By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
When we published our old Panzer Grenadier: Blue Division supplement, I regretted that we used the very primitive comb-bound format that made it look like someone assembled it in their garage. We made them in the office, not a garage, but the 1970’s-era nostalgia was not a good look.
With Panzer Grenadier: Gates of Leningrad, we have map terrain far more suitable to the battles of Spain’s fascist volunteers, so we’re bringing out a new book using those pieces, with background stuff and totally revised scenarios, that we’re calling Panzer Grenadier: Spanish Legions. Let’s have a look at those blue pieces.
The 250th “Blue” Division was
an infantry division, and in the game as in
the campaign it’s the infantry that
bears the brunt of the fighting. Spain’s
Falange recruited the Blue Division on the
Spanish standard “square” pattern
of four infantry regiments, but this was reduced
to three when the unit was inducted into German
The foot soldiers followed the German tables
of organization, and had the same allotments
of weapons as a standard German infantry unit.
Though the Blue Division had a drastically
curtailed training period before marching
off to the front, most of its soldiers had
experience in the Spanish Civil war and many
were recruited directly out of the Spanish
regular army. Thus the Blue Division pieces
have the same ratings as German infantry units.
Like a standard German infantry division,
the Blue Division included a recon battalion
that usually ended up fighting as a standard
line battalion. Personnel were drawn from
Spanish cavalry regiments and had a high _lan,
but no horses. A bicycle company and a motorcycle
company provided the mobile elements, plus
the usual support weapons. The Spanish had
no armored vehicles in Russia, and do not
appear to have made use of the handful of
Soviet tanks that fell into their hands.
During the winter of 1942, the division (on
orders from 16th Army command) set up a company
of skiers drawn from across the division’s
personnel. The oversized company (about 200
men) considered itself an elite unit and fought
well when committed to action as a last reserve
on several occasions, and in the epic trek
across the frozen Lake Ilmen. The men had
cold-weather gear and skis sent out from Spain,
and most carried captured Soviet-made submachine
When sent to the front in the late summer
of 1941, the Blue Division had the same useless
37mm anti-tank guns that had equipped most
German units when the campaign began in June.
A shortage of motor vehicles meant that the
Wehrmacht issued requisitioned civilian automobiles
to pull them instead of the prime movers used
by most German units. In practice, the Spanish
drew them with teams of horses.
Later in the campaign, the division received
better weapons and by the time of the cataclysmic
battle of Krasni Bor in January 1943, the
Spanish volunteers had finally taken delivery
of the very capable 75mm anti-tank gun. These
were excellent weapons that would remain very
potent up until the end of the war, long after
the Blue Division had ceased to exist.
Every German regiment included a company
of infantry guns, a weapon missing from the
Spanish Army’s order of the battle.
The volunteers found their 75mm guns very
useful in giving the infantry direct support
and the guns were quite popular wit the division’s
commanders. The 75mm version could be easily
manhandled by foot soldiers and deployed in
the front lines. The heavier 150mm gun lacked
this ability and despite its much heavier
shell weight was used much less by both the
Spanish and their German allies.
Like almost every army on the planet, Spain
used the French-designed Brandt 81mm mortar
and the German version was instantly familiar
to the volunteers. It had good range, portability
and firepower, making it one of the most widely-used
weapons of the 20th century.
The division’s artillery regiment had
a very good reputation; a high proportion
of experienced gunners from the regular army
or with Civil War service made the unit highly
proficient. It had the standard equipment
of a German division’s artillery: three
battalions of the excellent 105mm howitzer
and one of the bigger 150mm version. As heavy
anti-tank guns came later to the Spanish than
to German formations, the 105mm weapons were
used in a front-line anti-tank role much more
often than German doctrine recommended.
Francisco Franco demanded that the Blue Division
give credit to Spanish arms, and to make this
a reality the volunteers had a heavy leavening
of experienced officers. Almost all had to
accept a reduction in grade in order to serve
at the front, though the Spanish army did
give them combat service credit (each month
at the front counted as two months’
service toward their next promotion at home).
Spanish officers of the Blue Division had
considerable combat experience from the Civil
War and represented some of the most highly
motivated soldiers of the regular army; so
much so that a number enlisted as private
soldiers when they could not obtain officers’
In the Blue Division set, the Spanish leaders
are very good; not quite as skilled as the
Germans or Finns of 1941 but much better than
their Romanian or Italian allies. They’re labeled with
Spanish Army ranks; although they wore German
rank insignia and were referred to by these
titles in official communications, Spanish
was the command language in the Blue Division
and these were the titles they used among
themselves. It also makes for much more interesting
pieces. The Spanish leader pieces bear the
Laureate Cross of St. Ferdinand, Spain’s
highest decoration for military valor.
Don’t wait to put Spanish Legions on your game table! Join the Gold Club and find out how to get it for free!
Sign up for our newsletter right here. Your info will never be sold or transferred; we'll just use it to update you on new games and new offers.
Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold. Leopold opposes fascism.