Spaniards in World War II Part 1: Fighting for the Third Reich
On June 24, 1941, a large demonstration of Falangists held in Madrid demanding the entry of the Spanish war against the Soviet Union ended with a speech by the Spanish Foreign Minister and Falangist leader Ramón Serrano Suñer, in which he pronounced the famous sentence : “Russia is guilty!” And then the crowd stoned the British embassy. Preparations began for the creation of a volunteer force that would be incorporated into the “crusade against Bolshevism” that Hitler had begun days earlier.
The contingent of volunteers who fought in Russia between 1941 and 1944 fulfilled several functions. On the one hand it was an outlet for Falangism and the most visceral anticommunism. It was also a political tool used by Franco in his diplomatic relations with Hitler. And it was the way Franco liquidated the moral and economic debt contracted during the Spanish Civil War with Hitler for his support with the Condor Legion. During the summer of 1941 Spanish and German representatives reached an agreement on the distribution of the economic expenses of the contingent of volunteers. By December 1943, the Spanish government had repaid nearly 90 percent of the German aid debt to Franco in the form of pay, welding, and other expenses: 80 of the 90 million reichmarks the Legion Condor had cost.
The “Blue Division” , 1941-1943
Once the Nazi authorities accepted the offer of the Franco government to send a contingent of volunteers to fight against the Soviet Union, the organization began in Spain. The Falangist leaders pretended that this contingent was formed exclusively by Falangists and that it had an eminently political character, but the commanders of the Army opposed and ended by imposing their will. Although it was agreed that they would be volunteers, the final selection of them was left to the military. Thus, all officers from captain, two-thirds lieutenants and non-commissioned officers, and all noncommissioned and specialist troops would come from Army units. The rest could be Falangist volunteers. Although everyone should be ex-combatants or present a reliable political background, the German authorities themselves were concerned about the nature of the unit, fearing the infiltration of “undesirables” and “communist corruption” until Ambassador Von Stohrer was able to verify – and to communicate to Berlin that three quarters of the members of the future division came from the Spanish army.
The quota of volunteers for each region was then determined and hook pennants were opened throughout Spain from June 27, 1941. The number of volunteers was much higher than required and although the age was established between the ages of 20 and 28, there were many exceptions. Although Falangist volunteers represented all social classes, several groups stood out because of their relative presence: students, teachers, writers and intellectuals abounded. Especially high was the number of Falangist cadres and leaders who came to characterize the group of volunteers with a high level of idealism and political naivety. Not without reason, historians have affirmed that with the “Blue Division” marched great part of the critics to Franco that existed in the ranks of Falange and that in Russia they died or they were definitively disappointed.
The admitted volunteers were concentrated in barracks of the capitals of the military regions to carry out the instruction. They were equipped and uniformed according to the rules of the Army although they were allowed to keep the Falangist blue shirt and were given the red carlist beret. Thus, the notable presence of Falangists was exploited by the party authorities to name it “Blue Division”, although its official name was the Spanish Division of Volunteers (DEV) throughout its existence. As commander was appointed division general Agustín Muñoz Grandes (1896-1970) who during the Spanish Civil War had commanded an army corps. Muñoz Grandes was a capable, austere and ambitious African-American veteran who ended up playing an active role in the relations between Franco and Hitler. This one decorated to him 13 of December of 1942 with the Ritterkreuz (Cross of Gentleman of the Iron Cross) with leaves of oak. He would become Minister of Defense and Vice-President of the Government in the 1950s and 60s. The officers accompanying him were, according to the German embassy in Madrid, “unbeatable” and “possessors of the highest military decorations”.
During the negotiations between the Spanish and German military authorities, they requested that the DEV should leave motorized Spain with more than 300 trucks and other motor vehicles, something that could not be fulfilled in view of the Spanish economic situation. In addition, the contingent recruited presented / displayed an excess of officers and soldiers while lacking noncommissioned officers. If 526 officers were asked from Berlin, 2,813 non-commissioned officers and 14,397 troops, the Spanish army gathered 641 officers, 2,386 non-commissioned officers and 15,918 soldiers, with 1,210 men remaining. In the end, the German military commission withdrew its demands and announced that the Wehrmacht would provide all necessary weapons and equipment, as well as instructors and translators.
With the volunteers presented an infantry division was formed whose staff was established according to a model provided by the German embassy in Madrid and which was understood as a division of four regiments, one of them as a reserve reserve, in addition to the remaining divisional units. Between July 13 and 23, all the volunteers were concentrated in the military camp of Grafenwöhr, in the north of Bavaria, where they changed their Spanish uniform by the German and took their oath of loyalty to Hitler. There, the initial “Spanish” organization of the DEV was modified definitively: the regiment of fixed deposit was dissolved by unnecessary and its men distributed among the other units. On 25 July 1941, the 250th Infanterie-Division (spanische) of the Wehrmacht formed by the infantry regiments 262, 263 and 269, an artillery regiment with three light and one heavy groups, a battalion of sappers , an antitank and an exploration group, plus the divisional services and the mobile depot battalion or instruction. The number 250 was assigned to these divisional units. The divisional headquarters was joined by a liaison staff of German officers. Each infantry regiment consisted of fifteen companies, according to the German model. The mobile tank consisted of one major flat, two infantry and one artillery companies, engineers, transmissions and sanitation. The exploration group consisted of flat major, two bicycle squadrons and an antitank section. The sappers’ battalion had one major flat and three companies. And the antitank group had a flat and three companies. The total number of troops was 18,946, slightly more than the German infantry divisions had.
