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Pieces of Blue
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
October 2013

When I first designed the Panzer Grenadier game system many years ago, one of the enjoyable little diversions was drawing up lists of the many games and supplements I hoped it would spawn. Some of those have been published, some never will be, and some are on the list for the future. One of the very first projects I wanted to tackle was a supplement on the Spanish Blue Division that fought on the German side from 1941 to 1943. I’d always disliked games that asked players to substitute one type of piece to represent another; part of the reason I liked wargames at all was for the variety of colorful units. I didn’t want to pretend German units were Spanish or some puke-green generic pieces were Dutch; I wanted blue ones and orange ones.

It took awhile, but the blue ones are just what I’d wanted way back then.

Infantry

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 service.

 

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.

Reconnaissance

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 guns.

Anti-Tank Guns

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.

Artillery

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.

Leadership

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’ billets.

   

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.

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