The 250.Infanterie-Division was formed in Spain during the last week of June 1941, immediately after theGerman attack on the Soviet Union. The unit was an official Spanish sponsored formation created to partiallyrepay the debt owed Germany for its vitally important assistance during the Spanish Civil War during 1936-1939.It was formed with Spanish volunteers fromacross Spain who flocked en masse to serve in the unit, originally named simply the Spanish Division of Volunteers, or more properly, DivisionEspanola de Voluntarios (DEV). The division was exclusively a foreign volunteer unit, designedfor service within the German Wehrmacht, but to consist solely 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 rigidrecruitment parameters, and with members of both the Spanish army as well as the Falange, the political partyof the single-party state, thus creating an equilibrium between these two rival organizations.When the call went out for the formation of the DEV, the response was so overwhelming that enough men cameforward 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 Germanyfor a period of training at Truppenubungsplatz Grafenwöhr in Bavaria. The men of the DEV were transportedover the international bridge at Irum along the Spanish-French border and passed through occupied France,Saarbrucken, Karlsruhe, and Nuremberg, finallyarriving at Grafenwöhr between July 17th and July 23rd, 1941. The Division Espanolade Voluntarios was formally introduced into the German Wehrmacht on July 20th, 1941. It was onthat date that the division was given the number 250 and ranked aside the other divisions of the GermanHeer, becoming the 250.Infanterie-Division (spanische). The division was also informally known as the BlueDivision (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 July23rd, the division was equipped with regulation German uniforms and equipment, the only major difference fromother German units being the addition of a red-gold-red Spanish national shield worn on the upper right sleevewith the words “Espana” written at the top.
Initially, the DEV had been formed with four infantry regiments (as was traditional in the Spanish army) andeach was named after their respective commanding officers. The DEV thus consisted of Regiment Esparza, RegimentPimentel, Regiment Vierna, and Regiment Rodrigo. As German divisions consisted of only three infantryregiments at the time, upon acceptance into the Wehrmacht, one of the Spanish regiments of the newly formedunit was disbanded – Regiment Rodrigo. Its three organic battalions were transferred to each of the otherremaining regiments, and thus the men were not lost from the division but merely reorganized within it.The other Regiments were thereafter renumbered to conform to the German regimental numbering system andthey 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 earnestthereafter. The training at Grafenwöhr under the relatively harsh drill of their German instructorswent somewhat less than smoothly. The Germans, not famous for their tolerance of anything less than strictdiscipline, 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 1/6ththe time usually allocated to a newly formed division. Amazingly enough, the division managed to complete itstraining 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 divisionthrough Bayreuth, Munchberg, Zwickau, Chemnitz, and Waldheim, split into two groups near Berlin, reunited nearStettin, and finally arrived near the region of Suwalki in Poland at the end of August, disembarkinginto 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 fronton foot. Setting out on August 29th, 1941, thedivision headed for Smolensk over 1,000 miles away marching four abreast in a column that stretched over 30 miles long. Each regimentof 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 ofSmolensk. All of the cities the division passed through were wholly or partly inruins, 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 thedivision crossed the Dnieper River at Gusino and set up camp at Svetitsy about 40 miles outside of Smolensk. The rest ofthe division was stretched out to the west with the rear of the divisional column stopping in Orsha. The nextday consisted of a much needed rest, during which – much to the surprise of the division – orders were issued to countermarch back throughOrsha 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 ArmeegruppeNord, 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 Vitebskto the north. Once there, the lead elements entrained for the more than 450 mile trip to their finaldestination 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 40mile front on the shores of the Volkhov just north of Novgorod. Starting on October 7th, 1941, lead elements of the divisionbegan arriving at the front and even took casualties, namely, portions of Artillerie-Regiment 250. Onthe 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 boarding trains in Vitebsk for the rail transport north! On October10th, new orders were issued for the division to shift its positions along the Volkhov to the south, and toinstead replace the positions of the 18.Infanterie-Division (mot.). This obviously made the situationsomewhat confused as portions of the division were already in the process of taking over positions of the126.Infanterie-Division. To fix the situation it was decided that those positions of the 126th thatthe division had replaced would remain occupied, as they were luckily all located to the south, and that the positionsof the 18th, located even further south of the 126th, would be fully replaced. Thus, the 250.Infanterie-Division wouldoccupy 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 formerpositions of the entire 18.Infanterie-Division (mot.) and the southern portion of the lines of the126.Infanterie-Division, now shifted to the north, but still along the Volkhov.
