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Post Canary Islands and WWII; Luciano Dondero Responds
Created by John Eipper on 02/10/13 7:01 AM

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Canary Islands and WWII; Luciano Dondero Responds (John Eipper, USA, 02/10/13 7:01 am)

Our reader on the beautiful island of Fuerteventura, Luciano Dondero, sent this response to Robert Whealey (9 February):

I thank Robert Whealey for recommending his book Hitler and Spain, and although this topic is not really a recent interest of mine, I have no qualms about admitting that Robert is right that I will have to go on studying the Spanish Civil War--considering that my previous sources of knowledge were mostly Ernest Hemingway, Felix Morrow, George Orwell, Hugh Thomas, and above all, Leon Trotsky.

There is a novel written by Spanish writer Lucía Etxebarria, El contenido del silencio (Planeta, Barcelona, 2011), which sheds some light on the connections between Fuerteventura and Nazi Germany. She writes fiction, but this is based on some published materials, like Orígenes de la propiedad del suelo en la península de Jandía by Juan Pedro Martín Luzardo, Ayuntamiento de Pájara (FV, 2003), and the chapter "Apuntes históricos sobre Cofete" by Rosario Cerdeña in the book Homenaje a Francisco Navarro Artiles, Academia Canaria de la Lengua, 2004.

If you think this is worth a more detailed info, I suppose I could translate a couple of pages from Etxebarria's book for reference.

The gist of it is that before WWII, the Germans had plans to use Fuerteventura, but they did not materialize--probably this is linked to Hitler's complicated relationship with Franco, and his change of mind over invading the Canary Islands and the Azores.

But mainly Etxebarria goes into the Islas Afortunadas becoming a safe haven for former Nazis after the war--which divulges a bit of the story. I won't spoil it here, though...

The Gustav Winter house still exists in the south of the island, in a place called Cofete, and can be visited these days, as the old man died several years ago.

Considering the interaction that Franco had with the Canaries, I think it's significant that in the Northern town of Corralejo on Fuerteventura there was an Avenida Francisco Franco until 1994. In various maps we can see it listed as "Main Street" or "Avenida Principal," and that's a typical Spanish ruse or codename to avoid the unspeakable. Like in Barcelona, where the long avenue cutting across the city was forever called "La diagonal" so as not to use its official name of "Avenida Generalisimo Franco."

As for JE's question: "were German U-boats permitted to dock/resupply in the Canaries?"

Well, one of the "secret stories" about the Winter house in Cofete, FV claims that it was a secret U-boat base. I should think that the Western islands were better suited, though, for such an endeavour, especially Hierro. Now, if what the German movie about the U-boats (Das Boot, 1981) is truthful, it should not have been too complex for the Third Reich to have neutral-flag ships moving in and out of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria or Santa Cruz de Tenerife to resupply U-boats.

This interaction is apparently a much-speculated about issue here. For some examples see:

https://cienciamisterio.wordpress.com/2010/05/21/%C2%BFhitler-estuvo-en-canarias/

http://www.taringa.net/posts/info/13097041/Espias-nazis-en-Tenerife.html

and "Nazis en Canarias": http://angulo13.com/angulo13_alfonsoferrer2.htm

There is also a book by Jaime Rubio titled Submarinos y arqueología nazi en Canarias.

I'd also like to cite an interview with a historian of the Canaries:

http://www.laprovincia.es/dominical/2010/06/06/armada-espanola-llevo-tripulaciones-submarinas-nazis-torpedos-canarias/305883.html

Here's a quote from Professor Juan José Díaz Benítez:

Entonces, sobre el suministro de submarinos, ¿en qué quedó realmente?

--Bueno, en 1940 se realiza toda una serie de intentos de abastecimiento de submarinos nazis en puertos de la Península sin éxito, porque los comandantes de marina no lo permitieron, aduciendo que no tienen autorización. Ni en Vigo, Ferrol o Cádiz. Sin embargo, en febrero de 1941 el ministro español de Marina autoriza al comandante naval de la Luz a realizar seis abastecimientos a submarinos nazis, tanto de combustibles como de víveres y torpedos. Se sabe ahora que los segundos llegan al Puerto de La Luz procedentes de la Península, como algunas tripulaciones, en buques de la Armada Española [teóricamente gozaban de neutralidad y no debían ser interceptados por la Armada británica, que tenía el control del pasillo Estrecho-Canarias]. De todos es sabida la repatriación de la tripulación del U-167, submarino oceánico alemán hundido y que alcanzó la playa de Las Burras. Como hubo mucho transporte español de Canarias a La Península de tripulaciones de submarinos nazis hundidos en el Atlántico Sur que llegaban a las Islas como polizones en buques trigueros. Y de Madrid salían en avión a Berlín.

JE comments:  Thank you, Luciano Dondero, for filling in the blanks.  According to Prof. Díaz Benítez, the German U-Boat contact with the Canaries was minimal, beyond the repatriation of rescued crewmembers.  There was one instance of re-supply in 1941, however--did the Allies ever get wind of this?  Franco was very crafty at playing both sides of WWII, and must have been aware that any open support of the U-Boats would have met with the full wrath of the British Navy.


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  • Canary Islands and WWII (Robert Whealey, USA 02/10/13 2:49 PM)
    I have no evidence of German submarines coming to the Canaries.  [This is apparently not the case; see David Pike, below--JE.] The British Navy watched for submarines in the waters off the islands. The key to the Canary Islands strategic base is the fact that in 1931 Juan March, Spain's richest man, created his own oil company CEPSA. The crude oil was supplied by Texaco to Franco's armies 1936-1941. There may also have been a little "hot oil" supplied by Cárdenas government in Mexico from 1938 to 1940. PEMEX was in a long battle with the Shell Standard cartel over nationalization.



    Texas crude and crude from Latin America was sold to CEPSA. The German submarines were supplied by black market on the high seas by the OKM's tanker service. See my index Ettapendienst (Supply Service). Admiral Canaris organized a global system of oil deliveries. There are many Ettapendienst records that I had no time to use for my book on Spain.



    There may be a second volume here for some future researcher, "Spain's Oil Diplomacy 1936-1941." When the US declared war in 1941 the Caribbean oil fields were closed down for Franco and Nationalist Spain.

    JE comments: I'm puzzled that Mexican president Lázaro Cárdenas would sell oil to Franco, so soon after he actively supported the Republic. Do I understand Robert Whealey correctly that Cárdenas was supplying Franco as early as 1938?


    Yes, Oil Diplomacy is an excellent lens to view world history since around 1910. There must be several books on the topic that need to be written.

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    • Canary Islands and WWII (David Pike, France 02/11/13 6:56 AM)
      Robert Whealey wrote, a trifle grandly, "I have no evidence of German submarines coming to the Canaries [during WWII]" (10 February). There is evidence, which is available in Freiburg-im-Breisgau (Bund.-Mil., Seekriegsleitung, RM7/844).

      The report from Admiral Kurt Fricke gives precise figures of the amount of fuel oil, lubricating oil and food supplies available at Las Palmas sufficient for one U-boat Type U-45 for six weeks, with re-supplies available on request to Berlin. "Supplies to U-boats are to be carried out in every case inside the harbor, alongside the German supply ship and during the night, sailing submerged if necessary, in order that the operation, both in docking and putting to sea, passes unobserved."


      JE comments: This is very interesting; I suspected as much.  And the "cloak of darkness" approach would seem to line up with Franco's playbook:  in the World War, always hedge your bets.



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