Throughout the Second World War, many people in Spain were under the hope that the victory of the Allies would trigger an invasion of Spain to defeat the dictatorship of Franco, a fascist who won the Civil War in 1939 thanks to the help of Mussolini's Italy and Hitler's Germany.

It is a known fact that Britain bribed Spain to stay out of Second World War. There are other reasons that are very well detailed in Why were Spain and Portugal neutral / not invaded in WWII?.

Despite all of this, there were quite a lot of volunteers, even many sent to Russia by the government itself (the División Azul to Russia).

Throughout the war, Spain's government moved from supporting the Axis Powers to calling themselves neutral. As it was fearing the defeat of the Axis Powers, things changed:

  • by 1942-1943, executions of former Republicans decreased
  • when Mussolini was captured in july 1943, Franco moved his position towards neutrality.
  • general Franco was pressured to stop selling tungsten to Germany (references in this page from Wikipedia in Spanish)

By February 1945, the Yalta Conference got an agreement that would be important to Spain:

The Big Three further agreed that democracies would be established, all liberated European and former Axis satellite countries would hold free elections and that order would be restored

However, the only thing that really happened was a gathering of volunteers for a guerrilla-like invasion:

Following the Spanish Civil War, many supporters of the former Republican government decided to start a movement to overthrow Franco; these members were called the Spanish Maquis. Several guerrilla raids occurred during the timeline of World War II, with most of them happening in 1944. One major confrontation happened in the Vale de Arán valley where a large group of rebels attacked and briefly occupied the north-western border of the Pyrenees. The government of France along with the Soviet Union organised, trained and armed a large group of Spaniards earlier liberated from the concentration camps where Spanish republicans had been held by the Front Populaire since they crossed the Spanish-French border at the end of the Spanish civil war in 1939. The battle lasted four days. The better trained and motivated Spanish Army under the command of the experienced General Moscardó immediately maneuvered to control the main strategic points of the valley and engaged the invaders, pushing them back across the border. The communists had underestimated popular support for the Francoist Regime, and no revolution began as they supposed.

Source: Spain during World War II

All in all, Spain got isolated, many war criminals got shelter in the country and the dictatorship managed to survive many years, until the death of Franco in 1975. This happened to the surprise of Republicans, who had already faced the coldness during the Civil War, when they suffered from the Non-intervention of the democracies.

Then, it was only by mid 1950s when Spain was on the focus again, when required to host some UNO's headquarters during the Cold War.

Why was this? What caused this coldness towards Spain despite being a Fascist regime? Were there any plans to force the fall of the regime?

  • 27
    Because they weren't at war with any of the allies. Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 12:34
  • 1
    @pjc50 technically speaking, Spain was a satellite state. However, the treaty was mainly intended for the countries within the big blocks so I assume it was just ignored.
    – fedorqui
    Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 14:34
  • 14
    This question fails to consider who should be invading Spain. "The Allies of WW2" is not an answer; Spain wasn't even in WW2 let alone on the Axis side. Spain is not a neighbour of the US, UK or USSR so they did not have regional interests. France really was in no position to invade its neighbour, while Portugal was also Fascist. (Salazar).
    – MSalters
    Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 15:02
  • 1
    Re "mid 1950s": Remarkably, in February 1956 were the first negotiations regarding Spain entering NATO (but completed only years after Franco's death) Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 21:34
  • 2
    You could make the case that Britain also bribed Germany to stay out of the war ... with the Sudetenland, at Munich. The difference is merely that Spain DID stay out of the war. Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 19:39

6 Answers 6


The OP said this in a comment:

technically speaking, Spain was a satellite state. However, the treaty was mainly intended for the countries within the big blocks so I assume it was just ignored.

The second statement, that Spain was overlooked, is flatly not true as will be demonstrated once we look at the text of the agreements and the historical arguing about what to do with Spain.

The question of whether Spain counted as an Axis satellite state is one which was hotly debated in 1944 and 1945. This is the crux of the question.

What The Yalta Agreement Said

"Axis satellite state" is mentioned in the "Protocol Of Proceedings Of Crimea Conference", aka the Yalta Agreement, but it's never defined.

They jointly declare their mutual agreement to concert during the temporary period of instability in liberated Europe the policies of their three Governments in assisting the peoples liberated from the domination of Nazi Germany and the peoples of the former Axis satellite states of Europe to solve by democratic means their pressing political and economic problems.

However, section II "Declaration Of Liberated Europe" makes it clear what their goals were. It's worth reading in its entirety. Italics are mine to highlight relevant sections.

