23 Feb 1981


Agencia EFE

On February the 23rd 1981 there was an attempt in Spain of a coup that would end the Parliamentary Monarchy and the democratic transition initiated after the death of the dictator Francisco Franco in 1975. King Juan Carlos played a vital role to deactivate the attempt that caused 32 military and a civilian to be indicted and most sentenced to imprisonment.

On February the 23rd 1981, Spain lived 18 dramatic hours when there was an attempt to end the parliamentary monarchy and the democratic transition that had begun after dictator Francisco Franco died in 1975. It happened in a time of deep political and economic crisis, with a takeover at the head of the government after Adolfo Suárez resigned and in a Spain stricken by economical crisis, the instability of the governing party, Unión de Centro Democrático (UCD), and the terrorism of ETA. King Juan Carlos played a vital role in the deactivation of the military coup, for which 33 people were indicted (32 military and a civilian); the highest ranked ones where generals Jaime Milans del Bosch and Alfonso Armada. However, the image the world associates with the attempted coup is the one of lieutenant colonel of the Guardia Civil Antonio Tejero, who led the assault of the Congress of Deputies with a group of 200 armed civil guards.

Adolfo Suárez was one of the key figures in the Spanish Transition. Born in 1932 in Cebreros (Ávila), he had a degree in law. He was civilian governor of Segovia, general director of RTVE and general secretary minister of The Movement (the only party there was during Franco’s regime) in the first government formed after the death of dictator Francisco Franco. Ever since he was invested president in 1976, until he resigned in 1981, he transformed Franco’s regime into a parliamentary democracy with several legal reforms. As leader of the Unión de Centro Democrático (UCD) he won the legislative elections in 1977 and 1979. During his tenure political parties were legalized, the constitution was approved and the so called Pactos de la Moncloa were reached.
His government was affected by a severe economic depression, the ETA terrorism and the ordination of the emerging autonomies’ state.
Furthermore, he was a witness of the disintegration of UCD due to internal struggles among different tendencies, factors that caused his resign as president on January 29th 1981
In the time he was in Moncloa he overcame a couple motions of no confidence and faced two coup attempts, “Operación Galaxia” and the assault to the congress on February 23rd the same day he was going to transfer the position to Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo. After his exit of the government he founded a new party, the Centro Democrático y Social, but continuous elective failures made him retire from politics in 1991. Adolfo Suárez died on march 23rd 2014.

Some people follow from the streets the speech of president Adolfo Suarez that announced his resign to the country.

Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo became in charge of the government after Adolfo Suárez who proposed him as successor. He had been minister, was a deputy and was second vice-president for economic affairs of the government of the Unión de Centro Democrático. In the plenary session of the investment of February 22nd he did not achieve absolute majority in the first voting, and in when the second took place the next day, lieutenant colonel Antonio Tejero attempted the coup.


Division General of the Ejército de Tierra, he was the man the conspirators had designed to become president. His part in the coup were known when he was dismissed and arrested, five days after the coup attempt. Sentenced 30 years of imprisonment and his military rank was taken away for the coup attempt he was reprieved due to his health issues on December 24th 1988 after six years of imprisonment.

General Captain of the 3rd Military District, he was one of the main heads of the coup attempt when he imposed the state of exception in Valencia and deploying the tanks in the streets the night of the 23-F. In june of 1982, he was sentenced by the Supreme Council of Military Justice to thirty years and loss of his employment for military rebellion. Freed in July the 1st 1990, Milans del Bosch died on july 26th 1997 and was buried in the crypt of the Alcázar of Toledo, for he was a defender of the place during the Civil War.

Born in 1932. lieutenant colonel of the Guardia Civil, he broke in the Congress of Deputies on February 23rd 1981 and leading a group of his men he kept the government and deputies kidnapped for 18 hours. Sentenced to 30 years of imprisonment for a crime of military rebellion, he was the last of the accused to leave prison where he remained for fifteen years and nine months, most of it in the castle of Figueras (Gerona), where he was the only intern. He is currently retired.

