British Failures in Spain

The (Fredericksburg) Freelance Star/April 22, 1939



Most significant development in the military movements on Europe’s checkerboard is the fact that Gibraltar, symbol of British Empire solidarity, is in grave peril.

Gibraltar is more than merely the guardian to the Western Mediterranean, important as that is. It is like the British lion, a reminder that Britannia rules the waves, maintains naval bases throughout the seven seas, and that the sun never sets on the Union Jack.

The fact that the great Empire now must call upon the French fleet for aid is a terrific jolt. And if Gibraltar should fall, the effect upon Britain’s attempt to build up a series of defensive alliances would be catastrophic. Smaller nations of Europe, losing confidence in a disintegrating Empire, would grab for Hitler’s coattails.

Inside fact is that Gibraltar now is almost a pushover for German-Italian-Spanish forces. Secret of its weakness is the big guns which the Germans have hidden in the hills behind Algeciras. Trained on Gibraltar, these have an all-important advantage. They can fire down. French and British naval guns in the harbor below must fire up.

Non-Neutral Spain

Fundamental mistake made by the British was ever to let these guns be hidden in the hills. For years, British policy was to keep Spain weak, friendly and neutral. This was the real secret of Gibraltar’s strength. Its massive rock and concrete battlements were not nearly as important as a neutral Spain.

Today, however, Spain is not neutral, and not only are German guns hidden in the hills behind Algeciras, but German-Italian and Franco forces are massed near the Rock in Spain, with more such troops across the straits in Spanish Morocco.

The story of how the British allowed themselves to be maneuvered into such a weak position is the story of British policy during the Spanish war.

British Stupidity

It goes back to the 1936 elections which put the recent Republican government into power. These elections were received with misgivings by British investors, who owned the iron and mercury mines, the steel mills and much of the industry of Spain. What they had to do with plotting the revolution is not yet clearly known, but it is known that General Francisco Franco, who now aids Hitler in menacing Gibraltar, was flown from the Canary Islands to Spanish Morocco in a British airplane, operated by a British pilot, and paid for by interested Britishers.

After the revolution broke, the British in Gibraltar also played an import part in aiding Franco’s insurgents. When the Republican fleet, fleeing from Tangier, put in at Gibraltar, the British refused it fuel. Simultaneously, Italian pilots and Spanish aviators, trained in Italy, landed at Gibraltar from Italian ships and crossed into Spanish territory. The gate between Spain and the Rock, closed at night, was opened especially for them.

British sentiment in Gibraltar was overwhelmingly for Franco and his Italian allies. This was attributed partly to the fact that when war started, British hunters could no longer get into Spanish territory to exercise their fox hounds. So their hounds got fat. This was a near tragedy until the Fascist governor, hearing of the British plight, permitted the hounds to come on Spanish soil for daily runs.

After that British sentiment in “Gib” was more pro-Fascist than ever.

Chamberlain Politics

This sentiment, however, merely reflected that of the Chamberlain government in London. The Prime Minister himself gave his views to Harold Laski with the utmost frankness.

“If the Republican Government wins in Spain,” he said, “it will strengthen the Popular Front Government in France. And the combined effect of this will probably give us a Labor Government in England.”

Part of Chamberlain’s policy was the Non-Intervention Committee, which proposed a policy of sending munitions to neither side. But honest diplomats long have recognized that the committee was largely a blind to prevent arms shipments to the Republican government. Franco, the Chamberlain government knew, could get ample supplies from his partners in Berlin and Rome.

U.S. Backs Britain

Hitherto unwritten history of the British fiasco in Spain is that Chamberlain’s policy was registered directly with the U. S. State Department. Chamberlain made it all too clear that he did not want the U. S. arms embargo lifted, and the State Department acquiesced.

This was made known exactly one year ago when Senator Borah, powerful member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and New York Supreme Court Justice Pecora, a close friend of Roosevelt’s, came to see him separately on the Spanish embargo. Both urged immediate action.

To each, Roosevelt replied that it was too late. The Spanish war would be over, he said, in three to six weeks. This report, he explained, came direct from his foreign advisers. Moreover he said that even if the embargo were lifted, Spanish government supplies could not get through Franco’s blockade. He said nothing about Chamberlain, but his advisers in the State Department did.

That was in May, 1938. Republican forces did not collapse until nine months later. And all during the summer supplies streamed into Republican Spain, as both Borah and Pecora had prophesied.

Mussolini Acts

These supplies were shipped from various countries via France. The French border remained open all summer, and all summer Spanish resistance continued. Then in the autumn, Mussolini, tired of the long drawn out civil war and the reflection on the bravery of Italian troops, put the heat on Chamberlain.

If Chamberlain wanted Italian friendship and harmony in the Mediterranean, he sent word, he could put pressure on France to close its border.

Chamberlain did. The French border was closed. The Spanish army fought literally with its bare hands. Russian supply ships, tied up at Marseilles, were kept there by the French while the fascist advance came closer and closer to Barcelona.

Now Chamberlain, frantically appealing to Russia, Turkey, Poland, and with Gibraltar in danger, is getting a dose of his own Spanish policy.

(Source: Google News,,416920)