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Francisco Franco

Last modified 18 April 2012.

First published 7 March 2001. Reviewed 13 September 2006

Full name Francisco Franco Bahamonde. AKA 'El Caudillo' (The Leader).

Country: Spain.

Kill tally: Tens to hundreds of thousands. One source says 500,000 killed in the Spanish Civil War, another claims two million executed alone. More sober estimates for executions put the figure at 35,000 killed either summarily or after a hasty court martial. According to military historian Antony Beevor, the figure for non-combatants and surrendered troops killed by Franco's Nationalists during the war "must exceed 100,000 and may be closer to 200,000."

Background: Spain becomes a republic in 14 April 1931 when King so XIII abdicates and goes into exile. However, the country is unable to maintain any political stability. A provisional administration is replaced first by a republican left government in October 1931, then by a conservative government in November 1933, and finally by the Popular Front, a coalition of socialists and left republicans, in February 1936. Spanish conservatives become concerned that the Popular Front will turn the country into a communist state. The right-wing National Bloc openly appeals to the military to save Spain. The military acts in July 1936, sparking the Spanish Civil War.

Mini biography: Born on 4 December 1892 in El Ferrol in Galicia, northwestern Spain. His full name is Francisco Paulino Hermenegildo Teódulo Franco y Bahamonde. Franco's father is a paymaster in the Spanish naval administrative corps. His mother is a pious and conservative upper middle-class Roman Catholic.

1907 - At the age of 14, Franco enters the Infantry Academy at Toledo, graduating three years later and receiving his first commission as second lieutenant.

1912 - He volunteers for active duty in the colonial campaigns against the Rif tribespeople in Spanish Morocco.

1913 - Franco is promoted to first lieutenant in an elite regiment of native Moroccan cavalry. He quickly wins a reputation for efficiency, dedication and concern for his troops' well-being. He also becomes known as a severe disciplinarian prepared to have men shot for minor infractions of regulations.

1915 - He becomes the youngest captain in the Spanish Army.

1916 - He is seriously wounded by a bullet in the abdomen and returns to Spain to recover.

1920 - Franco is appointed second in command of the newly organised Spanish Foreign Legion, succeeding to full command in 1923. The legion becomes notorious for the ruthlessness and brutality of its attacks on Moorish villages and plays a decisive role in bringing the Moroccan revolt to an end. Franco becomes a national hero.

1923 - Franco marries Carmen Polo. The couple will have a daughter.

1926 - He is promoted to brigadier-general, becoming the youngest soldier of this rank in the whole of Europe.

1928 - He is named director of the newly organised General Military Academy in Zaragoza.

1931 - The Spanish monarchy falls when King Alfonso XIII abdicates and goes into exile. Franco's career is halted when the leftist leaders of the new Spanish republic (known as the Second Republic) adopt a policy to reform the army. The General Military Academy is dissolved and Franco reassigned first as the head of the infantry garrison at La Coruna and then as commander of the Balearic Islands district.

The leaders of the Second Republic introduce numerous other reforms. Women are given the vote, the Catholic Church is excluded from the education system and divorce is legalised. Catalonia and the Basque provinces are given some political autonomy. Land reform measures seek to divide large estates in the south of the country among local peasants.

However, social conservatives view the reforms with alarm. Meanwhile, the Spanish economy stagnates and unemployment rises as the Great Depression grips the world.

1933 - Conservative parties led by the Spanish Confederation of the Autonomous Right (Confederación Espanola de Derechas Autónomas - CEDA) win control of the Republic at general elections held in November and begin to dismantle the reforms initiated by their predecessors, sparking political unrest in urban and industrial centres, Catalonia and the Basque provinces - areas where support for the reform agenda is strongest.

The far right is spearheaded by a newly formed party called 'Falange' (phalanx). Falange advocates the fascist ideals of Germany's Adolf Hitler and Italy's Benito Mussolini.

1934 - Franco is promoted to major-general and placed in a position in the Ministry of War. When he suppresses an uprising by miners in the northern province of Asturias in October, he once again comes into prominence. In May 1935 he is appointed as the army's chief-of-staff.