The Premier of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the President of the United States of America have consulted with each other in the common interests of the people of their countries and those of liberated Europe. They jointly declare their mutual agreement to concert during the temporary period of instability in liberated Europe the policies of their three Governments in assisting the peoples liberated from the domination of Nazi Germany and the peoples of the former Axis satellite states of Europe to solve by democratic means their pressing political and economic problems.

The establishment of order in Europe and the rebuilding of national economic life must be achieved by processes which will enable the liberated peoples to destroy the last vestiges of nazism and fascism and to create democratic institutions of their own choice. This is a principle of the Atlantic Charter - the right of all people to choose the form of government under which they will live - the restoration of sovereign rights and self-government to those peoples who have been forcibly deprived to them by the aggressor nations.

To foster the conditions in which the liberated people may exercise these rights, the three governments will jointly assist the people in any European liberated state or former Axis state in Europe where, in their judgment conditions require,

(a) to establish conditions of internal peace;

(b) to carry out emergency relief measures for the relief of distressed peoples;

(c) to form interim governmental authorities broadly representative of all democratic elements in the population and pledged to the earliest possible establishment through free elections of Governments responsive to the will of the people; and

(d) to facilitate where necessary the holding of such elections.

The three Governments will consult the other United Nations and provisional authorities or other Governments in Europe when matters of direct interest to them are under consideration.

When, in the opinion of the three Governments, conditions in any European liberated state or former Axis satellite in Europe make such action necessary, they will immediately consult together on the measure necessary to discharge the joint responsibilities set forth in this declaration.

By this declaration we reaffirm our faith in the principles of the Atlantic Charter, our pledge in the Declaration by the United Nations and our determination to build in cooperation with other peace-loving nations world order, under law, dedicated to peace, security, freedom and general well-being of all mankind.

This isn't a denunciation of fascism. It isn't a call to arms to overthrow dictatorships worldwide. It's defining how the liberated nations and minor Axis powers will be treated after WWII.

The goal is "to solve by democratic means their pressing political and economic problems". Someplace like Romania, Hungary, or Bulgaria, Axis belligerents who were devastated by the war. Or Norway and the Netherlands who had puppet governments installed. These countries needed their governments replaced, economies rebuilt, and social order restored.

Spain, in contrast, was neither conquered by the Axis nor allied with them. They never declared war and they never allowed either power to move troops through their country (to the great relief of Britain and Gibraltar). Spain had a working, independent, if fascist, government. They were untouched by the war. By the scale of the rest of Europe they had no "pressing political and economic problems".

Was Spain an Axis Satellite?

This is not to say people didn't try to get Spain treated as an Axis satellite state. Spain was technically "non-belligerent" but they really, really pushed it. The Spanish civil war, a proxy battle between communism and fascism, and their support of the Nazis made Spain a hot button topic for communists and socialists after the war. In particular the French and the Soviets.

While Spain never officially sent Spanish troops to fight, they allowed an entire division of volunteers to fight the Soviets. The 250. Infanterie-Division aka División Española de Voluntarios aka División Azul (curiously, their emblem is red and yellow) was an all volunteer division, some professional soldiers, some anti-communists, trained and supplied by the Germans, and sent to fight on the Eastern Front in 1941. They fought in the Siege of Leningrad and earned the Soviet's ire by stopping a major attempt to break the siege in 1943. Eventually almost 50,000 Spaniards would fight the Soviets.

Pressed by the Allies, Franco ordered all volunteers to return to Spain in late 1943. This is an important point, by 1944 Franco could see the writing on the wall and was more and more cooperating with the Allies.

But many wanted to see Spain excluded from the growing United Nations. At the UN Conference on International Organization...

the Mexican delegate to the conference, a Spanish exiled anti-fascist named Luis Quintanilla, appealed for the exclusion of Spain from the UN on the grounds that the United Charter excluded all those countries ruled by regimes established with the help of Germany or Italy.

At the later Potsdam Conference in 1945...

the Soviets wanted to go one step further and proposed on 19 July 1945 that all relations with Franco including diplomatic and economic links be severed.

The eventual statement was a bit softer.

In a joint statement, issued during the Potsdam Conference, the three great powers, US, Britain and the USSR, expressed their wish that Spain should not apply for membership to the United Nations given the fact that her current regime was founded with the help of the Axis powers, was closely associated with the Axis and did not posses the necessary qualifications to justify membership

The strongest statement made was the Tripartite Statement on Spain of March 4, 1946...

