Shadows Over Europe

While the Nationalist Army of Maneuver was overrunning Aragon, the Republic was suffering from a growing economic crisis and low morale in the rear areas. Food shortages were serious everywhere, but Barcelona had to cope with a huge influx of refugees from Aragon and so suffered particularly badly. Food queues were longer than ever and women were killed and maimed by bombing raids because they refused to give up their places in the line. 25,000 war orphans in Barcelona alone suffered from rickets and scurvy. Peace feelers made by the Republican government towards the Nationalists were contemptuously rejected. The Republic's prime minister, Negrin, more and more obviously made it clear that he was only holding out in the hope that the Republic would be rescued by the western democracies, a fact which worried Stalin, and caused Russian aid to dwindle as he sought to extricate himself from the Spanish war.

Despite Negrin's efforts, however, eyes were turning from Spain's fight. Other, more momentous events were now transpiring in Europe. The French were preparing to reopen the Spanish border, when on 9th March 1938, Austria agreed to Hitler's proposal of Anschluss. Chamberlain's policy of appeasement was reaching it's height - he had made it clear to Blum's government that if the French provoked the Nazis over Spain, then Britain would not intervene. The Chamberlain government took the policy of appeasement to such lengths that the British foreign minister Anthony Eden resigned in February, an event which reassured the dictators that there was little to fear from the British government. Then Chamberlain's insistence on an Anglo-Italian treaty demonstrated convincingly that Axis intervention in Spain would not be challenged.

As soon as Lord Halifax succeeded Eden as foreign secretary, the arrangements for the treaty went ahead, even though British shipping around Spain was being sunk by Italian forces. The part of the treaty which impacted Spain specified that Italy would be allowed to maintain forces there until the end of the war.

The Republic was horrified by the treaty. Two weeks after it was signed Negrin launched a diplomatic offensive. He issued a plan for what amounted to a caretaker government with free elections to follow. All throughout 1938 Negrin tried to make peace through third parties, with the full support of Stalin. But Negrin simply did not appreciate the shallowness of the British government's commitment to democracy abroad. Chamberlain pressured the French to keep the border closed. The utterly supine policy of Chamberlain provoked minor rebellions in the British Parliament, but to no avail. Similarly, hopes that the United States would repeal the arms embargo were dashed when Ambassador Joseph Kennedy threatened congressmen with the Catholic lobby.

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