During the Second World War, the British colony of Gibraltar was one of the British Empire's essential bastions giving support to the commercial routes which the Empire's wealth and survival depended upon.
For the Spanish however, it continued to be the land still to be redeemed as an essential part of the national unity they pursued, but at the beginning of summer of 1940, as well as being the key to the entrance to the Mediterranean, Gibraltar had become the key to victory for the Germans.
Following the fall of France to Germany in June 1940, Hermann Goring advised Hitler to occupy Spain and North Africa rather than invade Britain. Before the armistice with France had even been signed, General Heinz Guderian also argued for seizing Britain's strategically important naval base of Gibraltar. Guderian even urged Hitler to postpone the armistice so that he could rush on through Spain with two Panzer divisions, take Gibraltar, and then invade French North Africa. One of Hitler's most important military advisors, General Alfred Jodl, chief of OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, "High Command of the Armed Forces") operations, presented Hitler with a formal plan to cut off Britain from its eastern empire by invading Spain, Gibraltar, North Africa, and the Suez Canal instead of invading the British Isles.
Following Jodl's orders, the most important military planning bodies of the three branches of the German armed forces formed a plan to capture Gibraltar. Its design was based on numerous studies, observations and surveys carried out in secret by endless spies and experts in artillery, assault operations, chemical weapons, logistics, transport, etc. It was not just a matter of taking over an objective, but to open the path to victory in the west in the only way the Operations Department believed possible, breaking the backbone of the British Empire.
The Operation would eventually be given the codename Felix.
The situation in Europe
It is well documented that Hitler never wanted to go to war with Great Britain. His desire for colonial expansion through conquering Soviet Russia, already set out in the pages of Mein Kampf, had allowed him to redirect Germany's foreign policy in a very different way to what had happened in the Kaiser's times. To such an extent that, in Hitler's strategic plans, more than an enemy, Great Britain should have been Germany's great ally.
Reading from the text of the Anglo-German Treaty of 1935, it seemed that a period of fraternisation between both powers began; a relationship which would progressively become colder until it ended up in frustration with the German troops crossing the Sudetes and the subsequent occupation of the Czech Protectorate.
It is true that the recovery of the old German territories ceded to Poland, had ended in an open battle towards the beginning of September 1939; but it is not less true that Hitler always thought of it as a quick and localised campaign, in which the surprising pact signed with the Soviet Union days before it began, would be reason enough to get a grip on a handful of western powers, which had already turned a blind eye in the case of Czechoslovakia.
But the events would prove that well above Poland's freedom, what was really on the table was a new fight for Continental power and authority. So, while German divisions made their first advances on the Polish plains and its propaganda armed itself with new arguments by shocking the world with the effects of the Blitzkrieg or "Lightning War", France and Great Britain declared war against Germany.
Curiously enough the first battles between the German and allied soldiers did not take place in the much feared Western front, dominated in these first months by a strange, and for many, inexplicable lack of activity, but in the faraway fjords of the Norwegian coast. There, a German Expeditionary Corps had ended by winning, first the race and then the battle, against the Franco-British contingent which had been sent with the intention of occupying the country and severing the supply routes of Swedish iron ore which were vital for the Reich's war industry. But the campaign in Nordic lands, for which the Germans also had to occupy Denmark, was only the prologue to an even more crushing victory, from both a psychological and military point of view.
Early in May 1940, the re-organised German forces had shattered to pieces the western front with a spectacular move. That "sickle cut" devised by von Manstein had sealed the fates of Belgium and Holland, had brought on the defeat of the best of the French Army and had forced the British expeditionary corps to flee mainland Europe, leaving behind on the beaches of Dunkirk all their equipment and a good part of their morale.
Italy, keen to jump onto the bandwagon of victory had also gone to war taking a leading role in an opportunist offensive through the Alps.
Without ever having needed this help, the victorious German soldiers did not take long to parade through Paris. One could see in their faces the pride and intimate satisfaction for having achieved a triumph for which many of their fathers had died in the defeat suffered in 1918.
Great Britain still remained. But in mid-June 1940, the overwhelming victory over France and the conviction that "the British problem" would soon be solved through a negotiated peace, caused many to want to foresee the creation of a new European order under Germany's dominating power.
