|The Spanish Blue Division In Russia|
The Blue Division
The German invasion of communist Russia in June 1941 was embraced by the members of the Spanish Falange Party, the veterans of the recently ended Civil War, the military establishment and also the Spanish people. Generalissimo Franco soon decided to send an expeditionary force of 18,000 men. Recruiting posts were opened at local Falange headquarters and in a few days there were more than 70,000 volunteers. These volunteers, mostly Falange party or militia members, came from all classes of society.
It was decided that the division would be composed of 4 infantry regiments and 1 artillery regiment and each with the name of their commanding colonel:
Rodrigo Regiment (Col. Miguel Rodrigo Martinez)
Major-General Agustín Muñoz Grandes, a veteran of the Moroccan Campaigns, lead the division. It became known as the Blue Division because of the blue shirts, which were worn, a nickname that would stick forever.
After a short stay in Poland (Raczki - Grodno area), the Division joined the Central Army Corps of Marshal von Bock and were then sent by train from Vitebsk to Novgorod to join the front in the Wolchow sector in early October. The Blue Division fought with great distinction at the Wolchow River.
On 23 October, an extremely strong Russian attack to dislodge the Division from the western bank of the Wolchow River was rejected with heavy losses to the enemy. On 27 October, the 250th Reserve Battalion stood out during attacks against Tigoda and Dubrovka. Nicknamed "Tía Bernarda", this unit was composed mainly of experienced regular army personnel and former Spanish Legion volunteers. Though theoretically considered a reserve unit, it actually served as a shock troop throughout the campaign.
Another important action took place on 2 November when the 3rd Battalion, 263rd Regiment, defended Nilktkino against an attacking Russian regiment. The battle reached the point of bayonet fighting but was repulsed with the enemy leaving 221 dead in front of the Spanish position.
On November 10, the 1st Battalion, 269th Regiment, largely formed from Madrid based Falangists, was assigned to oppose an expected Russian attack. After a heavy artillery barrage, the Russians attacked the isolated Spanish position time and time again but resistance never broke. The assault lasted for 7 days before the Russians abandoned it, leaving 180 surviving Spaniards out of the original 800. The Russian colonel commanding the assault committed suicide for his failure.
Another fierce defensive battle was fought on 27 December when three Russian battalions crossed the Spanish lines and surrounded a hill which was set up as an intermediate position to protect the nearby town of Udarnik. The Russians were repulsed with heavy casualties, leaving some 1,000 dead in the field.
On January 10, 1942, the Spanish Ski Company under Captain Ordas was sent to the rescue troops trapped at Vsvad in temperatures as low as -52° C. After 20 hours of bypassing long and deep crevasses in the ice, it took fierce fighting before the remains of the company, 22 out of 205, reached the Vsvad defenders on 21 January. In addition to the Collective Military Merit Medal awarded to the unit, Captain Ordas received the Individual Military Merit Medal for this action. The Germans also bestowed 32 Iron Crosses on the unit's members.
A month later, on 12 February another unit would perform a similar feat to receive the same collective honor. Three Soviet armies had broken through the German lines and 2nd Battalion, 263rd Regiment, was sent to aid a German Garrison at Mal Zamosche which had been surrounded. The 600 men in the battalion managed to break through the enemy circle and relieve the besieged Germans after a 36-hour march through snow.
During April and May of 1942, the first replacements started to arrive to relieve gradually the Division's veterans. Blue Division troops spent the month of July 1942 carrying out clean-up operations and captured 14,000 soldiers, including General Vlasov, and substantial amounts of cannons and weapons.
The Blue Division was then sent to the Leningrad Front. The first battle in their new positions took place on 12 October 1942 when 3rd Battalion, 262nd Regiment suffered a surprise attack by a Russian battalion. The enemy was repulsed and furiously pursued, first with grenades, then stones and finally engaged in hand to hand combat.
Two months later, Muñoz Grandes turned over the command of the Blue Division to Major-General Emilio Estaban Infantes. After a personal visit to Hitler, who awarded him the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, he returned to Spain to be promoted to Lt. General.
On December 6th, the 262 Regiment, carried out a brilliant assault against enemy positions at Kolpino. Attacking with hand grenades and bayonets, the Regiment killed 70 Russians and destroyed 12 bunkers and 3 machine gun posts.
The first encounter in 1943, took place when Russian General Zhukov launched an attack to force the Germans out of Leonine. The Blue Division successfully defended a long stretch of the front line. Then came the battle of Krasnyy Bor. The Spanish had 4,200 men in position against Russian units totaling 44,000 men and 117 tanks. Of the 4,200 members of the Division, which had defended Krasnyy Bor, only 1,947 survived. Two Laureate Crosses and 11 Individual Military Medals were awarded for this action. Russian losses were estimated at 3,000 men.
One last significant action was fought on 19 March. The Soviet 72nd Division attacked positions in the Podolovo-Putrolovo sector in order to open the Moscow-Leningrad road. The 3rd battalion, 262nd Regiment, halted the assault at bayonet point.
In Spain, the political situation had changed. Franco, seeing that a German victory was questionable, shifted to complete neutrality. Despite opposition, especially from Falange members, he declared Spain's neutrality on October 1st and the Division started to gradually withdraw from their sector and be replaced by the German 215th Division.
A small Spanish contingent remained under German command as the Spanish Volunteer Legion. It did not see much action other than harassment by partisan groups until it was disbanded on 11 February 1944 and returned to Spain. One Spanish group, however, refused to return and joined the Waffen-SS to defend Berlin and the Reich Chancellery at the conclusion of the war.
Two more Spanish units also served with the Germans in WW2. One was a small group of Alpine Troops, who saw action mainly in the Carpathian Mountains and Czechoslovakia. They continued fighting till the German surrender by which time only 7 men were left and they were captured by the Russians.
The other unit is the Blue Squadron, a fighter squadron, which saw service on the Eastern Front between October 1941 and March 1944. During its time at the front, 74 enemy planes were claimed against a loss of 10 planes and six pilots.
Casualties and Honours
In addition, 7,800 died due to illness and an additional 1,600 from frostbite, for a grand total of more than 22,000. Of the prisoners, 248 were repatriated in April 1954, but 97 were known to have died in Soviet concentration camps.
Blue Division members received the following awards:
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