I guess most of you have heard about this man. Francisco Paulino Hermenegildo Teódulo Franco Bahamonde, more commonly known as Francisco Franco, was a Spanish general and the Caudillo of Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975.
Francisco Franco led a successful military rebellion to overthrow the Spanish democratic republic in the Spanish Civil War (1936—1939), subsequently establishing his lasting dictatorship.
Born in El Ferrol, Spain, in 1892, Francisco Franco was a career soldier who rose through the ranks until the mid-1930s. When the social and economic structure of Spain, in the governing hands of the left, began to crumble, Franco joined the growing right-leaning rebel movement. He soon led an uprising against the Republican government and took control of Spain following the Spanish Civil War (1936–39). From then until his 1975 death, he presided over a repressive military dictatorship.
Francisco Franco was born on December 4, 1892, in El Ferrol, Spain, a north western port city with a long history of shipbuilding. The men in his family had served in the navy for generations, and the young Franco expected to follow in their footsteps. However, the economic and territorial aftermath of the Spanish-American War led to a reduction in the navy, and after completing his primary education at a Catholic school, Franco was forced to enlist at the Infantry Academy at Toledo instead. He graduated three years later with below-average marks.
After an initial posting to El Ferrol, Franco volunteered to serve in Spain’s recently acquired protectorate Morocco, where the country’s native population was staging a resistance to Spain’s occupation. Stationed there from 1912 to 1926, Franco distinguished himself with his fearlessness, professionalism and ruthlessness and was frequently promoted. By 1920 he had been named second in command of the Spanish Foreign Legion, and three years later took full command. He also married during this period, to Carmen Polo y Martínez Valdéz, with whom he had one daughter.
In 1926, Franco’s role in suppressing the Moroccan rebellion earned him an appointment as general, which, at age 33, made him the youngest man to hold that post in all of Europe. Two years later he was also named director of the General Military Academy in Zaragoza, a position he would hold until three years later, when political changes in Spain would temporarily halt Franco’s steady rise.
In April 1931, general elections led to the ousting of King Alfonso XIII, whose military dictatorship had been in place since the early 1920s. The moderate government of the Second Republic that replaced it led to a reduction in the power of the military, which resulted in the closing of Franco’s military academy. However, it also led to a deepening, often violent, social and political unrest in Spain, and when new elections were held in 1933, the Second Republic was replaced by a more right-leaning government and Franco returned to a position of power, which he wielded the following year in a ruthless suppression of a leftist revolt in north western Spain.
But like the Second Republic before it, the new government could do little to quell the growing divide between left- and right-leaning factions in the country, and when elections held in February 1936 led to a shift in power to the left, the country slipped further into chaos. For his part, Franco was once again marginalized, with a new posting to the Canary Islands. Though Franco accepted what amounted to banishment with the professionalism for which he was known, other high-ranking members of the military began to discuss a coup.
The Spanish Civil War
Though he initially kept his distance from the plot, on July 18, 1936, Franco announced the Nationalist manifesto in a broadcast from the Canary Islands as the uprising began in the northwest of Spain. The next day, he flew to Morocco to take control of the troops, and shortly thereafter gained the support of both Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, whose planes were used to shuttle Franco and his forces to Spain. Establishing his base of operations in Seville the following month, Franco began his military campaign, advancing north toward the seat of the Republican government in Madrid. Anticipating a swift victory, on October 1, 1936, the Nationalist forces declared Franco head of the government and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. However, when their initial assault on Madrid was repelled, the military coup evolved into the protracted conflict known as the Spanish Civil War.
By the end of 1937, Franco had conquered the Basque lands and the Asturias and had also combined the fascist and monarchist political parties to form his Falange Española Tradicionalista while dissolving all others. In January 1939, the Republican stronghold of Barcelona fell to the Nationalists, followed two months later by Madrid, and on April 1, 1939, after receiving an unconditional surrender, Francisco Franco announced the end of the Spanish Civil War. Sources vary, but many estimate the number of casualties resulting from the war as high as 500,000, with perhaps as many as 200,000 the result of executions perpetrated by Franco and his forces.
For nearly four decades following the conflict, Franco—who became known as El Cedillo (the Leader)— would rule Spain through a repressive dictatorship. Immediately following the war, military tribunals were held that led to tens of thousands more being executed or imprisoned. Franco also outlawed unions and all religions except for Catholicism, as well as banning the Catalan and Basque languages. To enforce his power over Spain, he established a vast network of secret police.
However, five months after taking control of the country, Franco’s rule and Spain’s position in the international community were further complicated by the start of World War II. Initially declaring Spain’s neutrality, Franco was ideologically sympathetic to the Axis powers and met with Adolf Hitler to discuss the possibility of Spain joining them. Though Hitler ultimately rejected Franco’s conditions—which he deemed far too high—Franco would later send some 50,000 volunteers to fight alongside the Germans against the Soviets on the Eastern Front as well as opening Spain’s ports to German ships and submarines.
When the tide of the war turned began to turn against the Axis powers in 1943, Franco once more declared Spain’s neutrality, but in the aftermath of the conflict his former allegiances were not forgotten and Spain was ostracized by the United Nations, placing significant economic strain on the country. However, circumstances changed with the advent of the Cold War, when Franco’s status as a staunch anti-communist led to economic and military assistance from the United States in exchange for the establishment of several military bases in Spain.
Valley of the Fallen
Over time, Franco began to relax his control of Spain, removing some of the restraints of censorship, instituting economic reforms and promoting international tourism while at the same time maintaining his position as its head of states. In 1969, amidst a period of declining health, he also named his successor, Prince Juan Carlos, whom he believed would maintain the political structure that Franco had established and rule as a king. However, two days after Franco’s death on November 20, 1975, Juan Carlos I set about dismantling Spain’s authoritarian apparatus and reintroduced political parties in the country. In June 1977, the first elections were held since 1936. Spain has remained a democracy ever since.
Francisco Franco was buried in a massive mausoleum at the Valley of the Fallen, constructed by Franco—with the use of forced labor—as a monument to the dead of the Spanish Civil War. In the decades since Franco’s rule, it has been the subject of frequent controversy, with many advocating for the removal of his remains. But amidst the often-fractured political environment in post-Franco Spain, the site remains more or less unchanged.
Clancy's comment: Another powerful figure in history.