For the Mediterranean in general and for Spain in particular the struggle in Europe had never ceased to be seen as a "distant conflict". But with the arrival of Italy in the war, Franco had to face a situation that the he had been warned about by the specialists of the Spanish Supreme General staff for a long time.
They expressed their conviction that a conflict between the European powers, as made up by the different alliances, would not take long to extend into the Mediterranean and affect Spain directly. This idea was the one that had, hours alter Italy's war declaration, forced Franco to abolish neutrality and, following an Italian formula, declare Spain a "non-belligerent" country.
The threat of an attack from those who Franco considered his potential enemies was rated as extreme in the territories of the Protectorate of Morocco, Tangiers, the Balearics and, above all, Gibraltar.
Spanish fortification work around Gibraltar had been in progress for some months and would soon become very important.
The key point in this fortification system was a strong point opposite the north front of Gibraltar, comprising a series of centres of resistance grouped together into two basic positions. A front line position, equipped with an anti-tank double-barrier, and around fifty bunkers with domes to house machine guns, positions for anti-tank weapons and field artillery and observatories; and in the rearguard a second fortified line which extended to the other side of the city of La Linea.
With the intention of avoiding a landing in Spain, the flanks had highly fortified lines which covered the Bay of Gibraltar and the coastline for many kilometres to the east and west.
Provisions were also made to prepare over a hundred locations to support a massive deployment of artillery. With a capacity for two hundred weapons, these constructions had a purely offensive purpose. Spanish military planners were convinced, and so they advised Franco himself, that when the time came and thanks to him, Spain would be able to render useless the British base of Gibraltar, hitting a decisive blow against Great Britain's power in the western Mediterranean.
Spanish and German affairs
It is possible that, with the defeat of the allies in France, it may have been the right moment for Spain to attack Gibraltar. But there was also another more interesting possibility. Could this service be offered to Germany and, with the prospects of a quick surrender by the British, cause Hitler, the new owner of Europe, to take note of Spain's needs and its territorial claim over Gibraltar.
By June 1940, the possibility of "a "short war had gained ground to such an extent that Franco did not hesitate to make a dangerous offer, which he did not even dare put in writing and which would be verbally transmitted to Hitler by the Spain's Chief of the Supreme General staff, General Juan Vigon. According to the latter, Spain was willing to go to war and render Germany an important service: To execute that "definitive coup de grace", that artillery siege which would signify the fall of Gibraltar.
But Franco's offer was not totally sincere as he had had the ability of including in it a subtle safety mechanism. It is true that the Spanish Supreme General staff had a plan to capture Gibraltar, but this could only be put into action if Germany first guaranteed Spain, on one side the cover of all its requirements in raw materials, food and fuel, the supply of which was usually controlled by Great Britain thanks to its naval power; and on the other if it equipped its armed forces with modern fighting material, especially heavy artillery and anti-aircraft guns, to guarantee the territory's defence.
However, Germany was as convinced about the "short war" as Spain was and, consequently, it did not require at all the services offered by Franco. Though the initiative failed, it started a game which would unfold between the summer of 1940 and the spring of 1941 and which would go down in history as a "great temptation".
Plans to attack Britain
General Alfred Jodl, carried out on his own initiative a study on the strategic progress of the war, raising for the first time the possibility that the military defeat of the British would have to be forced.
In its pages, one could read that if the political circles do not achieve the objective of peace, the English resistance must be broken by embarking upon an attack against the very territory of England, or taking peripheral territories to war.
The army's leaders would not show either an excessive enthusiasm for the idea but, despite everything, in the weeks following the French armistice, the German soldiers deployed on the Norman coastline were kept busy carrying out landing manoeuvres which, though few of them found convincing, tried to demonstrate that operation to land on the English coast was in progress. Time would prove that all that was nothing more than a simple illusion with which, in the summer of 1940, Hitler applied pressure on Great Britain at the negotiation table.
But early in July 1940, the English would make their intentions clear by attacking the fleet of its former French allies in Morocco.
If, as it seemed, the peace offers did not yield results and the threat of an amphibious landing and bombings did not weaken the spirit of resistance of the British people, there would be no solution but to follow the recommendations of Jodl and Raeder and face resolutely the need to achieve the military defeat of Great Britain by acting against the vital supply routes that were its link with the Empire.
German dominance of the Mediterranean
Whilst the Germans increased their offensive against the British merchant traffic, the Wehrmacht's High Command started to look more closely at the possibility of closing the Mediterranean.
