Spain: Franco

John Heelan expands the reasons why he rejects Christopher Jones' eulogy of Franco:   I suspect that Franco wanted to join in on the Axis side but was denied the opportunity.   In his Franco biography, Paul Preston argues that Franco was kept out of the war by Hitler on the basis that the cons of Spain's entry outweighed the pros.   Those cons were that Spain's lack of fuel would limit Spain's involvement to a couple of months without German help, English counter-seizures of the Canaries, Tangier and the Balearics, an extension of the Gibraltar zone, an English landing in Portugal, an English link with French forces in Morocco and the additional burden of a Spanish drain on German food and fuel supplies, as well as the sheer physical problems of rapidly moving troops and supplies around Spain due to that country's tortuous roads and different gauge railroad.. (p.371)

Undeniably Franco brought a stability to Spain, but at an enormous cost of repression that was still at its height in 1941.  General Kindelain complained to Franco that the prestige of the Spanish Army was being severely damaged by the savage repression still taking place, with prisons overflowing, executions continuing weekly and labour battalions working in inhuman conditions. (p.449)

On the economy, Spanish recovery did not really start until 1960 (25 years after the uprising) and derived from policies of liberal economics and integration into the international capitalist system, both of which has been excoriated by Franco since 1939, preferring the autarkic principles of self-sufficiency that failed abysmally.  Even during the 60s and 70s, i.e. until the tourist boom took off, one of Spain's critical incomes was remittances from overseas emigrant Spanish workers (rather like Ecuador and Mexico today) with Germany being one of the major host countries.  [When I lived in the Taunus region in the early 70s, on Sundays Frankfurt's Hauptbanhof was just like a Spanish village square and market- one could listen to many regional Spanish accents- mainly andaluz and gallego far as I can remember.]

One of the benefits of the Franco regime was the growth of the middle-class, a stabilising factor in most economies (and one that kept Franco in power).  It reduced the crushing influence of the aristocracy and, to some extent, the Church.   [However, when I was planning a Spanish business in the early 70s dealing mainly with  government departments, I was advised about the imperative of having members of the "100 families" as non-executives on the board of directors- "to open doors"- and to expect to pay "mordidas" (bribes) for any business gained in addition to their directors' fees.]

However, bearing in mind your uneasiness with Preston's comments on Franco, I took a look elsewhere to qualify those comments (perhaps Paul Preston has access to information that Thomas was not privy to?). Hugh Thomas agrees with you in the Epilogue to his 1971 seminal study, The Spanish Civil War
.   Thomas says, "Even his worst enemies would not deny that Franco's achievement in keeping Spain out of the war ]WW2] was a remarkable one.   This is the most obvious way in which Franco differed differs from the popular image of the imperialist, expansionist Fascist dictator" (p.774)

On the other hand, Stanley Payne, in his entry on Franco in the 2004 Encyclopaedia Britannica states, " Despite his sympathy for the Axis powers' New Order, Franco at first declared Spanish neutrality in the conflict. His policy changed after the fall of France in June 1940, when he approached the German leader Hitler; Franco indicated his willingness to bring Spain into the war on Germany's side in exchange for extensive German military and economic assistance and the cession to Spain of most of France's territorial holdings in north-west Africa. Hitler was unable or unwilling to meet this price, and, after meeting with Franco at Hendaye, France, in October 1940, Hitler remarked that he would as soon have three or four teeth pulled out as go through another bargaining session like that again. Franco's government thenceforth remained relatively sympathetic to the Axis powers, while carefully avoiding any direct diplomatic and military commitment to them. Spain's return to a state of complete neutrality in 1943 came too late to gain favourable treatment from the ascendant Allies. Nevertheless, Franco's wartime diplomacy, marked as it was by cold realism and careful timing, had kept his regime from being destroyed along with the Axis powers."

You might want to use WAIS to ask Paul Preston and Stanley Payne to clarify their opinions of Franco.   It would be an interesting discussion. RH: I hope that WAISers Preston and Payne comply with this request.

Paul Preston answers the request for his judgment of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco: Basically, Franco was keen to join in the war.  He wanted to get his hands on France’s North African empire and hoped for bits of southern France and maybe even Portugal.  In order to join in, he needed the Third Reich to rebuild his armed forces and the Spanish economy (both utterly exhausted after the Spanish Civil War).  Thus, in order to get him in, Hitler needed to go to monumental expense and also risk the consequences of what the Vichy French (whom he wanted as part of his New Europe) might do. There was also Mussolini, who likewise wanted France’s North African empire and was being a terrible drain on Germany.
Hitler and Franco met at Hendaye on the Franco-Spanish border on 23 October 1940 to discuss all this.  Hitler was trying to weigh up whether it was better to stick with Vichy or encourage Franco.  His mind was really on the invasion of Russia.  Accordingly, he decided that Vichy was a better bet and thereafter he put most of his efforts into trying to keep Spain neutral.
At the same time, the British and the Americans were very keen to keep Spain neutral.  They put pressure on Franco by rationing his food and fuel imports.
All told then, there were many factors pushing Franco towards neutrality.  At the end of the war, he claimed that he had courageously kept Spain neutral despite terrible pressure from Hitler.  This was untrue.  He lied about this as he did about most things.
Anyone who wants more detail, can find it on pp.343-531 of my book on Franco.  Three subsequent studies in Spanish have confirmed this view.  I refer to:
Catalan, Jordi, La economía española y la segunda guerra mundial
(Barcelona: Ariel, 1995)
García Pérez, Rafael, Franquismo y Tercer Reich. Las relaciones económicas hispano-alemanas durante la segunda guerra mundial (Madrid: Centro de Estudios Constitucionales, 1994)
Ros Agudo, Manuel, La guerra secreta de Franco (Barcelona: Editorial Crítica, 2002)

RH. We might mention the case of Tangiers, then an international city. On June 14, 1940. Spanish troops occupied it. Franco said it was just a wartime measure, and Britain accepted this explanation, while reserving its rights. Some Falangistas were keen to keep it Spanish as a base for further expansion in Africa, and Rafael Sánchez Mazas made a speech promoting this, but the Spanish government made it clear that this was not official policy.  With the defeat of the Axis, Franco had to withdraw from Tangiers.

