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|250.Infanterie-Division by Jason Pipes|
The 250.Infanterie-Division was formed in Spain during the last week of June 1941, immediately after the German attack on the Soviet Union. The unit was an offical Spanish sponsered formation created to partially repay the debt owed Germany for its vitally important assistance during the Spanish Civil War during 1936-1939. It was formed with Spanish volunteers from across Spain who flocked en masse to serve in the unit, originally named simply the Spanish Division of Volunteers, or more properly, Division Espanola de Voluntarios (DEV). The division was exclusively a foreign volunteer unit, designed for service within the German Wehrmacht, but to consist soley of Spaniards and to be led soley by Spanish officers. The goal was to form the DEV with 18,000 men recruited from all regions of Spain according to fairly rigid recruitment parameters, and with members of both the Spanish army as well as the Falange, the political party of the single-party state, thus creating an equilibrium between these two rivial organizations. When the call went out for the formation of the DEV, the response was so overwhelming that enough men came forward to form multiple divisions and tens of thousands had to be turned away from service.
After its initial formation in Spain, the DEV was transported via rail through occupied France to Germany for a period of training at Truppenubungsplatz Grafenwöhr in Bavaria. The men of the DEV were transported over the international bridge at Irum along the Spanish-French border and passed through occupied France, Saarbrucken, Karlsruhe, and Nuremberg, finally arriving at Grafenwöhr between July 17th and July 23rd, 1941. The Division Espanola de Voluntarios was formally introduced into the German Wehrmacht on July 20th, 1941. It was on that date that the division was given the number 250 and ranked aside the other divisions of the German Heer, becoming the 250.Infanterie-Division (spanische). The division was also informally known as the Blue Division (Blau-Division in German, and Division Azul in Spanish), a name given to the unit after the color of the shirts worn by the Falange Party members. On July 23rd, the division was equiped with regulation German uniforms and equipment, the only major difference from other German units being the addition of a red-gold-red Spanish national shield worn on the upper right sleeve with the words "Espana" written at the top.
Initially, the DEV had been formed with four infantry regiments (as was traditional in the Spanish army) and each was named after their respective commanding officers. The DEV thus consisted of Regiment Esparza, Regiment Pimentel, Regiment Vierna, and Regiment Rodrigo. As German divisions consisted of only three infantry regiments at the time, upon acceptance into the Wehrmacht, one of the Spanish regiments of the newly formed unit was disbaned - Regiment Rodrigo. Its three organic battalions were transfered to each of the other remaining regiments, and thus the men were not lost from the division but meerly reorganized within it. The other Regiments were thereafter renumbered to conform to the German regimental numbering system and they became respectively Infanterie-Regiment 262, 263, and 269.
The 250.Infanterie-Division was sworn into German service on July 31st, 1941, and training began in ernest thereafter. The training at Grafenwöhr under the relatively harsh drill of their German instructors went somewhat less than smoothly. The Germans, not famous for their tolerance of anything less than strict discipline, were constantly irritated by the seemingly "un-smart" appearance of their Spanish recruits, and by their noticeable lack of respect for German parade ground instruction and formalities. Nonetheless, it was the goal of the divisional commander to train the division in as little time as possible, as he was intent on having the unit ready for transport to the front in as little as one month, nearly 1/6th the time usually allocated to a newly formed division. Amazingly enough, the division managed to complete its training in this time and was quickly readied for transport to the Eastern Front on August 20th and 21st, 1941. A total of 128 trains were loaded up at Weiden near Grafenwöhr and sent off over the course of six days. They transported the men of the division through Bayreuth, Munchberg, Zwickau, Chemnitz, and Waldheim, split into two groups near Berlin, reunited near Stettin, and finally arrived near the region of Suwalki in Poland at the end of August, disembarking into a staging area between the small town of Reuss and a major terminus at Grodno.