The first serious contact with the Red Army would come toII./IR.269 at Kapella Nova when Spanish grenadiers surprised a Sovietbattalion attempting a river crossing. After a furious fire-fight some 50Russian dead were lying on the snowy banks of the river, and 80 wereprisoners of the newly blooded Spaniards.
During the frozen month of October 1941, units of the German 18.Infanterie-Division and126.Infanterie-Division, along with two regiments of the 250th,crossed the Volkhov at Udarnik and established a bridgehead on the eastbank. The II./IR.269 was again closely engaged in heavy combat andclose-quarter fighting against elements of the Soviet 52nd Corps, which theysuccessfully threw back after a tenacious defense of the bridgehead.Continuous shelling by the Soviets kept reinforcements at a minimum, butforces of the III./IR.263 and the Felderstatz-Bataillon 250 made it tothe east bank of the Volkhov to bolster the defense. In a slowly wideningcircle to the north, east, and south of their start point, they invested the villages ofTigoda, Dubrovka, and Muravji on the east bank of the Volkhov, continuing to push theRussians back.
With the full freeze on of the Volkhov in November, the the Spaniardsfaced regular counter-attacks from the Soviets on their flanks, whichincluded massive artillery bombardments, and vast WWI-like infantrytrench-charges by wildly screaming Russians. At the village ofPossad on November 12th, wave upon wave of Russian soldiers hurled themselvesat the lines of the 250th in several successive attempts to regain control ofthe village. It would eventually turn into a stand-off. The grimlydetermined division held up against each Soviet counter-attack, taking heavycasualties in men and material in the process. For close to a monththe Spanish volunteers held Possad, while only meager replenishment of menand ammunition were able to get through. While the Soviets urged theiropponents to surrender their nearly surrounded positions, the Spanishdefiantly retorted with their Civil War battle cry “Arriba Espana!” Thegarrison of Possad was quietly withdrawn on December 7th, 1941, only whenintelligence reports suggested that the Soviet attacking force had also withdrawn throughsheer exhaustion. The losses to Infanterie-Regiment 269 during this brutal monthlong battle were 120 dead, 440 wounded, and 20 missing. All units of the divisionnow retired over the frozen Volkhov to fortified positions on the westbank. In all the battles thus far, the division had taken 718 KIA, 1,612 WIA, and86 MIA.
During that winter, even greater horrors would visit the Spanish volunteers. On Christmas eve1941, at positions held by a company of Spanish Grenadiers at Lubkovosuddenly overrun by a fierce attack of Soviet infantry – relief troopssubsequently found the stripped and mutilated bodies of Alferez’ Moscoso’sover-run platoon nailed to the frozen ground with their own bayonets andpick-axes in a display of brutal mock-crucifixion. Shortly thereafter, afierce, revenge-focused counterattack by two companies of I./IR.269left 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 endlesslyrepercussive effects of this sort of action. This was the reality of thebitter fighting on the Volkhov front.
Then, on January 7th, 1942, the Soviets launched a massive offensive of their own aimed at smashing through thethe German lines in a two-pronged attack, with the southern prong heading north once through the Germanpositions to help relieve the besieged city of Leningrad. The Soviet 2nd Shock Army waspartially successful in this offensive, punching a 20 mile hole in the German front north of Novgorod and pouring enough troops throughto continue their drive. The 126.Infanterie-Division partially held the southern shoulderof 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 southernlines of the breakthrough, during which the 250th took part. The various counterattacks by the Germansagainst the Volkhov Pocket over the course of the next five months prevented the Soviets from pushing further towards Leningrad and on June 25th, 1942finally 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 thesouth, south of Lake Ilmen. The Soviet 11th Army and 3rd and 4th ShockArmies managed to encircle the entire German II.Amreekorpscentered 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 pushingwestward on both of its extreme northern and southern flanks, leaving it in a precarious defensive position. While sendingunits to aid in the defensive and later counteroffensive operationsagainst the Volkhov breakthrough and Pocket in the north, it also aided inthe fighting to the south, notably sending its entireSki-Kompanie of 204 men across the frozen Lake Ilmen on January 10th, 1942 to assist a trapped German force of 543 men in thecity of Vzvad along the southern shores of the Lake. In this operation nearly the entire unit was wiped out, only 12 men surviving the ordeal unharmedby 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 stabilized along with the rest of thelines of Armeegruppe Nord, orders were sent out in early August of 1942 for the transfer of the 250.Infanterie-Divisionto take part in the actual battles against Leningrad itself. On August 23rd, 1942, the positions of the division were given up tothe 20.Infanterie-Division (mot.), and the division was moved via rail to the region of Vyriza just southof the main operational areas fighting against Leningrad. The division rested and trained for a short time until it was oncemore transported north, finally taking over the positions of the 121.Infanterie-Division in thePushkin-Slutz zone along the ring outside of Leningrad. It would occupya front of about 29 miles, from Pushkin on its left flank to Krasny Boron its right.
