Francisco Paulino Hermenegildo Teódulo Franco y Bahamonde Salgado Pardo, abbreviated Francisco Franco Bahamonde and sometimes known as Generalísimo Francisco Franco, was head of state of Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975. Known as "El Caudillo de España" ("the leader"), he presided over the fascist authoritarian dictatorial government of the Spanish State following victory in the Spanish Civil War.
Born in Ferrol (officially known as El Ferrol del Caudillo from 1938 to 1982), Spain, on December 4, 1892, Franco's early life was marked by his father's drunkenness and womanizing which contrasted with his devout mother's overprotective devotion. His first ambition was to follow the family tradition and join the navy, but cutbacks resulting from Spain's humiliating defeat in the Spanish-American War of 1898 reduced the available positions and Franco enlisted in the army instead. His brother Ramón Franco was a pioneer aviator.
After graduating from the Infantry Academy in Toledo, he spent two years in a quiet garrison in mainland Spain, but obtained a posting to Morocco at the earliest opportunity. Spanish efforts to physically occupy their new African protectorate provided the only chance of being engaged in combat and thus earning promotion through merit. In practice this meant surviving actions in which heavy losses were suffered, officers would get either la caja o la faja (a coffin or a general's sash).
Franco soon gained a reputation as a meticulous and fearless officer and joined the newly formed regulares colonial troops to improve his chances of swift advancement.
At the age of 23, he was badly wounded in a skirmish at El Biutz and although Spain's highest award for gallantry, the coveted Cruz Laureada de San Fernando, eluded him, he became the youngest major in the Spanish army and returned to the mainland where he met José Millán Astray, a histrionic but charismatic officer who was soon to found the Legión Extranjera, along similar lines to the French Foreign Legion. Franco became the Legión's second-in-command.
In the summer of 1921, the overextended Spanish army suffered a crushing defeat at Annual at the hands of the Riff tribes led by the Abd el-Krim brothers. The Legión symbolically, if not materially, saved the Spanish enclave of Melilla after a gruelling three-day forced march led by Franco.
Rise to Power
Promoted to colonel, Franco led the first wave of troops ashore at Alhucemas. This landing, in the heartland of Abd el-Krim's tribe, combined with the French invasion from the south, spelt the beginning of the end for the shortlived Republic of the Riff.
Becoming the youngest general in any European army in 1926, Franco was appointed director of the newly created Joint Military Academy in Zaragoza, where cadets were taught the brutal lessons of the irregular war in Morocco.
With the fall of the monarchy in 1931, Franco initially maintained an ambivalent attitude to the new Republic, not wishing to compromise his career by overt opposition. He even swallowed the bitter pill of the closure of his beloved Military Academy and subsequent postings to La Coruña and the Balearic Islands, the main purpose of which was to keep him at a distance from other potentially disloyal elements.
The Republic's failure to satisfy much of the popular expectation it had created and the fragmentation of the left-wing parties permitted a strong right-wing government to gain power in 1933. When miners in Asturias started a full scale rebellion a year later, it was Franco who ensured that colonial troops were sent to crush the uprising. They employed the same ruthless tactics that had been used against the tribesmen in Morocco. Having thus 'saved' Spain again, Franco was given the top job in the army — chief of the general staff.
Having learnt their lesson, the left-wing and republican parties presented a common front in the tense elections of spring 1936 and won a narrow victory. This time, Franco was posted to the Canary Islands.
He, in fact, had not been actively plotting to overthrow the Republic, but when the coup came, he flew to Morocco to take command of the colonial army (including the Legión and the Regulares) which had rebelled and rapidly taken control of the Spanish Protectorate.
The coup failed in many of the large cities and the situation quickly degenerated into the Spanish Civil War. During the war, in late September 1936, he became Generalísimo of the Nationalist army, with rank of lieutenant general and then on October 1, 1936, he was elected Jefe del Estado (Head of State). He also managed to fuse the ideologically incompatible Falange ("phalanx," a far-right Spanish political party with close connections to Hitler and Mussolini) and the Carlist parties under his rule. His army was supported by troops from Nazi Germany (Legion Condor) and Fascist Italy (Corpo Truppe Volontari). Salazar's Portugal also openly assisted the Nationalists from the start. The war officially ended on April 1, 1939, shortly after the conquest of Madrid, although guerrilla resistance to Franco continued into the late 1940s. Franco continued to rule as dictator of Spain until his death in 1975.
