Francisco Franco was born on 4th December 1892 in the port city of Ferrol in the region of Galicia in north-western Spain. His full birth name was Francisco Paulino Hermenegildo Teódulo Franco y Bahamonde Salgado Pardo. Franco’s father was a Navy man called Nicolás Franco Salgado-Araujo, and his mother, Pilar Bahamonde Pardo de Andrade, also came from a family with strong naval connections. Franco had three siblings Nicolás (a naval officer), Pilar, and Ramón.
As a young man Franco wanted to continue in the footsteps of his father by joining the navy. However, the Spanish state had been making financial cutbacks as a consequence of the Spanish defeat in the Spanish-American War in 1898. The knock on effect in terms of the Spanish navy was that the number of posts available in the Spanish naval fleets was reduced. So the 14 year-old Francisco Franco instead joined the Spanish army in 1907.
Franco and Army Training
Franco spent his army training in Toledo at the Infantry Academy: the most prestigious military training centre in Spain. His military education was to last three years, after which time Franco graduated as a second lieutenant. In 1910 Franco was stationed in mainland Spain for two years.
The historical background against which the life Francisco Franco was set, had seen Spain lose the remains of its empire, due principally to the aforementioned War in America. The losses that the war imposed caused many people to blame the Spanish government. In turn the Spanish government tried to reclaim lost imperial glories by focussing on Morocco, a country for which Spain had harboured colonial plans since the 15th century. Morocco provided the only real opportunity for an ambitious soldier to advance his career, and so Franco was happy to accept a posting there in 1912.
Between 1912 and 1916, Francisco Franco acquired a reputation as a courageous and cunning officer, winning the Military Cross (la Crúz Militar) in 1913 when he was 20 years old. In 1916 Franco sustained a life-threatening abdominal wound in a battle at El Biurtz but made a rapid recovery and soon returned to duty. Franco was awarded promotion to major and stationed in the northern Spanish region of Asturias.
From Francisco Franco to General Francisco Franco
Franco met two people in Asturias that played major roles in the direction of his life: his future wife (María del Carmen Polo y Martínez Valdés); and José Millán Astray an army officer who was a founder of the Spanish Foreign Legion (el Tercio de Extranjeros). In late 1920 Francisco Franco was assigned to the Tercio de Extranjeros to shape and lead this new elite strand of the Spanish army. Between 1920 and 1925 Franco married María (1923) and distinguished himself further as a bright military tactician and leader to such an extent that he was promoted to brigadier general by the time he left Morocco in 1926.
In 1928 Brigadier General Francisco Franco was awarded the position of head of the Joint Military Academy (la Academia General Militar) in Zaragoza. The academy was designed to be a breeding ground for young (male) career soldiers who aimed to become army officers.
General Francisco Franco and the Second Republic
Between 1923 and 1930, Spain was ruled by General Miguel Primo de Rivera. Primo de Rivera had risen to power in 1923 through a military coup, but he was given approval and recognition by the King of Spain at that time, Alfonso XII. Primo de Rivera became Prime Minister and ruled Spain with an iron fist: he abolished the Spanish Constitution, imposed martial law and severe censorship, and made all political parties illegal. His tenure came to an end in 1930 when he stepped down due to political unpopularity. With his resignation, Alfonso XII abdicated the Spanish throne and left the country. In 1931 Spain became a republic for the second time (la Segunda República).
Although a staunch defender of the monarchy, General Francisco Franco did not want to undermine his army career by openly criticising the new Republic. Even so, Franco was seen as potentially divisive so he was posted to several different locations away from Madrid to keep him from other high-ranking pro-monarchy army officers.
However, by 1933 the Republic was struggling to meet the expectation it had created. Coupled with disagreements between Republican and left-wing factions this enabled the election of a right wing government. However, political unsettlement was just around the corner. Unhappy with working conditions brought about by the strong right-wing government, miners in the northern region of Asturias began a rebellion in 1934. General Franco was called in to bring the rebellion to a swift end. Franco’s troops crushed the Asturian miner’s revolt. As a result of his success, General Francisco Franco was awarded the highest position in the Spanish Army: Chief of the General Staff.
When the 1936 elections came around, the republican and left-wing factions had become united to form the Popular Front (el Frente Popular) and so managed to wrest control of Spain from the right-wing government by the merest of votes: General Francicso Franco was now deemed too dangerous to remain on the mainland and was sent to a post on the Canary Islands (las Islas Canarias).
On 17th July 1936, a nationalist rebellion began. General Franco took control of the Canary Islands and then flew to Spanish Morocco (Marruecos) where the nationalist forces had assumed control. A coup d’etat was attempted by the nationalist army on mainland Spain but failed resulting in the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. In September 1936, Franco became General dél Ejercito Nacionalista (General of the Nationalist Army) and later in October 1936 he rose to the position of Head of State (Jefe del Estado). The Spanish Civil War ended officially on 1st April 1929 when Franco began his dictatorship of Spain.
General Franco and Dictatorship
At the end of the Spanish Civil War, Spain saw itself economically ruined and politically divided. General Franco and his followers created this political division through constant propaganda about the victorious (nationalists) and the conquered (republicans) and although Franco excelled at the strategy of warfare, his economic acumen was poor.
After the 2nd World War began in 1939, Franco opportunistically aligned himself with Hitler. It should be remembered however that Franco had strong connections with Hitler prior to the start of WWII. On 26th April 1937 Hitler’s Condor Legion blanket bombed the Basque town of Guernica, killing thousands of innocent people: this is widely regarded today as a criminal act, although Franco was never punished specifically for this by the international community.
Although Hitler and Franco met on 23rd October 1940 (in France) to discuss Spain’s contribution to Germany’s Third Reich, Spain’s role was to be little more than a supportive one until Franco declared neutrality in 1943, when the German war machine was beginning to fall.
After WWII, Franco and Spain had been forcibly isolated as a consequence of supporting Germany. The Allied Forces imposed sanctions and on Spain resulting in a significant negative economic impact. However this changed in the early 1950s when Spain was seen as a strategically important geographical location in the Cold War era. Franco entered into trade and military agreements with the US and in 1955 became a member of the United Nations (la Organización de Naciones Unidas). This paved the way for Spain’s economic growth in the 1960s.
In 1969 General Franco announced that Prince Juan Carlos de Borbón would succeed to the Spanish throne upon Franco’s death: Franco had actually proclaimed Spain a monarchy in 1947, but had not designated a monarch prior to the announcement of Juan Carlos’ succession. In fact Franco did not want a king installed as he played the role in all but name.
Throughout his reign Franco decreed that all political opposition and non-sanctioned trade unions were suppressed. This repression extended to ensuring a constant visible presence of armed military police (la Guardia Civil) in all towns and cities. In this way General Franco imposed his dictatorship.
By the 1970s Franco was on the decline, both politically and physically. Franco relinquished the role of Prime Minister to Luis Carrero Blanco in June 1973 but remained Head of State and Commander and Chief of the Military Forces.
Carrero Blanco was a devoted follower of the General and so Franco viewed him as a natural successor who would administer Spain according to his views. However, Carrero Blanco was assasinated in a car bombing in Madrid. ETA claimed responsibility. Carrero Blanco’s death had a profound effect on Franco, and consequently Spain as it probably contributed to General Franco’s deteriorating health. Carrero Blanco’s demise also paved the way for Spain’s transition towards democracy (la transición): Carrero Blanco’s successor was Carlos Arias Navarro who promised liberal political reforms.
General Francisco Franco died on the 20th November 1975 after having been in ill health for some years. Juan Carlos was crowned King of Spain on the 22nd November 1975.