April 21, 1967: the German “Legion Condor” destroys Guernica

April 26, 1937: Start of modern air warfare The German “Legion Condor” destroys Guernica
Only ruins remain: 85 years ago today, the “Legion Condor” of the German Air Force reduced the city of Guernica to rubble during the Spanish Civil War.
It’s a peaceful Monday afternoon at around 4:30 p.m. when an air raid alarm goes off in the small Basque town in northern Spain. More than 40 fighter planes are approaching. “And then the bombing began,” recalls survivor Luis Iriondo. “I heard the noise of the airplanes, felt the hot gusts of wind from the explosions.” Low-flying planes shoot at the fleeing with machine guns. “At a height of about 30 meters, the two machines flew back and forth like flying shepherd dogs herding a herd of people to slaughter.”reports eyewitness Juan Guezureya.
For more than three hours, the air force newly built up by the National Socialists, supported by Italian units, flies several waves of attacks. The last plane only disappears around 7:45 p.m. What remains is an almost completely destroyed place. Nobody knows exactly how many people died in the bombardment. The Basque authorities gave around 1,700 victims at the time. But historians are now assuming a figure of between 150 and 300 dead.
“Guernica, city of 5,000 inhabitants, literally razed to the ground”enthuses the chief of staff of the “Legion Condor”, Wolfram von Richthofen, in his diary. “You can still see bomb holes in the streets. Just great.” With their intervention in the civil war, the Nazis primarily wanted to support General Francisco Franco’s military coup against the Spanish Republic, but at the same time they used it as an opportunity to test the Luftwaffe’s new weapons technology.
Guernica is regarded as the first civilian area target to be completely destroyed by an air raid and as a symbol of modern air warfare, whose anonymous violence has no regard for the lives of civilians. The painter Pablo Picasso processed the terror and death that the German and Italian planes brought to the place in one of his most famous works: the large-format painting “Guernica”.

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