Note by the editor: This OB created by Carlos Pérez accompanies the article Spaniards in World War II Part 1: Fighting for the Third Reich. Both were published on belliludi.com in 2006 and are reproduced here with kind permission.
The Blue Division, 1941-43
[…] Falangist leaders wanted a political unit formed only by “blue-shirts” volunteers but Army high command disagreed. At the end, Franco and his military ministers ordered the Army to provide all officers, 66% NCOs and all specialist soldiers. Falangist volunteers only could enlist into infantry companies. More even, volunteers had to be veterans of SCW and political reliable. Initially, German ambassador Von Stöhrer was afraid about combat and political quality of these Falangist volunteers, but after checking with Army high command he could post to Berlin that 75% division´s members were professional soldiers.
Recruitment begun on 27 June 1941 and after a few days were enlisted more men than required. A significant high number of these volunteers were Falangist leaders, university students, writers, intellectuals and so others. As consequence, this first Blue Division achieved a high and strong morale to fight Communism. […]
Volunteers were concentrated into military barracks to perform training program. Were equipped with Army uniforms but allowed to show the blue-shirt of Falangist party and red-beret of Carlist party. Its official name was «División Española de Voluntarios» (DEV), Spanish Division of Volunteers, but was known as «División Azul» (Blue Division) by Falangist leaders and media. The man chosen to lead it was an army corps commander during SCW named Agustín Muñoz Grandes (1896-1970), an African Army veteran, able and ambitious, who was loved by his men. He deployed an active role in Hitler-Franco political relations and was awarded by the Führer on 13 December 1942 with Ritterkreuz with oak leaves. […] According with German ambassador, with him were most of the best Spanish officers, holders of the highest Spanish military medals and honors.
[…] was raised an infantry division following German instructions. Wehrmacht should provide all armament and equipment. Between 12 and 13 July, Spaniards arrived to Grafenwöhr (Bavaria) […] After final division´s reorganization according German TO&E, total effectives were 18,946, some above those required.
On 25 July 1941 the 250. Infanterie-Division (spanische) was incorporated into Wehrmacht order of battle. It had, as usual, three infantry regiments (nrs. 262, 263 and 269), one artillery regiment with four battalions (each 105mm howitzer battalion was usually attached to each infantry regiment) and other units (250 was the number assigned to these support units). Also was attached a liaison staff with German officers. Blue Division was equipped as all other German infantry divisions were: in 1943 had about 800 motor vehicles and some thousands of horses.
Training was carried at Grafenwöhr until 20 August when Blue Division started the travel to Russia. The division was entrained to Treuburg, Reuss, Suwalki and Grodno and sent to Armeegruppe Mitte, in order to join German forces advancing on Moscow. On 29 August departed on foot to Smolensk. Was a hard march, suffering first losses, through Vilnius, Molodechno, Minsk, Borisov and Orsha. Some 40 km before Smolensk, orders were received to turn north and march on Vitebsk: Moscow had been changed for Leningrad. Despite what some authors stated after, this Blue Division march to the front was far from a thousand kilometers in length: between Suwalki and Vitebsk are about 750 km, so the daily average rate was 25 km and not 40 km as these authors usually cited. […]
Russian General Winter surprised Spanish volunteers without winter equipment and suffered low temperatures and bad weather like neighboring German units. Despite some winter clothes arrived from Spain, there were insufficient for all soldiers and Spanish ingenuity was demanded. Between October 1941 and March 1942 were 1,235 frozen and 2,532 losses for disease. That experience was useful for next winter and frozen losses were reduced by 40% according to Major-General Esteban-Infantes.
On December, the Blue Division HQ created a special ski company with 228 men to patrol Ilmen´s western side. […] Time after, the cycle company of sappers battalion was also equipped with skis for winter. […]
Due to losses suffered and hardness of East front campaign, since end of 1941 was retaken the recruitment of new volunteers for Blue Division. Despite were enough enlistments yet, from this date that number was decreasing because veterans returned from Russia told about hard conditions of fighting there. At the end (in 1943), Army high command had to send recruitments from regular units. All these replacements were organized into march battalions and sent to Bavarian boot-camp of Hof. There were trained and equipped. The first march battalion departed on 1 January 1942 and were 27 march battalions in total. After replaced all losses, in February 1942, the Blue Division had 603 officers and 16.334 NCOs and soldiers. Complementary, since May 1942 departed from Russia battalions of licensed soldiers because each volunteer served for about ten months.
