Hitler's Spanish Legion: The Blue Division in Russia in World War II
“Gerald Kleinfeld and Lewis Tambs have chosen to highlight the relatively obscure service rendered by Spain to the German war effort on the Eastern Front.”
Originally published in 1979, Hitler’s Spanish Legion has been reprinted by Stackpole Books as an addition to its already extensive offerings on military history.
Much of World War II has been covered by a wide array of historians, yet there still remains as much unknown when it comes to certain actions and operations. In this particular case, authors Gerald Kleinfeld and Lewis Tambs have chosen to highlight the relatively obscure service rendered by Spain to the German war effort on the Eastern Front.
Many of Hitler’s allies, Romanians, Hungarians, Italians, and others served against the Soviet Union as a result of official declarations of war against the Soviet behemoth.
Yet Spain’s volunteers were there in spite of no such declaration. The reason for their service was three-fold: Spain’s Caudillo or leader, Francisco Franco, wished to repay Germany in some measure for its assistance in the nearly three-year Spanish Civil War against the Republicans, to exact a modicum of revenge against the Soviet Union for its support of the Republicans and, hopefully, to be in on the final defeat of international Communism, preventing its diffusion across Europe.
Ultimately, a divisional formation was raised, mostly from Spanish Civil War veterans and members of the Falange, the political movement of Franco and the Nationalists. The Blue Division was named for the movement’s identifying color and designated 250th Infantry Division in the German order of battle.
During the course of its two and a half years in the Soviet Union, September, 1941-March, 1944, more than 47,000 Spaniards served in its ranks. They earned plaudits and respect not only from the Germans but also their Soviet counterparts for their fighting capabilities, especially considering the difficulties of combating the environment and weather in that theater. Indeed, many Soviet prisoners of war and local serfs seemed more than happy to provide assistance and comfort to their ostensible enemy from Spain.
There are extensive and detailed tactical descriptions of the Blue Division’s combat actions, particularly a 60-plus–page chapter on the Soviet operations around Krasni Bor, aimed at breaking the siege lines outside Leningrad. Additional highlights are the political machinations which went on behind the scenes regarding the pro-German first commander of the division, Munoz Grandes, and Franco, and those between the latter and Hitler, who wished to have Spain cooperate with him in capturing Gibraltar (Operation Felix) from the British and, later, to threaten the Allies’ flank following their invasion of northwest Africa in November, 1942.
In the event, Franco and Hitler’s distrust of each other was mutual and Spain was prepared to defend itself and sovereignty if there was an overland invasion originating from Occupied France.
An unusual facet noted for a publication of military history is the individual unit designations. Normally, formations are described as the First Battalion of the 123rd Regiment or the 15th Infantry Division, etc. In this case, units are specified as the First of 123 or 15 Division. Fortunately, the authors have clarified this nomenclature on page xi in Notes on Abbreviations, Titles, and German and Spanish Words Used in the Text.
Although the volume is replete with maps showing in particular detail many of the areas and districts where the division fought in northern Russia, there is one relatively minor yet annoying criticism to be made regarding them. With one exception, the map of the Leningrad area on page 59, there is no scale provided with them and one is forced to rely on battalion, division, and army references on each map for any such conception. Essentially, the reader has no idea of the area, depth, or length of the front manned by the Spaniards on each. With maps, scale is necessary for geographical context and reference.
On the other hand, one highlight is a commendable 12-page section of photographs. Many of these have likely been rarely seen by most readers and World War II scholars. These photographs show various scenes of action (several during the Russian winters), individual soldiers mentioned in the text, and prominent officers of the division.
Although there is still considerable information to be gleaned for historians and researchers about World War II, and just as much for the public to learn, it is gratifying to know that many of the more unfamiliar facets of the greatest conflict in world history continue to see the light of day. In this particular instance, the efforts and sacrifices of the Blue Division warrant the spotlight.