At a meeting in Hendaye, Spain, Franco presented a list of demands to Hitler that the latter would have to meet in order for Spain to formally join the Axis. This included the right to capture and retain Gibraltar, overseas colonies like Morocco belonging to France, plus economic assistance in the form of food and fuel. Important in Franco's calculations was the fear of British (and later American) retaliation.

(During World War I, both sides tried to win the favor of Italy by offering her concessions in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and elsewhere, before Italy selected the "Allies" that is, the Triple Entente. This was in spite of the fact that Italy was initially allied with Germany and Austria-Hungary.) And they won Portuguese cooperation in World War II in the use of the Azores for anti-submarine operations.)

During World War II, did the Allies try to induce Franco to join them, even to the point at least trying to "low bid" the above-mentioned Franco demands by offering say, economic assistance but no colonies?

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    What do you base comments such as "Franco feared Hitler less than Churchill" on?
    – gktscrk
    Commented Dec 22, 2020 at 6:41
  • @gktscrk: Franco had a particular fear of British (and American) naval power, and wanted guarantees from Hitler for a minimum of naval (and ai)r protection. On the other hand, with Vichy France nominally independent until November 1942, he was not nearly as afraid of a German land invasion. Of course, the occupation of France gave Spain a border with HItler's holdings, but by that time, the Allies were in North Africa, and positioned to take advantage of any rift between them.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Dec 22, 2020 at 7:45
  • @MarkC.Wallace: The reason I asked this question is because the Entente successfully bribed Italy in World War I, even though it had originally started in the Triple Alliance. More to the point, so did the Central Powers, unsuccessfully, (using Austrian territory!). And Portugal became a "de facto" (not de jure) Ally. So why not try the same with Spain instead of leaving her out in the cold. I refrained from asking "why or why not" because it might be considered opinion based and confined myself to "did they or not?", which can be answered objectively. And I got several excellent answers.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Dec 24, 2020 at 17:25

3 Answers 3


Stanley G Payne's Franco and Hitler: Spain, Germany and World War II is a good study of Spain's relationships with Germany, and secondarily with the UK and USA, during the war.

The Allies never tried to get Spain to join their side, because they saw Franco and his supporters as basically sympathetic to Nazism (and Italian fascism). The Roosevelt administration became increasingly anti-Spanish and wanted to take a harder and harder line with Spain as the war progressed. Also, Spain would not have had much to contribute to their side.

They did want to keep Spain out of the war, so as to deprive Germany of more access to the Atlantic coast, and more manpower. The two ways of doing this were:

  • Spain was dependent on its trade with South America, and could only obtain oil from Allied-controlled sources. The Spanish were well aware of this, and it shaped their policy. Franco offered to join the war if he could be provided sufficient quantities of grain, oil and weapons, but Germany never had them available. If Hitler had been able to exploit Ukrainian grain production and Caucasus oil, he would have had the means to supply Spain, but this was never achieved.

  • The British had a programme of bribing Spanish generals (disguised as "contributions" from Spanish businessmen) to discourage Franco from joining the war. This was much cheaper than mounting a blockade.

The Allies did monitor and limit Spanish imports, to prevent significant re-export to Germany or Italy. This was a normal part of blockade rules at the time, although the Spanish naturally didn't like it.

The Germans were very willing, before they got bogged down in the USSR, to take Gibraltar for the Spanish, or to assist the Spanish in taking it. They seem to have misunderstood the Spanish feelings on the subject. They wanted to recapture the place themselves, and keep it. They were very doubtful that Germany would hand it over to them if the Wehrmacht took it, since it would have many of the same uses as it did for the British. They were also aware that as soon as the British knew there were German troops in Spain, the blockade would clamp down, and end their overseas trade.

