Blue Division

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250. Infanterie-Division (German)
250th Infantry Division
División Española de Voluntarios (Spanish)
Spanish Volunteer Division
Arms of the 250th Division of the Wehrmacht.svg
Active24 June 1941 – 21 March 1944
CountryFlag of Spain (1938-1945).svg  Spain
AllegianceFlag of Germany (1935-1945).svg  Nazi Germany
Branch Army
Type Infantry
Size47,000 troops (total) [1]
Nickname(s)Franco's chaps
Motto(s) Spanish: Sin relevo posible, hasta la extinción
(No possible relief, until extinction)
Engagements World War II
Agustín Muñoz Grandes
Emilio Esteban Infantes

The Blue Division (Spanish : División Azul, German : Blaue Division), officially designated as División Española de Voluntarios by the Spanish Army and 250. Infanterie-Division in the German Army was a unit of Spanish volunteers and conscripts who served in the German Army on the Eastern Front of the Second World War. [2] It also included a few hundred volunteers from Portugal, Belgium, France, Russia, Cuba, Italy, Argentina and Cuba, [3] [4]

Spanish language Romance language

Spanish or Castilian is a Romance language that originated in the Castile region of Spain and today has hundreds of millions of native speakers in the Americas and Spain. It is a global language and the world's second-most spoken native language, after Mandarin Chinese.

German language West Germanic language

German is a West Germanic language that is mainly spoken in Central Europe. It is the most widely spoken and official or co-official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, South Tyrol (Italy), the German-speaking Community of Belgium, and Liechtenstein. It is also one of the three official languages of Luxembourg and a co-official language in the Opole Voivodeship in Poland. The languages which are most similar to German are the other members of the West Germanic language branch: Afrikaans, Dutch, English, the Frisian languages, Low German/Low Saxon, Luxembourgish, and Yiddish. There are also strong similarities in vocabulary with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, although those belong to the North Germanic group. German is the second most widely spoken Germanic language, after English.

Wehrmacht foreign volunteers and conscripts

Among the approximately one million foreign volunteers and conscripts who served in the Wehrmacht during World War II were ethnic Germans, Belgians, Czechs, Dutch, Finns, French, Hungarians, Norwegians, Poles, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedes and British, along with people from the Baltic states and the Balkans.


The Blue Division was the only component of the German Army to be awarded a medal of their own, commissioned by Hitler after the effectiveness it had impeding the advance of the Red Army. [5]

Blue Division Medal (Germany)

The Spanish Volunteer Medal formally known as the Commemorative Medal for Spanish Volunteers in the Struggle Against Bolshevism , commissioned 3 January 1944, was awarded by the Third Reich to recognize the men of the Blue Division who served at the Russian front during World War II. This force, attached to the Heer of the Wehrmacht, known as the 250th Infantry Division (span.), was in total composed of 47,000 men, sent by Francisco Franco to aid the Third Reich, as a way to pay back Adolf Hitler's help during the Spanish Civil War.

Adolf Hitler Leader of Germany from 1934 to 1945

Adolf Hitler was a German politician and leader of the Nazi Party. He rose to power as Chancellor of Germany in 1933 and later Führer in 1934. During his dictatorship from 1933 to 1945, he initiated World War II in Europe by invading Poland in September 1939. He was closely involved in military operations throughout the war and was central to the perpetration of the Holocaust.

Red Army 1917–1946 ground and air warfare branch of the Soviet Unions military

The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army, frequently shortened to Red Army was the army and the air force of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, and, after 1922, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The army was established immediately after the 1917 October Revolution. The Bolsheviks raised an army to oppose the military confederations of their adversaries during the Russian Civil War. Beginning in February 1946, the Red Army, along with the Soviet Navy, embodied the main component of the Soviet Armed Forces; taking the official name of "Soviet Army", until its dissolution in December 1991.

Blue Division casualties in all of the Russo-German conflict totaled 22,700 (3,934 battle deaths, 570 disease deaths, 326 missing or captured, 8,466 wounded, 7,800 sick, and 1,600 frostbitten). [1] In action against the Blue Division, the Red Army suffered 49,300 casualties. [1]



Although Spanish caudillo Francisco Franco did not officially bring Spain into World War II on the side of Nazi Germany, he permitted volunteers to join the German Army (Wehrmacht) on the condition they would only fight against the Soviet Union 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, while repaying German support during the Spanish Civil War and providing an outlet for the strong anti-Communist sentiments of many Spanish nationalists. Spanish foreign minister Ramón Serrano Súñer suggested raising a volunteer corps, and at the commencement of Operation Barbarossa, Franco sent an official offer of help to Berlin.

<i>Caudillo</i> type of personalist leader wielding political power

A caudillo is a type of personalist leader wielding military and political power. There is no precise definition of caudillo, which is often used interchangeably with "dictator" and "strongman". The term is historically associated with Spain, and with Spanish America after virtually all of that region won independence in the early nineteenth century.

