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Friday, June 01, 2007

Can we still fly to Tenerife North?

Tenerife North Airport

Richard Green, writing in the Times Online, in response to a reader's question about flights to Tenerife North Airport from the UK, said that, "Tenerife North comes with more baggage than most airports" and continued, "Formerly known as Los Rodeos, it was from here that General Franco flew to the mainland in 1936 to ignite the Spanish Civil War."

Er, nope. Whilst Franco did start his journey from Tenerife in 1936, because he was stationed there at the time, however, he did not fly from Los Rodeos. On July 17th, 1936, Franco embarked upon the mail steamship, Viera y Clavijo to Las Palmas in Gran Canaria. The famous Dragon Rapide flight that took Franco to Africa, never came to Tenerife and met him in Gran Canaria. The flight didn't go to the mainland either.

There was a bit of an airfield at Los Rodeos from 1929, but it did not become an airport until later. Los Rodeos was undergoing improvement works, ordered by the Tenerife Island Corporation, in 1936. It remained closed during the Civil War and was reopened in January 1941. It didn't get a runway until 1945.

The English version, at Wikipedia, just says, "One famous incident involving the use of a DH.89 was in 1936 when Francisco Franco escaped in one from Canarias to the Spanish Morocco, at the start of the Spanish Civil War." The translation of the Spanish version, however, gives us the full story, which is rather more spine chilling:
To put Franco at the head of the insurrection in Morocco, without awakening the suspicions of the Spanish Government, Luis Bolín (a correspondent of the ABC in London), with the help of intermediaries, [Marques] Luca de Tena [owner of the monarchist ABC newspaper] and Spanish inventor, Juan de la Cierva, contracted, on July 11th, 1936, a twin-engined De Havilland DH 89 Dragon Rapide with pilot, Captain Begg, a plane which had belonged to the Duque de Gales (Duke of Wales) [1], at Croydon aerodrome; the only plane that could be found in condition to travel immediately. So as to not raise suspicions over the journey, it carried, as passengers an English Major in the Reserve, his daughter and her friend [2], who had been offered free passages to Tenerife as tourists. They got lost over the peaks of Europe [Pyrenees] and had to return to Biarritz to refuel, continuing to fly to Lisbon and then on to the Canary Island airport of Gando in Gran Canaria, after a stop-off in Casablanca. The tourists then continued to Tenerife [3], where they had to give the strange message "Galicia saluda a Francia" (Galicia sends it's regards to France), to a doctor. Franco, meanwhile, waited for the arrival of the Dragon Rapide, in the Hotel Madrid in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, where he had gone with his family, to the funeral of soldier (Balmes), having sought permission so as not to raise suspicions. When Franco boarded the Dragon Rapide, he was in civilian clothes, he had shaved off his moustache and torn up his military ID documentation, passing himself off as an English tourist [4].
Franco flew to Agadir, then on to Casablanca and Tetuán in Morocco. He re-entered Spain, via Ceuta, by car.

[1] Do they mean Prince of Wales, or Duke of Elsewhere?

[2] The "fake" tourists were a retired major, Hugh Pollard, his daughter Diana and Dorothy Watson. The two girls, blondes (with the habit of keeping their cigarettes and lighters in their knicker elastic, apparently), were there to divert the authorities' attention. Pollard was presented as just a rich bloke interested in fishing, but declassified M16 documents indicate that Pollard was an agent of said service. The full name of the ABC correspondent, who travelled as the forth "tourist", was Luís Bolín Bidwell, who was half English.

Editor of the English Review, Douglas Jerrold, who was of extreme right persuasion and a sympathizer of Adolf Hitler, and Juan March, Spanish financier and British agent on the side of Francisco Franco's forces and founder of the Fundación Juan March, were also implicated in the arrangements.

Charlie Pottins in British Friends of Franco, reiterates much of the above and more, also including a translation of further details that appear in the Spanish account above, namely, "Franco's flight had been planned over lunch at Simpsons in the Strand where Douglas Jerrold, editor of the right-wing Catholic English Review met Bolín, London correspondent of the ABC newspaper and later Franco's propaganda and censorship chief. They decided to charter a De Havilland Dragon Rapide aircraft and a pilot, Captain Cecil Bebb, from Olley Air Services at Croydon."

[3] After landing in Gran Canaria, the tourists continued to Tenerife by boat.

[4] Which certainly wouldn't have worked if anyone had spoken to him!

The story of this significant flight is told - I understand with historical accuracy - in the 1986 film, Dragón Rapide. The actual Dragon Rapide aircraft used for Franco's flight, with registration number G-ACYR, was incorporated into service with the Royal Air Force during WW2. After the war, it was bought and sold a couple of times, before being retired from service after having its airworthiness certificate revoked in 1953. It was then acquired by a Mr. Griffith, who gave it to General Franco as a gift. Franco, in turn donated it to the as yet then nonexistent Museo del Aire military aviation museum at Cuatros Vientos airfield in Madrid. That's where it still is, having been restored to the livery it carried in 1936.

If anyone should be carrying baggage and hanging their heads in shame over this incident, which sparked both a bloody civil war and almost 40 years of dictatorship, it should be the British, not Los Rodeos.

All flights to and from Tenerife North airport are inter-island flights and flights to the Spanish mainland. See Tenerife Norte Airport Destinations.

The British pilot whose actions triggered the Spanish Civil War

Image: Aisano [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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