During World War Two, one of the most decorated divisions of the Axis was from Spain. The German 250th Infantry Division (otherwise known as the Blue Division) began as a company of veterans from the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Though Spain was officially neutral in WWII, the Spanish Generalissimo Francisco Franco would later send conscripted men to replenish the ranks of the Blue Division. Spain even sent the Blue Squadron, a group of Spanish airmen, to defend Germany against Soviet aircraft.
The initial Blue Division consisted of 18,000 volunteers, but at its greatest, it expanded to 50,000 Spanish troops. The Division would suffer around 16,000 casualties during the war. Approximately 4,500 died in combat. The Blue Division participated in twenty-one known major battles during WWII.
As the Allied Powers began to gain the advantage in WWII, they increasingly put pressure on Spain to recall the Spanish volunteers. In 1943, Franco reluctantly reduced his force in Germany—the Blue Division was demoted to a Blue Legion of around 3,000 men. The Blue Legion, too, was withdrawn back to Spain in 1944. Many Spanish troops, however, refused to leave. These stragglers were often adopted into Germany’s Waffen SS. There were still Spanish volunteers fighting in Berlin when the city fell.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth Century Spain by Paul Preston. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2012.
- Churchill and Spain: The Survival of the Franco Regime, 1940-1945, by Richard Wigg. Portland: Sussex Academic Press, 2008.
- Franco: A Personal and Political Biography, by Stanley G. Payne and Jesús Palacios. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2014.