José Millán Astray y Terreros was perhaps the individual who had the most influence over the moral and ideological formation of Francisco Franco. Sanctified in his own lifetime as ‘el glorioso mutilado’, he made a unique contribution to the violent ethos of the Spanish extreme right through his creation of the Tercio de Extranjeros (the Foreign Legion). Through it, he institutionalized and preached the brutal and brutalizing values by which Franco fought and won the Spanish Civil War. He was instrumental in Franco’s rise to fame, appointing him second-in-command and field commander of the Legion, a force soon celebrated for its efficacy and bravery. Millán was also influential in the nomination of the future Caudillo as Director of the Academia Militar General de Zaragoza and certainly his views prevailed in the type of military education inculcated there under Franco. Throughout the Civil War, he was tireless in the elaboration and dissemination of Franco’s image as an invincible saviour. More specifically, he played a crucial role in the machinations in the last week of September 1936 which led to Franco’s elevation as Head of State. All of this partially explains a curious fact. Millán Astray was the only significant figure who had once had Franco under his orders yet with whom the Caudillo maintained cordial relations after reaching the zenith of his power. In this, he differed dramatically from Generals Sanjurjo and Cabanellas, Franco’s superior officers in Morocco, or José María Gil Robles, leader of the Catholic authoritarian CEDA and Minister of War in 1935, who were the later targets of Franco’s resentment.1 It is a measure of the contradictions at the heart of Millán Astray’s character that the intrepid founder of the Legion managed to maintain the Caudillo’s goodwill because he made it abundantly clear that he was happy to devote himself to the constant and most servile inflation of Franco’s standing.
Millán Astray was born in La Coruña on 5 July 1879, the son of José Millán Astray and Pilar Terreros Segade. His father was a lawyer and civil servant, and a would-be writer. He had wanted to be a soldier but had been forced by his own father to study law. José Millán Astray senior was a kindly man and encouraged the young José to read; he devoured the heroic adventure stories which later influenced his own career.2 The fact that, when he was old enough to do so, the future hero chose to use his father’s matronymic Astray, with its starry connotations, as against that of his mother, Terreros, redolent of the lowly and earth-bound, suggests a burning ambition. Together with the fact that he opted for a military career, it strongly indicated the extent to which he identified with his father. He entered the Infantry Academy in Toledo on 30 August 1894. By dint of taking a shortened course and frenetic cramming, he graduated as a second lieutenant at the end of February 1896, at the age of sixteen. For six months, he served with an infantry regiment stationed in Madrid where he stood out as obsessive about the cleanliness of his uniform and those of his men. Buckles, belts and bayonets had to shine brightly. On 1 September 1896, he entered the Escuela Superior de Guerra to study for the much-prized general staff diploma.
After two months, however, he volunteered for active service in the repression of the nationalist rebellion which had broken out in the Philippines. He arrived there on 3 November 1896. As would be the case throughout his career, he quickly began to accumulate important awards for bravery. Within a month, at the age of seventeen, his defence of the village of San Rafael with thirty men against two thousand rebels converted him into a national hero and won him the Cross of María Cristina, at that time Spain’s highest award for bravery. This was followed a month later by the Cruz Roja de Mérito Militar and shortly after the Cruz Primera Clase de Mérito Militar.3 There has been speculation that his obsession with spit and polish, and indeed his bravery, were efforts to wipe out a perceived stain on the family honour for which his father was responsible. His father had been Director of the Cárcel Modelo in Madrid where, for a price, prisoners were allowed to leave the prison for short periods. During one such absence, a prisoner was involved in a notorious murder which led to the trial of Millán Astray senior.4 Acts of bravery and heroism, risk-taking and the cult of violence and death could all in some way have been part of an effort to obscure the anything but heroic behaviour of his father, who had acted dishonourably in a quest for a comfortable existence.
In June 1897, Millán Astray returned as a thrice-decorated war hero to the Escuela Superior de Guerra where he remained for a year and a half. Thereafter, he was posted to various infantry regiments of the peninsula. He reached the rank of captain in January 1905. On 2 March 1906, he married Elvira Gutiérrez de la Torre, daughter of General Gutiérrez Cámara. Immediately after the wedding, his bride timidly informed him that she had made an unbreakable vow of life-long chastity. It was perhaps indicative of autoerotic or homosexual tendencies that Millán Astray did not take the opportunity to have the marriage annulled but decided to live with Elvirita, as he called her, in a ‘fraternal’ relationship. She, for her part, assumed the role of handmaiden to the great man and devotedly looked after him until his death.5 After his ‘honeymoon’, he returned to the Escuela Superior de Guerra for a further three years’ study. In the summer of 1910, he was invited to join the staff of the Infantry Academy of Toledo where he taught military history, geography and tactics. His war service, his technical preparation and his marriage to the daughter of a senior officer had given Millán Astray a curriculum vitae to reckon with. He was a potential general staff officer with a brilliant future. However, when he was formally invited to join the General Staff, he declined, saying that he wished to fight in Africa. Hungry for adventure, and convinced that in the slow life of the mainland he would never achieve the glory or the rapid promotions that he longed for, he requested a transfer to Spanish Morocco. It was finally granted in August 1912 when he was sent to serve with the recently created Regulares Indígenas.6
From 1913 onwards, Millán Astray built a reputation as a brave, determined officer. It was at this time that he initiated the practice of motivating his men by means of fervent harangues before they went into action. Mentions in despatches and medals for bravery became frequent occurrences until, in July 1914, he was promoted to Major ‘por méritos de guerra’ (for distinction on the battlefield). For another three years he continued in Africa, consolidating his reputation for bravery and success, until, in April 1917, he was posted to Madrid.7 In 1918, Millán Astray began to propound the idea that Spain needed a mercenary force if public opinion were not to put a stop to her African adventures – ‘if Spaniards join the suggested corps, they will do so willingly; if foreigners do so, they will be doubly useful since they will provide a soldier and save a Spaniard’.8 One of his early converts was the then Major Francisco Franco-Bahamonde, whom he met in November 1918 while on a marksmanship course for majors at Valdemoro in the province of Madrid.9
Millán Astray was a sufficiently distinguished officer to be taken seriously and he was able to gain an audience with the Minister of War, General Antonio Tovar Marcoleta, and persuade him of the possibilities of his idea. It was decided in September 1919 to send him for three weeks to study the French Foreign Legion in Algeria. He first visited the Spanish High Commissioner in Morocco, General Dámaso Berenguer, to receive instructions. Arriving just as a major attack on the rebel leader, El Raisuni, was about to be launched, he seized the opportunity to request permission to take part and was seconded to the General Staff. He served in the column of Colonel José Sanjurjo until setting out for Algeria in early October. He visited the headquarters of the French Foreign Legion at Sidi-Bel-Abbés and also a regiment in Tremecen. He was especially impressed by the system of lavish rewards and savage punishments.10 In the meantime, his persuasive lobbying in Madrid had borne fruit. By royal decree of 28 January 1920, Millán Astray, promoted to Lieutenant Colonel three weeks earlier, was named head of the Foreign Legion or Tercio de Extranjeros (Tercio, or third, was the name used in the sixteenth century for regiments in the Army of Flanders which had been composed of three groups, pikemen, crossbowmen and arquebusiers). When established formally on 31 August 1920, it was projected that the Legion would eventually have three battalions known as banderas (‘colours’ or ‘flags’). Millán Astray disliked the name Tercio and always insisted on calling the new force ‘the Legion’.
Invited to join him as second-in-command, Franco, after some hesitation, agreed. Millán Astray undertook, virtually single-handed, to establish recruiting offices in Madrid, Zaragoza, Barcelona and Valencia. By dint of determination and improvisation, he set up headquarters in Ceuta and equipped the new recruits, combatting the early morale problems posed by inadequate funds with rousing speeches.11 When those first mercenary recruits of the primera bandera, under the command of Franco, arrived in Ceuta on 10 October 1920, a motley band of misfits and cut-throats, some tough, some pitiful, Millán Astray greeted them with a stark message: ‘You have lifted yourselves from among the dead – for don’t forget that you were dead, that your lives were over. You have come here to live a new life for which you must pay with death. You have come here to die.’12 ‘Since you crossed the Straits, you have no mother, no girlfriend, no family; from today all that will be provided by the Legion.’ ‘¡Viva la muerte!’ He seemed to have an instinctive feeling of how to get the best out of the ragbag of desperadoes, outcasts and malcontents that appeared, ranging from criminals on the run to First World War veterans unable to adjust to peacetime existence and anarcho-syndicalists fleeing the repression in Barcelona. He offered them a social nexus with some kind of human warmth and comradeship. In return, he demanded blind obedience and a readiness to die. His romantic notion that the Legion would offer its outcast recruits redemption through sacrifice, discipline, hardship, violence and death was transmitted to Franco and runs through Franco’s diary of its first two years, Diario de una bandera, a bizarre blend of sentimentalized adventure-story romanticism and cold insensitivity in the face of human bestiality. Together, Millán and Franco elaborated a brutal routine which converted the recruits into automatons who followed orders without thought. Indeed, Millán Astray always placed the irrational over the rational. The hymn of the Legion was ‘the wedding march of those who married death’, the Legionarios themselves ‘los novios de la muerte’ (the bridegrooms of death).13
Millán Astray’s obsession with death was reflected in the Legionario’s Credo in which he stated ‘Death in combat is the greatest honour. You die only once. Death arrives without pain and is not so terrible as it seems. The most horrible thing is to live as a coward.’14 This reflected his interest in samurai literature and his belief that only through death could life’s sins be redeemed. Millán Astray recruited for the Legion on the basis that there was no prior sin which could not be cleansed by death. His bible in this regard was a book published in 1895 by a Japanese, Inazo Nitobé, Bushido. The Soul of Japan. Its Spanish translation – from Nitobé’s own English rendition – was allegedly the work of Millán himself, although there is no evidence of his knowing either English or Japanese.15 Nor is there much evidence that the drunken sadists of the Legion followed the austere Japanese Bushido. The idea served, none the less, to give dignity to a unit whose rank-and-file were treated as expendable cannon fodder. Millán Astray and Franco together imbued the Legion with an ethos of ruthless savagery. There was also a sense of camaraderie and exclusivity symbolized by the idea that any Legionarios within earshot would always come to the aid of a comrade who shouted ‘¡A mí la Legión!’ whether in the thick of battle or in a bar-room brawl. Millán Astray was an amiable commander who would often invite his officers to a drink and had a weakness for telling jokes.16
The Socialist writer, Arturo Barea, who served in the Moroccan Army in the 1920s, found that his own critical faculties were swept aside by the mass hysteria generated by the histrionic performance of the Head of the Legion. ‘Millán Astray’s entire body underwent an hysterical transfiguration. His voice thundered and sobbed and howled. He spat into the faces of these men all their misery, their shame, their filth, their crimes, and then he dragged them along in fanatical fury to a sense of chivalry, to a renunciation of all hope, beyond that of dying a death which would wash away the stains of their cowardice in the splendour of heroism.’17 This rhetoric hid a multitude of sins. The psychopaths, drunkards and outcasts of the Legion were treated brutally and, in return, given free rein to indulge their own bloodlusts. ‘When it attacked, the Tercio knew no limits to its vengeance. When it left a village, nothing remained but fires and the corpses of men, women and children. Thus, I witnessed the villages of Beni Arós razed to the ground in the spring of 1921. Whenever a legionary was murdered on a lonely cross-country march, the throats of all the men in the neighbouring villages were cut unless the assailant came forward.’18 Despite the fierce discipline in other matters, no limits were put by Millán Astray or by Franco on the atrocities which were committed against Moorish villages. Prisoners were decapitated and their severed heads exhibited as trophies. The Duquesa de la Victoria, a philanthropist who organized a team of volunteer nurses, was welcomed by the Legion with a basket of roses in the centre of which lay two severed Moorish heads. When the Dictator General Primo de Rivera visited Morocco in 1926, he was appalled to find one battalion of the Legion awaiting inspection with heads stuck on their bayonets.19
Millán and Franco came to revel in the grim reputation of their men, manifesting a fierce pride in their brutality. The notoriety of the Legion was a powerful instrument of colonial repression. Franco learnt thereby powerful lessons about the exemplary function of terror. With the Legion in Africa and during the Civil War, Franco permitted and encouraged the killing and mutilation of prisoners. The years spent amidst the inhuman savagery of Millán Astray’s Legion contributed to a dehumanizing of Franco which was to be a source of strength to him in later life.20 In October 1934, for instance, entrusted with supervising the repression of the left-wing insurrection in Asturias, he sent in the Legion. ‘This is a frontier war’, he commented to a journalist, ‘against socialism, communism and whatever attacks civilization in order to replace it with barbarism.’21 He regarded left-wing workers with the same racialist contempt with which he had regarded the tribesmen of the Rif. The terror unleashed in Asturias was to be repeated in the south of Spain in 1936. The advance of the Army of Africa towards Madrid generated a paralysing terror. After each town or village was taken by the African columns, there would be a massacre of prisoners and women would be raped.22 Intimidation and the use of terror, euphemistically described as castigo (punishment), were a deliberate and explicit tactic. Franco was building on the heritage of Millán Astray.