If Italy with some support from Germany could render useless the British base of Malta and, advancing from its possessions in Libya, reach Alexandria. It was evident that the mission of closing this Mediterranean from the west with the capture of Gibraltar would have to be assumed by the Wehrmacht. Great Britain itself was not unaware of this potential danger and would not take long to redouble its efforts to transform strategic Gibraltar into a fortress.
Until then, the British colony of Gibraltar had been scarcely affected by a war which was being decided upon thousands of kilometres away. Gibraltar together with Malta and Alexandria linked Great Britain with its Empire, and Gibraltar more than others was a key element in the control of the Mediterranean.
The increase of Gibraltar's defensive ability was not only a matter of priority but a vital one. Gibraltarians of military age had already been mobilised into a local defence force whilst the rest of the civil population comprising women and children were evacuated. The more fortunate ended up in Jamaica or Madeira, but many others would be accommodated in a London only to suffer the Luftwaffe's bombings. Now most of the civilians who were in Gibraltar were the Spanish workers who made up, to a great extent, the workforce at the docks, the port or the base's British Naval Dockyard. This lead to some notorious instances of spying.
All the tactically significant positions throughout Gibraltar received increased protection. The restricted access areas were covered with minefields, barbed wire and fortified positions, forming a network of resistance points which was particularly impenetrable in the fringe where the old aerodrome lay, extending itself to the so-called Spanish Military Field.
At the same time there was a considerable reinforcement of the garrison. The land troops would increase their numbers with the inclusion of new battalions. To reinforce its anti-aircraft defences a good number of weapons were sent over, amongst which were some which had recently been removed from the battlefields of France.
Despite these preparations, the British were not entirely convinced that their base on the Rock could be transformed into a fortress, until the autumn of 1940 when various excavation and construction companies of the Royal Engineers embarked on a mission to improve and massively extending an existing network of tunnels, some of which dated back to the 18th Century. This tunnelling was to be so extensive that it has to this day become one of Gibraltar's most noteworthy features.
The UK government's reaction to Felix was the formation of the 128th Liaison Delegation Party, early 1941. In the event of a German invasion of Spain to attack Gibraltar, the mission's objective was to be the advance liaison party of any British force sent to help Franco resist the Germans. Franco had intimated to the British Ambassador (Sir Samuel Hoare) that he would welcome such help. Upon arrival in Gibraltar the team became known as the Joint Intelligence Centre.
It was also at this time that the highly top secret Operation Tracer was planned by British Naval Intelligence. This involved the construction of a secret chamber in Gibraltar into which six men would be sealed if Gibraltar was captured. They would be expected to spy on German activity and shipping through tiny viewing slits . With food for one year and radio equipment to send reports back to GCHQ, it was an exceptionally ambitious plan.
Little by little, thanks to their efforts and modern equipment, many months of tunnelling would be completed with all sorts of barracks, stores, hospitals, workshops, and offices contained within the Rock. The spoil material produced by these excavations would be used in the construction of the runway and air base.
The mission to strengthen Gibraltar's defences was not at all easy if one was to bare in mind that German assault troops had destroyed "indestructible" Belgian fortress, known as Eben Emael, and crossed the colossal Maginot Line.
The German assult plan
In July 1940, facing the need to provide a military solution to the "British problem", Jodl's Operations Department wanted to have a documented reply to the big question: Was it possible to capture Gibraltar? And if so, which was the best way to do it?
To find an answer to these questions General Jodl did not hesitate in making use of the offer made by Franco and on July 22 1940, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris was sent to Spain. He was the head of the Abwehr (Chief of the Intelligence Services of the Wehrmacht), an acknowledged expert on Spain, he travelled with several other German officers to Madrid, where they held talks with General Franco and General Juan Vigon, his Minister of War. They then travelled on to Algeciras where they stayed some days to reconnoitre the approaches to Gibraltar. Canaris' men spent a few days carrying out surveys in the Campo de Gibraltar. They went up to the Punta Carnero Lighthouse and the heights of the Hotel Cristina in Algeciras, they photographed the Rock from Sierra Carbonera and the beaches of Puente Mayorga, and observed its North face from the Military Command in La Linea. However, they returned to Germany with the conclusion that Franco's regime was reluctant to enter the war.
