19 May 1939: A show of strength from the new regime

Franco beneath the triumphal arch for the ‘Desfile de la Victoria’.
Franco beneath the triumphal arch for the ‘Desfile de la Victoria’. / SUR
  • In order to consolidate his power and celebrate the Nationalist victory, General Franco organised the large-scale 'Desfile de la Victoria'

With the Civil War recently over, General Franco sought not only to celebrate the Nationalist victory, but also demonstrate the permanent nature of his regime with a large-scale military parade through the capital on 19 May 1939.

The spring of 1939 was the first of Franco’s tours of the provinces in a bid to connect with the population and ratify his leadership. This tour would culminate in Madrid, a city in which the Republicans resisted for almost three years.

According to historian Paul Preston, the objective of what became called the ‘Desfile de la Victoria’ was to “identify Franco with Hitler, Mussolini and the great medieval warlords throughout Spanish history and to humiliate the defeated Republicans”. To that end, residents were ordered to accommodate military personnel, faithful to the Generalísimo, arriving for the parade. What’s more, no expense was spared and the city would witness an unprecedented show of strength, filled with both historical and religious symbolism.

The military sold, at cost price, 20,000 metres of red and yellow hangings as well as 100,000 flags, while a platform, in the shape of a triumphal arch was erected at the conclusion of the parade’s route at Plaza de Cánovas del Castillo. It was decorated with a tapestry of the Eagle of St John with the word “victory” above. “Franco” also appeared three times on each side. Here, the Caudillo stood for the duration of the five-hour parade between Generals Varela and Saliquet.

Some 115 infantry units, 200 artillery batteries, 25 anti-tank cannons, 20 anti-aircraft batteries, 27 cavalry squadrons, two companies of anti-aircraft gunners, 150 tanks, 500 motorcycles and 3,000 cars and trucks all made up the procession. If arranged lineally, the parade would have been 25 kilometres long.

In the aftermath, Franco took to the radio to address the nation in a further statement of intent, warning that “other nations” would not be able to use economic pressure to dictate the terms of the new State.

In 1940, the event was repeated, this time called Victory Day and was on 1 April. This then happened every year until 1976, with the exception of 1964 when it was called the Parade of Peace, in recognition of the 25th anniversary since the end of the war.

After Franco’s death in November 1975, King Juan Carlos presided over the final parade before it was changed to Armed Forces Day which this year will be celebrated in Gudalajara on 27 May.