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Historical Flags 1936-1938 (Spain)

Flags of the Rebel or 'National' Forces

Last modified: 2015-08-29 by ivan sache
Keywords: rebel forces | national forces | nacionales | coat of arms: quartered (castle: yellow) | coat of arms: quartered (lion: red) | coat of arms: quartered (chains: yellow) | crown: mural (yellow) |
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[Spain 1936-1938] 2:3
image by Jaume Ollé and Santiago Dotor
Flag adopted 29 August 1936, abolished 2nd February 1938

See also:


At the beginning of the Civil War, on the afternoon of the 17th July 1936, the nationalist right-wing forces had not provided for a flag or coat-of-arms, since the brain of the conspirators, General Mola, had planned to do a quick coup d'état, to arrest and kill Republican officials and leftist activists, and take over the government. There were no intentions to change the legal national symbols at the time.

Things went bad quickly in the central, northern and Mediterranean parts of Spain, with population fighting the rebel military garrisons, and many units in those regions staying loyal to the Government. Other regions fell into the hands of the rebels very quickly. Immediately a Civil War ensued, with the same national flag and same coat-of-arms on both parts. Many impromptu flags and political flags showed in the streets, rebel forces sometimes fought under the Republican tricolour, in other cases they took from museums and regimental archives the old bicolour flags of the royal period, political forces such as Requeté and Falange used their own colours, communists, anarchists, Basque units, all of them had their own flags.

Two sides fighting each other under the same flag demanded a measure to tell foe from friend. Thus, on 29 August 1936, Miguel Cabanellas (who chaired the "Junta de Defensa Nacional," "National Defence Committee," the rebels' government – General Franco, who would become the leader of the rebellion after the deaths of Generals Sanjurjo and Mola in unrelated plane crashes, did not take command until 1st October 1936) issued Decree No. 77, a single, very short article reading:

"Articulo nico. Se restablece la bandera bicolor roja y gualda, como bandera de España."
("Single article. The red and gold/yellow bicolour flag is re-established as the flag of Spain.")
Not a word about the coat-of-arms, which remained as it was since 27 April 1931 (date of the Republican law on flags and coat-of-arms). This coat-of-arms continued to fly on the bicolour flag of the rebel forces. There are photographs showing nationalist men-of-war wearing the bicolour flag with the Republican coat-of-arms at the stern.

The rebel cruiser Baleares also changed its republican flag for the old royal navy ensign. At the balcony of the headquarters of General Franco in Salamanca flew an old bicolour national flag with the crowned coat-of-arms used before 1931.

So we have the period of 29 August 1936 until 2 February 1938, where the Republican coat-of-arms was still official on the rebel side, that is during more than one and a half year after the outbreak of the Civil War! Only on February 2 1938 did general Franco introduce a new coat-of-arms, more or less according to the heraldry of the Catholic Kings Ferdinand and Isabel. A picture of that new coat-of-arms was published 10 days later in the official state gazette. The Nationalist ministry of war issued an order of 27 July 1938, compelling the Navy to use the new coat-of-arms on their flags (though this order did not show the coat-of-arms nor did it mention any further details).

A coloured flag chart, issued in 1939, but after the war had ended (on April 1, 1939), shows the Navy ensign with the coat-of-arms. A new flag regulation was issued on October 11, 1945, and published one day later, slightly changing the coat-of-arms. This is well known.

Emil Dreyer, 06 Jul 2003

Sorry, but I must disagree with several points: while it is quite possible that in the early days of the war, some Nationalist units still used the Republican flag, this was only very briefly. A contemporary account which I have in my possession details Franco's take-over of the Spanish Morocco garrison on the first day of the rising. It states quite clearly that the Republican flag was at once struck and the red and yellow raised.

The proclamation of 26 August simply made official what was already general practice on the Nationalist side. In Seville, General Queipo de Llano used the red and gold from the moment he seized the city on only the second day. In Madrid, the signal for the revolt at the Cuartel de la Montan˜a (Mountain Barracks) (which Republican forces put down) was the hoisting of the red and gold flag. There seems to be little doubt that the intention of the Nationalist forces from the outset was to restore the pre-Republican flag.

Incidentally, in my collection I have a contemporary flag of the 1936 pattern. Oddly enough it is British-made. The coat of arms is, to express it very politely, rather random. I suspect that it was used by a British ship trading with Spain. No doubt in the period they carried both Republican and Nationalist flags to display as courtesy ensigns, and took care to establish which side controlled any port they were about to enter, to ensure that no unfortunate mistakes were made!

Michael Faul, 18 Jul 2003

Yes, many units changed their tricoloured flag for a bicolour one at the start of the uprising, so as we have seen in Michael's message. Many of those units tore apart the "morado" stripe of their colour, replacing it by a red stripe (some times not the same red shade as the stripe on top of the flag). The COA remained unchanged on those "new" flags. Note that most of those had three equal stripes of red-yellow-red. A few units just took old monarchic colours laid down in their barracks. Details' thumbnail attached. See originals as es^ryr1.jpg and es^ryr2.jpg in the files section.

