by Xavier Moreno Julia
Sussex Academic Press / Portland, Or: ISBS, 2015 . Pp. xxiv, 526.
Illus., maps, tables, appends., notes, biblio., index. $54.95, paper. ISBN: 1845197682
Franco’s Volunteers on the Russian Front.
Originally published in Spain in 2004, Prof. Moreno Juliá (Universitat Rovira i Virgili) made major revisions and additions for this second edition, now available in English. While there have been a number of histories of Spain’s volunteer division in German service on the Russian Front, Juliá’s is certainly the most comprehensive. He opens with an analysis of the political and strategic thought that led Franco to send volunteers to Russia; placating his pro-Nazi radical Falangists, keeping his Army busy, helping Hitler without risking war with Britain, and more.
Juliá then discusses the call for volunteers, which proved surprisingly successful; despite a poor turnout in some areas, it took only about eight weeks to fill up the ranks. He follows the division to training in Germany, after which the division was sent to the front, covering 900 km on foot, to enter the lines in October 1941, not three months after leaving Spain. Initially on the Volkhov River front and then from August 1942 before Leningrad. The division was in action almost continuously, suffering heavily in the Battle of Krasny Bor (Feb. 10-13, 1943, holding their position despite odds of five or six to one. Juliá’s battle pieces are good, with critical analysis of the problems and advantages of each side. Franco withdrew the division in October of 1943, given growing Allied success, but some troops voluntarily joined the German Army and fought on to the end.
At this point, accounts of the Blue Division usually end. But Juliá follows the lives of the volunteers – a total of some 45,000 men and a few women – through the post war years. He also considers the fate of men taken prisoner, which led to covert Spanish-Soviet negotiations and their final repatriation after the death of Stalin, and discusses the public memory of these troops in and after the Franco years. While Juliá includes some treatment of non-Spanish volunteers, notably Tsarist Russians, and even touches on Republican Spaniards in Russian service, he oddly doesn’t mention the small number of Jewish men who served on this front in the Blue Division.
A volume in the series Canada Blanch/Sussex Academic Studies, The Blue Division is an excellent, even handed treatment.
Note: The Blue Division is also available in hardcover, $124.95, ISBN 978-1-8451-9737-7, and several e-editions.