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Division Azul

It is a little known fact that although Spain did not take part in WW2 they had troops fighting alongside Nazi Germany on the Eastern Front in Russia.
With the end of the Spanish Civil war Franco found himself in a tricky position – he was being pushed to enter the war on the side of the Nazis in return for the help he received in 1936 and subsequent years. (See Legion Condor). At the same time his relationship with the Allies was positive if delicate. He didn’t want to lose his countries neutrality and trading links especially as Hitler had requested permission for his troops to capture Gibraltar via Spanish territory. Franco did not trust Hitler.
Franco if nothing else was a realist - he knew Spain was in such a dreadful state that it could not afford another war. By staying out Spain could rebuild its ruined infrastructure and at the same time trade with both sides.

300px-Blue_Division_263_Regiment.jpgA strange compromise was proposed. Spanish troops would be allowed to volunteer for service against the Russians on the Eastern Front. In this way Spain would be fighting communism but not declaring war against the allies. Furthermore I personally believe this arrangement benefited Franco in keeping soldiers battle hardened, keeping anti communist feeling in the forefront and placing loyal but openly aggressive Falangists out of the country and conveniently out of reach. It was stressed these would be volunteers and would not wear Spanish military uniform in Russia.

The Division Azul (Blue Division) came into being 1941. Over 18,000 men signed up – mostly regulars and Falangists (see Falange)but also some ex Republicans keen for political reinstatement after being on the losing side in the Spanish Civil war. The huge numbers were a surprise and much was made in the press. Valencia supplied a sizable force – see photo – the Valencian 263 group.
The volunteers wore Wehrmacht uniforms while on the front with Spanish insignia. On leave they wore the blue (hence Blue Division) shirts of the Falange and the red beret of the Carlists.
They saw heavy action in the advance on Moscow, fighting around Volkhov in 1942 and Leningrad in 1942/43. By 1943 Franco was under pressure – his new use of conscripts (casualties had been very high) angered the allies and with mounting pressure he ordered the troops home in 1944. Many refused to return and were absorbed into German regular units or into the SS.
The Blue division had long lasting effects on Spanish politics. The Feb 23 1981 attempted Coup d’état was lead by ex Division Azul officers – notably Jaime Milans del Bosch – the tanks came out onto the streets of Valencia. Having said that and to be fair the commander of the Guardia Civil (another ex Blue) stayed loyal to the government and King Carlos.

See Division Azul Volunteer – a Soldiers story
See Third Reich