THE ASSAULT ON THE CONGRESS OF DEPUTIES: “Everybody stand still!” (Antonio Tejero)
At 18:00 on February the 23rd 1981 the voting of Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo as president in the Congress of Deputies. Shortly after, at 18:23, began operation “duque de Ahumada” by which civil guards conducted by lieutenant colonel Antonio Tejero broke in the hemicycle shouting “Everybody stand still!” With the kidnapping of the executive and legislative branch, began the coup of 23-F. Vice-president and lieutenant general Manuel Gutiérrez Mellado stood up and ordered Tejero to depose his attitude, but Tejero struggled with him and reasserted in his mission he shot into the air. Deputies took cover in their seats while only Gutiérrez Mellado, president Adolfo Suárez and communist leader Santiago Carrillo remained seated. For the next hours fear and angst possessed the kidnapped in the congress that could not achieve freedom until the morning of the next day.

Lieutenant colonel Antonio Tejero breaks in, gun in hand in the Congress of Deputies during the second voting to invest Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo as president.


General elections celebrated in Spain on march 1st 1979 were won by president Adolfo Suárez and his party, the Unión de Centro Democrático (UCD) who obtained 168 representatives. The next political party with parliamentary representatives was the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE), led by Felipe González, who received 121 representatives. The results were almost the same than two years before. Regardless of that, Adolfo Suárez and UCD were not able of keeping a stable government. The damage to the government of president Adolfo Suárez was caused by the multiple terrorist attacks of the secessionist Basque organization ETA, the end of the consensus among the parties with the beginning of hard opposition by the PSOE and the rise of the nationalists to the Basque and Catalonian governments, the conspiracies of the far right wing military circles, and ultimately the internal disintegration of the governing UCD.
In the image the deputies stand from their seats and look at the door where lieutenant colonel of the Guardia Civil Antonio Tejero, gun in hand, has just broken in the Hemicycle during the second voting to invest Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo as president.

Lieutenant colonel Antonio Tejero imposes order in the Congress of Deputies with two hundred civil guards, during the second voting to invest Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo as president.

Lieutenant colonel Antonio Tejero, gun in hand, in the Congress of Deputies during the first moments of the coup attempt.

This image was awarded the “World Press Photo” prize in 1981.


The Spanish Guardia Civil, popularly known as Benemérita, is a military security corps that is part of the Fuerzas y Cuerpos de Seguridad del Estado.
Olive green mulch and a black tricorne are symbols of this armed institution created in 1944 that has more than 80.000 men. Their functions include border watching and road monitoring as well as the fight against drug trafficking and terrorism, or nature protection among others. They have a double dependency, on one hand to the Ministerio de Interior when it comes to retributions, postings, means and services and by the other hand to the Ministerio of Defensa, when it comes to promotions and military missions. Most of the 30 military processed for the coup attempt were from this corps.


Spanish military and politician, he was vice-president and lieutenant general of the army on February 23rd 1981. He faced lieutenant colonel Antonio Tejero who shook him, while several machine gun burst hit the dome of the hemicycle. President Adolfo Suárez went in his rescue. Promoted to honorific captain general, he was one of the key figures in the Spanish transition to democracy, which he led a major role in it ever since September 1976 when he was named vice-president for Defence affairs. He died in a traffic accident on December the 15th 1995 when he was 83 years old.

Vice-president and lieutenant general Manuel Gutiérrez Mellado faces a group of guardia civiles when lieutenant colonel Antonio Tejero enters the Congress of Deputies.

Vice-president and lieutenant general Manuel Gutiérrez Mellado is shaken by a group of guardias civiles in presence of Antonio Tejero while president Adolfo Suárez tries to help him.

Vice-president and lieutenant general Manuel Gutiérrez Mellado struggles with a group of guardias civiles while president Adolfo Suarez tries to help him.


Historical leader of the Partido Comunista de España (PCE) he was a key figure of the opposition to Franco’s regime and of the transition in Spain. Born in Gijón (Asturias) he joined the PCE in 1936 and fought in the civil war against general Franco. He was responsible of public order of the Junta de Defensa de Madrid in the republican side. After Franco’s victory in 1939 he left Spain and in 1960 he was designated general secretary of the communist.
After a 38 years exile, he returned to Spain after general Franco’s death and took part in the democratization of the country. With the legalization of the Communist Party of Spain (PCE) he was elected deputy in 1977. He was one of the three politicians, with Adolfo Suárez and Manuel Gutiérrez Mellado, who remained in his seat when colonel Tejero assaulted the Congress on February the 23rd 1981. He resigned the general secretary of the PCE in 1082 and three years after he founded the Workers Party- Communist Unity. After many years away from politics he died when he was 97 years old in Madrid.


