was born in Ferrol, Galicia, Spain on December 4, 1892.
Nicolás Franco Salgado-Araujo was a Navy paymaster. His mother
Pilar Bahamonde Pardo de Andrade also came from a family with naval
tradition. He was sibling to Nicolás Franco Bahamonde, navy officer
and diplomat; a sister, Pilar Franco Bahamonde, the latter a well-known
socialite; and another brother, Ramón Franco, a pioneer aviator
who was hated by many of Franco's supporters.
His hometown was
officially known as El Ferrol del Caudillo from 1938 to 1982. During
his youth he suffered at the hands of his aggressive, alcoholic father,
and it is argued by many that these experiences in his early years are
what set him on the road to the atrocities he was responsible for in
Franco was to follow
his father into the navy, but entry into the Naval Academy was closed
from 1906 to 1913. To his father's chagrin, he decided to join the army.
In 1907, he entered the Infantry Academy in Toledo, where he graduated
in 1910. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant.
Two years later,
he obtained a commission to Morocco. Spanish efforts to physically occupy
their new African protectorate provoked a long protracted war (from
1909 to 1927) with native Moroccans. Tactics at the time resulted in
heavy losses among Spanish military officers, but also gave the chance
of earning promotion through merit. This explains the saying that officers
would get either la caja o la faja (a coffin or a general's sash).
Franco soon gained
a reputation as a good officer. He joined the newly formed regulares
colonial native troops with Spanish officers, who acted as shock troops.
In 1916, at the
age of 23 and already a captain, he was badly wounded in a skirmish
at El Biutz. This action marked him permanently in the eyes of the native
troops as a man of baraka (good luck). He was also proposed unsuccessfully
for Spain's highest honor for gallantry, the coveted Cruz Laureada de
San Fernando. Instead, he was promoted to major (comandante), becoming
the youngest staff officer in the Spanish Army.
From 1917 to 1920
he was posted on the Spanish mainland. That last year, Lieutenant Colonel
José Millán Astray, a histrionic but charismatic officer,
founded the Legión Extranjera, along similar lines to the French
Foreign Legion. Franco became the Legión's second-in-command
and returned to Africa.
In summer 1921,
the overextended Spanish army suffered (July 24) a crushing defeat at
Annual at the hands of the Rif 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.
In 1923, already a lieutenant colonel, he was made commander of the
The same year he
married María del Carmen Polo y Martínez Valdés
and they had one child, a daughter, María del Carmen, born in
1926. As a special mark of honour, his best man (padrino) at the wedding
was King Alfonso XIII, a fact which would mark him, during the Republic
as a monarchical officer.
Promoted to colonel,
Franco led the first wave of troops ashore at Alhucemas in 1925. This
landing in the heartland of Abd el-Krim's tribe, combined with the French
invasion from the south, spelled the beginning of the end for the shortlived
Republic of the Rif.
Becoming the youngest
general in Spain in 1926, Franco was appointed in 1928 director of the
newly created Joint Military Academy in Zaragoza, a common college for
all Army cadets.
During the Second
At the fall of the
monarchy in 1931, in keeping with his prior apolitical record, he did
not take any remarkable attitude. But the closing of the Academy in
June by then War Minister Manuel Azaña provoked the first clash
with the Republic. Azaña found Franco's farewell speech to the
cadets insulting, resulting in Franco being without a post for six
months, and under surveillance.
On February 5, 1932
he was given a command in La Coruña. Franco avoided being involved
in Jose Sanjurjo's attempted coup that year. As a side result of Azaña's
military reform, in January 1933 Franco was relegated from the first
to the 24th in the list of Brigadiers; conversely, the same year (February
17), he was given the military command of the Balearic Islands—a
post above his rank.
The Asturias Uprising
New elections were
held in October 1933 which resulted in a center-right majority. In opposition
to this government, a revolutionary movement broke out October 5, 1934.
This attempt was rapidly quelled in most of the country, but gained
a stronghold in Asturias, with the support of the miners' unions. Franco,
already general of a Division and assessor to the war minister, was
put in command of the operations directed to suppress the insurgency.
The forces of the Army in Africa were to carry the brunt of the operations,
with General Eduardo López Ochoa as commander in the field. After
two weeks of heavy fighting (and a death toll estimated between 1,200
and 2,000), the rebellion was suppressed.
