Halliday Sutherland

"A born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better." G.K. Chesterton.

General Franco 2

This post is an excerpt from Spanish Journey by Dr Halliday Sutherland.

Francisco Franco was born at Ferrol on December 4, 1893, the second of three sons born to a civil servant, Nicholas Franco, and Pilar Bahamonde, both of the middle class. Their youngest son flew the South Atlantic in Plus Ultra before Lindbergh had flown the North. Ferrol is a navy base, and Francisco was intended for the Navy; but when the time came the naval College was closed on the grounds of national economy. So he passed into the Infantry Cadet College at Toledo and was trained at the Alcazar.

On passing out he was appointed to the 8th Zamora Regiment, then stationed in Spain; but in 1911 he volunteered for active service in Morocco, where a defeated and dispirited army were engaged in a hopeless war against the Riffs. Corruption was rampant. Soldiers were cheated of their pay, and as often as not were short of food, equipment, and medical supplies. Following the disastrous war with America, and the loss of Cuba, the prestige of Spanish arms was at its nadir. In Spain people were tired of the Moroccan campaign, and one of the most popular political slogans was, “Not a man, not a peseta more for a war on behalf of the mining companies.” Most of the army in Spain dreaded the possibility, a possibility decided by lot, of being sent to Africa. Such was the service for which Franco, as a youth of eighteen, volunteered. A prudent person might have said that he was entering on a literally dead-end career. Yet fourteen years later Marshal Lyautey, on Franco’s Moroccan record, described him as one of the two greatest generals in Europe.

As 2nd Lieutenant in a discredited army he won both the confidence of his platoon by caring for their welfare both in and out of the line. He saw to their food and their pay; and when he led them into action, it was his preliminary study of the ground that gave them the protection of whatever natural cover was available. In this he was doing no more than might be expected of any efficient officer; but he was also developing his sense of strategy which he reduced to a fine art in the surprise attack. He never wasted the lives of his men, and would have been profoundly shocked by Generalissimo Stalin’s famous question to Winston Churchill at a Moscow banquet, “And how do your Generals fight when they’re drunk? Mine fight better.” Franco’s record in Africa reminded me of General Gordon of Khartoum. Neither ever asked a man to do what they were not prepared to do themselves. Their men were led, not driven.

For the gallantry and skill he displayed in capturing the heights of Izardoy, Franco was promoted to full Lieutenant. He was now less than twenty years of age. Two years later he was Captain, and had been awarded the Cross of Maria Cristina, equivalent to the British V.C. A year later he was shot in the stomach when leading his men to storm one of the heights at Ceuta. Once more he was recommended for promotion, and at he age of twenty-three became the youngest Major in the Spanish Army.

After convalescence at home, he was back in Africa, with Colonel Millan Astray, known in Spain as El Gran Mutilado, by reason of his numerous wounds; a tall thin man, who walks with a limp; who has lost his left arm and right eye, and whose face is pockmarked from bullets. These two, on April 28, 1920, began recruiting and training el Tercio Extranjero, the Spanish Foreign Legion. To the Legion came foreigners whose names and records were only known to the police of other lands; Spaniards to whom the Legion was the alternative to imprisonment; time-expired Civil Guards down on their luck; an Italian airman; an ex-officer of the Prussian Guard; and an ex-monk to whom a Prior had given this penance. When recruits were asked why they wanted to enlist, the usual reply was, “To serve Spain.”

“Not enough,” said Astray; “you must say — ‘I want to die’.”

Nor was it enough to discipline such men. They needed a Credo, and this was prepared by Astray and Franco:

“The spirit of the Legionary, unique, without peer, must be blind an ferocious in combat. His duty is to shorten the distance between himself and the enemy and to charge him with bayonet. His spirit of comradeship must be such that he must take a sacred oath never to abandon a wounded or dead Legionary on the field of battle, even it it entails the death of all. When he hears the cry, ‘The Legion to me!’ he must run to the aid of the wounded man, with reason or without.

“A Legionary must never fall out on a march. His body must be supple and strong. He must never succumb to fatigue, or pain, or hunger, or thirst, or sleep. He must accomplish all labours, dig trenches, push cannon, accompany convoys, do all that he is asked. The duty of the Legionary, and of the Legion, is to run in the direction where there is firing, by day, by night, always, always, with order or without.

“He must obey until death. He must always, always fight, without rest, without counting the days, the months, the years. To die in comat is the highest honour. Death only comes once. Death comes without pain. It is not so horrible to die as it seems. The most dreadful thing is to live a coward. The standard of Legion is glorious because it represents the blood of its Legionaries. Every nation is brave. It therefore behoves us to show which country is the bravest. Long live Spain! Long live the Legion!”