1936 - The conservative government is dissolved. At elections held in February, the 'Popular Front' coalition of the left wins a narrow victory over the rightist 'National Bloc' and begins to restart the social reform program.

Spanish conservatives become concerned that the Popular Front, which has ties with the Soviet Union, will turn the country into a communist state. The tension soon boils over into open violence between rival groups on the left and right.

When the new government is unable to prevent the accelerating collapse of Spain's social and economic structure, Franco calls on it to declare a state of emergency. His appeal is refused.

Suspected by the leftist government of being an antirepublic conspirator, Franco is removed from the general staff and demoted to military governor of the Canary Islands.

Meanwhile, rebels within the military conspire with civilian Nationalists in a plot to overthrow the Popular Front. Franco decides to join the rebellion just days before it is scheduled to begin.

The military rebellion is announced on the Canary Islands on 17 July and starts in earnest the following day. The Spanish Civil War has begun. On 18 July, Franco flies to Morocco, taking control of the territory and the crack Army of Africa troops garrisoned there. The army is composed of elite Spanish Foreign Legion battalions and native Moroccan units commanded by Spanish officers. At the end of July, Franco declares that he is prepared "to shoot half of Spain."

Franco secures the use of Germany and Italian aircraft to transport the troops to Spain. On 6 August he crosses to the mainland himself. A headquarters is established at Seville, in the south of the country, from where he coordinates the Nationalist forces marching on Madrid. However, the capital is successfully defended, depriving the Nationalists (Nacionales) of a quick victory.

A junta of generals forms a Nationalist government. Backed in Spain by the Catholic Church, the Falange and monarchists, the rebel government is promptly recognised by Germany and Italy. Franco is declared 'generalisimo', (commander-in-chief), and 'jefe de estado' (head of state) of the Nationalist regime on 29 September. He appeals to Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini for help in the war effort. Both fascist leaders provide personnel, aircraft, tanks and artillery on favourable terms. Germany stipulates that its military aid should only go to the forces under Franco's command.

Soon after, Franco allows the Germans to organise under an independent command called the 'Condor Legion'. The size of the legion will vary between 5,000 and 10,000 men.

The Nationalists also receive substantial aid from Spanish multi-millionaire Juan March, former King Alfonso XIII and international businesses, including the Texas Oil Company, Standard Oil of New Jersey, Ford, Studebaker, General Motors, and Dupont of Nemours.

The Republican forces are composed of those military units that remained loyal to the government, along with socialist, communist and anarchist militias.

On 26 August the leader of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin, decides to back the Republic. Beginning in October, the Soviets provide a steady stream of support, including arms and advisers. Between 700 and 1,000 aircraft are purchased from the Soviet Union, along with about 1,200 armoured vehicles, about 1,500 field guns, four million shells, 15,000 machine guns and 500,000 rifles.

Mexico sells the Republic about 20,000 rifles, 30 field guns and provides supplies of ammunition and food.

Communist organisations from around the world enlist recruits for the 'International Brigades'. Independent volunteers also come to the Republic's aid. United States writer Ernest Hemingway will base his novel 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' on his experiences of the war. British writer George Orwell's book 'Homage to Catalonia' documents his time in one of the Republican militias.

However, the Republic is unable to secure the committed support of the major Western democracies, including Britain, France and the US. These countries, along with the League of Nations, adopt a non-interventionist policy and refuse to supply the Republic with arms.

The Republic is also shunned by the international business community, although it does control the country's 700 tonnes of gold which, at the time, is the fourth largest reserve in the world. In September and October 1936 about 70% of the gold is sent to the Soviet Union for safe-keeping and as collateral for Soviet supplies. The gold is never returned.

The war will last for just under three years. During this entire period, the Republicans will win only one of the many major battles fought. Franco's Nationalists suffer some setbacks but finally succeed in encircling the Republican forces, executing tens of thousands as the noose tightens. Franco declares that the Nationalists have a list of two million "reds" who are to be punished for their "crimes". The Catholic Church openly supports the generalisimo.

