The human factor: covert action, from insurance to strategy. A study on Spain’s non-intervention in the Second World War

Dans cette remarquable étude, Adriana Sahagun-Canet décrit l’opération au cours de laquelle les services britanniques détournèrent Franco de la possibilité d’entrer en guerre aux côtés des puissances de l’Axe. Elle dresse un état de l’art scientifique complet et propose une fine analyse de cette victoire stratégique pendant longtemps mal documentée. L’auteure de cette étude est diplômée d’un Master Sécurité Internationale de Sciences Po, concentration Intelligence Studies, et prépare actuellement le concours d’entrée au corps diplomatique espagnol.



Bribes: A study on Spain’s non-intervention in the Second World War


“Our worst enemies here are not the ignorant and the simple, however cruel; our worst enemies are the intelligent and corrupt.”  –Graham Greene, The Human Factor



While intelligence failures populate most of the literature on security, few academics focus on its successes. A property of good intelligence is that it is silent, and often has the effect of preserving or creating a collective sense of normality((1)). Well-kept secrets mean historians will focus on the events that ‘make’ history, rather than speculate over those that never took place. But looking at how the status quo is enforced, sometimes underhandedly, can be important where significant historical outcomes are concerned and conventional explanations of policy fall short of the mark. This is the case with Spanish non-intervention in the Second World War.

As natural ally to the Axis powers who had helped Franco in his rise, his failure to join them in the war can seem anomalous((2)), particularly given his adhesion to the Anti-Comintern Pact in February 1939 and the pressures that Hitler would come to exert on him, both at, and after Hendaye((3)). The question of why he never fully yielded to those pressures remains much debated, some pointing to the internal struggles within his own government and others, to Allied economic warfare, which limited his capabilities considerably((4)). The argument advanced by neo-francoist historians((5)), interpreting ‘passive resistance’ as a sign that Franco never really wanted to join the war, is extremely weak given the abundance of available evidence to the contrary. There was little concern by the new dictator for the welfare of his war-ravaged and famished people, and Spain teetered on the edge of belligerence for the better part of the 1940-44 period. During this time, negotiations with Germany on the terms of entry continued almost throughout((6)). Yet accounting for their failure involves looking into the character of both Franco and Hitler in great depth, as well as into the many circumstantial elements connected to their mutual exchanges. This cannot be done without acknowledging the vacuum that the area of covert involvement represents, which leaves an array of operations that can easily be presumed but are difficult to ascertain or evaluate.

However, the 2013 declassification of archives has shed new light on the importance of covert action in shaping Second World War outcomes, and has paved the way for further analysis of British strategy.

Beside a cluster of mostly limited operations carried out in Spain by the War Office, the Secret Intelligence Service and the Special Operations Executive((7)), one large-scale bribery scheme has drawn the attention of academics. Termed SOBORNOS in all capitals by Viñas (henceforth, Bribes), it is referred to in much of the correspondence –though never by name– between Churchill, Samuel Hoare and Alan Hillgarth((8)), as well as a limited number of dignitaries privy to the operation. The idea was to bribe prominent generals in Franco’s close entourage with a view to containing the possibility of his entry. Juan March, a known Majorcan banker and conspirator, was also to play a crucial role in the unfolding. The operation would be deemed a success of high strategic value.

The case has recently effected changes on the otherwise well-trodden territory of Second World War historiography. But in itself, bribery does not constitute a particularly innovative or groundbreaking approach to foreign policy. It is an extremely common form of covert action, and in some cases the covert correlate of economic warfare, particularly where the beneficiary is the decision-making class of a non-democratic country((9)). It is extremely rare, however, for such dealings to come to light with so substantial a volume of evidence. This presents a unique opportunity for a deeper understanding of this particular covert breed, ‘softer’ than militarised forms of subversion and more actionable than intelligence collection alone.

This paper will dispense with the day-to-day details of the exchanges on the operation, which have been covered extensively in the work of Viñas. It will focus on the place it acquired in the British approach to the Spanish theatre, initially as a form of insurance and eventually as a full-blown strategy. The study will evaluate the how and why of the operation’s perceived success, I. through the analysis of its origins; II. of its structure and conditioning factors; III. of its execution. The main argument advanced is that the human factor, or more importantly, British understanding of it, was the determining ingredient to success. Bribes is an excellent illustration of how cultural dispositions and intelligence mechanisms work together to form the basis of a successful covert strategy.

I.       The inception of Bribes and the need for it:

Understanding Franco’s motives

a)      Churchill’s mistake and what he should have seen

The need for sustainable guarantees to Spanish neutrality was automatically recognised in Britain, albeit not accorded imminent priority. Samuel Hoare, who enjoyed no particular notoriety and was deeply mistrusted by the Head of the Foreign Office, Alexander Cadogan((10)), was pressed on Churchill as a personal request by the Earl of Halifax((11)). Perhaps due to the political differences between Hoare and Churchill, and the more urgent concerns coming in from the Western Front, his posting to Madrid was seen by and large as a way to dispose of him conveniently. When the appointment was eventually made, he was sent, in full cynicism, as ambassador on “special mission”. It was only through close collaboration with Captain Alan Hillgarth, British naval attaché and Churchill’s true ‘inside man’ in Spain, that the two would succeed in bringing “real war-work of great strategic urgency”((12)) to the frontline of British concerns. Bribes began to be put together almost immediately after Hoare’s arrival, but it would take some time before the Prime Minister accorded it real prominence. The reason behind this is that Churchill, like most members of his cabinet, had mistakenly seen in Franco’s neutrality a sense of pragmatism, and recognition of Spain’s limitations.

“General Franco’s policy throughout the war was entirely selfish and cold-blooded. This narrow-minded tyrant only thought about keeping his blood-drained people out of another war.”((13))

The remark shows perhaps a fair understanding of his character, but Churchill failed to see that war was precisely what Franco wanted, provided Hitler was successful and he could reap the spoils in Northern Africa. It was the generals, more attuned to the state of the country’s military affairs, and most likely amenable to corruption, that could provide a counterweight to the imperial dreams of the new dictator. But in 1939, and for the following two years, Spain would only orbit closer to the powers of the Axis.

The conduct of Franco in the face of overt Allied pressures should already have indicated that he was not a ‘reasonable’ man when it came to imperial ambitions. He was impervious to the onslaught of economic warfare, and to the carrot-and-stick tactics of the Allies. Among the coercive economic policies they enforced, a complex system of navicerts((14)) had been established that could be used to smother the Spanish economy or, Franco willing, to salvage it, but it required dexterity. Placing too hard a stranglehold on the economy could push Spain to pool its remaining assets into the efforts of the Axis, with a view to recovering through conquest what it could not obtain through commercial avenues((15)). Too few restrictions, on the other hand, could fuel Spanish capabilities in the event it did partake in the war, which was made more likely if the economy showed signs of recovery. It was therefore imperative that Spanish trade remain controlled, but that negotiations be initiated early, and on the condition of Spanish neutrality. This would provide Franco a viable path to economic revival, and one that dissuaded him from pursuing the other, less-desirable alternative((16)).

But Franco chose to bypass this particular Gordian knot. The years of ‘great temptation’((17)) were accompanied by his refusal to acknowledge the economic position of the country he was leading and the fact that the Allies, with their blockade, had a high card. With a ‘misguided sense of optimism,’((18)) he imposed import-substitution and price-fixing as a way to avoid depending on foreign investment((19)). The effect was to dismantle any positive benefits that the pursuit of neutrality could have, thereby keeping an open door to intervention. He would fuel irrational hopes of economic revival through autarchy while effectively pushing the country into a greater dependence on Germany. Thus, the British offers to commence negotiations, on the 24th April, 7th June and 18th August 1939, went unanswered((20)). And when Pétain and Peterson visited Beigbeder, then Foreign Minister, on September 3rd, presenting their governments’ written statements of commitment to Spanish neutrality, Franco refused to receive them((21)).

