In 1936 the Spanish Army had two distinct forces: The Peninsular Army and the Army of Africa. The Peninsular Army had 8,851 officers and 112,228 men. It was considered to be poorly trained force and on the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War over 40,000 men were on leave. It is estimated that 4,660 officers and 19,000 men joined the Nationalist forces in the struggle with the Republicans. Of the remaining 4,191 officers, around 2,000 supported the Popular Front government.
The Army of Africa was considered to be superior to the Peninsular Army. It consisted of those Spanish Army units based in Morocco. In 1936 the force numbered 34,047 men and was composed of regular Spanish Army units and the Spanish Foreign Legion.
On 19th July, 1936, General Francisco Francoassumed command of this force and organized its airlift to Spain. During the first two months of the war, around 10,500 men were flown across the Straits of Gibraltar by aircraft owned by the Luftwaffe. Others followed and the Army of Africa played an important role in gaining Nationalist control of South-Western Spain.
Organized into five vanguard columns, the Army of Africa took part in the conquest of Andalusiaand Estremadura and the siege of Madrid. By 1937 over 63,000 soldiers in the Army of Africa were fighting in the Spanish Civil War.
(1) Tom Murray, Voices From the Spanish Civil War (1986)
The Moors got terribly slaughtered, of course. You see the Fascists were sending them in in impossible situations, just grinding them down because they were Moors and press ganged more or less or intrigued in as mercenaries. Up on Hill 481, I think it was, there was this attack by us and there were thirty five dead Moors lying scattered around more or less in a heap. We took their blankets off them. I don't know who buried them. I had nothing to do with burying these people. I don't know who buried them but they must have been buried somehow. But there were thirty five of them, we counted thirty five dead bodies. These Moors had been killed in the fighting. They weren't killed as prisoners. Oh no, we didn't shoot anybody, oh no. The Fascists did, though. But these dead Moors were just a heap of humanity thrown into a war that they certainly didn't understand the slightest thing about.
We didn't handle prisoners of war at all, especially in my case, I was a machine gun man. The other four companies, they handled prisoners. And the like of this Moor that I referred to, he was captured - he had his leg all shot off. We captured numbers of them, you see, surrounded them and captured them. But of course they were just taken to the rear and put in concentration. Some of them of course were innocents abroad, a few Spaniards that were in Franco's forces. But we saw very few Spaniards at all, it was mostly Italians. And the Germans of course were mostly in the artillery and the air force. The Italians were the people who were mostly in the infantry.