8 Treacherous Ways In Which Spain’s Francisco Franco Supported The Axis Powers In The Second World War

8 Treacherous Ways In Which Spain’s Francisco Franco Supported The Axis Powers In The Second World War

Stephanie Schoppert - July 14, 2016

Generalissmo Francisco Franco ruled over Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975 maintaining absolute control over his people throughout his tenure as leader. He was the only authoritarian ruler to last beyond the Second World War. Perhaps the strangest part of his rule was that more attention was given to the “Generalissmo Francisco Franco death watch” in 1975, than to the role he played during World War II.

Officially Spain remained neutral throughout the war, but there was a known favoritism of Francisco Franco toward Hitler. Francisco Franco may not have entered the war politically but he was very open about who he wanted to win the war even if he was not willing to commit his country to the effort.

Francisco did owe a debt of gratitude to Hitler and his regime. During the Spanish Civil War both Germany and Italy provided military support for Francisco Franco to take over the country. However, Generalissmo Francisco Franco did limit his use of the German and Italian troops. By the end of the war the German and Italian troops stayed just as a way to add prestige to the new leadership of Francisco Franco.

When World War II began, Hitler and Franco met to discuss Franco joining the axis powers. Franco made numerous demands including food, fuel, and Spanish control of Gibraltar and French North Africa. The terms proved to be too high for Hitler who did not want to push his relationship with the Vichy French government too far. It is an oft-cited remark that Hitler once said that he would rather have his own teeth extracted than to deal personally with Franco.

Even though Hitler and Franco could not agree on a way for Spain to officially join the Axis powers, that did not stop Franco from offering up support in other ways. Franco supported the German regime by proving information to the German intelligence and giving the axis powers war materials, including tungsten to harden steel.

Here are 8 things most people do not know about Generalissmo Francisco Franco and his involvement in the Second World War.

8. He Promoted Fascism

8 Treacherous Ways In Which Spain’s Francisco Franco Supported The Axis Powers In The Second World War

Hitler may be the one that most people remember when they think of Fascism during the Second World War. However he was not the only one and both Mussolini and Franco joined Hitler to create a Fascist block in alliance in Europe. The three of them had similar styles for controlling their people and maintaining their rule.

Franco’s Fascist regime was another European stronghold that promoted the strength and power of authoritarian regimes. Franco’s regime was actually considered by many to be a semi-fascist regime that some referred to as clerical fascism. Franco created this form of government when he merged the Falange and Carlist parties into one party known as the Falange Espanola Tradicionalista or FET. The Falange party was the fascist political party while the Carlists were monarchists in favor of a certain bloodline.

By the end of the Spanish Civil War, Francisco Franco was not only the man that was chosen to lead the country but he had also managed to merge the two major parties in Spain, which were thought to be ideologically incompatible. Francisco Franco declared Spain a monarchy but he never appointed a king. He simply named himself regent for life, took on all the duties and perks of being King, but ruled Spain as a fascist dictator.

When World War II broke out members of the former Falange party (the FET was declared the only political party after Francisco Franco came to power), were eager to support their fascist brothers in Italy and Germany. Some of them even signed up to fight the war as volunteers and had so fallen in love with these true fascist countries that they decided to never return to Spain.

7. He Praised the Axis Powers in His Speeches

8 Treacherous Ways In Which Spain’s Francisco Franco Supported The Axis Powers In The Second World War

Francisco Franco walked a delicate line during World War II as Spain tried to remain out of the conflict. He would speak of his loyalty to the fascist cause and to Germany and Italy when he spoke with the Axis powers. But in conversations with the Allies he would speak of his non-belligerence and his desire to mediate the peace or surrender between the two coalitions.

Francisco Franco’s stance at the beginning of the war was frustrating to both sides. The Axis powers wanted Spain to publicly support them and decrease their demands for entering the war. The Allies worried about Spain entering on the side of the Axis powers because they could not afford to lose Gibraltar.

It was not long however, before Francisco Franco’s speeches and conversations made it clear where his allegiance was. In speaking on the record to a German official named Stohrer, he stated that he completed identified with Hitler’s methods of governance.

In a speech he gave to the National Council of the FET he stated that “not even the American continent can dream of intervening in Europe without exposing itself to a catastrophe.” He went on to claim that the issues of the war were misrepresented and that the Allies had “lost it.” The Allies took the speech as a threat and began making plans for Spain entering the war on the side of the Axis Powers. The Axis powers were furious that Franco would give such a speech because it gave the Allies warning of Spain’s potential entrance into the war.

