anzac POW freemen in europe

3. Spain / Portugal

On the Iberian peninsula, Spain and Portugal both hoped to remain neutral in WWII.

Portugal, clinging to the Atlantic coast, had watched the Civil War unfold in her much larger neighbour, remaining outwardly steadfastly neutral in that conflict. But Prime Minister Salazar had secretly supported Franco and regarded his defeat of the Spanish Republicans as also a political victory for Portugal.

Salazar considered a Fascist Spain to be a bulwark against Communism.
He had brought some degree of stability to a somewhat anarchistic and instable Government but in so doing had brought Portugal into a totalitarian state similar to Spain and Italy.

With no military background, he took over Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of War - effectively  placing himself on the same political level as Franco and Mussolini.

Immediately Germany invaded Poland and WWII commenced, Salazar proclaimed Portugal’s neutrality and its considerable overseas possessions.
Franco immediately followed suit.

But on the ground, that neutrality was skewed to the Axis. German submarines  openly re-fuelled at Iberian ports and when France fell to Germany, Franco changed the status of Spain from “neutral’ to “non-belligerent”. Even today, Spain still resents the British occupancy of Gibraltar, which it regards as an integral part of Spain.

Flowing the civil war, the economy of Spain was parlous. And its population still remained bitterly divided politically.

But both Spain and Portugal had good supplies of wolfram, which Germany desperately needed for its armaments production. Together with its colonies, both Spain and Portugal offered organisations such as the ICRC excellent ports for international POW exchange. Barcelona and Lisbon prospered as important transport hubs, not only by sea but also by rapidly growing air services. The International airport, 16 miles out of the central business district, teemed with both Allied and Axis commercial planes.

The Azores had long attracted the attention of both Britain and Germany due to its strategic geographical position in the Atlantic. The Germans had long considered using it as a base for their Atlantic submarines, but when the USA entered the war, it became part of American strategic planning to keep the Atlantic shipping lines open and running freely.

As the war progressed, the Allies needed the Azores as a strategic base for aircraft protecting Atlantic convoys and a deal was struck with Salazar to base Allied aircraft there, which was rather stretching even the broadest interpretation of neutrality.

The Germans were naturally upset, but could do little by this time to threaten Iberian neutrality, while Mussolini’s star was well on the wane.

Lisbon offered facilities which flowed from a neutral country that had no blackout or food rationing and still provided unexcelled tourist comfort and accommodation. It was, of course, an ideal location for espionage activities of every origin.

But the events in Portugal did not go unnoticed in Spain.

The Iberian interlude of sympathy with the Axis cause had virtually come to its end.

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