THE summer of 1939 Franco was master in Spain. The remnants of the broken Republican forces took refuge in wretched camps across the Pyrenees, while their leaders scattered the world over. The small elements of opposition remaining in Spain were repressed without mercy.

Germany and Italy had given Franco vital aid in the battle; Germany had flown Franco's troops into Spain and then provided tanks, planes, instructors and technicians. Italy had smuggled a large army into the field. These forces from abroad had enabled Franco finally to break the resistance of the ill-equipped Republican forces, exhausted by their struggle against the Moors. Their contribution created a lien to Hitler and Mussolini, which the Fascist leaders mistook for fiery determination to aid them. Thus Serrano Suñer, the leader of the Executive Committee of the Falange (and Franco's brother-in-law) waved off the Italian legions on the quay at Cadiz on May 31 with the words:

Every time the war -- or battle-cry -- resounds on the Italian shores of the Mediterranean, the Spanish people from the Iberian shores of that sea will answer with the shout of "Rome, Rome, Rome." In this immortal word is our common destiny both Latin and Mediterranean. If Italy were threatened a forest of Italo-Spanish bayonets would defend our common spiritual inheritance. . . .

Still, all in all, Franco had no real reason to resent the way that Great Britain and the United States had behaved during the years of his war. Neither had interfered with him or the forces behind him. The British Government had evaded all claims for sympathy or support in a deceptive program of "nonintervention." The United States, in a hasty and extraordinary action, had prevented the government under assault from buying arms in the United States. Despite some distress of spirit, the British and American Governments had allowed the Republic to be destroyed. At the time, it had seemed to them part of the price of peace; and to the Conservative British Government the prelude to friendship. Chamberlain wrote on the eve of Franco's victory (February 1939): "I think we ought to be able to establish excellent relations with Franco who seems well disposed to us."

Chamberlain was self-deceived. Franco and his circle felt no thanks for the helpful conduct of the democracies. They took it as a forced tribute to the virtue of their cause and the power of their allies. If any thanks were due, it was to Germany and Italy for recognizing their valiant fight against the evil movements that threatened the whole world. The new ruler of Spain felt a passionate distrust of all forms of popular rule -- as a wild seed-bed of opposition, anarchy, Communism, as it so often had been in Spain. Only as long as Hitler and Mussolini lived to dominate such forces could Franco feel safe. The obverse of this fact of fortune was that he might share in the triumph of the others.

The governments of the Allies came, in the midst of the war, to rue having consented to Franco's victory. For Spain became a specter -- a dark, brooding form that might, in their time of weakness, pounce upon Gibraltar and the coast of Africa. But not until the fall of France. Before then Spain was sentenced to watch and tend her weakness. The Spanish islands in the Atlantic and even in the Mediterranean were exposed to attack by the British and French fleets. The Spanish colonies in Africa could not long have been defended. The invasion of Spain herself from the sea or across the Pyrenees was possible. The imports of food, fuel and raw materials into all parts of the Spanish Empire were subject to an effective sea and land blockade. By these facts, as long as France was in the battle, the Allies were protected against any vital wound. Spain was a suspect center of enemy action, but not a menace.

When France fell, however, the specter was released, or so it seemed in that fearful period. All of Britain's strength was needed in the desperate struggle to defend her own island and keep the sea lanes open. There was none to spare to meet an attack by or through Spain. A strong German army camped along the Pyrenees frontier. Gibraltar could not defend itself against a well-organized assault. Even though the Rock were held, the airfield and naval base could be made useless and passage through the western Straits impossible. If Britain lost the entry into the Mediterranean, the battle for Malta, Suez and the whole of the east would be lost.

Thus the Spanish Government seemed possessed of the power to decide whether Britain could continue to resist outside her own island -- perhaps, even, of the power to decide whether Britain could continue to fight at all. For if Germany could use the Spanish coasts in Africa and the Spanish islands in the Atlantic, the sustaining flow from the United States might be broken.

The British and American Governments took the measure of these dangers. The struggle to influence or control Spanish action became crucial to their battle plans and hopes. To quiet the specter, or keep it confined, they used all their arts and powers. Spain became the focal point of their diplomacy. Every day the Rock remained unsurrounded was a day gained -- until there was no further need to count the days gained. Their allies were Spanish misery and the internal divisions over which the Franco Government ruled.