To be certain after this speech and some of the ones that followed it was clear that Spain would never be on the side of the Allies in the war. Some even doubted whether or not Spain was truly neutral, especially after Franco stated that “the blood of our youth will be united with that of our Axis comrades, as a living expression of solidarity.”

6. He Accepted Help from the Future Axis Powers During the Spanish Civil War

8 Treacherous Ways In Which Spain’s Francisco Franco Supported The Axis Powers In The Second World War

The Spanish Civil War might be considered to be a runner up to the Second World War. It featured the Axis powers, Italy and Germany siding with one side of the Civil War (the side lead by Franco) and the Russians siding with the Spanish Republic. The involvement of the Axis powers cemented an alliance between Franco and his fascist comrades.

The Russians support was largely neutralized by the well organized forces of Franco bolstered by the support of both Germany and Italy. What is perhaps most surprising is that Franco may not have even needed the help of Germany and Italy. They only stayed until the end of the war in order to march in Franco’s victory ceremony to add prestige and publicly show the alliance of the three fascist powers.

Hitler and Italy responded to the Spanish Civil War with a substantial show of force which was actually serving their own purpose. Hitler wanted to test out his military forces and do a public show of strength. He entered the Spanish Civil War more for his own gain than for that of Franco.

He sent Franco his Condor Legion which had 7,000 men and 90 aircraft. Benito Mussolini offered up an infantry battalion of 45,000 men and his own air force. While they participated in several battles and were completely under the command of Franco, they were unused for much of the war.

With the Spanish Civil War as a test to prepare for war and test new aircraft and troops, it gave Hitler the confidence to start his war knowing that his troops were capable.

It also put Franco in a position of being indebted to Italy and Germany for their help in bringing him to power and therefore he was willing to help them during the war.

5. He Traded with the Axis Powers

8 Treacherous Ways In Which Spain’s Francisco Franco Supported The Axis Powers In The Second World War

One of the most important things for any army during a war is a steady stream of supplies, and during World War II the resources needed for the war effort were scarce. The Japanese moved on the oil fields of Southeast Asia in order to keep up their war effect. Germany was relentless in it’s fight to get the oil-rich Stalingrad. But oil was not the only thing that was necessary to the war effort.

Tungsten and other metals were necessary to keep building weapons and food was needed to feed the soldiers as they marched through Europe. Spain had these in excess and were more than willing to trade them to the Axis powers throughout the war. The Allies were aware of these trades going on, but they were willing to look the other way in order to keep Spain from entering the war.

Spain even went as far as to allow two German banks to operate out of Spain. Trading with the Axis powers earned Franco $140 million in gold and another $95 million in German assets by the end of the war. Franco was perfectly content to continue this arrangement in order to benefit the war effort, until he saw the tide of war changing.

By 1944 the Allies were getting the upper hand in the war and they were less willing to look the other way with Spain’s trade deals. In January of 1944, the United States stated that they would no longer trade Petroleum with Spain if they continued their dealings with the Axis powers. By May 1944 it looked like the Axis powers were going to lose and Spain could not afford to lose the petroleum from the United States, so Franco ceased all trade with the Axis powers.

4. He Provided Supplies and Support to the Axis Aircraft and Navy

8 Treacherous Ways In Which Spain’s Francisco Franco Supported The Axis Powers In The Second World War

Once Franco was no longer in the closet about his support for the Axis powers, he became bolder in his ways of supporting them. He allowed both Axis ships and aircraft to get fuel, supplies and repairs at places around the Spanish coast, and on it’s islands and colonies. This gave the Axis powers a greater reach and ability to stay out longer, knowing that they had a supply and repair point close by.

Both Germany and Italy took advantage of this help and it was significant considering the Allies still had control of Gibraltar. German U-Boats were given opportunities to refuel at Morocco, the Canary Islands and at points along the Spanish West Coast. This support greatly extended the reach of the deadly German U-Boats. Franco truly believed that the Axis powers would win the war as he had seen their strength and their might during the Spanish Civil War. So he was willing to help the Axis powers without fear of the Allies, but he would not go back on his demands to officially enter into the war.

It is estimated that during this period 20 U-boats were serviced by the Spanish. This angered the Allied powers and they saw it as a violation of neutrality. While they may have been able to overlook trade, they were not willing to overlook the blatant support of the German subs. They ordered Franco to shut down the U-boat facilities. He did do because he was not willing to lose neutrality or be forced to officially enter the war without his demands being met. Franco’s country had already been ravaged by war and he would need significant support in order to put his Spain through another massive war.

