Francisco Franco, sometimes known as Generalísimo Francisco Franco, was the Head of State of Spain in parts of the country from 1936 and in its entirety from 1939 until his death in 1975. He presided over the authoritarian government of the Spanish State following victory in the Spanish Civil War. From 1947, he was de facto regent of Spain. During his rule he was known officially as por la gracia de Dios, Caudillo de España y de la Cruzada, or “by the grace of God, the Leader of Spain and of the Crusade.”
Source for this podcast: Encyclopedia Britannica
- Conspiracy and the Spanish Civil War: The Brainwashing of Francisco Franco (Routledge/Canada Blanch Studies in Contemporary Spain)
- Francisco Franco: The Times and the Man
- Franco: A Concise Biography
- Hitler Stopped By Franco
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Franco, Francisco, in full Francisco Paulino Hermengildo Teodulo Franco Bahamonde, general and leader of the Nationalist forces that over threw the Spanish democratic republic in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39); thereafter until his death he was the head of the government of Spain.
Franco was born at the coastal city and naval centre of El Ferrol in Galicia (north-western Spain). His family life was not entirely happy, for Franco’s father, an officer in the Spanish Naval Administrative Corps, was eccentric, wasteful, and somewhat dissolute. More discipline and serious that other boys of his age, Franco was close to his mother, a pious and conservative upper-middle class Catholic. Like four generations and his elder brother before him, Franco was originally destined for a career as a naval officer, but reduction of admissions to the Naval Academy forced him to choose the army. In 1907, only 14 years old, he entered the Infantry Academy at Toledo. Three years later he was graduated.
Franco volunteered for active duty in the colonial campaigns in Spanish Morocco that had begun in 1909 and was transferred there in 1912 at the age of 19. The following year he was promoted to first lieutenant in an elite regiment of native Moroccan cavalry. At a time in which many Spanish officers were characterized by sloppiness and lack of professionalism, young Franco quickly showed his ability to command troops effectively and soon won a reputation for complete professional dedication. He devoted great care to the preparations of his units actions and paid more attention than was common to the troops’ well being. Reputed to be scrupulously honest, introverted and a man of comparatively few intimate friends, he was known to shun all frivolous amusements. In 1915 he became the youngest captain in the Spanish Army. In the following year he was seriously wounded by a bullet in the abdomen and was brought back to Spain to recover. In 1920 he was chosen to be second in command of the newly organized Spanish Foreign Legion, succeeding to full command in 1923. In that year he married Carmen Polo, by whom he had a daughter. During the crucial campaigns against the Moroccan rebels, the legion played a decisive role in bringing the revolt to an end. Franco became a national hero, and in 1926, at the age of 33, he was promoted to brigadier general. At the beginning of 1928 he was named director of the newly organized General Military Academy in Sarasogossa.
After the fall of the monarchy in 1931, the leaders of the new Spanish Republic adopted a sharply anti-military policy, and Franco’s career was temporarily halted. The General Military Academy was dissolved, and Franco was placed on the inactive list. Thought he was an avowed monarchist and held the honor of being a Gentleman of the King’s Chamber, Franco accepted both the new Regime and his temporary demotion with perfect discipline. When the conservative forces gained control of the republic in 1933, Franco was restored to active command; in 1934 he was promoted to major general. In October 1934, during the rising of Asturian miners who opposed the admission of three members of the right to the government, Franco was called in to quell the revolt. His success in the operation brought him new prominence. In May 1935 he was appointed chief of the Spanish Army’s general staff, and then began the work of tightening discipline and strengthening military institutions, both seriously weakened by the republic’s earlier anti-military position.
No longer able to retain control of the country, the centre-right government was dissolved, and new elections were announced for February 1936. By this time the Spanish political parties had split into two factions: the rightest National Bloc and the leftist Popular Front. The left proved victorious in the elections, but the new government was unable to prevent the accelerating dissolution of Spain’s social and economic structure. Although Franco had never been a member of either political party, the growing anarchy compelled him to appeal to the government to declare a state of emergency. His appeal was refused, and he was removed from the general staff and sent to an obscure command in the Canary islands. For some time he refused to commit himself to a military conspiracy against the government, but as the political system disintegrated, he finally decided to join the rebels.
At dawn on July 18, 1936, Franco’s manifesto acclaiming the military rebellion was broadcast from the Canary Islands, and the same morning the rising began on the mainland. The following day he flew to Morocco and within 24 hours was firmly in control of the protectorate and the Spanish Army garrisoning it. After landing in Spain, Franco and his army marched toward Madrid, which was held by the government. When the Nationalist advance came to a halt on the outskirts of the city, the military leaders, in preparation of what they believed was the final assault that would deliver Madrid and the county into their hands, decided to choose a command in chief, or generalissimo, who would also head the rebel Nationalist government in opposition to the republic. Because of his military experience and prestige, a political record unmarred by his sectarian politics and conspiracies, and his proved ability to gain military assistance from Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy, Franco was the obvious choice. In part because he was not a typical Spanish “political general,” Franco became head of state of the new Nationalist regime on Oct. 1, 1936. The rebel government did not, however, gain complete control of the country for more than three years.