In early September 1942, DEV was transferred to Leningrad front to join Operation Nordlicht. […] On December 1942, commander-in-chief was replaced. Major-General Emilio Esteban-Infantes Martín (1892-1962), took the command. Esteban-Infantes was a cold staff officer, who was not so liked by his men as his predecessor. On 10 May 1943 was awarded with the Ritterkreuz.
[…] Stavka planned to continue the offensive and a new attack was launched. […] The sector attacked was Krasnyi Bor on 10 February, the bloodiest journey for Spanish volunteers in Russia. […] Total losses for that day were 2,253 (45% of participating troops). […]
By 1943, the DEV was a powerful infantry division due to its particular replacement system. According to the chief of staff, Blue Division had an overall effectives of 15,000 men. Its German TO&E was lightly reinforced. The artillery regiment had two additional batteries equipped with French-captured 220mm Schneider M1916 mortars. The recon battalion had three companies (originally two) and an AT section. The AT battalion had three normal batteries and a fourth equipped with French 75mm and Soviet 76,2mm guns (the tank-hunters were specially chosen and hardly trained). The sappers’ battalion had three companies (one was a ski-company during winter wheater). And the feldersatz battalion had been converted into a regular infantry battalion (with three infantry companies and one heavy company) and was used as the division fire brigade.
[…] The last combat action had place on 5 October 1943, that day the division was concentrated in Volosovo area. Was officially disbanded on 17 November, when soldiers entrained to Spain: the last ones left Russia on 24 December 1943.
Undoubtly, Blue Division effectiveness was high, similar to some of the best German divisions. This was recognized even by German officers. Basically was a Spanish army regular unit reinforced by political volunteers. Its professional cadre gave cohesion and experience, and the Falangist volunteers gave stoicism and an ideological surplus very useful in hardness situations. Must be remembered that all members, professionals or volunteers, were veterans of SCW and that in that war, units considered as Militias were not that amateur type of troops. Were in fact regular units of volunteers because all their officers were Army professionals and just some NCOs and almost all soldiers were political volunteers.
[…] the number of defections was very low (only 40 deserters are recorded). Blue Division members were awarded with 2,362 2nd Class Iron Crosses and 135 1st Class Iron Crosses in addition to all medals and honors of Spanish Army. Of these, eight men were awarded with «Laureadas de San Fernando» Crosses, the most valuable Spanish war prize, all posthumously.
Referring total numbers, were about 45,000 Spaniards who fought in DEV and losses were about 25,000 (4,954 killed, 20,000 wounded and 372 prisoners).
The Panzerjäger-abteilung and the troops arriving to Volkhov front, 1941 (FDA)
The Blue Legion, 1943-1944
On 17 November 1943, General Esteban-Infantes signed the order to raise the «Legión Española de Voluntarios» (LEV – Spanish Legion of Volunteers), known as «Legión Azul» (Blue Legion). This unit should be filled with volunteers from DEV members, like its commander, Colonel Antonio García Navarro. Was organized into two infantry battalions with 650 men each one plus one heavy battalion (one artillery battery, one AT battery, one sapper company and other support units) with 795 men. Effectives were 110 officers, 114 NCOs and 2,045 soldiers.
The LEV was trained in Kingisep for three weeks (about one hundred volunteers were repatriated to Spain due to their low morale), and on 15 December 1943 LEV was […] deployed in Kostovo area. […] On 26 December started a 140 km long retreat to Luga. On this foot march discipline and cohesion was lost and by 30 January Colonel García Navarro received orders to transfer heavy equipment and armament to German units. Spanish volunteers were concentrated around Tapa (Estonia) for reorganization and training. On 16 March 1944 Hitler approved the demobilization of this unit […] The Spaniards departed from Stablack (East Prussia) to Spain between 28 March and 11 April. The battle performance of LEV was far below than DEV deployed.
