Hearts of Iron IV Minor Nation Strategies: Spain


Welcome to the latest in a series of posts looking at minor countries in the game Hearts of Iron IV by Paradox Entertainment. Hearts of Iron IV is an epic historical simulator that allows you to experience the Second World War as any country, and perhaps, change history. These articles examine the benefits and drawbacks of playing as any of dozens of minor countries in HOI IV. This week I’ll be looking at Spain.

Spain hardly qualifies as a minor power, but because it sat on the sidelines in World War 2, it can be considered such for the purposes of this game. From July 17, 1936 to April 1, 1939, Spain was wracked by a civil war caused when nationalist forces rebelled against the Second Spanish Republic. The war was a glimpse of things to come, as fascists, communists, and democrats sent volunteers, supplies, and weapons to support opposing sides. Eventually, the nationalists triumphed and Francisco Franco became its leader. Spain remained neutral during World War 2, declining to support Nazi Germany and fascist Italy.

What if Nationalist Spain had joined the war? Or, more interestingly, what if the Republicans won and Spain aligned itself with the Allies or the Soviet Union? Either outcome could radically alter the course of the war.

Spain starts the game in 1936 as a democratic regime with 50% national unity. It has a volunteer army, export trade focus, and civilian economy. The fascist party, led by Francisco Franco, has 46% popularity, the democratic party, led by Manuel Azana, has 47%, the communist party, led by Jose Diaz, has 7% support, and the nonaligned party has zero support. The next election will be held in February 1936.

Spain is divided into 15 states, including four in Africa, with mostly hilly and mountainous terrain. The western province of Galicia is almost entirely forest. Its resources are spread out over a wide area. In terms of industry, it has 7 military and 16 civilian factories, 4 naval dockyards, plus 47 additional open slots, 68 steel, 6 tungsten, and 2 aluminum. You can appoint Francisco Largo Caballero, a captain of industry, who grants +10% construction speed to civilian factories, infrastructure, and refineries.

Spain has a well-rounded military, with 13 infantry, 3 mountain, and 1 cavalry divisions, and 60 interwar fighter planes and 27 naval bomber planes. Its navy consists of 2 battleships, 5 light cruisers, 11 destroyers, and 12 submarines. It has 225,440 manpower initially available for new units, and one general available to command your troops. Filed Marshal Jose Asensio Torrado has a sill level of 2 and adheres to a defensive doctrine, granting a +30% entrenchment bonus to troops under his command.

Note: When the Spanish Civil War breaks out, the composition of your land forces will radically change. 29-33 low-strength infantry divisions will replace your original 13.

Spain starts 1936 with only 3 research slots, so you want to get the 2 bonus slots through national focuses as quickly as you can. It has researched Infantry Weapons I, Mountain Infantry I, Support Equipment, Engineer Company I, Recon Company I, Artillery I, Light Cruiser I, Battleship I, Submarine I, Destroyer II, Heavy Cruiser II, Transport Ship, Interwar Fighter, Naval Bomber, and Interwar Bomber. Spain’s naval technology is much more advanced than most other minor countries.


Strategic Advantages: Spain straddles both the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean, one of the few countries to have direct access to both. While the United Kingdom occupies Gibraltar at the start of the game, controller of this province controls access to the Mediterranean through the Strait of Gibraltar. Spain is in a good position to seize it in the event of war. Also, having a foothold in Africa is advantageous, should you seek to expand there. Spain has a strong industrial base, and defensible terrain. Its shared border with France is almost entirely mountainous, with the exception of one province along the coast.

Strategic Disadvantages: Spain has few natural resources besides steel, which means you will have to trade away civilian factories if you want to build anything other than basic infantry weapons and antiaircraft guns. Spain’s long coastline makes it vulnerable to amphibious invasions. The Spanish Civil War is unavoidable, which means you will lose half your territory and be constantly fighting for at least a year. The National Spirit “Recovering from Civil War” makes it difficult to join alliances.

Republican Spanish forces use a Soviet tank
Republican Spanish forces use a Soviet tank

Spanish Civil War. The Spanish Civil War is inevitable, and as a player, you will be forced to choose a side. Several events propel you toward civil war. First, the Spanish Election of 1936, triggers around mid-February. You can choose to maintain the Popular Front (historic outcome), increasing support for communism by 10%, or unite the conservative groups, in which case Spain becomes fascist and elections are suspended. In the latter, Francisco Franco becomes leader of Nationalist Spain.