Mass media had main role during the night of the assault. Editorials transmitted to their readers and listeners the news about the coup attempt.
Besides, the 23F was the first coup reported live by radio. That night , newspapers “El Pais” and “Diario 16” published special editions informing about the events, and the main headers next day positioned favoring the people and democracy. There were many Spanish who kept informed about what happened around the Congress of Deputies via radio. The international press also reported about it offering their readers the details of what happened in Spain. Agencia EFE spread immediately among their subscribers exclusively the photographs made by photographers Manuel Pérez Barriopedro and Manuel Hernandez de León of lieutenant colonel Tejero inside the Hemicycle.


Shortly after lieutenant colonel Antonio Tejero, leading a group of civil guards, took the Congress of Deputies on February 23rd 1981, general captain of the 3rd military district, that encompassed Valencia, Murcia and Cuenca, Jaime Milans del Bosch, ordered the exception state in all the area under his command and deployed the Motor Division “Maestrazgo” with 1.800 men, dozens of tanks and vehicles in the streets of Valencia, Military forces spread from the docks to downtown so that night the city was occupied by military with armored and other vehicles from the nearby bases of Bétera and Paterna. Milans del Bosch tried to convince other military chiefs to do the same but failed.

Members of the Special Operations Group of the National Police (GEO), under the command of the forces loyal to the constitution, watch the outside of the Congress of Deputies.

Members of the Military Police patrol the surroundings of the Congress of Deputies where, civil guards have occupied the building during the session that should vote the investment of Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo.

Outward appearance of the Congress of Deputies during the February the 23rd night.

The Congress of the Deputies was surrounded by the National Police.


“When directing to all Spanish with brevity and concisely in the extraordinary circumstances that we are living in these moments, I plea all for serenity and confidence, and I make them know I have ordered the Captain Generals of the military districts, sea zones and air space the next command: After the situation created by the events in the congress palace, and to avoid any possible confusion I confirm that I have orderd civilian authorities and the Joint of Chiefs of Staff to take whatever means necessary to keep the constitutional order within the current law. Any military action that would have to be taken must be approved by the Joint of Chiefs of Staff.
The Crown, symbol of permanence and unity of the motherland, can’t tolerate any how the actions or attitudes of people who try to interrupt by force the democratic process that the constitution, voted by the Spanish people, determined already through referendum”.
In the picture at 1:14 am on February the 24th, the King appeared in Spanish Television, dressed as Captain General of the Armies, to defend the Spanish Constitution, call to order to the Armed Forces as Commander-in-Chief and disavow Milans del Bosch.


At nine O’clock on the night of February the 23rd of 1981, after the assault on the Congress of Deputies by Guardias Civiles under Antonio Tejero’s command, the minister of Interior informed of the constitution of a provisional government with the sub-secretaries of all ministries., with Francisco Laína, State Security director as president. This sub-secretaries government was always in contact with the Joint of Chiefs of Staff.

Citizens follow the news about the assault on the Congress of February 23rd 1981, near a newspaper stand.


Hotel Palace is placed in the San Jerónimo Road in front of the Congress of Deputies in Madrid and during the coup attempt of February the 23rd 1981 it became the headquarters of the democrats. There remained authorities, political figures and many reporters that followed, expectant, the course of events. General director of the Guardia Civil, general José Aramburu Topete, and general inspector of the National Police, general José Saénz de Santamaría, gave from there their orders. Even Division General Alfonso Armada, that was later found guilty as a promoter of the coup, left Hotel Palace to negotiate with lieutenant colonel Antonio Tejero his surrender in the Lower House.

