1. Why weren't 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
    Commented Jan 21, 2013 at 3:44
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    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. Commented Sep 28, 2014 at 1:40
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    Hitler wanted an alliance with both Vichy France and Spain. Since he compromised when they requested stuff from him, neither was happy enough to become Hitler's ally. So basically the Germans didn't invade Spain since he considered them allies, but the allied powers didn't either as Spain was neutral.
    – Jake W
    Commented Apr 20, 2015 at 15:53

11 Answers 11


I can tell you why Spain was neutral. (Sorry, I don't know much about Portugal)

Germany and Italy helped Franco during the Spanish Civil War. When the Second World War started, Germany of 1939 was not very interested in Spain. As you know in May 1940 Italy joined the Axis while France was being conquered. After defeat the Germans prepared themselves to conquer the 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 a report to each branchesf the military: Army, Air Force and Navy. The 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).

Keeping in mind that most of the Navy (mainly sailors and NCO) remained loyal to the Republic Government, there were few experienced officers (Most officers were killed by loyal sailors and after the war purged, either executed, imprisoned or expelled from the Navy by Franco). So the report was made by a young officer (OF-4 equivalent) called Carrero Blanco. This started a friendship between Franco and him that eventually addressed him as president of Spain in 1973. Carrero Blanco had a different view from his colleagues from the Army and Air Force. The report from Carrero Blanco was signed by Salvador Moreno, head on Spanish Navy, on 11 November 1940 and 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 the Axis. Mainly the Report stated that Spain should remain neutral unless Suez was conquered by Axis. In that case it advised to attack Gibraltar and use Spanish Navy to blockade Gibraltar, assuming that Spain would lose Canary Islands.

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 to enter in the war in October of 1940. Franco managed to convince Hitler to delay such a 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 the 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 the 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 unacceptable conditions from 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 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 find an English version of the report.

UPDATE: Admiral Canaris, head of Abwehr (German military intelligence agency) advised Franco not to go to war. Canaris was an expert on Spain, he was fluent in Spanish and worked on intelligence in Spain between 1935-1936 creating a net of German spies. He was ordered by Hitler to assess the possibility of invading Gibraltar and convince Franco. Canaris had his own agenda and instead of following orders, he influenced Franco, by meetings with his top advisors (including Serrano Suñer that was Franco’s brother in law and soon was made foreign minister), not to go to war. Check this book for more info.

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    Great answer. I had heard a lot of this before, but the answer goes into more detail than I had seen.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Aug 4, 2015 at 14:08
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    Great answer, up until i saw your update, i was preparing to jump with a comment and say about Canaris, but you already did ^^ Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 10:03
  • Great answer indeed. Also good references for further reading. Thank you! Commented Oct 1, 2016 at 10:27
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    Franco was very grateful for the good advice received from Canaris. After the war, the widow of the Admiral took refuge in Spain, under the protection of the government. In the early 70s, she was still living in Madrid.
    – xxavier
    Commented May 15, 2017 at 9:42

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.

  • I added a very much needed link
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Aug 4, 2015 at 14:10

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
    Commented Feb 25, 2013 at 9:42

You're looking at few different questions.

1) Why did Franco not bring Spain into the war voluntarily in 1939-40?

a) Popular war fatigue: the Spanish people had been put through three years of a bloody fratricidal war. Remember, aerial bombardment of non-military targets such as capital cities was a brand-new military technique, and it was terrifying. Spain had just lived through a similar experience to the worst of the Western Front during the Great War, and even twenty years later the populations of France and Belgium had a visceral phobia of any repeat of war. Aside from the Communist Party, there was little stomach to continue the war even among the Republicans who faced death or exile if they lost. Put simply, in three years Franco had lacked the popular support to swiftly win his war, and there was no chance that support would suddenly appear, to bring Spain into Germany's foreign war.

b) Material strain: Related to the above point. By late 1939, Spain was shattered by three years of total war. Food shortages, disruption to commercial and industrial production, credit shortage with the loss of gold reserves to back its currency... Given that the Nationalists' justification for their insurrection had been the need to ensure stability and public order, they could hardly now prolong the disruption. The country needed a breathing space to rebuild. Germany was a willing trade partner (Spanish minerals were the only easily-available source for components of several modern armaments, including tank armour and explosives), but remaining neutral allowed Spain to trade these desired resources with both Germany and Britain/America, according to the war's changing circumstances.