This shows that the British were initially disoriented by Franco’s claim of neutrality. It was thought unlikely that he would subject his country to another war so soon after coming to power, and with such limited capabilities. This would in turn limit the scope and the importance of Bribes in its infancy to the reduced attentions of a secondary guarantee. The operation would eventually begin to gain traction, however, with the realisation that Franco’s economic policy was symptomatic of a greater threat.

b)      The real threat to British interests

While Churchill seemed to view the operation as a way to grease the engines of an already-established neutrality in Spain, Hoare and Hillgarth, (without wishing to alarm the Foreign Office)((22)), defended it as a matter of absolute necessity((23)). They had understood the fundamental risk that existed in the temperament of the Caudillo: though his military background and statesmanship brought forth a degree of caution, evidenced in the stark conditions of entry that would exasperate the Führer profusely((24)), Franco was not in touch with the realities of the country he was leading, or indeed the capacity of his army to withstand another war. Years later, general Kindelán would remember him as:

“Sly, more than he was perverse, and the assimilator of ideas more than their manufacturer. A fear of heights could be perceived in him because, like climbers who ascend in excess of their possibilities, he was dizzied by the altitude he had gained with only limited capabilities.”((25))

This disconnect with reality made the dictator, like so many before him, apt to making rash decisions if his pride could be satisfied by the recognition of greater powers. If Hitler had yielded during the visits of Serrano Suñer((26)), or with Franco at Hendaye((27)), the pact for entry might have been expedited in a matter of days((28)). More importantly, Franco and Serrano had requested of Hitler a secret ‘letter’, promising the colonies in Northern Africa that Franco had long yearned for. But Hitler’s concern that the Spaniards would be unable to preserve its secrecy((29)), thereby inflaming the opposition to Vichy in those territories, made him reticent to provide it. Had he done so, Franco and Serrano would have had– in their coveted ‘letter’– an argument of weight, to convince the more hesitant generals, Aranda, Kindelán and Orgaz((30)), not to waive the North African bounty on considerations of non-entry.

This episode illustrates four items of importance:

  1. that the position of Spain was much more volatile than the British had originally anticipated;
  2. that Franco’s main motivation was the fulfilment of his imperial ambitions;
  3. that the support of the majority of his generals was a condition sine qua non for his entry; and
  4. that Hitler, like the British, believed the Spaniards to be unreliable when it came to matters of discretion.

Points 3 and 4 relate to the configuration of Bribes, and the way in which the funds would be distributed. As such they will be treated later. Points 1 and 2 are the key to understanding the origins of Bribes and the reason it became a necessity: The nature of Franco’s character represented a much greater threat than had been imagined, and his ambitions were of a kind that could not easily be dissuaded by diplomatic means.

c)       How Bribes took-off from slow beginnings

This gradually came to be acknowledged in Whitehall as evidence that overt policies, and economic warfare in particular, were insufficient to guarantee Spanish neutrality. This was in no small measure due to the insistence of Hoare, whose constant reports back to headquarters reminded the Prime Minister that ‘the Spanish situation’ could deteriorate very quickly, at a time when Gibraltar was gaining increasing importance in the designs of both Britain and Germany. In parallel, the efforts of Section D of the SIS in Spain had yielded relatively few results in the early days of the war((31)), and would come to be seen as a hindrance by Hoare and Hillgarth((32)). SOE activity, too, was extremely limited in Iberia, a fact too frequently ascribed to stubbornness on behalf of Hoare, who “refused even to consider the plans to contact opposition groups and organise an armed resistance.”((33)) The reason for his obstinacy, of course, was the fear that strengthening Franco’s opposition might undo the efforts of those involved in Bribes, which required him to remain in power.

When echoes reached Britain of Operation Felix, a plan by the Germans to pass through the Spanish mainland and seize the Rock of Gibraltar((34)), purportedly with Franco’s consent((35)), the strategic value of his neutrality climbed substantially. It became necessary to bolster Bribes, as a means of limiting Franco’s exposure to any incentives offered by the Germans, and to counter the tantalising calls to war of the Falange.

For the British administration, this was not an easy process. Though the official go-ahead had been given early on, the operation and its support from London would get off to a rocky start. The constant reassurances of Hoare and Hillgarth that “things were going well”((36)) could not be taken at face value, and there were still those who were sceptical of the viability of the scheme. On the 19th June 1940, Hoare had received a letter from lord Halifax, qualifying the operation as nothing short of “quixotesque” and stating that Italian entry required reconsideration of the investment promised((37)). With the operation already on shaky ground, Beigbeder was replaced in October as Foreign Minister by Serrano, a politician of the Falange who was notorious for his belligerent attitudes. This was a considerable blow to those who had turned Beigbeder from supporter of the Falange to moderate anglophile((38)), and the beginning of the much greater problem that would be the containment of Serrano Suñer. Eventually, however, Bribes began to gain traction. By 1943, it had become the only major covert operation on-going in Spain. This was formalised in the ‘Special Operations Executive Directive for 1943’, which instructed, for the Iberian peninsula, that “no action should be taken in either of these countries [Spain and Portugal] other than the maintenance of your existing contacts and communications into Axis-controlled countries…”((39))

The operation had gone from a minor measure that endorsed a policy of neutrality presumed stable, to gaining increased momentum in 1941, when negotiations between Franco and Hitler began to reveal the true nature of Franco’s ambitions, and the occupation of France seemed to tip the balance in favour of Germany. Money began to pour into the scheme at alarming rates: in June 1940, an initial figure of half a million pounds, and an additional two million dollars to be deposited in New York for the Bank of Portugal in Lisbon((40)), were calculated to cover the cost. This would be reviewed over the coming two to three months if the operation were deemed successful. (In comparison, 20,000 pounds were devoted to supporting Charles de Gaulle the same month, though subventions to his cause would increase exponentially thereafter)((41)). By 1944, the cost of Bribes amounted to 6.5 million pounds sterling((42)).

But it is in the structure of Bribes that the real scope of the operation can be gauged. British understanding of Spanish attitudes, broadly and within the workings of their government, would play a crucial role in its configuration. And the discipline of the British modus operandi, in contrast to the hectic atmosphere of the Palacio del Pardo, would reap solid results from an otherwise precarious and uncertain environment.

II.      The structure and mechanics of Bribes:

Understanding the generals, and their culture

a)      Targeting and feasibility

Point 3 in of section I. b) related to the importance of Franco’s generals as the backing he needed for intervention. It was not difficult for the British to grasp that even a dictator could do very little in a war without the support of his army, and that per se, the generals were prime targets for the buying of influences. Himself a military leader, Franco’s support system was not, for the most part, to be found in his political cabinet. Barely consulting with his Ministers on policy at all((43)), let alone foreign policy, it was the generals he relied on when it came to deciding on matters of governance, and he submitted the other departments to the directives established with, and by, the army((44)).

Family was to be the exception. Nicolas Franco, then holding a political position as ambassador to Spain in Portugal, and Serrano Suñer, were to effect a decisive influence during the post civil war years. Serrano was Franco’s brother-in-law, popularly dubbed el cuñadísimo, and was among the more prominent and germanophile politicians in office((45)). And despite the military platform sustaining him, Franco was not exempt from the political pressures and intrigues that might threaten his rule– and on which he would keep a close eye. Nicolas Franco was to be one of the principal beneficiaries of Bribes, while Serrano, too ideologised to be approached, would have to be alienated from power.