The DEV was equipped like the rest of the divisions of infantry of the Wehrmacht, which meant not being completely motorized, contrary to what seems the Spanish authorities had believed. Many drivers had to be reconverted to the handling of the thousands of horses with which it was endowed, especially its artillery regiment. However, the DEV had about 800 motor vehicles in 1943 according to the testimony of its last chief of staff, José Diaz de Villegas.
In Grafenwöhr the volunteers were trained for something less than a month and on August 20 the DEV undertook its march towards the east front. It was transported in trains until Treuburg, Reuss, Suvalki and Grodno, from where it began the 29th march on foot towards the Armeegruppe Mitte (Group of Armies Center), to the front of Moscow. He passed through Vilnius, Molodechno, Minsk, Borisov and Orsha, but about 40 kilometers from Smolensko, he was ordered to go back and head north, arriving on September 27 in Vitebsk. Despite the indications from various sources, the DEV’s march did not reach a thousand kilometers: the approximate distance between Suvalki and Vitebsk is about 750 km, which gives a daily average of 25 km, far from the 40 which are usually cited.
From Vitebsk, the volunteers set out on foot and by rail to the front of Novgorod, where divisional headquarters arrived on 11 October. The DEV was incorporated into the 1st Corps of the 16th Army and deployed on the western bank of the Vóljov River with the divisional command located in Grigorovo. Its sector covered about 40 kilometers that included the western shore of Lake Ilmen and the land was flat and marshy, crossed by several rivers and canals.
On the Volkhov
On October 18, the 269th Regiment, reinforced by other divisional units, crossed the Volkhov to participate in the German offensive which had begun a few weeks earlier and which sought to isolate Leningrad by reaching the river Svir. While the Germans occupied Tijvin on 8 November, the DEV forces reached the villages of Posad and Poselok, which marked their maximum progress. Subjected to the Soviet counterattack during almost a month of hard combat, these forces undertook the 7 of December the withdrawal until the line of departure in the western edge of the Vjojov. On December 27, Soviet forces crossed the river but were rejected by the 269th Regiment itself. Total casualties were 2,416 (718 dead).
The arrival of the Russian winter surprised the DEV without the right equipment and suffered its consequences in the same way as the rest of the Wehrmacht. Although the volunteers received directly from Spain minor underwear was not enough and had to improvise others in addition to measures to alleviate the intense cold. Between October 1941 and March 1942, the DEV suffered 1,235 freezes and 2,532 illnesses. In January 1942, the respiratory tract patients were 39% of the total casualties while freezes accounted for 17%. The improvement in the equipment made it possible that during the second winter the percentage of freezes was 40% lower than those of the first winter, according to General Esteban-Infantes.
Measures to adapt to the winter war on the Russian front include the December 41 organization of a 228-man skier’s company to patrol the western shore of Lake Ilmen and staged an epic mission in January 1942 It consisted of crossing the frozen Ilmen with temperatures of -50ºC to rescue a German detachment of the 290th Infanterie-Division besieged in the village of Vzvad. After the round trips and the fighting on the southern shore of the Ilmen, only twelve men returned unharmed: most suffered frostbite. Subsequently, the bicyclist company of the sappers’ battalion received equipment and training of skiers for the winter.
In January 1942, the Stavka ordered the Volhov Front of General K. Meretskov to launch an offensive with the aim of isolating the 18th German Army from the south. Although Meretskov’s forces were poorly trained, poorly stocked and dispersed, the 52nd Army succeeded in breaking the German front and the 2nd Army of Shock by incompetent General G. Sókolov penetrated about 70km into enemy territory before being pocketed by counterattacks in its flanks. And in this situation it remained until the end of June the stock market was reduced, an operation in which DEV forces attacked from the south. Meanwhile, on 23 February, the 38th Corps in which the DEV was formed was transferred to the 18th Army of Generaloberst Georg Lindemann.
Before the casualties suffered and the hardness of the campaign, at the end of 1941 began the recruitment of new volunteers that would replace those that fought in Russia. The number of those presented was lower than in the summer and since then, their number did not if not decrease so that over time military authorities had to send in forced army recruits. These replacements were framed in battalions of march that received their equipment and German uniform and swore their loyalty to Hitler in the Bavarian camping of Hof. In total, 27 marching battalions were organized, the first of which left Spain on 1 January 1942 ( for example, the three corresponding to the months of January, February and March 1943 comprised a total of 158 officers and 2,956 noncommissioned officers and troops ] , and a month later the DEV had replaced their casualties and had 603 officers and 16,334 noncommissioned officers and troops. In addition, repatriation battalions were organized with licensed volunteers: the first returned in May. During the campaign, DEV members spent an average of ten months in Russia.
