Despite an agreement signed in May 1944 with the United States and Great Britain to stop backdoor deals with Hitler's Nazis, Franco Spain went right on giving secret aid to Germany to the end of World War II.
According to once-secret documents just turned over to the National Archives by the National Security Agency, Spain set up observation posts near Gibraltar and in Spanish Morocco to keep an eye on Allied shipping in the Mediterranean Sea, established two radio stations in Spain to intercept Allied message traffic, and set up a radar outpost in northern Spain to warn the Germans of American and British air attacks coming across the south of France.
The documents also state that in October 1944 a German ship and its crew, interned by Spain for a month after smuggling spies to Argentina, were released to conduct a second spy-smuggling operation to South America. Also in October, a delegation of the Spanish Air Ministry served as spies for the Luftwaffe on a trip made at U.S. invitation to a civil air convention in this country.
In addition, Germany was allowed to smuggle out of Spain at least 365 tons of tungsten, which was used to make artillery shells, in direct violation of an agreement signed by Spain to limit tungsten exports to Germany. German agents working for the same export firm also smuggled out of Spain American-made penicillin that German drug firms had been unable to produce.
The documents released by the NSA state that on Oct. 23, 1944, J. F. Bernhardt, head of Sofindus, a Germancontrolled firm in Spain, cabled Berlin as follows:
"After surmounting the greatest difficulties, we obtained possession today of peniciillin brought directly by air from America. It will be sent to Germany as soon as possible." Two days later, Bernhardt reported:
"Penicillin, packed in a refrigerated thermos flask, will reach Berlin by the next plane. Inquire daily at Tempelhof (Airfield in Berlin) so that immediate collection and refrigeration will be assured."
In a footnote, the NSA points out that U.S. manufacturers had been permitted since July 1944 to make air shipments of penicillin to Spanish consignees approved by the Combined Blockade Commiittee in London. The footnote said the "only Spanish consignees who have received shipments to date are Dr. Remigra Romero and the Frederico Bonet Co."
The American penicillin, which was one of German agents' most prized steals of the entire war, was shipped to Berlin aboard a Lufthansa airliner, on a service that had begun only a few months before over official Allied protests. Spain told the American ambassador that it "attached the greatest importance to maintaining the existing air link with Germany."
One of the most open wounds between the Allies and Spain, according to the NSA documents, was Spain's refusal to follow up on a promise to intern or expel obvious German agents. At one time the United States and Britain identified more than 200 German spies in Spain, which reduced the list to 146, then to 125 and finally to seven, none of whom was important to German espionage in Spain. The seven were interned and released four days later when the Japanese ambassador to Spain objected to their internment.
One of the most irritating incidents to the Allies involved the French fishing smack "Jolle," which had been used by the Germans to carry spies to Argentina. When the "Jolle" returned from Argentina to Spain, the ship and its crew of eight Germans were interned for lack of proper papers to operate out of Spanish ports.
A month after the internment, intelligence headquarters in Berlin instructed its Madrid branch to obtain the release of the German crew so it could perform a second spy-smuggling mission to Argentina. Two weeks later, the crew was released and flown from Barcelona to Berlin.
Less than a week after the German crew left Spain, German intelligence asked Madrid for the use of "old Spanish boats and fishing vessels" to carry supplies to German fortesses on the French coast of the Bay of Biscay. On Oct. 27, a cable from Madrid advised Berlin that supply operations would begin from Bilbao "in the near future."
On May 2, 1944, Spain signed an agreement that it would take certain actions against Germany and would no longer give espionage and economic aid to the Germans if the United States and Britain would resume shipments of oil to Spain. Both Allied countries resumed oil and gasoline shipments, which they had suspended in 1943, but the once-secret documents reveal that Spain never lived up to its part of the agreement.
The United States repeatedly protested Spain's violations but was wary of getting too specific for fear Spain and Germany would realize that Washington had broken Axis diplomatic codes. Also, the Allies wanted Spain as neutral as possible so they ended up doing little to anger the Franco government.