Morir en Rusia_azul Division in Russia

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Spanish Blue Division story
  1   MORIR EN RUSIA. LA DIVISIÓN AZUL EN KRASNY BOR Back ground – To the East Front  When the World War II began, Spain had been proclaimed neutral, and later it was changed to the situation of not belligerent . The affections of the Regime of Franco were clearly on the side of the Axis then, not in  vain, the aid of the Italy of Mussolini and the Germany of Hitler had been of great importance to gain the  victory in the Civil War.  When the Operation Barbarroja took place (Unternehmen Barbarossa in German, was the code name given by Hitler for the plan of invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II) the situation gave a radical turn.  The Phalange received the news with enthusiasm; their leaders launched the idea to send a Spanish contingent of volunteers to the recently open front, to take part in which was baptized as the “European fight against the Comunismo . Being this srcin of the idea, almost spontaneous the new formation was assigned the name of “División Azul . The Army did not wish, nevertheless, that the volunteers were recruited only through the Phalange, its Militias and its youthful organizations for themselves. The solution consisted in recruiting a unit where the command would come mostly from the Army and the troops would come, to a large extent, from the Phalange Militias.  The contingents of volunteers were organized very quickly and sent in brief term to Germany. The fear existed of which the campaign went to finish before they had reached the front. In the case of the Blue Division, it received a period of instruction and quite brief equipment, in the Training Ground of Grafenwöhr.  The unit of volunteers was equipped like a horse-drawn Division, as it were mostly of the German Infantry divisions. The Division started off for Poland in train, but it was disembarked there and it had to initiate one long walk, of about 1,000 km., towards the central sector of the East Front, to which it was assigned. Strategic needs advised to direct it, nevertheless, towards the North sector and, on October of 1941, it entered in line in the sector of Novgorod and the Voljov River, integrated in the German 16 AOK. On Aug 11 of 1942 the 250 ID (Blue Division) was shifted towards the Leningrad Front (and 18 AOK) taken there the sector assigned before to the German 121 ID. On Dec 1942, General Agustín Muñoz Grandes, was decorated with the Knight's Cross and handed over the Division to a new Commanding Officer, General Emilio Esteban-Infantes. Deployment Originally, the Spaniards had deployed from Alexandrowka, to the W, up to the shore of the Ishora, to the E. But in January, when the 4ª Division SS - Polizei left its lines, the Spanish sector extended up to the Leningrad-Moscow railroad. The front, of more than 30 kilometers, demanded that the three Regiments, plus the Reserve battalion 250º would deploy in forward edge, without practically leaving no Battalion acting as reserve.  The 263º Regiment (Lieutenant Colonel Crescencio Perez de Bolumburu) occupied the western end of the Spanish front, due north of the city of Pushkin; with some companies of its I. /263 as reserve. To its right, the 269º Regiment (Colonel Carlos Rubio Lopez-Guijarro), occupied the center of the sector, due north of the city of Sluzk. The most Eastern segment of the front of the Blue Division was occupied by the 262º Regiment (Colonel Manuel Sagrado Marchena), with its three Battalions in the trenches and, as it had extended its sector, it had received as reinforcement the Reserve battalion 250º and the Company of Skiers 250ª.  2    The Spanish artillery had deployed its IIº Group astride the positions of the Regiments 263º and 269º, the IIIº Group in the line of contact between the 269º and the 262º and the Iº Group directly behind the positions of this last Regiment. The IVº Group, the heavy one, was located more to rear, having deployed all its batteries covering with their fires the whole sector of the division. The Artillery regiment 250º, commanded by Colonel (Oberst) Francisco Bandín Delgado, had its CP in Sluzk. Something more to the south, in the small population of Pokrovskaia, was the Headquarters of the Division. The bulk of the train units had settled down in Mestelevo. Neighboring Units  To the High Command of the German Army Group North did not escape the new danger that loomed over his 18 AOK so several measures it had been taken, among them, it was ordered to return to its primitive sector in the zone of the Tosna to the 4. SS Division. Exactly on February 08, the first echelons of that division began to arrive to its previous lines although, significantly, not to the lines that had given to the Blue Division, but only to that given to the 5 GD. On February 10, when triggering the Soviet attack the Division SS was in the middle of a delicate situation while taking its new deployment’s line.  