c) Caution given the War's Outlook. Again, according to the war's changing circumstances. In 1939, it was not clear that the Wehrmacht would so easily steamroll the French Army. Due to circumstances, France had focussed on a large citizen army, Germany on a small elite one (eg, prioritizing tanks, commandos, warplanes --techniques that were politically unpopular or dismissed by experts in France). In 1914, France had fought German forces to a stalemate; in 1939, the French army was still considered the most prestigious and capable in Europe. It was precisely the rapid destruction of the French army which proved the superiority of a small but technologically advanced army over a large citizen mobilization; until that occurred in Spring 1940, it was not self-evident that Germany was a 'winner'. Yet Britain repelled the Luftwaffe in Spring 1940, and the US joined up in Late 1941. So all throughout the war, for a cautious pragmatist like Franco, it wasn't clear that joining Germany was the clever option. Instead, he sent a contingent of the most ardent Spanish anticommunists to fight the USSR --even then, this was as much a symbolic gesture to placate Hitler, and a pragmatic domestic decision to get rid of the most radical fascists who might trouble his internal new order, than from a sincere desire to get involved in a foreign war.

2) Why did Portugal not participate in the war? Salazar was in a very precarious position. Portugal had been a long-time British ally, and was very vulnerable to British naval power (particularly regarding its colonies). Making the wrong move would risk Portugal's independence --whether Britain stepped in to seize the Azores, Germany stepped in to secure the Portuguese mines necessary for the war effort, or Spain took advantage of the confusion to reassert control over Portugal. If anything, Salazar's neutrality was more sincere than Franco's, enforcing an embargo on either side's activities in Portuguese territory and banning Portuguese citizens from assisting one side or the other. This allowed him to play the war's changing circumstances to his advantage, looking the other way when US demanded naval use of the Azores later in the war while officially remaining neutral to avoid the German backlash.

3) Why did Hitler not invade Spain? Hitler had spent three years observing and expressing frustration with the inefficacy of the Nationalists' military prowess, both in terms of its military strength, and of its poor leadership. Frequently, the German Condor Legion had to act as a spearhead for Franco, rather than as the technical advisers they had been intended as (eg, at Guernica). Germany already had one useless ally overextending its resources and battlefronts in disastrous Balkan wars; it was already faced with defending a vast Atlantic seaboard from Denmark to the Pyrenees, and didn't need to expand its exposed borders further. Such an expansion of the German flank was particularly not worth the cost of the material 'sweeteners' that Franco demanded, knowing that it would sabotage the arrangement (colonies, food and fuel). Moreover, the one thing that Germany truly wanted from Spain in 1936, access to bases in Morroco, were no longer necessary now that Pétain had brought the French empire over to the Axis. All in all, Franco's neutrality was sufficient to preserve Germany's western Flank while it contained Britain and focussed on its real enemy, the USSR.

4) Why did Britain not invade Spain? That has been answered rather well above, centring on the threat to Britain's Mediterranean supply lines via the Straits of Gibraltar. Although it should be noted that later on, the Allies did spread disinformation claiming that they planned to land in Spain, as a means to distract from the Normandy Landings.

So at the end of the day, we shouldn't be surprised. The dictators of Spain and Portugal remained neutral forthe same as the liberal democracies of Switzerland and Ireland: in international affairs, domestic pressures/challenges tend to very often trump ideological affinity.

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    Also, Portugal was very keen to keep its colonial empire intact and weary of losing any (of the few) colonial possessions it had left to either side by joining the Axis or the Allied. WWI had a great cost to Portugal and Salazar economical ideas to bring progress to the country after the chaotic governments of the First Republic relied deeply on the colonies - the reason he tried so hard and so long to keep them later on even when it was clear Portugal was bound to lose them eventually.
    – aenariel
    Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 17:36
  • Spanish minerals were the only easily-available source for components of several modern armaments, including tank armour and explosives Do you have a source for this? If you're talking about Tungsten, I've never heard of it used in armor or explosives in WW2. It may have been used in armor-piercing rounds from tanks, but armor can be done with hardened steel. As for explosives, never heard of Tungsten used in those either. I would think it was way too rare for that. A simple steel casing works fine and makes great shrapnel.
    – DrZ214
    Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 2:20

For Germany it was unnecessary, they weren't going to be a threat and would be a useless ally. Occupying Spain even under friendly terms would cost men and equipement. Essentially the same as Vichy France.