THE GOVERNMENTS of France, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America have exchanged views with regard to the present Spanish Government and their relations with that regime. It is agreed that so long as General Franco continues in control of Spain, the Spanish people cannot anticipate full and cordial association with those nations of the world which have, by common effort, brought defeat to German Nazism and Italian Fascism, which aided the present Spanish regime in its rise to power and after which the regime was patterned.

However this declaration had no teeth because it was considered an internal Spanish problem.

There is no intention of interfering in the internal affairs of Spain. The Spanish people themselves must in the long run work out their own destiny. In spite of the present regime's repressive measures against orderly efforts of the Spanish people to organize and give expression to their political aspirations, the three Governments are hopeful that the Spanish people will not again be subjected to the horrors and bitterness of civil strife.

But the idea of diplomatic and economic sanctions was floated.

Such recognition would include full diplomatic relations and the taking of such practical measures to assist in the solution of Spain's economic problems as may be practicable in the circumstances prevailing. Such measures are not now possible. The question of the maintenance or termination by the Governments of France the United Kingdom, and the United States of diplomatic relations with the present Spanish regime is a matter to be decided in the light of events and after taking into account the efforts of the Spanish people to achieve their own freedom.

UN Chapter VI: No Invasion Allowed

In 1946, Spain was having a hard time diplomatically.

Worldwide public opinion was moving against Franco. Canada publicly rebuffed Spain’s attempt to establish diplomatic relations. During spring 1946, six Communist, four Latin American, three Commonwealth and four other states severed diplomatic relations with Spain. There was also speculation that Italy might do the same.

Article 33, beginning Chapter VI of the UN charter, says:

The parties to any dispute, the continuance of which is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security, shall, first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice.

The UN found that the issue of what to do about Spain fell under Chapter VI and thus had to be resolved by peaceful means, didn't matter that Spain was not then a UN member. There could be no invasion of Spain by UN states to topple Franco.

This culminated in December 1946 with UN Resolution 39 "Relations of Members of the United Nations with Spain" which called for the end to the Franco regime and its diplomatic isolation.

Spain may not be admitted to the United Nations...

Recommends that the Franco Government of Spain be debarred from membership in international agencies established by or brought into relationship with the United Nations...

Recommends that all Members of the United Nations immediately recall from Madrid their Ambassadors and Ministers plenipotentiary accredited there.

The Influence of the Cold War

Other sources talk about the desire of the US to take a gentle approach to Spain in order to bring her into the fold of a Western Alliance to defend against Communism. The US military found the prospect of a war and national uprising in Spain dubious saying:

there is no prospect of any form of popular rising taking place in Spain... a rising, caused by foreign intervention, if strong enough to avoid immediate suppression by the police with army backing, would almost inevitably result in the outbreak of another civil war... a civil war in Spain with French and Russian intervention would also be likely to precipitate a crisis in France.

The US military increasingly looked at Spain and Italy as fallback positions against possible Soviet invasion of Europe. The Pincher Plan saw the possibility of using the Pyrenees as a natural defensive line to buy time against an overwhelming Soviet attack for a US build up.

The withdrawal of US forces across France into Spain also may prove feasible. This, too, will be largely dependent upon political considerations. It is probable that an anti-Communistic government will remain in power for at least the next year or two, and if Spain is willing to desert her position as a neutral, then the withdrawal of US forces into Spain would make a material contribution to any required defense of the Pyrenees. On the other hand, the Allies would probably be committed to the defense of Spain, which might well entail a substantial diversion of resources. Retention of an anti-Communist government in Spain would materially assist in maintaining the security of the western Mediterranean.

Here we see the beginnings of the Cold War idea that if you're anti-Communist, you're a potential US ally. That it's better to support a fascist dictatorship than to risk a left-leaning democratically elected government. Sir Victor Mallet, British Ambassador to Spain, wrote

A weak Government in Spain, whether of the Right or the Left, would pave the way for increased Soviet influence and pressure through the Spanish Communists. The one real merit of the present Government is that it does at least maintain order.