Thus did these two give moral to the Legionaries. Like Montgomery they did not treat men as soldiers; but soldiers as men, aye, as gentlemen, for they addressed them as Caballeros. The day came when Astray was so wounded that he had to relinquish his command — although he lived to become one of Franco’s generals in the Civil War. Franco was under thirty years of age when he became Lieutenant-Colonel of the Legion; and it was the Legion that saved Spanish Morocco from being over-run by the Moors. The Legion was resting exhausted in the streets of Fondak. They had marched for twenty hours. On that march four men had dropped dead from fatigue. Then came news of General Silvestre’s defeat at the Battle of Anual, in which Spain lost 20,000 men, either killed or taken into slavery by the Moors. The road to Melilla was open. Silvestre too his own life. The nearest troops to Melilla were the Legion. They resumed the march and entered that city — singing.

For his bravery in the field at Koba Darsa, Franco was promoted to Colonel, on the recommendation of General Perez: “He shows an extraordinary aptitude for commanding troops. In spite of his youth, he displays a marked certainty in his judgement, careful consderation in his decisions, and repose in action, added to his great courage. He always examines the situation from dangerous positions, in order the better to reach his decisions. They are always sound, because they are the result of personal observation. I am honoured to propose his immediate promotion.”

Franco had his own ideas about the Moroccan campaign. In 1922 he has written “Alhucemas is the focus of the rebellion. It will end the day we land there.” In 1925, Primo de Rivera, the Dictator, send for him to discuss the plan, and said, “I am told that it is impossible. It will probably be a great catastrophe.”

“With courage,” said Franco, “it is a mathematical certainty. Spain will never forgive you if you do not settle this Moroccan question; and the key is Alhucemas.”

Franco led the landing party as they waded ashore with rifles held high over their heads, and on September 8, 1925, the Legionaries hoisted the Spanish flag on the heights above the Bay. Here they held the position for twelve days, living on biscuits and sardines. Bad weather had delayed the main force. Then 15,000 men were landed. The next step was to scale the heights of Malmusi Alto against a defence that included land mines. As a moment when the troops wavered, Franco led the 6th and 7th Batalions of the Legion to victory. The re-conquest of Morocco had begun, and on its completion Franco returned to Spain, a General at the age of thirty-two.

To the Moors he is “Chief of Chiefs,” and a place in the Moorish Guard is as coveted as was a place in Queen Victoria;s Indian bodyguard. What he did for the Legion is epitomised in a brief story. In a hospital behind the lines an officer was dying from wounds and fever. In delerium, he called “To me, the Legion!” From their beds came the Legionaries, weak from wounds or wasted by fever, some staggering, some crawling, deaf to expostulations from orderlies and nuns, and determined to be with him until he died! [1]

A naval officer who was one of Franco’s aides-de-camp in the Civil War related the following: “The village was being heavily attacked on both sides. I had a look round and went to Franco who was in the Plaza in the middle of the village: ‘General, even if this village is captured there is no reason why you should be taken. There is a serviceable tank and the road to our lines is still open.’ In reply Franco said: ‘I suppose this is your first experience of land warfare. Very well. All I ask you to do is to keep cool. Have you a piece of paper?’ I gave him a piece of stationery on which he drew a map of the village and the enemy positions. The place was being shelled from two directions. ‘Now here is the position at the moment. What time is it? Two o’clock. Very well. At present the attack from the east is the stronger. It will increase in severity up to four o’clock. At that hour a relief column will appear in their rear and they will withdraw to the north. That will enable me to send reinforcements to defend the west side of the village, where the attack will reach its maximum at 6 p.m. At that hour another relief column will appear in their rear and they also will move north. At 8 o’clock our lines will advance and this village will no longer be a salient. I think you will find I am right; and you had better keep this paper as a souvenir. I have marked the times.’ And he was right.”

If England were what England was, Franco’s record would be better known and there would be fewer long-haired parlour-pinks yelping at his heels.

Dr Sutherland’s manuscript of Spanish Journey.

[1] Quoted in Spanish Arena, page 72.

Photograph shows Spanish foreign Legion troops celebrating the relief of Tifaruin, Spanish Morocco in 1923.

For the article on General Franco previously published on this site, click here.

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This entry was posted on 1 November 2019 by in Francisco Franco, Spain, Spanish Journey.

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