Canaris' team determined that Gibraltar might be seized through an air-supported ground assault involving at least two infantry regiments, three engineer battalions, and a dozen artillery regiments. Canaris declared that without 15 inch heavy assault cannon Gibraltar could not be taken.
The German leadership would finally reach the conclusion that it was possible to take Gibraltar, and that it was possible to do so in a relatively short time with an assault from selected units, as long as they could rely upon adequate artillery and air support. The plan called for two German army corps to enter Spain across the Pyrenees. One corp, under General Ludwig Kuebler, was to cross Spain and assault Gibraltar, while the other, commanded by General Rudolf Schmidt, was to secure its flanks. Air support would need one fighter and two dive-bomber wings. Overall command of Felix was to be assigned to Field Marshal Walther von Reichenau. The plan also made provisions for occupying Spanish possessions in North Africa: Spanish Morocco, Rio de Oro, and the Canary Islands, whose ports could then be used as bases for German U-boats.
The German plan called for two corps to move into Spain in the middle of January 1941. The 16th Motorised Division would concentrate in the vicinity of Valladolid, the 16th Panzer Division around Caceres, and the SS Totenkopf Division at Seville, this action would cover the flank of the Gibraltar assault against any British intervention.
General Ludwig Kuebler's Corps would be responsible for attacking Gibraltar. The assault forces would comprise the Grossdeutschland Infantry Regiment, the 98th Regiment of the 1st Mountain Division, 26 medium and heavy artillery battalions, three observation battalions, three engineer battalions, two smoke battalions, a detachment of 150 Brandenburgers, and up to 150 radio-controlled midget tanks ("Goliaths") packed with high explosives.
Two additional divisions would cross the Strait of Gibraltar to Morocco after the successful completion of the main operation.
The Spanish rail system was of limited capacity because it was not a standard European gauge, this meant that much of the German ground force would have to move by road through Spain.
The Luftwaffe would contribute Ju 88As, Stukas, Messerschmitts, three light AA battalions, and three heavy AA battalions. The Kriegsmarine would co-operate by using U-boats to interfere with British naval movement and emplacing coastal batteries to further discourage the Royal Navy.
From staging areas on the Spanish border near Bayonne, the ground troops would cross the frontier simultaneously with an initial raid by Ju 88As flying from Bordeaux against British vessels in the Gibraltar anchorage. While the Ju 88As carried out their mission, Ju 87s and Me 109s would transfer to air bases at Seville and finish the job of sinking British ships or driving them away from Gibraltar.
A heavy barrage was scheduled to knock out every known defensive emplacement on the Rock, followed by the arrival of the Luftwaffe for a succession of Stuka strikes against positions still firing when the assault troops began moving forward. German artillery fire would methodically demolish surviving casemates while smoke-generating units shrouded Grossdeutschland and the 98th Mountain Regiment. Due to the extremely limited frontage of the position, only those two regiments plus supporting engineers would be committed in the actual assault.
The Brandenburgers possibly disguised as sailors abandoning a sinking ship, would land inside British defences in small boats and clear the way for the assault troops.
From the very first moment, the great problem that had to be overcome if an operation to capture Gibraltar was to be intended was not so much of a military nature as one of a diplomatic nature in regard to Spain. Because amongst the German military leaders everyone agreed that for any operation against Gibraltar, Spanish co-operation was an essential requirement.
Because of this, in early August 1940, Hitler remembered the offer made by Vigon which he had taken so little notice of, and decided to check if it was still in place. To this end he requested from the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs to sound Franco out so as to have a clear idea of the conditions under which the Spaniards would be willing to go war to make possible an operation against Gibraltar.
The report from the ambassador in Spain would be added to those carried out by his own people and, based on these, on the 13th of August Jodl presented Hitler with a second memorandum insisting once again that the British defeat would involve a move of the war's epicentre towards the Mediterranean.
Soon after, having known of the result of the last meeting between Franco and the German ambassador in Madrid, Hitler gave the go-ahead to start the preparations for an assault operation against Gibraltar.
Almost at the same time, the High Command of the Wehrmacht produced the first outline of an operations plan, the timetable of which would decisively determine the deadline for future diplomatic negotiations with Spain. This would involve implementing a complicated diplomatic plot which the Germans would have to weave whilst dealing with other parties such as Italy and France.
