October 1

This Day in History

General Interest

Oct 1, 1936:

Franco heads Spain

During the Spanish Civil War, General Francisco Franco is named head of the rebel Nationalist government in Spain. It would take more than two years for Franco to defeat the Republicans in the civil war and become ruler of all of Spain. He subsequently served as dictator until his death in 1975.

Francisco Franco was born in El Ferrol, Spain, in 1892. The son of a naval officer, he entered the Infantry Academy at age 14. He demonstrated himself to be a disciplined soldier and talented commander in Spain's colonial campaigns in Morocco. He rose in rank rapidly and was hailed as a national hero for his defeat of the Moroccan rebels in 1926. Appointed brigadier general, his promising career was temporarily halted when the Spanish monarchy fell in 1931. The liberal leaders of the new Spanish Republic were suspicious of the military, and Franco was placed on the inactive list. Although an avowed monarchist, he accepted his demotion quietly.

In 1933, national elections returned the conservatives to power, and Franco was promoted to major general. In 1934, Franco quelled a revolt by socialists in the mining districts of Asturias. In 1935, he was appointed army chief of staff. In February 1936, new elections returned a leftist coalition to power, and Franco was sent to an obscure command in the Canary Islands, off the coast of Africa.

Fearing that the liberal government would give way to Marxist revolution, army officers conspired to seize power. After a period of hesitation, Franco agreed to join the military rebellion, which began in Morocco on July 17, 1936, and spread to the Spanish mainland the next day. With Nationalist army forces from Morocco, Franco rapidly overran much of the Republican-controlled areas in Spain and marched on Madrid. Believing victory was imminent, Franco was made leader of the new Nationalist regime on October 1, 1936. In fact, the bloody Spanish Civil War stretched on until the end of March 1939. In the conflict, Franco's Nationalists received heavy support from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, while the Republicans were aided by the USSR and international volunteers.

With the surrender of Madrid on March 28, 1939, Franco formally became dictator of all of Spain--El Caudillo, "The Leader" in Spanish. Although he sympathized with the fascist regimes of Germany and Italy, Franco maintained Spanish neutrality during World War II. After the war, he was ostracized as the "last surviving fascist dictator," but international rehabilitation came with the rise of the Cold War and recognition of his anti-communist views by the United States and other Western nations.

Franco secured massive U.S. economic aid in return for military bases in Spain, and the Spanish economy steadily grew. In the 1950s and '60s, Franco's authoritarian regime gradually became more liberal, and there was little organized opposition to his rule outside the Basque provinces, where separatists engaged in terrorism against the Spanish government. In 1969, Franco recognized Juan Carlos, the grandson of Spain's last king, as his successor as head of state and heir to the Spanish throne. In November 1975, Franco died after a long illness, and Juan Carlos became leader and king of Spain. Despite having pledged loyalty to Franco's authoritarian regime, King Juan Carlos immediately began a transition to democracy.

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