The uprising and,
in general, the events that led over the next two years to the civil
war, are still under heavy debate (between, for example, Enrique Moradiellos
and Pio Moa: see , , or ). Nonetheless, it is universally agreed
that the insurgency in Asturias sharpened the antagonism between left
and right. Franco and Lopez Ochoa—who up to that moment was seen
as a left-leaning officer—were marked by the left as enemies.
Lopez Ochoa was persecuted, jailed, and finally killed at the start
of the war.
Some time after
these events, Franco was briefly commander-in-chief of the Army of Africa
(from February 15, 1935 onwards), and from May 19, 1935 on, Chief of
the General Staff, the top military post in Spain.
The drift to war
After the ruling
coalition collapsed amid corruption scandals (the estraperlo case),
new elections were scheduled. Two wide coalitions formed: the Popular
Front on the left, from Republicans to the Communists, and the Frente
Nacional, on the right, from the centre radicals to the conservative
Carlists. On February 16, 1936, the left won by a narrow margin.
The days after were marked by near chaotic circumstances. Franco lobbied
unsuccessfully to have a state of emergency declared, with the stated
purpose to quell the disturbances and allow an orderly vote recount.
Instead, Franco was sent (February 23) as military commander of the
Canary Islands, a distant place with few troops under his command.
Meanwhile, a conspiracy
led by Emilio Mola was taking shape. Franco was contacted, but maintained
an ambiguous attitude almost up to July. On June 23, 1936, he even wrote
to the head of the government, Casares Quiroga, offering to quell the
discontent in the army, but was not answered. The other rebels were
determined to go ahead whatever con Paquito o sin Paquito (with Franco
or without him) and after various postponements, July 18 was fixed as
the date of the uprising. The situation reached a point of no return
and, as presented to Franco by Mola, the coup was unavoidable and he
had to choose a side. He decided to join the rebels and was given the
task of commanding the African Army. A privately owned DH 89 De Havilland
Dragon Rapide (still referred to in Spain as the Dragon Rapide) was
chartered in England July 11 to take him to Africa.
of the right-wing opposition leader José Calvo Sotelo by government
police troops (quite possibly acting on their own, such in the case
of José Castillo) precipitated the uprising. On July 17, one
day earlier than planned, the African Army rebelled, detaining their
commanders. On July 18 Franco published a manifesto  and left for
Africa, where he arrived the next day to take command.
A week later, the
rebels, who soon called themselves the Nacionales (literally Nationals,
but almost always referred to in English as Nationalists), controlled
only a third of Spain, and most navy units remained under control of
the opposition Republican forces, which left Franco isolated. The coup
had failed, but the Spanish Civil War had begun.
The first months
The first days of
the rebellion were marked with a serious need to secure control over
the Protectorate. On one side, Franco managed to win the support of
the natives and their (nominal) authorities, and on the other to ensure
his control over the army. This led to the execution of some senior
officers loyal to the republic (one of them his own first cousin) .
Franco had to face the problem of how to move his troops to the Iberian
Peninsula, because most units of the Navy had remained in control of
the republic and were blocking the Strait of Gibraltar. From the July
20 onward he was able, with a small group of airplanes, to initiate
an air bridge to Seville, where his troops helped to ensure the rebel
control of the city. Through representatives, he started to negotiate
with the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy for military support, and
above all for more aeroplanes. Negotiations were successful with the
last two on July 25, and aeroplanes began to arrive in Tetouan on August
2. On August 5, Franco was able to break the blockade with the newly
arrived air support, successfully deploying a ship convoy with some
In early August,
the situation in western Andalusia was stable enough to allow him to
organize a column (some 15,000 men at its height), under the command
of then Lieutenant-Colonel Juan Yagüe, which would march through
Extremadura towards Madrid. August 11, Mérida was taken, and
August 15 Badajoz, thus joining both nationalist-controlled areas.
On September 21,
with the head of the column at the town of Maqueda (some 80 km away
from Madrid), Franco ordered a detour to free the besieged garrison
at the Alcázar of Toledo, which was achieved September 27. This
decision was controversial even then, but resulted in an important propaganda
success, both for the fascist party and for Franco himself.
Rise to power
The designated leader
of the uprising, Gen. José Sanjurjo had died on July 20 in an
air crash. The nationalist leaders managed to overcome this through
regional commands: (Mola in the North, Queipo in Andalusia, Franco with
an independent command and Cabanellas in Aragon), and a coordinating
junta nominally led by the last, as the most senior general. On September
21, it was decided that Franco was to be commander-in-chief, and September
28, after some discussion, also head of government. On October 1, 1936
he was publicly proclaimed as Generalísimo of the Fascist army
and Jefe del Estado (Head of State).