From March 1942 DEV units participated in the operation Raubtier , which lasted several months and ended with the destruction of the bag of Soviet forces copulated on the western bank of the river Vóljov and commanded by General Vlásov.
In the first September of 1942, the DEV was transferred to the front of Leningrad. Although initially it was going to participate in the operation Nordlicht that prepared the German command, when the DEV arrived at its new sector it was deployed like reservation before Kólpino, an industrial suburb of Leningrad. The headquarters was established in a small village in the village of Pokrovskaya and the defending front was from Pushkin (an old villa of the Tsarist aristocracy) to Krasnyi Bor. The terrain was flat with hardly any natural obstacles. In December, Major General Emilio Esteban-Infantes Martín (1892-1962) replaced Muñoz Grandes at the head of the DEV. Esteban-Infantes, Franco’s promotion partner, was a staff officer with talent for organizing, reserved, cold, and distant who did not reach the charisma of his predecessor among his men. The 10 of May of 1943 also received his Ritterkreuz .
At the beginning of 1943, the Stavka organized a new attempt to destroy the 18th German Army and completely break the siege of Leningrad by the Iskra operation. The fronts of Leningrad (Lieutenant General Leonid Alexándrovich Góvorov) and the Vóljov (general of army Kiril Afanásevich Meretskov) would attack in the direction of Siniávino with the purpose of to pockete the salient of Schlisselburg. The attack began on January 12 and in seven days both fronts achieved their objectives. To the south of the Ladoga a corridor of 8 to 11 km of width was opened that recovered the terrestrial communication until lost Leningrado in 1941. During this battle, the DEV had to send a battalion, the II / 269, the 22 of January like reinforcement. In less than a week of fighting, the battalion was decimated: only one officer and 27 men returned unharmed after suffering a total of 505 casualties (124 dead).
After this success, the Stavka planned to continue the offensive and prepared a new concentric attack with both fronts. The DEV was formed in the 50th Corps and was deployed on horseback from the Leningrad-Moscow highway and railroad, so that on this occasion it would receive the full battle of the 55th Soviet Army, in its right flank concretely. The offensive began on February 10 in the sector of Krasnyi Bor: day that became the bloodiest faced by Spanish volunteers in Russia. The front that defended the DEV was too long (about 30 km) reason why almost all the forces were in the first line with hardly units deployed in depth. After the initial bombing, the Soviet assault broke the line of the 262nd Regiment and the resistance was concentrated in some isolated nuclei. At the end of the day, when Spanish forces were relieved by the 212. Infanterie-Division and grouped on the left bank of the river Ishora, they had a high number of casualties: 2,253 casualties, which still represented 45% of the troops who took part in the battle (just over 5,000) are quite fewer than some authors give (3,645 or 75%). In Krasnyi Bor, the DEV stopped the Soviet advance long enough for the German forces to establish a new defensive line between 3 and 6 km further back; and in the end, although the Soviet attack managed to penetrate between 10 and 15 km in other sectors of the German front, it did not obtain its purpose. (The repatriation battalion of 1,037 men, who had just returned from Spain, was ordered to halt their march and remain at the disposal of the divisional command. A hundred of their men volunteered to come to the aid of his compatriots in Krasnyi Bor).
Although repeated Soviet attempts to break the Spanish line during the remainder of February and March, none succeeded. According to the statistics of the staff of the DEV, the losses of the month of February were 2,870 (531 deaths) and those of March 967 (152 deaths). Shortly thereafter, by May 1943, total DEV casualties were 2,982 dead, 7,812 wounded and 752 missing, in addition to 6,341 patients and 1,512 partial frozen. Of the 11,546 dead, wounded and missing, 3,816 were in the first quarter of that year.
In 1943, the DEV was still a powerful infantry division thanks to its particular system of replacements, which allowed it to renew its men and keep its staff almost complete. According to Díaz de Villegas, who was incorporated as chief of staff in March 1943, the DEV had a total of 14,000 men (some 600 officers, 1,550 non-commissioned officers and 12,000 soldiers). And although they were very similar, the German divisional organization had been modified slightly according to the Spanish model. Thus, for example, the divisional major sections were those of the Spanish army and not those of the German army (Ia, Ib, Ic …). The headquarters had 54 officers and 421 noncommissioned officers and troops, as well as the German liaison staff headed by Colonel Von Knüppel.
The infantry regiments had a real number of 2,000 men distributed among their fifteen companies and a light column for the supply: to the twelve companies (nine of grenadiers and three of machine guns and mortars) of the three battalions they were added the 13th Company of Accompaniment Cannons (equipped with six light guns, 18 gauge 75mm) and two heavy guns (150mm), the 14th Anticarros Company (with twelve Pak 35/36 of 37mm) and the 15th Company of Plana Mayor, consisting of a section of assault (sappers), another cyclist and one last of transmissions.
