He became a general at the age of 32 after commanding the Spanish Foreign Legion in Morocco. During the next 10 years he enhanced his military reputation in a variety of commands and became identified politically with the conservative nationalist position. In 1934 he was appointed chief of the general staff by the rightist government, and he suppressed the uprising of the miners in Asturias. When the Popular Front came to power (Feb., 1936), he was made military governor of the Canary Islands, a significant demotion. In July, 1936, Franco joined the military uprising that precipitated the Spanish civil war. He flew to Morocco, took command of the most powerful segment of the Spanish army, and led it back to Spain. He became head of the Insurgent government in Oct., 1936. In 1937 he merged all the other Nationalist political parties with the Falange, assuming leadership of the new party. With German and Italian help he ended the civil war with victory for the Nationalists in March, 1939. Franco dealt ruthlessly with his opposition and established a firmly controlled corporative state. Although close to the Axis powers and despite their pressure, Franco kept Spain a nonbelligerent in World War II. He dismissed (1942) his vigorously pro-Axis minister and principal collaborator, Ramón Serrano Súñer. After the war Franco maneuvered to establish favorable relations with the United States and its allies. He further reduced the power of the Falange and erected the facade of a liberalized regime. The law of succession (1947) promulgated by Franco declared Spain a kingdom, with himself as regent pending the choice of a king. Diplomatic relations were established with the United States and other members of the United Nations in 1950, and as the cold war continued Franco secured massive U.S. economic aid in return for military bases in Spain. From 1959 onward, Franco presided over governments that were increasingly concerned with technological change and economic development. Very successful in these fields, the regime was forced to grant even greater social and political liberties, except in the Basque provinces, where a fierce struggle against separatists raged. The greater de facto freedom allowed growing vocal opposition to Franco's regime, even from the Falange, whose exclusion from power was increased after the appointment of Luis Carrero Blanco as vice premier. Franco, however, firmly maintained his position of power, even after the assassination of Carrero Blanco in 1973. In 1969, Franco named as his successor the Bourbon prince, Juan Carlos.
See biographies by Brian Crozier (1968), George Hills (1968), and J. W. Trythall (1970).