  • 7
    I am a bit ashamed of the comment of mine that you mention, since it was simplistic. However, I am also happy to have written it, so that it triggered this fantastic answer. Wow, this is a great piece of history, with many resources I will try to digest in the upcoming days.
    – fedorqui
    Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 21:37
  • 9
    @fedorqui :) I'll let you in on a secret. I didn't know most of this until I did the research today. I just knew Spain wasn't an Axis satellite and started digging.
    – Schwern
    Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 21:42
  • I had never seen the Yalta Agreement as something that would also include Spain, but during the research for the question I noticed that it could have been. However, I did not dig much on it, so I am very happy you did. So the "TL;DR" for all of this would be Yes, Spain was a Fascist dictatorship, but more importantly it was an anti-communist country. Marshall Plan started including Spain from 1951, for example.
    – fedorqui
    Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 22:03
  • 1
    There were no "Allies" by Potsdam only interests. The USA wanted the Canary Islands for access to the Med and Great Britain would retain Gibaltrar for the same reason. Stalin was a Dictator and master of the East. His "USSR" was only focused on the Bosphorous as Germany was divided in two back then thus posing no threat to anyone. Only the USA supported Ankara after WW2 as all the Empires of Europe collapsed. Commented Nov 12, 2016 at 2:28
  • 1
    La División Azul were so-called because the Falangists were blueshirts as a nod to their blue-collar national syndicalist ideology. The division's symbol was red and yellow to reflect the Spanish flag.
    – Henry
    Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 1:33

WW II was primarily a power struggle, and to a lesser degree an ideological struggle.

This means that your assumption about the motivations of WW II are incorrect. If it had been an ideological struggle, the US would not have allied with the Communist Soviet Union. (Read up on the Red Scare in the US: anti-Communist sentiment in the US was significant).

The Spanish government posed no threat to its neighbors

The other point is that even if Fascist, Spain wasn't expansionist Fascist, unlike the German and Italian Fascist governments during WW II. (Italy's conquest of Ethiopia preceded WW II). Spain was not the only Fascist / Autocratic regime that was not invaded after World War II. All you have to do is take a look at the various South and Central American republics that were also run by Fascists at the time. They weren't invaded either.

Wars Are Costly and Need to be Worth the Effort

Given how exhausted all sides were at the end of WW II, and given the major tension of the post-war world being Central Europe (and soon after that in Asia) the Iberian peninsula was not a high enough strategic priority to the World Powers to risk invading and continuing the war since Spain posed no threat to anyone. Even among the victors, the populations were war weary. (The lackluster support for the Korean War in the US in the early 50's is ample evidence that war weariness has political impact. TR Fehrenbach's book at the link is one of the best treatments of that war that I have read).

From the Western Perspective, Spain not being in the Communist camp meant that they could live with that imperfection and work via other means. War isn't the only way of dealing with nations whose government you don't care for.

The purpose of the Allied effort against Germany wasn't primarily "get rid of Fascism." (Though plenty of political rhetoric during and after was used as justification to keep the war effort going). The war was a power struggle. Fascism was the chosen government of Italy and Nazi Germany, whose aims were expansionist. The core problem was that Germany was a Major Power, and expansionist, while Italy was a lesser Power and expansionist. The third member of the Axis, Japan, was not Fascist (although there was an influence of militarism in their governmental structure leading up to the war, Fascism was not the Japanese political ideology). Their expansionist nature had been an issue since 1931, and more critically since 1937 when China was invaded.

Bottom Line

To put it bluntly: Spain was no threat to its neighbors, and it certainly wasn't worth the effort to start another war. Spain could be worked with despite that imperfection due to the other more pressing political issues inherent in the Cold War.

  • 1
    Thank you very much for your answer. I do not think Spain and South and Central American republics are comparable here, though, since Spain was a neighbour to all those countries involved in the WWII. But yes, I do agree that Spain was seen as a threat to anyone, since it triggered the wars around the area but back in 1945 was not dangerous. I was curious, though, about the Yalta Conference resolution. It looks like it happened what normally happens with treaties: they are followed... or not :)
    – fedorqui
    Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 14:20
  • 1
    That is so true: treaties are followed ... or not. Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 14:35
  • Actually, not just WW2, but most or maybe all wars were in fact power struggles, and the ideological/religious/ethical aspects are most often only there to gather popular support, instead of the main causes of the war.
    – vsz
    Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 16:07
  • 2
    All in all, I wonder what would've happened if Stait of Gibraltar wasn't British and they needed to use it during the Cold War...
    – fedorqui
    Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 13:13
  • 2
    @fedorqui No worries, Schwern's got game. Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 0:11

The Spanish Government in Exile, headed by Juan Negrín, was- in the view of British diplomats- deeply unpopular in Spain. Negrín was believed to have decamped with a lot of the Republic's money and to have lived very comfortably.

The new Labour Government in London- men like Atlee & Bevin- did not like Negrín. Bevin was a staunch anti-Communist and loathed the 'Red' intellectuals who (in his view) had tried to split the British Labour movement. It was they who were loudest in clamouring for Franco's head.