Here, slightly toned down, is Christopher Jones reply to Pail Preston: I totally disagree with Paul Preston.  His remarks about the Caudillo are contradicted by the facts:  WWII began in 1939 and ended in 1945.  Spain never participated.  Franco was Spanish leader thoughout the period.  His stance was praised by Winston Churchill writing after the conflict.  By slandering the Caudillo, Paul Preston tried to build a case when simply there isn't one.  Spain never entered the war.  PERIOD.  Franco had to try to steer a difficult course with more than 200 Nazi divisions on his borders.  To accuse Franco of lying is  a reflection on the bias of the person making the remark; please include most political figures of the XXth century.  Francisco Franco saved Spain from bolshevism and his "Cruzada" laid the groundwork for a peaceful return to democratic process after his death. Paul Preston tries every trick in the book to insult General Franco, including making his regime responsible for postwar immigration: did it ever occur to him that "democratic" Italy furnished most "gastarbeiter" in Germany and not Spain?  In Spain, many of my friends in the Plataforma know his works and we are not happy with them.  I ask Mr Preston, what do you want?  The victory of Stalinism?

Stanley Payne, a conservative, internationally recognized authority on the Spain of the Franco period, writes: Paul's explanation is of course correct.  Franco became interested in joining Hitler after the fall of France, and only backed away when Hitler would not pay his price.  When he found that Hitler would not meet his price, he began to become more cautious.  The last direct effort by Hitler to get Franco to come in on German terms took place in January 1941.  The problem was then handed over to Mussolini, but the Duce's effort at his Bordighera meeting with Franco was only half-hearted.  In 1943-44 the Spanish government was sometimes on edge due to the Allied deception schemes, several of which were designed to make the Germans think they might begin the invasion through Spain, though that made little strategic sense.

Robert Whealey says: Christopher Jones seems to be some kind of blind ideologue. Paul Preston is a professional historian who has done work in the archives.  Preston is sound on Franco. Franco was a belligerent neutral toward Britain from June 1940 to September 1942.  He was hoping that Britain would lose the war with Nazi Germany. Franco from 1936 to June 1940 was hostile to the French Republic and helped to weaken its defenses against the May 1940 blitzkrieg. After the American Army landed in North Africa, Franco began to tilt to a true neutral position.  He did little to save his friend Benito Mussolini. Jones leaves out the story of Franco's anti-Communist crusade, and his sending the Blue Division to help Hitler in the Soviet Union after June 1941.  There were some fanatic Falangists who were fighting for the Third Reich in Berlin in the last days of April 1945.Paul Preston understands the balance of power system as did Franco himself. Jones has some kind of blind faith in authoritarian strong men.  Another Franco, another Napoleon, another Mussolini can not save Europe from a non-existent threat. I wonder how Jones spent his days during World War II.

Christopher Jones writes: This entire discussion of what Franco's real thoughts were towards the Axis borders on science fiction;  until the papers of the Caudillo are made public by the Franco foundation, it remains a matter of conjecture;  I could easily say that Franco's insistence of fantastical terms to enter the war and Hitler's equally crazy ideas (the ceding of Tenerife island to Germany (KdF and U-boats?) were both negotiating ploys, to keep the other off balance. Using the same sort of sci-fi reasoning, one could easily make the case (like the one recently made by Israeli President Katzav) that prior to the war, the Alllies were pursuing a discreet anti-semitic agenda and so became accomplices of Hitler to destroy Europe's Jews.  Their pre-war visa policies and above all the St. Louis affair are good examples of this.  Their failure to take out the railroad tracks leading to Auschwitz confirms that the Allies, although informed, were oblivious to the plight of the Jews.

RH: Presumably "the St. Louis affair" refers to the ship carrying Jewish refugees.  However, "St Louis" is a two edged sword. Roosevelt had assured Saudi Arabia that the US would vote against the recognition of Israel in the UN, but he died, and on Truman's order the US voted for the recognition of Israel.  Saudi Arabia felt it had been double-crossed.  Truman had been a haberdasher in St. Louis (he went bankrupt). and he ordered the recognition of Israel on the recommendation of a Jewish friend from there. Thus are some important decisions made. Back to Cleopatra's nose.  Take the Middle East. At least ten heads of government are involved. The political sections of the various embassies will be reading the newspapers and trying to read their minds, the intelligence services will be using humint and going through garbage cans in search of evidence. The heads of government will make decisions, but only some 50 years later will historians have access to the relevant documents, which even so may contain lies. Political science? Science? The simple word "government" would be more accurate.  The Stanford department should change its name. Incidentally, Truman made his decision in disregard of the advice of the Department of State, which would bolster the case of those who maintain that the president makes foreign policy.  However, that was a special case.

Ronald Hilton 2004


last updated: February 28, 2005