From that time until
the end of the war, Franco personally guided military operations. After
the failure to take Madrid in November 1936, Franco settled to a piecemeal
approach to winning the war, rather than bold manouevering. As with
his decision to relieve the garrison at Toledo, this approach has been
subject of some debate; some of his decisions, such as in June 1938
when he preferred to head for Valencia instead of Catalonia, remain
His army was supported
by troops from Nazi Germany (the Condor Legion) and, above all, Fascist
Italy (Corpo Truppe Volontarie), but the degree of influence of both
powers on Franco's direction of war seems to have been very limited.
António de Oliveira Salazar's Portugal also openly assisted the
Fascists from the start.
He managed to fuse
the ideologically incompatible national-syndicalist Falange ("phalanx",
a far-right Spanish political party with ideology similar to that of
Mussolini's movement) and the Carlist monarchist parties under his rule.
From early 1937
every death sentence had to be signed (or acknowledged) by Franco.
The end of the war
On March 4, 1939
an uprising broke out within the Republican camp, claiming to forestall
an intended Communist coup by prime minister Juan Negrín. Led
by Colonel Segismundo Casado and Julián Besteiro, the rebels
gained control over Madrid. They tried to negotiate a settlement with
Franco, who refused anything but unconditional surrender. They gave
way; Madrid was occupied on March 27, and the republic fell. The war
officially ended on April 1, 1939.
the 1940s and 1950s, guerrilla resistance to Franco (known as "the
maquis") was widespread in many mountainous regions. In 1944, a
group of republican veterans that also fought in the French resistance
against the nazis invaded the Val d'Aran in northwest Catalonia, but
they were easily defeated.
Spain under Franco
Spain was bitterly
divided and economically ruined as a result of the civil war. After
the war a very harsh repression began, with thousands of summary executions,
an unknown number of political prisoners and tens of thousands of people
in exile, largely in France and Latin America. The 1940 shooting of
the president of the Catalan government, Lluís Companys, was
one of the most notable cases of this early repression, while the major
groups targeted were real and suspected leftists, ranging from the moderate,
democratic left to Communists and Anarchists, the Spanish intelligentsia,
atheists and military and government figures that had remained loyal
to the Madrid government during the war. The bloodshed in Spain did
not end with the cessation of hostilities, many political prisoners
suffered execution by the firing squad, under the accusation of treason.
World War II
In September 1939,
World War II broke out in Europe, and although Adolf Hitler met Franco
in Hendaye, France (October 23, 1940), to discuss Spanish entry on the
side of the Axis, Franco's demands (food, military equipment, Gibraltar,
French North Africa, etc.) proved too much and no agreement was reached.
Contributing to the disagreement was an ongoing dispute 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. Other historians argue that he simply had nothing to offer the
Germans. After the collapse of France in June 1940, Spain adopted a
pro-Axis non-belligerency stance (for example, he offered Spanish naval
facilities to German ships) until returning to complete neutrality in
1943 when the tide of the war had turned decisively against Germany.
Some volunteer Spanish troops (the División Azul, or "Blue
Division")—not given official state sanction by Franco—went
to fight on the Eastern Front under German command. On June 14, 1940,
the Spanish forces in Morocco occupied Tangiers (a city under the rule
of the League of Nations) and did not leave it until 1942.
During the war Franco's
Spain also proved to be an escape route for several thousand European
Jews fleeing deportation from occupied France to concentration camps.
Spanish diplomats extended their protection to Sephardi Jews from Eastern
Europe, especially in Hungary.
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 United States President Eisenhower's visit in
1953 which resulted in the Pact of Madrid. This launched the so-called
"Spanish Miracle," which developed Spain from autarky into
capitalism. Spain was admitted to the United Nations in 1955. In spite
of this opening, Franco almost never left Spain once in power.
Lacking any strong
ideology, Franco initially sought support from National syndicalism
(nacionalsindicalismo) and the Roman 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) or the ruling
block of Antonio Salazar. His Spanish State was chiefly a conservative—even
traditionalist—rightist regime, with emphasis on order and stability,
rather than a definite political vision.
