Most people know at least the gist of the Spanish Civil War: a group of right-wing “Nationalists” led by General Francisco Franco led a revolt against the fledgling Spanish Republic. The civil war that ensued has long been seen as a dress rehearsal for World War II. Italy’s Benito Mussolini and Germany’s Adolf Hitler supplied the Nationalists with the latest tanks, money, and troops to fight the Republicans. Germany loaned Franco his latest aircraft which he used to bomb the hell out of Guernica. The massacre inspired Pablo Picasso’s famous piece by the same name. In the end, Franco prevailed and nominally restored the Spanish monarchy. He would go on to rule as dictator until his death in 1975. What many don’t realize is that it wasn’t just Hitler and Mussolini who helped Franco win Spain. An oil tycoon by the name of Torkild Rieber was equally responsible for Franco’s resounding victory. 

Torkild Rieber

Rieber had a meteoric rise from deckhand to CEO of Texaco. Born in Norway, he went to sea at the tender of age of 15. After the ship he captained was bought by Texaco, he quickly realized the millions that could be made in oil. Through luck, hard work, and unabashed confidence he quickly rose through the ranks and by the mid-1930s he was head honcho of the company. 

Interestingly, under Rieber, Texaco was originally the Republic’s oil supplier. But Rieber was no dummy. He could see that the Nationalists were winning and he quickly switched sides. To make sure he won Franco’s trust, he sent a boatload of engine oils and other lubricants to the general…free of charge. The Nationalists were very short on cash, so Rieber either sold him oil at a discounted rate or simply extended credit to the general. Needless to say, Franco was more than happy with Rieber. It is important to note that all of Rieber’s actions were in violation of American law (American companies could not sell on credit to countries at war). No matter, a profit was to be made and Rieber was going to make sure Texaco had a piece of the pie. 

Flag of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. 

So an American company supplied Franco with oil and other oil-based products for free, on the cheap, or on credit. So what? Well, for one, the Nationalists would not have won the civil war if it wasn’t for all of Texaco’s oil. No one else would sell them the fuel needed for all of those German and Italian supplied tanks and planes. Secondly, more Americans fought in the Spanish Civil War than any other conflict where the United States was not a belligerent. Close to 3,000 Americans fought on the Republican side (the called themselves the Abraham Lincoln Brigade). And every time they went to battle, an American company was helping the other side mow them down. But, hey, Texaco made millions in profits and forever won the admiration of Generalissimo Francisco Franco.