When civil war broke out in Spain, Hitler and Mussolini lent military support to the Nationalist rebels , led by General Francisco Franco . The Soviet Union supported the existing government, the Spanish Republic . Over 30,000 foreign volunteers, known as the International Brigades , also fought against the Nationalists. Both Germany and the USSR used this proxy war as an opportunity to test in combat their most advanced weapons and tactics. The Nationalists won the civil war in April 1939; Franco, now dictator, remained officially neutral during Second World War but generally favoured the Axis.  His greatest collaboration with Germany was the sending of volunteers to fight on the Eastern Front . 
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