On the 1st of April 1939 Franco declared the Civil War to be at an end, Republican refugees poured into France and were interned in camps such as Gurs and Vernet others headed for the hills carrying on the fight with the Maquis, those with means or influence fled to the Soviet Union, Mexico or Chile. Five months later, Hilter invaded Poland, and Britain declared war on Fascist Germany, diverting the world’s attention away from the Iberian Peninsular.
Francisco Paulino Hermenegildo Teódulo Franco y Bahamonde Salgado Pardo de Andrade
During those early months of the Second World War, Franco’s purge of Republican sympathisers was very thorough, the number who met their ends in cellars or on the remoteness of the campo can only be estimated. This butchery was not of prime importance to the policy makers in London, it did not weigh heavily on their consciences, the problem which kept them awake at night was how to stop Franco bringing Spain into the War as an Axis power.
Spain was in no shape to wage war, its infrastructure was destroyed and its once vast gold reserves, fourth largest in the world had been lost. The Republican finance minister Dr. Juan Negrín had sent half the reserve to Moscow, much to Stalin’s delight, while of the remainder; some went to France and the rest to the republican government’s purchasing commissions, set up by Indalecio Prieto of the PSOE to obtain war materials.
It wasn’t however the materials and men that Spain could deploy against Britain which gave the ministers of the Crown nightmares, it was quite simply Gibraltar. A Gibraltar in British hands and a neutral Ceuta, some 20 Kilometres distant on the North African coast, meant the Mediterranean was open to the Royal Navy. Offensive operations could be launched while maintaining a supply line to Malta, and re-supplying friendly forces such as Tito’s Partisans in Yugoslavia, Franco held the key and it was in retrospect a pivotal key.
The British government approached their tasks on three fronts. Firstly a blockade, to let just enough material into the country to keep the population focused on survival. Secondly, making the Madrid government financially dependent on the western powers with loan bonds issued through Washington and London. Thirdly, although not proven, wheeling and counter dealing directly between Churchill and Franco. This last scenario would go a long way to solving two mysteries of the war years.
On the 12th of November 1940 Hitler issued his directive number 18. The first part dealt with relations with France, the second with Spain and Portugal and Spain’s prompt entry into the War. In January of 1941 Operation Felix was planned to begin, German forces moving into Spain from Vichy France, moving south and overwhelming Gibraltar’s defences. Once the Rock fell, two divisions of German troops would cross the Straits and garrison Ceuta, closing the western Mediterranean to the Allies.
The only step necessary to the realisation of this plan was the agreement of Franco; he would have had a great deal to gain by being instrumental in an Axis victory. Hitler and Franco met in a railway carriage at Hendaye on the French Spanish border in late October 1940. Franco made such demands that the German leader could not deliver; 700,000 tons of grain, fuel for the entire Spanish army, re-equipping the Spanish army, the French African territories of Morocco and Oran handed over to Spanish control and redrawing the borders of the Spanish Sahara. Franco may have been a despot but he was not a stupid man, he held his position with such vigour that Hitler was reported as saying he would rather have three teeth pulled than speak to Franco again.
Why did Franco insist on these demands which he knew could not be delivered?
By late October it was clear that the Luftwaffe would not gain air superiority over the RAF and therefore no invasion of Britain, obviously prolonging the war, a crucial factor considering the philosophy behind the German armed forces. They were designed for Blitzkrieg, followed by occupation. Fast moving ground troops coupled with a tactical air force were not meant to fight a war of attrition. An unconquered Britain not only meant a large well armed belligerent war machine operating on Hitler’s doorstep, it all offered a springboard for forthcoming allied offensive.
Was all this clear to Franco?
Did he foresee in the eventual intervention of the United States?
The successful outcome of operation Felix could have radically altered the war’s course, so what did Franco get for the frustration of Hitler’s plans?
Could this be answered by the second mystery?
When de Gaulle’s 2nd armoured division entered Paris in August 1944, many of the tank crews were ex-soldiers of the Second Spanish Republic, they had fought the Fascists from Madrid to the Aragón, from Paris to Berlin, they were confident the fight would be taken back to Spain. Certainly General Alvarez had no doubts, at his headquarters in Toulouse plans were in an advanced state. Just the threat of a full scale Allied invasion may have been sufficient to force Franco to negotiate. Even a strong Republican force crossing the Pyrenees with Allied air and material support would have poised a serious problem to the Franco regime. But it was not to be. The only action sanctioned by the Allies was a foray of 150 men into the Spanish Pyrenean foothills with disastrous results and a demoralising retreat.
Was a deal done between Franco and Churchill in those dark days of 1940?
Was it a case of the security of Gibraltar in exchange for the final extinguishing of the Republican cause?
If Franco did foresee the defeat of Nazi Germany, did he also foresee the falling of the Iron Curtain and the American paranoia against all things Red.? In mid 1960 Eisenhower paid 1.8 billion dollars into the Spanish coffers in exchange for the construction of four bases.
On the 1st of April 1939 Franco declared that the Civil War was at an end, it wasn’t until mid 1960 that he declared the Spanish War had been won.