In 1921, Arturo Barea witnessed an extraordinary scene which both revealed Millán Astray’s violent personality and set the tone for life in the Legion. Inspecting the troops,
he stopped in front of a mulatto with fat lips, his immense eyes bloodshot and yellowish. ‘Where are you from, lad?’ ‘What the devil is that to you?’ replied the man insolently. Millán Astray went rigid, staring into his eyes. ‘You think you’re very brave, don’t you? Look, the Chief here is me. When the likes of you speaks to me, he stands to attention and says “At your orders, Lieutenant Colonel. I prefer not to say where I’m from.” And that’s fine. You are perfectly within your rights not to mention your country, but you do not have the right to speak to me as if I was your equal.’ ‘And what have you got that makes you more than me?’ was spat back from lips dripping with saliva and as red as the sex of a bitch on heat. There are times when men can howl. At times they can pounce as if their muscles were made of rubber and their bones rods of steel. ‘I …?’ roared the commander. ‘I am more than you! Much more of a man than you!’ He leapt on the other and seized him by the shirt collar. He lifted him off the ground, threw him into the centre of the circle and beat his face horribly with both fists. It took only two or three seconds. They hit each other like men in the jungle must have done before the first axe was made. The mulatto lay on the ground blood pouring from him. Millán Astray, more stiff, more horrific than ever, epileptic in a furious homicidal madness, screamed ‘Attention!’ The eight hundred Legionarios – and I – responded like automatons. The mulatto got up, scraping the earth with his hands and his knees. His nostrils poured blood mixed with dust like an urchin’s snotty nose. His lip, split open, was fatter than ever, misshapen. He clicked his heels and saluted. Millán Astray clapped him on his huge shoulders. ‘Tomorrow I need brave men at my side. I suppose I’ll see you near me.’ ‘At your orders, Lieutenant Colonel.’ His eyes, more bloodshot than ever, more yellow with jaundice, flared with fanaticism.
On the following day, Barea witnessed a reckless Millán Astray on horseback, in the midst of the battle, standing up in the saddle, raising a bloodstained arm and crying ‘¡A mí la Legión! Fix bayonets!’ and leading a successful but costly charge.23 According to Barea, Millán Astray often ‘advertised his own death-defying bravery in advance, with much shouting and waving of arms’.24
In a devastating report on the behaviour of officers of the Moroccan army, written after the notorious disaster of July 1921 at Annual, Colonel Domingo Batet wrote that the much-vaunted bravery of the officers of the Regulares and the Tercio was inspired by alcohol, cocaine or morphine and characterized by a high degree of boastful pretence. Specifically, he wrote of ‘the theatrical clown Millán Astray who trembles when he hears the whistle of bullets and flees his post’.25 It might be argued that Millán Astray, unlike Franco who never knew fear, was an ordinary man who could be scared in battle and, despite suffering greatly in consequence, overcame his terror and confronted danger. Whatever he felt, his exploits led to him becoming a great favourite of King Alfonso XIII, who made him Gentilhombre de Cámara (Gentleman of the Chamber) on 18 September 1921.26 In consequence, he was invited to a party at one of the royal palaces. He let the King know that he did not possess an evening suit. Alfonso XIII responded by sending him one of his own. When Millán Astray later returned it, he requested permission to keep the shirt. Thereafter, he always wore it in battle and, after each action, would cable the Palace with the news.27 The King’s interventions on his behalf led to tension with Niceto Alcalá Zamora, then Minister of War.28
Millán Astray was brave, irresponsibly so, in the earlier part of his career, yet there was probably an element of calculation about it. Certainly, from the time of the foundation of the Legion, the hallmark of his behaviour was ever more histrionic excess. On one occasion in 1922, he visited a military hospital in Tetuán. An eye-witness, the later founder of Spanish surrealism, Ernesto Giménez Caballero described him entering the surgical ward ‘like a whirlwind’, shouting ‘Let me see my Legionarios! Where are my jackals? I am your chief! Legionarios, long live Spain, long live the King, long live the Legion!’. The wounded jackals hobbled over or sat up in bed. Millán Astray, constantly indicating an arm in a sling, passed among them, muttering ‘this neuritis is killing me!’ He went from one to another, asking them ‘What’s up with you, my son?’ – ‘A bullet-wound here.’ ‘A bullet-wound! And you, lad?’ ‘Well, I’ve got one in the head.’ ‘Another bullet-wound! And you, son?’ ‘I’ve got two wounds.’ ‘Two bullet-wounds!’ As he went around, they told him of the lack of food and he would turn to his aide and get him to note down chickens, ham, bottles of wine, although it is to be assumed that nothing more was ever heard of the promised victuals.29
Millán Astray’s recklessness on the battlefield wreaked a fierce toll on his person. His wounds led to him being described as the general ‘rebuilt out of hooks, bits of wood, string and glass’ (recompuesto de garfios, maderas, cuerdasy vidrios).30 He carried a huge scar on his chest. It was a relic of a wound received on 17 September 1921, sustained while discussing tactics and observing the enemy positions through binoculars near Nador, with Major Francisco Franco and his cousin, Captain Francisco Franco Salgado-Araujo. He fell, wounded by a sniper’s bullet, shouting ‘¡Me han matado! ¡Me han matado!’ (they’ve killed me) then ‘¡Viva España! ¡Viva el rey! ¡Viva la Legión!’31 In his own inflated account, tinged with eroticism, ‘I had the honour to be hit in the chest by an enemy bullet and I am proud that it was the strong and well-formed arms of Franco that, together with a captain also called Francisco Franco, held me with fraternal affection.’32 Despite the fact that his wound was not properly healed, he returned to action three weeks later. On 10 January 1922, he was badly wounded in the leg. Among his many decorations, he received in the autumn of 1922, the ‘medalla de sufrimientos por la patria’ (medal for suffering undergone for the fatherland).33 A bullet went through his left elbow on 26 October 1924 at Fondak in Morocco, and two days later he had to have the arm amputated after gangrene had set in. He lost one eye and afterwards bore a terrible scar from a bullet which, on 4 March 1926, entered his cheek, shattered his right eye-socket, split his jaw-bone and knocked out many of his teeth. He was apparently delighted to receive a telegram from one of his subordinates, Joaquín Ríos Capapié: ‘Congratulations on your fourth wound STOP I impatiently await the fifth STOP’.34 He was as gaunt as an El Greco figure although his wild surviving left eye had something Goyesque about it. He purchased a glass eye in Germany but rarely wore it, preferring a more romantic black patch.35
In behaviour and, after a while, in appearance too, Millán Astray resembled the Italian poet/adventurer Gabrielle D’Annunzio. The Italian’s frenetic determination to live as a Nietzschean superman had many echoes in the life of Millán Astray. He was aware of the parallel and once asked the Spanish right-wing poet José María Pemán, ‘Is it true that I resemble D’Annunzio?’ The poet replied that, although he had never seen the Italian, he did not doubt that ‘his bald pate like a renaissance dome and his one eye make you quite like him’.36 The Falangist intellectual, Dionisio Ridruejo, who knew Millán Astray during the Spanish Civil War, concluded many years later that his extreme behaviour was partly an effort to emulate D’Annunzio.37
Millán Astray’s buccaneering attitude to military life was reflected in his fanatical belief in the efficacy of song in lifting morale during combat:
my war cry is ‘Legionarios to fight, Legionarios to die’. And when we Legionarios fight and we see death nearby, we sing the ‘Hymn of the Legion’ and when we are happy and content, we also sing it because in the ‘Hymn of the Legion’ can be found the purest essences of our soul: not just in the words but in the music, in the singing of the rhythm and in the vibrant notes of the bugles. That is why, when I undergo painful treatment for my wounds in hospital, I place a piano in the next room and have a Legionario play the ‘Hymn of the Legion’ and ‘El Novio de la Muerte’ so as not to feel the pain. Once, when they had just amputated my arm, the wounded Legionarios who were in the hospital threw themselves from their beds, whether they could walk or not, and with the latter dragging themselves along the floor, they all came to my room to sing me the ‘Hymn of the Legion’. I also jumped out of bed and, standing rigidly to attention, I sang with them. Another time, when I was being taken on a stretcher from one hospital to another, wounded by a cruel bullet which had gone through my temple, as we went through Riffien where the Legion has its headquarters, everyone came out to sing the ‘Hymn of War’ and I jumped from the stretcher and I sang with them. And when we bury a Legionario, we sing, and when we win, we sing and when we challenge the enemy, we sing because the song, at certain times, is a threat and a challenge. And when there is the greatest danger in battle and death draws near, the Legion – because it never surrenders – sings in the face of death … That is the song which gives us encouragement in combat.38
Millán Astray was more than a well-known hero of battle. He also had a political role – although his political interventions, like his heroism, were driven by an obsession with being in the limelight.39 As the most prominent figure within the colonial wing of the army, Millán Astray took an active part in the ongoing conflict between the Africanistas and the professional organization known as the ‘Juntas de Defensa’. The more liberal members of the Juntas, dominated by officers from the artillery and engineers corps stationed in mainland Spain, opposed the principle of battlefield promotion which was dear to the hearts of the Africanistas. In May 1922, Millán Astray became the focus of their hostility when he resigned, with some publicity, from the Juntas.40 In the autumn, he attracted further attention. The King agreed to take part in a public tribute in Seville to Spain’s Moorish mercenary police force, the Regulares Indígenas. Although the Legion was not involved, Millán Astray arranged for every Legionario to make a contribution to the purchase of a jewel to be presented to the Queen at the ceremony. The celebration, held on 14 October 1922, was boycotted by the Juntero infantry officers of the Seville garrison. Millán Astray’s intervention had significantly augmented his popularity among the Africanistas. On 20 October, virtually the entire officer corps of the Madrid garrison, many of whom had fought in Africa and were favourites of the King, appeared at the railway station to send off Millán Astray when he left for the south en route to Melilla.41
However, in his bid for royal favour, Millán Astray was soon to overreach himself. On 7 November 1922, he committed a blatant act of self-publicity, writing an open letter to the King offering to resign his commission in protest at the influence of the Junteros. He issued a dramatic manifesto to the nation, appealing to ‘mayors, members of parliament, senators, generals and officers’ to support him. Young rightists demonstrated in the streets in his favour and officers from the Madrid garrison visited his home to leave their calling cards. Franco sent a telegram expressing the unanimous solidarity of the Legion’s officers. Alfonso XIII did not refuse his resignation and thereby deliver a public demonstration of royal favour. Instead, the Junteros having demanded that Millán Astray’s resignation be accepted, the King compromised by permitting him to be replaced in his command of the Legion by Lieutenant Colonel Rafael Valenzuela. The reason given for his replacement was the extent of his wounds. The hostility against him among the Junteros was such that he was unwelcome in many other corps and was the object of regular humiliations.42 Finally, he secured a posting to the Regimiento de Pavia in San Roque (Cádiz) in mid-February 1923, but on 28 June he was sent to Paris to study French military organization. When General Miguel Primo de Rivera became Dictator in September 1923, the King was able to persuade him to have Millán Astray attached first to the Military Academy at Saint-Cyr in January and February of 1924, and then to the Infantry Academy at Saint-Maixent from March.