With Italy and France you already have all the Mediterranean bases you need. The North Atlantic convoy routes are further away from Spain than bases in France and you have further to move supplies from Germany. At the time the railways in France and Spain didn't match so it would be difficult to move large amounts of fuel/weapons/parts overland and shipping them means taking them through the English channel !

For the allies it's a long way to go to land an invasion force and then you have to get them accross the full length of a hostile country before crossing a mountain range and then having another hostile country (France) to get across. It's very easy to bottle up a army in the Iberian peninsular - as Wellington found.

  • And on the other side, Spain was still recovering from the Civil War and while the Nazis might be considered their natural allies they stood to gain very little if they won and to lose a lot if they lost. Commented Jan 21, 2013 at 20:56

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".


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.


There were, believe it or not, limits to the numbers of men and equipment that Hitler had available - and in the event he took on vastly more than Germany could cope with anyway. Armoured divisions by the score simply disappeared into the frozen wastes of the Russian winter. After the autumn of 1941 German resources, and availability of oil, were always stretched.

Mountainous Spain would have been a difficult country to hold as an invader, in any event, and since Hitler had a compliant ally in Franco, the necessity was not there. Remember that the Germans didn't even attempt to hold the whole of France. Spain had no oil, as did Russia and the Middle East. Nor did she threaten Germany.

But Hitler's biggest strategic mistake (apart from underestimating the Russian winter) has been seen by some as his not having taken Gibraltar, Malta and Cyprus early in the war before Britain got its act together.

Had he done that he may well have won Egypt and opened up a route into the oilfields of Arabia. It would also have prevented the Allies being able to invade Italy, which campaign was tying up huge numbers of German divisions at the time of the Normandy invasion.


Pretty much all was said...but one thing: - Franco offered Hitler to invade Portugal for him, this was a way to make Hitler forget to invade the all peninsula...but Hitler did not accept. Hitler did have plans to invade Portugal and Spain later on but circunstances did not gather for it. As for Portugal, it foulled Hitler as much as it could, iron and volframium were sent to Germany for war industry, but only in the ammounts secretly negotiated with the allies to prevent Nazi agression. For the allies, Portugal sent thousands of supplies, pretty much all combat rations for allied troops were provided by Portugal (Canned food of portuguese huge canned industry of that time). The other thing Portugal did was to serve as an escape route for jews. Jews and political prisioners would flee to occupied France or Paris, then get a visa for Portugal (millions were provided by consulates).


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    Sources? Citations? if this interests someone, where would they go to find more?
    – MCW
    Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 19:29

The only thing I would add to the comments above would be Hermann Goring's very frank testimony at the Nuremberg Trials where he stated his belief and the fact that he had argued for an attack on Gibraltar as opposed to Russia in June, 1941.

It should be remembered that the only extant Nation and People was at War with after the Fall of France was Great Britain and that the German Air Force had failed to defeat Great Britain in the year between June, 1940 and June, 1941. That meant any invasion of Russia would mean fighting two adversaries instead of one.

Neither Spain nor Portugal threatened Germany in any way nor as with Napoleon could Great Britain "bleed the Empire white" so to speak. Portugal was a hotbed of intrigue during World War 2 as well...a place second only to Switzerland as far as illicit money transfers took place.

After the rather remarkable success of the Wehrmacht's invasion of the Balkans just prior to Barbarossa it is rather odd they didn't follow it up with an attack on Gibraltar.

Germany didn't need 300,000 men to "hold down Norway" either so it is interesting to posit an attack on Gibraltar being a prelude to an attack on Great Britain.

We'll never know because everyone blamed Goring and then he got executed.

When you look at some of the Nazi's who didn't get executed Goring does in fact stand out. It's not like the German Air Force was guarding the Concentration Camps and then bombing the prison...err, "detainees"... if they got out of line.

That sure wasn't true of the OKW or the German Navy.

