Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Blue Division (1941–1943)

Spanish division that fought with the German army against the Soviet Union in World War II. Lieutenant General Augustin Muñoz Grandes commanded the Division Azul (Blue Division) of 18,000 men. The initiative for a Spanish expeditionary force came from Spain's dictator, Francisco Franco, immediately after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. The division was assembled in some haste, as Franco feared that the Soviet Union would be defeated before Spain could make a military contribution. Motivations behind the establishment of this force were Franco's staunch anticommunism, his gratitude to Germany for its critical assistance to the Nationalist cause during the Spanish Civil War, and his interest in providing a dumping ground for the Spanish Fascists (Falangists)—hotheads who were advocating social revolution in Spain. Fearful of offending the Allied powers too greatly, Franco styled the division a "volunteer" force. The division's name came from the blue shirts worn by the soldiers, although in the German order of battle, the unit was officially designated the 250th Division.

Adolf Hitler saw the division as a means to bind Spain more closely to the Axis cause. He therefore ordered that it be issued German equipment and transport and even pension payments. The division reached the Eastern Front by early October 1941 and soon proved itself in the difficult fighting before Leningrad, especially in the winter of 1942. Of the 47,000 men who fought as part of the division in its two years at the front, 22,000 became casualties, but forces opposite the Blue Division lost more than 49,000 men, according to Red Army estimates. Hitler called the Spanish soldiers "extraordinarily brave, tough against privations, but wildly undisciplined." Spanish improvisation was a constant irritant to the Germans.

With the Allied invasion of North Africa and the German reversals at Tunis and Stalingrad, Franco recalled the division in October 1943, replacing it with a legion of only 1,500 men. The division failed to achieve its goals of defeating communism, but it had another purpose as well: to demonstrate to Hitler that the Spanish would fight and take casualties in order to forestall any German plans to occupy Spain and seize Gibraltar. Undoubtedly, the Blue Division did impress Hitler on this point and helped to keep Iberia free of fighting in World War II.

Andrew W. Lander


Further Reading
Kleinfield, Gerald R., and Lewis A. Tambs. Hitler's Spanish Legion: The Blue Division in Russia. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1979.; Payne, Stanley G. Fascism in Spain, 1923–1977. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1999.
 

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