In the course of the war the Republican forces also commit atrocities, targeting Catholic clergy and others who they believe are opposed to their ideals. At the end of the war the Nationalists will state that 7,937 religious personnel were killed by the Republicans.

1937 - In January, Franco sets up a joint German-Italian general staff. Germany increases its contribution to the war effort.

Following the signing of a secret pact between Franco and Mussolini, Italy also increases it's military aid to the Nationalists. Italian infantry are grouped into a 'Corps of Volunteer Troops'. Italian air support, known as the 'Legionary Air Force', is boosted to 5,000 men.

On 19 April, Franco restructures the Falange, merging it with the other Nationalist groups and making it the regime's official political arm. Franco is proclaimed chief of the new party. His brother-in-law is made the leader of the party executive. The party is later renamed the 'National Movement'. Labour groups are consolidated into one large organisation that is completely subordinated to the Falange.

In one the most notorious actions of the war, planes from the German Condor Legion bomb the Basque town of Guernica on 26 April. The attack lasts for about three hours. Guernica is destroyed, 1,654 of its occupants are killed and 889 are wounded. The Nationalist forces occupy what remains of the town two days later.

The Spanish-born artist Pablo Picasso later paints a masterpiece inspired by the bombing. The monochrome canvas is simply titled 'Guernica'.

On 28 August the Vatican officially recognises Franco's regime.

Meanwhile, the Republican forces begin to fight among themselves, with communist and anarchist factions battling over ideological differences and for control of strategic sites.

1938 - Following the signing of treaty between Britain and Italy in April, the prime minister of the Republican Government attempts to open negotiations with the Nationalists for a peace settlement. However, Franco will accept nothing other than total surrender.

When Germany, Italy, France and Britain sign the 'Munich Agreement' on 29 September ceding the Sudetenland, the German-speaking area in the north of Czechoslovakia, to Germany, the Republic's hope that the outbreak of a general war in Europe will bring an end to the non-interventionist policy of the Western democracies and save it from defeat is dashed.

1939 - Britain and France officially recognise Franco's regime on 27 February.

On 28 March the Nationalists take Madrid. The Civil War ends on 1 April. Franco has won a complete and unconditional victory. Up to 500,000 people are estimated to have died during the conflict and much of Spain's infrastructure has been ruined. The population is further depleted as between 250,000 and 500,000 Republican refugees stream out of the country to find safety abroad.

The new regime faces massive debt, owing 400 million Reichsmarks to Germany and five billion lira to Italy alone.

Now commander-in-chief of the armed forces, head of state, and leader of the government, Franco quickly acts to impose order, suppressing all those who present a potential threat to the new regime. "The war is over," he declares, "But the enemy is not dead."

A state of martial law remains in effect until 1948. Hundreds of thousands of Republicans are imprisoned. Between 1939 and 1943 nearly 200,000 are summarily executed or killed.

Criticism is regarded as treason, political parties are outlawed, universal suffrage is eliminated and the Catholic Church is restored as the official religion of Spain. The National Movement is made the country's only legal political organisation and the parliament is turned into a puppet of the executive.

Civil marriage is banned, divorce and abortion are made illegal and the church regains complete control of the education system. Around 30,000 children of political prisoners and those suspected of Republican sympathies are removed from their parents and put up for adoption.

Most of the reformist legislation introduced by the Republicans is revoked. Strikes are banned, the media is muzzled and the moves towards granting autonomy to Catalonia and the Basque provinces are reversed.

Spain becomes a cultural wilderness as artists and intellectuals are either forced into exile or silenced by censorship. Trade unions are destroyed and their funds and property confiscated. Former supporters of the Popular Front are banned from entering public life.

Franco introduces the 'Nuevo Estado' (New State), a system based on the fascist ideas of unquestioning loyalty, the denial of individual rights and freedoms, and state intervention in economic and social management. The Nuevo Estado is legitimised when it receives the support of the Catholic Church.

The Second World War begins in September. Though sympathetic to the fascist powers and prepared to provide them with assistance, Franco keeps Spain out of direct involvement in the conflict, apart from sending a division of troops to fight alongside the Germans on the Eastern Front.