After being transported via rail to Poland, the division was left to continue its transfer to the front on foot. Setting out on August 29th, 1941, the division headed for Smolensk over 1,000 miles away marching four abreast in a column that stretched over 30 miles long. Each regiment of the division occupied a span of over 8 miles. Every six miles the division stopped to rest for but a few minutes. The division initially passed through Vilna, Grodno, Molodeschno, Minsk and later arrived in Orsha just outside of Smolensk. All of the cities the division passed through were wholly or partly in ruins, devastated by the German advance and terrible fighting that had taken place in the days and weeks prior to their arrival. On September 25th, 1941, nearly one month after embarking on its grueling foot march, lead elements of the division crossed the Dnieper River at Gusino and set up camp at Svetitsy about 40 miles outside of Smolensk. The rest of the division was stretched out to the west with the rear of the divisional column stopping in Orsha. The next day consisted of a much needed rest, during which - much to the suprise of the division - orders were issued to countermarch back through Orsha and to move towards Vitebsk a little over 100 miles to the north. The division had now been assigned for service in the siege of Leningrad under Armeegruppe Nord, 16.Armee instead of taking part in the attack on Moscow under Armeegruppe Mitte as had been anticipated for the duration of the transit.
On September 27th, 1941, the division headed out once more in a long column formation to reach Vitebsk to the north. Once there, the lead elements entrained for the more than 450 mile trip to their final destination along the front - the region of Novgorod along the shores of Lake Ilemn and the Volkhov River. The 250.Infanterie-Division was to replace the 126.Infanterie-Division deployed defensively along a 40 mile front on the shores of the Volkhov just north of Novgorod. Starting on October 7th, 1941, lead elements of the division began arriving at the front and even took casualties, namely, portions of Artillerie-Regiment 250. On the same day portions of the Artillerie-Regiment were starting to take over the positions of the 126.Infanterie-Division, other units of the division were still bording trains in Vitebsk for the rail transport north! On October 10th, new orders were issued for the division to shift its positions along the Volkhov to the south, and to instead replace the positions of the 18.Infanterie-Division (mot.). This obviously made the situation somewhat confused as portions of the division were already in the process of taking over positions of the 126.Infanterie-Division. To fix the situation it was decided that those positions of the 126th that the division had replaced would remain occupied, as they were luckily all located to the south, and that the positions of the 18th, located even further south of the 126th, would be fully replaced. Thus, the 250.Infanterie-Division would occupy a front of more than 50 miles from the northern tip of Lake Ilmen in the south to just south of Miasnoi Bor at Zmeisko in the north - the former positions of the entire 18.Infanterie-Division (mot.) and the southern portion of the lines of the 126.Infanterie-Division, now shifted to the north, but still along the Volkhov.
The first serious contact with the Red Army would come to II./IR.269 at Kapella Nova when Spanish grenadiers surprised a Soviet battalion attempting a river crossing. After a furious fire-fight some 50 Russian dead were lying on the snowy banks of the river, and 80 were prisoners of the newly blooded Spaniards.
During the frozen month of October 1941, units of the German 18.Infanterie-Division and 126.Infanterie-Division, along with two regiments of the 250th, crossed the Volkhov at Udarnik and established a bridghead on the east bank. The II./IR.269 was again closely engaged in heavy combat and close-quarter fighting against elements of the Soviet 52nd Corps, which they successfully threw back after a tenacious defense of the bridgehead. Continuous shelling by the Soviets kept reinforcements at a minimum, but forces of the III./IR.263 and the Felderstatz-Bataillon 250 made it to the east bank of the Volkhov to bolster the defense. In a slowly widening circle to the north, east, and south of their start point, they invested the villages of Tigoda, Dubrovka, and Muravji on the east bank of the Volkhov, continuing to push the Russians back.