Millán Astray returned to a Spanish regiment in Alicante in July 1924. In late October 1924, he was attached to the staff of the High Commissioner in Morocco and promoted to full Colonel. On 26 October, driving to Fondak, he found the road cut by Moorish insurgents. He got out of his car, strode to where some Spanish troops were fighting, and had just begun to harangue them when he was hit in the arm. In consequence, he had to have the amputation for which he was subsequently celebrated.43 Valenzuela was killed on 5 June 1923 and Franco was rapidly promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in order that he could take command of the Legion. He remained at the head of the Legion until 5 December 1925 when he was promoted to Brigadier General and thus became too senior to command the Legion. Millán Astray, after more than a year of convalescence, was on the point of being transferred to the Cuerpo de Inválidos when Franco and Sanjurjo intervened on his behalf with the Dictator. On 9 February 1926, he was named to fill the vacancy at the head of the Legion created by Franco’s departure. This required a change in the regulations concerning invalids which caused considerable resentment among the Junteros. Despite, or perhaps because of this, Millán Astray was careless of his personal safety and, on 4 March 1926, was hit in the face and lost his right eye. Within four months, he was back in action. On 18 June 1927, he was promoted to Brigadier General and was thus obliged to leave the Legion. On 1 October 1927, he was made permanent honorary colonel of the Legion, a position which he was to use to the full during the Spanish Civil War.44
In fact, prior to this, and partly on the basis of his sojourn in France, it was widely anticipated that he would be named head of the Infantry Academy at Toledo as a reward for the sacrifices that he had made in Africa. In the spring of 1925, Millán Astray was invited to speak of his French experiences in a lecture on military organization at the military club in Madrid, El Centro del Ejército y de la Armada. Such was the dislike of the Junteros for this symbolic Africanista that their outcry forced the cancellation of the lecture and the shelving of his nomination to the directorship of the Academy.45 Gossip now suggested that Millán Astray would be named Director of the newly revived Academia General Militar in Zaragoza. Again, opposition from the Junteros ensured that the proposal did not prosper. It is possible, however, that the nomination of Franco as second choice was the consequence of a suggestion from Millán Astray.46 In any case, his ideas were to be the essence of the military education imparted by his disciple Franco and other Africanistas who acted as teachers.47
Millán Astray’s last active post was as general commanding the Ceuta-Tetuán district for most of 1928 and 1929. On 15 January 1930, he was attached to the Ministry of War. It was from there that he anxiously followed the triumph of Republican candidates in the municipal elections of 12 April 1931. He telephoned Franco on the morning of 14 April to discuss the fact that General Sanjurjo, Director General of the Civil Guard, had advised the King to leave Spain.48 As a protégé of Alfonso XIII and a militarist, he was distressed by the coming of the Republic. Many of the Junteros against whom he felt the greatest antipathy now found positions of prominence as advisers to the new Minister of War, Manuel Azaña. Despite being left without an active post and thus, in February 1932, transferred to the reserve, he managed at first to avoid confrontation with the new regime. He was rumoured to be complicit in the various military plots against Azaña. Certainly, his restlessness got the better of him in mid-June 1932, when he took a tram to the Army School of Marksmanship (Escuela de Tiro) in Carabanchel, asked for a horse, formed up the various cadets from the military academies, and had them parade past him.49 He seems to have been on the fringes of the Sanjurjo plot of 10 August 1932 but was inhibited from active participation by Franco’s firm decision not to be involved. However, his links with the plot were certainly behind the decision made by the Ministry of War on the very day of the coup to transfer him to the reserve.50
During the Republic, Millán Astray began to manifest a deference to Franco which eventually became servile sycophancy during the Spanish Civil War. Although regarded as a malcontent, his determination not to be out of step with Franco seems to have kept him out of more trouble.51 In late 1934, when his time in the reserve was drawing to a close and there was again pressure for him to be invalided out of the army, his career was rescued by the amnesty for those involved in the Sanjurjada. The Prime Minister, the corrupt leader of the Radical Party, Alejandro Lerroux, had taken over the Ministry of War after his more liberal colleague, Diego Hidalgo, had been obliged to resign in mid-November 1934. Lerroux had been a friend of Millán Astray’s father. To keep him on the active list, he gave him a meaningless but prestigious bureaucratic post in the Ministry of War as Secretario del Consejo Supremo (Secretary to the Supreme War Council – a rarely convened committee of senior generals).52 Millán Astray maintained this position under both Gil Robles and, briefly, his successor after the Popular Front elections in February 1936, General Nicolás Molero.53 However, the return of Manuel Azaña to government, and to the Ministry of War, saw Millán Astray passed to the Cuerpo de Inválidos.54
With no remunerated post to keep him in Spain, on 19 March 1936 Millán Astray set off on a well-paid lecture tour of Argentina. He also appeared on radio talking of his exploits in Morocco and showed off his scars in the drawing-rooms of the rich. On hearing of the military uprising, he is said to have shouted to his wife Elvira, ‘Elvirita, the radio says that the Legion has risen. That for me is the same as hearing the cry of ‘¡A mí la Legión!’ He rapidly booked a passage on a ship for Spain but the early news that he received on board, of the death of Sanjurjo and the failures of Fanjul in Madrid and Goded in Barcelona, inclined him to wait on events before deciding which side to join.55 His hesitation was compounded by the fact that General Emilio Mola, the ‘director’ of the military conspiracy, had not kept him informed. Mola despised Millán for his theatricality and had grave doubts about his discretion. In his turn, Millán Astray deeply resented Mola.56
Millán Astray reached Lisbon at the end of the first week of August. Conversations with Franco’s agents there, his brother Nicolás and the Catholic politician José María Gil Robles, resolved his doubts and he then sailed on to Cádiz, determined to trade on his greatest asset, the prestige accruing to the founder of the Legion. He made a speech on the dockside claiming that he had come from South America because he had heard the cry of ‘¡A mí la Legión!’57 Within days of arriving in Seville, Franco had set up an embryonic staff including a propaganda service in the form of the Gabinete de Prensa established on 9 August under the journalist Juan Pujol, with Joaquín Arrarás (the future Generalísimo’s friend and first biographer) as his assistant.58 Franco swiftly concluded that Millán Astray’s white-hot rhetoric could be pressed into service to propagate his cause throughout the Nationalist zone. He was quickly installed at Franco’s side along with his immediate staff in the Palacio de Yanduri in Seville.59 Millán’s first major public appearance was alongside Franco and Queipo de Llano on 15 August in Seville at the ceremonial adoption of the monarchist flag by the military rebels. Gesticulating like a man possessed, he screamed, ‘We are not afraid of them. Let them come, let them come and they will see what we are capable of under the shadow of this flag.’ He was interrupted by a by-stander shouting ‘¡Viva Millán Astray!’ at which he shouted back ‘What’s that? Let no one shout viva Millán Astray! Let everyone shout with me, with all the force of which you are capable ¡Viva la muerte! ¡Viva la muerte! ¡Viva la muerteee!’ As the crowd cried out their vivas, he screamed ‘Now let the reds come. They will all die!’ Then he threw his cap with a manic gesture into the crowd.60
Franco’s headquarters had moved on to Cáceres at this time and he immediately put Millán Astray in charge of a more ambitious propaganda operation. He went on tour to Valladolid, Vigo, La Coruña and other cities. Completely without self-consciousness, he set the pseudo-medieval crusader tone which was to characterize subsequent Nationalist image-building. On 21 August, he spoke in Pamplona, the home of the ultra-traditionalist Carlist movement, which was committed to the re-establishment of a medieval military monarchy far more reactionary than anything contemplated by Franco. On the balcony of the Círculo Carlista, gesticulating wildly, he shouted, ‘Navarra, Pamplona! With profound reverence, I salute you. You are the Covadonga of the Reconquest of Spain and of the Faith. You are the cradle of national heroism. You are NAVARRA!’61 Earlier on the same day, he had taken part in an equally bizarre – and perhaps consciously orchestrated – scene in the Military Hospital in Pamplona. Standing by the body of Lieutenant Colonel Ricardo Ortiz de Zárate, an officer of the Legion, Millán Astray addressed the corpse: ‘Brother! Now you have found her [death]! Now she is yours! How many times did you run after her on the battlefields of Africa … Now she is yours; forged in an embrace, you lie together …’ After rambling on in this vein for some time, he suddenly stopped and, after a few moments of silence, said, ‘Now, brother, in your honour, I will sing our hymn for you.’ In a broken and tuneless voice, he began to sing ‘Soy valiente y leal legionario …’62
Wherever he went, he sang the glories of Franco, in some way as if the more he exaggerated the more some would rub off on himself.63 In fact, Millán Astray manifested an unqualified admiration for Franco bordering on slavish servility while always managing to insinuate that the new saviour was his discovery. As he told Giménez Caballero, ‘I made Franco in Africa and yet there is something that is missing from my quadrant which Franco has. I don’t know what it is, but it is decisive.’64 Even at this early stage, he insisted on the crucial role of Franco, who was still no more than a member of the Junta de Burgos. He expressed his total conviction that Franco’s lucky star (buena estrella) which guided him in all his works was the best guarantee of eventual victory. Dramatically reminding his listeners of the crucial role of the Legion, he would always end his harangues with a thunderous ‘¡Viva la muerte!’65 One of his many services to Franco was the invention of the slogan ‘Una Patria, Un Estado, Un Caudillo’, based on the Nazi ‘Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer’.66
Along with General Alfredo Kindelán, Nicolás Franco, General Luis Orgaz and Colonel Juan Yagüe, Millán Astray played an important role in a kind of political campaign staff committed to the elevation of Franco to commander-in-chief and then to the headship of State. Franco was cautious throughout, fearful of gambling the position that he had already gained. His hesitations had the effect of making it seem as if he were being obliged, for the good of the Nationalist cause, to accept reluctantly a position that was being forced upon him.67
The first meeting of senior generals to choose an overall commander-in-chief was held at an airfield near Salamanca on 21 September. When it became clear that there was hesitation within the High Command, Millán Astray assumed the role of publicizing the ‘need’ for Franco, of both generating and expressing ‘popular’ pressure. In particular, he personified the determination of the Legion, with which he was irrevocably associated, that Franco be named single commander. In this regard, on the evening of 27 September 1936, he skilfully choreographed the scenes of popular rejoicing in Cáceres which greeted news of the relief of the siege of the Alcázar of Toledo. When the generals met for their second meeting on the next morning, they succumbed to the pressure of the Legion and named Franco both Generalísimo and, somewhat ambiguously, ‘Head of the Government of the Spanish State’.68
On 4 October, three days after Franco became Head of State, Millán Astray proclaimed that the Caudillo was ‘the man sent by God to lead Spain to liberation and greatness’, ‘the man who saved the situation during the Jaca rising’ and the ‘greatest strategist of the century’.69 Millán’s adulation and his eccentricities stood out even among the gallery of bizarre and grotesque figures gathering in Salamanca. In the chill autumn of 1936, Franco now replaced Pujol with his one-time mentor. Millán was placed in official charge of the expanded Oficina de Prensa y Propaganda in its improvised offices in the Instituto Anaya, an old palace which housed the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Salamanca. There too were the scientists who were endeavouring to produce toxic gas for the Nationalists. Elsewhere in the building was a Hindu alchemist called Sarvapoldi Hammaralt. Hammaralt had turned up in Salamanca offering to make all the gold that Franco needed to win the war. He had been interviewed by Franco’s brother Nicolás and had assured him that he possessed the formula for the manufacture of gold, ‘a formula which can be used only if the gold created is used in a good cause’. Hammaralt declared that he considered the Nationalist cause to be ‘noble and holy’. On the recommendation of Nicolás, the Generalísimo had Salamanca University’s chemistry laboratories put at Hammaralt’s disposal. While he worked at his alchemy, Hammaralt helped Nicolás in numerous small ways including the provision of chemicals which permitted the censorship office to read the letters written in invisible ink by German and Italian agents. He also carried out experiments on corpses collected from the battlefields. As rumours of these activities leaked out, alarmed Catholics were reassured by an announcement that Hammaralt’s experiments were conducted only on already dismembered Moors. Eventually, never having produced any gold, he fled, suspected of being a British agent.70 In the Palacio Anaya, Millán Astray gathered around him some of the most extravagant figures of a city bursting at the seams with oddities – ranging from the great wit Agustín de Foxá, via the deranged surrealist Ernesto Giménez Caballero to Captain Gonzalo Aguilera y Yeltes, an aristocrat who attributed all Spain’s problems to the introduction of sewers.71
Millán Astray ate most evenings in the dining-room of the Gran Hotel in Salamanca. An American correspondent in Salamanca, Charles Foltz, witnessed bizarre scenes: ‘when the spirit moved him he would order everybody in the room, foreign diplomats included to rise and sing Legionario, the hymn of the Legion. He kept time with his pistol, which sometimes went off.’ On one occasion, he kept the entire, and thoroughly bemused, company standing with arms outstretched in the fascist salute until they had sung the anthems of the Falange, of the Carlist Requeté, of the Legion, the Nazi Horst Wessel Lied, the Fascist hymn Giovinezza and the German, Italian and Portuguese national anthems.72
Fuelling the eccentricities was a barely contained violence. As one observer put it, ‘his angry and rancorous bearing kills any compassion his mutilations might have inspired’.73 One day, having gone to Lugo to make a speech, he caused an incident in a restaurant on a día sin postre (a day without pudding), one of various austerity measures adopted in the Nationalist zone. Being a Gallego, he was singing the praises of Gallego cuisine and asked the waiter to bring him queso de tetilla (a soft, mild cheese in the form of a woman’s breast). Wrongly suspecting a test, the waiter reminded him that it was a día sin postre. ‘Do you know who I am?’ thundered the glorioso mutilado. ‘Yes, Your Excellency, General Millán Astray.’ ‘Then bring me immediately a queso de tetilla!’ When the waiter hesitated, the general lost control of himself and began to hit the unfortunate man about the head.74 On another occasion, on one of his visits to a hospital, there was a similar scandal. As Millán Astray and his escort of Legionarios went around the wards, he would ask each wounded man for details of the action in which he had been hit. As they told him, he would say to his aide, ‘Note down, this man is to be given one hundred pesetas!’ ‘That man is to be given two hundred pesetas!’ Finally, he came to a soldier who could produce no heroic incident – he had been thrown from a motorcycle sidecar. Beside himself with fury, Millán Astray brutally beat the patient.75 His prejudices also got the better of him on another occasion when he was distributing medals. Unbeknownst to Millán Astray, the heroic recipient happened to be a Catalan. On asking his name in the familiar jovial manner, the answer ‘Vidal – Ribas’ and the accent gave the game away. Millán Astray turned away gravely, saying ‘What a pity you’re a Catalan’.76
He was deeply superstitious, telling Franco’s cousin that God always gave bad luck to his enemies, ‘generals A and B were shot by the reds, colonel so-and-so died at the front, another in an accident. I never hate anyone and I like to forgive my enemies. What is infallible is that they all soon die.’77 On 29 September 1936, shortly after the relief of the Alcázar de Toledo, Franco hosted a lunch for the hero of the siege, Colonel José Moscardó, at the Hotel Castilla along with General Varela, Millán Astray and various other officers. When Millán Astray realized that there were thirteen at the table, he grabbed a passing messenger-boy and obliged the terrified young man to join the company and eat with them.78
Shortly after taking up his position as Franco’s image-maker, Millán Astray played a part in an incident which did much to characterize the Franco regime for the outside world. He clashed with the Rector of the University of Salamanca, the seventy-two-year-old philosopher and novelist, Miguel de Unamuno, on the occasion of the celebration in the Great Hall (Paraninfo) of the Día la Raza, 12 October 1936, the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s ‘discovery’ of America. Millán Astray had arrived complete with his escort of Legionarios armed with machine-guns – an affectation that he was to maintain throughout the war. A series of speakers trotted out the usual Nationalist clichés about anti-España. An outraged Unamuno, who had not been planning to speak, had furiously jotted down some notes and then rose to make a passionate speech:
Much has been said here about the international war in defence of Christian civilization; I have done the same myself on other occasions. But no, our war is only an uncivil war … To win [vencer] is not to convince [convencer], and it is necessary to convince and that cannot be done by the hatred which has no place for compassion … There has been talk too of Catalans and Basques, calling them the anti-Spain. Well, with the same justification could they say the same of you. Here is the Bishop, himself a Catalan, who teaches you Christian doctrine which you don’t want to learn. And I, who am a Basque, I have spent my life teaching you the Spanish language, which you do not know …
At that point Millán Astray began to shout, ‘Can I speak? Can I speak?’ His escorts readied their guns and someone in the audience shouted ‘¡Viva la muerte!’ In what Ridruejo saw as a coolly calculated bid for the limelight,79 Millán Astray spoke: ‘Catalonia and the Basque Country, the Basque Country and Catalonia, are two cancers in the body of the nation! Fascism, Spain’s remedy, comes to exterminate them, slicing healthy, living flesh like a scalpel.’ He worked himself up into a frenzy until he could speak no more. Gasping for breath, he stood to attention while cries of ‘¡Viva España!’ rang out. A deathly silence fell and anxious eyes turned to Unamuno. With a grimace of distaste, the philosopher rose again to speak:
I have just heard the senseless and necrophiliac cry of ¡Viva la muerte! To me this is the same as crying Death to Life! And I, who have spent my life creating paradoxes which annoyed those who did not understand them, I have to tell you, as an authority on the subject, that this outlandish paradox seems to me to be repellent. Given that it was shouted in tribute to the last speaker, I take it that it was directed to him, if in a rather twisted and excessive form, as a testimony to the fact that he himself is a symbol of death. And another thing! General Millán Astray is a war invalid. It is not necessary to say this in a whisper. Cervantes was too. But extremes cannot be taken as the norm. Unfortunately, today there are too many invalids. And soon there will be more if God does not help us. It pains me to think that General Millán Astray might dictate the norms of mass psychology. An invalid who lacks the spiritual grandeur of Cervantes, who was a man, not a superman, virile and complete despite his mutilations, an invalid, as I said, who lacks that superiority of spirit, is often made to feel better by seeing the number of cripples around him grow … General Millán Astray would like to create a new Spain in his own image, a negative creation without doubt. And so he would like to see a mutilated Spain …
Millán Astray, now apoplectic with rage, screamed ‘¡Muera la inteligencia!’ The poet José María Pemán tried to take the edge off the proceedings by shouting ‘No! ¡Viva la inteligencia! Death to bad intellectuals!’ Undeterred, Unamuno concluded, ‘This is the temple of intelligence! I am its high priest! You are profaning its sacred precincts. I have always been, no matter what the proverb says, a prophet in my own country. You will win [venceréis] but you will not convince [no convenceréis]. You will win because you have more than enough brute force; but you will not convince, because to convince means to persuade. And to persuade you need something that you lack: reason and right in the struggle. It seems to me useless to beg you to think of Spain.’ Millán Astray was able to gain sufficient control of himself to bark at Unamuno, pointing at Franco’s wife, ‘Take the Señora’s arm!’ He did so and this prevented further tragic incident.80
Later that evening, there was a dinner in honour of the Nationalist poet José María Pemán, given by the Guardias Cívicos de Salamanca (municipal police) and hosted by the Alcalde (mayor). On his return to the Gran Hotel, Millán Astray appeared in the lobby and, before a perplexed public, embraced Pemán and offered him his ‘Medalla de sufrimientos por la Patria’. Pemán cleverly sidestepped the embarrassment by kissing the medal reverently and giving it back to Millán Astray.81 It is not clear whether Millán was trying to neutralize the possibly negative effects of his attacks on the intelligentsia or was merely looking to ingratiate himself with a hugely influential writer.