Franco was also well aware that an excessive inclination toward the Falange, supported by Italy and Germany, might cost him the favour of the monarchist and moderate generals, who had won him the civil war. Too little, on the other hand, might induce Serrano to conspire against him. The tensions between the monarchists and the Falange were profound, so much so that in May 1941, Hoare received intelligence that Serrano may indeed be working with Germany to depose Franco((46)), and that the senior generals were plotting to have Serrano assassinated((47)). More than “the perfect field for covert action”((48)), these divisions meant Bribes could effectively impose a majority-rule against Serrano, whose intent, with or without Franco, was to pursue the alignment of Spain and Germany in the war((49)). But to Franco and his dreams of Spanish greatness, the war was also the solution to ease the tensions under a unified banner((50)). The authors of Bribes would have to concentrate on creating sufficiently strong an opposition to restrain him.

It would of course require the generals to be corruptible. In 1939, the vast majority were quite partial to German influence and open to intervening((51)), their dislike of the Falange notwithstanding. Those who voiced reservations often did so half-heartedly, probably because the personal gains of a war waged on their own turf paled in comparison to those that could be sought abroad. Their experience had shown them: war was the road to power and money.

“To the military victors, what mattered was the exercise of power with an iron fist and the enjoyment of the few privileges that a state in ruins could afford them.”((52))

Alan Hillgarth, who had spent the years of the ‘uncivil’ war in Majorca((53)), had understood that if the personal pockets of the generals could be topped by a secure source, they may no longer wish to engage in risky military ventures to fill them. The pragmatism that Churchill had mistakenly ascribed to Franco, could in fact be found in cruder form in the mentality of his generals. When Hoare received notice from Hillgarth that “their friend”((54)) had managed to secure the collaboration of a few highly placed names, Nicolás Franco, Varela and Galarza((55)) included, this instinct proved ostensibly on target.

b)      How the Spanish theatre would condition the operation

The feasibility of Bribes established, the British would turn to its planning. It would have to be conditioned by guiding principles, drawn from the two main caveats that arose from operating in the Spanish theatre. The first would relate to point 4 of section I. b), which intimated Hitler’s line of thought on the lack of discretion of the Spanish. British instincts, too, pointed to the notion that the Spanish had little sense of secrecy((56)). Hoare had mentioned it in his early correspondence with Churchill on the country’s state of affairs and the delicacy that would be required in not furnishing Spanish intermediaries with any information that could thereafter be used by the Germans((57)). The impression would prove more or less accurate, when a number of the beneficiaries of Bribes committed indiscretions among their ranks and Beigbeder, not directly implicated in the operation but very much in favour of non-intervention, declared openly that “there was no further need for secrecy because neutrality was gathering increased support anyway.”((58))

  1. It was therefore paramount that the generals knew as little as possible about the nature of the operation and its inner workings. The vast majority would know only of the money they were to receive, and what was asked of them in return.

This idea was compounded by another cultural hallmark, issued from the echoes of popular opinion. The Spaniards were seen as a proud and sovereign people, who resorted to no one for support, looked on foreign powers with acrimony and sought greatness only through independence. Many blamed foreign intervention for the prolongation of the Spanish Civil War((59)). This was the breeding ground on which Franco would base his policy of autarchy, but which the ADE (Spanish Democratic Alliance) would also duly exploit. Under the slogan “España para los Españoles” [Spain for the Spanish]((60)), the ADE was a British covert organisation headed by Spanish republicans in exile((61)).  It was to ensure neutrality was maintained, if not by Franco, through the instatement of the opposition. No one in the country, but a select few, would know of the origins of the movement, which would be seen to take a strong and patriotic stance against foreign involvement. The ADE would be progressively dismantled((62)), but the statement was valid for all covert efforts: British meddling would be perceived as an affront to Spanish pride, and would turn any possible assets against the Allies. And the generals, probably more inclined to accept money from the Germans, would be more at ease if the payment in service of their own country came from a mysterious benefactor.

  1. It was necessary that the origin of Bribes be concealed in its entirety. Britain would have to work through an intermediary.

c)       Structure and opacity

This intermediary was to be none other than Juan March, the obscure character of whom will be treated later. Suffice it here that his role would be pivotal to the success of the operation, which he orchestrated with Hillgarth but carried out alone. Three strata would dictate the distribution Bribes, and the knowledge that could be accessed at each level. The bottom, or third layer would be the ‘ground personnel’, who would know nothing at all of Bribes and would be paid by their superiors, (those of the second layer) to draw reports on the scarcity of Spain’s capabilities and her inability to face entering another war. This was perhaps the most straightforward level of operation, and one that would not foreseeably encounter too many difficulties, for “who would refuse to obey the instructions of superiors, which, in addition, would be processed and amended through officially regulated channels?”((63))

The second layer bore a few names of renown: Orgaz, Moreno, Alonso, Muñoz Grandes((64)), Asensio Cabanillas, Solchaga, Queipo de Llano((65)). These would correspond to point 1 of section b) and would know only of the money, handed down by those in the first layer, and the request. They would be paid by a “Spanish finance group that wished to spare the country the horrors of another war”((66)), which may have been imprudently faithful to the true identity of March. Perhaps he felt that the best lies were those closest to truths. Or perhaps the only secret truly worth preserving was that the money stemmed from a foreign government.

Regardless, it was the first layer alone that was to know of his involvement. It corresponds to point 2 of section b) and boasted only five members, all within Franco’s inner circle. The names were Nicolas Franco, Varela, Aranda, Galarza, and Kindelán((67)). The latter three were well-known monarchists of the regime, despite Galarza being General Secretary of the Falange. Varela was part of the Junta for National Defense, which gave him access to the secret plans of Franco((68)), and Nicolás Franco, still holding considerable influence over his brother, was reputedly one of the “most corrupt figures of the period.”((69)) More importantly to British effects, he was a strong opponent of Serrano’s.

No one, out of the twelve generals and unnumbered military that were to participate, would know of British involvement. March would stand alone at the top of the pyramid, his connections to the side of the Allies as obscure as the rest of his dealings and activities.

An important side note: there is some uncertainty over exactly how many generals were included in the original list of Bribes. Ferrer states a figure of thirty((70)) on the basis of Garcés, whose account dates to 1996, while Viñas finds it difficult to identify more than twelve, based on the 2013 declassfication. It is safest to presume that this is closer to the real figure, particularly in view of Preston’s remark that “only about a dozen generals stood up to Franco resolutely on the matter of entry in the Second World War.”((71)) If this statement is accurate, it is a roaring testament to the effectiveness of Bribes in securing Spanish neutrality. And its prime characteristic was the complete absence of links– but March –between the source of the money and its ultimate destination.

III.    The effectiveness of Bribes:

Understanding Juan March

a)      The human factor: an obscure person of interest

Classed seventh wealthiest man in the world by 1943((72)), the figure of Juan March has aroused the awe and perplexity of his biographers. The absence of traces in official records of his dealings, as well as the inexistence of a personal archive((Mercedes Cabrera, “¿Una leyenda? Juan March (1880-1962).” Cahiers de civilisation espagnole contemporaine, no. 8, 2012, p.5: No document bearing his handwriting has been identified to date, except those few that are held in judicial archives, whose authorship March had always denied.)) has shrouded the life of the Mediterranean magnate in mystery. “Robber baron”, notorious contrabandist, conspirator and “pirate”, March had schemed with both the British and the Germans in the First World War((73)), had later dealt with Mussolini’s Italy and had financed the Dragon Rapide that would fly Franco in from the Canary Islands for the coup of 1936((74)). Understandably by 1939, there was some debate between the British Admiralty and the Foreign Office as to whether or not he could be trusted. Admiral Godfrey had been approached by March in September, indicating he was in a position to cut the supply lines to German submarines, and offering to provide information on the use that these were making of the Spanish harbours((75)). He also wished to acquire a German shipping line, which he would place at the disposal of the British if they agreed to fund him((76)). When asked how he would get around Germany’s restrictive clause on buyers trading with enemy powers, he replied that his captains were “well-versed in outwitting the enforcement of maritime conventions.”(( [Translated from Spanish] Public Record Office T 236/6154, in Ferrer, 2010, p.381.)) Immediately, reports from the Foreign Office qualified him as an untrustworthy source, “a scoundrel of the deepest dye”((77)) that would turn the tables on the British as soon as his financial interests required it. Thus, the deal that Godfrey had relayed was abandoned after much bureaucratic infighting, but the idea of collaborating with March remained afloat.