In the Heer and Waffen-SS, 1944-45
Being LEV veterans concentrated in Stablack (East Prussia) training ground, German military authorities asked them to follow as Reich soldiers. Some accepted […] In Spain, pro-German Falangist leaders and Germany secret services encouraged young Falangists and adventurers to cross the French border to enlist in German forces. […]
With some Blue Legion veterans and volunteers arrived from Spain was created in early May 1944 the Spanische-Freiwilligen-Einheit (Spanish Unit of Volunteers) at Stablack, near Königsberg. […] Its TO&E had three grenadier companies and two depot companies for reserve and training. […] The volunteers nicknamed the unit as «Batallón Fantasma» (Ghost Battalion) because its existence was always a rumor between Spaniards in Germany and never recognized officially by Franco´s government.
On July 1944, the unit was translated to Stockerau, near Vienna. [The first two companies] were sent to Hall-im-Tirol to be trained in mountain warfare [and] released to fight in August 1944. The 1. Kompanie was sent to Romania […] and attached to 3. Gebirgs-Division. […] The 2. Kompanie was initially deployed in Slovenian region of Celje and attached to an until-today unrecognizable unit. […] According to Tessin, on 30 January 1945 was disbanded the Spanische-Freiwilligen-Einheit and were created at Stockerau two companies named Freiwilligen-Infanterie-Kompanien (spanisches) nrs. 101 and 102. These companies were attached to 357. Infanterie-Division. […]
- In the «Wallonien». […] Some veterans were convinced to desert and joined the SS brigade, where formed the cadre of 3rd Company, 1st Battalion, 70th SS-Regiment. […] On early February 1945, […] the total Spanish effectives at that date have been estimated in about 300 (were Spaniards in other brigade´s units). […]
- In the SS-Karstjäger-Brigade. [With Spaniards enlisted in Brandenburg Division and Spanish workers recruited near Vienna, a Spanish SS officer completed a company by October.] That company was ready by November and joined the SS-Sturmbannführer Werner Hahn´s Karstjäger-Brigade.
- The «Einheit Ezquerra». [Last Spaniards] were concentrated in Potsdam and formed two companies armed with light weapons. The unit was named Einheit Ezquerra (some authors called it Einsatzgruppe Ezquerra) and all of its members had knowledge that next battle will be the last: Berlin. […] Some volunteers achieved to escape and arrived to Spain, but most of them died among the ruins. The last Spanish prisoners were released by Soviet Union and returned to Spain on 1954.
Some last notes
Volunteers were initially organized in Spain into an infantry division according Germany embassy instructions, so the Spanish army authorities raised three infantry regiments and one depot regiment. For this reason some authors believe that were initially formed four infantry regiments, but the depot regiment was smaller than infantry ones and was mixed (with artillery, engineer, antitank and cavalry reserve and instruction units).
Also, was believed on 1941 that Spanish division had to be motorized so were included a great amount of motor drivers. These soldiers were converted into horse carts drivers at Grafenwöhr, and according their testimonies most horses came from Czechoslovakia and were of low quality.
Despite was unofficially allowed the use of blue-shirt and red-beret by volunteers, the head cap was never used in the front and the shirt was always under the German feldgrau uniform (only was visible the shirt-collars).
From the beginning Germans complained about indiscipline and low warlike look of Spanish soldiers. Clashes erupted during initial training: Spaniards argued that all of them were battle-hardened soldiers and was unnecessary more basic instruction. They had come to fight against Soviets not to be in Bavaria. So, after less than a month, Spanish command asked for end the training program and go into the battle. After all they were convinced that German army was near to conquer Moscow and they wanted to be there. Despite German instructor’s disagreement, OKH accepted.