Spain was bitterly divided and economically ruined as a result of the civil war and Franco's government actively promoted this division between "victors" and "vanquished" while its incompetence did little to improve the economic situation. In September 1939, World War II broke out in Europe, and although Adolf Hitler met Franco in Hendaye, France (23 October 1940), to discuss Spanish entry on the side of the Axis, Franco's demands (Gibraltar, French North Africa, etc.) proved too much and no agreement was reached (Hitler remarked that he'd rather "have two or three teeth pulled out" before trying to negotiate Franco's entry into the war again). Also contributing to the disagreement was an ongoing disagreement over German mining rights in Spain. Some historians argue that Franco made demands that he knew Hitler would not accede to in order to stay out of the war. However, others argue that he simply had nothing to offer the victorious Germans. Spain adopted a pro-Axis non-belligerency until returning to complete neutrality in 1943 when the tide of the war had turned decisively against Germany. Franco sent troops (División Azul, or "Blue Division") to fight on the Eastern Front against the Soviet Union. They were "volunteers"; some were crusaders against Communism and some went just for the pay or to clear former liaisons with the Republic. Franco also offered facilities to German ships.
With the end of World War II, Franco and Spain were forced to suffer the economic consequences of the isolation imposed on it by nations such as the United Kingdom and the United States. This situation ended in part when, due to Spain's strategic location in light of Cold War tensions, the United States entered into a trade and military alliance with Spain. This historic alliance commenced with U.S. President Eisenhower's visit in 1953. This launched the so-called "Spanish Miracle," which developed Spain from autarky into capitalism. Spain was admitted in the United Nations in 1955. In spite of this opening, Franco almost never left Spain once in power.
In 1947, Franco proclaimed Spain a monarchy, but ironically did not designate a monarch. In 1969, he designated Prince Juan Carlos de Borbón with the new title of Prince of Spain as his successor. This came as a surprise for the Carlist pretender to the throne, as well as for Juan Carlos's father, Don Juan, the Count of Barcelona, who technically had a superior right to the throne. By 1973 Franco had given up the function of Prime Minister (Presidente del Gobierno), remaining only as head of the country and as commander in chief of the military forces.
Lacking any strong ideology, Franco initially sought support from National Syndicalism (nacionalsindicalismo) and the Catholic Church (nacionalcatolicismo). His coalition ruling single party, the Movimiento Nacional, was so heterogeneous as to barely qualify as a party at all, and certainly not an ideological monolith like the Fascio di Combattimento (Fascist Party) and the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (Nazi Party). His Spanish State was chiefly a conservative - even traditionalist - rightist regime, with emphasis on order and stability, rather than a definite political vision.
Although a monarchist, Franco had no particular desire for a king. As such, he left the throne vacant, with himself as de facto un-crowned king. He wore the uniform of a captain general (a rank traditionally reserved for the King), resided in the Pardo Palace, appropriated the kingly privilege of walking beneath a canopy, and his portrait appeared on most Spanish coins. Indeed, although his formal titles were Jefe del Estado (Chief of State) and Generalísimo de los Ejércitos Españoles (Highest General of the Spanish Armed Forces), his personal title was por la gracia de Dios, Caudillo de España y de la Cruzada, or "by the grace of God, Caudillo of Spain and of the Crusade" ("by the grace of God" is a technical, legal phrase which indicates sovereign dignity, and is only used by monarchs).
During his rule non-Government trade unions and all political opponents (right across the spectrum, from communist and anarchist organizations to liberal democrats and nationalists, especially Basque and Catalan nationalists), were suppressed. In every town there was a constant presence of Guardia Civil, a military police force, who patrolled in pairs with submachine guns, and functioned as his chief means of control. A Freemasonry conspiracy was a constant obsession for him. In popular imagination, he is often remembered as in the black and white images of No-Do newsreels, inaugurating a reservoir, hence his nickname Paco Ranas (Paco - a familiar form of Francisco - "the Frog"), or catching enormous fishes from the Azor yacht during his holidays.
Franco's tomb is located at Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caídos. Famous quote: "Our regime is based on bayonets and blood, not on hypocritical elections."
He died on November 20, 1975, on the same date as José Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of the Falange. It is suspected that the doctors were ordered to keep him barely alive by artificial means until that symbolic date. Franco is buried at Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caídos, a site he had built as the tomb of el Ausente. When he died, it was allegedly impossible to buy a single bottle of champagne in Spain, since it had sold out. His successor was the current Spanish Monarch, Juan Carlos.
Since his death, almost all the places named after him (most Spanish towns had a calle del Generalísimo) have been changed.