The sector of 4 SS - Division was split in three subsectors. The Eastern one, next to ending of the Tosna River, under Major Dórner, fitted the few men ready for duty of the 2 SS-Police Regiment, reinforced by two  weak Companies added to it (one of the100º Mountain infantry regiment and another one of the 374º Regiment of Grenadiers). The total strength for duty in forward edge was of around 500 men. In the center, Major Schümers had in line which was left of the 1º SS-Police Regiment and the division Reconnaissance group, with other 500 men. The Western sector, which was adjacent to the Spaniards, was under the command of the Lieutenant Colonel Reifflin, with the remnants of the 3º SS-Police Regiment, which totalized 335 men exactly.  The other neighbor of the Blue Division, on its left flank, was another unit of the Waffen SS, specifically the 2 SS - Brigade of Infantry. When it had been created, in 1941, did not think about using it as a combat force, but for antipartisans tasks in the occupied USSR. The Soviet counter-offensive in the winter of 1941-42 had catapulted it to the front, losing one of its two Regiments, shifted to a more threatened sector. In order to complete it, the Germans subordinated to this brigade several of the Legions of Volunteers who had been recruited in Europe: the SS - Dutch Legion (equivalent to a Regiment) and the SS - Flemish Legion (equivalent to a Battalion). Reinforcing the Defenses From January 25 of 1943 onwards, the Commanding Officer of the L Army Corps, General Philip Kleffel, as  well the Commander of the Blue Division, General Emilio Esteban-Infantes, began to take certain measures in order to reinforce the sector of Krasny Bor, because nobody doubted that the enemy would launch an offensive there. General Lindemann, Commander of the German 18º Army together with Marshal v. Küchler, Commanding Officer of the Army Group North , visited the zone.  After the visits of inspection of all these generals, it was ordered to improve the defenses, to increase the ammunition stocks (the batteries deployed in the sector of Krasny Bor accumulated up to 1,500 shells) and to prepare to send to the sector all the available reinforcements. It were taken away from the MLR two units, the Reconnaissance Group 250º (Captain García-Ciudad), and the Company of Skiers 250ª (Captain Gómez de Salazar) to use them like a maneuvering force in the sector of the IR 262º. Also it was sent towards there the entire Combat Engineer Battalion 250 º (Major Bellod) and the Antitank Group 250º (Major La Cruz) whose manpower had been until then dispersed all along the divisional front.  3    An incorporation, that took place very shortly before the beginning of the battle, was one antitank Battery (three pieces of 75 mm) which belonged to the Legion SS Norway, integrated within the 2º SS Brigade as was told before, that marched in the direction of the Spanish sector on February 04. On the other hand, a Battery of 155 mm of French srcin which was located in the southern edge of Krasny Bor. It was indeed the “2. Battery of Heeres Küstenartillerie Abteilung 289 . Although deployed next to the Spaniards, this unit depended on the Artillery headquarters of the L Army Corps, Arko 138 . Also under orders of this  Artillery headquarters a German Infantry company was located in the population of Krasny Bor, under orders of Leutnant Loppel, in charge of the tactical defense of the German batteries deployed nearby.  The total front occupied by the 262º Regiment was of around 17 kilometers and its four battalions covered sectors that stretched from 3 kilometers in the case of Reserve battalion 250º up to 6 kilometers held by the Iº/262. In any case, as we saw, the front of the 262º IR had been divided in two subsectors. The subsector of the Ishora under the Lieutenant Colonel Araujo, had two Battalions, the IIIº/262 (Captain García Calvo) and the Reserve Battalion 250 (Captain Miranda). The former was the one which linked with the neighbor 269º Regiment. The Eastern subsector, the one of Krasny Bor proper, started from a deep anti-tank ditch that in North-South direction cut the Spanish lines and ran something to the east of the Leningrad-Moscow highway. The Soviets By 1943 the Red Army was already a formidable war machine. Before Moscow, in 1941, and the Volga River banks, in 1942, had known to stop and to humiliate to a Wehrmacht that until then did not know the meaning of the word defeats. By the dates of the battle of Krasny Bor its moral was as high as the clouds: the  victory in Stalingrado had been completed and their troops advanced by very many sectors. Luckyly, neither Govorov (Commander of the Front) nor Sviridov (Commander of 55º Army), appear between the great Soviet generals. Straits of minds, Govorov (of whom their staff officers said that he had shopkeeper mentality) as much as Sviridov, were incapable to assimilate the instructions sent by the Stavka and therefore in the end they managed to launch something like a powerful local offensive, in spite of the amplitude of assets given to them. From September of 1941 to February of 1943, many of the men who would go to attack the Spaniards had been 16 months in a fixed front, without taking part in nothing of more importance than a nigh raid. It  was the case of the 72ª Rifle Division, under Colonel Iastrebov, which was sent against the Reserve Battalion 250º - to breach its front and, to a lesser extent, against the III./ IR 262 - to fix it in its positions. Composed by the Rifle Regiments 14º, 133º and 187º, along with the 9º of Artillery, the unit had been recruited srcinally in Leningrad.  