The artillery regiment had a staff of 99 officers and 2,401 non-commissioned officers and troops, with 829 horses for the transport of the vehicle. It consisted of three light groups equipped with 12 howitzer leFH 18 of 105mm each and a heavy group with 12 sFH 18 150mm howitzer. According to Díaz de Villegas, this composition allowed to ascribe each light group to an infantry regiment keeping the heavy group as a divisional reserve. In addition, he had been added two batteries of French mortars Schneider M.1916 of 220mm. Only this regiment required eleven trains for its transfer!
The battalion of instruction ( feldersatz-bataillon ) changed its function to become an infantry battalion more: it was created a fourth company of machine guns and mortars and became the reserve of the division.
The exploration group ( aufklärungs-abteilung ) had three cycling squadrons (one had been added to the initial squad of two) and an anti-tank section totaling about 500 men. As a result of the static war developed, this unit also acted as a divisional reserve.
The anti – tank group ( panzerjäger-abteilung ) also had about 500 men in three companies and an abundant large plane that had become de facto a fourth company equipped with pieces captured French (75mm) and Soviet (76.2mm). Equipped with 36 pieces of 37mm that soon proved to be out of phase, some were replaced by pieces captured and by the German Pak 40 of 75 mm. Its components were specially selected and received intense training.
The battalion of sappers ( pionier-bataillon ) had about 650 men in three companies, one of which was a cyclist and winter skier (3rd), and a hipomobile column for engineers.
In addition to these combat units were the group of transmissions with about 500 men and the divisional services: quartermaster, health, veterinary, transport, courier, military police, etc.
After the battle of Krasnyi Bor, the front of the DEV was shortened to about 15 km. The following months passed without attacks, with sporadic combats like the meetings between patrols and a life of trenches conditioned by the continuous bombardments of the Soviet artillery: Diaz de Villegas relates a total of 59,447 shots received between the months of April and August, to a average of 388 daily. This type of war caused during those months a total of 1,451 wounded of which 60% was due to the action of the enemy artillery.
The last war action of the DEV occurred on October 5, the same day that it was ordered to leave the front and concentrate in the area of Volosovo, where General Esteban-Infantes was informed that he was to be repatriated to Spain. It was officially disbanded on November 17 and its last expedition left the Eastern Front on December 24, 1943.
Undoubtedly, the DEV’s behavior lived up to the circumstances and was one of the most competent units of German allies. The fact that the picture of the same one was formed by soldiers of the Spanish army provided a solidity and efficiency to them that would have lacked to have been formed integrally by political volunteers. These, on the contrary, conferred on him a plus of stoicism and of ardor warrior. Although 3-5 per cent of the men in each battalion were returned for “undesirable” or unfit for service, the number of deserters has been set at about 40 per cent. The DEV volunteers were decorated with 2,362 iron crosses of 2nd class and 135 of 1st class, besides the own ones of the Spanish army, between which they emphasized eight crosses laureates of San Fernando, all posthumously.
Regarding their total numbers, and although there is no consensus between the authors and the sources, the most reliable estimates establish that there were more than 45,000 men who went through the DEV. And the total number of casualties exceeded 25,000 divisions, distributed as follows: 4,954 dead, about 20,000 injured (1,600 frozen and 7,800 sick) and 372 prisoners.
The Spanish Legion of Volunteers (LEV), better known as the “Blue Legion”, was the counterpart offered by the government of General Franco to the Nazi authorities in exchange for the dissolution and repatriation of the DEV in the fall of 1943. This unit would continue the war in the ranks of the Wehrmacht and would be formed exclusively with volunteers despite the opinion against the Central General Staff of the Spanish army, who had proposed a unit completed by forced conscription.
On November 17, General Esteban-Infantes signed the order that gave birth to the LEV, under the command of Colonel Antonio Garcia Navarro. It gathered 2,269 men in total: 110 officers, 114 non-commissioned officers and 2,045 troopers. And it was organized in a larger plane, two flags of grenadiers (battalions of infantry) of 650 men each and a mixed flag (battalion of heavy arms) with 795 troops composed by a battery of artillery, another antitank, a company of sappers and one last of transmissions, in addition to units of exploration and sanity, and sections of quartermaster, repair of vehicles and military police. The logistics services of the unit were concentrated in Riga.
In the LEV training period, conducted at Kingisep for three weeks, there were fourteen defections, some with responsibility, and six self-mutilations. These events damaged the image of the new unit in the eyes of German commanders and Colonel Garcia Navarro decided to repatriate almost a hundred volunteers of whom he distrusted.
On December 15, the LEV was launched into the Kostovo area, a marshy and unhealthy area, and was affected by the 121. Infanterie-Division of Generalleutnant Hellmut Priess, 18th Army. Its two battalions of infantry covered a sector of 12 kilometers of static front and the enemy activity was scarce until the middle of the following month, reason why the reductions due to the typhus matched to those suffered in combat.