On one side it was a matter of priority that Spain went to war, something for which Germany would have to accept Spain's wish to recover sovereignty over Gibraltar, as well as Spain's territorial ambitions in Africa.
This was basically a difficult diplomatic game that Hitler was forced to take on because of the new strategic orientation against the Soviet Union which he yearned for.
Spanish leaders were now starting to fear the possibility of a "long war", and this would significantly change those horizons which had favoured Franco's offer the previous June.
In August Admiral Canaris met with Franco's brother in law, Ramon Serrano Suner, who was about to become Spain's Foreign Minister. Unknown to Hitler and the German High Command, Canaris was leading a double life, and still today, for historians, he is the number one mystery man of the Nazi regime. It is believed Canaris may have urged Suner to do what he could to convince Franco to stay out of the war. Soon after, Franco despatched Suner to Berlin to get an idea of Hitler's attitude, Canaris had assured Serrano that Germany would not forcibly intervene in Spain, however when Serrano met Hitler on September 16, Hitler did not press very hard regarding Spain's involvement in the war, perhaps because he planned to meet Franco himself very soon.
There are some claims that Canaris had many meetings with Franco, most unknown to Hitler and German Intelligence. During a well documented meeting of December 7, 1940, Canaris counselled Franco not to enter the war on Germany's side. He actually warned Franco that if Spain joined the Axis, the Spanish islands and possibly mainland Spain itself would be at risk from British attack. Knowing that Franco feared a hostile German invasion of Spain if he refused to co-operate, Canaris informed him that Hitler had no such intention due to the planned invasion of Russia. Canaris also surprised Franco by admitting that he was convinced Germany could not win the war.
Made confident by Canaris' secret talks with him, Franco presented the extravagant terms for his co-operation to the German Ambassador to Spain, Eberhard von Stohrer; he said that he would only join Hitler if Spain were promised Gibraltar and French Morocco. Germany must also promise military and economic assistance in the form of wheat and oil to help Spain's faltering economy. Additionally, German forces must first land on the British mainland in a full-scale invasion.
Although the meeting between Hitler and Serrano in Berlin had ended without conclusive results, it kept alive all the German hopes for reaching their objectives and Spain's acceptance of Hitler's proposal to discuss the signing of a Hispano-German agreement in a future meeting of both countries' leaders.
Franco had always wanted a security mechanism which would allow him to preserve the initiative before the Germans. He wanted control over the choice of moment in which Spain would effectively go to war, a moment which relied on the certainty that Great Britain would soon be defeated.
As the Spaniards tried to make time and ward off the threat of a unilateral action against Gibraltar by the Germans and whilst Franco continued to sigh for his opportunity to "win without risk", the German military machine followed its course.
The assault plan devised by the High Command of the Wehrmacht late in August was receiving the final touches thanks to material provided by the Spanish army itself.
Even at the start of that autumn, when the necessary agreement with Spain was still pending signature and without a new instruction from Hitler ratifying the "strategic turn" which was still in its early stages, the Army's Supreme General staff had been studying all aspects of the future operation against Gibraltar.
Aspects such as the size and make-up of the expeditionary corps that would be involved, the selection of the most ideal units for each tactical objective, the possible solutions to the many logistic problems or the different alternatives for carrying the troops to the operations zone. Amongst all these preparations, Hitler was going to try to tie up all the diplomatic requirements by setting off on a tour to personally speak first with Petain in France, then with Franco and later with Mussolini.
After meeting the French leader in Montoire, on the 23 of October 1940, the Fuhrer's impressive train found itself stationed in the town of Hendaye awaiting Franco's arrival. One of the members of the German diplomatic entourage who had not been allowed to take part in that important conference would start off the false rumour that Franco had arrived two hours late; the truth is, though the delay was only of a few minutes, this had little to do with Franco's will and far more to do with the sorry state of the Spanish railway system.
Both heads of state had clear in their minds that the fate of Europe was being decided in that meeting. But whilst Hitler was looking for Franco's commitment to go to war and be able to defeat the English, Franco would come out with only lavish comments and gestures of goodwill; he would even agree to the signature of a secret agreement which explicitly stated that Spain would take part in the present war side by side with the Axis Powers against England. What he was not willing to do was to lose control of the situation by handing over the whole initiative to the Germans. Ultimately, the discussions held in the saloon car and the subsequent drafting of the secret agreement would be a meaningless memorandum of understanding signed by both men, neither side getting what they wanted. Hitler is reported to have later told Mussolini, "I would rather have four teeth out than go through that again!"