The Eastern end was for another quite anodyne unit, the 43ª Rifle Division under Colonel Sinkevich, composed by the Rifle Regiments 65º, 147º and 708º, along with the 162º of Artillery. It had to beat the I./ IR 262, although also it would operate against the Germans. The Rifle Regiments 147º and 65º would take the task of fixing the 4 SS Division Polizei in their positions, whereas the 708º (reinforced by a Battalion of the 65º) would be the one which mounted the assault against the Spaniards. Between both Infantry Divisions was deployed the unit which had to assume the weight of the main strike, the 63ª Guards Division. But in the sake of the truth we must say that it had reached such status exactly the previous month. Until that date it had been simply 136ª Rifle Division, but since it did an outstanding work in the operations due south of the Ladoga Lake it was given that prize, that also implied changes in the number of its subordinate units. The Division srcinally did not belong to the 55º Army, but it  was one of the shock units maintained as reserve by the Front of Leningrad. Its three Guards Regiments  4   (269º, 270º and 342º), along with the armored force which would stand by its side, had to erase the Spanish IIº/262 of the Earth’s face.  The other Guards unit which was going to operate, the 45º Division, under General Krasnov, had reached such status something before, in September of 1942. Even then it had been the 70ª Rifle Division.  The Division did not belong either srcinally to the 55º Army, but was transferred to it shortly before the offensive by the 67º Army. In theory, this Division, which counted with the Guards Regiments 129º, 131º and 134º, plus the 96º of the Guards Artillery, would not take place in the rupture, but to exploit it.  Also would be part of the operation, the Skiers Brigades 34º and 35º, whereas the armored component  would be represented by elements of the 31º Armored Regiment, for the breakthrough and the 222ª Armored Brigade for the exploitation phase.  The maneuver designed by Sviridov was clear. The famous General Simoniak, supported by heavy tanks,  would attack frontally to make the breach in Krasny Bor. Their flanks would be covered by the Rifle Divisions 72ª and 43ª. Hardly consolidated that rupture, Krasnov would conduct the battle with his forces to advance towards the Tosna, while Simoniak continued quickly towards Sablino-Ulianovka and the Divisions 72ª and 43ª extended their attack in flanks. Black Wednesday: The Attack On February 10 of 1943 at 06: 45 hours, the feared artillery attack had begun, one storm of steel , was unleashed on the three Spanish Battalions through which it was wanted to breach the front (Iº/262, IIº/262 and Reserve 250º), perfectly comparable to the densities reached in some mythical battles like the one of  Verdún. In some of the Spanish Companies the artillery fire caused until an 80 percent of losses and the average rate was of the 50 percent.  At 07:15 hours the Soviet aviation made its appearance: 30 bombers and 20 fighters (of a little more than 100 airplanes which the 13º Soviet Aerial Army of General Rybalichenko had sent against the L German  Army Corps that day) attacked the objectives that the artillery had not managed to destroy in the sector of the Spaniards. For the breakthrough operations, the Soviets had used throughout 1941 and first half of 1942 a gun each 14 meters. In second half of 1942 increased to a gun each 8 meters. In 1944 it had been reached the number of a piece each 4 meters. And in the battle of Berlin, in 1945, they had a piece every 2,6 meters.  Therefore around 08:00 hours, General Esteban-Infantes issued the order to the first reserve, which had been constituted with elements of 263º Regiment (two Companies of its I. Battalion, quartered already in Federovskoye since Feb 08 of 1943), to move towards the threatened sector, whereas he himself, with the Ops Officer of his General Staff, Comandante (Major) Manuel Andean García, and the Intelligence Officer, Comandante (Major) Jose Alemany Vich, started off for the advanced CP which had settled down in Raikolovo. Infantry’s Assault  At 08: 40 hours, after two hours of hammering, the Soviet artillery ceased to crush the defense's forward edge and it lengthened his fire: the assault began. The unit which was going to take the weight of the assault, the 63ª Guards Division, was harangued by its Commander, General Simoniak. From the departure point to Krasny Bor, the men of Simoniak had to advance 3 km. The day was going to be a long one, since it would be necessary to advance up to Sablino-Ulianovka and that supposed almost 15 kilometers, but the Russian soldiers trusted that it would begin of the best way.
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