Where the original proposal for Bribes was born is unclear, though it has been suggested that March himself may have been its author((78)). Given his efforts in 1936 to outlay funds to the military conspiracy abroad((79)), and his attempts to convince Franco in 1939 to reopen commerce with Britain, it is not an unreasonable conjecture. He had contemplated, with Hillgarth, the possibility of stirring up the generals against Franco pre-emptively((80)). But it was decided more suitable to British interests that Franco be the one to enforce neutrality, and the plan for Bribes from the British end did not provide for this option. However, there is still some uncertainty over whether or not March actually pursued this course when dealing with the generals later on. If true, it serves to reinforce the impression that March worked only for himself and toward his own interests.  He was also in the habit of making simultaneous offers to the Germans and the British, seeking the highest bidder unbeknownst to either party((81)).

Hillgarth, who had known March since his days in Majorca, duly warned his superiors of the risks involved in including him: “The second drawback is the character of Senor March. It would be a mistake to trust him an inch.”((82)) But the British needed to operate through a well-connected intermediary in Spain, whose knowledge of the black market and experience in the contraband of currency would prove essential to Bribes. Hillgarth’s advice was to proceed with caution: “As long as that is kept in mind and every possibility of trickery proved against, it need not in itself prevent the scheme from going through.”

Still, the Foreign Office expressed reservations((83)). Churchill had never met March, but he trusted Hillgarth implicitly. In a report addressed to the Directory of Naval Intelligence, he noted that

“March had wagered his entire fortune at the start of the fight against Bolshevism in Spain, and he [Churchill] was himself convinced that he would also risk it on this occasion against Nazism, because both regimes bred hostility toward capitalism.”((84))

It came to be understood that March’s own ‘savage’ brand of capitalism was not a threat to British interests, but quite the contrary. With Churchill’s backing, he stood as the only candidate that could guarantee the anonymity of Bribes in Spain. His role in the execution of the operation would be decisive.

Again, this is an instance in which the role of Hoare and Hillgarth was fundamental. Faced with the scepticism of many of those on whom they depended, they were able to transform personal impressions into actionable intelligence. Where Franco had been misread to support neutrality, their understanding of the situation in Spain allowed Bribes to become a viable and effective strategy, and when doubts as to the character of March were seen as an obstacle, they were able to guarantee that he was useful to the British cause.

b)      The human factor: personal relationships

An incident, before discussing the principal mission that March was to accomplish, should be mentioned. It relates to another major contribution he made to the British enterprise, and a monetary one. In September 1941, the operation hit a snag: an initial 10 million dollars had been deposited by the British Treasury((85)) in the Swiss Bank Corporation in New York, but the account had been frozen by the US Treasury, who was enforcing a blockade on neutral assets. Hoare wrote to Eden immediately to inform him of the “slight difficulty” encountered((86)). It concerned the money under Spanish accounts that the beneficiaries could draw, and March’s exchanges with Hoare, which the latter described in his correspondence with Eden, indicated that the generals were becoming extremely nervous. After a long and complicated administrative struggle, a personal appeal was made to Roosevelt, who instantly acquiesced, and the funds were eventually unblocked. It was later discovered that the American Treasury had agreed to this only after it was admitted that part of the money belonged to March, who had had to loan the British 1.5 million pounds when it was found that British and American buying of wolfram from Spain had cut the British supply on pesetas short((87)).

March had advanced 70 million pesetas from his own company funds (roughly 6 million dollars of the time) covering the total cost of Bribes in its initial phase)((88)) to be repaid by the British later. This is an instance of the real use that the “private sector dimension of public business”((89)) can have, and the reason for which March, as opposed to the discrete, greyish figure of the ‘traditional spy’((90)) was the prime candidate for this particular type of operation.

March also knew most of the generals listed as beneficiaries of Bribes and would responsible for getting them on board((91)). He did not think that any of them would have any scruples in taking the money, and he was seasoned in the art of bribery, having used it to escape from Alcalá de Henares in 1933 after his incarceration by the Republic for high treason((92)). But he would have to ‘turn’ a number of them, the more open to intervention, to staunch supporters of neutrality if any real results were to be expected. They would receive an initial instalment immediately, though most of the money would be retained until “the risks of Spain entering the war had subsided.”(( Viñas, 2016, p.114.)) Nevertheless, March had a notion that some of the generals may do little in early stages to effectively guarantee this, not wishing to enter into a direct confrontation with Franco((93)). It would therefore be vital that neutrality be presented as a worthy cause, or at least one that they could outwardly defend without stultifying themselves. “Patriotismand money, that richly potent brew,would do the rest”((94)).

There is no documentation to account for how the meetings with the generals unfolded, but Ferrer suggests that the directives relayed by March to his envoy must have been extremely precise. Commander Tomás Peire was to approach the first layer directly((95)) and the conditions he described to them would have to be sufficiently clear, so that the basis on which the case for neutrality was made could permeate down the structure with no further intervention from March.

The initial exchanges were a sweeping success. March had obtained the promise of the generals to rally for neutrality against the Falange. It is also suggested that he may have managed to slide-in another condition, which if true, would alter the premises on which the operation was to unfold. It would also offer an additional explanation as to the causes of the monarchist conspiracy. The condition was as follows: “in the event that Franco declare war on Great Britain, the generals would stage a coup d’état to overthrow him”((96))

It has already been mentioned that the British, who had discarded this possibility in the initial planning of Bribes, had also held back on the efforts of their intelligence services to mount pro-monarchist movements against Franco. These could easily spiral out of control((97)), and could be very pernicious to Bribes if arising at the wrong moment. But as a last resort, and tied uniquely to the threat of Spanish entry, this condition could incite the generals to do everything in their power to ensure it never came to pass.

It has been difficult to find more than one source to support this theory, however((98)). Until further evidence to substantiate the idea that March had indeed proposed a coup is uncovered, no solid conclusions can be drawn as to the real importance he may have had in incentivising the conspiracy, and whether or not Bribes was connected to the affair. Regardless, it can be said that in trusting March, the British exposed the operation to a degree of uncertainty as a result of the personal agenda he may have chosen to pursue.

c)       The human factor: risk aversion and buying time

Then there was the matter of suspicion, and the dynamics that Bribes would set in motion behind the scenes. The generals held considerable leverage over Franco, but the relationship worked both ways. Apprehensive of any intrigues that might compromise his position, Franco relied heavily on the Spanish secret services. It is likely that he used them more for internal policing than he did abroad((99)), and they were an effective means to controlling his inner and outer circles((100)). Informed as he was of the dealings of every member of his entourage, whom he threatened and admonished on a regular basis((101)), he was also aware of the corruption in the ranks that the civil war had brought on. He himself had partaken of it and he seemed not to mind it, as long as it did not pose a threat to him personally((102)). March and Hillgarth seemed to rely on this attitude to protect the operation from discovery, but the risks of enticing Franco’s paranoia, should he feel cornered in his efforts to secure Spanish entry, could provoke him to ‘purge’ the military sector of those he perceived as a hazard.

