A retrospective: The Spanish Civil war and the rise of Franco

The Spanish Civil War (1935 – 1939)

(Guerra Civil Española)

Miguel Primo de Rivera (Miguel Primo De Rivera Y Orbaneja, Marqués De Estella) controlled Spain from (1923 – 1930) through a cruel dictatorship. He adopted the motto ‘Country, Religion, Monarchy’. There were three attempts to overthrow his regime as he lost support from the public, especially the middle class, and the army refused to support him which forced him to resign, and he died not long after ages 60.

The Civil war was a knock-on effect from previous decades of political unrest. The war was fought from two sides.

• The Nationalists who were predominantly Roman Catholics who comprised of military, land owners and wealthy businessmen.

The Republicans were mainly common labourers and the middle class, who were supported by anarchists and communism.

In 1936 Spain was controlled by a Republican government who was run by a Manuel Azaña Díaz. The Spanish Republican Armed Forces (Fuerzas Armadas de la República Española) declared a pronunciamiento which is a military rebellion or a coup d’état under the control of José Sanjurjo y Sacanell.

The Nationalists uprising group was supported by a number of organisations including:

• Confederación Española de Derechas Autónomas (A right wing political party)

• Falange Española de las Juntas de Ofensiva Nacional Sindicalista (Catholic conservatives)

• Alfonsism (supported the return of Alfonso XIII as the king of Spain)

• Carlism (they wished to claim the throne on behalf of the Bourbon dynasty, especially Carlos de Borbón)

After Sanjurjo’s death, Francisco Franco Bahamonde became leader of the Nationalists and took the title Generalissimo, and gained support from Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler, and Fascist Italy under Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini.

Adolf Hitler and Franco

The Republicans gained support from the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin and Mexico under Lázaro Cárdenas del Río.

According to a report filed by the MI5, Joseph Stalin, set out a plan to have ‘Franco’ assassinated. Nikolai Yezhov, head of the KGB, had a reign of terror, and one general (Walter Krivitisky) managed to escape, and submitted a file of information to intelligence officers on Yezhov.

‘Early in 1937 the OGPU (KGB) received orders from Stalin to arrange the assassination of General Franco,’ the general recalled. ‘Hardt [an officer who was later purged] was instructed by the OGPU chief, Yezhov, to recruit an Englishman for the purpose.’

‘He did in fact contact and send to Spain a young Englishman, a journalist of good family, an idealist and fanatical anti-Nazi. Before the plan matured, Hardt himself was recalled to Moscow and disappeared.’ From the memorandum, it is unclear whether Stalin had a particular English-man, Philby, in mind for the assassination plan.’ – The Guardian

In July 1937, forces took control over Spanish Morocco, The Canary Islands, the Balearic Islands, and areas of Northern Spain. Both parties attempted to maintain control of their territories, but overall the Nationalists had the upper hand. Executions, mass murder and assassinations were undertaken by both sides, but historians accept that the Nationalists terror was higher than the Republicans.

Also in 1937 the Nationalists captured the Basque regions and by October they had complete control of northern Spain, and in 1938 took control of Catalonia forcing over 250,000 republican troops into neighbouring France. In March 1939 a war began between the communists and anti-communists after the Republican government fled to France. Nationalist forces took control of Madrid and Republican forces began to surrender ending the three year conflict.

After the Civil war ended the casualties from war were estimated at between 900,000 and 1,000,000, but people who died from starvation and disease takes the figures way over 1,000,000.

Franco’s Spain, 1939–1975

Francisco Franco Bahamone (December 1892 – 20 November 1975) became the head of state in Spain from (1939 – 1975) under the title of Caudillo and Su Excelencia el Jefe de Estado” (“His Excellency the Head of State”) Francoist Spain (España franquista) lasted 46 years under his dictatorship. Historians label this time as a fascistized dictatorship.

Under Francoism the following policies were adopted:


• Spanish nationalism

• national Catholicism

• monarchism

• militarism

• national conservatism

• anti-Masonry

• anti-Catalanism

• pan-Hispanism 


Like most fascist regimes, there was an authoritarian system that allowed no room or tolerance for any type of political opposition.

Francisco Paulino Hermenegildo Teódulo Franco Bahamond was born in El Ferrol, in Galicia provincias north western Spain. He was born into a Roman Catholic family, and like generations before him he was expected to join the Navy and become an officer, but cutbacks to naval admissions forced him to join the army instead. At 14 years old he joined the Army academy in Toledo. Upon graduating he volunteered for active duty in Spanish Morocco. In 1916 he was seriously wounded by a gunshot and returned home to get better. In 1920 he joined the Spanish Foreign Legion of which he took full command of three years later, and in 1926 at just 33 years old he became general de brigada.

Adolf Hitler and Franco

After the end of the Spanish Civil War the county was still in unrest and this wasn’t helped by the outbreak of World War II. Despite having sympathy for the Axis and meeting with Hitler in 1940, an allegiance never came to be and Spain remained neutral.

In 1947 Franco announced Spain as a monarchy, but without a monarch. This was to appease the Movimiento Nacional and he waited 22 years before he claimed he was Spain‘s regent (regente). He lived in the Royal Palace of El Pardo (Palacio Real de El Pardo) and he wore the uniform usually reserved for a King. He added By the Grace of God (Dei Gratia) to currency and stamps.

Throughout the years his control was loosened and he allowed more liberal ideas. He was never a popular leader but public opinion gradually went from rigorous generalissimo to a civil statesman, despite prostitution and homosexuality being declared illegal in 1954.

In the 1960s Franco’s health began to deteriorate and he announced that his successor would be Juan Carlos Alfonso Víctor María de Borbón y Borbón-Dos Sicilias who reigned as the King of Spain from 1975 until his abdication in 2014.

Juan Carlos Alfonso Víctor María de Borbón y Borbón-Dos Sicilias

Despite Spain making substantial economic progress in the final decades of Franco‘s control, Juan Carlos allowed political parties to form and made Spain a democracy not too dissimilar to the rest of Western Europe.

Franco’s death

In 1973 stepped down as Spain‘s Prime Minister (Presidente del Gobierno) but stayed in the position of Head of State. In his place he appointed Luis Carrero Blanco as Prime Minister, but six months later he was assassinated by the terrorist groupie Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA).

In July 1974 Franco became ill from various health complications and Juan Carlos took the position of acting Head of State. He recovered and took over as Head of State but within a year he became gravely ill battling Parkinson’s disease. In October 1975 he fell into a coma, and was put on life support. On 20 November his life support was turned off and he died from heart failure aged 82.

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