In 1947 Franco proclaimed
Spain a monarchy, but did not designate a monarch. This gesture was
largely done to appease monarchist factions within the Movimiento. Although
a self-proclaimed monarchist himself, Franco had no particular desire
for a king. As such, he left the throne vacant, with himself as de facto
regent. He wore the uniform of a captain general (a rank traditionally
reserved for the King) and resided in the Pardo Palace, not to be confused
with the Museo del Prado. In addition he 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
(Generalísimo of the Spanish Armed Forces). He had originally
intended any government that succeeded him to be much more authoritarian
than the previous monarchy. This is indicated in his use of "by
the grace of God" in his official title. It is a technical, legal
phrase which indicates sovereign dignity in absolute monarchies, and
is only used by monarchs.
During his rule
non-government trade unions and all political opponents across the political
spectrum, from communist and anarchist organizations to liberal democrats
and Catalan or Basque nationalists, were suppressed. The only legal
"trade union" was the government-run Sindicato Vertical.
In order to build
a uniform Spanish nation, the public usage of languages other than Spanish
(especially Catalan, Galician and Basque languages) was strongly repressed.
Language politics in Francoist Spain stated that all government, notarial,
legal and commercial documents were drawn up exclusively in Spanish
and any written in other languages were deemed null and void. The usage
of other than Spanish languages was banned on road and shop signs, advertising
and in general all exterior iimages of the country.
All cultural activities
were subject to censorship, and many were plainly forbidden on various,
many times spurious, grounds (political or moral). This cultural policy
relaxed with time, most notably after 1960.
by public authorities of strict Catholic social mores was a stated intent
of the regime, mainly by using a law (the Ley de Vagos y Maleantes,
Vagancy Act) enacted by Azaña . The remaining nomads of Spain
(Gitanos and Mercheros like El Lute) were especially affected.
In 1954, homosexuality
and prostitution were, through this law, made criminal offenses. .
Its application was inconsistent.
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. He was constantly obsessed with a Masonic conspiracy.
In popular imagination, he is often remembered as in the black and white
iimages of No-Do newsreels, inaugurating a reservoir, hence his nickname
Paco Ranas (Paco—a familiar form of Francisco—"the
Frog"), or catching huge fish from the Azor yacht during his holidays.
Spanish Civil War
Famous quote: "Our
regime is based on bayonets and blood, not on hypocritical elections."
In 1968, due to
the United Nations' pressure on Spain, Franco granted Equatorial Guinea
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. As his final years progressed tension
within the various factions of the Movimiento would consume Spanish
political life, as varying groups jockeyed for position to control the
Franco died on
November 20, 1975,
at the age
the same date as José Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of the
It is suspected
that the doctors were ordered to keep him barely alive by artificial
means until that symbolic date. The historian, Ricardo de la Cierva,
says that on the 19th around 6 p.m. he was told that Franco had already
died. Franco is buried at Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caídos,
a site built by forced prisoners of the Spanish Civil War as the tomb
for unknown soldiers killed during war.
Spain after Franco
as head of state was the current Spanish monarch, Juan Carlos. Though
much beloved by Franco, the King held liberal political views which
earned him suspicion among conservatives who hoped he would continue
Franco's policies. Instead, Juan Carlos would proceed to restore democracy
in the nation, and help crush an attempted military coup in 1981.
Since Franco's death,
almost all the placenames named after him (most Spanish towns had a
calle del Generalísimo) have been changed. This holds particularly
true in the regions ruled by parties heir to the Republican side, while
in other regions of central Spain rulers have preferred not to change
such placenames, arguing they would rather not stir the past. Most statues
or monuments of him have also been removed, and, in the capital, Madrid,
the last one standing was removed in March 2005.
He was declared
a saint by Clemente Domínguez y Gómez (self-declared Pope
Gregory XVII) of the Palmarian Catholic Church, a right-wing Catholic
mysticalist sect largely based in Spain. Franco's canonization is not
recognized by the Roman Catholic Church.
Franco in culture
At the time of Franco's
death, on the then-new American television show Saturday Night Live
as part of its satiric newscast Weekend Report, Chevy Chase announced,
"Despite Franco's death and an expected burial tomorrow, doctors
say the dictator's health has taken a turn for the worse." 
The segment also included a statement by Richard Nixon that "General
Franco was a loyal friend and ally of the United States", accompanied
by a photo of Franco and Adolf Hitler standing together and giving the
Fascist/Nazi salute, similar to this one . Over the next several
weeks it became a running joke for Chase to announce as part of the
newscast "This just in: Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still