Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on July 4, 1976 · Page 56
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Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 56

Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, July 4, 1976
Page 56
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Page 56 article text (OCR)

Franco's Flight to Civil War After a number of attempts on his life, Gen. Franco escaped from exile in the. Canary Islands in a plane flown by a British pilot. On July 19, 1936, he landed safely in Morrocco -- and the scene teas set for Spain'« Civil War. k in ilr' L'v \ -ft IP ^^: Franco w a s h c i n ^ i V l e d . t h e croud tossing blossom?- at his f W t . . . . By Leo Zanelli The date was J u l y 19, 1936. hundreds of eyes watched the gleaming plane as it glided along the runway of Tetuan Airport, Morocco. It was a momentous moment for the Spanish Legionnaires -- one they had been anxiously awaiting. As the plane drifted to a halt tljey surged towards it to greet their exiled commander, Gen. Franco. He had come to lead a Legion revolt. It was an action that was shortly to embroil Spain in a bloody civil war, turning the country into a battleground between Fascist and Communist organizations. It was also the culmination of an amazing cloak-and-dagger story. Several months previously, the Spanish coalition government had posted Franco to the Canary Islands as army commander. Technically it was a purely military posting; in fact it was banishment -- a thinly-disguised exile. For President Alcala Zamora feared Franco above all others. Zamora's regime was Communist in all but name, and Franco was the one rallying call of all Spaniards who opposed the government. It was essential to Zamora's plans to have Franco out of the way, but to do so openly would have been dangerous. Instead the government planned tq .have him con- 6m CHARLESTON. W.VA. veniently assassinated during his Canary Islands posting. He was watched day and night, his mail censored, his telephone calls bugged._His death was-to be the culmination of years of planning. »· Two years before, the Communist party had sentenced him to death for his part in suppressing the 1934 Socialist revolution. They had put a price of $50,000 on his head; and this time certain government agents meant to collect it. The first attempt was made during a carnival at La Laguna. As night fell, a magnificent firework display began. Suddenly, a man standing next to Franco fell dead at the General's feet. No shot was heard. In fact, a rooftop assessin had fired at Franco under cover of the exploding fireworks. Following this near miss, the colonel of the General Staff, Gonzales Peral, arranged for Franco to be guarded day and night. His closest officers formed a personal bodyguard, and did this so well that Fjanco never realized he was being protected. · This was essential because, ironically, Franco had lost all ambition to lead a revolt. His confidence in the army was fading. Left alone, he would probably have tried to clam things down. Franco was no coward, but his loss of confidence, combined with the knowledge that his wife and daughter had also been threatened, inclined him to the choice of fleeing rather than fighting. But subsequent events caused him to change his mind. Unrest had taken control of Spain, mobs ran wild, and a reign of terror spread from Bilbao to~Granada. Between February 17 and March 31, 58 political centers and 36 churches . were destroyed. There were 11 general strikes and 169 major riots. Murder and rape were commonplace and there was terror in the streets of Spain. The government seemed to have lost control, and to a man like Franco, who believed in strong government, it seemed to throw a more favorable light on fhe possibility of toppling the regime. But still he hesitated. It is possible that the events of Spanish history for years to come were cemented at a flower festival in Villa de Orotava. There, the as- sessins struck again. Franco was being feted, the crowd tossing blossoms at his feet. One man stepped out of the crowd and drew his arm back to throw a bunch of flowers; but one of Franco's watchful guards jogged the man's arm. Out of the flowers flew a grenade, which exploded in a section of the crowd instead of at Franco's feet. Franco now had to make a decision. Time was running out. So, on July 6, he gave the command for ' which his supporters had prayed so long. Secret, coded messages were sent to the most reliable officers in key posts throughout the North African Command, telling them that the uprising was imminent. They were to be prepared for immediate action at all times. But the delay very nearly cost Franco his life, for once again the assassins struck on the night of July 13. Three men were captured by the guards while trying to reach Franco's sleeping quarters. The revolutionary officers realized that their only chance of success was to keep Franco alive -but the longer the delay, the greater chance of the assassins succeeding. There was no option. The date of the revolution was brought forward. The first problem was that of getting Franco out of the islands -no easy task with the Spanish Navy firmly on the government's side. The only possibility seemed that of a private plane. Such a plane was available, and its owner and pilot was an Englishman -- Captain Beed. -Spanish author Luis Bolin approached Beed, and asked him to fly a person from Las Palmas to Tetuan with no questions asked. The cpatain agreed, but it is fascinating to ponder the historical consequences if he had realized who his passenger was -- ,and refused! The government, of course, realized that the only way out for Franco was by plane, so the pilot of every single plane that landed in the Canaries was shadowed. In Seed's case, the situation must have become quite, comic, because for 48 hours he was tailed by Communist agents who were, in turn, tailed by revolutionary officers. In fact, Franco had to be smuggled on board Seed's plane hours before Beed arrived for takeoff. And it was only then that Beed knew who his passenger was. The subsequent events are recorded fli greater detal in the history books. A ruthless, bloody civil war. Russians fighting on the side of the government. The German Condor Legion fighting on the side of the rebels. And Franco's ultimate victory. It was a turning point. Franco's decision turned a potentially communist state into a Fascist one. Yet who knows what the political bias )f Europe .might now be if a certain . British pilot had declined a fare? ·July 4. 1976'Stinday Gazette-Mail'

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