As far as Franco was concerned, Millán Astray had behaved as he should in his confrontation with Unamuno.82 That such a man could command respect and admiration and be the recipient of preferment from Franco himself reflects much upon the nature of the Caudillo and his court. Franco gave him a vague overall responsibility for the morale of the Nationalist troops in which capacity he regularly toured the front and visited military hospitals.83 Certainly, as one of the Generalísimo’s closest collaborators, he was usually present at the late-night meeting (tertulias) at which the Generalísimo discussed the progress of the war with his Chiefs of Army, Navy and Air Force Staff, Colonel Francisco Martínez Moreno, General Alfredo Kindelán and Admiral Juan Cervera.84 He had unhindered access to Franco.85 He was also often present when Lieutenant Colonel Lorenzo Martínez Fuset brought Franco sheafs of death penalties for confirmation.86 Even after Franco recognized that the growth of his propaganda machine required a bureaucratic apparatus for the management of which Millán Astray was perhaps not the best man, he was often used as a kind of tour guide for visiting dignitaries. On one occasion, before ushering in a delegation of French extreme rightists to meet Franco, he warned them that they were about to enter the presence of ‘the voice of God’.87
Millán Astray remained in charge of propaganda for some time after the confrontation with Unamuno. Indeed, he soon acquired a worthy assistant. On 4 November 1936, Ernesto Giménez Caballero, the ultra-right-wing surrealist, arrived in Salamanca. He was one of the few characters capable of matching Millán Astray’s eccentricity. In the lobby of his hotel he met the founder of the Legion whom he had not seen since their encounter in the military hospital in Tetuan in 1922. Giménez Caballero stood to attention, saluted and introduced himself. Completely unimpressed, Millán Astray replied ‘So what?’, to which Giménez Caballero rejoined, ‘I am one of the ideological founders of Falangism.’ Millán Astray then ordered one of the Legionarios of his escort to take his name, investigate and report back. In the meanwhile, Giménez Caballero visited the Palacio Episcopal where in a large room divided up by screens Franco’s embryonic government worked, each ‘Ministry’ established at a separate table. At the ‘Ministry’ of Foreign Affairs, the portly José Antonio Sangróniz, who slept in a small side-room concealed by a screen, introduced him to Nicolás Franco. Through his intervention, Giménez Caballero was received by the Caudillo himself on 7 November. Having read one of his books, the extraordinary panegyric of fascist mysticism, Genio de España, Franco was keen to use him as part of his propaganda operation and instructed him to talk to Millán Astray. On the following morning, one of Millán Astray’s Legionarios ordered him to present himself to the great man. Since there was no budget, Millán Astray offered one month’s wages and Giménez Caballero borrowed a thousand pesetas from his brother Angel to buy paper. They requisitioned typewriters, roped in some Falangist friends of Giménez Caballero – Juan Aparicio and Victor de la Serna – and set up a press office in the Palacio de Anaya. Each day, as he had done in the Legion, Millán Astray would summon the journalists with a whistle and form them up in lines to listen to his daily harangue.88
Millán Astray’s greatest ambition was fulfilled when Franco permitted him to set up a radio station to broadcast his propaganda. Giménez Caballero managed to get hold of the necessary equipment and, on the evening of the first planned broadcast, on 22 November 1936, Millán Astray arrived with his escort and his wife, Elvira. He barked out an order, ‘Elvirita! Go over there and don’t talk. Everyone silent!’ While Millán Astray got ever more impatient, the symptom of which was a trembling in the stump of his amputated arm, Giménez Caballero checked the microphone only to discover that it was dead. Rather than face the wrath of the hero of the Legion, he launched into an adulatory introduction which was quickly followed by Millán Astray’s harangue to the people of the Republican zone. It was a plea to the Republicans to lay down their arms and submit to Franco’s love, nobility and humanity.
Giménez Caballero’s subterfuge might not have been discovered had it not been for the fact that, in the early hours of the following morning, a Republican bomber, perhaps trying to hit Franco’s headquarters, dropped a bomb on the Palacio Anaya. As he staggered from the basement shelter, Giménez Caballero was brusquely summoned to Millán Astray’s presence. Accompanied by the Nationalist air ace, Joaquín García Morato, Millán Astray began to shout, ‘Stand to attention! Caballero! I’m going to have you shot. Prepare yourself. You know I’m not joking.’ – ‘General, may I know my crime?’ stammered Giménez Caballero. ‘You still have to ask?’ barked Millán Astray. ‘To no one but you would it occur to introduce me on the radio and mention the Palacio de Anaya. The enemy has thus located me and tried to finish me off. A crime of the gravest imprudence.’ Giménez Caballero opted for a mischievous humility. ‘General, as always, you are right and are just. I deserve a serious punishment, yes, I deserve a severe punishment, even death. But not for the crime of letting the Reds hear us but for a much more serious blunder – the crime that they didn’t hear you when you spoke so marvellously! The radio wasn’t working and I didn’t dare miss out on one of Millán Astray’s harangues delivered just for me … ah! and also for Elvirita, who was crying with pleasure.’ A grinning Millan Astray just shouted, ‘And now get out of my sight!’89
Much of Millán Astray’s time was devoted to tours of the Nationalist zone, raising morale with his famous harangues. On the flimsiest excuse, he would often stop someone in the street and launch into a spontaneous diatribe which often drew a crowd around him. It reached a point where many who knew him took evasive action when they saw him coming.90 In May 1937, he spoke in Salamanca at the Gran Hotel where he excited a demonstration of protesters against the Republican bombing of the German cruiser Deutschland (the dead were buried with full military honours in Gibraltar).91 One evening, at the start of a meeting before a large crowd in Ceuta, he lost his voice. Unperturbed, he addressed the meeting in a spontaneously invented sign-language of wild gesticulations which won him a standing ovation.92 Not all his oratory was so well received. On one occasion he spoke to a group of Alféreces Provisionales, acting second lieutenants, rapidly trained in order to meet the Nationalists’ urgent need for officers. To the consternation of the recently graduated officers, he opened his speech with a resounding ‘¡Alféreces Provisionales de hoy! ¡Cadáveres efectivos de manãna!’ (acting second lieutenants of today, full corpses of tomorrow).93 Many broadcast harangues were directed to the Republican zone and consisted of the most outrageous lies. He systematically denied, for instance, that the advancing Nationalist columns killed civilians and affirmed Franco’s commitment to be ‘the liberator of the poor’ bringing a regime of ‘justice and love’.94 Towards the end of the Spanish Civil War, he was employed at the Madrid front, addressing the Republican lines through a loudspeaker, urging them to surrender and claiming that Franco offered them ‘bread, forgiveness and justice’.95
When not engaged in propaganda, Millán Astray was often delegated to be Franco’s representative on occasions both public and private. When General Mola was killed in an air crash on 3 June 1937, Franco himself presided over the funeral service held in Burgos when the coffin arrived there. However, knowing of Mola’s contempt for Millán Astray, with characteristically malicious humour, he delegated the founder of the Legion to represent him at the more solemn ceremonies when the body was taken to Pamplona for burial.96 Franco also used Millán Astray at times as an intermediary. For instance, in December 1936, he sent him to see the Falangist leader, Manuel Hedilla, and request that, with a view to the formation of ‘Brigadas Mixtas’ which would include Italian volunteers, he provide 15,000 men.97 Similarly, in February 1937, during the most difficult moments of the Battle of Jarama, he sent Millán Astray to see the Italian High Command to request that they hasten a diversionary attack.98 In April 1937, he was one of the emissaries sent by Franco to secure the collaboration of Manuel Hedilla in the forced unification of the Falange and the Carlist movement.99
Millán Astray was, incidentally, an avid admirer of the Falange and formally proclaimed his membership after the Unificación, thereby giving publicity to the decree incorporating all members of the armed forces into the Falange Española Tradicionalista y de las JONS.100 The step from Africanista to fascista was a short one. As he had said in his speech attacking Unamuno, he saw fascism as ‘the remedy for Spain’. On 1 January 1938, he proclaimed ‘there is only one road to salvation: the awakening of the great nations in which Caudillos are emerging, the great Caudillos of the present moment in the life of humanity: Mussolini, Hitler, Hiro-Hito, Oliveira Salazar, FRANCISCO FRANCO BAHAMONDE.’101
In July 1938, he was invited by the Falangist poet, Dionisio Ridruejo, to make a speech at a Falangist rally in Valladolid to commemorate the second anniversary of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. On the morning of the rally, Ridruejo, still in his pyjamas, was called urgently to Millán Astray’s hotel room. Stark naked, the General received Ridruejo in his bath, the stump of his arm jerking as it often did when he was nervous. He was helped by his wife Elvira and his usual escort of Legionarios. They dried him and he put on his underpants. He then took Ridruejo aside, and said, ‘I really like you and besides I’m very grateful that you remembered me for this meeting. That will have done you no harm. And I want to repay you with a favour. I have to tell you that your name doesn’t go down well among the top brass. They regard you as a rebel and untrustworthy. I’m ready to vouch for you but, for that, we must swear the oath of the Legion right here and now.’ In a squalidly homoerotic scene, Millán Astray, still clad only in his underpants, made Ridruejo stand to attention with one hand on an imaginary cross and the other holding an imaginary flagpole flying the Legion’s standard, and swear the oath.102
In late 1937, there was an opportunity for Franco to reward Millán Astray. The large number of those mutilated in the war required some form of government action and so a Dirección General de Mutilados was created and Millán Astray given the post of Director General del Benemérito Cuerpo de Mutilados de Guerra por la Patria. His inaugural speech was as fanatical as all the others. ‘And now, mutilated one and all, be prepared to receive at any moment the order or the cry of “To me the mutilated!” in order that, just like Legionarios, on hearing the cry of “To me the Legion!”, we all pull together so that with the limbs which we have left and with our hearts, that keep on beating with the same ardour, we can form the Tercio de Mutilados.’ He threw himself into the organization of the new corps with his usual manic enthusiasm, declaring that he would be ‘the Army’s first stretcher-bearer’. He arranged pensions for the disabled on a sliding scale which reached its apogee of generosity for generals.103 After the Civil War, a decree was passed which allotted to the Dirección General de Mutilados a proportion of posts as doormen, commissionaires and receptionists in public buildings, as well as a number of guaranteed places in competitive examinations for senior positions in the civil service.104
Millán Astray considered himself still the spiritual head of the Legion. The fact that he was able to sport an escort of Legionarios indicated that he was still conceded a certain authority within the corps. His offices in Salamanca were referred to as his Estado Mayor and he inspected units in such a capacity. On one occasion in early December 1938, he visited the Cuarta Bandera under the command of Major Carlos Iniesta Cano. Iniesta Cano was later to be one of the prominent generales azules of late Francoism and a worthy disciple of Millán Astray.105 His unit was in the village of Guijuelo in Salamanca, resting and reorganizing after its efforts in the Battle of the Ebro. Millán Astray asked Iniesta how many casualties the Cuarta Bandera had suffered since the beginning of the war. On hearing the figure of nearly 8000 (equivalent to the entire strength of the Legion at the beginning of the war), Millán Astray jumped to attention, saluted Iniesta and barked out, ‘At your orders, Major!’ He then invited the officers to a drink in the Casino of the village and, to their embarrassment, asked if any of them needed any money. Faced with their silence, he asked if anyone present hailed from Seville. When a Lieutenant Piñero stepped forward, Millán Astray said to Iniesta, ‘Send him to my headquarters in Salamanca to collect 2000 pesetas which I haven’t got on me.’ The money was duly collected, was spent on wine and duly enhanced the myth of Millán Astray within the Legion.106
At one point during the occupation of Salamanca by the Francoist circus, Millán Astray had occasion to visit a dentist. Accompanied as always by an escort of Legionarios, Falangists and Carlist Requetés, heavily armed with rifles and machine-guns, he went to see Dr José García de la Cruz, who was also treating the Franco family. One section of the escort occupied the pavement outside the dental clinic, another guarded the doors to the consulting room. Like Franco himself, and indeed most Spanish officers who had fought in Morocco where dental treatment was non-existent, Millán Astray needed root extractions. On one visit to the surgery, Millán Astray had one of his sergeants injected in order to ensure that the anaesthetic was not poisoned. On other visits, one of his bodyguards would check the capsule with the anaesthetic before he would permit himself to be injected. When Dr García de la Cruz came to make the injection, Millán Astray gripped the dental chair as if he were being electrocuted. On seeing this, his escort formed up and began to sing the hymn of the Legion as they had done in the Moroccan wars to help the bridegroom of death through his ordeal: ‘¡Soy valiente y leal legionario/Soy soldado de brava legión/Pesa en mi alma doliente calvario/que en el fuego busca redención/mi divisa no conoce el miedo/mi destino tan solo sufrir/mi bandera luchar con denuedo/hasta conseguir/vencer o morir.’* When the extraction was successfully accomplished, the chorus of Legionarios fell silent, Millán Astray sat up and said, ‘That wasn’t too bad, now I want you to make me a complete set of false teeth in gold.’