The rebels did not plan to start a long civil war, they actually had in mind to do a coup d'état, but then they didn't expect to encounter a heroic and broad resistance from the people who got armed. Some garrisons managed to seize the town or area they were assigned, others didn't, thus creating two enemy territories. Though General Mola had gained control of northwestern Spain, it was not until 3 weeks after start of the uprising, that things started to go wrong for the Republic: Italian and German aircraft carried the troops of Gen. Franco across the Straight of Gibraltar on 5 August 1936, thus enabling the capture of Southern Spain and eventually reunion of the southern/Moroccan army of General Franco with the northern army of General Mola (General Sanjurjo had already died in a plane crash).
4) All sort of flags were seen on both sides during these first weeks of the war, there were the "official" military colours of nationalist and republican armed forces, party flags of the right-wing Falange and Requeté and of the many left-wing parties and workers unions, there were the regional flags of Catalonia, of the Basque country, a few of other regions, most of those with political emblems or military or political inscriptions, etc.. Let's get back to the national flag issue:
5) As I told before, General Franco used in front of his general headquarters in Salamanca, just after he had become the leader of the nationalist side (end of September 1936), an old Navy ensign of the monarchic period, i.e. a bicolour 1:2:1 with the royal crowned COA per pale Castile and Leon. There are pictures documenting this. After victory, Franco banned all republican symbols from public life, there were no republican flags or COA mentioned anywhere, and even museums did not show them as war trophies. They just didn't exist anymore. Except one:
7) At the Alcázar of Toledo, the some 600 civil guard troops and cadette officers under Colonel Moscardó raised arms against the government on July 18 1936, but were immediately surrounded by loyal forces. Moscardó withstood republican attacks desperately until September 28, when Toledo was conquered by forces under General Franco. This war episode became the psychological heroism myth of Franquism, the Alcázar became the holy shrine of the regime. Well, there was a minor problem: Moscardó had fought all 10 weeks long under a republican tricoloured flag. Even Franco did no dare to ban this holy flag, which has been exposed since to the public at the commanding room of Moscardó in the Alcázar of Toledo (see pictures). My father showed me this flag in 1965. This was one of my first vexillological experiences, when I was a 13 years old boy getting interested in flags.
I have seen the flag again in 1982, when I took the pictures I am sending you (I hope I did it the right way this time). During the Madrid ICV of 1985 we didn't visit the Alcazar, we saw the Lepanto flags at the Cathedral and the civic and military flags at the City Hall.
I hope to have further contributed to the discussion. I'd be glad some Spanish friends would comment as well on the period of 1936-38. By the way, I wonder how the flag Michael mentions looks like. Since it is British made, I'm afraid it's evidence value is much lower than original Spanish flags of the time.
Emil Dreyer
Emil Dreyer, 05 Aug 2003


According to Decree no.77 of 28th August 1936 (Boletín Oficial del Estado no.14), the flag was to be once again the pre-republican red-yellow-red. Later, Decree no.143 of 13th September 1936 specified that military and naval flags were to be as before the Republic but with the "current" coat-of-arms – which implied the Republican one. So until the new coat-of-arms – with eagle and many quarterings etc. – was approved on 2nd February 1938, the Spanish [state and war] flag [and ensign] was as above.

Santiago Dotor, 27 May 1999

According to other sources it seems that the "current coat-of-arms" wasn't designed yet, and the flag was used for two years without any coat-of-arms. On 2 February 1938 the coat-of-arms was adopted and added to the flag.

Jaume Ollé, 05 Jun 1999

Flag Variants

While it is not certain what was meant in the text as to which coat-of-arms was the current one, we know for sure that the red-yellow-red without coat-of-arms was often used in 1936-1938 (I saw it frequently in news pictures) and that some [units], in particular the Academia de Sargentos Provisionales, the 35th Batallion of Cazadores (Rifles) of Africa and the Batallion of Pontooneers used the pattern described image by Santiago Dotor (i.e. used the republican coat-of-arms on the red-yellow-red); in the last case apparently by replacing the purple stripe on their Batallion standard with a red one. Source: Calvo and Grávalos 1983, pp.206-209.

Norman M. Martin, 07 Jun 1999

That is interesting – it means that a flag with equal stripes red-yellow-red was used. I wonder how often this was...

António Martins, 08 Jun 1999

Not unfrequently. And not only that – when the 1938 coat-of-arms was approved, many flags were refurbished by embroidering eagle, arrows and yoke etc. around the Republican coat-of-arms. That is the origin (or at least one of them) of the eagle coat-of-arms with only four quarterings instead of the full scheme, as reported here.

Santiago Dotor, 09 Jun 1999

During the Spanish civil war, flags used by both sides were sometime improvise (though more often in the Nationalist side at the begining) that resulted in some unusual result. One picture I remember in particular showed the rebels having torn down a Republican flag (red-yellow-purple) from the town hall of a conquered town and being in the act of hoisting a nationalist one (equal red-yellow-red) that bore the Republican COA! This was more then probably a case of having done a simple rushed job of covering the bottom stripe of a Republican flag with a red one.

Again, not something that apply here but an interesting thing to bear in mind if ever one is looking at SCW-era Spanish flags.

Marc Pasquin, 15 Sep 2006