Francisco Franco, the son of a naval postmaster, was born in El Ferrol, Spain, on 4th December, 1892. Franco graduated from the Toledo Military Academy in 1910. Commissioned into the 8th Regiment he was posted to Morocco in 1913. Although physically small he proved to be a courageous officer and won rapid promotion.
Franco had reached the rank of major in 1917 and played a prominent role in strike-breaking in the Asturian coal fields and in 1920 Lieutenant Colonel Millán Astray appointed him second in command of the Spanish Foreign Legion (Tercio de Extranjeros).
The first volunteers arrived in Ceuta in October 1920. Astray told his new recruits "you have lifted yourselves from among the dead - for don't forget that you were dead, that your lives were over. You have come here to live a new life for which you must pay with death. You have come here to die. Since you crossed the Straits, you have no mother, no girlfriend, no family; from today all that will be provided by the Legion." Astray added: "Death in combat is the greatest honour. You die only once. Death arrives without pain and is not so terrible as it seems. The most horrible thing is to live as a coward."
The Tercio de Extranjeros quickly developed a reputation for brutality. Astray and Franco encouraged the killing and mutilation of prisoners. Arturo Barea, who served under Franco in Morroco in 1921, later wrote: "When it attacked, the Tercio knew no limits to its vengeance. When it left a village, nothing remained but fires and the corpses of men, women and children."
In 1923 Franco replaced Millán Astray as commander of the Tercio de Extranjeros and over the next few years he gained a reputation as a brilliant strategist and administrator.
In October 1923 Franco married Carmen Polo, a member of a wealthy merchant family. Franco growing reputation in the armed forces was recognized when Alfonso XIII sent a representative to the wedding.
In 1925 France and Spain agreed to combine forces against Abd-el-Krim in Morocco. Franco was placed in command of the Spanish troops and Henri-Philippe Petain led the French Army. In 1926 Franco was appointed Europe's youngest general. Two years later he was appointed commander of Spain's new military academy at Saragossa. This involved him visiting military schools in Germany and France.
Franco supported the military dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera. However, after failing to solve Spain's economic problems he was forced to resign in January 1930. In 1931 Alfonso XIII agreed to democratic elections. It was the first time for nearly sixty years that free elections had been allowed in Spain. When the Spanish people voted overwhelmingly for a republic, Alfonso was advised that the only way to avoid large-scale violence was to go into exile. Alfonso agreed and left the country on 14th April, 1931.
The provisional government called a general election for June 1931. The Socialist Party (PSOE) and other left wing parties won an overwhelming victory. Niceto Alcala Zamora, a moderate Republican, became prime minister, but included in his cabinet several radical figures such as Manuel Azaña, Francisco Largo Caballero and Indalecio Prieto.
On 16th October 1931, Azaña replaced Niceto Alcala Zamora as prime minister. With the support of the Socialist Party (PSOE) he attempted to introduce agrarian reform and regional autonomy. However, these measures were blocked in the Cortes.
Franco held right-wing, monarchist views and the republican government mistrusted him and demoted him to a minor post in Corunna. Two years later he was sent to command the Spanish Army in the Balearics.
In October 1934 the government used Franco and Moroccan mercenary troops to suppress the Asturian miners' strike. This action caused the left-wing in Spain to identify Franco as one of their main enemies. The right-wing approved of Franco and in 1935, José Maria Gil Robles, the minister of war, appointed him as his chief of staff. In this post Franco promoted monarchists and purged the army hierarchy of Republicans.
On 15th January 1936, Manuel Azaña helped to establish a coalition of parties on the political left to fight the national elections due to take place the following month. This included the Socialist Party (PSOE), Communist Party ( PCE), Esquerra Party and the Republican Union Party.
The Popular Front, as the coalition became known, advocated the restoration of Catalan autonomy, amnesty for political prisoners, agrarian reform, an end to political blacklists and the payment of damages for property owners who suffered during the revolt of 1934.
Right-wing groups in Spain formed the National Front. This included the CEDA and the Carlists. The Falange Española did not officially join but most of its members supported the aims of the National Front.
The Spanish people voted on Sunday, 16th February, 1936. Out of a possible 13.5 million voters, over 9,870,000 participated in the 1936 General Election. 4,654,116 people (34.3) voted for the Popular Front, whereas the National Front obtained 4,503,505 (33.2) and the centre parties got 526,615 (5.4). The Popular Front, with 263 seats out of the 473 in the Cortes formed the new government.
The Popular Front government immediately upset the conservatives by releasing all left-wing political prisoners. The government also introduced agrarian reforms that penalized the landed aristocracy. Other measures included outlawing the Falange Española and granting Catalonia political and administrative autonomy.
The government, afraid of a military uprising, transferred right-wing military leaders to posts outside Spain. This included Franco, who was appointed him governor of Canary Islands.
In February 1936 Franco joined other Spanish Army officers, such as Emilio Mola, Juan Yague, Gonzalo Queipo de Llano and José Sanjurjo, in talking about overthrowing the Popular Front government. Mola became leader of this group and at this stage Franco was unwilling to fully commit himself to joining the revolt.
On the 10th May 1936 the conservative Niceto Alcala Zamora was ousted as president and replaced by the left-wing Manuel Azaña. As a result of the government's economic measures the wealthy took vast sums of capital out of the country. This created an economic crisis and the value of the peseta declined which damaged trade and tourism. With prices rising workers demanded higher wages. This led to a series of strikes in Spain.