In a sense, this is precisely what happened. On the 18th July 1941, Franco gave a speech to the National Council of the Falange, of an alarmingly belligerent timber. Panicked, the generals appointed Orgaz to convey to Franco the gravity of the consequences that these declarations could have((103)). Kindelán went further. At a meeting of the General Command in Barcelona, he denounced the attempts by the Falange to drive Spain into the war, and criticised Franco openly for his failure to root out corruption in the party, which he was convinced the Germans were financing((104)). In 1942, he visited Franco and pronounced on no ambiguous terms that “if Spain had made a formal commitment to the Axis, Franco would have to be replaced as Head of State,”((105)) and that he had the backing of Varela, Jordana, Dávila, Aranda, Orgaz and Vigón, with whom he had met days prior.

This would cost him his position as General Commander in Catalonia, and Aranda would soon be arrested for conspiracy. In July, an American informant in Madrid brought the news that March had been intercepted by the secret services, which suspected him of agitating the monarchists in favour of a coup((106)). March fled the country temporarily, but his situation allowed him a swift return. Nevertheless, Franco would demonstrate a degree of patience toward the generals of his inner circle. It is possible that the support they had as respected civil war veterans was a difficult asset to dismantle. The conspiracy would be allowed to extend into the second half of the decade: on March 19, 1945, Don Juan made the Lausanne Manifesto public. It was a document calling for the restoration of the monarchy in Spain, endorsed, among others by Aranda, Varela, and Kindelán((107)).

The group had already drafted a decree by which the monarchy would be re-established and a provisional government put into place, with Kindelán as President, Aranda as Minister for Defence, and Varela as Air Force Minister((108)). Franco responded immediately that most of his generals, his army, the church and the party were favourable to the regime, and that he would not allow for a transition to a constitutional monarchy. Kindelán would later be incarcerated and then exiled to the Canary Islands; Galarza removed from public office, and Aranda released but sent to the reserve((109)). Orgaz would be made Chief of Staff in an effort to buy back his loyalty, and he would soon distance himself from the monarchists (Juan Pablo Fusi Aizpurúa, Francisco Franco: Autoritarismo y poder personal. Madrid: El País, 1985, p.88.)). Kindelán, still enjoying considerable recognition, would return to be made Marqués in 1961, a year before his death((110)).

These events reflect the effectiveness of Bribes in various ways:

  1. Corruption was the lie of the land, and March was the mysterious ‘benefactor’, which meant pinpointing British money would be extremely difficult, regardless of how effective the Spanish secret services were.
  2. Rightly, Franco was more concerned over a conspiracy against his regime than he was over a scheme to defend his neutrality.
  3. He was also not in a position to act quickly should the generals unite in opposition. He would have to appease before he could punish, and reform his support-base, which could be a lengthy process.
  4. Whatever March did during the fall of 1941 and spring of 1942, he did at the right time. Franco could not be obliged to remain neutral indefinitely– but he could be forced to delay his entry in the war until he enjoyed a more stable situation internally. By June 1944, no measure of ambition could possess Franco to join the losing side. The threat of Spanish entry would effectively have subsided.

Whether or not the conspiracy was directly related to Bribes, the operation had created enough dissent within the regime to prevent a Spanish intervention during the months that were critical to the Allied cause. Buying time had always been the intent of the British, for it was understood that if Hitler could stall the advance of the Allies much longer, Franco would eventually join him. 6.5 million pounds were invested in guaranteeing it was later, rather than sooner. Perhaps the best evidence of the success of the operation was the freezing of negotiations between Franco and Hitler before the advances of the Axis were effectively countered. Serrano was removed from power in September 1942((111)). Bribes had acted between the crowning moment of pro-Nazi enthusiasm, mid 1940-41, and a time when there was sufficient doubt in Franco’s mind as to the final outcome of the war. Whatever consequences befell the generals for their conspiracy would not matter a posteriori.


Establishing the true effectiveness of Bribes in the context of the Second World War would require examining the overall importance of Spanish neutrality within British strategy, which has not been the aim. It was, however, successful in securing its objectives. The argument advanced in this study is that this could not have been achieved without a great deal of attention on British behalf to the human factor present at every stage:

  1. In the understanding of Franco’s motives, and possible intentions. Though it took some time for the wheels to turn within the British administration, Hoare and Hillgarth saw through Franco’s claim of neutrality early on. Their ability to work within their own government from abroad gave Bribes the necessary impetus to achieve through covert methods what overt policies could not, and secure a great enough investment to guarantee it was successful.
  2. In the mentality of the generals and more broadly, of the Spanish population, hostile to Great Britain. Bribes was structured in a way that accounted for the emotional component to the question of entry in the war, which was vital. By ensuring that none of those involved, except March, could identify the source of the money, the operation could be camouflaged as a purely internal arrangement, which protected it both from Franco’s punitive upper hand and from the prying eyes of the Falange. In a dictatorship riddled with corruption and barefaced profiteering, little else mattered.
  • In the psychology of Juan March, self-interested and agile manipulator that could create a link between the pursuit of neutrality of the British, and the patriotic dreams of the monarchists. The entire scheme might have failed were it not for the guile and acumen displayed by its middleman, though perhaps therein lay also the greater peril. March was not without a degree of arrogance, which made him prone both to taking matters into his own hands and to exposing himself to certain risks, which experience had taught him to wriggle out of. It was perhaps a happy accident that the secret services did not make the connection between his links to the monarchist conspiracy and his dealings with the British.

As an aside, little has been said directly of the British intelligence services, though they have been a constant throughout the paper. It must not be forgotten that all the main protagonists of Bribes had an extensive background in intelligence, and worked actively with the SIS to procure the information needed at each level. Their prior experience was the very foundation on which the operation was conceived, and quickly became just as crucial to its smooth execution. It was the constant involvement, if nothing else, of March, Hoare and Hillgarth, that allowed Bribes to become the main pillar of British strategy in wartime Spain.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a note must be made of the lessons that can be drawn from reviewing this case for the purposes of historical analysis. Almost fifty years after the fact, the ‘Official History’((112)) born of Franco’s dictatorship continues to be pervasive in academic circles. For neo-Francoist historians, Spanish non-intervention not only remains a tribute to his abilities as a negotiator (of which, undoubtedly, there were many) but is also seen as hard evidence of a patriotic concern for his people. At best, he is exonerated of all pernicious intent by the supremacy accorded to his circumstances:

“Spain did not enter World War II, not because many of its leaders did not want to, but because reality dictated otherwise.”((113))

In looking at the human aspects of the operation, this study has focused on disproving affirmations of this sort. The dictates of ‘reality’, understood by Tusell to mean the capabilities of Spain under pressure from the Allies, would have rendered Bribes unnecessary. One quantitative evaluation of the Spanish military capacity and logistics, or a mere glance at the country’s economic situation, should have shown that Spain was not in any condition to wage a war against them. Yet the scheme was orchestrated on the premise that Franco, in full possession of his faculties, may not necessarily obey the rule of circumstance.

Still, a number of historians to-date argue that Bribes was, essentially, a British insurance policy against very small odds((114)). But this view does not account for Franco’s ambition, or indeed any of the characteristics for which he may be held responsible. Indeed, he himself had vowed on one occasion to pursue his goals “at whatever cost”((115)) to the country and its population, regardless of the deaths that may result.  The trouble with attributing historical processes wholly to endemic factors is that it entails the removal of agency, which to most historians remains a decisive factor in their configuration.

Moreover, a 1.5 turned 6.5 million pound ‘insurance’ seems unlikely. The sheer size of the investment suggests the British had a keen awareness that ledgers and numbers do not make the annals of history, and that attention to the will and the mindset of its protagonists, (whether recognised, like Franco, or invisible– on this occasion, March) is key. Covert operations such as Bribes deal precisely in the habitat that is human inclination, where capability is a desire, rather than a precept.