Since there was an acute shortage of gold and the Francoist hierarchy was not in the habit of paying bills, Dr García stammered out that there was no gold to be had in Nationalist Spain, particularly for dentists, and that, unless the General could get hold of some, his ambitions for a spectacular dental plate could not be fulfilled. Noticing a photograph of Franco’s daughter Carmen on the wall, Millán Astray said, ‘I see that you treated Carmencita’, and asked how much she had been charged. Understandably, in wartime Salamanca, the dentist had not dared to send a bill to Franco and he replied truthfully, ‘Nothing, I just asked her to give me a signed photograph.’ In a burst of generosity, Millán Astray announced, ‘Well, I’m going to do the same. I’m going to give you a photo of me and with that we’re quits.’ Some years later, Millán Astray appeared at Dr García’s consulting rooms to show off a mouth full of gold which led the dentist to assume that he had taken advantage of a dentist with a Republican past anxious to ingratiate himself with the new regime.107 In fact, he was much given to distributing signed photographs of himself. In the early summer of 1937, with his escort, he was awaiting an audience with Franco in the Palacio Episcopal of Salamanca. He was greeted by the son of an old military friend. After asking after the father, he said, ‘I want you to have a picture of me in memory of this day’, called over his aide and pulled a handful of photographs from his briefcase and asked ‘Which do you like best? Pick any one you like.’108
In May 1938, he visited Italy with a group of Francoist intellectuals including Ridruejo and Pemán to take part in a propaganda tour. The tour ended with an ‘Italo – Spanish Solidarity Day’ at which speeches were made in the Teatro Adriano in Rome. During this event, in his capacity as Director General del Benemérito Cuerpo de Mutilados de Guerra por la Patria, he was introduced to his Italian equivalent, Carlo Delcroix, President of the Associazione Nazionale Mutilati e Invalidi di Guerra. Millán Astray was momentarily nonplussed to discover that the Fascist war hero had lost both arms and both eyes in a bomb explosion in 1917. After a brief hesitation, however, Millán Astray recovered his usual confident theatricality, embraced Delcroix and tearfully declared, ‘O happy art thou, brother, whose fatherland demanded of thee two eyes, while mine called for only one of mine; O happy art thou, brother, whose fatherland took from thee two hands, while mine left me with one.’ It was assumed by the wildly enthusiastic audience that Millán Astray had lost his arm and his eye fighting in the Spanish Civil War. He did not disabuse them.109 Millán Astray and Pemán had lunch with the Italian Foreign Minister, Count Galeazzo Ciano, who spoke to them in inflated terms of the Duce’s Herculean capacity for work. Millán Astray, who was convinced, quite wrongly, that he could speak Italian, was not to be outdone. Speaking a comically italianized Spanish, he declared, ‘Pues il nostro Caudiglio pasa cuatorce hores in la mesa de trabaglio e non se levanta ni pere meare’ (Well, our Caudillo spends fourteen hours at his desk and doesn’t get up even to piss).110
Millán Astray was a fervent believer in his own popularity. In a wartime broadcast to the soldiers of both sides, he said:
Why are you dying? I will tell you. I, Millán Astray, founder of the Legion. So beloved of all soldiers. Held so dear by the humble, by fascists, by Carlists, by anarchists, by Socialists, by prisoners, by the helpless. I have the right to speak to each and every one of you. On 19 March of this year of 1936 when I was leaving for South America, the railway-workers of Seville beseeched me in the station ‘Stay with us’. The dockworkers in Cádiz, on the same day, in the tavern with the public telephone, embracing me with tears in their eyes, said ‘General, don’t go to America and stay with us’. You can check. Those of you who can hear me in Madrid can find out who I am from the waiters in the cafés, from the shoeshine boys, from the tram-drivers, from all the taxi-drivers (who all know me), the newspaper-vendors, the poor, the needy, those on the run from justice, the odd hit-man whose father, a railway-worker, came to my house, the prisoners in the jails, even the sister of La Libertaria. And they will all say that I have always spoken to everyone about the fatherland; that they all knew that I was the founder of the Legion, that I am a Legionario, but all, when I say goodbye, embrace me.111
He believed hardly less fervently in his own sexual attractiveness. He boasted of kissing every woman he met, including nine cloistered nuns and three abbesses.112 Whenever introduced to a woman, he would ask ‘Married or single?’ and if the reply was the latter, immediately kiss her twice. He was particularly effusive with Dr García’s dental nurse.113 At the end of his speeches, he would order that men and women in the audience kiss one another, thereby scandalizing the clergy present. If it happened to be an evening event, he would order the lights to be switched off. Sometimes, while passing through the Plaza Mayor of Salamanca, he would shout for those around him to embrace and kiss.114 On the other hand, he was notably prurient. The semi-naked protagonist of the scene with Ridruejo and the imaginary flagpole declared that he would have nothing to do with tailors on the grounds that, when they took measurements for trousers, they brushed their clients’ genitals.115 He asked Republican listeners to his broadcasts: ‘What do you feel, those of you who have honour and a sense of shame, when you see young women wearing mechanic’s overalls who, when the zip slides down, are completely naked, showing everything that a woman’s modesty forbids?’116
By way of making a public declaration of his own sexual potency, he adopted the great sex-symbol of Francoist Spain, the Argentinian musical comedy singer-actress Celia Gámez, as his protégée and, by implication, lover. When she married on 1 July 1944, in the Church of San Jerónimo el Real in Madrid, he appeared as her padrino (to give her away). Since she had had many lovers, most of them illustrious in one way or another, she decided to invite them all to her wedding, thinking to give the occasion more prestige. However, a group of them paid some urchins to throw a bag of horns (the symbol of cuckoldry) at the feet of the couple. In the resulting tumult, the priest was unable to impose order. Millán Astray blew his whistle, shouted ‘¡A mí la Legión!’ and the four armed Legionarios of his escort appeared. Millán Astray then bellowed, ‘If you cannot respect the Church, at least show respect for me!’ When silence was reimposed, the Legionarios formed a small square in which the couple and the priest were able to continue the ceremony.117
Life after the Spanish Civil War was an inevitable anti-climax for Millán Astray. To an extent, he had been able to fight the war vicariously and relive the adulation that he had enjoyed in Morocco. For a while, he continued to make propaganda tours keeping alive the memory of the war. In the summer of 1939, he visited a Jesuit seminary in Granada. As he often did, he enthused his audience by speaking both of the glories of the recent ‘crusade’ and also of the empire to come. He ended his performance ordering the young theology students to make the fascist salute and sing along with him. They sang the hymn of the Legion, then the Falange’s Cara al sol and finally, saying, ‘now the hymn of your St Ignatius of Loyola, the captain, but also with arms outstretched’, he led them in a fervent rendition of ‘Now let us sing to the love of all loves’. As he left, a student came up and said, ‘General, I saw you once from the trenches. I fought for all three years of the war. At your orders!’ Millán Astray pulled out his wallet, gave him a thousand pesetas and said ‘Take this to get drunk with!’118
The prospect of a new African empire for Spain filled Millán Astray with joy. During the Second World War, he followed the progress of the Axis with avid enthusiasm and then bitter disappointment. Franco’s enthusiastic response to the German invasion of the Soviet Union had led to the hasty recruitment of a volunteer force, known as the Blue Division, to fight on the Eastern Front. When its first commander, General Agustín Muñoz Grandes, left for Germany on 14 July 1941, Millán Astray was at the aerodrome of Barajas to bid him farewell. Muñoz Grandes had fought in the Legion and Millán Astray’s warm embrace for his one-time subordinate emphasized that in part the expedition was a continuation of the Legion’s role in the Spanish Civil War. When the first contingents of weary soldiers returned on leave, Millán Astray was in the welcoming committee of Francoist dignitaries at the Estación del Norte bedecked with Falangist, Nazi and Italian Fascist flags.119 The defeat of the Axis caused Millán Astray considerable distress. He was outraged in May 1950 when Marshal Rodolfo Graziani, Mussolini’s Chief of Staff during the Second World War and in the Repubblica di Salò, was condemned for collaboration with the Germans and deprived, by order of the Minister of Defence, Randolfo Pacciardi, of the right to wear his medals for bravery and for being wounded. Alerted to the possibilities for publicity by the news that Pacciardi had been commander of the Garibaldi battalion of the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War, Millán Astray sent Graziani his own ‘Medalla de sufrimientos por la Patria’, which fourteen years earlier he had offered to José María Pemán. The gesture led to Millán Astray being front-page news in Italy.120
Franco rewarded Millán Astray’s fidelity in 1943 when he named him as Procurador in Cortes, a lucrative sinecure.121 However, after the Second World War, Millán Astray found it difficult to withdraw from public life. During the period of Spain’s international ostracism, he would regularly visit the Caudillo’s cousin and private secretary, Pacón (General Francisco Franco Salgado-Araujo), to make known his views on domestic and foreign policy. He would also regularly make the rounds of the embassies of the democratic powers endeavouring to ascertain the current situation and, it is to be supposed, pontificating about his own vision of world affairs. Concerned that he might provoke misunderstandings during a period of singularly delicate relations, in 1949, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alberto Martín Artajo, requested the Minister of War, General Fidel Dávìla, to order him to desist. Millán Astray was so mortified that, in a fit of self-pity, he decided to resign from the Army and go into exile. He visited Pacón at his office in the Palacio de Oriente, told him about Dávila’s reprimand, said that he could not accept it and gave him a sheaf of papers sealed with sealing wax to be handed to the Caudillo. Pacón replied that he never handed sealed papers personally to Franco without knowing their contents and that, if Millán Astray insisted on handing it over sealed, it must go through the normal channels. Millán Astray then read out to him a formal petition requesting his separation from the Army and permission to live in Lisbon, and said that he would return within a week to hear Franco’s reaction. Pacón, knowing him only too well, simply put the letter in a drawer and told the Caudillo nothing. A week later, a much chastened Millán Astray returned and asked timidly what Franco had said. Pacón told him that he was incapable of being the instrument of division between his two most admired senior officers and had therefore broken his promise to hand over the papers. A grateful Millán Astray tearfully embraced him saying, ‘You are one of my most faithful friends. I was beside myself when I wrote that petition.’122
His life had changed in early 1941 when, at a bridge party at the home of Natalio Rivas, he met and fell in love with Rita Gasset. The daughter of Rafael Gasset, one-time Minister of the Economy, and the cousin of the philosopher Ortega y Gasset, Rita was young enough to be Millán Astray’s daughter. She became pregnant and Millán Astray decided finally to annul his marriage to Elvira. He was informed that, in view of his wife’s vow of chastity, there was no impediment to a canonical annulment. However, always deferential to Franco, he informed the Caudillo of his intentions. Franco, who was obsessively sensitive to any hint of sexual impropriety, exploded. ‘You will not create a scandal. I forbid you to do this.’ Millán Astray went to Lisbon with Rita Gasset where their daughter, Peregrina, was born on 23 January 1942. Elvira treated her affectionately as her niece.123
After a lengthy bout of cardiac illness, Millán Astray died on 1 January 1954, largely forgotten.124 Spain was on the verge of losing her Moroccan empire. The foundation of the Legion was the central pillar of the Africanista ideology which, mixed with Falangism, had become the peculiar philosophy behind Franco’s cruel and violent war effort. In the Spain of the 1950s, all of that mattered little. Nevertheless, in death, Millán Astray maintained some of the theatricality that had characterized him in life. He left instructions that there were to be no flowers at his burial and that he was not to receive the military honours corresponding to his rank and decorations. Instead, a simple ceremony with his escort of Legionarios replicated the battlefield burials of the Legion.125 His obituary in ABC rightly claimed that he was the man who had created what it called ‘la escuela de 1936’. Fittingly, among those present were some of the most prominent Africanistas and Francoists, Generals Agustín Muñoz Grandes, Camilo Alonso Vega and Francisco Franco Salgado-Araujo, as well as his biographer, General Carlos Silva. A telegram of condolence was sent to Elvira Gutiérrez in the name of the Caudillo but Franco did not attend the funeral. Now seeking to present himself to the world as the ally of President Eisenhower, Franco did not wish to be associated with Millán Astray.126
*‘I am a valiant and loyal legionaire. I am a soldier of the brave Legion. A painful calvary weighs down my soul which seeks its redemption in the fire of battle. My badge knows no fear. My destiny is just to suffer. My flag is to fight with daring until I meet victory or death.’
