Spanish history for the island during the 20th century is not a well-known subject. But what happened to the island during the wars of 1914 and 1945? And is there any truth behind all the Nazi conspiracy theories?
An Article By Bernie Power with The Voice
DECLARATION OF NEUTRALITY
During WWI, Spain declared neutrality, which meant it took no sides but suffered economically from 4 years of upheaval around the world. It lost 66 ships to U Boats, with the loss of more than 100 lives. The Catholic church and the Conservative politicians argued to support the Germans, but the country kept its head down and stayed out of it, although 2000 Catalans volunteered for the French Foreign Legion.
SPANISH CIVIL WAR
When the Civil War of Spain started in 1936, Franco received help from Hitler, who not only transported the Spanish legions from North Africa to Spain to fight for him, but also lent him a whole legion of his air force. This was the infamous ‘Condor Legion’ which were led by the nephew of the WWI air ace, The Red Baron. Von Richtofen helpfully attacked the Republican civilians and soldiers. Famously, the raid by Stuka bombers on Guernica on March 31st 1937 which killed 250 plus people and destroyed the town. Franco eventually beat his opposition and took the country over as an unelected dictator.
By 1939, Spain was exhausted and though the Canary Islands escaped the fighting, some of our citizens went off to volunteer to fight Hitler’s Fascists. 18,000 went from Spain to fight for Germany, but only against the Russians! 60,000 Republican supporters, who had to flee revenge killings, went to France to help The Resistance. And 1000 communist leaders went to Russia. Spain tried to stay neutral again, as in the last war, but had a hard time from Hitler, who rightfully thought he was owed some assistance. Franco didn’t want to lose control of his country and was afraid he would have to allow the Germans to gain Gibraltar.
Churchill was worried about this too, and so, he set in motion a secret plan to invade the Canary Islands, if Gibraltar fell. This was called ‘Operation Pilgrim’ and involved attacking Gran Canaria and Tenerife to deny the U-Boats a base. When you drive down the coast towards the South of the island you will notice many gun emplacements, on the beach in Corralejo, by the golf course and especially grand ones, as you leave Puerto del Rosario. They sit up to the right, in front of the green complex that never got finished. There are many more down towards Jandia too.
VAGRANTS & MISCREANTS
The gun emplacements and a military training base on the West, were Spain’s deterrent. Fortunately, Franco was so slippery, he decided the Nazis would lose and shied away whenever Hitler tried to corner him. Hitler famously told Mussolini, after a meeting to form an alliance with Spain, “I prefer to have 2 or 3 of my own teeth pulled out than to speak to that man again”.
Fuerteventura placed its first airport in Tefia, miles away from the range of the British Navy, in a really bad, windy spot, that had to be changed twice more before being built in El Mattoral. The airfield was later used to contain Prisoners of the State and Franco sent his Communists, Homosexuals and what he termed ‘Vagrants and Miscreants’ to be confined there. Today nothing remains there except a monument to the 13 soldiers who died in an accident there in 1972.
MURDER OF THE MAYOR
When Franco died, in 1975, the Spanish Foreign Legion got out of West Africa and for a time located in the military base in Puerto. They behaved very badly and after several scandals and outrages, including the murder of the Mayor of Guisgey and a local taxi driver, they eventually went to Mainland Spain. There is still a large Military presence, and you will see soldiers all over the island, sometimes doing manoeuvres. An orientation camp, to train the troops for the Saharan wars, was built on the coast near Tindaya. But, although you can see the scars left by wooden buildings, it only exists on maps and two remaining concrete blocks. There is a large military Zone which you cannot enter to the west of FV 605 because it has so many unexploded bombs, it can never be used without a massive clean-up operation. As we are only 60 miles or 100 Kilometres from Africa, we have surveillance planes and Navy helicopters regularly patrolling the surrounding seas. The Moroccans never dropped their claim to Fuerteventura from the 16th century….. but we are safe for a while!