General Franco owed his position as dictator to Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler due to their support for the Nationalists during the spanish Civil War (1936-1939).
During that same conflict, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics had supported his Republican enemies.
Hitler had previously attempted to entice Spain into the war after the fall of France. The Generalissimo was unimpressed, and Hitler said he would rather have a tooth pulled than meet with Franco again! However, some Falangists in the Spanish government and military wanted to participate in “Crusade against Bolshevism“, having no love for the USSR.
The idea of a volunteer division was a compromise solution. When the volunteers first mustered, the men wore the blue uniforms of the Falangist Militia, hence the nickname of the “Blue” division. General Muñoz Grandes, a hero of the Civil War and an officer known for his pro-Axis sympathies, was chosen as commander.
Arriving in Germany during July 1941 for training, problems began to develop. Some were quite basic such as the different dietary preferences of the Spanish soldiers and their German hosts. Others were cultural, reflecting the Germans disdain for what was seen as ill discipline in the Spanish troops. The latter resented the methodical German approach to combat.
Fraternization with local females was also an issue.
After a month of training the division entered the German army as the 250. Infanteriedivision and began its long march to the front, where it was to be assigned to von Kluge’s Fourth Army in Army Group Centre. Problems with discipline continued, and the division was often paraded and marched pointlessly to get them used to the German way of doing things, which of course included not fraternizing with
Forced to undergo such a parade in Grodno, an entire company marched with condoms stretched across their rifle muzzles. On the road to Minsk the Germans had enough.
While still on route the division refused to yield right of way to some members of von Kluge’s staff. He refused the Spanish unit, after which they were forced to march north to join the Sixteenth Army in Army Group North.
Attached to the 39th Corps, in October and November the unit participated in successful attacks on Soviet positions, impressing
General Busch (CO 16th Army) who once observed
them in combat.On 13 January 1942 the Soviets counterattacked and routed some units of the 39th, yet the Spanish held onto their hedgehog around Novgorod for over two months without retreating until the Soviet attacks ceased.
The division held its defensive positions until August, when it was pulled out of line to re-equip and join von Manstein’s Eleventh Army for an assault on Leningrad.
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