Francisco Paulino Hermenegildo Teódulo Franco y Bahamonde Salgado Pardo (December 4, 1892 - November 20, 1975), abbreviated Francisco Franco Bahamonde, and better known as Generalísimo Francisco Franco, was head of state of Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975. Known as “el Caudillo” ("the leader"), he presided over the authoritarian government of the Spanish State, which had overthrown the Second Spanish Republic.
General Franco Born in El Ferrol (officially known as El Ferrol del Caudillo from 1938 to 1982), Spain, Franco graduated from the military academy in Toledo. His brother Ramón Franco was a pioneer airman (see Plus Ultra). Due to his performance in the Morocco war, at the age of 23 King Alfonso XIII appointed him the youngest major in the Spanish army. He was made a general in 1926, the youngest in a European army, and from 1933 onward he was Commander in Chief of the Spanish Army. Note that he was not a four-star general, as in Spanish tradition only the King of Spain is a four-star “captain general.”
Suspected of plotting against the leftist Government of the Second Spanish Republic, he was sent to the Canary Islands. Fulfilling the suspicions, on July 17, 1936, he flew to Spanish Morocco where he led the Spanish troops in Northern Africa in an insurgency against the Republic. Thus began the Spanish Civil War. During the war, on October 1, 1936, he was elected “Jefe del Estado” (Head of State) and “Generalísimo” of the Nationalist army, with rank of lieutenant general. He also managed to fuse the Falange ("phalanx,” a far-right Spanish political party) and the Carlist parties under his rule. His army was supported by troops from Nazi Germany (Legion Kondor) and Fascist Italy (Corpo Truppe Volontari). The war ended with his conquest of Madrid on March 28, 1939, and Franco continued to rule as dictator of Spain until his death in 1975.
Following the war, Franco was faced with an embittered and impoverished nation. Meanwhile, in Europe, World War II broke out, and although Adolf Hitler sought Spain’s participation during a personal interview in Hendaye, France (23 October 1940), Franco’s demands (Gibraltar, French North Africa, e.g.) proved unacceptable, and Spain remained officially neutral during the war. It is the subject of some debate whether Franco’s behavior was a diplomatic way of refusing or a miscalculation. Nonetheless, 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 Great Britain 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 autarchy into capitalism. Spain was admited 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, and appropriated the kingly privilege of walking beneath a canopy. 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 para-militiary 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, or catching enormous fishes from the Azor yacht during his holidays.
He died on 20 November, 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. Since his death, almost all the placenames named after him (most Spanish towns had a calle del Generalísimo) have been changed.