Churchill and Spain by Richard Wigg
Review by Paul O’Connell. Paul is an established journalist and photographer, a member of the Costa Press Club and the Guardian Newspaper writers guild. He has written book review and articles for Left Book Club and BookMarx and is a regular contributor to Olive Press Newspaper in Spain. Paul’s particular interest is the Spanish Civil War. He also presents a radio programme on Silkfm in Spain.
The subtitle of Richard Wigg’s account of Winston Churchill ’s efforts to return the Monarchy to Spain during the Second World War is ‘The Survival of the Franco Regime 1940 – 1945’.
Wiggs’ general synopsis describes how Franco cleverly bided his time and hedged his bets in that five- year war period before settling on the United States as his country’s saviour and thus remaining in dictatorial power for the next thirty years.
Moreover, the book also deals with Churchill ’s relationship with Spain during WW2 and is itself an engrossing chapter and fascinating study of tolerance shown to General Franco’s brutal regime after the overthrow of the Republic in 1939, and with that, the relationship the regime developed and kept with both Hitler and Mussolini representing the ‘Axis’ against that which Churchill and the Allies were fighting. Although Spain ’s role in that Axis was one of ‘neutrality’.
Into the mix come sub plots; notably of one individual who was sent to Spain by Churchill; a man named Samuel Hoare a senior Foreign Office whaller. Hoare would eventually fall foul of Churchill after witnessing first hand as a special envoy to Madrid, the Fascist policies directed towards the majority of the Spanish population and complained that this was a Government that Britain should not provide support. Hoare’s role was to keep an eye on Franco’s Ministers and monitor their dialogue with the Nazi regime. Churchill was never certain Franco could be trusted to remain neutral during the conflict.
Churchill, a manic depressive and heavy drinker at the time, constantly wavered amid the idea that Franco was better seen as a neutral participant rather than an enemy of the Allies and vice versa. Wigg writes of Churchill’s position during the Spanish Civil War, columns written in the London Evening Standard, of veering between support for Nationalist then Republican and then Nationalist causes on account of the possibility that Franco might be lured by Hitler into supporting his own imperialist intentions, but also by not wanting a Spanish Government littered with Socialists and Communists. Churchill had serious doubts as to Franco’s stated neutrality. There’s also no doubt Churchill was an avowed Monarchist who would prefer the dethroned King Alfonso XIII to be in the palm of his hand for the duration of the war. The question was how to manipulate it.
Wiggs’ book takes you through the various stages of development in Spain’s difficult political transition after 1939; the country was virtually bankrupt and needed to sell ‘Wolfram’ material to the Germans (a substance that makes armour piercing shells) to re-build its depleted gold reserves that had been used during the Civil War; the majority of the Spanish population were on the verge of starvation and many were fleeing to France to escape persecution. Churchill was desperate to keep Spain out of the conflict; he fretted as regards to Gibraltar and Franco’s possible invasion alongside German military. He made noises regarding ‘taking’ one of the Canary Islands should this happen and to invade Spain from Cadiz to Malaga with Allied troops if necessary.
Wigg takes a long look at Samuel Hoare, who, as a reward, desperately wanted to be Vice-Roy of India to finish off his subservience to the British Civil Service but because of his knowledge of Spain’s ruling political class and fluency in the language, was sent to Madrid to work alongside the new Government in 1940 and report directly to Churchill on Franco’s developing relationship with the Nazi regime. Hoare did not like what he saw or heard and reported so. Churchill kept Hoare close but not totally within trust. Hoare pleaded with Churchill for the India role but Churchill gave him assurances he was better serving his country in time of need in Madrid.
Hoare saw himself as a political football but always seemed to believe that India was still a real possibility. Hoare does well to keep the balancing act going. He fated Franco’s General’s, reported on Himmler’s trip across Spain and secretly amassed information that would be of great benefit to Churchill and the Allies. He hated Franco pronouncing him a ‘little dictator’. He admired Churchill and wanted to assist Spain ’s Monarchist movement to allow Alfonso to be readmitted as head of state. But he grew weary of his role. He became known as ‘slippery Sam’ by Churchillians inBritain.
Wigg gained access to classified documents unearthed after more than fifty years; letters and memos are sent back and forth between intermediataries of Churchill and Hoare. He writes a concise account of what took place. Gerald Brennan is frequently quoted. It appears that it was touch and go whether Franco would come down unequivocally on the side of Hitler but Franco was a canny operator and after meeting Hitler on the French / Spanish border decided to wait. Once the United States entered the war his mind was made up, he would settle for the assistance of its’ administration towards Spain ’s continuation of resettling its’ land back into hands of the ruling elite. As a sweetener towards Franco, Roosevelt was intent on giving extra wheat supplies to Spain to assist its’ programme whilst Churchill would argue for only settling for a minimum grain outlay.
The book also offers an interesting account of the wider political aspects of keeping a State neutral during global conflict. As well as the interpersonal relationships of those who were ‘in the know’ it offers a glimpse of power at the highest level of both British and Spanish Governments.
Churchill was at times seen as a megalomaniac politician who took decisions without conferring. He is often referred to as a ‘great war leader’ and his decision to bomb Dresden and Hamburg towards the end of the war, later deemed as unnecessary and killing more than 250,000 civilians led many people to believe that his time was up. He was never elected to political office again. Samuel Hoare disappeared from politics after the war, wrote his memoirs and died in the late fifties. Forgotten.
Wigg writes that ‘Hoare was a liberal amongst conservatives and a conservative among liberals’. Given Churchill’s walks across the House of Commons floor to both political parties it is easy to see that these two would have a lot of common ground. But when one is a leader and the other a follower their can only be one conclusion. Hoare’s observations went unheard whilst Churchill’s became iconic.
Worth the read if you’re a student of the milieu or an aficionado of war leaders.
© Books4Spain Ltd 2012 This review may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of Books4Spain
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Papa Spy, A True Story of Love, Wartime Espionage in Madrid, and the Treachery of the Cambridge Spies, is the biography of Tom Burns, British Press Attache at the British Embassy in Madrid during World War II and who had the formidable and very Protestant Sir Samuel Hoar to deal with.
If you are interested in the causes of the Spanish Civil War and Franco’s economic policies, you may also find the following of interest: