Hi guys, sorry this is late, but it's still technically Australia day in the US! >_>
Here you go, hopefully it was worth the wait.
Chapter 1.3 - Spanish Civil War
The HMAS Hobart in port at Brisbane - the city was garrisoned and well-defended.
The remainder of 1936 was a quiet time for Australia - with no key events and no wars abroad, it seemed that the British Empire could finally rest and take solace in the rare moment of quiet and solitude. The newly commissioned HMAS Hobart was deployed to Brisbane along with several frigates and a single destroyer from the Australian Squadron. This new squadron was immediately put to the test in manouevres conducted with the aid of the RAAF - although the sailors thought it curious, Admiral Colvin had ordered the cruisers to train heavily in anti-air operations and especially escort missions. Officially, the Australian Navy was to prepare for war alongside the British Navy, so that her ships could escort British capital ships. Unofficially, however, there were intense rumours that Australia had found the funding to begin construction of her first native-built capital ship.
By October it was known that large plates of steel hull and ship machinery were under construction at Melbourne and components were being shipped to Sydney by order of the Royal Australian Navy. Finally in December it was confirmed by Admiral Colvin that the Australian Navy was, with the aid of British designers, undergoing construction of a major capital ship and that her hull had been laid down in Sydney. The ship was heavily based on the design of the HMS Nelson and would fall within the constraints of the Second London Naval Treaty - it was unknown whether or not the ship would be competitive with leading Japanese designs, but the Australian High Command seemed confident that their decision was the right one. Although Australia's naval development was not restricted, it was a growing concern amongst the people that this was the beginning of a trend of militarization and aggression in the South Pacific. Prime Minister Joseph Lyon would attempt to reassure the people, but confidence in his rule was waning quickly.
In December, news would echo around the world of mass uprisings of angry civilians in Spain; the country was fraught with instability and it was rumoured that the army had been called in to put down the rebellious citizens. Faith in the Republic was shaking, but there was little international news from Britain and France. They seemed content to let these events pass by unnoticed.
Just a week later, massive uprisings in the far west of China would make the headlines. The winter seemed to be a time for violence, as the Ma Clique would march into Xinjiang and attempt to restore order through use of force. Britain again remained silent regarding these affairs, content to let the world events pass them by.
The Army was attempting to overthrow the rightfully elected Republic
Even Britain and France sat up and took notice. The Spanish Army had launched an all-out assault and the forces of the Republic were thinly spread and outnumbered. In the initial chaos, soldiers fired on rioting civilians and seized major railways and cities across the country. The all-important pyrite mines in Huelva province fell without a fight, and only a token force was loyal enough to resist.
Spain's Capital fell into the hands of the Army despite bitter resistance by the locals.
The Nationalists (as the Army faction had become called) would celebrate New Years Day in Madrid. In a week-long battle involving nearly 100,000 men, the city was badly damaged by barrages of artillery and a mighty air battle took place over her skies, resulting in chaos as bombers attempted to dislodge the hastily-assembled Republican defence. In all, nearly 15,000 lives were lost, over 10,000 of which were civilians. It was a bloody start to what would be a long and bloody conflict.
General Francisco Franco, supreme commander of the Nationalist Army, boldly claimed that the Republican regime would be crushed before Easter. On the opposite front, President Manuel Azaña Díaz called for the people of Spain to rise up against this coup in force, to take arms and fight no matter the cost. Hundreds of thousands of men and women would join left-wing militias across the east of Spain and calls for volunteers and supplies were heard across Europe. The war was seen by many as a battle between Fascism and Socialism, and the moderate democracies of the west were uncertain who to aid.
This chaos did not, however, draw Soviet eyes away from the east. At the request of the warlords in Xinjiang, the Soviet Union agreed to send aid in resisting the overwhelming power of the Ma Clique, who were already making strong gains into the harsh desert. Russia was currently in chaos as an internal purge of the officer corps was underway, seeing thousands of men executed for supposed disloyalty to the cause. Stalin was weeding out all opposition, and the war in Western China was seen as a good opportunity to gain an easy victory, drawing attention away from the purge.
Despite direct Soviet intervention in Western China, there was nothing but silence from the Kuomintang. China's official government sent their regrets, but they were unable to intervene due to increasing political pressure by the Empire of Japan. A conflict was believed to be brewing and the young republic could not waste troops by making an enemy of the Soviet Union and its might.
Fighting in the east had been intense, but the lowlands of Catalonia had begun to slowly give way into Nationalist hands.
Meanwhile in Spain, the Army had managed to march on Barcelona, but there they encountered a stiff line of defences and dug-in troops, both loyalist army and brigades of militia who had, by now, gained valuable combat experiences. There was a shortage of heavy munitions on the eastern front and the Nationalist tanks were busy in the southern plains; the Republic had taken advantage and formed a huge line of trenches stretching from the French border, through the hills and down into Barcelona itself. Spanish morale was at an all-time low on the Nationalist side and whenever determined officers were not present, both sides were reluctant to fight. Assaults were made across the Catalonian line, and fierce fighting still raged between militias and the elite mountain infantry in the Pyrénées.