3. He Worked with Nazi Leaders

8 Treacherous Ways In Which Spain’s Francisco Franco Supported The Axis Powers In The Second World War


It was no secret that Franco and Hitler spoke and that Franco was willing to work with Nazi leaders for the war effort. Both Franco and Hitler believed that one day Spain would enter the war, at a time when it would be good for both countries. So Francisco Franco did start taking steps for when he would be allies with Germany.

He told his regime to make a list of every Jew living within Spain. He gave that list to Heinrich Himmler. Himmler was one of the most powerful Nazi leaders in Germany and one of the architects of the Holocaust. This list was created and delivered to Germany in 1941, but Spain never entered the war, the Nazis never went after the people on the list. They all lived out their lives in safety in Spain.

In fact, Franco did have some heart during the war and even allowed more 40,000 refugees from the war into Spain. Spaniards themselves had no issues with the Jewish population and even went as far as to save Jewish lives during the war. But there was always the looming threat of Franco’s sympathies toward the Axis powers and how far he would go if ever he became allied with them.

After the war, Franco’s support of the Nazis continued. He provided an number of Nazis refuge after the war and kept them hidden from the Allies. More than 100 Nazis were given a new identity and allowed to live out their lives in Spain, hidden away from those seeking retribution for war crimes committed by the Nazis.

2. Monitoring Stations for the Axis Powers

8 Treacherous Ways In Which Spain’s Francisco Franco Supported The Axis Powers In The Second World War

In addition to the resupply program that Spain provided to the Axis air and naval troops, the country’s mainland also provided the Axis powers with intelligence support. Franco’s regime enabled the intelligence services to spy on Allied ships as they sailed through the Straits of Gibraltar.

Spain provided fuel and servicing from the reconnaissance airplanes which reported to German observation posts found on the Spanish coast. This gave the reconnaissance planes a much longer range and was the majority of the air support that Franco provided to the Axix powers. Spain was willing to help the intelligence efforts of all of the Axis powers, including Japan but the majority of their help went to Abwher.

The Abwehr, as German intelligence was known, had offices in Spanish mainland and Morocco, with the main headquarters being in Madrid. German intelligence positioned their monitoring stations strategically on either side of the Mediterranean choke-point entrance. This enabled them to keep track of virtually all movements of the Allied navy within the Mediterranean.

Once again the Allies spoke up against the Spanish support of the Axis powers. They threatened to halt all petroleum to Spain if they continued to allow the Axis powers to monitor the Mediterranean through German intelligence in Spain. Franco agreed to the Allied demands, at least on paper. He closed down the German embassy in Tangier and told the Allies that all Germany spies would be removed from the country.

But Franco continued to help the Axis intelligence effort in secret and would do so until the end of the war. Franco’s administration also smuggled to Germany a minimum of 800 tons of war materials in secret in order to appease the Allies.

1. The Blue Division

8 Treacherous Ways In Which Spain’s Francisco Franco Supported The Axis Powers In The Second World War

Spain never officially entered into the Second World War. However, Franco allowed volunteers to join the Axis powers by serving on the Eastern front under Germany’s 250th Infantry Division. This was one way that he supported the Axis powers and allowed those in Spain who wanted to join the war do so without compromising Spain’s neutrality. This Spanish volunteers program had a name – the Blue Division. It was by far one of the most decorated divisions of the Axis and engaged in 21 key battles.

The Blue Division started off in early 1941 with an army of 18,000 volunteers from Spain. This group later expanded to 50,000 men who wore the standard German gray uniform when going to battle. This uniform was not however completely free of all things Spanish; it actually featured a shield bearing Spanish color on the right sleeve.

About 16,000 members of the Blue Division were either wounded or captured as prisoners of war, and 4,500 were killed.

The Blue Division was not the only battalion from Spain that supported the Axis powers. There was yet another group of Spanish airmen, Blue Squadron, which was credited for shooting down 156 aircraft belonging to the Soviet Union.

The Blue Division fought from 1941 until 1943 along the Eastern front until once again Allied pressure caused Franco to scale back his support. He decreased the Blue Division down to 3,00 men and it was renamed the Blue Legion. In March 1944, Franco removed Spanish troops completely. However, some of the Spanish volunteers refused to return to Spain and instead stayed to continue supporting the fascist cause.

Soldiers who fought in the Blue Division received a number of medals and awards as recognition of their service. Many Spaniards were absorbed into various divisions of the Axis. The Waffen SS, for instance, gave Spanish volunteers different ranks and positions. A lot of other Spanish soldiers found their way into other military units such as the 357th Infantry Division, 11th SS Division Nordland, and the 3rd Mountain Division.

Franco ended up walking the best path available to him through the war. If he had ever entered on the Axis side his administration and his country would likely not have survived the war and it would not have made much of a difference. However, there can be no mistaking which side of the war he was on.