Bibliographical note:

Though covert British involvement in Spanish non-belligerence has long been surmised, there has been little documentation available to support in-depth analysis. On the account of Spain, scarcely any pertinent evidence has survived the dictatorship, and until 2013, very few of the relevant archives from the UK Foreign Office had seen the light of day. A belated declassification (not yet digitalised by The National Archives in Kew) has nevertheless provided new and crucial information on a main covert operation undertaken: a costly bribery scheme implicating twelve members of Franco’s close entourage. Ángel Viñas has carried out the only thorough examination to-date in “Sobornos: de cómo Churchill y March compraron a los generales de Franco” [Bribes: on how Churchill and March bought the generals of Franco], published in 2016. It is the primary source used here, in complement to the historiography of Spanish neutrality.


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Citer ce billet
hestia (2018, 17 septembre). The human factor: covert action, from insurance to strategy. A study on Spain’s non-intervention in the Second World War. Hestia Expertise. Consulté le 21 juin 2024, à l’adresse

  1. Mark Lowenthal, Intelligence: Froms Secrets to Policy. Thousand Oaks: Congressional Quarterly Press, 2006, pp.5-6, “avoiding surprise attacks”; Walter Laqueur, A World of Secrets: the Uses and Limits of Intelligence. New York: Basic Books, 1985, p.71, “the silent service” []
  2. Crawford views Spanish non-intervention as a case of misalignment in IR, pointing to the effects of British wedge-strategy in changing the course of Spanish policy: Timothy W. Crawford, “Wedge Strategy, Balancing, and the Deviant Case of Spain, 1940–41.” Security Studies 17, 2008, pp.9-18 []
  3. Paul Preston, Franco: Caudillo de España. Barcelona: Penguin Random House, 2015, pp.363-364; p.442: The meeting at Hendaye lasted nine hours, after which Hitler claimed he “would rather have his teeth pulled out” than go through it again. Such was the ability of Franco to stall negotiations when it suited him– though it is argued here that he would happily have joined the war if Hitler had been more amenable to persuasion regarding the Spanish conditions for entry. []
  4. Richard Wigg, Churchill and Spain: the survival of the Franco Regime, 1940-45. []
  5. Viñas cites the memoirs of Serrano Suñer, Entre Hendaya y Gibraltar: Frente a una Leyenda. Madrid: Ediciones y Publicaciones Españolas, 1947; Luis Suarez Fernández, Franco y el III Reich, 2015, Javier Tusell, Franco, España y la II Guerra Mundial, 1995, and to some extent Stanley G. Payne, among others. In Ángel Viñas, Sobornos: De cómo Churchill y March compraron a los generales de Franco. Barcelona: Editorial Planeta S.A, 2016, pp.35-42 []
  6. David A. Messenger, “‘Against the Grain’: Special Operations Executive in Spain, 1941-45.” Intelligence and National Security 20, no. 1, 2005, p.174 []
  7. The SOE was founded on the 22nd of July 1940, approximately a month after Bribes was put into place: Keith Jeffery, MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service 1909-1949. London: Bloomsbury, 2010, p. 352-53 []
  8. Captain Hillgarth was the naval attaché in Madrid, had met Churchill in 1935 and had an extensive network of informants in naval intelligence. He had worked with Juan March before: Viñas, 2016, p.77 []
  9. Bribery of this sort has acquired the name of ‘King George’s cavalry’, or in this case, ‘the cavalry of Saint George’, in reference to the British practice of paying subsidies to European governments during the Napoleonic wars, in Loch K. Johnson, “Covert Action and Accountability: Decision-Making for America’s Secret Foreign Policy .” International Studies Quarterly 33, no. 1, 1989, p.85 []
  10. Hoare was mistrusted for his background in intelligence during the First World War. Cadogan’s war diary entries of the 20-23rd May 1940 contain colourful descriptions of Hoare as “dirty little dog”; “the Quisling of England” and “v. bad rubbish”, in David Dilks, The Diaries of Sir Alexander Cadogan, O.M, 1938-1945 . New York: Putnam’s Sons, 1972; Wigg, 2008, p.9 []
  11. Halifax was at the time still Foreign Secretary, before his appointment as ambassador to the United States in December 1940. Ponting describes him as “the foxhunting highchurchman […] who could have been Prime Minister in May had he wanted the job”: Clive Ponting, 1940: Myth and Reality. Chicago: Elephant Paperback, 1993, p.5 []
  12. Samuel Hoare, Viscount Templewood, Ambassador on Special Mission. London: Collins, 1946, p.16 []
  13. Winston S. Churchill, Their Finest Hour. Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1949 p.519 []
  14. Introduced in December 1939, the system was designed to control the acquisition of primary materials, foods and petroleum through restrictions imposed on ship warrants, which became increasingly difficult to obtain: Viñas, 2016, p.34 []
  15. Crawford, 2008, p.21 []
  16. As a result, diplomatic efforts were focused on signing the War Trade Agreement with Spain and on setting up channels for dialogue: Wigg, 2008, p.10 []
  17. Refers to the 1940-1941 period. Manuel Ros Agudo, Franco/Hitler 1940: de la Gran Tentación al Gran Engaño. Madrid: Arco Libros, 2009, pp.29-81 []
  18. Preston, 2015, p.384 []
  19. Antonio Marquina, “Spanish Neutrality during the Second World War.” American University International Law Review 14, no. 1, 1998,, p.178 []
  20. Viñas, 2016, p.35: “The British, poor devils! had been pridefully disdained by the ‘new State’.” [translated from Spanish, italicised in original] []
  21. Preston, 2015, p.383 []
  22. There were considerable rivalries between the War Office and the Foreign Office, and the Exchequer was often a poor mediator. Hoare and Hillgarth were careful in their correspondence to obtain the authorisation of Bribes without exacerbating the possible tensions that could arise from the proclamation of a crisis in Spain. Wigg, 2008, p.12 []
  23. Telegram, Hoare to lord Halifax, 4th June, 1940: “There is reason to believe that the abandonment of neutrality is gaining territory. The time has come to act immediately to detain this impulse. A well-placed minister has a secure means to influence the political line decisively […] I may need 500.000 pounds […]”, TNA: FO1093/233 in Viñas, 2016, p.75 []
  24. Among the initial demands was the provision of and fuel to resupply the army reserves, a condition that Hitler had already found difficult to satisfy: Stanley G. Payne, Franco and Hitler: Spain, Germany and World War II. Yale University Press, 2008, p.123; Crawford, 2008, p.24 []
  25. Alfredo Kindelán, La verdad de mis relaciones con Franco. Barcelona: Planeta, 1981, p.344 [translated from Spanish] []
  26. Serrano, belligerent supporter of Falange, became Spanish Foreign Minister in October 1940. Viñas, 2016, p.208 []
  27. Hendaye, 23rd October 1940, Preston, 2015, p.442 []
  28. Viñas, 2016, p.186: “Serrano would have been satisfied with a mere letter, completely private, from Hitler and Mussolini that could provide security […] As soon as he received it, he would travel to Rome to settle the details of entry in the war.” [Translated from Spanish, italicised in original] []
  29. “What tipped the balance was Hitler’s negative evaluation of the results that might arise from the Spanish inability to maintain the ‘letter’ secret”, [translated from Spanish] in Viñas, 2016, p.191 []
  30. Aranda was known for a history of animosity toward Falange: Stanley G. Payne, Politics and the Military in Modern Spain. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1967, p.422; “He was also notoriously indiscrete, and Franco knew he was in contact with the British, as he was with the Germans.” Kindelán and Orgaz were firm monarchists that viewed the regime as a regency, and would later conspire against Franco: Paul Preston, “Franco y sus generales.” El País, 20 April 2008 []