Franco spent the first forty-five years of his life getting to the top. A ferocious ambition drove him to the summit of the military profession by 1934 when he became a general de división (major general) and, shortly afterwards, Jefe del Estado Mayor (Chief of General Staff). During the Spanish Civil War, he put every effort into ensuring first of all that he would be recognized as sole military commander of the Nationalist zone. This he achieved on 21 September 1936. Within one week, he had increased his power to that of Head of State. Seven months later, he had overcome all political rivals through the forced unification of parties in Salamanca in April 1937. Thereafter, his main concern was to hold onto the power that he had secured. This involved winning the Civil War, then surviving the Second World War and the international hostility which he had earned by his closeness to the Axis. The peak of his success came in September 1953, when the Pact of Madrid was signed with the United States. Franco’s fascination lies in the contrast between the skills and qualities required to achieve such successes and his startling intellectual mediocrity and a personal timidity which led many who met him to comment just how unlike their image of a dictator he really was.
The fascination and the difficulty of comprehending Franco is increased by the way in which he himself interpreted his actions to create myths which were then eagerly propagated by his admirers. There is Franco the tireless, vigilant and omniscient watchman: ‘I am the sentry who is never relieved; the one who receives the unwelcome telegrams and dictates the solutions; the one who is watchful while others sleep.’1 There is Franco the brilliant diplomat, who kept Spain out of the Second World War by dint of his supposed hábil prudencia in outwitting Hitler. There is Franco the benefactor of all Spaniards, the bestower of the so-called ‘social peace’. Yet, the ceaseless vigil was increasingly interrupted for long hunting and fishing jaunts, as well as interminable sessions in front of cinema – and later, television – screens. The idea that he cunningly deceived Hitler is unsustainable in the face of overwhelming evidence that Franco was anxious to be part of a future fascist world order and was prevented from joining the Axis war effort only by obstacles beyond his control: Spain’s economic and military weakness and his own tense relationship with Hitler. The twenty-five years of peace and prosperity for the victors was achieved at the cost of forced labour camps, mass exile, prisons, torture and executions among the defeated.
Contradictions abound and are complicated by Franco’s sheer longevity. The straightforward and impetuous soldier of 1916 is virtually unrecognizable in the cunning power-broker of the 1940s and seems to have nothing to do with the man who surrounded himself with the trappings of royalty in the 1950s. The difficulties of explanation are compounded by Franco’s own efforts at obfuscation. In maturity, he cultivated an impenetrability intended to ensure that his intentions were indecipherable. His chaplain for forty years, Father José María Bulart, made the ingenuously contradictory comment that ‘perhaps he was cold as some have said, but he never showed it. In fact, he never showed anything.’2 The key to his art was an ability to avoid concrete definition. One of the ways in which he did that was by constantly keeping his distance, both politically and physically. At innumerable moments of crisis throughout his years in power, Franco was simply absent, usually uncontactable while hunting in some remote sierra.
The mature Franco was a chameleon. In the power struggle of the 1940s between army officers and Falangists, for instance, this ability to remain apart, ostensibly committed to nothing, was central to his survival. He would tell prominent Falangists that their proposals for social revolution were being blocked by reactionary army officers, as if he were powerless to stop them, conveniently forgetting that he was Generalísimo of the armed forces. At the same time, when conservative generals protested to him about Falangist excesses, he would reply conspiratorially that he and they had to be wary of Falangist hotheads, neatly overlooking the fact that he was Jefe Nacional of the Falange.
The strength derived from Franco’s cool and detached calculation was a corollary of the fact that he lacked both the manic genius of Hitler and the reckless impetuosity of Mussolini. That is not to say that he did not have passions and enthusiasms and obsessions: his hatred of freemasonry was pathological; his quest for pleasure on the hunting field was unquenchable. Like the Duce and the Führer, Franco had the power and conviction that come from neurosis. However, there was less about him, certainly after his elevation to supreme power, that was charismatic. Indeed, when in the spotlight as a political leader, he sometimes showed an unexpected shyness, and was often inhibited and ill-at-ease on public occasions.
This apparent modesty contrasted with a delight in adulation and a frequent resort to self-glorification. This had numerous manifestations but none quite so self-indulgent as his major literary achievement, Raza. In late 1940, when his propagandists would have us believe that Franco was keeping a lonely and watchful vigil to prevent Hitler pulling Spain into the World War, he found the time and emotional energy to write a novel-cum-filmscript. Raza was transparently autobiographical. In it, and through its heroic central character, he put right all of the frustrations of his own life.3 The plot relates the experiences of a Galician family, totally identifiable with Franco’s own, from Spain’s imperial collapse in 1898 to the political instability of the first third of the twentieth century and the Civil War. The pivotal character in the book is the mother figure, Doña Isabel de Andrade. Alone, with three sons and a daughter to bring up, like Franco’s mother Pilar Bahamonde y Pardo de Andrade, the pious Doña Isabel is a gentle yet strong figure. Pilar was abandoned by Francisco’s dissolute, gambling, philandering father. In contrast, in the novel, the hero’s father is a naval hero and Doña Isabel is widowed when he is killed in the Cuban war. In his many writings and speeches, in his unfinished memoirs and in many interviews, Franco often remodelled aspects of his past to aggrandize his own role but never so sweepingly and revealingly as here.
In private life and in power, Francisco would implacably reject all the things he associated with his father, from the pleasures of the flesh to the ideas of the left. An intense, indeeed schizoid, identification with his mother’s suffering at the hands of his promiscuous father may be read into the fact that his attitudes to women and sex were fraught with difficulty. In the Legion, he was famed for having no need for women and songs were written about his readiness to leave his bride in order to fight in Africa.4 His public references to matters sexual were rare and odd. On a visit to the Zaragoza Military Academy in 1942, he told one of the staff that an additional bed should be put in rooms that had two ‘to avoid marriages’.5
In 1937, he discussed with his brother-in-law the death of the young founder of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera. José Antonio was not only a potential political rival but, as a handsome aristocrat, he was also the object of Franco’s jealousy and resentment. Despite indisputable evidence that the Falangist leader had been executed by the Republic, the Caudillo revealed more than he intended when he asserted that José Antonio was in the hands of the Russians, ‘who have probably castrated him’.6 In November 1937, speaking to the correspondent of La Prensa of Buenos Aires, he said: ‘visit Asturias and you will find girls of 15 and 16 years old, if not younger, violated and pregnant: you will find constant examples of free love, girls requisitioned for such and such a Russian officer, and an infinity of other proofs of barbarism’.7 In the 1950s, he urged a delegation from the Spanish Society of Authors to emulate the gloomy, guilt-ridden tragedies of the seventeenth century dramatist, Pedro Calderón de la Barca, which showed how to restore family Honour with the ‘detergent of blood’.
Franco’s repudiation of his father was matched by a deep identification with his mother, something which might perhaps be seen in many aspects of his personal style, a gentle manner, a soft voice, a propensity to weep, an enduring sense of deprivation. A tone of self-pitying resentment runs through his speeches as Caudillo and was one of the motivating forces of his drive to greatness. Several anecdotes from his years in power are redolent of the hard-done-by little boy that he must have been. A solid trencherman, he complained one day with regard to his favourite meat stew, ‘because I’m Chief of State, they serve me the stew with lots of meat, but I like potatoes as well’. Nothing would have been simpler than to ask waiters for more potatoes, yet he could not bring himself to do so.8 One day in the early 1960s, he admired a pair of shoes worn by his brother-in-law and private secretary, Felipe Polo. On being told that they were imported from England and what they cost, Franco said, ‘I couldn’t afford to pay that much.’9 This was not a joke. Franco wore heavy shoes sent him free of charge by one of Spain’s leading manufacturers. They were entirely unsuitable and would cause him severe distress in later life.
Linked to the sense of deprivation and the self-pity was Franco’s open sentimentality. Although he was implacably cruel with his enemies and icily distant with his subordinates, he could be easily moved, or easily move himself, to tears. He cried on the day of his first communion. He cried when talking about Alfonso XIII, despite the fact that he delayed the restoration of the Spanish monarchy for nearly forty years.10 He cried when speaking of the help that he received during the Civil War from Portugal, Italy and Germany.11 When he met Hitler, Mussolini, and Eisenhower he was visibly overcome with emotion, more with pride at being on equal terms with his heroes than out of gratitude for military assistance that he took for granted. His eyes filled with tears when he recalled Pétain’s shame in having to sue for armistice, managing easily to forget how he had tried to exploit French weakness to take over part of France’s North African empire.12 He was overcome with emotion on the day that he received an honorary doctorate from the Universidad Pontificia of Salamanca.13 Such emotion was in stark contrast with the coldness with which he could contemplate mass death sentences. Tearful gratitude for Portuguese help during the Civil War did not inhibit him from toying with the notion of absorbing Portugal into a greater Spain.
Many aspects of Franco’s demeanour – the eyes, the soft voice, the apparent outer calm – seemed to commentators to be somehow feminine. John Whitaker, the distinguished American journalist who met him several times during the Civil War, commented on the almost feminine tone of his voice. ‘A small man, his hand is like a woman’s and always damp with perspiration. Excessively shy, as he fences to understand a caller, his voice is shrill and pitched on a high note which is slightly disconcerting since he speaks very softly – almost in a whisper.’14 The femininity of Franco’s appearance was frequently, and inadvertently, underlined by his admirers. ‘His eyes are the most remarkable part of his physiognomy. They are typically Spanish, large and luminous with long lashes. Usually they are smiling and somewhat reflective, but I have seen them flash with decision and, though I have never witnessed it, I am told that when roused to anger they can become as cold and hard as steel.’15 ‘The eyes are the man. Under longish lashes, his dark eyes are neither hard nor stern nor truculent. They are memorable for their extreme kindness.’16 ‘It is the eyes that will strike you first. They have a remarkable animation and seem to look straight at you and take you in at a glance. They are penetrating but very human.’17 ‘His dark luminous eyes stared at me with that “long enquiring look” which other visitors have remarked upon.’18
Rejecting the father who brought so much pain to his mother, he identified with her in many ways to the detriment of his own developing personality. That would be manifest in the olympian self-regard which became apparent once he had reached prominence in Africa, a reflection of his capacity, at its most extreme in Raza, to create for himself successive public personae that could cope with the difficulties of life. The security provided by these personae permitted Franco almost always to seem contained and composed. Everyone who came into contact with him remarked on his affably courteous, but always distant, manner. Neither anger nor hilarity disturbed his selfcontrol. He took pride in having the hill shepherd’s patience and sense of the unimportance of time. The notion of time being on his side was something that Franco felt and indeed used as a weapon. That was possible because he was also an unsuitable optimist.19 During the Civil War, at bleak moments for the Nationalists, he would raise morale by categoric affirmations of what he called his ‘blind faith’. His serenity was revealed repeatedly in his uncanny ability to ride out damaging storms, at the most difficult moments of international isolation at the end of the Second World War and during the Cold War, sitting tight when his advisors were convinced that the end was in sight.
After his childhood traumas, the great formative experience of Franco’s life was the Army and, above all, his time as a colonial officer in Africa. After the insecurities of his childhood, the Army provided him with a framework of certainties based on hierarchy and command. He revelled in the discipline and the ability to lose himself in a military machine built on obedience and a shared rhetoric of patriotism and honour. In 1912 he went to Morocco, where he spent ten and a half of the next fourteen years. The bulk of his early career, culminating in promotion to brigadier general at the age of thirty-three, took place first with the fierce Moorish mercenaries of the so-called Regulares Indígenas (native regulars) and then with the brutalized shock troops of the ruthless Tercio Extranjero (Foreign Legion). As he told the journalist Manuel Aznar in 1938, ‘My years in Africa live within me with indescribable force. There was born the possibility of rescuing a great Spain. There was founded the idea which today redeems us. Without Africa, I can scarcely explain myself to myself, nor can I explain myself properly to my comrades in arms.’20 In Africa, he acquired the central beliefs of his political life: the right of the Army to be the arbiter of Spain’s political destiny and, most importantly, his own right to command. Thereafter, he never perceived the Army as subject to any political sovereignty but responsible only to the Patria. He was always to see political authority in terms of military hierarchy, obedience and discipline. He was a tough disciplinarian and men were frightened by his unwavering imposition of punishments for infractions of the rules.