The offensive launched on January 14, 1944 by the Leningrad and Volhov fronts did not fall on the LEV but on the German units deployed on its flanks. Pushed by Soviet pressure, he gradually increased the risk of being surrounded until he was ordered to retreat to Liuban. On the 26th, the LEV received the withdrawal order, was placed at the disposal of the headquarters of the 18th Army and began the transfer by its own means to Luga. Worn out by this march of 140 km, which showed the loss of discipline, Colonel Garcia Navarro received orders on January 30 to deliver all the material: heavy weapons (guns, mortars and machine guns), vehicles and livestock. Volunteers were sent by train to different Estonian towns near Tapa such as Jäneda, Aegviidu and Ambla. There, the LEV was reequipped and resumed its training until March 16, when it was demobilized: Hitler was ahead of Franco’s official request for repatriation. Moved to the truppenübungsplatz (training center) of Stablack, near Königsberg in East Prussia, they changed their German uniform by the Spanish. The first train of soldiers arrived at the Spanish border on March 28 and the last on April 11, 1944.
It is only fair to conclude this brief history of the official contingent of Spanish volunteers who fought in Russia between 1941 and 1944, emphasizing the excellent treatment that became a norm of coexistence between them and the Russian civilian population. The Spanish divisionaries and legionaries constituted a drop of humanity in that war of extermination. The Soviet authorities were not only unable to make allegations of war crimes against the volunteers, it was greatly appreciated by the Russians who lived with them.
In Heer and Waffen-SS, 1944-1945
With the LEV fighters at Stablack camp, the German military authorities offered them the chance to continue fighting. Some did so even though a later decree of the government of General Franco deprived of Spanish nationality those who fought in foreign armies without the corresponding authorization. This decree was intended to put an end to the clandestine crossing of the Spanish-French border by Falangists and other adventurers who had been encouraged by the German secret services in Spain and by Falangist leaders to join the Wehrmacht. For example, by January 1944, one hundred and thirty volunteers had been present at the German embassy in Madrid. In order to recruit them, the German authorities used, from the end of January 1944, an agency, Sonderstab F , which was carrying out functions against the Resistance in the south of France. It established a headquarters in Caterets with delegations in San Juan de Luz and Perpignan. The origins of this Sonderstab F dated back to 1941, when it was created by the Abwehr and later affected to the security service of the SS, Sicherheitsdienst (SD).
Sonderstab F redirected the volunteers to Paris, to a specific recruiting body set up in the Quartier de la Reine de Versailles, where after being submitted to the corresponding medical check-up, almost all the admitted were transferred to Stablack (later, these volunteers would go to the Austrian town of Stockerau). And a few were recruited by the SD for a new unit created in February 1944, the Einsatzgruppe Pyrenären of Sonderstab F , intended for antipartisan work through its infiltration into the Resistance. This mission was favored by the abundant presence of antifascist Spaniards in the maquis of the region. Among the Spaniards recruited by the SD there were, also, Republican exiles. Although the Spanish ambassador in Berlin numbered 1,500 Spaniards working for the Nazi security services in the summer of 1944, this amount seems excessive. The Sonderstab F was transferred to Stockerau in the autumn of 1944, where it remained until the end of the war, when the 200 Spaniards who still remained in it crossed the Swiss border.
The Einsatzgruppe Pyrenären, which operated against the Maquis in southern and southeastern France, belonged to the Streifkorps Süd-Frankreich , and with it withdrew from France during the summer of 1944 before the advance of allied forces. In September, as a result of the absorption process of the Abwehr, he was transferred to the SS-Jagdvervänd Südwest , one of the formations under the famous obersturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny. This was a mixed unit in which there were also French and Italian volunteers. Admitted to the SS-Jagdeinsatz Süd-Frankreich , they formed a so-called Kondor Kommando in clear reference to the close relations between Nazi Germany and General Franco’s Spain. They were destined for a base near the Alsatian town of Molsheim, from which French collaborators infiltrated the liberated regions. From January 1945, the Spaniards of Kondor Kommando joined the reconnaissance and sabotage missions in the rear of the US Seventh Army and in April, the SS-Jagdvervänd Südwest was amalgamated with the SS-Jagdvervänd Mitte and its remains, under the direction of the own Skorzeny, went towards the Bavarian mountains.
Spanish volunteer companies
With the volunteers who arrived clandestinely from Spain and some veterans of the LEV, the Spanisches-Freiwilligen-Einheit (Spanish Volunteers Unit) was created in late April or early May 1944 in Stablack. His command was eleven German officers and non-commissioned officers, led by Captain Wolfram Gräfe, who had been part of the DEV’s and LEV’s major liaison planes. Its workforce consisted of one major flat and three companies of granaderos, besides two other companies of deposit (reservation and instruction). The initial numbers were 243 men.
The volunteers received the uniform of the Heer without any specific mark of their nationality and took the oath of fidelity to Hitler. They were equipped with great diversity of armament and received a complete instruction that included classes of German. The volunteers baptized their unit as the “phantom battalion” since its existence was always a rumor among the Spanish present in Germany and was never made public by the opposition of the Franco government to which Spaniards continued fighting in the Wehrmacht.