Francisco Franco Spanish general and dictator

Francisco Franco Bahamonde was a Spanish general and politician who ruled over Spain as a dictator under the title Caudillo from 1939, after the nationalist victory in the Spanish Civil War, until his death in 1975. This period in Spanish history is commonly known as Francoist Spain.

Francoist Spain Period of Spain (1936 to 1975)

Francoist Spain, known in Spain as the Francoist dictatorship, officially known as the Spanish State from 1936 to 1947 and the Kingdom of Spain from 1947 to 1975, is the period of Spanish history between 1936 and 1975, when Francisco Franco ruled Spain as dictator with the title Caudillo.

Soldiers of the Blue Division at the Battle of Leningrad in 1943 FOTOGRAFIA DEL EJERCICIO TACTICO EN EL FRENTE DE LENINGRADO.jpg
Soldiers of the Blue Division at the Battle of Leningrad in 1943

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

Fifty percent of officers and NCOs were professional soldiers given leave from the Spanish army, including many 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—like Luis García Berlanga, who later became a well-known cinema director—to save relatives in prison from execution. The division also included a number of Portuguese volunteers.

Luis García Berlanga film director

Luis García-Berlanga Martí was a Spanish film director and screenwriter.

Portugal Republic in Southwestern Europe

Portugal, officially the Portuguese Republic, is a country located mostly on the Iberian Peninsula in southwestern Europe. It is the westernmost sovereign state of mainland Europe, being bordered to the west and south by the Atlantic Ocean and to the north and east by Spain. Its territory also includes the Atlantic archipelagos of the Azores and Madeira, both autonomous regions with their own regional governments.

General Agustín Muñoz 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, the khaki trousers of 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 grey uniform with a shield on the upper right sleeve bearing the word "España" and the Spanish national colours.

Deployment and action

Germany: training and organization of the Division

Travel by train between Spain and Germany in the first expeditions in 1941 Division Azul. Primer Viaje Tren. Verano 1941.png
Travel by train between Spain and Germany in the first expeditions in 1941

On July 13, 1941, the first train left Madrid for Grafenwöhr, 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, as in a standard Spanish division. To aid their integration into the German supply system, they soon adopted the standard Heer model of three regiments. One of the original regiments was dispersed amongst the others, which were then named after three of the Spanish cities that volunteers largely originated from—Madrid, Valencia and Seville. Each regiment had three battalions (of four companies each) and two weapons companies, supported by an artillery regiment of four battalions (of three batteries each). There were enough men left over to create an assault battalion, mainly sub-machine gun armed. Later, due to casualties, this was disbanded. Aviator volunteers formed a Blue Squadron (Escuadrillas Azules) which, using Bf 109s and FW 190s, was credited with 156 Soviet aircraft kills.

Eastern Front (August–October 1941)

On 31 July, after taking the standard personal oath to Hitler, under whose authority they were to be fighting, [6] the Blue Division was formally incorporated into the German Wehrmacht as the 250th Division. [7] It was initially assigned to Army Group Center, the spearheading force advancing towards Moscow.

The division was transported by train to Suwałki, 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) to 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), becoming part of the German 16th Army.

Volkhov (October 1941 – August 1942)

Spanish soldiers practising fieldcraft Spanish soldiers learning to handle a machine gun.jpg
Spanish soldiers practising fieldcraft
Blue Division members on a raft somewhere close to Leningrad Spanish soldiers on a raft during the Eastern Front scenario of World War II.jpg
Blue Division members on a raft somewhere close to Leningrad

The Blue Division was first deployed on the Volkhov River front, with its headquarters in Grigorovo, on 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 Spasa Preobrazheniya church 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 Theophanes the Greek.

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.

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

The Blue Division faced a major Soviet attempt to break the siege of Leningrad in February 1943, when the 55th Army of the Soviet forces, reinvigorated after the victory at Stalingrad, attacked the Spanish positions at the Battle of Krasny Bor, near the main Moscow-Leningrad road. Despite very heavy casualties, the Spaniards were able to hold their ground against a Russian force seven times larger and supported by tanks. The assault was contained and the siege of Leningrad was maintained for a further year. The division remained on the Leningrad front where it continued to suffer heavy casualties due to weather and to enemy action. [8] When Franco dispatched more reinforcements, this time it included conscripts as well as volunteers.[ citation needed ]

Blue Division skiers prior to their departure on a mission. Scenes like these were common amongst the Spanish Army throughout the Winter Campaign Soldiers of the Spanish Blue Division.jpg
Blue Division skiers prior to their departure on a mission. Scenes like these were common amongst the Spanish Army throughout the Winter Campaign

Through rotation, as many as 45,482 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.

