Francisco Franco

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Francisco Franco
Francisco Franco

Francisco Paulino Hermenegildo Teódulo Franco y Bahamonde Salgado Pardo de Andrade (December 4, 1892November 20, 1975), abbreviated Francisco Franco Bahamonde and sometimes known as Generalissimo Francisco Franco, was Head of State of Spain from 1936 until his death in 1975. Known as el "Caudillo de España", and officially as "Caudillo de España por la gracia de Dios" (The Leader of Spain by the grace of God), he presided over the authoritarian government of the Spanish State following victory in the Spanish Civil War.


Early life

Born in Ferrol, Spain (officially known as El Ferrol del Caudillo from 1938 to 1982), Galicia, Spain; Franco's early life was marked by his father's drunkenness and womanizing which contrasted with his devout mother's overprotective devotion. His first ambition was to follow the family tradition and join the Navy, but cutbacks resulting from Spain's defeat in the Spanish-American War of 1898 reduced the available positions and Franco enlisted in the Army instead. Some say he was too short to be accepted in to the Navy. His brother Ramón Franco was a pioneer aviator.

After graduating from the Infantry Academy in Toledo, Spain in 1910, he spent two years in a quiet garrison in mainland Spain, but obtained a posting to Morocco at the earliest opportunity. Spanish efforts to physically occupy their new African protectorate provided the only chance of being engaged in combat and thus earning promotion through merit. In practice this meant surviving actions in which heavy losses were suffered; officers would get either la caja o la faja (a coffin or a general's sash).

Franco soon gained a reputation as a good officer and joined the newly formed regulares colonial native troops with Spanish officials to improve his chances of swift advancement.

At the age of 23, he was badly wounded in a skirmish at El Biutz, and although Spain's highest honor for gallantry, the coveted Cruz Laureada de San Fernando eluded him, he became the youngest Major in the Spanish Army and returned to the mainland where he met Lieutenant Colonel José Millán Astray, a histrionic but charismatic officer who would found the Legión Extranjera, along similar lines to the French Foreign Legion. Franco became the Legión's second-in-command.

In the summer of 1921, the overextended Spanish army suffered a crushing defeat at Annual at the hands of the Riff tribes led by the Abd el-Krim brothers. The Legión symbolically, if not materially, saved the Spanish enclave of Melilla after a gruelling three-day forced march led by Franco.

He married María del Carmen Polo y Martínez Valdés de Franco (who would later in life become known in Spain for her officially sanctioned kleptomania) in 1923, and they had one child, a daughter, María del Carmen; known today as Doña Carmen Franco y Polo de Martínez-Bordiú, born in 1924. Franco's widow died in 1988 at the age of 87 from natural causes.

Rise to power

Jubilant demonstration in Madrid after the Popular Front victory in the Spanish general elections of 16 February 1936
Jubilant demonstration in Madrid after the Popular Front victory in the Spanish general elections of 16 February 1936

Promoted to Colonel, Franco led the first wave of troops ashore at Alhucemas in 1925. This landing, in the heartland of Abd el-Krim's tribe, combined with the French invasion from the south, spelled the beginning of the end for the shortlived Republic of the Rif.

Becoming the youngest General in Spain in 1926, Franco was appointed director of the newly created the Joint Military Academy in Zaragoza, where cadets were taught the brutal lessons of the irregular war in Morocco.

With the fall of the monarchy in 1931, Franco initially maintained an ambivalent attitude to the new Republic, not wishing to compromise his career by overt opposition. He even swallowed the bitter pill of loss of seniority due to President Manuel Azaña's reform of the Army and the closure of his beloved Military Academy with subsequent postings to A Coruña and the Balearic Islands, the main purpose of which was to keep him at a distance from other potentially disloyal elements.

The Republic's failure to satisfy Spanish expectations, and the fragmentation of the left-wing parties, permitted a strong right-wing government to gain power in 1933. When miners in Asturias started a full scale rebellion a year later, Franco was sent to put down the uprising. He employed the same tactics that had been used against the tribesmen in Morocco, tactics that "saved Spain again". Due to his victory, Franco was given the top job in the Army, Chief of the General Staff. The uprising left a lasting impression within the right wing, with many believing that the left cherished democracy only when they won elections.

