The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 found many of the troops loyal to the Nationalists not in Spain proper, but across the Strait of Gibraltar in Spanish held Morocco. Hoping to bottle up these forces and pave the way for an easy Republican victory, Republican naval forces established a blockade off the Moroccan coast. Realizing the importance of breaking this blockade, the Nationalists dispatched two cruisers, the Almirante Cervera and Canarias to sink or drive off the Republican forces.
On September 29, 1936, the Nationalist cruisers encountered two Republican destroyers, Almirante Ferrandiz and Gravina in the western end of the Strait. Over the course of a running gun battle, the Canarias sank the Almirante Ferrandiz and the Gravina was forced to retreat after being damaged. The quick and sharp action opened the straits for Nationalist forces to make their way across the Strait and reinforce the ailing Nationalist forces.
Both the Canarias and the Almirante Cervera would go on to fight for the Nationalist forces in the Spanish Civil War including the Battle of Cape Palos. The Almirante Cervera would eventually be scrapped in 1966 while the Canarias followed her to the breakers in 1977.