The Fall of Spain
Spain's War until 1943
The Spanish Campaign in WW2 came about as a result of Franco's decision to join the war on the Axis side after his successful meeting with Hitler at Hendaye in October 1940. With Britain apparently on the back foot, and promises obtained of rich pickings for Spain in Africa (not to mention the long awaited recapture of Gibraltar), Franco committed Spain to war. The declaration of war against Britain came a few months later, in March 1941. Although the Axis had clearly suffered some setbacks, such as the failure to invade Britain, and the mediocre Italian performance in North Africa, the situation broadly seemed to be in their favour.
First stop for Axis Spain was of course Gibraltar, and alongside a small force of elite German troops, the Rock was swiftly captured by the Spanish, although the defenders made them pay dearly. The seizure of Malta later that year confirmed Axis domination of the Western and Central Mediterranean, although the diversion of resources meant that the British enjoyed a number of victories in the desert, pushing the Italians (and small German and Spanish contingents) back as far as Tripoli by the end of 1941. The Axis powers certainly benefited from the elimination of Malta as an Allied base, as it made their supply lines rather more secure. On the other hand, the advanced position of British forces meant that Blenheims and Wellingtons from Libya were still able to launch frequent air attacks on enemy ports and shipping.
By this stage though, Hitler's attention was on the east, where after securing the Balkans and rescuing the Italian invasion of Greece (apart from Crete), he had launched Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union. Spain sent two divisions to take part in the campaign, the División Azul and the División Primo de Rivera, commanded respectively by Muñoz Grandes and the talented but ruthless Juan Yagüe, a man rather suited to the environment of Eastern Front. After initially being a part of Army Group Centre, they then spent over a year on the Leningrad Front, during which the Spaniards briefly seized part of the besieged city, the only Axis troops to manage this. But although they served, to quote Franco, 'with great valour and fortitude', from late 1942 it was clearly a losing battle, and they would be forced to fall back steadily for the remainder of the war once the long and brutal siege was lifted. No doubt news of events closer to home did not help their morale, and it was also due to the declining situation in Spain itself that both units were withdrawn for Home Defence in 1944.
The American entry into the war after Pearl Harbor was obviously game-changing, but it would take some time before the effects were fully felt in the European Theatre. However the British and their allies were not idle in this time, and stepped up their air and naval campaigns. Spain was particularly hurt by this, relying heavily as it did on foreign imports. British supplies had naturally been cut off since March, but Britain had a military as well as an economic advantage. British naval strength allowed them to capture the Canary Islands in the successful Operation Pilgrim - this had symbolic significance for Franco, as the birthplace of the military rising of 18th July 1936 which had propelled him to power. Portugal was also shifting closer to the Allies, and while intervention was not currently anticipated, should it occur then Spain would have a real crisis on its hands, and would be obliged to call on Germany for assistance.
In January 1943, came the news the Axis forces in North Africa had been dreading. Anglo-American troops had landed along the Moroccan and Algerian coasts in Operation Torch, rapidly overcoming Vichy French resistance. This had triggered many French units based further south to throw in their lot with the Allies, and combined with the capture of Tripoli by Gott's Eighth Army a few weeks earlier, it was clear that North Africa was going to fall if the Axis did not heavily reinforce the region. Unfortunately for Germany, commitments on the Eastern Front prevented this, and it was largely left to existing troops to deal with the situation. Spanish Morocco found itself largely cut off from the other Axis troops, and although the experienced soldiers put up a tough fight, inflicting higher than expected casualties, Allied technical and numerical superiority won the day. Once Tunisia had been conquered, the Allies could finally step ashore on European soil again for the first time since 1941.
