Dragon Rapide airplane
On July 19, 1936, a Dragon Rapide plane carrying General Francisco Franco touched down at the airfield in Tetuán, the capital of the Spanish protectorate in Morocco. It was the climax of an adventure that began weeks before. The plane had been chartered by Luis Bolín, London correspondent of the ABC newspaper with money provided by the banker Juan March. It was yet another of the activities of the groups of monarchist conspirators who had spent years trying to overthrow the Second Republic and had received logistical support and promises of weapons from Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, himself.
Franco was a key element in their plans. He was a prestigious soldier who had made his name with the help of the monarchy and the conservative press during the Moroccan War. Eclipsed during the first years of the Republic, his career was restarted after the right came to power in 1934. His rise was consolidated when, at the request of the War Minister, he commanded the troops who violently put down the Asturian insurrection of October 1934. His reward was to be appointed supreme commander in Morocco and, a few months later, Chief of the General Staff. Following the elections of February 1936, along with his new political patron, CEDA leader José María Gil Robles, and General Manuel Goded, Franco tried to pressure the government not to recognize the election results. He was dismissed from his position.
The new Popular Front government did not trust Franco, but instead of punishing him, it named him commander of the Canary Islands. From there, he remained in contact with the generals involved in the conspiracy being organized by Emilio Mola and supported by a civilian network led by José Calvo-Sotelo. The leader of the revolt was General José Sanjurjo. He had led a failed coup attempt in 1932 and was now in exile in Portugal.
There are many versions of when Franco made the decision to join the coup. One common version is that it was the assassination of Calvo Sotelo on July 13 that made up his mind. However, the Dragon Rapide had left London two days before. What is known is that the plane was waiting for Franco on July 18, when he arrived in Las Palmas to attend the funeral of General Amado Balmes who died in what was described, not very convincingly, as a target shooting accident. Franco’s arrival in Tetuán was crucial to the military rebellion, but it was the death of Sanjurjo in an airplane accident on July 20 that suddenly and unexpectedly provided the opportunity for him to become the leader of the emerging new regime.