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    Great answer: When it can be used, realpolitik is so much cheaper than blood for winning a war!
    – Mark Olson
    Commented Dec 22, 2020 at 15:51
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    > If Hitler had been able to exploit Ukrainian grain production and Caucasus oil, he would have had the means to supply Spain, but this was never achieved. // True, but I suspect if Hitler had those things, he wouldn't have needed Franco!
    – JasonB
    Commented Dec 22, 2020 at 19:35
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    I would disagree that they didn't want Franco to join because of ideology. It was more of practical concern, as Germans would likely overrun Spain.
    – rs.29
    Commented Dec 23, 2020 at 3:07
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    @rs.29: Also there was almost a "boxing clutch" in place between Spain and Portugal to keep each other out of the war in protection of the Iberian Peninsula. Commented Dec 23, 2020 at 3:59
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    @JasonB being able to capture Gibralter and close the western entrance to the Mediterranean sea would have been a major improvement in the strategic situation. At a minimum it would have massively increased the length of supply lines for British forces in Malta and Egypt and moderately increased the length of supply lines to India/etc by preventing transit of med. If the Suez is captured as well, either earlier as part of a general Germans-did-better-than-historically scenario, or in the immediate aftermath making the entire Med an Axis lake would greatly improve the Axis defensive position. Commented Dec 23, 2020 at 6:15

Short Answer

Not only is there no evidence that the Allies tried to 'bribe' Spain to declare war on the Axis, there is strong evidence that the Allies knew any such attempt would be futile for several reasons, not least among which were ideological issues and especially the extreme dislike that the ruling Spanish Falangists had for the Soviet Union.

Further, as Hitler had been unable to bring Spain into the Axis despite their ideological ties, Britain and America realistically had no chance of doing so. Also, a neutral Spain was advantageous to the Allies in that it lessened the likelihood of a German invasion of the Iberian peninsula, which would have posed a severe threat to Gibraltar (see also Why was Operation Felix cancelled?), as well as threatening neutral Portugal.

In 1945, there was an 'offer' (or rather, condition) that countries could not become members of the new United Nations unless they declared war on one or more Axis powers by March 1st, 1945 but, in Spain's case, this offer did not apply. Not until the very end of the war in Europe did Franco consider declaring war on an Axis power (Japan - details below); in the end, though, Spain remained neutral as the Allies made it clear that there was nothing for Spain to gain from declaring war on an Axis power so late in the war.


Prior to the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Britain and her empire were strong enough to keep Spain out of the war (by threatening to throttle the Spanish economy and invade the Canary Islands), but not strong enough even to force Franco away from a policy of pro-Axis neutrality (never mind to actually induce her to join Britain). Further, it was essential not to give Germany any compelling reason for invading Spain as

At the end of June 1940 German tanks had reached the border between France and Spain. Many in the British government thought the Germans had an open road to Gibraltar....

Source: Jerrold Michael Packard, 'The European neutrals in World War II' (thesis, 1989)

In addition, (thanks here to Pieter Geerkens for his comment) Portugal and Spain were keeping each other neutral through a series of treaties. Thus, even though Portugal was a long-term ally of Britain, the Portuguese remained neutral in WWII as it would not benefit the Allies if this balance on the Iberian peninsula were disturbed to the extent that Germany decided to intervene militarily.

The Allies were also aware that, following the Spanish Civil War, Franco's Spain was economically weak and thus reluctant to involve itself militarily on either side. This weakness also potentially made Spain both an easier target for invasion for Hitler and a weak ally for Britain and America. Thus,

The United States and Britain joined in a continuing effort to keep Franco’s Spain out of the War by providing essential exports like gasoline and grain to prop up the Spanish economy, which had been in a state of collapse since the end of the Spanish Civil War.

Source: Allied Relations and Negotiations With Spain

Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the ideological hatred that the Falangists had for the Soviets made it even less likely that Franco's regime would join the Allies. In fact, it led to the formation of the Blue Division, a volunteer force to fight the Soviets:

Recruiting began with a massive demonstration in central Madrid, during which Serrano declared that “Russia is guilty” of beginning the Spanish Civil War, murdering José Antonio, and otherwise contributing to the destruction of Spain’s economy and prospects. Tens of thousands of Falangists, university students, soldiers, and others wanted to join the unit...

