Francisco Franco was born in El Ferrol, Galicia, in 1892. He graduated from Toledo military academy in 1910 and acquired extensive combat experience in Morocco commanding the Spanish Foreign Legion.
By 1926 he was, at the age of 32 years, Spain’s youngest general. During the Second Republic (1931-1936) he led the repression of the Asturias miners’ revolt (1934) and then in 1935 served as Chief-of-Staff.
After the election of the Popular Front government in Feb 1936 he was appointed Governor of The Canary Islands, somewhat of a demotion. He then joined the conspiracy against the Popular Front which led to the rebellion and outbreak of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).
Franco’s leadership of the vital Army of Africa, and his close relations with the rebels’ Italian and German allies, led to his becoming (Sep 1936) ‘generalísimo’ of the rebel forces and chief of the Nationalist state in September 1936. In 1937 he merged all the other Nationalist political parties with the Falange and assumed leadership of the new party.
Between October 1936 and April 1939 he led the Nationalists to victory, and presided over the construction of an authoritarian regime that endured until his death in 1975. He dealt ruthlessly with any opposition.
During World War 2, he initially stood close to Germany and Italy, opting in 1940 for ‘non-belligerency’ rather than outright neutrality. In October 1940 Franco offered to fight on the side of Adolf Hitler and the Axis Powers, but Hitler was unwilling to expend resources on Spain and so he kept Spain out of the war.
Franco did, however, make Spanish submarine bases and other facilities available to the Nazis. From 1943, as the war progressed and German fortunes waned, he shrewdly distanced himself from the Axis.
The 1947 law of succession, promulgated by Franco, declared Spain a kingdom with himself as regent pending the choice of a king. During the 1950s, his anti-Communism made possible a rapprochement with the Western powers.
Diplomatic relations were established with the United States and other members of the United Nations in 1950, and Franco secured massive U.S. economic aid in return for military bases in Spain.
From 1959, Franco presided over governments that were increasingly concerned with technological advancement and economic development. However, the regime was forced to grant even greater social and political liberties, except in the Basque provinces where a fierce struggle against ‘separatists’ raged.
The greater freedoms allowed growing vocal opposition to Franco’s regime, even from within the Falange, but their exclusion from power was increased after the appointment of Luis Carrero Blanco as vice premier. Franco, however, managed to maintain his firm grip on power, even after the assassination of Carrero Blanco in 1973.
In 1969 he announced that upon his death the monarchy would return in the person of Juan Carlos, grandson of Spain’s last ruling king. Within two years of Franco’s death, almost every vestige of his dictatorship had disappeared.