HITLER SEEKS BASES IN SPANISH CANARY ISLANDS

Berlin, Germany · September 15, 1940

On this date in 1940 Adolf Hitler wrote a letter to Gen. Fran­cisco Franco, the Cau­dillo of Spain, asking for naval bases for Ger­many in the Spanish Canary Islands and other places. Franco replied one week later, demanding enor­mous stock­piles of wea­pons, supplies, and part of French North Africa as com­pen­sa­tion. Caving into Franco’s demands would have been dis­astrous for Ger­many’s rela­tion­ship with Vichy, its new French vas­sal, as well as giving the Royal Navy an ex­cuse to occupy the poorly defended Canary Islands. Besides, Hitler believed he could find a way to bring Spain into a relation­ship with the Axis that would force British Prime Minis­ter Winston Chur­chill into nego­ti­a­tions aimed at restoring peace between Great Brit­ain and Nazi Ger­many. If that didn’t work, Hitler had the Gibral­tar card up his sleeve. The stra­tegic Brit­ish en­clave on the south­ern tip of the Ibe­rian Penin­sula rankled Franco and Hitler knew it. Two months earlier he had send a team of Ger­man officers headed by Adm. Wil­helm Canaris, who in the 1930s had set up a Ger­man spy ring in Spain, to find a way where­by the two states could co­oper­ate in expelling the British from their rock for­tress and close the Medi­ter­ra­nean to the Royal Navy. Canaris’ team deter­mined that Gibral­tar might fall to an air-supported ground attack by at least 3 Ger­man engi­neer ba­ttalions, 2 in­fan­try, and 12 artil­lery regi­ments. The Fuehrer played the Gibral­tar card the next month in a face-to-face meeting on the Spanish-French bor­der at Hen­daye. With Madrid’s approval, special Ger­man units would storm the rock on Janu­ary 10, 1941, and deliver it to its right­ful owners. Franco was already getting cold feet over Gibral­tar thanks largely to Canaris, who painted a grisly pic­ture of what could go wrong in a hos­tile Spanish take­over of the British-held penin­sula: the British could seize the Cana­ries and also attack the Spanish main­land. Knowing its ab­surdity, Franco told Hitler that Spanish, not Ger­man, troops must carry out the his­toric mis­sion. Again Franco appealed to Hitler’s gen­er­os­ity to supply his army with all the mate­riel, food, and bo­rder con­ces­sions to grease the mis­sion. Added to these con­cerns was finding the where­withal required to re­build his coun­try fol­lowing the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939). It was all too much for Hitler to swallow, and he left empty-handed.





Francisco Franco’s Arm’s Length Relationship with Adolf Hitler

Hitler and Franco, Hendaye, October 23, 1940 (A) Hitler and Franco, Hendaye, October 23, 1940 (B)

Left: Hitler and Gen. Francisco Franco at Hen­daye rail­way sta­tion, Octo­ber 23, 1940, the only meeting between the two dic­ta­tors. Months earlier, on June 10, 1940, the day Italy declared war on France and Great Brit­ain, Franco hinted of his inter­est in joining fellow fascist Benito Musso­lini in the war. Though Franco sympa­thized with the Axis powers through­out the Euro­pean con­flict, he nudged his country into staying mostly neu­tral. Never­the­less, in August 1941 he sent some 45,000 volun­teers (the “Blue Division,” or División Azul) to fight along­side other Axis nations on the Soviet front. Franco also opened his ports to Ger­man U-boats and in­vaded the inter­na­tionally adminis­tered city of Tan­gier in Morocco after the fall of France in 1940.

Right: Gen. Franco (1892–1975) ruled over Spain from 1939 until his death on Novem­ber 20, 1975. Hitler’s visit to Franco and Hen­daye took him through Mon­toire, France, where he con­ferred with Vichy Prime Minis­ter Pierre Laval. The Nazi colla­bo­rator arranged for a meeting between him­self, Hitler, and Vichy Head of State Marshal Philippe Pétain at Mon­toire on Hitler’s return trip on October 24, 1940.

Hitler and Franco review German troops, Hendaye, October 23, 1940 Franco and Hitler confer in the Fuehrer’s private railway car, Hendaye, October 23, 1940

Left: Prior to entering bilateral discus­sions on Octo­ber 23, 1940, Hitler and Franco reviewed German troops at the rail­way station at Hen­daye, the Ger­man-occupied French Pyre­nees town that bordered Spain.

Right: Franco and Hitler confer in the Fuehrer’s Sonder­zug (private train) in Hen­daye’s rail­way sta­tion. According to Franco’s daughter, her father was worried about the Ger­mans pos­sibly kid­napping him and forcing him to take Spain into the war on the Axis side. Franco sup­posedly appointed a senior gene­ral and two others to assume con­trol of the coun­try in the event he was detained. Through­out his dis­cus­sions with Hitler, Franco toed the line Adm. Wil­helm Cana­ris, Hitler’s Ab­wehr spy chief who played a double game, had advised him to take; namely, for­bid the pas­sage of Ger­man troops through Spain for the pur­pose of cap­turing the Brit­ish depen­dency of Gibral­tar lest it un­leash devas­tating reper­cussions for Spain and her Atlantic possessions.

Hitler and Gen. Francisco Franco Confer in Hendaye, France, October 23, 1940 (in Spanish)