Francisco Franco was born Francisco Paulino Hermenegildo Teodulo Franco Bahamonde on December 4, 1892 in Ferrol, Spain. His father, Nicolas, worked for the Spanish Navy and his mother, Maria, came from a family with a long line of naval connections. He had two brothers, Nicolas and Ramon, and a sister, Maria.
Although Francisco's father wanted him to join the Spanish Navy and follow his footsteps, he decided to join the Army instead. In 1907, he enlisted at Toledo's Infantry Academy, graduating in 1910. After graduating, he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Spanish Army. After two years of being stationed in Spain, he was sent to Morocco, where a war was going on between the Spanish and the Rif tribe of Morocco.
In 1916, Franco suffered serious wounds during a battle with natives at El Biutz. He was subsequently promoted to the rank of major and became the youngest field officer in the Spanish Army. In 1917, he was transferred back to Spain, where he stayed for the next several years. In 1920, he joined the Legion Extranjera to serve under Lieutenant Colonel Jose Millan Astray as his second-in-command.
The Legion was immediately deployed to Northern Africa to assist in the Moroccan War. After leading a three day march, the Legion reinforced the Spanish colony of Melilla from native rebels. In 1923, he was promoted from lieutenant colonel to colonel and given command of the entire Legion.
In 1923, Franco met a woman named Maria del Carmen Polo y Martinez Valdes, whom he married. His best man in the wedding was King Alfonso XIII, showing his close ties to the Spanish monarchy. After the marriage, he redeployed to Africa, leading a Spanish invasion force that landed at Alhucemas. This invasion, coinciding with a French invasion of southern Morocco, provided the final push needed to topple the Republic of the Rif and establish Spanish and French rule over Morocco.
In 1926, Franco was promoted to the rank of general, becoming the youngest person to do so in Spain. In 1928, he was appointed director of Zaragoza's Joint Military Academy, which served as a training facility for Army cadets. He stayed there until it was closed after the Spanish revolution, which established the Second Spanish Republic. Franco delivered a farewell speech to the cadets that appeared to criticize the new government and resulted in him being placed under surveillance.
On February 5, 1932, he was finally given another command of Spanish troops in the city of La Coruna. On February 17, 1933, he was given command of the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean. On October 5, 1934, a revolutionary uprising erupted throughout the country, gaining a strong foothold in the city of Asturias. Franco was placed in charge of crushing the rebellion in Asturias, using the Spanish Army in Africa. The fighting lasted two weeks and resulted in about two thousand deaths, but he succeeded in crushing the rebels. On May 19, 1935, he was promoted to Chief of the General Staff, giving him the highest military rank in Spain.
The elections of 1936 led to a massive power struggle between various factions and Franco decided to join the rebels, which called themselves the Nationalists. After taking command of much of the Spanish Army in Africa, Franco sought military assistance from Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, both of whom provided weapons and aircraft for the effort. They provided planes, which Franco used to destroy the Spanish naval blockade around the Iberian Peninsula in early August of 1936.
With the blockade broken, Franco led troops into southern Spain and began moving in towards Madrid. Franco was given command of the Spanish National Army and also established as the Head of State on October 1, 1936. In November, an assault was launched against the city of Madrid, but failed. He again lobbied for German and Italian support and approximately 91,000 Italians, 20,000 Portuguese, and 22,000 Germans assisted in the war effort in Spain.
Franco finally seized control of Madrid on March 27, 1939, after three years of fighting. ON April 1, 1939, the Republican forces officially surrendered to the Nationalist forces and Franco established his government as the official government of Spain. After all of this fighting, Franco sought to prevent further conflict and he ceremoniously laid his sword upon an altar in a church, vowing to never take it again unless Spain was invaded.
At this point, Spain was still in a rather unstable condition. Many guerrilla rebels continued to attack Nationalist forces for the next several decades and Franco led a harsh suppression of the remaining political opponents by executing thousands of people and placing tens of thousands in exile. Franco's command of Spain remained strong and he was in no significant danger of being deposed after these efforts.
After the outbreak of World War 2 in September of 1939, Franco maintained a neutral position and did not take sides. On October 23, 1940, Franco and Hitler met in the city of Hendaye, France to discuss Spain joining the Axis powers. Franco demanded a lot in return, including control of Portugal, North Africa, Gibraltar, and military supplies, causing Hitler to back off. Regardless, Spain's condition at this time would not have allowed it to contribute very much to the Axis war effort. Franco did, however, provide small amenities to Nazi forces, such as usage of Spanish naval ports. Additionally, a number of Spanish troops joined the German military without official approval from Franco. Some historians claim that Franco was bribed by Winston Churchill to stay out of the war using a large deposit in some Swiss bank accounts.
After the war ended, Franco continued to maintain a low profile on the international scene while he worked to rebuild Spain as a strong country. In 1953, he signed the Pact of Madrid, which established a military and economic alliance between Spain and the United States. This treaty led to United States military usage of Spanish air and naval bases in exchange for billions of dollars in aid to Spain. In 1955, Spain was admitted to the United Nations.
In 1968, Franco granted Equatorial Guinea independence from Spain. In 1969, he freed the Moroccan city of Ifni from Spanish control as well. That year, he also designated a successor to his rule, Prince Juan Carlos de Borbon. In the early 1970s, he began retreating from his position as head of state and many political factions began their attempts to position themselves for succession.
Francisco Franco died on November 20, 1975 from natural causes. He was succeeded by Juan Carlos, who had been a personal friend of Franco, and he restored democracy to the Spanish government.