Slowly, a buildup took place in which the German units stationed around Leningradprepared for the eventual assault on the fortified city. New units werebrought in to reinforce the German lines and special preparations were put underway for the battle to come. Then, after nearly three months of light to heavyskirmishing along the front (leading to nearly 20 KIA for the division aday), all plans to assault Leningrad suddenly changed. Far to the southon November 19th, 1942, Stalingrad had been encircled by the Soviets.As a result of this major offensive set-back, the planned assault againstLeningrad was called off.
Even with the calling off of the planned Leningrad offensive, there wasstill much fighting to do along the lines of Armeegruppe Nord, andaccordingly, on January 12th, 1943, the Soviets assaulted the German linesin yet another two pronged attack to try and break the seal around theirbesieged city. The fighting this time focused on the the region in andaround Mga to the north and east of the ring around Leningrad itself. TheII./IR.269 was selected from the division to take part in the fighting,and was detached from the divisions positions along the front andtransferred to the east. The battle would prove to be a tremendouslyfurious and bloody affair, for when the unit was finally relieved ninedays later on January 28th, 1943, there were only 28 men left standing outof nearly 800.
As furious and bloody as the fighting near Mga was for the II./IR.269, itwas nothing compared to the struggle unleashed upon nearly the entiredivision on February 10th, 1943. Looking to clear the mainMoscow-Leningrad highway upon which the eastern lines of the divisionwere positioned, the Soviets launched a three hour long artillerybarrage, 44,000 Soviet troops and 100 tanks against the250.Infanterie-Division. When they attacked, they came up againsta mere 5,600 well positioned Spanish troops. For almost 24 hours, a battleraged in which the eastern sector of the division took 75% casualties,loosing 3,645 men! This massive battle was to be known as the Battle ofKrasny Bor – amazingly, it proved to be a bloody and costly victory forthe division. They held against the full weight of the Soviet attack, andin the process inflicted nearly 11,000 casualties upon them. By the middleof February the fighting had died down and the lines had stabilized oncemore. In April the positions in and around Krasny Bor were relieved bythe 254.Infanterie-Division, reducing thedivisions lines to about 21 miles in length. Krasny Bor was largely to bethe divisions last major action.
On March 19th the Soviets launched a relatively weak attack on the linesof the division, but it too was beaten back soon after. For the nextseven months the divisional lines saw sporadic fighting, but no more ragingbattles. Individual units assaulted small Soviet positions, held offsmaller Soviet attacks, and withstood strong Russian artillery barrages,and extensive defensive works were constructed, but no more large-scaleoffensive or defensive actions took place.
Finally, on October 5th and 6th, 1943, the division was ordered to fallback from its positions. Between October 6th and 12th, 1943, the divisionwas relieved by the 81.Infanterie-Division and the 123.Infanterie-Division. The division wastransferred to the region of Volosovo where soon after it was ordered toreturn to Spain, leaving in its place the SpanishLegion, a battalion-sized unit consisting of about 1,500 Spanishtroops that choose not to return to Spain but to instead continue fightingthe Soviets. The first troops began to arrive back in Spain on October29th, 1943. The division had seen nearly 50,000 men serve within itsranks over the period of more than two years at or near the front, and12,726 men had become casualties while in its service.
Knights Cross Holders
No KC holders for this unit