Italians leave Spain for home. The  Italians marching through the streets of Cadiz (Spain) on their way to the troopships for home. October 1938
Italians leave Spain for home. The Italians marching through the streets of Cadiz (Spain) on their way to the troopships for home. October 1938

Having learned their lesson, the left-wing and Republican parties presented a common front in the tense elections of February 1936 and won a narrow victory. This time, Franco was posted to the Canary Islands to keep him from the corridors of power.

Fully aware of the plotting to overthrow the Republic, he maintained a typically ambiguous attitude, even writing to the head of the government Casares Quiroga offering to quell the discontent in the army. When the coup came, he flew to Morocco to take command of the colonial Army (including the Legión and the Regulares) which had rebelled and rapidly taken control of the Spanish Protectorate. On July 27 1936, the first squadron of Italian airplanes sent by Benito Mussolini arrived in Spain.[1]

In this early chapter of the uprising, Franco allowed execution of his cousin Ricardo de la Puente Bahamonde, the last Spanish officer in Morocco loyal to the Republic [2].

The military uprising failed in many of the large cities, and the situation quickly degenerated into the Spanish Civil War. During the war, in late September 1936, he became Generalissimo of the Nationalist army, with rank of lieutenant general and then on October 1, 1936, he was elected Jefe del Estado (Head of State). With the deaths of Emilio Mola, Manuel Goded, and José Sanjurjo, Franco was left as the effective leader of the Nationalist forces. He also managed to fuse the ideologically incompatible Falange ("phalanx", a far-right Spanish political party with ideology similar to that of Mussolini's movement) and the Carlist monarchist parties under his rule. His army was supported by troops from Nazi Germany (Legión Cóndor) and Fascist Italy (Corpo Truppe Volontarie). António de Oliveira Salazar's Portugal also openly assisted the Nationalists from the start. The war officially ended on April 1, 1939, shortly after the conquest of Madrid, although guerrilla resistance to Franco continued into the late 1940s. Franco continued to rule Spain until his death in 1975.

Spain under Franco

Main article: Spain under Franco
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Spain was bitterly divided and economically ruined as a result of the civil war. In September 1939, World War II broke out in Europe, and although Adolf Hitler met Franco in Hendaye, France (October 23, 1940), to discuss Spanish entry on the side of the Axis, Franco's demands (food, military equipment, Gibraltar, French North Africa, etc.) proved too much and no agreement was reached. Contributing to the disagreement was an ongoing dispute over German mining rights in Spain. Some historians argue that Franco made demands that he knew Hitler would not accede to in order to stay out of the war. Other historians argue that he simply had nothing to offer the Germans. After the collapse of France in June 1940, Spain adopted a pro-Axis non-belligerency stance (e.g. offering Spanish naval facilities to German ships) until returning to complete neutrality in 1943 when the tide of the war had turned decisively against Germany. Franco sent troops (División Azul, or "Blue Division") to fight on the Eastern Front against the Soviet Union. They were "volunteers"; some were crusaders against Communism, some were professionals who were given no choice, and some went just for the pay or to clear their names from former liaisons with the Republic.

With the end of World War II, Franco and Spain were forced to suffer the economic consequences of the isolation imposed on it by nations such as the United Kingdom and the United States. This situation ended in part when, due to Spain's strategic location in light of Cold War tensions, the United States entered into a trade and military alliance with Spain. This historic alliance commenced with U.S. President Eisenhower's visit in 1953. This launched the so-called "Spanish Miracle," which developed Spain from autarky into capitalism. Spain was admitted in the United Nations in 1955. In spite of this opening, Franco almost never left Spain once in power.

Lacking any strong ideology, Franco initially sought support from National syndicalism (aka: sindicalismo nacional) and the Roman Catholic Church (catolicismo nacional). His coalition ruling single party, the Movimiento Nacional, was so heterogeneous as to barely qualify as a party at all, and certainly not an ideological monolith like the Fascio di Combattimento (Fascist Party) or the ruling block of Antonio Salazar. His Spanish State was chiefly a conservative - even traditionalist - rightist regime, with emphasis on order and stability, rather than a definite political vision.