On May 12 of the year 1940, President Roosevelt told the British Ambassador in Washington that he would be willing to consider any other ways, beyond those already in use, by which the American Government might assist the Allied Governments. Among the wishes expressed in the British response of May 20 was that the United States deny supplies to the enemy direct or through neutral channels. By June we were ready to try to do so, ready to lay aside the mask of neutrality.

The gaze of suspicion fell upon the flow of oil from the Unted States and the Caribbean to Spain. That country had been permitted to secure as much oil as it was able to pay for and have transported. With the consent of the nations at war, the cargoes moved untroubled through the blockades. The Spanish official oil monopolies in Spain (CAMPSA) and in the Canary Islands (CEPSA) were amply and smoothly served under contracts with American companies. The volume of imports grew and grew again.

About the middle of June the French and the British Governments both placed a finger upon that fact. On June 14 the French Ambassador called to Under Secretary Welles' attention the fact that 21 ships, mostly of American registry, were then on their way to Spain with oil; some of this oil, the French Government believed, was en route to Italy. A few days later, the British Government in a note passed on by its Ambassador in Washington, expressed great concern over this concentration. The figures cited traced the recent abnormal rise in Spanish imports. They were taken to prove that Spanish reserve stocks were excessive, and rapidly increasing. The statistical graph had an ominous hook; it curved towards the Straits of Gibraltar.

Here it may be commented that the figures then in hand were necessarily rough estimates. When, much later, the actual record was compiled, the bulge in shipments was greater than had been surmised. In June, American exports of fuel oil to Spain were triple the usual rate, and of lubricants an ample half-year's supply. But the estimates of the size of Spanish reserve stocks was much too high and was later corrected by the British.[i]

A substantial part of the oil for Spain was carried in neutral tankers, mostly American. The Texas Company arranged many, if not most, of the shipments. The British note stated that the British Government had the clearest possible evidence that the Chairman of the Texas Company had arranged with the manager of the company's Italian affiliate to assist Spain in every possible way to charter neutral tonnage for the transport of oil -- part of which seemed to be intended for Italy. There was, it may be interjected, solid ground for this suspicion.

The British Government asked us, in view of these facts, first, to restrict the use of American tankers for the transport of oil to Spain; second, to limit shipments from the United States to Spain of lubricants and aviation gasoline. These latter products were carried by ordinary cargo vessels. The British Government had no sure way of checking them, even if it were to try; and it feared that any try might cause unwanted trouble with the Spanish Government.

The French and British requests were first put in the cooler of routine. There they were treated merely as minor complaints by the Allies concerning evasions of their blockade. As such they might long have been ignored, since some branches of the State Department, particularly a corner of the Legal Adviser's Office, was still bent upon preserving our neutral trade chances and supporting the "neutral" rights written into the text books of an earlier era.

But after a few days the papers were taken away from the lawyers. It was perceived that the size of the shipments to Spain, and of the Spanish stocks, were the main questions of interest -- not that of diversion to the Axis. A search began for means by which the excess flow might be prevented without noise or detection. Secretary Hull was not eager to hear a cry from Congress that the Administration was taking sides in the war. He was even less eager to incite an internal row over our relations with Franco. Therefore a British suggestion that we openly control the export of oil to Spain was rejected -- as too likely to cause a fight. It was not foreseen that all the oil of Texas would soon be needed for our own defense.

But a number of other steps were taken to serve the same end. First, the Maritime Commission ruled that this trade with Spain was dangerous and that American tankers should not engage in it. Even tankers chartered to foreign buyers of oil were included in this order. Second, the Department arranged with the Treasury to have all oil cargoes labelled for Spain inspected -- in order, it was said, to guard against diversion to other destinations. The Secretary of the Treasury, who knew of the British and French notes, had been urging stiff control. His Department at once set about inspecting every tanker in reach, including those already loaded, from keel to cabin. The crews of ships calling at Port Arthur to secure oil for Spain became very well acquainted with the look of the harbor.

