Ramón Franco (February 2, 1896 – October 28, 1938) had little in common with his brother, Generalissimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde.
The Plus Ultra feat, the aeronautical feat of uniting Spain with Buenos Aires, had earned international prestige for this Galician pilot born in Ferrol. Since his childhood, Ramón had an extroverted, jovial and rebellious character, very similar to that of his father, Don Nicolás Franco Salgado-Araújo, quartermaster general of the Spanish Navy. His mother, Pilar Bahamonde, a severe and religious woman, wanted the youngest of his children to embrace the habits, although finally Ramón chose to follow the career of arms, like his brothers Francisco and Nicolás (the latter also reached general).
With the rank of lieutenant, Ramón was destined to serve in the Protectorate of Morocco, where he stood out for his gift of command and his courage, almost as much as his brother Francisco, who in those years of colonial wars earned the nickname “leader.” ”.
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Ramón Franco, the jackal
At that time, aviation was an activity bordering on suicide, but it excited young Ramón. In 1920, he was assigned to military aviation and obtained his pilot's degree. His actions during the Rif War earned him the appreciation of his colleagues and subordinates, who nicknamed him “the jackal.” He participated in more than 120 missions over enemy territory.
In those days he married Carmen Díaz Guisasola, a young woman from a very good family who was only 19 years old. It was customary then for army officers to ask the king for permission to marry, a procedure that Ramón ignored with the disapproval of his superiors, the dictator Primo de Rivera and, of course, his brother Francisco de Rivera.
Ramón Franco led the Plus Ultra feat.
Ramón did not miss every opportunity to bother his superiors, a circumstance that strengthened his reputation as a rebel. He dressed like an Arab and even read the Koran to everyone's scandal.
At that time he conceived an idea that had been inspired by Charles Lindbergh's flight across the North Atlantic. Why not do the same by uniting Spain with America as Columbus had done?
The Plus Ultra project
After the dramatic defeat at the Battle of Annual, a rapid rehabilitation of Spanish pride was needed and, to this end, Ramón Franco presented this project which was enthusiastically welcomed by the authorities, including Primo de Rivera and the monarch himself. For this adventure, they had a seaplane, the Dornier Wal, called “Plus Ultra”, a ship of Italian origin recently acquired by the Spanish Navy. Ramón Franco traveled accompanied by his friend Julio Ruiz de Alda, lieutenant Juan Manuel Durán (who did not cross the Atlantic) and the loyal mechanical sergeant Pablo Rada, a trusted man who had assisted Commander Franco on many missions and even would help him escape from prison ten years later when the Four Winds Republican conspiracy… but we're getting ahead of ourselves.
The Plus Ultra took off from the Port of Palos, as Columbus did almost five centuries before. Their first stop was in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, following the islands of Cape Verde and Fernando Noronha, Pernambuco (Brazil), Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo and finally Buenos Aires, where they were received as heroes on February 10, 1926. after having traveled 10,270 kilometers in 51 hours of flight that required 20 days of travel.
This event was remembered with a statue at the initiative of President Marcelo T de Alvear, who commissioned the sculptor Agustín Riganelli to create a work inspired by the figure of Icarus, which is currently seen on the Buenos Aires waterfront.
On April 5, the crew members were received by Alfonso XIII, who decorated them amid widespread uproar.
Ramón Franco, the Numancia project and the hero who became a rebel
Not content with having become a national hero for this feat, he proposed a flight around the world as Elcano had done. He quickly took up this project called “Numancia” which ended in a resounding failure. The seaplane fell into the sea and, to make matters worse, the crew members were rescued by a British ship. Taken to Spain, Franco was reprimanded by the Spanish authorities but harshly criticized the government's insufficient support. Primo de Rivera and the king did not accept Franco's position and he was expelled from the army.
Despondent, Ramón wrote a book titled “Águilas y Garras” that was seized by the police before it could be distributed. The hero became a rebel and joined the republican movement and Freemasonry, in addition to avoiding all contact with his brother, who wanted to warn him about the dangers of the new political path that he had embraced. In a letter he sent to Francisco, he warned him: “I will continue doing what I want, which is what my conscience dictates, less aristocratic and more citizen than yours.”
This belligerent attitude cost him prison several times, especially when he revolted at the Cuatro Vientos air base (accompanied by Ignacio Hidalgo Cisneros, great-grandson of the last viceroy of the Río de la Plata) and even threatened to bomb the Royal Palace, although finally only He threw antiphalangist pamphlets.
It was during those years that his wife found out that Ramón had another family in Barcelona. He denied it, but took advantage of the new divorce law established by the Republic. The separation from Ramón was a scandal – or rather, one more scandal with which the youngest of the family would occasionally disrupt the pacific Franco Bahamonde family. His sister Pilar publicly accused him of being a Mason (which he was).
The truth is that Ramón remarried civilly with Engracia Moreno Casado, with whom he already had a daughter.
While acting as a Republican deputy, he said of his brother: “Francis, out of ambition, would be capable of murdering our mother and out of presumption he would kill our father.” Everything suggested that Ramón, faced with the military uprising against the Republic started by Francisco Franco, would defend the legitimate government… but, to everyone's surprise, he returned from Washington where he was working as an aeronautical attaché and joined the rebel side. Why this Copernican turn in his political inclinations? Did family ties weigh so much? Well, some have put forward the idea that the execution of his friend and companion in aeronautical adventures, Julio Ruiz de Alda, in the confusing episodes of the Model Prison in Madrid weighed on Ramón's spirit to adhere to the Falangist cause.
He went on to serve as a pilot in the rebel army, despite the mistrust that his former republican inclinations created among the rebel militants. Asked by a journalist about his “communist past,” Ramón replied: “The only thing that interests me is that Spain be saved.”
Ramón Franco died in 1938 when his plane crashed when he was preparing to bomb Barcelona. His death gave rise to the most diverse conspiratorial versions that included the sabotage of his ship. His sister Pilar was convinced that Ramón had been a victim of the Freemasons.
“His character,” commented his friend José Antonio Silva in a biography that he dedicated to Ramón after his death, “halfway between the crazy and the enlightened, between the hero and the villain, he condensed the two Spains that were fighting. to dead. In neither of them could he have any accommodation and death took him away so that he would become a legend rather than be forgotten.
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Ramón Franco, the other Franco, went down in history wrapped in the veils of mystery. His brother Francisco did not attend his wake or burial in the Aviators Pavilion in the Palmas de Mallorca cemetery.