In June 1944, the unit moved to Stockerau, near Vienna. There the reserve and instructional units and their third company, still in formation process were installed with the volunteers that continued arriving (between June 8 and July 20 were about one hundred and fifty). Their first two companies, already completed, marched to the town of Hall-im-Tirol, near Innsbruck, to receive training like mountain troops. At the same time, widespread discomfort spread among the Spaniards when the German commanders refused to recognize the jobs obtained by the veterans of the Eastern Front, who were enlisted as a troop. The conflict reached its worst moment when a Spanish volunteer killed a German soldier in a dispute.
In August, the two companies were sent to the front. The 1st Company, commanded by Leutnant Panther, was assigned to the Romanian region of Vatra Dornei and attached to the 3. Gebirgs-Division . There, divided into small groups, the volunteers acted in rear actions such as the destruction of bridges, railways and roads, defending the footsteps of the Carpathians before the Soviet advance. The losses of this company were elevated (57 between dead and disappeared) reason why it returned in table to Stockerau at the end of October. The 2nd Company was deployed initially in the Slovenian region of Celje and participated in sporadic fighting against the partisan forces. The unit to which it was attached has not yet been identified. At the end of October, following the advance of the Soviet army and Tito’s Yugoslav forces, the company retired first to Hollabrunn, a town also near Vienna, and in December to Stockerau. There, these two companies coincided with the 3rd, which would never be completed. Thus, at the end of November, according to the testimony of a Spanish worker enrolled in the Spanisches-Freiwilligen-Einheit (known as the “Batallion of Spanish Volunteers of Alpine Hunters” in the documentation of the agency in charge of Spanish workers in Germany) a month earlier, there were two companies of Spanish quartered in Stockerau and a third in Hollabrunn, where he had been destined along with a hundred of Spanish workers. Although the project to create a Spanish volunteer unit was still in force, the Spanisches-Freiwilligen-Einheit was incorporated into the Croatian depot brigade ( Kroatisches-Ersatz-Brigade ), which provided replacements for the German-Croatian divisions of the Wehrmacht 369th, 373rd and 392nd.
Although the fate of these companies since that date is confusing, it is proven that they suffered the desertion of many of their members incorporated into the Spanish company that was organized in the Wallonie brigade of the SS. And according to Georg Tessin, on January 30, 1945, the Spanish 101st and 102nd volunteer companies, Freiwilligen-infanterie-kompanien (Spanischen) , were set up in Stockerau with the staff of the Spanisches-Freiwilligen reservation and instruction companies -Einheit , dissolving this. These companies were assigned to the 357. Infanterie-Division . Most likely, these two companies were basically made up of German personnel although with some Spaniards. Several testimonies say that some of these Spaniards marched to the Walloon brigade a few days later, at the beginning of February 1945, while others remained in the same fighting in Hungary and Slovakia until the end of the war.
In these units of volunteers and later to be created within the SS, Spanish workers who were part of that 26.5% foreign labor employed in Germany in the summer of 1944 were enrolled. Spanish workers came from various collectives. Many were there as a result of the economic agreement signed between the Spanish and German governments in August 1941, whereby about 50,000 Spaniards marched in their great majority fleeing from misery, hunger or police persecution. In addition, there were those from France, pre-war immigrants (in 1931 there were 350,000) and republicans who fled the country in 1939 and who after the French defeat had been recruited by the German authorities, especially for the Todt Organization. A last group was formed by veterans of the DEV who chose to stay in Germany when they were licensed. Although since 1944 the Wehrmacht campaigned for recruitment among the Spanish workers, the main reason for those who enlisted in the Spanish volunteer units was to flee from allied aviation bombing of the factories in which they worked. They were, therefore, soldiers forced by circumstances and not fanatical fascists who took every opportunity to desert and try to return to Spain or reach a safe place.
In the “Wallonien”
In Spain, the Falangist authorities most committed to the cause of Nazi Germany intervened when the government of General Franco decided to withdraw the Spanish volunteers from the war. According to his own testimony, Alphonse van Horembeke, a Belgian veteran of the Francoist army during the Spanish Civil War who was then assigned to the FET-JONS provincial delegation of Vizcaya, was ordered to march to Germany in late March 1944 with the mission of gathering as many Spaniards to locate and enroll them in the Flemish legion of the Waffen-SS. In July, after several months without success, Van Horembeke enlisted in the SS-Freiwilligen-Sturmbrigade Wallonien by Léon Degrelle, who was in the process of reorganization after the Kórsun debacle. At the end of September, after his participation in the Estonian campaign, Degrelle entrusted Van Horembeke with the task of recruiting Spaniards with whom he hoped to rebuild an entire regiment of his Walloon brigade. And shortly afterwards, in November – thanks to the mediation of the Ibero-American Institute of Von Faupel – Obersturmführer García Valdajos joined the brigade of Degrelle, who put him in charge of the administrative tasks of the Spanish unit that was being recruited.
García Valdajos was a veteran of the DEV and the LEV that in March of 1944 decided to stay in Germany and to enter in the SD. He had participated in anti-partisan actions and had been stationed in the Paris recruiting center of the Quartier de la Reine .