These measures were put into effect as quietly as possible. The Secretary of State, in the few troubled moments which he gave to the matter, had shown his hope that the purpose could be achieved without admitting the intent. But the Spanish Government quickly sensed that someone was shutting the valve. Spain had no dollars to spare. Behind the decision to use so much of the short supply to buy oil, there was a pressing reason. Whether the reason was for peace or for war, no one in Washington, and perhaps in Madrid, could then be certain. Probably the enlarged buying orders were first placed as a cautionary economic move; they were in part intended for Italy. Then when the German assault on the western front surged forward, new great values were seen in having large stocks. They were the fee for opportunity -- the ticket for Gibraltar and Africa. Germany was being asked to supplement, as a condition for entering the war, what Spain could buy elsewhere.

The Spanish Government took swift heed of the delays in tanker sailings from the United States and the cancellation of contracts. The head of the Petroleum Monopoly inquired of the American Embassy in Madrid at once. The Spanish Ambassador in Washington tried to quiz the Under Secretary of State on June 18. The answer he received was opaque -- consisting merely of a statement that the Maritime Commission was of the opinion that it would be dangerous for American tankers to enter European waters at that time.


Secretary Hull relapsed into a relieved belief that the needs of the situation had been met. But he soon learned otherwise. On July 10-11, 1940, the Treasury refused to clear two tankers of the Texas Company loaded with oil for Spain on the ground that it was safer for the preservation of American neutrality that they should not be seized carrying contraband. In accounting for this action to Secretary Hull, the Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Morgenthau, referred to reports that Spanish imports were still excessive. This was so; the rate of flow had been reduced, but it was still enough to enable Spain to add to reserves. Morgenthau then asked orders in regard to the future clearance of tankers for Spain -- in such a way as to seem to give orders. The Secretary of State did not welcome this pushful interest. The cut in his skin left by the quarrel over our denial of arms to the Spanish Government during the Civil War still pained. He felt ill-treated and was quick to take offense at any hint, no matter how soft or indirect, that there was anything to regret in our record. Were critics, ignorant of his worries, again to force the same quarrel upon him in regard to oil? Britain would bear the brunt of the consequences of whatever was done. Let it take the lead! All these ideas could be glimpsed in the comments which he dispensed with tired irritation.

After the telephone failed to reconcile their views, the two Cabinet officers met, only to part in sulky anger. Secretary Hull resented the pressure to act -- sustained by those who would not be held responsible for error -- without more time to gauge the situation. He disliked quick decision. Secretary Morgenthau was convinced that there was no time to wait, since Spain was on the verge of joining Germany. Secretary Hull tried to shake himself free by proposing that Morgenthau should act as he saw fit. But then the latter seemed to become afraid that if Spain rebuked us or entered the war he would be exposed to blame.

Relations between the two Departments were unhappy. Differences in policy separated them, and mistrust made the separation angry. The State Department was aroused over stories in the press and on the radio which were thought to originate in the Treasury. These gave inaccurate accounts of action and prejudiced views of motive. Thus the State Department participants in any meeting with their colleagues from the other side of the White House came to fear the experience. For it was all too likely that, when it was over, versions which did them no credit would shortly circulate. The State Department, it should be added, was not defenseless. Journalists also called there, and the more faithful ones at the Carlton Hotel as well.

While the Departments argued, tankers moved, though not in the same numbers as before. The President was consulted, but he would offend neither one nor the other of his Cabinet. The thought of further reducing the flow of oil was encouraged, but the Secretary of State was left to decide how. Within the next fortnight (in the first part of July) his slowly travelling judgment arrived at the next action station. But he remained anxious lest a mistake be made, and possibly a grave one. We might incite or hurry the Spanish Government to do what it otherwise might not do. We might be accused in Congress of thrusting the country toward war; for if Spain entered we could not ignore the fate of her Atlantic Islands. We did not know, but could guess (and correctly) that Hitler had his eye upon them. Therefore the hunt continued for an unobtrusive means. The Secretary conveyed to his staff, as a kind of pendant to his talk, his assent to the idea that the oil companies might secretly be asked to reduce shipments.