After José Giral became the head of the Government in Exile, the British softened a little. Meanwhile, there was something of a power vacuum in the US Dept. of State which meant that a more Liberal element could placate Mexican and other anger against Franco. However, it should be noted that Cardinal Spellman had established friendly relations with Franco in 1943 and his closeness both to the new Pope as well as to influential Irish and other Catholic leaders- including Joseph Kennedy- meant that US policy would eventually move in a more friendly direction.

However, the Catholic Church itself had some reservations about the more ideological type of Falangists who, truth be told, were wrecking the Spanish economy and making threatening noises against Portugal and Gibraltar. This benefited Franco who wished to purge people linked to the Axis powers, in favour of sycophants like José Ibáñez Martín (who promoted Opus Dei), or faceless technocrats, so that his own ascendancy might be unquestioned.

One other factor which may have some relevance is that the Spanish monarchy was seen as 'Liberal' and gentlemanly and it seemed Franco might be like Admiral Horthy- i.e. a reactionary as opposed to a full blooded Fascist. At the time, the British monarchy was still able to exert a little influence behind the scenes.

However, it was Cardinal Spellman- an early supporter of Sen. McCarthy- who was probably Franco's biggest diplomatic asset going forward.

  • That's an incredibly good insight on the matter! Where can I read a bit more about this?
    – fedorqui
    Commented Aug 24, 2018 at 6:26
  • 1
    D. Dunthorn's 'Britain and the Spanish anti-Franco opposition' gives one view point. American Catholic sources on Cardinal Spellman are not written to the same exacting academic standards. However, in light of subsequent developments, it does seem that Catholic support for Franco was important.
    – Vivek Iyer
    Commented Aug 24, 2018 at 16:47

Because the Allies didn't consider them a threat. Ideology was important, but it was secondary to security. If we define Fascist as right wing dictatorship, this could be applied to some of the countries Hitler annexed, and even some Allies. Austria was a right wing dictatorship, and so was Poland. So was Greece, Yugoslavia... whether these countries were Fascist is a moot point, but it's incoherent to call Franco fascist and not call Metaxas fascist.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Oct 5, 2016 at 13:50
  • Poland wasn't a dictatorship when the WW II started - there was no one man deciding, the parliament was democratically elected by the citizens. Even the minorities were represented quite strongly in the parliament with their party having approximately 12 % votes (25 out of 208): en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polish_legislative_election,_1935 . Józef Piłsudski was considered a dictator by many, but he died 4 years before the war began.
    – KjMag
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 20:48

There was no reasons to attack Spain. Franco's regime was not really an ally of Germany. Hitler spend enormous efforts trying to convince Franco to attack Gibraltar, and to no avail. One can say that Franco's extraordinary political skill saved England in the most dangerous time.

  • @KorvinStatmast: Not exactly: I am saying that there was NO REASONS to attack Spain.
    – Alex
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 20:12
  • On that we agree. Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 13:37

Spain was not "punished" because it never got on the wrong side of the Western Allies, even though the Franco regime was technically "Fascist".

It was highly offensive to the Soviet Union because of the participation of the "Blue" division on the Eastern front. The Soviets obtained diplomatic (but not military) sanctions against Spain at Yalta from England and America. But the Soviet Union was too far from Spain to punish her unilaterally.

America had no quarrel with Spain. Unlike Japan, which attacked American possessions in the future states of Alaska and Hawaii, and Germany, who sank American shipping off the East Coast, Spain had done nothing to directly threaten (North) America. Some Latin American countries had problems with Spain, but that counted for little.

Britain was the one country that had historically invaded and "punished" Spain, at least when it was governed by leaders Britain disliked, such as King Philip V or Joseph Bonapatre (both originally from France). But Spain refrained from the unpardonable "sin" of allowing German air and land units to use Spanish territory to attack Gibraltar. And Spain had acted as Britain's "stooge" in other ways, allowing that country to bribe her to stay neutral, as the OP pointed out.

  • When did this ever happen? "Britain was the one country that had historically invaded and "punished" Spain." Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 16:58
  • Pieter Geerkins: Peninsular War, for siding with Napoleon, Queen Anne's War (1707) vs. Louis XV and his grandson Philip, King of Spain. I'm going to leave out Drake's raid on Cadiz, since that wasn't an invasion.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 18:12
  • 1
    War of Spanish Succession I accept - Wellington's and Moore's campaigns in Spain are disputable, given that the Spanish populace supported them. Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 21:29
  • 1
    @Pieter Geerkens: Wellington's quarrel wasn't with "Spain," it was with Joseph Bonaparte. But Franco didn't "rise" to quite that level. And if the UK had chosen to attack Franco, about half the Spanish population (the Republican half) would have supported them.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 21:47

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.