  31. Section D had been established by the SIS in April 1938 to oversee the plans for sabotage against the Axis. In Jeffery, 2010, pp.320-322. []
  32. In a letter from Hoare to Churchill on the 19th February 1943, TNA: PREM 4/21/1, he characterised an MI6 operation in Tangiers as “amateurish” and extremely pernicious to the scheme that the Embassy was overseeing, in Viñas, 2016, pp.374-375 []
  33. David A. Messenger, “Fighting for relevance: Economic intelligence and special operations executive in Spain, 1943–1945 .” Intelligence and National Security 15, no. 3, 2000, p.34 []
  34. By February 6, 1941, Hitler was beginning to grow impatient. He wrote to Franco, promising 100,000 tons of grain in exchange for entry and complained that “Gibraltar would now be theirs” had the Caudillo given his consent before the 10th January. TP XXIII–1, My Third Mission, unpublished memoirs (c. 1958) chap. VII, no.12 in Wigg, 2008, pp.33-34 []
  35. Churchill knew or could guess that this was Hitler’s intent, though he feared that if Franco rejected the proposal too strongly, it might induce him to an invasion: “My hope is that the Germans will not go through Spain by favour ever, nor by force until at least the spring.” TNA: PREM 4/21/1, in Wigg, 2008, p.34. []
  36. Hillgarth to Churchill, 27th July 1940, TNA: PREM 21/2 A in Viñas, 2016, p.122 []
  37. “Perhaps we should reconsider the matter of the special monetary donation we had agreed to make. This, based on the fact that it would almost certainly constitute a complete waste […]”, [translated from Spanish], TNA: FO800/323 in Viñas, 2016, p.103 []
  38. Stanley G. Payne, The Franco Regime, 1936-75. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1987, p.254-255 []
  39. Messenger, 2000, p.35; 2005, p.178 []
  40. Viñas suggests that the additional two million dollars were tied to the need to expand the operation to cover three names not included in the original list of recipients of Bribes, because there was evidence to suggest that the Italians had been increasing their influence over “certain Spanish ministers.” These were José Jorro Andreo, Raimundo Burguera and Rosendo Silva Torrens, though no further information is provided. Viñas, 2016, p.96 []
  41. Jean Louis Crémieux-Brilhac, La France libre. De l’appel du 18 juin à la Libération. Paris: Gallimard, 2013 in Viñas, 2016, p.99. He also points out however that in WWI, subventions to schemes operating against the Ottoman Empire had begun at 10,000 pounds and had ended up amounting to almost 11 million pounds sterling. []
  42. Viñas, 2016, p.461 []
  43. Preston, 2015, p.379: “the cabinet was nothing more than a debate-club […] for he only spoke of politics with his closest military counsel” [translated from Spanish] []
  44. Pere Ferrer, Juan March: El hombre más misterioso del mundo. Barcelona: Ediciones B, S.A, 2010, pp.349-351 []
  45. He would be directly responsible in 1941 for the sending of the Blue Division, a unit of Spanish conscripts and volunteers that fought the Soviets under the Wehrmacht, and that would amount by 1943 to over 50,000 troops. Ramón Salas, “La División Azul.” Espacio, Tiempo y Forma, Historia Contemporánea Serie V, no. 2, 1989, p.250 []
  46. Whether or not Franco’s super-secret service ever acquired this information is unknown, but if they did, presumably he was never made party to it. Morten Heiberg and Manuel Ros Agudo, La trama oculta de la guerra civil. Los servicios secretos de Franco. Madrid: Crítica, 2006, p.242 []
  47. Hoare was not impervious to the idea, having written to Churchill that “the risks of Serrano’s consolidation of power could be so high that he did not wish to hide the advantages of such an alternative”, [translated from Spanish] in Vinas, 2016, p.298 []
  48. Marquina, 1998, p.174 []
  49. Despite the fact that in his memoirs, Serrano claims “not to have been partisan to intervention” and in favour of “the support and tutelage of France […] to the satisfaction of our rights in Africa and the reparation of an injustice,” in Serrano Suñer, 1947, p.161 []
  50. In a Decree signed 31st July 1939, Franco reinforced the position of the Falange as single party in Spain, thereby making all the members of the Armed Forces members of the Falange as well. This is one of many instances in which he demonstrated an ability to control both political and military factions under his authority: Preston, 2015, pp.375-376 []
  51. Marquina, 1998, p.172 []
  52. [Translated from Spanish], Ferrer, 2010, p.374 []
  53. He had been posted to Palma as vice-consul. David Stafford, “Roosevelt, Churchill and Anglo American intelligence: The strange case of Juan March.” Intelligence and National Security 15, no. 2 2000, p.38 []
  54. Hillgarth refers to Juan March, who was never mentioned by name in the correspondence, though his identity was not expressly concealed from those aware of Bribes in London, Viñas, 2016, p.143 []
  55. At this point a significant acquisition, because he was General Secretary of the Falange and chief of the Fascist militia, in Viñas, 2016, p.109. The role these generals would come to play in the operation is seen later. []
  56. Primarily Hoare’s view, but Hillgarth had also made several comments on the matter in his private correspondence. This opinion was also no doubt prompted by the fact that Beigbeder, who had had a significant influence in convincing the generals to adopt a more moderate stance, had been dismissed as a result of his indiscretions: Viñas, 2016, p.162. []
  57. Denis Smyth, Diplomacy and Strategy of Survival: British Policy and Franco’s Spain, 1940-41. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986, p.100. []
  58. Viñas, 2016, pp.271-272 []
  59. Gloria García González, “Pawns in a Chess Game: the BBC Spanish service during the Second World War.” Media History 21, no. 4, 2015, p.418 []
  60. Viñas, 2016, p.43. The ADE was closely tied and overseen by Section D of the SIS, which as seen previously found its area of operations in Spain increasingly constrained by the insistence of Hoare and Hillgarth that all covert activities be restricted in the Iberian region. Messenger, 2005, p.177. []
  61. Hartmut Heine, La oposición política al franquismo. De 1939 a 1952. Barcelona: Alianza, 1983, pp.30-43: noteworthy founders of the ADE were José de Madariaga, brother of Salvador, and Onofre García Tirador. []
  62. Concerns that fuelling anti-francoism might result in his overthrowing led to pulling back on the investment in these operations in favour of those, like Bribes, that would keep him in power if he held to neutrality, Viñas, 2016, p.35-55. []
  63. Viñas, 2016, p.112 [translated from Spanish] []
  64. The acquisition of Muñoz Grandes was in itself quite a feat: predecessor to Galarza as General Secretary of the Falange, he was extremely popular with the Germans, was appointed to command the Blue Division in 1941 and was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross by Hitler in March 1942. Wayne H. Bowen, Spain during World War II. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2006, p.43. []
  65. Viñas highlights that Queipo was an absurd name to have on the list: his enmity with Franco meant he would have no influence at all on the decisions of the dictator. Viñas, 2016, p.111. He had also been sent to Italy as Chief of Military Mission, not without a personal letter from Franco to Mussolini describing him as “a dangerous anti-fascist”: Paul Preston, “Franco y sus generales” El País, 20 April 2008. []
  66. Joan Garcés, Soberanos e Intervenidos. Estrategias Globales, Americanos y Españoles. Madrid: Siglo XXI de España, 1996, p.7. []
  67. Viñas, 2016, p.109: The breakdown between them would be: two million dollars each to Nicolás Franco, Varela and Aranda, one million to Galarza, and half a million to Kindelán. []
  68. Preston, 2015, p.494. []
  69. Nicolás had been dabbling in quick money since the early days of the Spanish Civil War and, along with his brother, had benefited hugely from corruption before the rise of the Caudillo. Viñas, 2016, p.109. []