In any case the signing of the secret agreement still allowed the Germans to keep alive all their expectations. The commitment was there and it only seemed a question of exerting some pressure over Franco for him to give at last the long awaited date and for everything to conform to plan. So much so that, from the last days of October and above all early November, the German High Command would order the speeding up of the preparations for the operation to assault Gibraltar.
Finally, on the 12th November 1940, the Operations Department of the Wehrmacht actioned the "Fuhrer's Order number 18" which contained the change in German strategy and, included in it, the assault on Gibraltar. Soon later the operation would be given the codename Unternehmen Felix.
German Military preparations
Days before the famous meeting between Hitler and Franco, the former commander of the First Mountain Division, General Ludwig Kuebler had been selected by the Army to lead the new 49 Gebirgsarmeekorps, and the land-based units of the Expeditionary Corps destined for Gibraltar.
The training and assembly period was to start immediately. Kuebler's first concern was to find a training ground where they could perfect their skills. Curiously enough, the very day of the Hitler-Franco meeting, Kuebler found what he was looking for in the environs of Besancon; in an old French training ground called Le Valdahon, where the mountainous Jura foothills reproduced rocky formations very similar to that of the Rock.
Within hours, the select units destined to form the "Assault Division" started to arrive at the chosen location. The support groups came mainly from the First Mountain Division which was deployed in France at the time. It is not surprising that its commander, the recently promoted General Hubert Lanz, was the person chosen to lead the new Sturmdivision that was being set up. The fighting quality of the selected troops did not go unnoticed. Amongst the first to arrive were the soldiers of the 98th mountain company, the former Lanz Regiment; hardened youths from South Bavaria, who proudly sported the edelweiss that identified them as selected Alpine troops.
A few hours later the grenadiers of Count von Schwerin's mechanised Infantry Regiment "Grossdeutschland" arrived; they were the German infantry's elite Guard; experienced veterans from the Polish and French campaigns, easy to distinguish by the ribbon adorning the right cuffs of their uniforms.
Colonel Franz Geiger's brave assault zappers. They were the campaign artillery batteries of the 79th Regiment, specialised in fighting on mountainous areas or those rocket-launching battalions, whose firing power had earned them the nickname of Walking Stukas.
In total, the assault division would be made up of sixteen thousand chosen men, provided with the most modern equipment. Their morale was sky-high following their victory over France and no-one doubted that there could be no objective which would resist a force like the one that was taking shape.
Meanwhile, at the Army's High Command, always with Spain's assistance and collaboration, the different solutions to the logistics and transport problems were receiving the final touches; the plans for the assault to Gibraltar were finalised to the finest detail.
Spanish and German deadlock
The execution timetable for the operation against Gibraltar was put forward, for the first time identified as Unternehmen Felix. Hitler ordered that it be sent immediately to the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so as to set in motion the necessary mechanisms to obtain from the Spaniards the date in which they would go to war.
Its reply to the urgent request of the German Supreme General staff was immediate, and on the 15th of November the Spanish Minister for Foreign Affairs Serrano Suner was summoned to a meeting with Hitler in the latter's private residence in South Bavaria, Serrano arrived at Berschtesgaden station and from there was taken by car to the so-named Berghof. Following a fruitless conversation and as a final resource, Hitler instructed General Jodl to describe to Serrano in person the magnificent plan he had prepared. While Kuebler was to be responsible for the terrestrial attack and General Wolfram von Richthoffen would be in charge of the airborne one, Franco himself would appear at the forefront of the operation; although full responsibility of its tactical direction would be assumed by one of Hitler's best soldiers, Generalfeldmarschall Walter von Reichenau, whose command skills had been sufficiently proven in Poland and France.
But it was not in Serrano's hands to fulfil Hitler's request and all hopes momentarily faded. The attitude maintained by Serrano, just as that of Franco a few days later, would prove the effectiveness of the "security mechanism" put in place by Franco. Serrano's words renewed Spain's commitment to the Axis declaring that, just as was specified in the previously signed agreement, Spain was willing to go to war but the right moment for this should be determined jointly. The difficult situation of the Spanish economy, the endemic crisis regarding basic supplies and the lack of military preparation to defend the country against an external aggression, constituted a heavy and powerful enough line of argument and as such was accepted by the Germans. Fundamentally, Spain's attitude was based on the feared possibility of a "long war" which would water down the triumphs achieved by the 3rd Reich.