For about a fortnight longer this idea hung suspended in the void of doubt. Secretary Hull's hints of action seemed to dissolve in mid-air. The political officers concerned, who had handled this question of Spanish oil since it first came up, were dubious of the finality of the Secretary's wish and avoided the chore. It was suggested to the writer, on a holiday in New York (on July 19), that he drop in on the oil companies and let them know that the Department would be pleased if they sent less oil to Spain. This seemed to him a futile step. In view of the size of the trade and the contracts under which it was conducted, he argued, upon his return to Washington, for more impressive action by the State Department. The Texas Company would surely want to be certain that the Government was in earnest, and almost as surely would have to explain to the Spanish Government why it did not fill orders.

At this point, the situation might have had a dramatic solution. For the question of oil for Spain became mingled with the greater question of oil for Japan. We were pouring into that aggressive empire increasing quantities of oil -- including great quantities of those grades used in aviation. This nourishment of a likely enemy became in July the subject of anguished talk between the members of the Cabinet and with Lord Lothian, the British Ambassador. Congress, by the National Defense Law, had on July 2 given the Executive legal authority to control all exports. We had informed the British Government that we did not feel that we could justify the use of this power to control the flow of oil to Spain -- on the grounds of defense. But on July 25 the President signed an order to do so, as part of a program to regulate the supply to all countries except Britain and her Allies.

All the night before the cables and wires had sluiced their reports of battle and anxiety into the receiving room on the fourth floor of the State Department. On the morning of the 25th the stream was of exhausting dimensions and, save for the report of England's courage, all of it of bad meaning for the United States. Acting Secretary Welles was intently reading through the neat stack of cables on his desk when an assistant entered. The White House, she explained, asked that he countersign the Presidential proclamation that she held in her hand. One glance was sufficient to extract its essential meaning from its formal phrases: the American Government would thereafter subject all exports of oil, scrap iron and other metals to license. The cables were thrust aside and colleagues hastily summoned to discuss the meaning of this order.

While they were on the way down to Welles' office, it was learned that the White House had already announced the issuance of the proclamation. The group took their chairs with perturbed wonder, especially those who were immersed in the crisis in the Far East. Almost at once they learned that it would be of little use to ask the urgent questions that were in their minds. For Welles said that he had not known how it was to be applied. If he could surmise, he did not choose to. His habitual coolness resisted the contagion of excitement. He was not inclined to retell tales out of the Cabinet or White House until they were condensed into succinct orders.

Thus he listened with blank expression to the points and queries of his staff. Of these the Chief of the Control Division was the most obviously disturbed. That was not unusual, since this harassed official was by nature easily aroused. Further, his place within the government subjected him to all the detailed consequences of the sudden moves above. He knew that within the hour every oil company in the United States would be on the other end of his telephone asking what the order meant. This was a spur to his detective faculties. They led him to the conclusion that the manner and form of action had been conceived within the Treasury. His evidence for that opinion was not bad. Clipped to the draft proclamation was a small piece of paper on which the word "Treasury" was typed. Further, he asserted that in response to his inquiry the White House told him that it thought that the Treasury had cleared the proclamation with the other branches of the Government, including the State Department. The basis of this impression remains even today obscure. With whom the matter might have been discussed no one present knew or could find out.

Whatever the originating source and intention, the questions presented were urgent and of consequence. What would the regulations be and how would they be applied? Had the President decided to end, or greatly curtail, the shipment of vital materials to all whom we regarded as aggressors and potential enemies? Were we about to take this crucial step? Both the manner and the language of the proclamation seemed to indicate that we were.

Like observers of an atomic bomb test stretched out on the ground, the conferring officials sought to discern what shape the fiery cloud took. It might contain enough energy to vaporize history. Upon the meaning of this order depended the chances of war with Japan and of Spanish entry into the war against Britain. The more safely to face the glare, some put on the dark glasses of discretion. The Secretary of State, they knew, doubted whether it was wise, as yet, to invite the strains and dangers that would follow if we directly denied vital supplies to countries not included in the British blockade. His mouth had seemed to sag at the corners with worry as to whether Congress or public opinion would support him in that course, and whether the American Army and Navy were prepared for the struggle. But he was absent.

Welles, after hearing the review of anxieties felt in various divisions of the Department, said that he would try to persuade the President to confine the order to oil of grades useful in aviation, and to scrap iron of the highest type only. That afternoon he did so. Whether or not this was a reversal of the idea that the President had in mind when he signed the order was not discussed. But it probably was. The Treasury's slip was removed, the State Department's appended.

