What would you do if you were the Prime Minister of Great Britain and you discovered that one of the previously neutral countries in WWII, namely Spain, was being courted to join the war on the side of Germany? Well, if you were Winston Churchill you would haul out the chequebook and send enough money, via diplomatic channels, to ensure that Spain and her hawk generals officially stayed out of the conflict.
These allegations have come to light in two books, the first is “Juan March: The Most Mysterious Man in the World”, written by historian Pere Ferrer and the second is “Bribes: How Churchill and March Bought Franco’s Generals” written by Ángel Viñas.
It is a well-known fact that Hitler firmly rejected Franco’s offer of assistance at the October 1940 Hendaye meeting, when Hitler said, “Rather than go through that again, I would prefer to have three of four teeth pulled!” Franco was a very streetwise politician and hid the fact that his assistance had been rejected by Hitler. If Spain had entered the war, Britain’s supply lines would have been under serious threat, Gibraltar could have been lost, and the entire North African theater would have been in huge peril.
A report released by MI6 shows that Britain’s ambassador to Spain, Sir Samuel Hoare, sent cables to London in mid-1940 stressing that he had been told of meetings between Hitler and Franco that could lead to Spain abandoning her neutral stance and joining the war. The idea that Spain would join the war on the side of the Nazis was completely unacceptable to Britain and Hoare insisted that generals close to Franco be bribed to ensure that they stayed out of the war.
One cable, dated June 1940, to the Foreign Office in London, read, “I personally urge authority be granted without delay, and that if you have doubts, the prime minister be consulted.” Churchill apparently agreed and wrote, “Yes indeed,” on the deciphered telegram, in red ink. On the basis of this Churchill authorised millions of pounds to be sent via New York to ensure that the Spanish stayed well away from Germany, the Mirror reported.
A Spanish banker by the name of Juan March was recruited to act as the go-between to ensure the Generals were paid. The sum of $10 million was deposited in the US in 1940, but the American Treasury froze the account as they believed that the money was being used to support Hitler. It took a lot of quick talking by the British Ambassador to convince President Roosevelt that the money was authorized by the British Government and that it was imperative for the British war effort that the money was supposed to be released so that the bribes could be paid. All in all the British government paid, from MI6’s secret vote, almost $14m or around $200m in today’s money, to Spanish agents during WWII.
Once America joined the war and the North African campaign had Rommel on the run, it was highly unlikely that Franco would ever have joined the war. He did, however, permit volunteers to join the German forces, with the proviso that they only fought on the Eastern Front against Russia and never against the British.