Source: Wayne H. Bowen, 'Spain during World War II' (2006)

As far as Stalin was concerned, the feeling of hatred was mutual and America's subsequent entry in to the war did nothing to lessen Spanish-Soviet antipathy (although it did eventually help tip Spain towards a less pro-Axis stance. In fact, the possibility of bribing Spain to join the Allies was considered so remote that, at a series of meetings in January 1943,

the allies were prepared, at least on a planning basis, to consider their own invasion of Spain in order to ensure access to the Mediterranean.

Source: Allied Relations and Negotiations With Spain

The closest that Spain came to declaring war on an Axis power came near the end of the war when

...Franco briefly considered joining the Allies. The precipitating event was an attack on Spaniards by Japanese troops evacuating Manila in February 1945.... on February 12, 1945, several hundred Japanese soldiers fired on Madrid’s consulate in Manila, and also set several buildings on fire, in an attempt to strike at the more than one hundred people taking refuge there.

Source: Bowen

As a result,

The Spanish government...immediately withdrew its diplomatic protection over Japanese assets....Spain also lodged a very stern diplomatic protest at the Japanese embassy in Madrid, demanding moral and financial satisfaction for the crimes committed against Spanish citizens and property....Japan did not have answers for Spain, and so on April 12, Franco broke diplomatic relations between the two nations...

Source: Bowen

However, the British and American ambassadors in Madrid made it clear to the Spanish government that a declaration of war would not have any benefits for Spain. Further,

Franco decided against entering the war at this moment because he did not want to become an ally of the hated Soviet Union, expected to enter the military conflict against Japan soon after the German surrender.

Source: Bowen

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    What's missing is the serious continuing negotiations between Spain and Portugal to keep each other out of the war and, in that way, keep foreign troops out of the Iberian peninsula. Commented Dec 23, 2020 at 4:00
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    @PieterGeerkens Thanks for the prompt. Issue addressed in my edit. Commented Dec 23, 2020 at 9:03
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    Also in the mix were two US-UK differences. (1) The US never saw the point of a Med-first strategy, believing (correctly) that it was as much focused on preserving the British Empire (not a US strategic goal) as on defeating Germany. So saving Gibraltar was a lower priority. (2) A chunk of the US population (the Left, basically) hated Franco, making getting in bed with him or his regime fraught. FDR was too wily a politician to take on that baggage without a corresponding big benefit -- which you have nicely shown just wasn't there.
    – Mark Olson
    Commented Dec 23, 2020 at 13:38

Stick and carrot to keep Spain "friendly neutral"

To understand situation with Spain, we must first understand Franco and his motivation. Franco was Spanish nationalist, but not firmly beholden to any ideology. Franco put Spanish interests at first place. And for him, Spanish interests were primarily to rebuild country after devastating civil war, to make it and keep it united, and to avoid further unnecessary sacrifices. Franco was against communists, socialists and leftists of all kind, but only because he saw them as a cancerous influence and deadly for Spain.

With this in mind, we could easily understand Spanish moves during WW2. Franco welly well understood naval power of British and latter Americans, and its influence on Spanish maritime trade. He also understood German ground power, especially after fall of France. Therefore, he didn't outright rebuff German demands to join war, but issued a list of impossible demands, knowing full well that Germans could not accommodate him with fuel, food and even arms they lacked themselves. On the other hand, he would gladly have them eliminate Soviets (which did intervene in Spanish civil war at the side of his enemies) and even sent some volunteers in the form of Blue Division. At the same time, he found a lot of common ground with conservatives in Britain and latter in US. He found no use for Spain to wage war against them, and maintained communication with Churchill and other British figures throughout the war.

