(Oct. 23, 2020) This week, 80 years ago, der Führer of Deutchland, Adolf Hitler, met with El Caudillo de España, Generalísimo Francisco Franco, in the French resort town of Hendaye on the Franco-Spanish Border. El Caudillo was accompanied by his brother-in-law, Spanish Foreign Minister Ramón Serrano Súñer. The two arrived on Franco’s train from Madrid. Der Führer arrived at Hendaye at the appointed time of 4 p.m. on Oct. 23, 1940 in his special train Amerika. The German Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, arrived in his own special train, Heinrich.
The Amerika was pulled by two locomotives and contained two baggage cars, two Flakwagens armed with two anti-aircraft guns a piece, the Führerwagen command car, which included a conference room and a communication center, two dining cars, two guest cars, der Führer’s bathing car, the press car, a car for his SS guard detail, two cars for the staff, der Führer’s personal coach equipped with a drawing room about the size of three regular compartments, a sleeping berth and a bathroom.
In the drawing room there was an oblong table with eight chairs grouped around it. The command coach was equipped with a long conference room dominated by a map table. The communication room was in constant touch by teleprinter and regular telephone with Berlin.
Franco’s train was built in 1929 and was used by King Alphonso XIII. “It included three bedrooms, a kitchen, one bathroom, and a meeting room. The King’s bed was also heated, and the train had the most luxurious amenities available.”
Around midnight on Oct. 20, 1940, the Amerika and der Führer left his Bavarian retreat, Berchtesgaden, on the first leg of an incredible journey that was to cover more than four thousand miles within a week. The first stop was Montoire-sur-le-Loir, France, which is located in north-central France in the Department of Loir-et-Cher, about 125 miles southwest of Paris. At 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 22, the Amerika pulled into the station. The Heinrich was already there. A thick red carpet had been rolled out. Anti-aircraft batteries had been stationed on surrounding hills.
At 7 p.m. Pierre Laval, Deputy Premier of France, arrived by car. Der Führer told Laval that he wanted to discuss increased cooperation between France and the German Reich against the British. Many Frenchmen were none too happy with the British, feeling that they had abandoned them during the Battle of France, and then turned on them by attacking the French Fleet at Mers-el-Kebir, and then again at Dakar. Hitler indicated that he would like to speak to French Leader, Marshal Henri Philip Pétain.
At 4 a.m. on Oct. 23, the Amerika departed for Hendaye on the Spanish border for the German Führer’s meeting with the Spanish Caudillo. The purpose of this meeting was to call in Germany’s “chip.” Without German and Italian aid, Franco’s revolt would have died aborning. When Franco’s Spanish revolt began, Franco and the bulk of the soldiers loyal to him were in Spanish Morocco with no way to get from there to mainland Spain, since most of the Navy remained loyal to the legitimate government.
An appeal to der Führer had provided transport planes to transport Franco and his soldiers to the mainland. Further aid included the Condor Legion which insured Franco’s Nationalist forces of air superiority, as well as a tank detachment and German officers to instruct in armored tactics.
Now, the German Führer wanted this debt paid by having Spain enter the war, and between the two countries, the elimination of the British outpost at Gibraltar. This would effectively close the Mediterranean to the British and seriously imperil its hold on Egypt and the Suez Canal.
An incidental bonus would be the addition of the Spanish Fleet to the already powerful Italian Regia Marina. If France could be enticed to enter this coalition, what was left of the French Fleet combined with the Italian and Spanish Fleets, might give the Axis naval superiority in the Mediterranean. It would also stretch the Royal Navy, requiring it to weaken its Atlantic Fleet, making the supply convoys even more vulnerable to German attacks.
At 4:30 p.m. the train carrying El Caudillo and Foreign Minister Suñer arrived, a half-hour late. Despite his displeasure at being made to wait for 30 minutes, der Führer invited El Caudillo to review the Honor Guard, which had been assembled. Then the parties withdrew to the Drawing Room of the Amerika.
When asked to join the Axis, El Generalalísimo agreed — but with conditions. It was a classic “yes, but.” Franco’s Spain had just undergone three years of a horrific civil war, which claimed the lives of over half a million Spaniards and left the country impoverished. In fact, all of Spain’s gold — more than five hundred fifty million dollars worth — had been shipped to the Soviet Union for “safe keeping,” and was never seen by Spain again.