As the war shifts against the Axis block, Franco moves Spain towards a more neutral position, although at war's end Spain is still viewed as a pariah state by the rest of the world. Franco is seen as the "last surviving fascist dictator" of a country prepared to provide asylum to thousands of Nazi's fleeing justice.

Spain receives no aid from the Marshall Economic Recovery Program and is excluded from membership of the United Nations (UN) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Franco's attempts to implement a policy of economic self-sufficiency leads to further international isolation, as well as stagnation of the domestic economy.

But, as the Cold War bites, Franco begins to be seen as a potential anticommunist ally by the West and relations start to thaw.

1947 - Following a referendum, the monarchy is reinstated. Franco's position as head of state is confirmed. He is to be regent pending the choice of a king, a position he retains for the rest of his life.

1950 - The US resumes diplomatic relations with the Spanish Government and begins to provide financial aid. The UN also starts to normalise relations, retracting a call made in 1946 for its members to withdraw their ambassadors from the country.

1953 - An agreement is signed with the US granting aid in exchange for access to Spanish military and naval bases. Franco's image is further rehabilitated when he signs an agreement with the Vatican that entrenches Catholicism into the life and institutions of Spain.

1955 - Further respectability comes when Spain is admitted to the UN.

1957 - The government is reorganised to give a more professional approach to economic management, with military administrators being replaced by civilians with business expertise.

Meanwhile, Spain grants asylum to Ante Pavelic, the fascist dictator of the Independent State of Croatia during the Second World War. Pavelic's reign was one of the bloodiest of the war, resulting in 600,000 to one million deaths.

1958 - Spain joins the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

1959 - Spain opens further to the world under an IMF stabilisation plan that requires the liberalisation of trade and capital flows, including direct foreign investment. This overturning of the earlier isolationist economic policies will result in a burst of growth and prosperity.

1960s - The Spanish economy grows spectacularly as industry is modernised and the country becomes a popular tourist destination, with gross domestic product rising by 40%. At the same time, popular discontent with the strictures of the regime starts to grow and become vocal. Franco responds by slightly loosening his control.

1965 - Workers are given the right to strike over non-political disputes. Media censorship is relaxed the following year.

1969 - A wave of strikes and rebellion in the universities causes Franco to proclaim a "state of exception" throughout Spain. The rights to freedom of expression and assembly are suspended. The state of exception if lifted in March. Franco designates 32-year-old prince Juan Carlos de Borbón, grandson of former King Alfonso XIII, as heir to the Spanish throne and his successor.

1973 - Franco resigns his position as leader of the government but remains head of state, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and head of the National Movement.

1974 - Opposition to the regime continues to mount. Strikes spread across the country. Universities are in turmoil. Increasing Basque terrorist activity sees the government place the Basque provinces under martial law in April 1975.

1975 - Franco dies on 20 November in Madrid. His body is entombed at the 'Valley of the Fallen', a giant necropolis to the south of Madrid built for Nationalist soldiers killed during the Civil War.

King Juan Carlos I begins to dismantle the authoritarian institutions of Franco's regime and encourages the revival of political parties. Within three years of Franco's death Spain has become a fully democratic constitutional monarchy.

Postscript

1977 - The Spanish Government grants a blanket amnesty for crimes "of a political nature" committed prior to December 1976. The amnesty ensures immunity from prosecution for all members of the Franco regime.

1978 - In November several middle-ranking officers within the Spanish military plan a coup d'état. The plot is uncovered before it can be launched. The main instigators are court-martialled and jailed.

One of these instigators, Civil Guard Lieutenant-colonel Antonio Tejero Molina, leads a second coup attempt on 23 February 1981. About 200 soldiers and members of the Civil Guard seize the lower house of the Spanish Parliament and take about 350 members of parliament hostage. The rebels surrender 18 hours later, after the King denounces the coup.

A third attempt at a military coup, planned for 27 October 1982, the eve of a general election, is also uncovered and foiled.

2001 - The Spanish parliament passes a motion that officially recognises the existence of victims of "repression of the Francoist dictatorship' and denounces "the violent imposition of ideologies."

