Funeral of General José Sanjurjo
In March 2017, the remains of General José Sanjurjo were interred in the Pantheon of the Regulares, the infantry units recruited in Spanish Morocco, in the Cemetery of the Most Holy Conception in Melilla. Until then, they had lain in the Monument to the Fallen in Pamplona but, a few weeks earlier, under the terms of the 2007 Law of Historical Memory, the city government had ordered they be exhumed.
In their rewriting of history, Franco and his followers minimized the figure of José Sanjurjo . While Emilio Mola was the organizar of the coup that started the Civil War, Sanjurjo was its real leader. His death in an airplane accident on July 20 as he was flying to Spain from exile in Portugal prevented him from taking command of the rebel forces. Other generals more deeply involved in the coup than Franco also met untimely deaths. Joaquín Fanjul and Manuel Goded were captured by the Republicans and executed shortly after the war began, and Mola died in another plane crash in June 1937. It was these deaths, along with his command of the Army of Africa, the rebels’ most battle tested unit, that made it possible for Franco to surprise everyone – himself included – and become the rebels’ leader and then dictator of the emerging regime.
Franco and his collaborators immediately began to tell the story of a past that had never happened. Driven solely by his love for Spain, they claimed, Franco reluctantly organized the uprising. The other generals supported him because they recognized the exceptional gifts that made him their natural leader.
This was a complete distortion of history. In the early 1920s, Sanjurjo was the undisputed leader of the colonial army. After the disastrous battle of Annual in 1921, where at least 13,000 Spanish soldiers were killed, it was Sanjurjo who was charged with restoring Spanish positions around Melilla, and it was Sanjurjo who commanded the landing at Alhucemas in 1925 that was the beginning of the end of the war. His efforts earned him a major medal as well as a noble title. On the other hand, as Director of the Civil Guard he did nothing to prevent the proclamation of the Republic in April 1931, possibly because he was angry at King Alfonso XIII for not making him dictator after the fall of Primo de Rivera.
The Republic treated Sanjurjo well. He remained in command of the Civil Guard and was appointed High Commissioner of Morocco. But Sanjurjo was not a democrat and in August 1932 he led a failed revolt against the government. He was arrested and sentenced to death but then pardoned. From his exile in Portugal he conspired to bring down the Republic. Sanjurjo was the great hero, Caudillo – the Spanish versión of Duce – as the far right called him. When the rebellion started on July 18, 1936 he was expected in Salamanca to take charge of the new regime that was going to be created. He never arrived.