Van Horembeke visited factories and labor camps without much success until he arrived in Stockerau in November, where he found the remains of companies of Spanish fighters. Van Horembeke initially convinced a few veterans to join the Walloon brigade, where they formed the picture of the 3rd Company of the first and only battalion of the 70. Grenadiere-Regiment (3 / I / 70). It was commanded by the untersturmführer Walloon Rudi Bal. During this period of organization, a group of Italian volunteers received authorization to join the Italian Waffen-SS brigade and along with them marched a dozen Spaniards.
In the early days of February 1945, when the Wallonien was already deployed in the area of Stargard, near Stettin (Szczecin), it received several expeditions of Spaniards coming from Vienna and Berlin. With these last volunteers the 3rd Company was completed to four sections and a fourth section was created in the 1st Company of the same battalion. With these reinforcements, which probably came from the companies 101st and 102nd, as well as some desperate workers recruited in extremis, the maximum number of Spaniards in the Wallonie was reached and has been calculated in about three hundred, since there were also in other units of the brigade. Of the combats by Stargard only about 60 Spaniards escaped to the first of March. A few days later, the command of the Wallonien was ordered to transfer these survivors to a unit that had recently been created under the command of the hauptsturmfuhrer Miguel Ezquerra.
In the “Karstjäger-Brigade” of the SS
One of the companies of the Brandenburg Division (the unit of the special forces of the Abwehr until its transformation into a panzergranadera division in September of 1944) had a mixed character to be formed by French, German and some Spaniards. These were under the direction of Jose Ortiz Fernandez, a veteran of the DEV that when being licensed it joined the German counter-espionage services. After participating in various operations against the French Resistance, infiltrating among the numerous groups of Spanish maquisards , in May 1944 they marched along with the Italians of another company to the north of Italy to develop antipartisan missions, being a month later in the zones of Arezzo and Cittá di Castello.
In September 1944, when the Abwehr was absorbed by the SS, the Italo-Spanish detachment was being reorganized in Ivrea, north of Turin. There they knew that they were going to be incorporated into the Waffen-SS. According to his own testimony, Jose Ortiz was assigned to Hall-im-Tirol to carry out a course that would qualify him as an officer of the Waffen-SS and then traveled as recruiter to several prison camps in the environs of Vienna where Spanish workers were locked up who had abandoned their factories and workplaces. Ortiz convinced to a hundred of them, with whom a company organized in October of 1944 of which was appointed its commander with the use of untersturmführer .
Although some members had fought with the 1st Company in Romania, as Ortiz himself testified in his testimony, most of his members sought to escape from the prison camps and from Germany and very few believed in the Nazi cause, even ex-combatants of the republican army. These volunteers gained an ambiguous reputation: they maintained fights and confrontations with their companions of other nationalities, they were accused of looting and looting by the partisan forces, but they had a great camaraderie and loyalty until the last moments.
This company was ready by November or December and joined the 59. Gebirgsjäger-Regiment of the 24. Waffen-Gebirgs- (Karstjäger) -Division der SS of the sturmbannführer Werner Hahn. The Spanish company acted in Villach and Pontebba, and later in Tolmezzo, also in functions antipartisanas. At the beginning of May 1945, the Spanish volunteers received the authorization to escape and try to reach Spain.
This alpine unit of the Waffen-SS had its origin in an order of Himmler in the summer of 1942 for the creation of a company (denominated SS-Karstwehr-Kompanie ) destined to the fight antipartisana in the Austrian Tirol. Soon it was transformed into a battalion and in the spring of 1943 moved to Carinthia to continue its training. When the defection of Italy occurred, it was sent to the regions of Istria and Eastern Veneto, where it remained until the end of the war fighting the partisans (its headquarters settled in Gradisca, Italy). Due to the increasing guerrilla activity, Himmler ordered a new transformation of the unit on July 18, 1944. This time it should become a division of two regiments and some 6,000 troops. The inability to complete this reorganization led in December 1944 to officially become a brigade of some 3,000 men. At the end of the war, the Karstjäger-Brigade acted as a rearguard for the German forces fleeing Italy and Yugoslavia, and on May 9, 1945 their remains surrendered to the 6th British Armored Division in southern Austria.
The “Einheit Ezquerra”
Miguel Ezquerra Sánchez was a veteran of the DEV that after its dissolution also had been incorporated in the SD and had been destined in missions antipartisanas in the Sonderstab F. In Germany, Ezquerra became a close associate of Wilhelm von Faupel, former ambassador of Nazi Germany to the Franco government, who headed the Ibero-American Institute in Berlin. This institution had acted as a meeting place for many of the Spaniards (intellectuals, students, volunteer combatants and workers) who were in Germany and through the newspaper Enlace , from 1944 helped to consolidate a radical Falangist current among volunteers inextricably linked to the destination of the Third National Socialist Reich. Von Faupel aspired to create a group of collaborators loyal to Hitler and not Franco. Despite protests from the Spanish government, the newspaper Enlace continued to be published.
