall, Steer’s claim is supported by other journalists from the time, as well as other figures of significance, such as nurses and the President of the Basque government, and through the modern comparison of Guernica to Cabra.
Nevertheless, Steer’s profuse premise has been questioned by Muñoz, who claims that the number of deaths was close to 200 rather than in between 800 and 3000. Suspecting that the uncertainty in Steer’s numbers was a sign of his inability to offer more than theories as an observer of what happened after the bombing, Muñoz disagrees, and there are three main reasons that support his claim: the unreliability of Guernica’s comparison to Cabra, the unreliability of the sources supporting Steer and the reliability of the sources supporting Muñoz.

  Firstly, historian Juan E. Pflüger refuted he comparison to the bombing of Cabra, that, even though April 26th was a market day, Guernica wasn’t bombed until 19 o’clock, whilst the market ended at midday, which in Spain can mean at 12:00 or at 14:00. Since the bombing was long after the market, not as many people were out in the streets and, therefore, less people were exposed to the bombs.13 In addition, as Muñoz comments, the numbers offered by witnesses and journalists are suspicious. Firstly, Aguirre’s official numbers of 1645 deaths and 889 injuries would mean that an official count was undertaken and, yet, no trace of a record can be found.14 Next, all the counts offered by the journalists would mean the bodies were visible, meaning they would have been buried in the cemetery or the mass grave near Guernica and officially counted, but no record of that can be found either.15 In the case that the bodies weren’t visible, it is impossible that they could have come up with those numbers in such a short amount of time. Plus, the 2000 deaths proposed by the four nurses were offered in an interview in Paris, at the time of the Paris Exhibit, where the Guernica was presented, which seems suspicious, as if it were staged to gain the left more attention.16 Additionally, his claim is supported by Txato Etxaniz and Vicente Del Palacio, two writers who “undoubtedly conducted the most thorough investigation on this topic”17, stating 126 deaths, the number being able to easily reach 20018 and, most importantly, a witness of the bombing, Castor de Uriarte, who estimated around 250 casualties.19 As the municipal architect of Guernica, being present during the bombing and afterward, as well as the individual responsible for leading the turning off of the fires from the incendiary bombs on the night of the 26th to the 27th, he’s one of the most credible witnesses, even more so than Steer. He also gave an exact number of 45 deaths for the shelter Santa María and in the refuge of Calzada, where he counted 33 dead bodies.20 Overall, the number of deaths is not much less than 200 when taking into account the most credible source, specifically Castor de Uriarte and Vicente Del Palacio et al.

  In conclusion, the bombing of Guernica was heavily exaggerated in the media, and this crafted story has been carried on into the present. Between 100 and 200 people died as a result, the count being closer to the second number, as stated by Roberto Muñoz Bolaños. Muñoz’s claim has the support of the most reliable sources, such as de Uriarte, Etxaniz and Del Palacio, while Steer’s suggestion seems, like the sources supporting his claim, suspicious. In his article, Tragedy of Guernica, he doesn’t offer a number of deaths, while he does a year later in his book. The problem is that, while his article was published soon after the bombing, the book was published in the middle of leftist propaganda, which questions his motivations. Finding evidence supporting Steer, apart from witness accounts, was also really difficult, unlike for Muñoz’s claim, because there are no solid facts supporting such a great number of deaths. Guernica didn’t see as many fatalities as is claimed by most textbooks, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t victims of a terrible bombing. After all, 200 lives were ripped away, 200 families and groups of friends were left heartbroken behind.

I have acquired insight into what it means to be a historian, what methods they use and what challenges they face. When looking for information about Guernica, I was able to appreciate the ability to speak the main languages of the topic being studied, in my case Spanish and English, because I didn’t rely on translations. In Sustrai Erreak 2: Guernica 1937, Steer’s Tragedy of Guernica was quoted, but I found there to be inaccuracies when comparing it to the original article. For example, Steer describes the town as “open”, whilst the Spanish version calls it “desprotegido” (engl. unprotected); while Steer implies the cruelty of attacking the town, Del Palacio et al. directly state it. It showed me how one single word can change the tone of an entire text. Unfortunately, I did rely on the translation of the victims’ voice from the Basque, forcing me to question whether something was mistranslated, like in Steer’s article, affecting my interpretation of the facts. This experience taught me the importance of language in history and how information can be lost in translation.
However, I also faced a different kind of challenge: judging the importance of a historical debate. Picasso shows how art is employed to give weight to historical events. Would we remember this bombing if Guernica had been painted by a lesser known artist than Picasso? By someone who supported the right-wing instead of the left?
Additionally, in the act of visiting Guernica, I noticed that George L. Steer is an important personality, so much so that he even has a statue dedicated to him in the San Juan street (see Appendix A). It makes me wonder: who, from history, gets statues? He’s honoured for reporting “the truth”21 about Guernica, but would he have been honoured that way if he had written about a different truth? If, instead of 800 to 3000 deaths, he had estimated 100 to 200?
On top of that, this investigation taught me the importance of visiting the sight in which the topic being studied took place. Being at Guernica, I was shocked at how small the city was. I had, of course, read about it, but I couldn’t imagine it until I finally saw it. Seeing something yourself really changes your understanding of it.
21 Statue of George L. Steer in the San Juan streets (see Appendix A)

Corum, James S. “The Persistent Myths of Guernica.” HistoryNet, 2021, Accessed 23 April 2021.
Del Palacio Sánchez, Vicente, et al. Sustrai erreak 2: Guernica 1937. Aldaba, Aldaba-Gernikazarra, 2012.
El País. “EL PAÍS junto al 'GUERNICA.'” YouTube, 2 June 2017, Accessed 16 April 2021.
Intereconomiatube. “El Bombardeo de Guernica.” YouTube, 8 February 2017, HgCoAEC. Accessed 27 November 2021.
Muñoz Bolaños, Roberto. Guernica: una nueva historia : las claves que nunca se han contado. Barcelona, Espasa, 2017.
Rankin, Nicholas. G.L. Steer and the Basque Children 1937. 15 October 2011.
Steer, George L. “Tragedy of Guernica.” The Times [London], 28 April 1937.
Steer, George L. The Tree of Gernika: A Field Study of Modern War. London, Faber & Faber, 2009.
Tanaka, Yuki, and Marilyn Blatt Young. Bombing Civilians: A Twentieth-century History. New York City, New Press, 2010.
Uriarte Aguirreamalloa, Ćastor. Bombas y mentiras sobre Guernica: acusa su arquitecto municipal cuando la guerra. Graficas Ellacuria, 1976.


Appendix A

Bust of Steer  in Guernica
Steer is honoured today in Guernica for being "the British war correspondent who told the world about the bombing of Gernika", as the plaque underneath his statue in the San Juan street states (Photograph taken by author).