|Full Name||The Spanish State|
|Alliance||Neutral or Non-Belligerent|
|Population in 1939||25,637,000|
|Military Deaths in WW2||4,500|
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
In 1931, the Second Spanish Republic was established. Although social progress was made under this government, political instability led to the Spanish Civil War which began in 1936. The right-wing Nationalists sparked off their rebellion on 17 Jul 1936, taking Seville, Pamplona, Cádiz, Jerez de la Frontera, Córdoba, Zaragoza, and Oviedo very quickly. On the third day of the rebellion, General Francisco Franco took over after the death of José Sanjurjo in a plane crash. The rebellion was widely supported by nationalists, fascists, monarchists and a portion of the religious right who felt threatened by the Spanish Republic. While the United Kingdom fought hard to remain neutral, which actually hurt the Republicans, Germany, Italy, and Russia jumped into the conflict. Italy sent 60,000 men into the fight as volunteers for the Nationalists, while Germany took the chance to evaluate new artillery, armor, and aircraft in combat situations also on the side of Franco. The Russians, on the other hand, sent in their supplies for the Republicans. On foreign soil, the Germans realized the usefulness of the 88mm anti-aircraft guns against ground units, while the Russians developed tactics for I-15 and I-16 aircraft; all those weapons played important roles in the upcoming European War. The conduct of the war was brutal with both sides committing massacres of civilians and prisoners. In the end, as Franco emerged victorious and established his Spanish State. An estimated 300,000 to 1,000,000 people lost their lives. With the Nationalists now in control, deep hatred was felt against the atrocities committed by the Russians. Many Spaniards simplied the reason for the Civil War, blaming communism for the prolonged conflict that killed so many. This hatred was joined by Catholics and monarchists who might not necessarily be the Nationalists' political allies, which created an unified anti-communist front on the Spanish socio-political stage.
Franco established a fascist government in Spain, aiming to use Germany and Italy as a model to establish a modern Spain that would once again be a world power. This led to the fear in United Kingdom and France that Spain would join the Axis alliance. Should open hostilities began, France would then be in a very vulnerable position, fighting a two-front war; meanwhile, the United Kingdom understood that her strategic garrison at Gibraltar would be in danger. Adolf Hitler remained on friendly terms with Franco after the Spanish Civil War, and after Sep 1940, actively courted Franco to join him in his cause. To the relief of the Western Allies, however, Franco remained non-belligerent. Franco stalled Hitler's requests draw Spain directly into war, in part by making demands of large quantities of German war supplies (so much that Hitler would not easily agree) and in part by secretly approving Spanish volunteers to fight under German command and approving German intelligence agents to operate in Spain (so to slightly appease Hitler's needs). At the same time, Franco knew Hitler's ambitions well, and he secretly manned the French border and the southern coasts of his country to counter any potential show of force by Germany. By the end of 1940, Germany's need for Spain to openly join the conflict largely subsided, but Hitler continued to press for Franco's cooperation. In Dec 1940, Germany requested the right of passage so that German troops could strike Gibraltar via land; Franco refused, and that was largely the end of active negotiations between Germany and Spain.
When Germany invaded Russia in Jun 1941, the anti-communist sentiment in Spain was resurfaced. Knowing the recent event of Germany relatively easily toppling Poland and France, the Spanish thought Germany would be able to do the same to the Soviet Union. A large-scale demonstration broke out in the capital city of Madrid in support of the invasion, followed by demonstrations in other cities. The Spaniards were shocked when the United Kingdom befriended communist Russia, realizing that an Allied victory would mean the expansion of communism. Thus, Spanish volunteers began to be organized. On 20 Aug 1941, German Army 250th Division was officially formed with the nickname of "Blue Division"; the division consisted of Spanish volunteers and was commanded by General Agustín Muñoz Grandes of the Spanish Army. The Blue Division fought exclusively on the Eastern Front against Russia, and suffered as much as other German units when the tide turned against Germany. On 29 Jul 1943, the United States ambassador in Madrid demanded that Spain withdrew this military force from Russia. Franco, seeing that the Allies had just begun the invasion of Italy and sensed that the Allies started to gain the upper hand, largely yielded to this demand, leaving only a regiment-sized unit (nicknamed "Blue Legion") on the Eastern Front. On 20 Feb 1944, The Blue Legion, too, began to be withdrawn. A total of 45,000 Spanish volunteers fought under the German banner during the war. Prior to the Blue Legion being withdrawn, Germany already sensed that it would happen some time in the future. Germany began secretly recruiting Spaniards to fight under the German banner, using anti-communism as an effective recruitment tool. These German-recruited volunteers fought for both the German Army as well as the Waffen-SS, and most of them served as anti-partisan forces in Romania, Croatia, Pomerania, Slovenia, and Southern France.
Although on a smaller scale, many thousands of Spaniards also fought on the Allied side, most of them being former Republicans. Most of them joined the Free French forces aboard, while others sneaked across the Spanish-French border and joined the French Resistance. Spanish soldiers under the French banner were among some of the first Allied troops to enter Paris in Aug 1944. Finally, at the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939, a small number of Republicans fled to Russia; some of them served in the Russian military during the European War.
As the European War raged on, Franco purged his political opponents on a large scale. Between 1939 and 1943, many were exiled while thousands died as a result. Although he had sent the Blue Division to aid the German military, Franco's decision to steer clear of German political influence benefited Spain by avoiding the devastations of another war. In terms of the Holocaust, despite Spain's anti-Semitic history (which was by no means uncommon across any European nation), Spain became a haven for Jewish refugees; in fact, Spain helped more Jews during the Holocaust than any other neutral European nation during the WW2 era. 25,000 Jews passed through Spain to escape from Europe, while a few thousand remained in Spain under Spanish protection.
Although Spanish politics was characterized by isolationism between 1943 and 1955, after that period Spain quickly emerged as an influential European nation again. Franco held dictatorial powers until his death in Nov 1975. King Juan Carlos I took power after Franco's death, and restored Spanish monarchy in 1978 as a constitutional monarchy.
Sources: Blue Division Soldier 1941-1945, Wikipedia.
|Esteban Infantes, Emilio||Muñoz Grandes, Agustín|
|Franco, Francisco||Varela, José Enrique|
Events Taken Place in Spain
|The Spanish Civil War||17 Jul 1936 - 4 Apr 1939|
|Operation Mincemeat||30 Apr 1943|
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Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, 16 Mar 1945