Almost immediately (starting on 28 July), Hitler's Nazi Germany enters the war – on the side of Franco's rebels. In the first six weeks of the war, German airplanes ferry over 13,500 troops and 270 tons of war materials from North Africa to Spain, bypassing the Republican naval blockade. As the war continues, Germany furnishes air cover and ground troops to the Nationalists, assuring them of victory after victory in battle after battle.
Why did Hitler get involved in the Spanish Civil War? Germany had no strategic interest in Spain at the time. The Fuehrer may have had some interest in securing an ally on France's southern border in what he saw as an inevitable war with that country. Most historians agree, however, that his primary motivation was to try his new weaponry and his new field-flexible army built around a well-trained coterie of non-coms rather than an elite officer corps.
And it worked. When Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, his army – already tempered in the fire of war – functioned like a well oiled blitzkrieg machine. They already knew the capabilities and the limits of their equipment and of themselves.
30 September 2015, Syria – Russian fighter jets launched air strikes today against rebel positions in north-western Syria, apparently in a bid to bolster the beleaguered regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Why has Putin injected his air and ground forces in the Syrian Civil War? Russia has plenty of oil and doesn't need Syria's comparatively small contribution. And Russia has no readily discernible strategic interest in Syria.
Could history be repeating itself? Vladimir Putin has spent the last fifteen years quietly building up Russia's military strength. He has invested in new weapons systems like the Sukhoi SU-34 strike fighter and the 900-mile range Kalibr cruise missile. He has (following Hitler's lead?) reduced the officer compliment of the Russian military and concentrated on intensive non-com training to decentralize the army's brain and bring it closer to its feet.
Who can blame Putin for wanting to try out his new toy in actual wartime conditions? Syria offers him the opportunity to do that. It also offers him the opportunity to learn, and to improve and hone his war machine. And it offers the opportunity to combat harden his men. Is Putin planning to invade Poland?
Or Maybe the Russian President is merely trying to show the world that Russia will not be pushed around. “It is one thing," Putin recently said on Russian TV, " for the experts to be aware that Russia supposedly has these weapons, and another thing for them to see for the first time that they do really exist, that our defense industry is making them, that they are of high quality and that we have well-trained people who can put them to effective use. They have seen, too, that Russia is ready to use them if this is in the interests of our country and our people.”
Or maybe the official Obama administration explanation is right. Maybe Putin is doing this just to make President Obama look foolish. – an assertion that assumes, of course, that the President actually needs any help in that effort.