In January 1945, thanks to the efforts of Von Faupel, Ezquerra was authorized to organize a unit with the Spaniards he met. He recruited students, workers from the Todt Organization and even some who had problems with German justice and joined them with the survivors of the Wallonie 3 / I / 70 for the final battle. In the end, the Einheit Ezquerra (some authors cite it as Einsatzgruppe Ezquerra ) was composed of two companies that were quartered in Potsdam and in which the last Spanish volunteers met ready to fight by Hitler. Equipped with light weapons, in April of 1945 was destined to the defense of Berlin where, according to Ezquerra, participated in the defense of the Luftministerium and in the combats of the Moritzplatz .
In the end, some volunteers managed to escape from the German capital, others were captured by the Soviets and others were executed in the ruins of the German capital. The last Spanish prisoners in the USSR returned to Spain in 1954.
In the Luftwaffe
The equivalent of the DEV in the aerial weapon were the officially denominated Expeditionary Squadrons, better known as “Blue Squadrons”, who joined the Luftwaffe between 1941 and 1943. At the time that the Spanish authorities negotiated with the Germans the purchase of modern equipment and other patents, a contingent of Spanish pilots was organized to participate in the Russian campaign that would learn the techniques and tactics of combat of the fighter pilots of the Luftwaffe.
Following the example of the Condor Legion, a squadron would be organized that would include its ground step (about 125 men) and whose components would be rotated after a certain period of service. The 1st Squadron was organized at the same time as the DEV and was composed of 17 veteran pilots of the Spanish Civil War. Moved to Germany, on 27 July, they began an instruction course at the Werneuchen hunting school, which lasted until the end of September. Once listed it was equipped with Me 109E and attached to the Jagdgeschwader 27 as an independent squadron (15 / JG27). On October 2, it began operating on the Moscow front. This squadron made 94 aerial combat (of 460 missions), obtained six victories and suffered six casualties (five dead or missing). He returned in early March 1942, when the 2nd Squadron was marching to Werneuchen.
This squadron remained in instruction until mid-June and among its 19 pilots were fewer veterans of the Civil War. It began operations at the end of June framed in the Jagdgeschwader 51 Mölders also as independent (15 / JG51) and based in Orel. Their numbers were: 117 battles (of 1,312 missions), 13 victories and two casualties.
The 3rd Squadron began to organize in July of 1942 in Spain and was trained by the veterans of the 1st Squadron before marching to France, where it received a short course of instruction of the Luftwaffe. It consisted of 20 pilots, mostly inexperienced in the hunt, who relieved the 2nd Squadron in December 1942. Fought in 112 occasions (of 1,716 missions), obtained 62 victories and suffered six casualties. Among its components were two of the three “aces” of the expeditionary squadrons: Gonzalo Hevia (11 demolitions) and José Ramón Gavilán (9 demolitions). In these better results had influence two facts: to the three months of being in Russia the squadron was reequipada with FW 190A and the use of the radars that the Luftwaffe had begun to deploy in this front.
The 4th Squadron relieved the former in July 1943, and as she had received a basic training in Spain and a short course in France. His data were 277 battles (of 1,918 missions), 74 victories and ten casualties. In it flew the second “ace” Spanish: Mariano Cuadra (10 demolitions). The 5th Squadron departed Spain in December and partially relieved the 4th Squadron in February 1944. A month later, the unit received the repatriation order at the same time as the LEV. In that short space of time, only two-thirds of their pilots flew that did not obtain any victory and suffered a loss. This last squadron flew Me 109G.
The Luftwaffe granted the qualification of expert to those pilots who shot down to more than five enemy apparatuses. Thus, while the German pilots who achieved this distinction were 12% of the total, the proportion among the Spaniards of the expeditionary squadrons reached 15%. They were, finally, these Spanish pilots who developed the modern weapon of hunting of the Spanish aviation when applying the techniques and tactics that they had learned after their experience with the Luftwaffe in the front of the East.
In the Kriegsmarine
The participation of Spanish seafarers in the Kriegsmarine was due to different motives of the Heer, Waffen-SS or Luftwaffe volunteers. In 1939 the Spanish authorities designed a plan of rearmament of the Spanish Navy that needed the German aid to be able to carry out. In the end, this plan proved unfeasible for a poor and devastated country like the Spain of those years, but in the summer of 1940 a commission of the Spanish navy traveled to Germany in order to obtain the necessary technology for the rearmament program. In exchange for supplying strategic minerals such as tungsten, tin, aluminum or copper, Germany offered plans and patents for submarines, minesweepers and torpedo boats, and accepted the sending of Spanish personnel to conduct courses and practices in their units. war.
A first group of Spanish sailors arrived in the Baltic Sea in November 1942. There he participated in different war missions until January 1943, when he was transferred to various centers and units of instruction (including the Admiral Scheer cruiser). He returned to Spain in March. The second group arrived in the Baltic in April 1943 and participated in actions similar to those of their predecessors. In addition, during the months of June and July of 1943 they were trained in the naval base of Swinemünde the crews of six Schnellboot S-38 torpedo boats ceded to the Spanish navy. The total number of Spanish sailors who passed through the Kriegsmarine was about 134.
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