The currents toss and twist where fast rivers join. Now one, made turbulent by the night's rainfall, runs more swiftly and strongly than the other and dashes over it with high foam; now the other, having washed away some obstacle, suddenly pours out in greater depth. So the streams of desire within the Government clashed and whirled about in the years before the war: the will to prevent Axis victory, the wish to remain out of war, and the longing for time in which to strengthen ourselves for whatever struggle was ahead. The breakers of decision constantly foamed as they rolled on.

The reduced order (issued on July 26) was of little importance -- except to Japan. It did not affect the question of whether and how we would further reduce the flow of oil to Spain. Welles decided to consult with the heads of the oil companies concerned. They came to Washington around August 1. They were asked to keep their shipments to Spain within previous customary limits and cautioned to be sure that none of it was passed on to Germany or Italy. This caution was directed particularly at Captain Thorkild Rieber, head of the Texas Company. His close associations with Nazi Germany were at that very time being exposed in the public press.

Thus by some quiet turns of the wrench of authority during the summer of 1940 the flow of oil to Spain was reduced. At first the hands that grasped the tool had been lax and doubtful. But they grew firmer as American policy evolved into one of open opposition to the Axis. During the next few months, while Britain's fate was being decided, the tanker sailings were few; the quantities of gasoline, fuel oil and lubricants were insufficient even for ordinary needs. Spain had to begin to empty its tanks and to worry about what would happen if the shrinkage went further.[ii]


The Spanish Government tried to loosen the valve by reviving the threat against the American-owned telephone company. On June 22, it will be recalled, Serrano Suñer, in an attempt to irritate, had denied his promise to allow the owners to resume control. Ambassador Weddell took up the case again with zeal, but Franco took no notice of his scattered appeals. Weddell concluded that the Spanish Government was trying to use our protective concern to force us to supply all the oil wanted. The State Department instructed him to make clear that it would not consider any such bargain. He was told to insist upon the restoration of American control as a matter of right and past promise, and to let it be known that the American Government would not discuss any other matter of interest to Spain (meaning a loan) until this was done.

Weddell expounded these views in a number of rasping talks with Foreign Minister Beigbeder, Serrano Suñer and Franco. On July 29, August 3 and again on August 6, the Ambassador and the Foreign Minister exchanged complaints. Each of these talks roamed far. Beigbeder said that the attitude of the Spanish Government was misunderstood. Spain, he averred, had no thought of entering the war unless attacked; the time for any such action in conjunction with Germany had gone by. These comforting words were wholly unlike the versions of the ideas of the Spanish Government -- since become known -- which the German Ambassador in Madrid was sending to Berlin. For example, in a memorandum that Ambassador Stohrer prepared for the German Foreign Office on August 8, he stated that the Spanish Foreign Minister had several times reminded him of the offer made by Spain in June to enter the war.[iii] The only way to acquit Beigbeder of duplicity at this juncture is to believe that he believed that the offers to Germany were not genuine.

These avowals were spread like a carpet to deaden the tread of suspicion, but they did not do so. The Foreign Minister pleaded for gasoline, but the State Department continued to doubt that it was needed for peaceful purposes. Its opinion was shaped by estimates provided by the British Government of Spanish reserves and by the record of shipments during the previous year. True, the restrictions imposed on the use of oil within Spain were severe and ordinarily would have been taken to connote a genuine shortage. But the available facts suggested another meaning, that the restrictions were being used as a means of hoarding for war, or possibly even as a measure of deception.

The truth of the situation is still not easy to decipher. The opinion that Spanish stocks were excessive and that the need was not critical was in some measure valid. So were reports that certain shipments had been turned over to Italian and German ships. But the estimates of stocks which influenced decision were wrong. Spanish reserves were smaller than was thought.