Franco and Suñer knew that Spain needed time to recover before entering any further military adventures. The arms, munitions and supplies that the two demanded as a condition of Spain’s entry into the war were impossible for the German Reich to accommodate.
In addition, El Caudillo wanted the entire French African Empire! The German leader offered Spain compensation of the French North African colonies, “...to the extent to which it would be possible to cover France’s losses from British colonies.” However, the crafty Caudillo wanted no strings.
On the other hand, Hitler also wanted France’s help, and could not give away her colonies if he expected her help. Hitler wanted Spain to enter the war in January, with an assault, with German assistance, on the British fortress of Gibraltar on Jan. 10. This would be “Operation Felix.” However, Franco responded that Gibraltar would have to be taken by Spaniards “alone!”
El Caudillo had been advised by the anti-Nazi head of Abwehr (German intelligence), Adm. Wilhelm Canaris, that Hitler was obsessed with the invasion of the Soviet Union and could not be troubled by a Spanish diversion. So, there was little chance of the Germans invading Spain.
The talks continued into late in the evening when dinner was served. Although the Spaniards were scheduled to leave after dinner, Hitler tried again. Finally, at 2:15 a.m. the Spanish train left Hendaye, as the Spanish National Anthem was played, without an agreement between the Spanish Caudillo and the German Führer.
Furious that his trip to Hendaye and discussions had arrived at naught, Hitler returned to Montoire-sur-le-Loir on Oct. 24, arriving at 3:30 in the afternoon. He referred to Señor Suñer as that “Jesuit Swine” and complained of the Spaniards’ “misplaced sense of pride.” He said that with me, “Franco would not even have become a minor party official!” Hitler later told the Italian Duce that, “Rather than go through that again, I would prefer to have three or four teeth yanked out!”
Ribbentrop had remained behind for another round of talks with the Spanish, and arrived at Montoire-sur-le-Loir by plane. No, he was also furious because the Spanish Foreign Minister did not attend the meeting which they had arranged! Instead he sent a junior official. “That ungrateful coward,” Ribbentrop fumed! “He owes us everything and now he won’t join us!”
At 6 p.m. on Oct. 24, Marshal Pétain arrived by car. He was greeted by an honor guard headed by Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel. Although the old marshal confirmed his country’s readiness to collaborate with the German Reich, he shrank from promising a declaration of war against the British, saying that he would have to consult with his government for anything more specific. At 7:45 p.m. Hitler accompanied the marshal back to his car while the honor guard presented arms. The two never met again.
The Amerika remained at Montoire that evening. While there, a letter arrived from the Italian Duce. It said, among other things, “As far as Greece is concerned, I am determined to act without hesitation — in fact, act very rapidly indeed.” Concerned that the Italians might do something rash, Hitler instructed his foreign minister to contact his Italian counterpart, Mussolini’s son-in-law, Italian Foreign Minister Count Galeazzo Ciano, to arrange a meeting. Early Friday morning, on Oct. 25, von Ribbentrop advised der Führer that, “I just spoke with Count Ciano on the phone and told him der Führer would very much like to speak with the Duce early next morning. Count Ciano put this to the Duce and replied the latter would be happy to welcome der Führer on Monday in Florence.”
With that, the Amerika departed Montoire-sur-le-Loir, for Munich, Germany, arriving late on Saturday, Oct. 26. The Amerika departed Munich bound for Florence, Italy, at 6 a.m. on Monday morning, Oct. 28.
Two days later, Marshal Pétain addressed his fellow Frenchmen by radio, and announced that, “It is with honor, and to maintain French unity — a unity of 10 centuries — within the framework of a new European Order, that I enter, today, the path of collaboration.” The word would come to haunt the old marshal when the war ended. Many thought he should be executed, but General de Gaulle spared him that fate.
Next Week: “Führer, We Are On The March!”
Mr. Wimbrow writes from Ocean City, Maryland, where he practices law representing those persons accused of criminal and traffic offenses, and those persons who have suffered a personal injury through no fault of their own.