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250. Einheit spanischer Freiwilliger or 250. Infanterie-Division
Active June 24, 1941 - October 10, 1943
Country Spain Spain
Allegiance Nazi Germany Germany
Branch Balkenkreuz.svg Heer
Type Infantry
Size 18,104 officers and other ranks;
47,000 through rotation
Nickname División Azul
Colors Spanische Legion 3 Bat.jpg
Engagements World War II
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Agust√≠n Mu√Īoz Grandes
Emilio Esteban Infantes

The Blue Division (Spanish: División Azul, German: Blaue Division), or 250. Infanterie-Division in the German Army, was a unit of Spanish volunteers that served in the German Army on the Eastern Front of the Second World War.

Contents

Origins

Although Spanish leader Field Marshal (General√≠simo) Francisco Franco did not enter the war on the side of Nazi Germany, he permitted volunteers to join the German Army (Wehrmacht Heer) on the clear and guaranteed condition they would exclusively fight against Bolshevism (Soviet Communism) on the Eastern Front, and not against the Western Allies or any Western European occupied populations. In this manner, he could keep Spain at peace with the Western Allies whilst simultaneously repaying Hitler for his support during the Spanish Civil War (see Condor Legion). Spanish foreign minister Ram√≥n Serrano S√ļ√Īer made the suggestion to raise a volunteer corps, and at the commencement of Operation Barbarossa, Franco sent an official offer of help to Berlin.

Hitler approved Spanish volunteers on June 24, 1941. Volunteers flocked to recruiting offices in all the metropolitan areas in Spain. Cadets from the officer training school in Zaragoza volunteered in particularly large numbers. Initially, the Spanish government was prepared to send about 4,000 men, but soon understood that there were more than enough volunteers to fill an entire division: 18,104 men in all, 2,612 officers and 15,492 soldiers.

Fifty percent of officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs) were professional soldiers, many of them veterans of the Spanish Civil War. Many others were members of the Falange (the Spanish Fascist party). Others felt pressure to join because of past ties with the Republic or ‚ÄĒ like Luis Garc√≠a Berlanga, who later became a well-known cinema director ‚ÄĒ to help their relatives in Franco's prisons.

General Agust√≠n Mu√Īoz Grandes was assigned to lead the volunteers. Because the soldiers could not use official Spanish army uniforms, they adopted a symbolic uniform comprising the red berets of the Carlists, khaki trousers used in the Spanish Legion, and the blue shirts of the Falangists - hence the nickname "Blue Division." This uniform was used only while on leave in Spain; in the field, soldiers wore the German Army (Wehrmacht Heer) field gray uniform with a shield on the upper right sleeve bearing the word "Espa√Īa" and the Spanish national colors. Although the Portuguese volunteers were few (Portugal tried to maintain a more neutral position, and only let a limited number of volunteers leave for Germany) they did the same their neighbors did, wearing a field gray uniform with a shield on the very same position with the word "Portugal" and the Portuguese red & green banner.

Deployment and action

Germany: training and organization of the Division

On July 13, 1941, the first train left Madrid for Grafenwohr, Bavaria for a further five weeks of training. There they became the Heer's 250th Infantry Division and were initially divided into four infantry regiments based on a standard Spanish division. However to aid their integration into the German supply system they adopted the standard Heer model of three regiments. One of the original regiments was then dispersed amongst the others, which were then named after three of the Spanish cities that volunteers largely originated from - Barcelona, Valencia and Seville. Each regiment had three battalions (of four companies each) and two weapons companies. An artillery regiment of four battalions (of three batteries each). There was enough men left over to create an assault battalion, mainly sub-machine gun armed. However due to later casulties, this was disbanded. Aviator volunteers formed a "Blue Squadron" (Escuadrilla Azul) which, using Bf 109s and FW 190s, was credited with 156 Soviet aircraft kills.

Onto the Russian front (August-October 1941)

After taking standard personal oath to Hitler, under whose authority they were to be fighting,[1] on 31 July, as the 250th Division the Blue Division was formally incorporated into the Wehrmacht.[2] It was initially assigned to Army Group Center, the force advancing towards Moscow. The division was transported by train to SuwaŇāki, Poland (August 28), from where it had to continue by foot on a 900 km march. It was scheduled to travel through Grodno (Belarus), Lida (Belarus), Vilnius (Lithuania), Molodechno (Belarus), Minsk (Belarus), Orsha (Belarus) onto Smolensk and from there to the Moscow front. While marching towards the Smolensk front on September 26, the Spanish volunteers were rerouted from Vitebsk and reassigned to Army Group North (the force closing on Leningrad), and became part of German 16th Army.

Volkhov (October 1941-August 1942)

It was first deployed on the Volkhov front, with its HQ stationed in Grigorovo, in the outskirts of Novgorod. It was in charge of a 50 km section of the front north and south of Novgorod, along the banks of the Volkhov river and Lake Ilmen. According to the museum curator in the church Spasa Preobrazheniya on Ilyin Street, the division used the high cupola as a machine-gun nest. As a result, much of the building was seriously damaged, including many of the medieval icons by Feofan the Greek. View area

Leningrad (August 1942-October 1943)

In August, 1942 it was transferred North to the Southeastern flank of the Leningrad siege, just South of the Neva near Pushkin, Kolpino and Krasny Bor in the Izhora River area. View Area

The Blue Division remained on the Leningrad front where they suffered heavy casualties both due to cold and to enemy action at Myasnoi Bor following an encounter with the Soviet 305th Rifle Division during early February.[3] Franco dispatched more reinforcements, which in time included conscripts in addition to volunteers. Through rotation, as many as 45,000 Spanish soldiers served on the Eastern Front. They were awarded both Spanish and German military awards, and were the only division to be awarded a medal of their own, commissioned by Hitler.