The next requests of the Minister of Foreign Affairs for oil were met by Weddell with the placid reply that the American Government was waiting for a settlement of the telephone dispute. Our wish to wait for clearer proof of what lay ahead was strengthened by attacks in the controlled Spanish press that grew more and more harsh. An evident attempt was being made by spirits hostile to us to prepare the minds of the Spanish people for entry into the war. At this juncture (August), Serrano Suñer, who controlled the press and radio, was doing his utmost to arouse the Spanish people against Britain and the United States. Hence he was glad of any quarrel, and ready to risk the loss of overseas supplies in the thought that Germany would take care of Spanish needs. The refusal of Germany to do so during the next three months was to prove one of the reasons why the drive for intervention finally failed.

Franco, we now know, was testing through Serrano Suñer what he could hope for from Germany. But with ever-present instinct to take from each day whatever might be had, he guarded himself against the loss of American products. On August 6 the Foreign Minister met Weddell at the door of his office and stated that the telephone matter was settled at last. Weddell, acting on orders in hand, then stated that the American Government would permit Spain to obtain such quantities of oil as it could transport and the British would navicert.

Of the circumstances of this midsummer Spanish pivot we now know much more than the American Government knew at the time. But we are still left to guess at the thoughts which made Franco's bargaining mind go around, made it give in to get oil. Was it foresight that Germany would refuse to supply his needs except on objectionable terms? Was it fear that the whole Spanish economy would collapse if he remained at odds with us? Spain might find herself deprived not only of oil but of fertilizers, cotton and wheat. The Spanish Government was about to pick up again the dropped request for a large credit to buy these products. Or was he afraid that the American Government might welcome the growth of the quarrel as a pretext for attacking the Canary Islands?

Or was it because of a wish to preserve Spanish oil reserves while he waited the approach of his chance to inherit -- by default or by arms -- Gibraltar and Morocco? Had he not on July 17 publicly declared that:

It is necessary to make a nation, to forge an empire. To do that our first task must be to strengthen the unity of Spain. There remains a duty and a mission, the command of Gibraltar, African expansion and the permanence of a policy of unity.

As Hoare has written, these words were not merely rhetoric. Even after close scrutiny of the exchanges between Spain and Germany during this period, it is difficult to know what was in his mind. At all events, in conceding to us he had given but little, and nothing that could not be taken back.


The cold and untrusting wind that blew across the Atlantic made good weather for British sailing. The American pinch upon the flow of oil to Spain gave the British Government a prized chance to display its influence and usefulness. With quick insight Britain made the most of it. Shrewdly, seeing behind the posters that called for war at once, Hoare wrote home to Lord Beaverbrook, August 7, 1940:

My own impression is that the Spaniards are sitting on the fence until they see how the invasion of England, and possibly Egypt, goes. They are convinced that they will get something for certain out of the war in Africa and an arrangement about Gibraltar. But they are terribly short of everything that is needed for fighting and on that account they would only come into the war if they were convinced that it was virtually over.[iv]

His conclusion, accepted by his Government was, that

to treat Spain as an enemy is playing into the hands of the Germans, who were determined to force the country into war against its wish.[v]

Britain in that summer was too close to mortal danger to choose her enemies or friends. Most of the Spanish people might be counted on, she thought, to be friends if not driven by injury or necessity; they had not been drilled or beaten into supine obedience. The Spanish Government -- even if it wished -- could not ignore them. Thus Britain strove to maintain the flow of trade from the Empire into Spain and to advertise the fact in all parts of the needy land. After the first gust of alarm in June, she quickly set about to make clear that she had no wish to see the Spanish economy collapse for lack of oil. Once assured that Spanish stocks were not excessive, British tongues would speak of Spanish needs, make sure they were not neglected.

Thus, while invasion talk filled the air, British representatives sat down with Spaniards to prepare a long-term program of supply which would take care of Spanish requirements but not permit the accumulation of great stocks. The American Government gave assent. By September the schedules were approved; the oil question was for the time being settled.

At this time Spain could have had more oil had it wished. Britain offered more if the Spanish Government would end the restrictions on consumption. How better, the British thought, to pamper the Spanish people in a season of shortage? But the offer was refused on the ground that Spain could not pay for more. The program envisaged an inflow equal to Spain's usual past imports, so scheduled as to enable Spain to maintain a safe level of stocks -- two and a half months, but no more.

