Until November 1975 Spain was ruled by a dictator who styled himself Caudillo de España, por la gracia de Dios, or Leader of Spain by the grace of God or Francisco Franco as he is better known. A through and through military man Franco was born in 1892 at the El Ferrol naval base in Galicia into a naval family. His ambition was to be a naval officer but after the Spanish navy was obliterated in 1898 by the American navy in Cuba and also the Philippines budget cuts meant instead he joined the infantry academy aged 15 in Toledo. He married a devout catholic in 1923 Carmen Polo.
Franco volunteered for service in the Rif War in Morocco and rose rapidly through the ranks becoming in turn the youngest ever captain, major and colonel. Aged just 33 he became the youngest general in Europe since Napoleon Bonaparte and commanded the Spanish Legion in 1926 winning 13 medals along the way. During his tenure in clear defiance of the Geneva Convention signed in 1924, the Spanish used mustard gas, phosphene and other agents against the Berber tribesmen until 1927 in revenge for losing 13,000 soldiers at the Battle of Annual. The poison gas was supplied illegally by the German Government.
Franco returned to the Spanish mainland and in1934 there was a workers general strike in the mining areas of the Asturias. In case the regular army refused to attack their own countrymen the government instead sent Francos Foreign Legion in to quell the revolt. Murdering, torturing and raping as they went with Moroccan mercenaries castrating the dead over 2000 people were killed and thousands injured.
In 1936 a general election was held and the Popular Front a republican government was voted in, the last elected government in Spain for the next 40 years. General Franco offered military support to the outgoing Prime minister if he wanted to annul the result. He declined and the new Prime Minister Azańa cleverly moved suspect generals away from Spain, General Franco was posted to the Canary Islands. As military generals planned a coup Franco refused to lend his support and gained the dubious title of Miss Canary Islands for his delay. Franco rightly believed the coup would fail and actually wrote to the prime minister warning of potential catastrophe but the Prime minister never replied so Franco sided with the plotters.
In July the coup started and garrisons across Spain rose up and martial law was declared. Although large areas of western Spain were won by the rebels most of Spain supported the republicans including the main cities of Madrid and Barcelona.
Importantly for the republicans the industrial north remained in their hands aiding their struggle. The civil war started as neither side had a clear advantage and about half the armed forces including the air force remained loyal to the government. General Franco was picked up in a chartered aircraft sent from Croydon Airport and flew to Morocco to rejoin his legionnaires. His 30,000 Legionnaires were stuck as the air force would not move them to Spain. Hitler got involved lending Junkers 52 transport planes and two battleships to Franco to transport his soldiers to the mainland at Algeciras where they quickly took over much of south west Spain.
Franco moved his army towards Madrid and on the way his army defeated the republicans in Badajoz. His soldiers murdered many people including 2000 shot in the town bull ring. The revolt however in Toledo had failed and 2000 rebels had been under siege for two months, Franco rushed his army to rescue them and in the process took bloody retribution. Atrocities were done by both sides during the civil war however Franco had a habit of never forgiving or forgetting hence high numbers of casualties both during and after the war.