Magazine article History Today

Franco's Nazi Haven

Magazine article History Today

Franco's Nazi Haven

Article excerpt

* An eleven page document recently discovered in the archives of Spain's Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores lists more than one hundred active Nazis provided with asylum and new identities at the end of the Second World War. This merely confirms Spain's fervently pro-Axis role during the war. What comes as more of a surprise is the assertion recently by The Times' Madrid correspondent that `The disclosure will excite historians and biographers of Franco, most of whom believed that El Caudillo kept a scrupulous distance from the seamier side of Hitler's wartime enterprise'. The correspondent's view is shared only by fervent partisans and hagiographers of the Spanish dictator.

Having won the Spanish Civil War with the assistance of Hitler and Mussolini, Franco was convinced of the invincibility of the Axis war machine. From the spring of 1939 until the fall of France a year later, he ordered frequent troop manoeuvres near the French border in Morocco and around Gibraltar by way of immobilising Allied forces. Detailed plans for artillery bombardments of Gibraltar drawn up on Franco's direct orders have recently been published in Spain. Immediately after the defeat of France, Franco seized Tangier, made threatening demands for territory in French Morocco and formally offered to join the German war effort. Having no need of another impecunious Mediterranean ally, Hitler curtly brushed aside the offer. However, reviewing his options, he met the Caudillo on October 23rd, 1940 at Hendaye near the French-Spanish border. More inclined to leave the Vichy French to guard their own empire, the Fuhrer had to endure hours of Franco's dogged attempts to persuade him to bankroll Spanish belligerence.

In 1940 and throughout the war, Hitler remained convinced, as he told the Italian Foreign Minister, Galeazzo Ciano, that Spanish intervention `would cost more than it was worth'. It was Franco's good fortune that Hitler did not want his help. Nevertheless, Franco's enthusiasm for the German cause never waivered. He provided the Germans with facilities for submarine refuelling, aircraft reconnaissance and intelligence gathering. The range of U-boats able to refuel at Spanish ports on her Western coast, in Morocco and the Canary Islands was thereby extended far into the South Atlantic. The Caudillo supplied their war industries with strategic war materials, most notably the tungsten that was crucial for armoured plating and armour-piercing shells. After the German invasion of the Soviet Union, he sent the Blue Division to fight alongside the Germans on the Eastern Front. Nearly 50,000 Falangist volunteers and Spanish regular army officers fought for Hitler. German observation posts, radio interception stations and radar installations were maintained in Spain until the end of the war. The Germans particularly valued the complex trading deception whereby Spain provided an outlet from the British blockade by exporting material to Germany and replacing it by imports from Argentina.

Right to the end, Franco hoped against hope that the defeat of Hitler might be avoided. In late 1944, he devoured optimistic predictions that the Germans were falling back merely to lure the Allied invaders to their doom. He then pinned his hopes on German bombers being able to reach New York, on German use of the atomic bomb and on secret weapons including cosmic rays. In the spring of 1945, the last German garrisons in the South of France were supplied with food and ammunition from Spanish ports on the Bay of Biscay. As Allied forces stumbled across the horrendous sights of the extermination camps, the British at Belsen, the Americans at Buchenwald and the Russians at Auschwitz, Nazi officials were being given the certificates of Spanish nationality referred to in the recently rediscovered documentation. The Francoist press played down the horrors of the Holocaust as the unavoidable consequence of wartime disorganisation. Major figures of the regime called at the German Embassy to express their condolences for the death of the Fuhrer. …

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