Forced labour, cruel punishment and big business


More than 30,000 people worked as slaves in the Campo de Gibraltar between 1939 and 1943. They were Republican prisoners and were used as captive labour to build a whole series of infrastructures for the ‘Plan to Fortify the Straits’.

Suffering from hunger, cold, illnesses and in all weathers, the prisoners used picks and spades to create a network of roads, fortifications, artillery batteries, tunnels, electricity stations, fuel pumps, two hospitals and all types of installations to control the Straits of Gibraltar and combat the allies in the Second World War. This way, the Franco regime was killing two birds with one stone: it inflicted cruel punishment on those who lost the civil war and saved money on the works needed for its military plans.


Two months after the civil war ended, in May 1939, General Franco ordered hundreds of kilometres of roads and tracks, bunkers, gun emplacements, fortifications, railway halts, docks, powder magazines and military installations of all types to be built on the two shores of the Straits of Gibraltar, and for artillery equipment and cannons to be positioned in strategic places. His objective: To enter the Second World War on the side of the Germans and conquer Gibraltar. Franco, who had received material and human help from the German dictator to overthrow democratic Spain, again sought the help of the Nazi leader, and German technicians advised on the design and construction of the bunkers and fortifications in this area. However in 1943, when the works were coming to an end and seeing that Hitler was increasingly close to being beaten, Franco decided to placate the allies and told them that the works in the Straits were only for defence purposes.
Nevertheless, the chronology of what had been done belies what Franco’s progaganda had been saying for decades. On 16th March 1939, 15 days after the official statement that the civil war was over, General Queipo de Llano, the head of the insurrectionist Southern Army, received a letter from the chief general of the Campo de Gibraltar, saying that surveys were being carried out by order of the Generalísimo with the aim of building a line of fortifications between La Línea and Gibraltar. The exchange of communications between these high-ranking officers was extensive at that time and, on 25th April, Queipo de Llano sent a telegram to the general commander of Engineers at the Generalísimo’s general headquarters, in which he said that Fortification Regiment number 4 was now in La Línea, San Roque and Tarifa, waiting for express orders to start the works. Queipo added that, although these orders had not yet been received, he proposed that cement gun emplacements should be built in La Línea, hidden from view from the Rock of Gibraltar as much as possible, to cover the avenues and access roads and provide maximum resistance to enemy fire.
On 30th April 1939, Queipo told the chief colonel of Division 112 to study the construction of roads for vehicle traffic and calculate how many battalions of workers, in other words, prisoners, would be needed for that. The general was referring to the first four roads which were to be constructed: the one from Casas Viejas to Tarifa via the Santuario de la Luz, the one from Estación de Jimena to Gaucín, the one from the Jerez-Los Barrios road to Facinas and the N-340 highway, and the one from Castellar to the N340 at Sotogrande.
On 1st May Franco ordered Queipo, who then passed the order on to the colonel of No. 4 Fortifications Regiment, to close the accesses from the Rock of Gibraltar to La Línea with cement walls as an urgent measure, blocking the road in three places and leaving just enough space for a lorry to get through. “(…) which will be closed with iron beams to avoid surprises,” the order said.
Twelve companies of sappers arrived in the area during the month of May, as well as the personnel manager and surveillance director, and in August the works began, using slave labour – in other words the Republican army prisoners and other political prisoners who had been sent to the workers’ battalions. It was also in August that the Committee for the Fortification of the Southern Frontier finished drawing up the Plan for Fortification of the Straits.
That was when the works began to fortify the coastal region of southern Spain from Conil to the Guadiaro river, and especially the stretch of coast from Bolonia to Gibraltar. These fortifications were built between 1940 and 1945, although most were carried out between 1941 y 1943.


Links to learn more about the Republican prisoners:

- http://www.foroporlamemoria.net/102-otros/76-los-caminos-de-los-prisioneros.html 
- http://www.todoslosnombres.org/content/materiales/el-trabajo-esclavo-los-presos-politicos-del-franquismo-en-andalucia 
- http://todoslosrostros.blogspot.com.es/2008/09/los-batallones-disciplinarios-de.html 
- www.lacomunapresxsdelfranquismo.org/.../Esclavos-del-franquismo-Trabajos-forzad..
- www.lapirenaicadigital.es/SITIO/ESCLAVOSFRANQUISMO2.pdf 
- http://www.diariodejerez.es/article/provincia/2241981/carreteras/hechas/por/presos/esclavos.html