Now, from the Allied perspective and considering Spain, there were three defining moments. These are late 1940 after fall of France, second half of 1941 after the start of Barbarossa, and late 1943 especially after the capitulation of Italy. First was in a time when Britain stood alone and Spanish could join Axis to capture Gibraltar and act further in Africa. Second was in a time when many minor Axis power joined Germany and declared war on Soviet Union (and later by extension joined war against Britain and US) . Finally, later in the war and before invasion of France in 1944, there was a question how to keep Spain politically as far as possible from Germany, without Germans invading Spain. Question of German occupation of Spain was one of the main concerns for Allies. Theoretically, even if Spain joined Allies, they would likely become a burden and troops would have to be diverted to defend them. Due to the distance and terrain (Pyrenees in particular) Spain is not a good place to start invasion of Germany. On the other hand, Allies could not simply let Germans take it, because of Spanish ports (perspective submarine bases) and Spanish ore (wolfram in particular) .

In first part of the war, Allies definitely used carrot approach towards Spain. Churchill ordered millions of pounds to be paid to Spain. It is now alleged that this money went as bribes to Franco's generals (not Franco himself) but this is highly unlikely. More likely is the version that money went to state treasury - it would be difficult to keep bribes of so large magnitude unknown to Franco and his security apparatus. Stick begun to be applied only latter when Allied position and power improved. For example, with US entry into war, oil and other supplies were restricted to ten week reserve. There was increasing pressure to stop exports of wolfram to Germany and to withdraw forces from Eastern Front. Pressure increased in spring of 1944 to the point that Allies threatened complete blockade of Spain. At that point, German invasion of Spain was unlikely, and also Spanish entry in the war on losing Axis side. Therefore consideration for Spanish position was lessened, and they were presented with an ultimatum. Nevertheless, Churchill did give a positive note about them in House of Commons when Spain practically cut their exports to Germany.

It is interesting to note that after WW2 there was a talk about intervening in Spain and toppling Franco's regime. In both Britain and France in 1946 more left-leaning parties came to power. France closed border with Spain, UN refused to let them join etc ...France even issued a note to Britain and UK calling for formation of Spanish provisional government in exile. Of course, Soviet Union was traditionally hostile. But, do the war weariness and lot of economic problems in post-war world, this idea was not seriously entertained. As communism became main enemy of the West, view of Spain gradually improved and Franco kept ruling until his death.

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    (-1) The first two paragraphs seem to have been taking from a Franco apologetic. Franco was definitely NOT your usual wise benevolent leader who only had the best for the country in his mind, and who cleverly stayed out of the war with a list of impossible demands for Hitler. Actually, Franco tried at least three times to join the Axis, even after Stalingrad, but his generals were reluctant (mostly bribed by british) and Hitler wasn't interested.
    – Rekesoft
    Commented Dec 23, 2020 at 11:06
  • You make some good points: Realpolitik all around!
    – Mark Olson
    Commented Dec 23, 2020 at 13:32
  • @Rekesoft I'm afraid you are wrong. Franco was not benevolent, but he was very shrewd. He was not keen to join Axis even in 1940, not to mention 1942. Unlike Hitler or Mussolini, he was a professional military officer and knew very well logistical difficulties of war. For all his flaws, he did lead Spain almost optimally during WW2, making no major mistakes. Those who try to malign him today are usually leftist with no firm grasp of the facts.
    – rs.29
    Commented Dec 26, 2020 at 12:05
  • @rs.29 Do you mean Paul Preston has no firm grasp of the facts? It's his monumental biography of Franco I'm quoting for. He talks amply in his book on how Franco ever wanted to join the war and his famously impossible logistical demands were in fact quite reasonable - it was his imperial ambitions which frustrated the pact. Franco wanted many of the french african territories, but Hitler wasn't going to cross Pétain just to please Franco.
    – Rekesoft
    Commented Dec 27, 2020 at 9:52
  • @Rekesoft Preston and other historians are simply pandering to leftist media, public and academia. Think for yourself, Germans would be delighted to capture Gibraltar and close down Mediterranean for British and later Americans. Hitler would gladly give half of North Africa to Franco for that .
    – rs.29
    Commented Dec 28, 2020 at 8:22

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