With the full freeze on of the Volkhov in November, the the Spaniards faced regular counter-attacks from the Soviets on their flanks, which included massive artillery bombardments, and vast WWI-like infantry trench-charges by widly screaming Russians. At the village of Possad on November 12th, wave upon wave of Russian soldiers hurled themselves at the lines of the 250th in serveral successive attempts to regain control of the village. It would eventually turn into a stand-off. The grimly determined division held up against each Soviet counter-attack, taking heavy casualties in men and material in the process. For close to a month the Spanish volunteers held Possad, while only meager replenishments of men and ammunition were able to get through. While the Soviets urged their opponents to surrender their nearly surrounded positions, the Spanish defiantly retorted with their Civil War battle cry "Arriba Espana!" The garrison of Possad was quietly withdrawn on December 7th, 1941, only when intelligence reports suggested that the Soviet atttacking force had also withdrawn through sheer exhaustion. The losses to Infanterie-Regiment 269 during this brutal month long battle were 120 dead, 440 wounded, and 20 missing. All units of the division now retired over the frozen Volkhov to fortified positions on the west bank. In all the battles thus far, the division had taken 718 KIA, 1,612 WIA, and 86 MIA.
During that winter, even greater horrors would visit the Spanish volunteers. On Christmas eve 1941, at positions held by a company of Spanish Grenadiers at Lubkovo suddenly overrun by a fierce attack of Soviet infantry - relief troops subsequently found the stripped and mutialted bodies of Alferez' Moscoso's over-run platoon nailed to the frozen ground with their own bayonets and pick-axes in a display of brutal mock-crucifixion. Shortly thereafter, a fierce, revenge-focused counterattack by two companies of I./IR.269 left the icy surface of the frozen Volkhov strewn with the dead bodies of an entire Soviet battalion. For the time being - the atrocities had been revenged. One can only imagine the endlessly repercussive effects of this sort of action. This was the reality of the bitter fighting on the Volkhov front.
Then, on January 7th, 1942, the Soviets launched a massive offensive of their own aimed at smashing through the the German lines in a two-pronged attack, with the southern prong heading north once throught the German positions to help relieve the besieged city of Leningrad. The Soviet 2nd Shock Army was partially successful in this offensive, punching a 20 mile hole in the German front north of Novgorod and pouring enough troops through to continue their drive. The 126.Infanterie-Division partially held the southern shoulder of the Soviet breakthrough, and fought desperately to prevent the breakthrough from getting any larger. On March 19th, 1942, the Soviet bulge was cut off by attacking German forces, creating the well known Volkhov Pocket. The 18.Armee soon after managed to slowly crush the Soviet Pocket by attacking from the western, northern, and southern lines of the breakthrough, during which the 250th took part. The various counterattacks by the Germans against the Volkhov Pocket over the course of the next five months prevented the Soviets from pushing further towards Leningrad and on June 25th, 1942 finally crushed the entire encirclement after tremendously fierce fighting.
At the same time that the Soviets had launched their Volkhov Offensive in the north, they also launched a massive offensive to the south, south of Lake Ilmen. The Soviet 11th Army and 3rd and 4th Shock Armies managed to encircle the entire German II.Amreekorps centered on the city of Demjansk, creating the Demjansk Pocket consisting of seven entire Infanerie-Divisionen - about 90,000 men. As a result of this offensive and the Volkhov Offensive to the north, the division literally had Soviet forces pushing westward on both of its extreme northern and southern flanks, leaving it in a precarious defensive position. While sending units to aid in the defensive and later counteroffensive operations against the Volkhov breakthrough and Pocket in the north, it also aided in the fighting to the south, notebly sending its entire Ski-Kompanie of 204 men across the frozen Lake Ilmen on January 10th, 1942 to assist a trapped German force of 543 men in the city of Vzvad along the southern shores of the Lake. In this operartion nearly the entire unit was wiped out, only 12 men suriving the ordeal unharmed by the time they had reached Vzvad on January 25th, 15 days later.