One reason that men accepted Franco’s ferocious discipline was the fact that he was extremely courageous. There is no record of Franco ever having manifested fear.21 In part that derived from the fact that Franco the soldier was a creation, constructed to help him cope with his personal insecurities. By an effort of will, he turned the timid teenager from Galicia into the tough desert hero. It was the beginning of the process whereby Franco would mould reality to his own needs rather than adjust himself to it. He was seriously wounded only once, on 29 June 1916. That, together with the media adulation of which he was made the object from the 1920s onwards, gave him the self-regarding sense of being a man of destiny which was to characterize his later career. He is alleged to have said, somewhat portentously, ‘I have seen death walk by my side many times, but fortunately, she did not know me.’22 His coolness under fire and his practical competence as a field officer won him a series of rapid promotions which, according to his hagiographers, made him successively in 1916 the youngest captain, in 1917 the youngest major and in 1926 the youngest general in Europe. Ironically, it has been suggested that Franco had a real fear of death and for that reason systematically avoided either talking about it or attending funerals. He did not attend the burial of his father. His failure to attend the funeral of his Foreign Minister, the Conde de Jordana, in 1944 occasioned much comment. Nor did he attend the burial of his life-long servant Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco.23
His bravery as a young soldier cannot, however, be denied. Behind it, there was an icy sang-froid which would carry him through the darkest days of the Civil War, the World War and the Cold War and would permit him to preside over a machinery of terror. He showed only indifference in the face of complaints about the atrocities being committed in the areas under his control during the Civil War.24 The scale of the repression in the Civil War and into the 1940s surprised Mussolini’s emissaries, Count Ciano and Roberto Farinacci and even Heinrich Himmler.25 His cruelty was facilitated by his lack of imagination. In power, for instance, he could not conceive that the opposition or discontent of others might have objective justification; he saw it simply as the work of foreign communist agitators and sinister freemasons. Such detachment from reality gave Franco a confidence not undermined by self-criticism. The conviction that he was always right gave him the flexibility endlessly to tack to changing domestic and international circumstances.
Nor was he restricted by any far-reaching ideological vision in the way that Hitler and Mussolini were. Instead, he had an idealized notion of a harmonious society in which opposition and subversion would not exist. It would be like a united family ruled over by a strong, all-seeing father. In so far as he had a political philosophy at all, it was extremely narrow, often negative and derived from his military background. Like most army officers of his generation, his overriding hatreds were separatism, communism and freemasonry. Irrespective of the human cost, he was determined to eradicate all three from Spain, along with socialism and liberalism. That came to mean the annihilation of the legacies of the Enlightenment, of the French Revolution and of the industrial revolution in order to return to the glories of medieval Spain. His most dearly held objectives were altogether more abstract, more spiritual than ideological in the modern sense. He wanted, by bloodshed, to ‘redeem’ the Spanish people of the burden of the centuries of failure since Felipe II when Spain’s greatness began to crumble. In this regard, he was applying to an entire nation the ideas upon which Millán Astray had built the violent credo of the Legion.
For reasons that had no basis in rationality, he blamed the decline of Spain and all her subsequent misfortunes on freemasonry. He held freemasonry responsible for Napoleon’s invasion of Spain, for the loss of the Spanish empire, for the civil wars of the nineteenth and twentieth century, for international efforts to impede his victory in the war of 1936–1939 and for the international ostracism to which he was subjected after 1945.26 His obsession with freemasonry was unusually virulent, playing a part in his life akin to that played in Hitler’s by anti-Semitism. His obsession was such as to lead him to suspect both the Moroccan independence movement of the 1950s and the Second Vatican Council of being masonic inspirations. The most likely reason for this hatred was the fact that his father was a free-thinker with considerable sympathy for freemasonry. It may also relate to the fact that his unconventional brother Ramón was a mason. Freemasonry thus became the target for his anger at his brother’s wildness and the embarrassment that it caused him. It has also been suggested that he had applied to join masonic lodges in 1924 and 1932 and had been rejected because he had accepted promotions by merit when many officers had sworn not to do so. He believed himself, in retrospect, to have been the object of persecution by freemasons in the Army during the Second Republic. In response, he tended to accuse all cultured or educated critics of being freemasons.27
By freemasonry, Franco understood the flowering of liberal values in Spain or what he called ‘the great invasion of evil’. Spanish history since Felipe II consisted only of three ‘calamitous centuries’ which brought decadence, corruption and freemasonry. His eternal delays in restoring the monarchy were excused on the grounds that the Bourbon dynasty was no longer capable of emulating the virile ‘totalitarian’ monarchy which had expelled the Jews and the Moriscos and conquered America.28 To eliminate the historical legacy of the three awkward centuries of decadence, Franco endeavoured to create a uniquely Spanish political model based on a fusion of medieval absolutism and Axis totalitarianism. Accordingly, when his acolytes referred to Fernando el Católico as the first authentic Caudillo, or when Franco made references to the great medieval ‘Caudillo kings’, the clear implication was that he belonged to a line of great leaders that had been interrupted after Felipe II.29 He considered himself, like them, to be a warrior of God against the infidels who would destroy the nation’s faith and culture. The seed had been first planted in Franco’s mind in the late 1920s. At that period, he spent time at a small Asturian estate owned by his wife known as La Piniella, situated near San Cucao de Llanera, thirteen kilometres from Oviedo. A particularly sycophantic local priest who fancied himself as the chaplain to the house was constantly telling both Doña Carmen and Franco himself that he was on the way to repeating the epic achievements of El Cid and the great medieval Caudillo Kings of Asturias. Franco’s wife often reminded him of the priest’s comments.30
Franco was particularly taken by the pseudo-medieval choreography which characterized many of the great public occasions in which he took part. The generalized portrayal of Franco as a warrior king or specifically as El Cid was both personally titillating to him and central to what passed for ideology in his dictatorship. In the posters and paintings, in the ceremonies of his regime, an impression was created of Franco’s all-seeing omnipotence by projecting him as a saintly crusader entrusted with God’s mission. The Church went along with the idea because many senior ecclesiastics longed to return to a period of greatness when Church and State had worked closely together. His immediate entourage went along with it because they knew that it pleased him immensely. For Franco himself, his projection as medieval champion, Caudillo by the grace of God, helped justify the idea that he was totally irreplaceable.31
Behind the public display, Franco remained intensely private. He was abundantly imbued with the inscrutable pragmatism or retranca of the Gallego peasant. Whether that was because of his origins as a native of Galicia, or the fruit of his Moroccan experiences is impossible to say. Whatever its origins in Franco, retranca may be defined as an evasion of commitment and a taste for the imprecise. This characteristic is illustrated by the tale of two Gallegos discussing the Falange when the single party seemed all-powerful in the 1940s. ‘What do you really think about it?’ asked the first. ‘Well,’ replied his friend, aware that anyone might be a police informer, ‘in the first place, you know, and, in the second, what can I tell you?’ Franco used his own retranca to confuse friends and enemies alike. When his doctor suggested that the Caudillo dictate his memoirs into a tape-recorder, for later transcription by a reliable typist, he was rebuffed by Franco whispering darkly, ‘I don’t think they’ll let you.’
The silent politician contrasted with the affable soldier. There is an abyss between what the hagiographers and the critics make of Franco’s military skills. General Sanjurjo, who admired him greatly, remarked in 1931 ‘he is hardly a Napoleon, but given what the others are like …’32 He shared with Napoleon not much more than diminutive size and the fact that he became a general very young. That his style as a general could not have been further from that of Napoleon was made clear during the Civil War. His approach was the despair of his Axis allies, who condemned his strategy as over-cautious. He was obsessed with logistics and territorial control and unreceptive to contemporary notions of rapid, mechanized war. He made no secret of his political purpose: he wanted to conquer slowly in order to carry out ‘the moral redemption’ and ‘spiritual conquest’ of the areas occupied by his troops.33
The same calculated ruthlessness characterized the repression of the left during the war and after. After mass trials were held, Franco would flick through folders of death sentences, often while doing something else, and sign them. The scale of the repression – with perhaps as many as 1 million prisoners in labour camps and jails and 200,000 executions – served as a lesson for decades. Like Hitler, Franco had plenty of collaborators willing to undertake the detailed work of repression and, also like the Führer, he was able to distance himself from the process. None the less, since he was the supreme authority within the system of military justice, there is no dispute as to where ultimate responsibility lay. Moreover, in his speeches, Franco made no secret of his belief in the necessity of blood sacrifices. The story is told that when asked by his friend General Camilo Alonso Vega about the fate of an old comrade from the Moroccan wars (possibly General Agustín Gómez Morato, the military commander in Spanish Morocco who was executed for refusing to join the rising), Franco replied ‘le fusilaron los nacionales’ (the Nationalists shot him), for all the world as if it had nothing to do with him at all.34 This was typical of his method of turning a blind eye, dejar hacer, while his subordinates became enmeshed in what has been called ‘the covenant of blood’.35 He seems to have been able to convince himself that the atrocities of his regime did not take place. He simply denied evidence put before him about the persecution of Basque priests or the atrocities which followed the capture of Malaga in February 1937. He took pride in telling the Nationalist poet, José María Pemán that, in Spain, the right had not followed the Italian Fascist practice of forcing their enemies to drink castor-oil. The clear implication was that they had not done worse things.36 Apart from the fact that the Italian practice was frequently emulated, the scale of his bloody repression makes a bizarre irrelevance of the idea that failure to use castor-oil might be a mitigating factor.
On numerous occasions, with his characteristic capacity for self-deception, Franco denied that he was a dictator. In March 1947, he told Edward Knoblaugh of the International News Service that there was no dictatorship in Spain: ‘I am not free, as it is believed abroad, to do what I want. I need, like every ruler on earth, the help and agreement of my government.’37 In June 1958, he told a French journalist that ‘for all Spaniards and for myself, to describe me as a dictator is simply childish. My prerogatives, my own powers are much less important than those granted by the Constitution of the United States to the President.’38 In June 1961, he told William Randolph Hearst Jr that ‘in Spain, there is no dictatorship’ and that ‘my powers as Chief of State are less than those of the Presidents of most Latin American States and the fact that the present laws forbid licentiousness [libertinaje] neither denies nor limits real liberty’.39 At the end of April 1969, when General De Gaulle resigned after losing a referendum, Franco commented: ‘Make no mistake, the fall of De Gaulle could be seen coming because he was always a dictator.’40
He could think of himself in such benevolent terms with total sincerity, believing in some way that a readiness to let his ministers talk interminably in cabinet meetings, which reflected poor chairmanship rather than anything else, more than compensated for the one-party state, the censorship, the prison camps and the apparatus of terror. Moreover, decisions which really mattered to him were often taken outside the council of ministers. For those in the charmed circles of the regime, there was freedom to do anything except oppose Franco. When they did, he would strike quickly. On 30 May 1968, an article on the May events in France by the Catholic intellectual Rafael Calvo Serer was published in his paper Madrid. It ran under the headline ‘To Retire in Time: No to General de Gaulle’. Franco was furious at the hint and had the newspaper closed down.41 The Caudillo was able simultaneously to act as a dictator and be convinced that he was not for several reasons. First of all, regarding himself as the saviour of Spain universally beloved by all but the sinister agents of occult powers, it was hardly surprising that Franco did not consider himself a dictator. In addition, he saw political power as an extension of military authority. He always referred to his power as el mando (command) and simply treated opposition as mutiny worthy of the severest punishment. It was always a power used cunningly – in general, it was only the defeated, the anti-España, of the left which suffered the consistently oppressive weight of the dictatorship. Those within his own establishment were given considerable leeway, although Franco always dangled over them the possibility of a swift and arbitrary punishment if they strayed too far. The device of dejar hacer was one of the reasons why Franco perhaps appeared less obviously tyrannical than he might have done. Dejar hacer was an effective means of absolutist control, particularly in the area of that most subtle form of repression, corruption.