  70. Ferrer, 2010, p.391. []
  71. Paul Preston, “Franco y sus generales”, El País, 20 April 2008. []
  72. Ferrer, 2010, p.403. Stafford cites the same London Times article, but dates it around 1952, based on Brooks, “Annals of Finance”, Part I, p. 43, in Stafford, 2000, p.44. []
  73. Wigg describes him as a “free-booting trader”: Wigg, 2008, p.6. []
  74. Preston, 2015, p. 167. The cost was 2000 pounds sterling, paid to Olley Air Services through Kleinwort Bank in London. []
  75. Viñas, 2016, p.82. []
  76. Stafford, 2000, p.40. []
  77. This quote is attributed to three different sources: R.J Bowker of the Foreign Office in Ferrer, 2010, p.384, based on the memoirs of Azaña; Alexander Cadogan in Wigg, 2008 p.10, and Hillgarth in Viñas, 2016, p.82, based on TNA: ADM 228/490. If he is right, it is a sign of recognition on Hillgarth’s behalf of the reputation of Juan March, which would not in his view affect British interests in this instance. []
  78. Viñas, 2016, pp.83-84: The argument is supported, according to Viñas, by the fact that March’s operations prior to 1936 and during the civil war seemed to lay the groundwork on which Bribes would later operate. He had also financed the military conspiracy in exile should Franco’s coup lead to failure. []
  79. March had worked in favor of preventing the Civil War, and his economic interests would depend on the broadening of the commercial avenues between Spain and the Allies. Ferrer, 2010, pp.353-372. []
  80. Viñas, 2016, p.82. []
  81. Ferrer, 2010, p.382. []
  82. Report of the 28 September 1939, Public Record Office: ADM 223/490, in Ferrer, 2010 p.382. []
  83. It has been suggested that Ian Fleming, Admiral Godfrey’s assistant and creator of James Bond, came up with a scheme designed to “bind March body and (if any) soul to the Allied cause”, which involved recruiting Barings Bank to threaten March with recalling a one million pound loan taken at the start of the war. Stafford, 2000, p.41. Given the discovery that March had, however, made a loan of 1.5 million pounds to the scheme (seen in the following section), it is unlikely that this could have had any real effect. []
  84. Public Record Office, DNI, ADM 223/490 in Ferrer, 2010, pp.382-383. []
  85. Stafford states this was done “via byzantine SIS channels”, Stafford, 2000, p.41; Viñas claims that it was March who facilitated company accounts to hide the origins of the money, Viñas, 2016, p.319. []
  86. “Slight”, Viñas remarks, was a typical British understatement, for the incident was to last four months, “would oblige the highest British authorities to intervene, induce Churchill to petition Morgenthau for a quick solution as a personal favour and grate on the nerves of the few ministers and civil servants connected to the operation” [translated from Spanish], Viñas, 2016, p.318; p.328. []
  87. Pre-emptive buying of wolfram from Spain through the UK Commercial Corporation had become the major campaign of the SIS in the country since 1940. Messenger, 2000, p.36; Stafford, 2000, p.43. []
  88. Viñas, 2016, p.323. []
  89. Stafford, 2000, p.43. From Stafford’s description, however, it would appear as though March’s loan took effect after the unblocking of the funds, when in actual fact it was one of the main reasons put forth by the British in requesting it: in a telegram of the 4 February 1942, Hoare explained that it had been necessary to inform the Americans that March “had made a loan to the British using his own funds and that, as a result, he could not be expected to accept blocked assets in return.” Viñas, 2016, p.329. []
  90. Laqueur, 1985, p.23. []
  91. As there is no evidence to suggest he knew Queipo de Llano, or had any personal interest in including him, it may be worth looking further. A telegram of the 26 June 1940, containing the breakdown of sums and instructions on the payments, indicates Queipo had recently returned to Seville. Carlos Berbell, “Gran Bretaña impidió que España entrara en la Segunda Guerra Mundial con sobornos a gran escala .” Confilegal, 24 August 2016. []
  92. He was never prosecuted for his escape, and his liberator, Martin Arnaiz, was accorded provisional liberty almost immediately. It is likely that March spared no expense in keeping him out of Alcalá de Henares. Ferrer, 2010, p.335. []
  93. Even in spite of the monarchists’ conspiracy, few were the generals who ever dared be openly critical of Franco. “Franco never forgave, nor forgot, any attempts to shake his power or to force him into unwanted decisions.” [translated from Spanish] Preston, 2015, p.500. []
  94. Stafford, 2000, p.41. []
  95. Ferrer, 2010, p.391. Tomás Peire was March’s envoy, and had acted on his behalf very frequently., []
  96. Garcés, 1996, p.7 in Ferrer, 2010, pp.390-391. This episode is neither corroborated nor denied by Viñas, possibly because the evidence to substantiate it is probably unavailable, or has not survived. []
  97. Laqueur, 1985, p.117. []
  98. It stems from the account of Joan Garcés, who also states that March had to leave the country temporarily because he was suspected by the Spanish secret services, as seen later. Garcés, 1996, p.16. []
  99. Little is known and little has survived of the Spanish secret services 1939-45. Juan J. Alcalde notes that they were used by Franco as a ‘personal spying machine’, to stay informed of the intrigues that could threaten him directly, Juan J. Alcalde y Grupo de Investigación. “Los servicios secretos en España.” Theoría, 2008, p.2 []
  100. At times also to fuel his paranoia, ibid.. []
  101. Ferrer, 2010, p.374. []
  102. Ibid, p.374: “He tolerated corruption, but when he thought it appropriate, he would make the corrupt aware of the fact that he knew of their dealings. After such a warning they would become prisoners of the knowledge that he could set in motion the mechanisms of the police and the judiciary to punish them, either cruelly or severely.” [translated from Spanish]. []
  103. Ibid, p.394. []
  104. One of the reasons for which the British probably recognised that the operation would have to be a costly one was that they knew, or could guess, that the Germans were pursuing a similar strategy. There has been some speculation among historians as to the behaviour of Aranda and Orgaz, suspected also of having taken money from the Nazis. Viñas, 2016, p.465. []
  105. Preston, 2015, p.527. []
  106. Garcés, 1996, p.16 in Ferrer, 2010, p.394. []
  107. Enrique Moradiellos, La España de Franco (1939-1975). Política y sociedad. Madrid: Síntesis, 2000, p.290. []
  108. Preston, 2015, p.579. []
  109. Preston, 2015, p.551; Fernando de Bordejé, Galería de personajes españoles. Madrid: Egartorre, 2007, p.254; Olga Rosales, “Antonio Aranda Mata: El último africanista.” Tiempo de historia IV, no. 43, 1978, p.37. []
  110. Preston, 2015, p.628; Viñas, 2016, p.490. []
  111. To Hitler’s great relief– he believed, wrongly, that Serrano had been feigning negotiations while effectively supporting neutrality. He would later be disappointed to find that Serrano had in fact been restrained by Franco, who in turn was held back by his generals. []
  112. Hedy Habra, “Deconstrucción del tejido mítico franquista.” Espéculo. Revista de estudios literarios, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, 2004. []
  113. Javier Tusell, Franco, España y la II Guerra Mundial. Entre el Eje y la Neutralidad. Madrid: Alianza, 1995, p.649. []
  114. Luis Suárez Fernandez in Franco y el Tercer Reich, 2015. []
  115. The full quote reads: “‘I shall save Spain from marxism at whatever cost… Shortly, very shortly, my troops will have pacified the country and all of this will soon seem like a nightmare.’ When Allen responded ‘that means that you will have to shoot half of Spain?’ a smiling Franco said ‘I repeat, at whatever cost.’” In Paul Preston, “General Franco as military leader.” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 1993, p.26. []

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