Franco presided over a government that was basically a military dictatorship, but he realized that it needed a regular civil structure to broaden its support; this was to be derived mainly from the antilefist middle classes. On April 19, 1937, he reorganized the Falange (the Spanish Racist Party) and made it the rebel regimes official political movement. While expanding the Falange into a more pluralistic group, Franco made it clear that it was the government that used the party and not the other way around. Thus, his regime became and institutionalized authoritarian system, differing in this respect from the Fascist party-states of the German and Italian models.
As commander in chief in the Civil War, Franco was a careful and systematic leader. He made no rash moves and suffered only a few temporary defeats as his forces advanced slowly but steadily; the only major criticism directed at him during the campaign was that his strategy was frequently unimaginative. Nevertheless because of the relativity superior military quality of his army and the continuation of heavy German and Italian assistance Franco won a complete and unconditional victory on April 1, 1939.
The Civil War had been largely a bloody struggle of attrition, marked by atrocities on both sides. The tens of thousands of executions carried out by the nationalist regime, which continued during the first years after the war ended, earned Franco more reproach than any other single aspect of his rule.
Although Franco had visions of restoring Spanish grandeur after the Civil War, in reality he was the leader of an exhausted country still divided internally and impoverished by a long and costly war. The stability of this government was made more precarious by the outbreak of WWII only five months later. Franco was at first shocked at Hitler’s unprovoked assault on Catholic Poland and carefully avoided involvement in the war. His wartime diplomacy was perhaps Franco’s ablest political achievement; it was marked by cold realism and careful timing. The evidence indicates that had Hitler ever been in a position to win a quick and total victory, Franco would have been willing to enter the conflict on Germany’s side. As it was, his government remained relativity sympathetic to Hitler while carefully avoiding direct diplomatic and military commitment. After his interview with Franco in 1940 at Hendaye, Fr., Hitler is said to have remarked that he would “as soon have three or four teeth pulled” as go through another bargaining session like that.
The most difficult period of Franco’s regime began in the aftermath of WWII, when his government was ostracized by the newly formed United Nations. He was labeled by hostile foreign opinion the “last surviving Fascist dictator” and for a time appeared to be the most hated of Western heads of state; within his country, however, as many people supported him as opposed him. The period of ostracism finally came to and end with the worsening of relations between the Soviet World and the West at the hight of the Cold War. Franco could now be viewed as one of the world’s leading anti-communist statesmen, and relations with other countries began to be regularized in 1948. His international rehabilitation was advanced further in 1953, when Spain signed a 10-year military assistance pact with the United States, which was later renewed in more limited form.
Franco’s domestic policies became somewhat more liberal during the 1950’s and ’60’s, and the cohesion of his regime, together with its capacity for creative evolution, won him at least a limited degree of respect from some of his critics. Franco said that he did not find the burden government particularly heavy, and, in fact, his rule was marked by absolute self-confidence and relative indifference to criticism. He showed marked political ability in gauging the psychology of the diverse elements, ranging from moderate liberals to extreme reactionaries, whose support was necessary for his regime’s survival. He maintained a careful balance among them and largely left the execution of policy to his appointees, there by placing himself as arbiter above the storm of ordinary political conflict. To a considerable degree, the shame for unsuccessful or unpopular aspects of policy tended to fall on individual ministers rather than on Franco. The Falange state party, downgraded in the early 1940s, in later years became known merely as the “Movement” and lost much of its original quasi-Fascist identity.
Unlike most rulers of rightist authoritarian regimes, Franco provided for the continuity of his government after his death though an official referendum in 1947 that made Spanish state a monarchy and ratified Franco’s powers as a sort of regent for life. In 1967 he opened direct elections for a small minority of deputies to the Parliament and in 1969 official designated then 32-year old prince Juan Carlos, the eldest son of premier of the state, commander in chief of the armed forces, and head of the “Movement”.
Franco was never a popular ruler and rarely tried to mobilize mass support. But after 1947 there was little direct or organized opposition to his rule. With the liberalization of his government and relaxation of some police powers, together with the country’s marked economic development during the 1960s, Franco’s image changed from that of the rigged generalissimo to a more benign civilian elder statesman. The company of his six grandchildren and frequent hunting and fishing expeditions constituted the principal diversions of his later years. Franco’s health declined significantly in the late 1960s, but advanced age brought no slackening of his self-confidence. He believed it within his powers to bequeath to his country a stable continuation of his regime in an atmosphere of prosperity and accelerating modernization.
Source: Encyclopedia Britannica.
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