The Civil War event triggers around April 1936. You can choose to support the nationalists or the communists. Republican Spain controls Madrid. After the war is over, Spain gains the National Spirit “Recovering from Civil War,” which inflicts a +50% penalty to join faction tension limit for a set number of days.

Nationalist Spain. Winning the Civil War as Nationalist Spain is relatively easy. You have 29 infantry and 2 mountain divisions at your disposal. The key to victory is isolating pockets of Republican Spain and crushing them one after the other (which is what happened historically). The majority of the Spanish fleet is in nationalist hands: park it along the coast to provide shore bombardment in support of battles there. The war lasted until 1937, and Nationalist Spain sustained 29,000 casualties, but the army gained valuable experience. 7 divisions achieved ‘Seasoned’ statues (+50% combat modifier).

With the civil war concluded, I immediately began justifying war goals against Portugal, in order to turn that country into a puppet and gain access to its large reserves of tungsten. I declared war on March 14, 1938. Portugal did not surrender until I captured the city of Luanda in southwest Africa. At the negotiation table, I claimed Portuguese Guinea and the islands of Sao Tome, Cape Verde, Azores, and Madeira. Nationalist Spain was now a regional power.

I waited until June 1940 to join the Axis because I wanted to place divisions in my African colonies, including Portuguese territory. Now at war, I activated plans to conquer Gibraltar from the United Kingdom, which controls access to the Mediterranean through the Strait of Gibraltar. I also moved to seize territory in Africa. Fighting was slow in the mountainous northwestern African terrain, but I seized Casablanca in August.

As usual, Italy couldn’t defend its own territory, so I had to send troops east across North Africa to compensate. Unfortunately, while I was succeeding in North Africa, the Allies had all but destroyed my units defending Portuguese territory in southern Africa. Once they captured the ports, my divisions slowly starved from lack of supplies. I seized the Suez Canal in December 1941, effectively cutting the Allies off from the Mediterranean.

Franco meets with Heinrich Himmler in 1940.
Franco meets with Heinrich Himmler in 1940.

While things were going well in Africa, they were not going so well in Europe. Despite losing territory to the Allies in France and the war against the Soviet Union going poorly, Germany and Italy declared war on Yugoslavia and Greece (as if they didn’t have enough enemies to fight). This led to Bulgaria and Romania both capitulating by July 1942.

In previous versions of Hearts of Iron, decisions made by the AI were determined by events, with a certain percentage of likelihood for each outcome, based on history. In this version, the AI works its way through a list of National Focuses, so even in a historic scenario, the AI will eventually do things ahistorically. For instance, Turkey and/or Spain joins the Axis, Japan goes to war with the Soviet Union, or the Soviet Union declares war on Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan.

The AI will also choose actions that may not make any sense strategically, just because they are in the National Focus tree. For instance, Germany always declares war on Yugoslavia and Italy declares war on Greece. After dozens of play throughs, this becomes very frustrating.


While I was focused on retaking France, the Allies landed behind my lines in northwestern Africa and threatened to encircle those divisions. If left unchecked, that situation could result in losing half my divisions, so I decided to withdraw my armies from Africa, aside from a few divisions guarding the Strait of Gibraltar and Suez Canal. Pushing farther south along the East African coast didn’t have many benefits, especially when those divisions could be put to better use defending Europe. Africa has hardly any strategic resources, population, or factories.

By January 1943, I successfully pushed the Allies into northern France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, but it was doubtful my 12 divisions and a few dozen German and Italian units could keep the approximately 120 Allied divisions at bay for long. I needed my colonial garrison troops to relieve the divisions I had guarding the Spanish coastline. Looking at the strategic situation, things could have been a lot worse. The Allies usually attack through Italy first, and Italy capitulated fairly quickly. But because I secured all of North Africa, Italy was still intact. All we had to do was contain the main Allied invasion in northern Europe and destroy it, and that alliance might not recover for years.


This plan was close to succeeding. By September 1943, I had retaken all of northern France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, but the Allies had advanced east and Germany was clearly starting to falter. The Allies surrounded Berlin and captured it a few days later, but Germany held on. All I had to do was capture Hamburg, and the Allied supplies would be cut off. Luckily, they inexplicably abandoned the port city, and my motorized units sealed the trap. I retook Berlin by December 5. By the end of January 1944, the Allied invasion force, over 120 divisions, was completely destroyed. I immediately moved my units to guard the coastline.

