Francisco Franco Bahamonde was born on 4 December1892, in El Ferrol, a small coastal town on Spain’s northwestern tip. In his early days, Franco attended a private school run by a Catholic priest and then entered a naval secondary school with the intention of following his father and grandfather into a sea-based military career. However, as the cash-strapped Spanish government temporarily suspended the admission of cadets into the Naval Academy in 1907, due to the adverse result of the Spanish-American war, Franco enrolled at the Infantry Academy in Toledo, much to his father’s chagrin and graduated three years later with below-average grades.
In June 1912, at the age of 19, he was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant and two years later, obtained a commission in Morocco. He stayed there largely without a break until 1926 and received a number of merit promotions and awards. In 1916, he survived a gunshot wound in the abdomen and possibly lost a testicle. However, on 22 October1923, Franco married Carmen Polo y Martínez Valdés, with whom he would have a daughter. He was promoted to brigadier general on 3 February 1926, which made him the youngest general in Spain, and perhaps, one of the youngest generals in Europe. After that, in 1928, he was selected to direct the newly formed General Military Academy in Zaragoza.
The municipal elections held in April 1931 deposed the king Alfonso XIII and ushered in the so-called Second Republic, as the winning Republican candidates reduced the power and influence of the military, the Catholic Church and the rich nobles. Since Franco, a known authoritarian rightist criticized the decision, he was reprimanded and transferred to a remote post near El Ferrol and his General Military Academy was shut down. Nevertheless, when a center-right coalition won the election held in October 1933 and a leftist movement broke out on 5 October 1934, Franco was deployed to command of the operations directed to suppress the insurgency. The rebellion was suppressed after two weeks of heavy fighting and a death toll of around 2,000.
However, the insurgency in Asturias, especially the Asturian miner’s strike in 1934, sharpened the antagonism between Left and Right. Street fighting, political killings and general disorder were ramping up on both the right and the left. Under the circumstances, Franco became army chief of staff in 1935.Soon after that, when a leftist coalition won the next round of elections in February 1936, growing political bitterness surfaced again. The government and its supporters, the Popular Front, had launched a campaign against the Opposition, accusing them of plotting against the Republic, while according to the right-wing opposition, the real enemies of the Republic are the leftists and Spain is in imminent danger of falling under a Communist dictatorship. In the meantime, on 23 February Franco was sent to the Canary Islands to serve as the military commander of the Island, an appointment, which he took as punishment.
Nevertheless, the situation of the country reached a point of no return and a military coup seemed to be unavoidable. Franco knew that he had to choose a side, yet he hesitated to support the military conspiracy. However, he became fully committed following the assassination of the radical monarchist José Calvo Sotelo, by the government police troops.
In the ensuing coup, while the rebelling military units gained control in Morocco, Zaragoza, Seville, Pamplona, Burgos, Valladolid, Cadiz and Cordoba, some important cities like Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia, Malaga and Bilbao remained under the control of the government. Thus, Spain was left militarily and politically divided. On July 18, 1936, military officers launched an uprising that put them in control of most of the western half of the country. Franco flew to Morocco for transporting troops to the mainland. He also contacted Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy for securing arms and other assistance that would continue throughout the duration of the Spanish Civil War.
With the death of the other generals, Franco was named head of the rebel Nationalist government and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. With the backing of the Catholic Church, he unified a base of support, combining the fascist and monarchist political parties and dissolving all other political parties. While the Republican side included Spanish communists and the anarchists, along with the support from the Soviet Union and Mexico, Franco gained military support from Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Following the seizure of the town of Badajoz in southwest Spain on 14 August 1936, the fascist militia groups massacred around 4000 civilians, which included the Republicans and their supporters. In addition to that, mass execution took place later, when tens of thousands of the prisoners were gunned down and the streets of Badajoz became littered with blood and bodies. German and Italian bombardments helped the Nationalists to conquer Basque lands and Asturias in 1937. After the fall of Barcelona, the heart of Republican resistance, in January 1939, Madrid surrendered that March, which effectively ended the Spanish Civil War.
In the aftermath of the war, dictatorship was established in Spain under the leadership of General Franco and all rightwing parties were fused into the structure of the Franco regime. The death toll of the Spanish Civil War is a very controversial issue and the figures could vary from 1 million to 250,000. In the wake of the civil war, many Republican figures fled the country and after the end of the war, military tribunals were set up to try those who remained. These tribunals sent thousands more Spaniards to their death. Among the executions investigated was that of the poet and dramatist Federico Garcia Lorca, whose body was never found. Even, mention of his death was forbidden during Franco's regime.
The Franco regime banned the Catalan and Basque languages in public places, forbade Catalan and Basque names for newborns, barred labor unions, created a vast secret police network to spy on citizens and promoted policies for economic self-sufficiency. Apart from that, Catholicism was declared as the only tolerated religion in the country. Later, with the enactment of the Spanish Bill of Rights in 1945, the worship of non-Catholic religions were allowed in private.
Although Germany had recognised the Franco Government, Franco largely stayed out of WW II. However, he did send nearly 50,000 volunteers to fight alongside the Germans on the Soviet front. He also opened his ports to German submarines and invaded the internationally administered city of Tangier in Morocco, which he did not leave until the end of the war in 1945. After the war, Franco allowed many former Nazis and other former Fascists, to flee to Spain. Surprisingly, during the war, Spain also provided visas for thousands of French Jews to transit Spain en route to Portugal to escape the Nazis. Apart from that, the Spanish diplomats protected about 4,000 Jews living in Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Austria. However, after the end of the WW II, Franco refused to recognize Israel as a legitimate state as his regime's propaganda claimed that there was an international conspiracy of Jews, Freemasons, and Communists against Spain.
With the end of World War II, Spain faced diplomatic and economic isolation, which ended in part when, in the light of Cold War tensions and the strategic location of Spain, the United States of America entered into a trade and military alliance with Franco. Subsequently, in 1953, Spain allowed the United States to construct three air bases and a naval base on its soil in return for military and economic aid.
Franco decided to name a monarch to succeed his regency, but it did not materialize. By 1973, he had surrendered his power and function of prime minister, remaining only as head of state and commander in chief of the military. The aged Franco fell ill from various health problems on 19 July 1974, but recovered and resumed his duties as Head of State on 2 September. However, he fell ill again after a year, as he was afflicted with Parkinson’s disease. He fell into a coma and was put on life support on 30 October 1975. Officially, he died a few minutes after the midnight on 20 November 1975, at the age of 82, apparently from heart failure. His body was interred at Velle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen), a huge funeral memorial conceived by Franco just after he won the Spanish Civil War and built by the forced labour of political prisoners, as the final resting place of the Spanish Civil War. However, like those fallen of the Civil War, Franco was not buried in a special tomb behind the chapels on the sides of the basilica. Instead, he was laid to rest behind the main altar, in the central nave and he was the only person interred in the Valley who did not die in the Civil War.
General Franco is a highly controversial figure within Spain. His supporters credit him for keeping Spain neutral and unaffected in World War II. On the other hand, critics on the left front have denounced him as a tyrant responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths in the years-long political repression. Spaniards who suffered under his rule demanded to remove memorials of his regime and most government buildings and streets that were named after Franco were reverted to their original names. Much later, in 2007, the Spanish government banned all official public references to the Franco regime and began the removal of all statues, street names and memorials associated with his regime, with the last statue of General Franco reportedly removed in 2008 in the city of Santander.