2003 - On 1 December the Spanish parliament pays homage to the victims of the Franco regime. However, the governing People's Party boycotts the proceedings.

2004 - A government commission is created and provided with funding of about US$1.3 million to investigate ways to compensate victims of the Franco regime. The commission is likely to recommend that the government help finance the exhumation of mass graves from the Civil War and provide compensation payments for people wrongly convicted by the Franco regime.

The commission will extend the work of organisations like the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory. The association estimates there are 600 mass graves in Spain and says it has helped find the remains of just over 300 people.

2005 - The last publicly displayed statue of Franco remaining in Madrid is removed from the Plaza de Oriente on 18 March.

At the same time, the Spanish Government plans to convert the Franco-era mausoleum at the Valley of the Fallen to an education centre.

On 19 July, Britain's 'Guardian' newspaper reports that Amnesty International has called on Spain to "provide justice for tens of thousands of people killed by General Franco's death squads during and after the Spanish Civil War."

"Instead of truth about crimes of the past, its place has been filled with silence and in some cases denial, in the absence of an exhaustive and impartial investigation," the newspaper quotes a report from Amnesty as saying.

According to the paper, Amnesty has "urged the creation of a truth commission or an equivalent body to investigate atrocities by both sides during the war."

Amnesty also calls for an end to the impunity extended to those guilty of crimes committed on behalf of the Franco dictatorship and the annulment of thousands of death sentences handed down by Franco's military courts.

Meanwhile, a poll run by the Cadena Ser radio station in November finds that 30% of Spaniards do not know that Franco overthrew a democratically elected government. Over half those polled believed that Franco's influence could still be felt. 63% believed that Franco's dictatorship was negative for Spain.

2006 - In July a survey by 'El Mundo' newspaper finds that a third of those polled believed that Franco was right to overthrow the republican government.

The same month the Spanish Government unveils a draft law dealing with some of the legacies of the Civil War and Franco era. Under the draft law assistance would be provided for the exhumation of mass graves; victims of the war and dictatorship would be compensated; the far right would be banned from holding rallies at Franco's grave; members of the International Brigades would be given the right to take on Spanish nationality; and funds would be set aside to sort out wartime and Franco period archives.

2007 - On 31 October the lower house of the Spanish Parliament passes a bill removing many of the last vestiges of the Franco era.

Under the bill, known as the Law on Historic Memory, the summary military trials of the Franco regime are declared illegitimate, along with their sentences. All statues, street names and other public symbols honouring Franco must be taken down. Political assemblies at the Valley of the Fallen are banned. The citizenship of Spaniards forced into exile by the dictatorship can be reinstated. The descendants of those exiles will be able to apply for citizenship. The program for the exhumation and identification of victims of the war is expanded.

Meanwhile, on 29 October, the Vatican beatifies 498 Spanish priests and nuns killed by Republicans during the Civil War.

2008 - Baltasar Garzón, the Spanish judge who famously tried to prosecute Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998, opens a criminal investigation into forced disappearances during the Franco era. By October, Garzón has compiled a list of 114,266 disappeared. However, on 18 November, Garzón drops the case after state prosecutors question his jurisdiction.

In November, Franco's home town of El Ferrol in Galicia strips him of his titles of honorary major and favourite son. Later, Franco's heirs are ordered to open his summer estate to the public.

At the end of December the descendants of those who left Spain during the Civil War and Franco's regime are given the right to apply for Spanish citizenship.

Comment: Opinions tend to polarise when it comes to Franco and the Spanish Civil War. Creative geniuses like Hemingway and Picasso have ensured that the war remains, in the minds of many, as one of the most romantic yet tragic conflicts of the 20th Century, especially among those whose political beliefs tend to lean to the left. From this perspective Franco can take on the bearing of a monster.

Another view sees Franco as the saviour of a nation, sparing it from a communist takeover and the political inflexibility that would doom the Soviet Union and its Eastern Block satellites.

That may be, although the flexibility of the Franco regime was really just a reflection of the hollowness at its core. When ideological questions are no longer permitted, matters of practicality come to the fore.

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