A Navy torn apart by a civil war
The Spanish Armada was one of the strongest second-rank navy in Europe by 1925, with a stray of new ships constructions authorized by the naval law of February 1915 but ordered after the war. With three battleships, about ten cruisers (althought most were obsolete, but two brand new heavy cruisers in construction) fifty plus destroyers and torpedo boats and a dozen submarines, a seaplane carrier, minelayers and numerous gunboats, this was a force to be reckoned with.
Unfortunately, political turmoil following a radical change of regime in Spain with the arrival of the leftist Republicans to power provoked a deep political shift that would result ultimately in a rebellion led by Franco and a bloody civil war that would scar forever the country’s history and which consequence was far reaching, not only for Europe at that time but up to these days. Some wounds are not healed up yet. With the active support of the future axis powers, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, Franco’s rebellion ultimately became victorious and a reactionary regime was set in place which lasted until 1975.
On the naval front, the Armada was at first in the hands of the Republicans, which had a considerable advantage and could blockade the Nationalists, notably around Gibraltar, preventing them to ship forces from Africa. However the capture of Ferrol Naval yard was a turning point as it brings with it in Nationalists hands (and not without a fight by loyalist Republican crews), a battleship, several cruisers, destroyers and submarines which could in turn direct their own blockade on the Republicans. This ensured several naval clashes, first for the control of Gibraltar and later, coastal cities or the seizure of the Baleares. Despite a last-ditch victory at Cape Palos in March 1938, and amidst internal political divisions between Republican groups, and conditioned support of Soviet aid, and no help from the Democratic western powers but through International brigades, war was soon lost and hostilities ceased in April 1939. Many Republican ships were scuttled or Interned in France or North Africa.
During WW2, Franco’s regime remained carefully neutral, despite Hitler’s pressure to take on Gibraltar. On paper, the fleet was still considerable and many new constructions were ordered in 1944, which were completed after the war, as well as rebuilding on some older ships.