" Dr Mengele" doesn't sound like a very German name either so I do wonder just how "neutral" Spain and Portugal truly were too.

Only Great Britain defended Malta...from beginning to end I might add.

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    Goring was not executed. He took cyanide the night before he was due to be hanged.
    – WS2
    Commented Jun 23, 2016 at 18:30

Allways, is said why not Spain join in the ww2.

First of all, the principal history dates that road Spain to the Civil War:

1º. 1930-31: A transition of spain, similar to the modern 70s. After Spanish army resigned from the power the politicians moderated by the king started to deal Spain´s Future. King favour to reestablish the Constitutional monarchy reforming the previous one and the same time recover the relation UK. However, the politicians were divided: the Conservatives and moderate-liberals supported King´s idea but Left-liberals and Socialist chose the Republic. The Spanish King no seeking any agreement decided to exile in order to avoid a civil war( a great mistake because the army´s angry grew enourmously)

2º. 1931-1936: At the republic the two sides hate was growing but in 1936 the two sides extremists parties (Falangists and communists) started growing in each sectors provocking even killings in both sides.

3º. 1936-39: The army seeking that the Republic was a chaos made coup d´etat. Howewer, the army also divided in two sides so the Civil War started and each political sector supported one sector of the armed forces. Nationalist Spain: Politically, a conservative, moderate-liberal and Falangists coalition but with a military leadership. Republican Spain: Political leadership of left-liberal, socialist and communists coalition.

What was Spain in Franco Era?? Fascist or Conservative?? Depends of Franco wanted. The Great majority of Nationalist Spain,in reality, wanted a Constitucional monarchy, however, nor King of Spain went back home, not UK (the exiled house of Spanish Royal family) involved on the conflict . At the end, Franco decided everything because was the chosen one to be the leader (The most decorated young general of Spanish army) and he didnt want to leave the power because he didnt trust the politicians, in his opinion, the guilties of Spain´s problems.

On the first period the diferent ideology sectors in Franco´s Spain were in tensions, no one gained the possibility to convince Franco but the General in order to avoid tensions with Hitler grew the Falangists at the power. It was not until the end of ww2, when the UK and USA started involving in Spain but Franco mainteined strongly at the power, but his loved Spain was in ruins and he needed friend countries to win popularity and in cold war, with US arrive, take advantage of the situation. He renounced definitively the falangists on the power in order to please allies and the conservatives with moderate-liberals recover the influence and at the same time the Spanish king was named a successor, the monarchy was reestablished.

The political parties that supported Franco were:

Monarchists as liberal as conservative: Neutrality in the war.

CEDA as a conservative alliance: Neutrality in the war.

Falange: They seek to improve and join with Fascist/Nazi regimes.

The only thing that united them is the anti-communism.

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    -1 because: a) wall of text, b) inconsistencies "the army seeking that the Republic was a chaos made coup d'etat. However, the army also divided in two sides" and c) outright lies "he didnt want to leave power because he didnt trust the politicians" (poor, poor power hungry dictator), "to avoid tensions with Hitler he grew Falangists at the power" Franco used Falangists to get power but got them under his control as soon as he could, by 1939 they were just a political pretexte under his control but would continue to serve in that position for most of his dictature.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Apr 18, 2015 at 16:07
  • Im telling the truth and Im not joking. Franco did what he want until allies pressure him to change his policy. Commented Apr 19, 2015 at 14:41
  • The republic was in chaos. the governments take long no more than two years after the elections, social revolutions, killings, catalan revolution etc... Spain was in real Chaos. All things that Franco made only the coup d´etat but it was one of group of generals. The support UK to send a plane to transport him to Marocco. Commented Apr 19, 2015 at 14:41
  • The UK was involved in the conflict secretly but ended without its real plan that was to reestablish the monarchy in Spain. Franco made what he want because he didnt have any rival in the army. Commented Apr 19, 2015 at 14:48
  • In 5 years, 3 general elections is a disaster. Spanish Republican history ended always in disaster. Only the monarchy had always success. The first republic the fight between federalism and centralism. The second one, the catalan nationalism and the socialist revolution. Only with the monarchy, the governments were moderate and gave stability to Spain. Of Course, better to be liberal than absolutists. Commented Apr 19, 2015 at 15:01

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