In 1947 Franco proclaimed Spain a monarchy, but did not designate a monarch. This gesture was largely done to appease monarchist factions within the Movimiento. Although a self-proclaimed monarchist himself, Franco had no particular desire for a king. As such, he left the throne vacant, with himself as de facto regent. He wore the uniform of a captain general (a rank traditionally reserved for the King), resided in the Pardo Palace, appropriated the kingly privilege of walking beneath a canopy, and his portrait appeared on most Spanish coins. Indeed, although his formal titles were Jefe del Estado (Chief of State) and Generalissimo de los Ejércitos Españoles (Highest General of the Spanish Armed Forces), he was referred to as por la gracia de Dios, Caudillo de España y de la Cruzada, or "by the grace of God, the Caudillo of Spain and of the Crusade" ("by the grace of God" is a technical, legal phrase which indicates sovereign dignity in absolute monarchies, and is only used by monarchs).

Francisco Franco, late in life
Francisco Franco, late in life

During his rule non-Government trade unions and all political opponents right across the spectrum, from communist and anarchist organizations to liberal democrats and nationalists, were suppressed. The usage of Catalan, Galician and Basque languages was limited, and many cultural activities were heavily repressed. In every town there was a constant presence of Guardia Civil (Spain), a military police force, who patrolled in pairs with submachine guns, and functioned as his chief means of control. A Freemasonry conspiracy was a constant obsession for him. In popular imagination, he is often remembered as in the black and white images of No-Do newsreels, inaugurating a reservoir, hence his nickname Paco Ranas (Paco - a familiar form of Francisco - "the Frog"), or catching huge fish from the Azor yacht during his holidays.

Franco's tomb is located at his monumental Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caídos, built by prisoners of the Spanish Civil War, from 1940 onwards
Franco's tomb is located at his monumental Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caídos, built by prisoners of the Spanish Civil War, from 1940 onwards

Famous quote: "Our regime is based on bayonets and blood, not on hypocritical elections."

In 1968, due to the United Nations' pressure on Spain, Franco granted Equatorial Guinea its independence.

In 1969 he designated Prince Juan Carlos de Borbón with the new title of Prince of Spain as his successor. This came as a surprise for the Carlist pretender to the throne, as well as for Juan Carlos's father, Don Juan, the Count of Barcelona, who technically had a superior right to the throne. By 1973 Franco had given up the function of Prime Minister (Presidente del Gobierno), remaining only as head of the country and as commander in chief of the military forces. As his final years progressed tension within the various factions of the Movimiento would consume Spanish political life, as varying groups jockeyed for position to control the country's future.

Franco died on November 20, 1975, at the age of 82 -- the same date as José Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of the Falange. It is suspected that the doctors were ordered to keep him barely alive by artificial means until that symbolic date. The historian, Ricardo de la Cierva, says that on the 19th around 6 pm he was told that Franco had already died. Franco is buried at Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caídos, a site built by forced prisoners of the Spanish Civil War as the tomb of el Ausente (the absent one). The Socialist Spanish government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero recently decided (2005) to convert the site to an homage to democracy.

Spain after Franco

Franco's successor as head of state was the current Spanish monarch, Juan Carlos. Though much beloved by Franco, the King held liberal political views which earned him suspicion among conservatives who expected him to continue Franco's policies. Instead, Juan Carlos would proceed to restore democracy in the nation, and help crush an attempted military coup early in his reign.

Since Franco's death, almost all the placenames named after him (most Spanish towns had a calle del Generalissimo) have been changed. Most statues or monuments of him have also been removed, and the last one standing in the capital, Madrid, was removed in March 2005.

He was declared a saint by the obscure Palmarian Church.


  1. ^  Speech delivered by Premier Benito Mussolini. Rome, Italy, February 23, 1941

See also

External links

Preceded by:
Juan Negrín
President of the Government of Spain
Succeeded by:
Luis Carrero Blanco
Preceded by:
Manuel Azaña
President of Spain
Succeeded by:
Monarchy reinstated with vacant throne; Franco acts as de facto regent
Spanish Head of State
Succeeded by:
Juan Carlos I
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