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Hitler's Spanish Legion: the Blue Division and Legion

MG is a senior air warrior who is an alumnus of the Staff College and a notable writer on military history.



To understand the complexity of the Blue Division we will have to study the Spanish civil war. This war was fought from 1936-1939 and was finally over on 1st April. The war was between nationalists led by General Franco and the left-leaning Popular Front. General Franco subscribed to the Fascist philosophy and was supported by both Germany and Italy. Volunteers from both these countries fought on the side of the Nationalists.

At the end of the civil war, Spain was totally devastated. Once Hitler launched his invasion of Poland he began to press general Franco to join the Axis powers. Franco knew about the precarious economic condition of Spain and could not afford to join the Axis and get embroiled in another war. There was however massive support for Germany among the Spanish population and demonstrations were held in support of Nazi Germany.

The German ambassador to Spain on instructions from Berlin began to press Franco to join Germany in the war. The pressure became intense after the defeat of France in 1940. The Spanish masses were joyous at the victory of the Nazi army and they put pressure on Franco to join up with Germany and Italy.

Franco was not a blind follower and he kept his wits about him. At that time he was convinced that Germany will win the war and wanted his pound of flesh. Spain had been economically devastated after the civil war and he wanted to be compensated by being given all the French colonies in North Africa. This information was conveyed to Hitler.


Franco and Hitler

Hitler listened to the demands but did not say anything. He decided to have a meeting with general Franco on the Spanish- France border. Hitler and Franco met in Hendaye, on October 23, 1940, Francisco Franco, at the time, had assumed the title His Excellency the Caudillo, and Adolf Hitler,was the Führer, Chancellor of the Third Reich.

The meetings continued for 2 days but Caudillo was evasive. He wanted an assurance from Hitler that Spain would be given the French colonies in North Africa. Hitler could not agree to it and all he promised was a vague assurance to free Gibraltar. Hitler returned empty handed but Franco promised to give some help later.Hitler could not agree to the demand as that would mean annoying Marshal Petain who had become a vassal of Nazi Germany.

General Emilio Esteban

General Emilio Esteban

Fighting in Russia

On 22nd June 1941, Hitler ordered the invasion of Russia. The German Army penetrated into Russia and the chief of the general staff General Haldar noted in his diary that the war was over in 15 days. Franco also thought that Russia would be finished soon and Germany would win the war. In Spain, there was popular support for Germany and there was an anti-communist wave in the entire population. General Franco allowed the recruitment of Spanish soldiers to fight against the Bolsheviks

The government advertised for young men between the ages of 20 and 28 to be recruited in what came to be known as the Blue Division. There was a popular upsurge and 45 thousand volunteered to enlist.

They were all put on special trains and taken to East Prussia for training. They were given German army uniforms. Their commander was General Emilio Estebanas. He became commander of the Blue Division or the 250th Infantry Division of the German Wehrmacht. He was a recipient of the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross of Nazi Germany. As the training continued the German Army continued to sweep into Russia and hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers including over 25 generals were taken POW.

A feeling began to germinate in the Spanish legion that perhaps the war would be over soon and they would not get a chance to fight the Russians. They requested the training be cut so that they could go and join the battle against the communists. The Germans had to agree and the Spanish division was thrown into battle and reached Leningrad

In the battle at Leningrad, the division fought but the tide of the war began to turn and the Blue Division also begin to retreat along with the German Army. There were however some basic differences between the conduct of the German Army and the Spanish. Most of the Spanish soldiers could not understand the atrocities against the Russians and many a time the Spanish soldiers would give food to the Russian peasants. Many Spanish soldiers also had a liaison with Russian women. This was not liked and there are reports that for this one Spanish soldier at least was executed.

In 1943, Franco realized that Germany could not win the war and he requested Hitler to withdraw the Blue Division. In 1943 most of the division was withdrawn but still about 1500 Spanish soldiers refused to go back and they became the Blue legion and kept on fighting on the side of the Wehrmacht.

In battles with the Red Army, the Spanish troops put up a good show but many were killed and some were taken POW. Back home with the Allied landing in North Africa, Franco began to fear an American led invasion through Gibraltar and Southern Spain and he decided to become neutral in the war.

General Munoz Grandez

General Munoz Grandez

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The Aftermath

From reports available it is apparent that the Blue Legion left behind continued fighting and many were taken POW. Remnants of the legion struggled back to Spain.

Franco at that time made overtures to the allies and disassociated himself from the Axis. The Spanish soldiers who were captured by the Russians were not released till 1957, though they had released the Germans in 54 and 55. This was because Spain had not recognized the Soviet Union till 1957. To prove to the allies that he was loyal to them, Franco donned fresh colors and became an anti-Russian leader by joining NATO. He was the last of the fascist leaders and died in 1975. His failure to recognize the Soviet Union till 1957 meant Spanish soldiers continued to be POW much longer.

It is a sobering thought that had Hitler agreed to the demands of general Franco on North Africa and Franco had joined the Axis powers, he would have been tried as a war criminal. Franco died comfortably in bed


MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on December 16, 2020:

Thank you Ruby for sparing time and commenting.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on December 16, 2020:

Thank you Pamela for commenting. Your observations are bang on.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on December 16, 2020:

Thank you Always exploring for sparing time and commenting

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on December 16, 2020:

I have always been interested in Hitler and anything he was involved in. Learning about the Blue Division and Franco was also interesting. Such evil people, caring nothing of the young lives lost in war. Great piece of history you revealed, thank you.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on December 16, 2020:

Thank you Pamela, you have an observant mind and I enjoy reading your comments.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on December 16, 2020:

This is another excellent article, MG. I did not know about the Blue Division, nor Franco. It is sad that Franco would not recognize Russia, so the POWs were kept for such a long time.

General Franco also seemed to change directions and join whoever he thought was the winning team at any given time. I suppose he was looking about for Spain.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on December 16, 2020:

That you Avtar Singh for commenting and providing the information about General Emilio. I must read his book.

Avtar Singh on December 16, 2020:

Very nice article. I will like to add that general Emilio wrote his biography in 1955 titled "Blue Division: Spanish Volunteers in the Eastern Front." He reaffirmed how proud he was to have participated in the Russian campaign.

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