Despite a reputation for strict personal austerity and puritanism, Franco never took action against corruption. His own image as an austere man was to a large extent spurious. In his personal habits, he was certainly abstemious, rarely drinking, other than to take a glass of sweet wine, and never smoking. However, at the State’s expense, he indulged the most extravagant tastes, including having the yacht Azor built for deep-sea fishing. His hunting trips and fishing expeditions with destroyer escorts were immensely costly. He and his wife acquired considerable property. She already owned a country estate, La Piniella, in Oviedo and Franco himself inherited the family home in El Ferrol. His palace at El Pardo belonged to the State. In November 1937, José María de Palacio y Abarzuza, Conde de las Almenas, died childless. He expressed his gratitude to Franco for ‘reconquering Spain’ by leaving him in his will an estate in the Sierra de Guadarrama near El Escorial, known as Canto del Pico. Consisting of 820,000 square metres, it was dominated by a large mansion called the Casa del Viento. There was also the Pazo de Meirás in Galicia, another reward for his efforts in the Civil War, and his estate near Móstoles on the outskirts of Madrid known as Valdefuentes. In addition, Doña Carmen acquired an apartment building in Madrid after the Civil War and, in 1962, the magnificent Palacio de Cornide in La Coruña. The family also acquired a further fifteen properties.42 In addition, it has been calculated that Franco received four thousand million pesetas (approximately £4,000,000/$7,500,000) worth of gifts during his rule.43
The Caudillo’s family became extremely rich. In addition to landed property, Franco’s wife amassed a considerable collection of antiques and jewellery. Her penchant for jewellery led to her acquiring the nickname ‘Doña Collares’ (Doña Necklaces).44 Franco’s sister Pilar was to be involved in financial scandals. She claimed disingenuously that her business success was the consequence of the fact that ‘my name made a good impression’ (mi nombre caía bien) and ‘opened many doors’.45 His brother Nicolás was involved in questionable business deals which made use of his influence with the Caudillo and benefitted from the protection of the regime when they ended in scandal and accusations of fraud. His activities ranged from the simple sale of letters of introduction to ministers to profitable participation in companies with official links. Three in particular came to difficult ends from the consequences of which Nicolás was saved by the benevolence of his brother.46 The family of his son-in-law, Cristóbal Martínez Bordiu, made a fortune as a consequence of their perceived closeness to the Caudillo. The same was true of many senior figures in the regime who were enriched by directorships and other connections in industry and the banking world.47
Spectacular fortunes were made by some of Franco’s henchmen through bureaucratic graft and government contracts. Fortunes were made by Falangists responsible for the repair of war damage. Many officials were involved, too, in the black market which sprang up in the 1940s.48 Malpractices – ranging from the Argentinian wheat, sent in 1949 to relieve Spain’s hunger and sold abroad before it arrived, to the monster Matesa machinery export swindle of 1969 – were benevolently overlooked by the Caudillo.
Turning a blind eye to corruption allowed Franco to keep control over potential opponents. On the occasion of his return to Spain after fighting in Russia with the volunteers of the División Azul, the idealistic Falangist Dionisio Ridruejo told Franco that, among his comrades, there was much criticism of the corruption in Spain. The Caudillo replied complacently that in other times, victors were rewarded with titles of nobility and lands. Since to do so was now difficult, he found it necessary to turn a blind eye to venality to prevent the spread of discontent among his supporters.49 Franco never showed the slightest interest in putting a stop to graft as opposed to using knowledge of it to increase his power over those involved. Indeed, he often repaid those who informed him of corruption not by taking action against the guilty but by letting them know who had informed on them.50 This is hardly surprising given that the ultimate source of the Caudillo’s power lay in astutely playing off the familias, or power groups, of the coalition which won the Civil War. His devious insouciance enveloped them in Byzantine competitions for the spoils of power.
Franco was a supreme master at political manipulation yet he had little or no interest in the free interplay of political life. It was entirely without humour or irony that Franco advised one of his subordinates (Sebastián Garrigues) to ‘be like me, don’t get involved in politics’, a remark that he would later repeat regularly. On one occasion, he said with total conviction, ‘I am here because I don’t understand politics, nor am I a politician. That is my secret.’51 In fact, his attitude to his rule in Spain was roughly what it would have been to Morocco had he been High Commissioner. In other words, he considered himself a supreme colonial ruler governing by military means. This was one reason why, although he kept control of the broad lines of policy until the early 1960s at least, he took little interest in what his ministers did within their departments. Another was that their very freedom and its venal temptations made them more likely to compromise themselves, more anxious not to lose their enjoyment of the spoils of power, thus more dependent on him. One ex-Foreign Minister, José Felix Lequerica, commented that ‘to be a minister of Franco is to be a little king who does whatever he feels like without restraint from the Caudillo’.52 According to Manuel Fraga, ‘Franco let his ministers get on with the job’.53
Of course, aware of their dependence on him, Franco could be brutal with his ministers and was openly contemptuous of the most cherished institutions of his regime. He often proclaimed that the so-called ‘organic’ democracy of his pseudo-parliament, the Cortes, with its hand-picked ‘representatives’ was infinitely superior to western democracy which was tainted by the fact of reflecting the will of the masses. Yet, on one occasion when his liberal Catholic Minister, Joaquín Ruiz Gimeñez, made some remark which suggested that he took seriously the farce of the Cortes, the Caudillo impatiently snapped ‘and who do the Cortes represent?’54 On another, when one of his generals voted against a law in the Cortes, Franco was outraged, commenting ‘if he doesn’t like the project, he may abstain but never vote against since he owes his seat to me by direct nomination’.55 He once remarked to one of his ambassadors that the Movimiento, his single-party amalgam of the Falange and the Carlists, was ‘the claque which accompanies me on my tours around Spain’.56 In these disdainful remarks, Franco was inadvertently recognizing that the legal and institutional structure of his regime was merely a carefully constructed façade to cover his personal dictatorship.
There can be little doubt that the area in which Franco’s political skills were truly masterly was in the manipulation of his equals and his subordinates. He had an uncanny capacity to spot the weakness of an opponent that he could meet face-to-face. In this respect, he was no doubt helped by his prodigious memory. Perhaps the weapon which he handled with the greatest skill was the embarrassing silence which would reduce his interlocutor to nervous babbling.57 Silence was not just used to intimidate. Although not interested in constructive dialogue, Franco listened carefully and rarely interrupted. He would remain impassive, looking inquisitively at the speaker and often appearing to agree with what was said without in fact committing himself or even revealing his opinion.58 The ability to calibrate almost instantly the weakness and/or the price of a man enabled him to know unerringly when a would-be opponent could be turned into a collaborator by some preferment, or even the promise of it – a ministry, an embassy, a prestigious military posting, a job in a State enterprise, a decoration, an import licence or just a box of cigars. ‘His agile left hand’, as this skill was called by the Catalan politician Francesc Cambó, was the basis of his success. ‘He toys with men – especially his generals – with consummate skill: now he puts the most brilliant of his aides into the shade, without anyone saying a word; now he plucks a prestigious prize out of nowhere and brings him back from the shadows into the light. And all these games he plays with such dexterity that they affect only the person concerned thereby avoiding any joint action against himself.’59 On the few occasions on which he came across incorruptible men, such as Dionisio Ridruejo or the austere monarchist General Alfredo Kindelán, he was at first baffled and then irritated.60
This cynical instrumentalization of appointments was starkly clear in his selection of collaborators. For most of his career, Franco appointed ministers and other senior functionaries without concern for their practical competence in a given area but rather as part of his own balancing act within the Francoist coalition. He never felt any particular loyalty or gratitude towards those who had served him. Indeed, he once commented to his brother-in-law, Ramón Serrano Suñer, who had asked him to do something for an ex-minister, ‘it is necessary to get everything out of them that they’ve got, squeeze them like lemons’.61 His ministers usually learned that they had been dismissed from a letter delivered by motorcycle despatch rider or by reading a newspaper.
It would be wrong to exaggerate Franco’s deviousness and powers of manipulation particularly in his earlier career. There is little doubt that Franco learned as he went along. In a sense, he had to shake off the political disadvantages of his spectacularly successful military career. Serrano Suñer claims that, shortly before the meeting with Hitler at Hendaye, he feared that it would be an unequal contest given Hitler’s practice in wheeling and dealing as against Franco’s experience of commanding. ‘He was a very military kind of soldier. Obviously, he was not in the habit of arguing with political antagonists and had no practice in controversy. He had always commanded. His mental and intellectual activity was unilateral.’62 Serrano Suñer made the same point to the Portuguese Ambassador Pedro Theotonio Pereira on 6 November 1940: ‘the Generalísimo is a simple man. It is just as well he didn’t speak much with Hitler.’ In conversation with the Italian Ambassador Francesco Lequio in early 1941, Serrano Suñer explained the Hendaye summit’s failure to bear fruit: ‘Franco who has a more military than political mentality was ill-prepared for the tight dialectical game to which the Germans subjected him.’63 Franco would learn, adding the techniques of political manipulation to already considerable instinctive skills in that area.
From the time that he reached political pre-eminence, Franco leaned heavily on three people and learned much from them. The first was his brother Nicolás, who handled political matters for him from the early days of the Civil War until 1937. However, he suffered from the disadvantage that Franco’s wife did not like him. Accordingly, she was happy to see him replaced in early 1937 by Ramón Serrano Suñer, her sister’s husband. Serrano Suñer was probably the most talented collaborator that Franco ever had. Eventually, in September 1942, he dismissed him. Several factors played their part in that particular crisis, including the irritation of Carmen Polo that her brother-in-law was putting her husband in the shade and the advice of the man who was emerging from the shadows as the man who would be the Caudillo’s close familiar for the rest of his life. The dour and deferential naval captain Luis Carrero Blanco could not have been further removed in style from the handsome, swashbuckling Serrano Suñer who saw Franco as an equal and treated him as such, giving him frank and often unwelcome advice at a time when the Caudillo was increasingly surrounding himself with sycophants. Serrano Suñer was ambitious; Carrero Blanco, in contrast, had no greater ambition in life than to serve Franco. In that sense, he was a Francoist second only to Franco himself and an ideal servant for the Caudillo once he had squeezed the juice out of Serrano Suñer.
Franco came to be surrounded by sycophants from the early 1940s onwards. He, his wife and daughter tended to remain in El Pardo, leaving only for official functions at which their supreme importance as a semi-royal family was built into the choreography. Their perception of the outside world and their own place in it came through the filter of adulation. The judgement of the dictator and his wife was inevitably distorted.64 After 1945, at El Pardo, the Caudillo’s wife restricted her friendships to a court of admirers. It consisted of the wives of his life-long friends General Camilo Alonso Vega and Admiral Nieto Antúnez, and a monumental snob, Pura de Hoces y Dorticós, the Marquesa de Huétor. From the mid-1950s, an ever more important role was played in the El Pardo court by the wider family of Franco’s son-in-law, the so-called ‘Villaverde clan’.65 The last thirty years of Franco’s life took place in a hermetic world shut off even from his apparently closest friends. In his detailed chronicles of their more than seventy years of friendship and almost daily contact, his devoted cousin and aide-de-camp, Francisco Franco Salgado-Araujo, ‘Pacón’, presents a Franco who issued instructions, recounted his version of events or explained how the world was threatened by freemasonry and communism. Pacón never saw a Franco open to fruitful dialogue or to creative self-doubt. Another lifelong friend, Admiral Pedro Nieto Antúnez, presented a similar picture. Like Franco born in El Ferrol, ‘Pedrolo’ was to be successively ADC to the Caudillo in 1946, Assistant Head of the Casa Civil in 1950, and Minister for the Navy in 1962. He was one of Franco’s constant companions on the frequent and lengthy fishing trips on the Azor. When asked what they talked about during the long days together, ‘Pedrolo’ said: ‘I have never had a dialogue with the General. I have heard very long monologues from him, but he wasn’t speaking to me but to himself.’66
It is hardly surprising, then, that the Caudillo remains the least known of the dictators of the twentieth century. For many years, there were rumours in Spain to the effect that he wrote memoirs.67 However, all that has come to light is a brief hand-written synopsis, a few dozen pages written in 1962 and the reminiscences taped shortly before his death in 1975 by Dr Vicente Pozuelo.68 None of it is sufficient to explain the contradiction between the profound and worldly wise cynicism with which he manipulated his political allies and adversaries and his ingenuous views on many issues. He had a touchingly naïve faith in virtually magical ‘wheezes’ which would solve a particular problem. During the Civil War, he placed his trust in the alchemist called Sarvapoldi Hammaralt who had offered to make all the gold that he needed to win the war. In 1940, Franco claimed that Spain would soon be a rich petroleum-exporting country. He was the victim of an elaborate fraud by an Austrian confidence trickster, Albert Elder von Filek, who had convinced him that he had the formula for an instant synthetic petrol made from water and powdered herbs.69 After the capture of Málaga in 1937, Franco was presented with the arm of Santa Teresa, a relic which had been stolen from the Carmelite convent of Ronda. He kept it with him for the rest of his life, believing firmly in its miraculous powers.70
Franco held ideas almost equally startling in the field of economic theory. He believed economics to be one of his specialities and, in the first half of his dictatorship, he intervened personally in economic policy. He was especially proud of the notion that gold reserves were an irrelevance as long as their absence was kept secret. This conviction was consolidated during the Civil War. At that time, when the peseta was dramatically overvalued, he overruled his economic advisers who wanted to devalue it by half. In retrospect, he praised his own clarity of vision in ensuring that the peseta remained at a high rate ‘which was the first time that a nation at war had managed to sustain, without gold or foreign currency, the quotation of its currency’.71 He believed that he could maintain Spain’s foreign earnings by the device of inflating the value of the currency, unaware of its impact on the competitiveness of exports.
Towards the end of the Civil War, he began to express his confidence in Spain’s self-sufficiency. He boasted that his policies during the Civil War would seriously alter the basic economic theories which the world had hitherto taken as dogma.72 After the war, he arranged for José María Zumalacarregui, the Professor of Economics at Madrid University, to visit him weekly to discuss the economy. After a few weeks, the professor excused himself, unable to put up with the embarrassment of listening to Franco explaining to him the most abstruse problems of economic theory.73 In 1955, despite the fact that Germany and Italy were beginning to show clear signs of their future growth, the Caudillo told his cousin that ‘at the end of the war, the victorious powers did not want the defeated to recover quickly from their prostration. To make sure that they would not, the defeated were obliged to adopt the democratic system because the victors were convinced that, in that way, prosperity would never come their way.’74