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