The American Government, while refusing to lend Spain the dollars needed to pay for this oil, favored the operation of the agreement with Britain. We permitted American owned tankers sailing under foreign flags to carry oil to Spain -- after obtaining a promise from the British Government that they would not be hauled within the combat zone. We raised no objections to American tankers sailing under British or Norwegian flags. We issued cargo licenses for Spain and the Spanish colonies.

These arrangements regulated, although not without some breaks in the schedule, the flow of oil to Spain and the Spanish colonies during the rest of 1940. They were maintained in the face of frequent and anxious rumors that Spain was about to enter the war. Each time that Serrano Suñer went abroad -- to Berlin, Rome, Berchtesgaden -- the regulating hands quivered. Each time a new report was received of the fueling of a German ship, they tightened in anger. But they continued to match out oil against German promises.

This policy was justified by events. Scrutiny of the secret record of Spanish negotiations with Germany warrant the conclusion that the opposite course, a refusal to permit Spain to secure oil, might quite possibly have caused the Spanish Government to come to terms with Germany; and that the continued receipt of food and oil from overseas nourished Spanish popular opposition to the Axis. Oil was a universal particle in the stream of Spanish life. It enabled the fishing boats to bring in their catches, the factories to operate, the railroad locomotives to make their runs, the buses to move through the city streets, the trucks to bring food to market. Britain was effective, despite the many forms of censorship, in making it known that it was the guardian of this particle.

Our interference had saved the American telephone company in Spain, ended diversion to the Axis, depleted the Spanish reserves (for whatever purpose accumulated), given Britain a chance to bring home her usefulness, and brought future supply under control. In all these ways it hindered the junction of Spanish and German policies.

The dialogue of difficulties between the Spanish and German leaders was soon to become routine. At each meeting, the Spaniards argued that Spain could not properly prepare or start to fight, unless supplied in advance with oil and food. The reply was always that Germany would provide enough when, and only when, Spain began to fight; it could not spare such essentials merely to earn good will. This difference was never spanned. Franco waited in the hope that military events would make it possible for him to gain his aim without a fight or in so short a one that he would need no outside help. In the meantime, while he refused to promise to remain at peace, he also refused to go to war at any time except one of his own choice. The oil supplies of the western hemisphere made it possible for him to assume that position; British resistance made it advisable for him to maintain it; German lust for power made it perilous for him to do otherwise.

During the autumn of 1940 the American attitude towards the war changed rapidly. We moved from stunned alarm towards determined action. The United States was becoming ready to see England through the fight at no matter what risk. The State Department, free of the fear of punishment, moved along with the country. Sessions within the office of the Secretary of State ceased to be searches for tactics that would cover the movement with an invisible or reversible cloak.


With the settlement that the United States and Great Britain reached with Spain in April 1944 -- after a long and critical quarrel -- the wartime struggle with and over Spain passed down a branch road of history. The Allies, for better or for worse, had chosen to let events evolve in Spain rather than dictate them. In the winter of 1943-44, we suspended all oil shipments to Spain for a period of almost three months in order to secure the Spanish Government's consent to a group of Allied demands. The most important of these were that Spain should send no more wolfram to the Axis nations, that she should close the Spanish Consulate at Tangier, the German espionage center of Africa, and that she should turn over to the Allies certain Italian warships and vessels. Spain accepted all the Allied demands, except that she insisted that some small shipments of wolfram to Germany should continue. When Spain made these concessions in the spring of 1944, oil shipments to her were resumed.

Spain could not have gone without oil much longer. By summer a crisis would have come -- which would have forced Franco either to make way for a government more pleasing to the democracies, or defiantly to have thrown in his lot with Germany. Either would have caused a division within his government, the army and among the Spanish people. What the scene in Spain would have been at the time of our landing is -- for me at least -- an unanswerable question. Franco still in power -- ruling with strong measures? A parliamentary government and a satisfied people? A weak government and sullen people which would have later come under Communist control? Or no government -- anarchy and cruel civil war again?

These questions loomed sharply and then were passed on, unanswered, to the future.