Disbandment and the Blue Legion

Eventually, the Allies and conservative Spaniards (including many officials of the Roman Catholic Church) began to press Franco for the withdrawal of 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. While some believed that Franco gave his unofficial blessing as long as their number was below 1,500, on November 3, 1943 the Spanish government ordered all troops to return to Spain. In the end, the total of "non returners" was close to 3,000 men, mostly Falangists. Spaniards also joined other German units, mainly the Waffen-SS, and fresh volunteers slipped across the Spanish border near Lourdes in occupied France. The new pro-German units were collectively called the Legión Azul ("Blue Legion").

Spaniards initially remained part of the 121st Infantry Division, but even this meagre force was ordered to return home in March 1944, [9] 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 fighting against the Yugoslav Partisans.

The 101st Company (Spanische-Freiwilligen Kompanie der SS 101, "Spanish Volunteer Company of the SS Number 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 as Soviet troops advanced into eastern Germany. Later, as part of 11th SS Volunteer Panzergrenadier Division Nordland and under command of Hauptsturmführer der SS Miguel Ezquerra, the Company fought the last days of the war against Soviet troops in the Battle in Berlin.

The casualties of the Blue Division and its successors included 4,954 men killed and 8,700 wounded. Another 372 members of the Blue Division, the Blue Legion, or volunteers of the Spanische-Freiwilligen Kompanie der SS 101 were taken prisoner by the victorious Red Army; 286 of these men were kept in captivity until April 2, 1954, when they returned to Spain aboard the ship Semiramis, supplied by the International Red Cross. [10]


Organization of the 250th Infantry Division as of August 1941 German 250th Spanish DIV August 1941.png
Organization of the 250th Infantry Division as of August 1941

Order of battle (July 1941)

  • 262nd, 263rd, and 269th Infantry Regiments
  • 250th Artillery Regiment of four battalions (1 thru 4)
  • 250th Panzerjäger Battalion
  • 250th Reconnaissance Battalion
  • 250th Feldersatz (replacement) Battalion
  • 250th Pioneer Battalion
  • 250th Signals Battalion
  • Supply Troops

Order of battle (September 1943)

  • 262nd, 263rd, and 269th Grenadier Regiments
  • 250th Artillery Regiment of four battalions (1 thru 4)
  • 250th Panzerjäger Battalion
  • 250th Reconnaissance Battalion
  • 250th Pioneer Battalion
  • 250th Signals Battalion
  • Supply Troops


Second lieutenant Jose Escobedo severely wounded and decorated with an Iron Cross First Class for his heroism in escaping a Russian POW camp COLECCION DIVISION AZUL. FOTOGRAFIA DEL ALFEREZ JOSE ESCOBEDO RUIZ EN EL HOSPITAL DE CAMPANA (1941).jpg
Second lieutenant José Escobedo severely wounded and decorated with an Iron Cross First Class for his heroism in escaping a Russian POW camp

Soldiers and officers of the Blue Division were awarded:


Hitler referred to the division as "equal to the best German ones". During his table talks, he also said:

To troops, the Spaniards are a crew of ragamuffins. They regard a rifle as an instrument that should not be cleaned under any pretext. Their sentries exist only in principle. They don't take up their posts, or, if they do take them up, they do so in their sleep. When the Russians arrive, the natives have to wake them up. But the Spaniards have never yielded an inch of ground. One can't imagine more fearless fellows. They scarcely take cover. They flout death. I know, in any case, that our men are always glad to have Spaniards as neighbours in their sector. [12]

Later when Hitler considered an invasion of Spain to remove Franco and replace him with Agustín Muñoz Grandes, he decided against it, saying "The Spaniards are the only tough Latins. I would have a guerrilla war in my rear." [13]

Many of the generals who perpetrated the attempted coup d'état against the Spanish government on February 23, 1981 had served in the Blue Division during World War II. Amongst them were generals Alfonso Armada and Jaime Milans del Bosch. Other Blue Division veterans, including Director of the Guardia Civil José Luis Aramburu Topete and José Gabeiras, remained loyal to the legal democratic government under the young King Juan Carlos I of Spain.

Vault of the Blue Division, in La Almudena cemetery, Madrid Cementerio de la Almudena 04jul07 09.JPG
Vault of the Blue Division, in La Almudena cemetery, Madrid

Cross of Saint Sophia of Novgorod

During the German occupation of Velikiy Novgorod, the city's kremlin suffered heavy battle damage. However, the Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Sophia 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 shelling of the city while it housed the headquarters of the División 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. [14] [ better source needed ] It remained in the Madrid Military Engineering Academy Museum until 16 November 2004, when it was handed back to the Russian Orthodox Church by its discoverers, the Spanish historians Miguel-Ángel and Fernando Garrido Polonio.

See also

Related Research Articles

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