King Juan Carlos’ intervention thwarted the coup. On the night of February the 24th he appeared on TV dressed as Captain General, disavowing the plotters. Past 6 am, captain general Jaime Milans del Bosch left his command post in Valencia after ordering the tanks and men deployed in Valencia back to their corresponding units. The Brunete Armored Division, in Madrid, did not mobilize as the putschist expected and the captain generals remained loyal to the King and the Constitution. In congress, at nine in the morning that February the 24th, lieutenant colonel Tejero accepted his surrender in the so called “Hood Pact” signed by general Alfonso Armada on the hood of a military vehicle, where was stated that no responsibilities would be demanded from lieutenant to lower ranks. The petition, in which lieutenant colonel Eduardo Fuentes Gómez de Salazar took part, was accepted by the military chain of command.

A Civil Guard, that was inside the Congress, exits via the press office window to turn himself in. From 9 in the morning and after speaking with the National Police, many civil guards laid down their arms.


General Aramburu Topete was during the 23F the general director of the Guardia Civil, position he had held ever since April 1980. He remained loyal to the constitution and as responsible of the Benemérita he commanded and directed the services organized by this corps as well as by other Security Forces of the State, to end the assault on the Congress.


General Inspector of the National Police ordered his men to surround the Congress building where the Deputies were being held. His later words as a witness during the trial of the participants in the coup caused his enmity with lieutenant general Milans del Bosch, when he compared the coup attempt with the hijacking of an airplane which caused Milans phrase “I’m disgusted, I’m leaving”. Promoted to lieutenant general in 1982, he was general director of the Guardia Civil with the government of the PSOE.

Second chief of Staff of the Army, Division General Alfonso Armada (2nd left) and general director of the Guardia Civil, General José Aramburu Topete (3rd left), in the surroundings of the Congress of Deputies where they negotiated the surrender of lieutenant colonel Antonio Tejero.

At 11:45, the held deputies in the Congress since the previous evening, exit freely the building.

Acting president, Adolfo Suarez, enters a car, once freed.

Conservative deputy Manuel Fraga (center), leaves the Congress of Deputies that had been taking by the participants in the coup.

Deputy Elena María Moreno, of the governing party UCD, at the exit of the Congress of Deputies.

President of Congress of Deputies, Gregorio Peces Barba, after recovering his freedom with the rest of deputies and government members.

Deputy of governing party UCD, Nona Inés Vilariño Salgado, is comforted after leaving the Congress of Deputies.


The coup attempt of 23-F was condemned by the countries of the then European Community, with which Spain was negotiating their inclusion. Support to the constitutional State was unanimous and most governments repulsed the participants in the coup. Then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, called the coup a “terrorist act”.

King don Juan Carlos with president Adolfo Suárez (1st left) and the leaders of the main parliamentary political forces in the country, that were given audition in the Palace of Zarzuela after the 23F.

King Juan Carlos (c) presides the meeting of the National Defense Joint, that has taken place this afternoon in the Palace of Zarzuela, after the failed coup of 23F, assistants (left-right) lieutenant general Emililiano Alfaro Arregui, member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; captain general of Madrid Guillermo Quintana Lacaci; admiral Arévalo Pelluz; president of Joint Chiefs of Staff , lieutenant general Ignacio Alfaro Arregui; minister of Defense, Agustín Rodríguez Sahagún; president Adolfo Suárez; first vice-president for defense affairs, Manuel Gutiérrez Mellado; general Secretary of the House of H.M. the King, Sabino Fernández Campo (standing); the Minister of Interior, Juan José Rosón; the director of Security of the State, Francisco Laina; Lieutenant general José Gabeiras Montero; and other high ranks.

On February the 20th 1981 the session for the investment of presidential candidate Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo, that had taken over Suarez’s place after he had resigned, and for which he needed two voting attempts. After presenting the government program and the subsequent debate, the candidate obtained 169 votes in favor (UCD, 165; Democratic Coalition, 3 and UPN, 1); and 158 against, with 17 abstentions and 6 absences. Not being enough votes, a second voting was held on February the 23rd. But this one was interrupted by the assault on the congress by lieutenant colonel Antonio Tejero and two hundred guardia civiles.


Having failed the coup attempt, the investment session continued on February the 25th and the candidate obtained majority of the entire membership, so he was elected president. He obtained 186 votes (UCD, Democratic Coalition, CiU and deputies Clavero Arévalo, Jesús Aizpún and Gómez de las Roces), 158 votes against (PSOE, PCE, PNV, PSA and 7 of the Mixed Group) No abstentions and 6 absences : 2 of PSOE, 3 of HB and 1 of PSA).

Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo receives an applause from the deputies after being elected new president, in presence of Adolfo Suárez (right) Manuel Gutiérrez Mellado (2nd right) and José Pedro Pérez Llorca (left)

Deputies, standing, applaud the press grandstand, to congratulate the reporters for their work during the 23F


Invested president two days after the coup attempt of February 23rd 1981, during his tenure the military considered responsible for the attempted coup were arrested and judged. He remained in office until socialist Felipe Gonzalez was elected in 1982. Born in Madrid on April the 14th 1926, he became president after being minister of several portfolios in both governments of UCD and vice-president of economic affairs. The most relevant decision he had to take during his 21 month tenure was Spain joining NATO. He also had to face the terrorist waves of ETA the Toxic Oil Syndrome and the approval of the law of divorce. Retired from active politics in 1987 he died the following year on May the 3rd.


On February the 27th there were massive demonstrations in all cities of Spain, rejecting the failed coup attempt and pro freedom and democracy. The Madrid demonstration gathered up more than a million people and became a symbol of rejection to participants in the coup. Demonstrators were united behind a banner that said “For freedom, democracy and the constitution”.

More than a million people take part in the demonstration under the banner “For freedom, democracy and the constitution”, it was called by the political and union forces after the 23F. In the image, great banner in favor of King Juan Carlos I

Politician leaders head the demonstration “For freedom, democracy and the Constitution” that took place in Madrid after the 23F. From left to right: Nicolás Sartorius, Simón Sánchez Montero, Mugica Herzog, Joaquin Leguina, Nicolás Redondo, Santiago Carrillo, Felipe González, Calvo Ortega, Rodríguez Sahagún, Fraga Iribarne y Marcelino Camacho, Miguel Cabrera and Jorge Vestrynge (with a scarf).

On February the 19th 1982, almost a year after the coup attempt, 32 military and civilian Juan García Carrés, the only indicted civilian in the 23F trials, sat in the dock, in a public court hearing that ended on May the 24th. The sentence of the so called “juicio de Campamento” was made public on June the 3rd and general Jaime Milans del Bosch and lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tejero were sentenced to 30 years in prison and loss of job. The government appealed in the Supreme Court that, on April the 28th 1983, increased the sentence to several accused. Milans del Bosch and Tejero didn’t receive any additional punishments, but division general Alfonso Armada, sentenced to 6 years at first, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for his part in the coup attempt, and lost his military rank. The rest of the accused up to the rank of captain saw their punishments doubled at least. Milans del Bosch was freed on July the 1st 1990, dying in 1997. Antonio Tejero was released on December the 3rd 1996 and is retired. Alfonso Armada was pardoned due to health issues on December the 24th 1988, after six years in prison and died in 2013.

Military high ranks, among which is Security Service Coordinator, general Urrutia, inform of the details of the 23F Trial that will take place in Madrid.

Drawing made by Javier Serrano of the indicted for the coup attempt of 23F at the entrance to the courts in Madrid. Among them, military lieutenant, Jaime Millans del Bosch (1st), division generals, Alfonso Armada Comyn (r), Luis Torres Rojas (2nd) and Lieutenant Colonel, Antonio Tejero Molina (5th).

Rapporteur judge, Luis Vivas Marzal, begins the reading of the final sentence of the indicted for the 23F Coup of February the 23rd 1981.


Photographer of Agencia EFE, His exclusive obtained inside the hemicycle during Tejero’s assault went worldwide. For this reporter job he was renowned with several prizes among them the World Press Photo 1981. To avoid the guardia civiles confiscating the film he kept it in his shoe.

Photographer of Agencia EFE, he immortalized in exclusive with his camera the coup attempt on February the 23rd 1981. Former chief of photograph on Agencia EFE, he earned among others, the National Journalism Prize of 1981. He protected the photographs from the participants in the coup inside his underwear.

23-F: The Coup Attempt in Spain
Credits: Story

Agencia EFE S.A.U.

Coordinator: Luis de León González
Documentation and Graphic Archive Department, Commercial and Marketing Department and Technology and Systems Department.
To acquire any of the images of this collection you may contact us on the next Emails:

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions (listed below) who have supplied the content.
Translate with Google