The Spanish Campaign 1943-1945
From now on the account focuses on the Spanish campaign itself; avoiding detailed coverage of the invasions of Italy and France for the sake of space. By the end of the summer of 1943, preparations were underway for the amphibious assault on southern Spain, which would come under British direction - in return, Italian operations would be largely under American control. Previous landings (which now included those in Malta and Italy) provided helpful practice for this, and so the Spanish landings were accomplished successfully in late September. The US II Corps landed near Malaga, while the British V Corps came ashore south of Cadiz. Progress was initially slow, as the British force struggled to make headway towards the heavily defended port to their north. The Americans took Malaga within ten days, and after securing their beachhead moved southwest to assist their ally. However General Montgomery, commanding Allied forces in Spain, made sure that his men were the first into Gibraltar, proudly raising the Union Jack over the town once again. The capture of Cadiz soon afterwards gave him nearly equal satisfaction, as it had better harbour facilities than Malaga.
A firm foothold now achieved on Iberia, the Allies now had the task of pressing inland and forcing Spain out of the war. However, the Germans were equally determined to keep Spain in the war, and swiftly responded to Franco's request for reinforcements. Partly due to this, and also because Spain was considered of lesser importance than Italy and France, the Anglo-American advance was slow. Seville fell in the New Year, but after that they became bogged down in the hills of rural and underdeveloped Extremadura. The attacks to the east were more successful, and armoured forces managed a dash along the coast in the spring which brought them as far as Alicante. The old city of Granada, a key point in Spain's southern defences, was also cut off and captured. After this came several months of slowly grinding down Axis forces between the Allies and Madrid, with the terrain generally favouring the defenders. A spot of hope was the Allied advance from France, where the landings in Normandy had led to a swift advance southwards. This was complemented by a smaller, but only lightly opposed, landing in southern France, and when these troops linked up, a reasonable proportion were then ordered to turn their attention to Spain. With the help of anti-Francoist Basque partisans, San Sebastian became the first Spanish city to be freed from the north.
November 1944 brought more successes - Bilbao, Valencia and Spain's second city of Barcelona all fell. So did Mallorca and Ibiza, after an assault to eliminate the Spanish naval base there, from which irritating if not damaging raids had been launched. Menorca was left to wither away, posing less of a threat. Equally significant was the entry of Portugal into the war in the previous month. After long negotiations with President Salazar, who had already provided the Azores for use as Allied air bases, an agreement was reached. Portugal would join the Allies in return for being granted the city of Tangiers and not insubstantial financial investments. The most immediate effect was the fall of Badajoz, which after resisting the Allies for several months, suddenly had to deal with an attack from the rear. Portuguese troops also moved into Galicia, an area which until now had been securely under Nationalist control, and also contained their last remaining seaports. The last event of note in 1944 was the fall of historic Salamanca, scene of a famous battle in the last century's Peninsular War. But as 1945 opened, it seemed that this Iberian conflict would be ended rather more quickly.
Allied troops in the north had been held up for some time in the mountains of the Sistema Iberico, but were making up for this by their progress either side of this obstacle. A linkup was achieved with troops from the south on the east coast in January, while to the west Allied columns pushed towards Portuguese lines. Yet the most important action was taking place in the south. After tortuous months of fighting, the Americans achieved a breakthrough on their way northwest from Valencia, and raced for the Spanish capital. To add to Franco's despair, the British captured Toledo in February, the gateway to Madrid from the south. Very quickly, Madrid was surrounded, as were two other major pockets, cut off from the bulk of Spanish forces in Galicia and Asturias. The Battle of Madrid was as fierce as would be expected, reminiscent of the Nationalist attempts to seize the city back in 1936. However by this stage, the Spanish resistance was out in the open, helping in the final push to remove the short-lived Fascist regime. Franco, to his credit, also took to the streets and was killed in the futile defence of his residence at El Pardo. On 19th March, a ceasefire was declared in Madrid, prior to a formal surrender of all remaining Spanish forces the following day. Field Marshal Montgomery signed on behalf of the Allies, while General Muñoz Grandes signed on behalf of Spain. After a year and a half of bloody fighting, the battle for Spain was over.