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  1. Why was not Spain and Portugal involved in World War II with either side? Was not Franco sympathetic with the Axis powers given the help they offered during the civil war?

  2. Also, given their strategic geographical locations with the ability to limit access the Mediterranean, being a possible landing point for the allies to access France from the south. Or the Germans could have used their access to the Atlantic to build naval bases. The question is why did not any faction from the war invade the peninsula for their advantage?

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Hitler for Franco in 1940: "I prefer to have three or four of my own teeth pulled out than to speak to that man again!" - See: Spain in World War II –  Yannis Rizos Jan 21 '13 at 3:44
    
Franco is reputed to have promised to capture Gibraltar once Hitler took Cairo and Suez. A smart man that Franco - no wonder he died peacefully in his own bed. –  Pieter Geerkens Sep 28 at 1:40

5 Answers 5

I can tell you why Spain was neutral.

Germany and Italy helped Franco during Spanish Civil War. When Second World War started Germany 1939 was not very interested in Spain. As you know in May 1940 Italy joined the Axis while France was being conquered. After defeat Germans prepared themselves to conquer UK and Africa. In that moment Gibraltar started to be very important for everyone.

Meanwhile in Spain Franco wanted to return the favour to Hitler. Summary of his thoughts:

  • He had an experienced army after 3 years of war.
  • The army equipment was pretty obsolete, especially against modern allied weapons.
  • The country was devastated, people were starving. Food and industrial productivity were a shadow of pre-civil war values.
  • There was huge civil unrest and lot of guerrillas (Maquis) still fighting in Spain.

So Franco ordered three reports to the three branches of the military: Army, Air Force and Navy. Army and Air Force reports advised to support Germany. In 1940 Germany looked invincible and they were impressed by German tanks and Air Force (Legion Condor). Most of the Navy remained loyal to the Republic Government therefore there were few experienced officers (Loyal officers were purged, either executed, imprisoned or expelled from the Navy). Report was made by a young officer called Carrero Blanco (he became president of Spain in 1973). He had a different view from his colleagues from the Army and Air Force. The report from Carrero Blanco explained in 21 bullet points the consequences for Spain and the needs in case of entering in the war. He recommended not to enter in the war as it would cause more problems than benefits to Spain and Axis.

Franco was impressed by the report and decided not to enter in the war. He had a strategy were he supported Hitler but at the same time he didn’t support him. Spain declared to be allied with Germany but non-belligerent. Hitler wanted to invade Gibraltar and had an interview in person with Franco in Hendaya (Frontier between Spain and France) to force him enter in the war in October of 1940. Franco managed to convince Hitler to delay such decision. He sent some volunteers in “Blue Division” that acted as a normal 250th Wehrmacht infantry division, instead of fighting as a Spanish Division. He was supporting Hitler, pleasing Falangists in Spain and Allies at the same time.

There was a plan (Operation Felix) to attack Gibraltar through Spain by having some German divisions enter from France and attack Gibraltar in January 1941. But plan was cancelled because Franco refused to agree. Franco claimed that Spain was not ready to support the attack or repel the probable British counter attack in his overseas possessions or even mainland. He requested made unacceptable conditions to Germany (wheat, oil, troops to defend Spain and Operation Felix to happen after German invasion of England.). Hitler cancelled the attack plan in December 1940.

As the time passed by it started to become clear that Germany was going to be defeated. Spain changed status from non-belligerent to neutral.

Sorry, I didn’t found an English version of the report.

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Actually, Portugal and England have the longest alliance in the world -- one signed in the Treaty of Windsor (1386). The Portuguese and English agreed that neutrality for Portugal was the most viable stance though Portugal helped the alliance in other ways like evacuating civilians from Gilbraltar to Madeira and allowing later in the war, bases in the Azores. Portugal even discouraged Franco from an alliance with the Axis, even signed the Iberian Pact where Spain and Portugal agreed to fight together any invading army.

In any case, Franco, after an exhausting civil war, was uninterested in entering conflict. Hitler, after meeting with Franco, stated he rather have teeth pulled than meet with Franco again.

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The short answer is that the cost of the invasion would have been greater than the strategic value. For example, both sides tried to invade Norway and Germany succeeded, but it was very costly. Germany had to maintain a significant number of troops and equipment throughout Norway, paying them and feeding them. The cost-benefit ratio for Spain and Portugal was much worse. Remember Spain has about 8 times the population of Norway and 4 times the population of Greece. The campaign against Greece was long and arduous. Unlike Greece, Spain and Portugal were strictly neutral, if not sympathetic to Germany, so to Hitler's way of thinking it would make no sense to spend huge amounts of time, money and resources invading a country that was already friendly and would provide only a marginal amount of military value. It might have been nice to get rid of the Gibraltar base, but remember that the Third Reich could not even capture Malta, which is right next to Italy. If you can't capture Malta, you are not going to be capturing Gibraltar.

For the Allies the situation was largely the same. Also, they would lose the moral high ground, because they would be waging a war of aggression against neutral countries. Also, if they attacked Spain, it is likely Franco would have allowed German troops into the country to help defend it. If their attack on Spain failed, moreover, it would be guaranteed that they would lose Gibraltar, because Spain would attack Gibraltar the minute any war with England started. So, the allies would have to have a really high confidence of success to risk it. All-in-all it was kind of a non-starter for the allies.

To really see the Allied calculus here imagine what would happen if the Allies attacked Spain. Lets say they got a beachhead, so now they are shipping men and materials to their beachhead to try to conquer the Iberian peninsula, a very rocky and mountainous place. First Franco invites in German troops, so you have the whole country basically becoming part of the Axis and you are fighting Germans. Next, Franco lets the Germans use airfields. So, now Gibraltar is under attack, getting shelled by big guns in Spain and strafed by aircraft located in airfields just a few miles away. Also, the Germans can now make aerial torpedo attacks on any ships in the Straits of Gibraltar. This could result in a failure to supply Malta. Now, you have both Gibraltar and Malta falling. Even if your attack "succeeds" you could be facing a temporary situation where you are losing the whole Mediterranean and have re-conquer it AFTER you have finally beat the Spanish, which might take a whole year to do.

With considerations like these, it is easy to see why attacking Iberia would seem to be a bad idea.

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In "Mein Kampf," Hitler opined, "We stop the endless German movement to the south and west, and turn our gaze toward the land in the east...If we speak of the soil of Europe today, we can have primarily in mind the soil of Russia and her vassal border states."

He was concerned primarily with conquering Russia and eastern Europe. Fought France and Britain (enemies from World War I) as needed, but basically had no quarrel with, or interest in Spain and Portugal. It was better for Germany to have a (moderately) "friendly" country there than an outright enemy, especially given how well Franco's troops had fought in the Spanish civil war.

The Allies similarly had no "issue" with Spain or Portugal. They wanted to defeat Germany, and retrieve France and other occupied countries. But since Germany had little interest in Spain and Portugal, neither did they.

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+1, in fact it was France and Britain who declared war on Germany (because of German eastward expansion!), not the other way around –  kubanczyk Feb 25 '13 at 9:42

Spain was involved in the invasion of the soviet union by sending 15k troops called "Blue Division". In order to not putting his relations to western democracies at risk, Franco set having the involvement limited to the eastern front as a condition.

Already before WWII, ongoing from 1936, Germany supported Franco's forces during the civil war with secretly sending volunteer air force units, known as "Condor Legion".

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