President Manuel Azaña appointed Diego Martinez Barrio as prime minister on 18th July 1936 and asked him to negotiate with the rebels. He contacted Emilio Mola and offered him the post of Minister of War in his government. He refused and when Azaña realized that the Nationalists were unwilling to compromise, he sacked Martinez Barrio and replaced him with José Giral. To protect the Popular Front government, Giral gave orders for arms to be distributed to left-wing organizations that opposed the military uprising.
General Emilio Mola issued his proclamation of revolt in Navarre on 19th July, 1936. The coup got off to a bad start with José Sanjurjo being killed in an air crash on 20th July. The uprising was a failure in most parts of Spain but Mola's forces were successful in the Canary Islands, Morocco, Seville and Aragon. Franco, now commander of the Army of Africa, joined the revolt and began to conquer southern Spain.
By the end of September 1936, the nine other generals involved in the military uprising came to the conclusion that Franco should become commander of the Nationalist Army. He was also appointed chief of state. General Emilio Mola agreed to serve under him and was placed in charge of the Army of the North.
Franco now began to remove all his main rivals for the leadership of the Nationalist forces. Some were forced into exile and nothing was done to help rescue José Antonio Primo de Rivera from captivity. However, when José Antonio was shot by the Republicans in November 1936, Franco exploited his death by making him a mythological saint of the fascist movement.
On 19th April 1937, Franco forced the unification of the Falange Española and the Carlists with other small right-wing parties to form the Falange Española Tradicionalista. Franco then had himself appointed as leader of the new organisation. Imitating the tactics of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany, giant posters of Franco and the dead José Antonio were displayed along with the slogan, "One State! One Country! One Chief! Franco! Franco! Franco!" all over Spain.
Franco and his Nationalist Army, with the support of German and Italian troops, gradually began to take control of Spain. His troops captured Badajoz and this enabled him to join up with General Mola's army and secure the borders with Portugal. The victory at Irun sealed one frontier with France. In June 1937 the Nationalists captured Bilbao providing Franco with a major industrial base.
Franco was also helped by the French government's closing the Pyrenees passes to Spain in June 1938. Another important factor in his victory was the decision by Juan Negrin, the Republican prime minister, to withdraw the International Brigades in September 1938.
In February 1939 the Nationalist Army was able to close the last frontier with France. Franco now concentrated his forces on the now isolated Madrid and its defenders eventually surrendered the city on 31st March.
Franco developed a reputation as a cruel and vindictive military leader. It is estimated that an estimated 200,000 political prisoners died as a result of starvation, overwork and executions. The persecution of political opponents continued until 1944 when a number of amnesties and pardons were granted.
Franco joined the Anti-Comintern Pact on 7th April 1938 but declared the neutrality of Spain on the outbreak of the Second World War. Adolf Hitler tried hard to get Franco to change his mind. In their negotiations Franco demanded that in any postwar settlement he wanted control of Gibraltar, French Morocco, a portion of Algeria including Oran, and parts of Africa.
Franco's main demand was that Germany had to fully compensate Spain for the cost of any British blockade of the country. Hitler was in no position to take on this burden and the negotiations came to an end. However, Franco did agree to provide logistical and intelligence support and promised to send a volunteer force, the Spanish Blue Division, to help the fight against communism in Europe.
After the defeat of France in May 1940, Adolf Hitler resumed negotiations with Franco. The two men met at Hendaye on 23rd October 1940. Hitler's main request was for his troops to travel through Spain to link up with an airbourne assault in Gibraltar. Franco, who believed that Germany would not win a long war, refused. Instead, he asked for arms so that Spain could capture Gibraltar. Afterwards Hitler remarked that he would rather visit the dentist to have his teeth removed than have another meeting with Franco.
Franco did consider invading Gibraltar while Britain was involved in the war with Nazi Germany. However, he decided against this move when he was informed that if this happened, British forces would take the Canary Islands.
In October 1943, Franco recalled the Spanish Blue Division from the Soviet Union. Convinced that the Axis powers would be defeated, Franco now began to openly support the Allies in the war with Germany.
After the war Franco came under considerable pressure to restore the monarchy. In 1947 Franco announced a referendum to establish his position. The vote confirmed him as lifetime regent. The following year, Juan Carlos, the future king, began his education at the age of ten under Franco's supervision.
Franco's strong anti-Communism made him popular with the United States and in 1950 Spain was allowed to join the United Nations. In 1953 Franco signed an agreement that enabled the United States to establish four air and naval bases in Spain. In return the National Atlantic Treaty Organization protected Franco's regime from foreign invasion.
In 1953 the Vatican confirmed the Church's recognition of Franco's power by granting him the right to the final choice of a bishop from a list of several candidates proposed by the pope.
Franco's main foreign policy was to recover Gibraltar and to maintain Spain's colonies in Africa. He was unsuccessful in persuading Britain to give up Gibraltar and in 1956 he was forced to come to terms with the sultan of Morocco.
Franco announced in 1969 that on his death he would be replaced by Juan Carlos, the grandson of Spain's last ruling king. Francisco Franco died on 20th November 1975 and within two years almost every vestige of his dictatorship had disappeared.