fifth column

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fifth column

1. (originally) a group of Falangist sympathizers in Madrid during the Spanish Civil War who were prepared to join the four columns of insurgents marching on the city
2. any group of hostile or subversive infiltrators
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Fifth Column


a term used to designate a group of General Franco’s agents who operated in the Spanish Republic during the National Revolutionary War of 1936–39.

The term “fifth column” originated in early October 1936, when the Francoist general E. Mola declared on the radio that the rebels were conducting an offensive on Madrid using four columns, while the fifth would strike from the rear at the decisive moment. The fifth column spread panic and engaged in sabotage, espionage, and diversionary activity. During World War II the term was used to designate groups of Nazi agents in various countries who aided the fascist troops in the capture of these countries.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The poster, which was also distributed nationally, mentioned the possibility of a Japanese fifth column using radios to communicate with the Imperial Army, sabotaging power stations and starting forest fires to provide a smokescreen for an enemy landing.
(14.) The term fifth column originated during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).
(15.) See Louis De Jong, The German Fifth Column in the Second World War (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1956).
(16.) Francis MacDonnell Insidious Foes; The Axis Fifth Column and the American Home Front (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995).
(21.) See "Bastin Believes Many German Spies in Canada," SSP, 15 May 1940; '"Fifth Column' Activity Feared in Saskatchewan," SSP, 15 May 1940; "Contracts Discussed," SSP, 18 May 1940; "Canadian Legion to Organize Unit for Home Defence," SSP, 18 May 1940; "Canadian Corps Asks Government to Disarm Aliens," SSP, 20 May 1940.