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American Diplomacy
Foreign Service Life

February 2011

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Another of those little known incidents of history that might have had a great impact on the world’s future is illuminated by this short story.–Ed.


The Rock

During my tour of duty at the Embassy in Madrid 1956-60, I heard many interesting stories, but this one tops the list.

First a bit of background: For several years before and during World War II, the U.S. and Britain considered Spain, under the dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco, an ally of Germany. But was it? In 1938, shortly before the end of the Spanish Civil War, Spain joined the Anti-Comintern Pact between Germany and Japan. As the name implies, it was a pact against international communism as promoted by the Soviet Union. However, on the outbreak of WWII in 1939, Franco proclaimed Spain's neutrality. But he promised Hitler logistical support, and he also sent a division of volunteer soldiers — the Blue Division — to fight beside the German army on the Russian front, to get back at the Soviets for supporting the other side in the Spanish Civil War.

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Courtesy of the Gibraltar Tourist Board

France fell in June 1940. In October, a meeting was arranged between Hitler and Franco at Hendaye, a small town in France, just over the border with Spain, on the Bay of Biscay. Hitler came down in a train and the meeting was held on the train. I was told about this by a friend, a Spanish nobleman, the Marques de Merry del Val, who — when I knew him — was an official at the Foreign Ministry, where he had worked since the late 1930's. He had been a junior aide to Franco at the meeting with Hitler. He told me that Hitler's main request — put in terms of repayment for all the help he had provided for Franco's side in the Civil War — was to allow German troops to pass through Spain to attack and seize Gibraltar. My friend, the Marques, said that Franco refused to agree, since the British would consider it a declaration of war by Spain. The argument grew more and more heated, until Hitler picked up a chair and smashed it on the floor. That ended the meeting.  If Franco had agreed, the war would probably have lasted longer, since the western entrance to the Mediterranean would have been blocked against Allied forces. Hitler is reported to have said he would rather have all his teeth pulled, one by one, than to have another meeting with Franco.

As a postscript, Franco considered taking Gibraltar (or, as he considered it, "taking it back") but decided against it since the British had indicated that, if he did, they would take the Canary Islands. In late 1943, Franco concluded that the Allies were going to win the war. He recalled the Blue Division from the Russian front and began providing some support to the Allies. This helped Franco to eventually overcome his image as a puppet of Hitler, leading — after some years — to Spain's acceptance into the European Union and the UN. The U.S. helped with this. We made an agreement in 1953, under which Spain allowed us to establish four military bases — three for the Air Force and one for the Navy — in Spain in exchange for various kinds of aid from the U. S.  The naval base at Rota, in southern Spain near Cadiz, is still functioning as a joint U.S. - Spanish base.blue star



imageJ. Edgar Williams, Secretary of American Diplomacy Publishers and a member of this journal’s editorial advisory board, served for twenty-seven years in the U. S. Foreign Service.

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