After the collapse of the German front following the Battle of Stalingrad, the situation changed and more German troops were deployed southwards. By this time general Emilio Esteban Infantes had taken command.

Disbandment and the Legión Azul

Eventually, the Allies and conservative Spanish Anglophiles (including many officials of the Roman Catholic Church) began to pressure Franco to withdraw the troops from the Eastern Front quasi-alliance with Germany. Franco initiated negotiations in the spring of 1943 and gave an order of withdrawal on October 10.

Some Spanish soldiers refused to return. Some believe that Franco gave his unofficial blessing as long as their number was below 1,500. But in any event, the Spanish Government on 3 November ordered all troops to return to Spain. In the end the total of 'non returners' was closer to 3,000 (mostly Falangists). Spaniards also joined other German units, mainly the Waffen-SS, and fresh volunteers slipped across the Spanish border near Lourdes, occupied France. The new pro-German units were collectively called the Blue Legion (Legión Azul).

The Spaniards initially remained part of the 121st Infantry Division, but even this meagre force was ordered to return home in March 1944 and was transported back to Spain on March 21. The rest of the volunteers were absorbed into German units.

Platoons of Spaniards served in the 3rd Gebirgs Division and the 357th Infantry Division. One unit was sent to Latvia. Two companies joined the Brandenburger Regiment and German 121st Division in Yugoslavia to fight against Tito's partisans. Fifty pro-Fascist Spaniards entered the French Pyrenees to combat the French Resistance, of which some members were former Communist milicians of the Republican side.

The 101st company Spanische-Freiwilligen Kompanie der SS 101 of 140 men, made up of four rifle platoons and one staff platoon, was attached to 28th SS Volunteer Grenadier Division Wallonien and fought in Pomerania and Brandenburg province. Later, as part of 11th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division Nordland and under command of Hauptsturmf√ľhrer der SS Miguel Ezquerra, it fought the last days of the war against Soviet troops in Berlin.

The number of casualties of the Blue Division and its sequels accounted for 4,954 dead, and 8,700 wounded. In addition, 372 members of the Blue Division, the Blue Legion or volunteers of the Spanische-Freiwilligen Kompanie der SS 101 were taken as prisoners by the Soviet forces. Of these, 286 were kept in captivity until 1954 when they returned to Spain in the ship Semiramis supplied by the International Red Cross (2 April 1954).

Soldiers and officers of the Blue Division were awarded

2 Knight Crosses (one with Oak Leaves)

2 Golden Crosses

138 Iron Crosses First Class

2,359 Iron Crosses Second Class and

2,216 War Merit Crosses with Swords.

Legacy

Although this is yet to be properly studied and assessed, the fact that many (if not most) of Spanish Army high ranking officers in the 1960s and 1970s had served in the Divisi√≥n Azul certainly had an influence on their role in and views about the transition to democracy in Spain in the late 1970s. Many of the generals that took part in the attempted coup d'√©tat on February 23, 1981, both for it and against it, had served in this unit during World War II. Amongst them were generals Alfonso Armada and Jaime Milans del Bosch. Other Blue Division veterans, for example Jos√© Luis Aramburu Topete, at the time (1981) Director of the Guardia Civil, and Jos√© Gabeiras remained loyal to the legal democratic government under the young Juan Carlos I. Hitler referred to the division as "equal to the best German ones". Later when Hitler considered an invasion of Spain to remove Franco and replace him with Mu√Īoz Grandes he decided against it, saying "The Spaniards are the only tough Latins. I would have a guerilla war in my rear."

The Cross of Saint Sophia of Novgorod

During the German occupation of Novgorod, the Kremlin was heavily damaged from the battles. However, the cathedral itself survived. The large cross on the main dome (which has a metal bird attached to it, perhaps symbolic of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove) had fallen during one of the shellings of the city while it housed the headquarters of the Divisi√≥n Azul during World War II. The cross was carried back to Spain, first to Burgos and afterwards to the Spanish Army Engineers Academy in Hoyo de Manzanares near Madrid.[4] For over 60 years it resided in the Madrid's Military Engineering Academy Museum, until 2004 when it was handed over back to the Russian Orthodox Church by the Spanish minister of defense Jos√© Bono. In fact, on 16 November 2004 the Spanish Government returned the cross of the Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Sophia of Velikiy Novgorod to the city.

Vault of the Blue Division, in cemetery of the Almudena, Madrid.

See also

References

  1. ^ Arnold Krammer. Spanish Volunteers against Bolshevism: The Blue Division. Russian Review, Vol. 32, No. 4 (Oct., 1973), pp. 388-402
  2. ^ David Wingeate Pike. Franco and the Axis Stigma. Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 17, No. 3 (Jul., 1982), pp. 369-407
  3. ^ Gavrilov, B.I., Tragedy and feat of the 2nd Shock Army, defunct site paper
  4. ^ Federación Foros por la Memoria

Sources

Books

  • Gerald R. Kleinfeld and Lewis A. Tambs. Hitler's Spanish Legion: The Blue Division in Russia. Southern Illinois University Press (1979), 434 pages, ISBN 0-8093-0865-7.
  • Xavier Moreno Juli√°. La Divisi√≥n Azul: Sangre espa√Īola en Rusia, 1941-1945. Barcelona: Cr√≠tica (2005).
  • Wayne H. Bowen. Spaniards and Nazi Germany: Collaboration in the New Order. University of Missouri Press (2005), 250 pages, ISBN 0-8262-1300-6.

External links








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