Greece was the last Allied country in the Mediterranean, so I sent an army to crush the resistance there and relieve German divisions to fight against the Soviet Union. By November 1945, I had destroyed the last Allied divisions there and liberated most of Legionnaires Bulgaria. After repelling another naval invasion, this time of Portugal, the Allies dropped a nuclear bomb on Madrid! Another large Allied invasion force broke through coastal defenses in northern Spain. I tried to rush reinforcements from Africa, but it was too late. It was impossible to stop the tide of American divisions, and Nationalist Spain capitulated.

Achieving success in other parts of the world doesn’t amount to much if you can’t defend your core provinces.


Republican Spain. When the Spanish Election of 1936 event triggered, I chose to maintain the Popular Front, giving a 10% boost in communist party popularity. When the civil war broke out in September, I sided with the Republicans. Republican Spain controls the capitol and the east coast. It has 33 reduced-strength infantry and 2 mountain divisions, plus half the air force and navy. The Soviet Union sent 5 volunteer divisions. My victory in the civil war was sloppier than in my previous game, but I made up for my understrength units by isolating and destroying nationalist divisions. The war ended on July 4, 1937 (coincidence?), and Republican Spain sustained 49,000 casualties to the Nationalists’ 53,000.

Germany declared war on the Soviet Union in January 1941. By that time, I had built up my industry to 43 civilian and 15 military factories and 7 dockyards, and my army to 33 infantry (including 12 weaker divisions in Africa and the islands) and 36 mountain divisions. I also had 30 CAS planes, 200 fighters, and 260 naval bombers. My navy consisted of 1 battleship, 1 heavy cruiser, 1 light cruiser, 11 destroyers, and 2 submarines.

I focused on building a solid base of civilian factories, because in my last play through, I couldn’t produce military factories fast enough late in the game. HOI 4 lets you devote up to 15 civilian factories to construct one building, so I could construct two at a time at full speed, and another at reduced speed, or trade away those extra factories for resources.

¡No pasarán! - They shall not pass!
¡No pasarán! – They shall not pass!

My strategy for entering the war was to advance partly into German occupied France, creating a buffer between enemy forces and my home provinces. Then, I would focus on taking Italy out of the game. Given past experience, that shouldn’t be too difficult. Attacking German occupied France would also tie down German forces that could otherwise help fight the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, Germany had approximately 60 divisions stationed along the border (120+ by April), and I only had 36. I might have to stay on the defensive for a while.

Republican Spain entered the war on September 1. The Germans attacked relentlessly, but my defensive line held. After two months of near constant attacks, the German units’ manpower was severely depleted. The time seemed right to go on the offensive. Allied intervention in Italy led to Italy’s capitulation in February 1942. The German army’s depleted units buckled under the pressure. With Spanish and Allied units advancing from the west, and the Red Army from the east, Romania and Hungary capitulated by February 1944. Germany wasn’t far behind. It surrendered on March 28.


With the war over in Europe, the Soviet Union could focus its efforts on Japan. I focused on strengthening the Spanish fleet, in case it was needed in the Pacific. In October, my effort to influence politics in Bulgaria paid off. A communist coup created the Socialist Republic of Bulgaria and it joined the Comintern. A similar coup overthrew the government of Greece, but it was already a member of the Allies.

Despite complete Allied and Comintern air and naval superiority around Japan, it took until March 1948 for them to surrender. At the Treaty of Rome, Republican Spain claimed Sardinia, Corsica, Sicily, Senegal, and Reunion (a tiny island near Madagascar). I’m not sure why French lands were being offered up at the negotiation table, because it was a member of a winning alliance, but I wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. As usual, postwar Europe came out looking like a complete mess, but the Comintern came out ahead. With regular updates every few weeks or so, I don’t understand why Paradox can’t get postwar Europe right, especially in a historic scenario.


What did I learn? Fortifying the mountains along the border with France is critical. Without that line of forts, and strategic shifting of forces to reinforce troubled provinces, Germany would have easily crushed the Spanish army. Allowing them to exhaust their manpower and equipment in fruitless attacks set the stage for a relatively easy victory.

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