Nearly all volunteers’ testimonies make reference to Germans as excessively-disciplined, obstinate heads and racists towards Russian people. This was a growing problem between Germans and Spaniards. Spanish Fascism (Falangism) was not racist. In Spain, there were no ethnic problems (Jews and Muslims were expulsed long time ago, on 1492 and by 17th Century). The volunteers were to fight against Communists and Soviet atheism, and all about German racial war was far from them. Even, most could not understand the brutal treatment of Germans against Russian farmers, women, ancients and children. At the end, Spanish volunteers were very liked by Russian people in those places where were deployed, and sometimes clashed with Germans due to their defense of civil population.
Not all of the 1944-45 Spanish volunteers were believed fighters for the Third Reich destiny. There were a lot of Spanish workers who tried to fly from Allied air bombardments over their factories. […] All of these Spaniards who joined some of the Spanish combat units were forced soldiers trying to reach a safe place and not fanatical Fascists.
The Aufklärungs-abteilung and fighting in the green hell of the Volkhov pocket, spring 1942 (FDA)
- Infanterie-Division (spanische)
Aufklärungs-Abteilung 250 (Recon battalion)
Feldersatz-Bataillon 250 (Depot battalion)
Panzerjäger-Abteilung 250 (AT battalion)
Pionier-Bataillon 250 (Engineers battalion)Division-Einheinten 250 und Versorgungstruppen (Division units and support troops)
Legión Española de Voluntarios / Spanisches Freiwilligen-Legion
I Bandera de Granaderos (1st Grenadier battalion)
II Bandera de Granaderos (2nd Grenadier battalion)
Bandera Mixta (Mixed battalion)
Artillerie-Batterie (Artillery battery)
Panzerjäger-Batterie (AT battery)
Pionier-Kompanie (Engineer company)
Nachrichten-Kompanie (Signals company)
Aufklärungs-Einheit (Recon unit)
Versorgungstruppen (Support troops and services)
Suggested Grand Europa OB for the Spanish Foreign Contingent in the German Army
Jul II 41
Greater Germany, Forming: 1x 7-6 Inf XX 250 (FC/Sp)
Aug II 41
Greater Germany, Full: 1x 7-6 XX 250 (FC/Sp)
Transfer to East: 1x 7-6 XX 250 (FC/Sp)
Sept I 41
East, Arrive from Greater Germany: 1x 7-6 XX 250 (FC/Sp)
Oct I 43
East, Transfer to Greater Germany: 1x 7-6 Inf XX 250 (FC/Sp)
Greater Germany, Arrive from East: 1x 7-6 Inf XX 250 (FC/Sp)
Nov II 43
Greater Germany, Reorganize: 1x 7-6 Inf XX 250 (FC/Sp) to 4 inf RPs
East, Forming: 1x 1-2-6* Inf X SpFL (FC/Sp)
Dec II 43
East, Full: 1x 1-2-6* Inf X SpFL (FC/Sp)
Mar II 44
East, Withdraw: 1x 1-2-6* Inf X SpFL (FC/Sp)
May I 44 (Optional)
Greater Germany, Forming: 1x 0-1-6 Inf II SpFE [Spanische-Freiwilligen-Einheit]
Notes referring to my suggested Europa OB for Spanish foreign contingent
- I agree with FitE/SE rating for Blue Division: 7-6 Inf XX. When the Blue Division was disbanded, all its equipment and armament remained in Germany, so it seems as a reorganization providing German inf RPs. As a result, German player has an incentive to maintain the Blue Division at full strength.
- In FitE/SE German foreign contingents can not be replaced. Should have the Blue Division its own rule due to its particular replacement system? All losses were replaced between 1941 and 1943, but are sufficient to provide RPs? John Astell agreed and suggested «0.5 Spanish foreign contingent inf RPs on each I turn starting Jan I 42 (and ending when Spain called for the division’s return) would be appropiate» in a ClassicEuropa Yahoo group post.
- In FitE/SE, the Blue Legion is a 2-6* Inf X. I think it is overrated due to its only 2 inf battalions and 1-2-6* is more fair. However, I am not sure that 1 art battery can support 2 inf battalions, so maybe a 1-2-6 Inf X is more correct for this unit.