The results of the brief oil suspension were severe, despite -- or in a way because of -- the drastic rationing. Private automobiles disappeared. Only buses and taxis equipped with charcoal burners were allowed to circulate. The reduced movement of trucks caused food shortages. Railway transport services, freight and passenger, were jammed. The government did its utmost to meet farm needs for harvesting and threshing, but only partly succeeded. Some industries were shut down completely, including glass factories which created a bottle shortage in the wine and brandy business. The fishing catch was reduced. Had supplies ebbed much further, Spanish economy would have been near collapse -- if only for lack of lubricants alone.

Had Spanish stocks at the beginning of the suspension been smaller, the crisis would have been briefer and sharper. The stocks gave the Spanish Government time to curvet its way through opposed demands and secret liens. The original American oil program, as we have noted, had been based on the idea that maximum Spanish stocks should never exceed amounts needed for two months' use, three months for lubricants. The Spanish Government showed that under duress they could make what they had last for much longer. This hedge of time was, perhaps, a decisive historic fact.

The April 1944 agreement brought the Allies various military benefits of certain and prompt value. These -- rather than the end of the wolfram trade -- had been the primary objects of British effort in Spain. The German Consulate in Tangier -- the directing center of German activities throughout Morocco -- was closed, though not without wrangling. The expulsion of many -- but by no means all -- German agents from both Morocco and the Spanish mainland was hurried, though only after nagging. The last remnants of the battered Spanish army unit in the east was withdrawn, though not without an attempt to absorb its men into the German forces. Most of the interned Italian merchant ships were released, but not all. Though all these actions had been promised, they had to be hauled out of the lax net of Spanish decision.

With the resumption of the oil shipments, the stale three-cornered differences of how much oil to send and how large Spanish stocks should be reemerged. The American Government wished more than ever to keep the supplies low. But the British Government remained of the contrary mind. In fact, it now pushed hard to get a share of the trade for British oil companies and to secure an equal place in the administration of the system of oil control. During this last space of the war, small squabbles took the place of big ones. They have no special interest or importance. They might even be regarded as an advance signal of the ending of the war. The nations were beginning to feel themselves free to relapse into their customary commercial rivalries.

As our troops moved across France, our trade with Spain ceased to have vital wartime significance. Government offices in Washington began to figure out how they could prevent Spain from becoming a safe haven for the property and persons of the defeated Germans. They had cut off all the spreading branches of German influence. Now they wished to pull out the roots. For the memory was still green of those anxious times when only the misery of the Spanish people, their proud independence, and the divisions among them, prevented the crooked cross from flying over the vital Straits.

Spain ceased to be a main focus of Allied diplomacy. The beams swept across the vaster sky of the Continent, writing as they moved "unconditional surrender." Of all the leaders who had once been near Hitler's side and wished him victory, Franco alone has survived in power. He has survived to see, during the few years that have since passed, the beams of Allied diplomacy scatter and crisscross in lost confusion -- survived to see them separate into two great hostile bolts, as he had been so sure they would.

This end without grace cannot be an end. But who knows what the end will be?

[i] During June 1940 (according to unpublished figures of the Department of Commerce) the United States exported to peninsular Spain 466,000 barrels of fuel oil as compared with 830,000 during the whole second half year of 1939; and 50,000 barrels of lubricants as compared with 34,000 during the whole second half year of 1939.

[ii] The extent of reduction is shown by the following table from unpublished records of the U. S. Department of Commerce, showing exports from U. S. to Spain, in thousands of barrels:


  Gasoline Fuel Oils Lubricants
Second half year 1939 1,267 830 34
First half year 1940 1,165 1,403 110
Second half year 1940 357 891 76

[iii] Stohrer wrote as follows: "The Spanish Foreign Minister and also the Minister of the Interior, have up until the last few days repeatedly pointed out the Spanish offer to me, so that it may be assumed that Spain even today will keep its promise made in June." (No. 1, State Department Documents Concerning Relations Between the Spanish Government and the European Axis.)

[iv] Sir Samuel Hoare, "Complacent Dictator." New York, Knopf, 1947, p. 24.

[v] Letter to Lord Hankey, July 27, 1940, printed in Hoare, ibid., p. 23.

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  • HERBERT FEIS, former Economic Adviser in the Department of State; recently Special Adviser to the Secretary of War; author of "The Sinews of Peace," "Seen from E.A.," and a forthcoming volume, "The Spanish Story"
  • More By Herbert Feis