Once the Volkhov Pocket in the north had been crushed, and the Demjansk Pocket in the south had stabilizied along with the rest of the lines of Armeegruppe Nord, orders were sent out in early August of 1942 for the transfer of the 250.Infanterie-Division to take part in the actual battles against Leningrad itself. On August 23rd, 1942, the positions of the division were given up to the 20.Infanterie-Division (mot.), and the division was moved via rail to the region of Vyriza just south of the main operational areas fighting against Leningrad. The division rested and trained for a short time until it was once more transported north, finally taking over the positions of the 121.Infanterie-Division in the Pushkin-Slutz zone along the ring outside of Leningrad. It would occupy a front of about 29 miles, from Pushkin on its left flank to Krasny Bor on its right.
Slowly, a buildup took place in which the German units stationed around Leningrad prepared for the eventual assault on the fortified city. New units were brought in to reinforce the German lines and special preperations were put under way for the battle to come. Then, after nearly three months of light to heavy skirmishing along the front (leading to nearly 20 KIA for the division a day), all plans to assault Leningrad suddenly changed. Far to the south on November 19th, 1942, Stalingrad had been encircled by the Soviets. As a result of this major offensive set-back, the planned assault against Leningrad was called off.
Even with the calling off of the planned Leningrad offensive, there was still much fighting to do along the lines of Armeegruppe Nord, and accordingly, on January 12th, 1943, the Soviets assaulted the German lines in yet another two pronged attack to try and break the seal around their besieged city. The fighting this time focused on the the region in and around Mga to the north and east of the ring around Leningrad itself. The II./IR.269 was selected from the division to take part in the fighting, and was detached from the divisions positions along the front and transfered to the east. The battle would prove to be a tremendously furious and bloody affair, for when the unit was finally relieved nine days later on January 28th, 1943, there were only 28 men left standing out of nearly 800.
As furious and bloody as the fighting near Mga was for the II./IR.269, it was nothing compared to the struggle unleashed upon nearly the entire division on February 10th, 1943. Looking to clear the main Moscow-Leningrad highway upon which the eastern lines of the division were positioned, the Soviets launched a three hour long artillery barrage, 44,000 Soviet troops and 100 tanks against the 250.Infanterie-Division. When they attacked, they came up against a mere 5,600 well positioned Spanish troops. For almost 24 hours, a battle raged in which the eastern sector of the divison took 75% casualties, loosing 3,645 men! This massive battle was to be known as the Battle of Krasny Bor - amazingly, it proved to be a bloody and costly victory for the division. They held against the full weight of the Soviet attack, and in the process inflicted nearly 11,000 casualties upon them. By the middle of February the fighting had died down and the lines had stabilized once more. In April the positions in and around Krasny Bor were relieved by the 254.Infanterie-Division, reducing the divisions lines to about 21 miles in length. Krasny Bor was largely to be the divisions last major action.
On March 19th the Soviets launched a relatively weak attack on the lines of the division, but it too was beaten back soon after. For the next seven months the divisional lines saw sporadic fighting, but no more raging battles. Individual units assaulted small Soviet positions, held off smaller Soviet attacks, and withstood strong Russian artillery barrages, and extensive defensive works were constructed, but no more large-scale offensive or defensive actions took place.
Finally, on October 5th and 6th, 1943, the division was ordered to fall back from its positions. Between October 6th and 12th, 1943, the division was relieved by the 81.Infanterie-Division and the 123.Infanterie-Division. The division was transfered to the region of Volosovo where soon after it was ordered to return to Spain, leaving in its place the Spanish Legion, a battalion-sized unit consisting of about 1,500 Spanish troops that choose not to return to Spain but to instead continue fighting the Soviets. The first troops began to arrive back in Spain on October 29th, 1943. The division had seen nearly 50,000 men serve within its ranks over the period of more than two years at or near the front, and 12,726 men had become casualties while in its service.
Knights Cross Holders
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