Despite failure at the meeting, the Germans still had a certain margin of time for a desperate attempt to force Spain to go to war on a date that would not alter the planned timetable for Felix.
In the days following, Franco would authorise the last reconnaissance missions requested by the High Command of the Wehrmacht. But there is no doubt that he did so being aware that the operation, for the moment, would not be carried out.
To force Franco to provide the so much requested date for Spain's entry into the war, Hitler even thought of sending General Joel himself to Madrid. Nobody better than him to explain to Franco, from the strictest military point of view, the convenience of launching Felix and the need to respect the set calendar; according to which, the entry of Spain into war could not delay itself further than the 10th of January 1941.
All hopes were frustrated when eventually, taking refuge in the same reason as always, Franco regretted that he could not provide the required date. Hitler became convinced that Operation Felix could not be executed for as long as the political conditions did not exist. A week later the disbanding process of the Expeditionary Corps would begin and, on the 10th January 1941, the cancellation of all preparations related to Felix was ordered.
The Wehrmacht's High Command war diary entry corresponding to that moment clearly reflects that the members of the High Command had discovered the subtle game upheld by Franco from the previous month of June: Franco seems to have clear in his mind that Spain will only put a step forward towards going to war on the eve of England's collapse.
But despite the fact that Hitler had even declared that he was determined to take Gibraltar with or without Franco, the persistent lack of response that all these attempts had, would finally use up the margin of time which he had for launching "Felix" without hampering the start of the planned offensive against the Soviet Union.
Some time later, the defeat that the Italians were suffering in North Africa and Greece would rekindle Hitler's interest in conquering Gibraltar by way of creating a military balance. But in the end, it was decided to support the Italians in Libya by sending the Afrika Korps and put in order that hornets' nest that had developed in the Balkans. Consequently, the attack on Gibraltar, would have to be left aside for the moment until the end of the planned Russian campaign.
The end of Felix and the birth of other plans
Finally, on the 28th January 1941, whilst Jodl was still struggling to keep alive an operation that, after all, was his own creation in many aspects, a report from the Army's Supreme General staff advised that it was not now possible to recommence the preparations of Operation Felix before mid-April and (should it happen at a later date) that would mean that the forces would not be available to take part in Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia.
On Hitler's insistence, the OKW developed a revised plan for the capture of Gibraltar, which might be implemented once the German invasion of the Soviet Union had been completed. Codenamed Felix-Heinrich the plan was submitted to General Franz Halder on March 10 1941. It proposed that as soon as the invading forces in the Soviet Union reached a line between Kiev and Smolensk, hopefully by July 15, units could then be withdrawn to prepare for the Gibraltar operation, which it was thought could begin on October 15. Felix-Heinrich would broadly follow the original plan, with the same forces, but with new supporting units.
Yet another Operation codenamed Isabella was conceived in April 1941, originally due to Hitler's fear of British landings on the Iberian peninsula. Rather than an Axis invasion of Spain, Isabella was designed as a measure by which German troops would advance into Spain to support the Franco regime and defeat the British expeditionary force.
In May 1942, with resources shrinking, Isabella was replaced by the similar but less extravagant plan codenamed Operation Gisela in September 1942.
In June 1943 Gisela was replaced with Operation Nurnberg, which in the event of an Allied landing in Portugal or Spain, called for a defensive strategy in the Pyrenees. This marked the end of planning for operations in Spanish territory.
Once the hopes of winning the war had been frustrated in the immense spaces of the Russian steppe, Hitler would think over and over again about that lost opportunity to get a hold of the key to victory. It is not surprising that on a certain occasion, whilst at the Berghof, before a group of faithful followers and in a sort of lament, he would comment . Gibraltar, dear friends, Gibraltar. We should have taken Gibraltar .
Gibraltar would survive in British hands to play a vital role in WW2 when it becomes General Eisenhower's command centre and a staging post for the allied invasion of North Africa. This would lead to the defeat of Rommel, denying him the necessary supplies to capture Alexandria and definitely close the Mediterranean.