Valencia in February 1937 - Although the Army had made excellent progress, the Republicans had dealt them a bloody nose in the assaults and it was unsure who would survive on this day.
In the south, the other pocket of Spanish resistance had been isolated by the same armoured push that had taken Tarragona. Now these tanks were descending on Valencia, the de facto capital of the Republic, but they found nothing easy waiting for them. Here too, the Republicans had dug in and offered fierce resistance. Reinforcements from the Soviet Union had arrived and these well-equipped infantry were a fierce foe. With the support of such a powerful country behind them, the Republicans were heartened and the Nationalists would suffer heavy casualties. Nearly 10,000 Nationalist lives were lost in the first two weeks, and at long last the Army was forced to fall back from the Republican capital. The resistance had won a great victory at last, but they were trapped, cut in two and outnumbered. Within days the assaults would resume, and forces marched east from Malaga towards the other Republican stronghold in Alicante, pushing back militias the entire way.
The British people were extremely polarized with Stanley Baldwin's handling of international affairs.
In March, Stanley Baldwin resigned from the office of Prime Minister. The new Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, promised firmer action and a commitment to peace in Europe. "There will be no war for Britain." He promised. Germany would respond by dispatching a battalion of tanks and an entire wing of medium bombers to Spain, to support the Spanish Nationalists. Britain would send nothing but empty words.
Australia's Prime Minister continued to preach the same words as Britain, declaring peace and prosperity, and despite many Australian volunteers displaying interest in going to join the fight in Spain, no Australian attempt was made to organize and send these volunteers - they would have to find their way to Spain on their own money and most gave up and stayed at home. Dissent was growing quickly, and at the start of October, a second election was called in time with the regular schedule.
Australia's New Party and New Leadership
The Australian Labour Party announced that they would be focusing on Australia first, Britain second, the world third. Under the guidance of the new Prime Minister, John J. Curtin, the economy would be reorganized and begin to experience a revitalization. Although less effort was made to mine and acquire Australia's own resources, a massive industrialization effort was made, aiming to expand factories located in Melbourne and Sydney for exploitation. A new industrial park came under construction in Canberra, and Prime Minister Curtin boldly claimed "...[if India] is the jewel in the Empire's crown, then Australia shall become the diamond in her scepter."
An Australian woman working at an arms factory in Melbourne.
Curtin's new administration saw a boom in jobs, with investment coming straight from the government. Geoffery Street oversaw a large-scale revamp of industrial technology and methodology, including the recruitment of large numbers of women to begin filling the factories. It was hoped that the increased industrial output of Australia would help to prepare her both for war, and to help her crawl out of the pits of the Great Depression. Soon the Australian industrial belt was unable to feed itself - increasing imports would be required, especially in valuable coal shipped from the home country, India and the United States. Rubber was imported from Malaysia and valuable tin from Burma.
This massive spending program had powerful implications for Australia.
The expenditure of money was huge, but suddenly Australia's economy was climbing out of the darkness of the first half of the 30's. With job prospects improving, both state-sponsored and in private industries, the people were happy and the government found that it needed to invest far less in subsidizing the civilian economy. The savings would immediately go into new factories built across the southeastern coast. With the improved economy came extra costs, and soon Australia realized coal alone could not fuel her. Oil-based power plants were set up and work was underway to create new fuel dumps for an expanding navy and air force with greater demands. Late in 1937, a deal was cut with one of the world's largest oil suppliers - Venezuela.
Venezuela was a safe and mostly stable supply of oil - and best of all, Australia didn't have to worry about invasions of the oilfields or American interventionism to secure this black gold.
Continued cries from volunteers to fight in Spain reached the ears of the Australian Labour Party, and at last in December, a concerted effort was made to organize a brigade of volunteers for dispatch to Spain, but the move was too little too late. The news reached Australia that, on the morning of December 17th, the Spanish Republic had surrendered. Barcelona and Alicante had fallen earlier in the week after a long resistance, and Valencia was under heavy siege with no way out. Rather than risk further death and bloodshed to her already beleagured civilians, the President called for the Republican Army to stand down and surrender.
The Spanish worked quickly to establish a new and powerful fascist state, modelled heavily on Mussolini's Italy and to some extent, Hitler's Germany. It was a dark day for the Allies of France and Britain, who feared a Fascist alliance hemming them in from all sides. Spain could easily seize the naval base at Gibraltar and thus force the British out of the Mediterranean, and draw valuable forces away from the crucial battlefields in northern France. A dark shadow now hovered over Europe, and Australia was forced to watch from a distance, unable to intervene. Little did she know that matters closer to home were about to explode into chaos as 1937 came to a close...