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Post "La Nueve": Spain's Republican Heroes of WWII
Created by John Eipper on 09/10/19 4:10 AM

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"La Nueve": Spain's Republican Heroes of WWII (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela, 09/10/19 4:10 am)

Jordi Molins' post about Spanish participation in WWII (August 27th) deserves some commentary.

Jordi cited the participation of "La Nueve," an armored company, made up of Spanish Republicans, which is remembered as being the first Allied force to enter liberated Paris (August 25th, 1945), and he questioned this contribution of Spain to WWII.

In fact, Jordi wrote, "It seems a bit odd to consider that Spain had a 'fundamental contribution' to the liberation of Paris, since the only official involvement of Spain in WWII was the 'División Azul,' fighting alongside Nazism." Jordi added, "some Spanish individuals were involved in WWII, but this does not imply that Spain was involved in WWII."

It will prove instructive to recall some historical facts of this famous armed company and its role in WWII.

At the end of the Spanish Civil War, more than 500,000 Republican refugees escaped to France, England, Russia, Northern Africa and other countries in Europe and South America--politicians, public employees, journalists, socialists, common people, communists and anarchists as well as a great number of experienced Republican fighters and their families.

It is said that more than 200,000 Republican ex-combatants sought refuge in France. Most of them were detained in concentration camps improvised by the Vichy regime, under the most horrific conditions. Many of them were obliged to join the French Foreign Legion in Africa, or else sent to hard labor. Their only other option was to be returned to Spain where jail or a firing squad was waiting.

During WWII many of these experienced Republican fighters deserted or joined the French Resistance. It is very difficult to determine their exact number, but sources indicate that between 40,000 and 60,000 joined the resistance to fight against the Germans. Their participation was later highly valued and officially recognized by the French government because most were seasoned veterans of the Spanish Republican Army, highly motivated to fight against Fascism.

In Morocco, Algeria and Senegal, there were forces of the French Foreign Legion, as well as some elements of the regular French Army and deserters from the Vichy regular army. By 1942 they were part of the Free French Army, under De Gaulle's command. Many Spanish refuges were part of these forces and took part in important fighting against Axis in Tunisia and Morocco. "La Nueve" was created originally on 24 August 1943, in Africa, as part of the Le Clerc Division of 16,000 combatants, mostly French, Legionnaires, and 2000 Spaniards and other nationalities in smaller numbers.

"La Nueve" was an armored company in the 16th Armored French division. It consisted of 150 Spaniards, Republican veterans of the SCW, socialists, anarchists and some communists, under the command of Captain Raymond Dronne.  After the Germans were defeated in Africa, in 1944 the Le Clerc Division was transferred to England. On August 4th, 1944, "La Nueve" landed on Utah beach and was assimilated into the US 3rd Army under the command of Patton. They participated in battles in Rennes, Le Mans and Alencon. In Eccouche they obtained an important victory and captured more than 120 German prisoners. The US officers formally admired their courage and decorated many of their members.

On August 20th Paris rose up against the German forces, and De Gaulle ordered the Le Clerc División to march to Paris before it was destroyed, as Hitler had ordered. "La Nueve" was the company sent as a reconnaissance unit ahead of the French division. They were the first liberation Army to enter into Paris through the Port d´Italie, where they opened fire against the German forces entrenched in the City Hall. When the Germans surrendered, "La Nueve" took many landmark places, including the Chamber of Deputies, Majestic Hotel, and Place de la Concorde. They also captured the German commander, Dietrich Von Choltilz.

On October 12th, La Nueve continued its advance to Germany. They took the city of Andelot and 300 prisoners after a bloody battle. In November they actively participated in the recapture of Alsace by retaking the city of Strasbourg. That winter, they entered into German territory and slowly advanced during the winter, suffering many casualties. They finally took, near Munich, the so-called Eagle's Nest, Hitler's famous refuge in the Bavarian mountains.

WWII officially ended in May 1945. Up to this point, "La Nueve" had 120 casualties of its original Spaniards members. Only 35 survived the war; their replacements were taken from other countries though all Spanish-speaking nationalities. At the end of war some decided to remain in the army.

I have written this long report on "La Nueve" because I believe that its participation in WWII might not have been a "fundamental contribution" or decisive to the war, but it would be unfair and mean not to consider its role important, significant, charismatic and iconic.

Besides, it is a lack of respect and human consideration to the thousands--not a few "individuals"--of Spanish Republicans, socialists, anarchists or even communists who fought, not only in "La Nueve" but throughout the French resistance, for their ideals. Many died. It is perhaps a sign of historical ignorance to consider the División Azul the only Spanish participation in WWII.

La aportación de los exiliados republicanos españoles a la resistencia francesa durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial fue "única" y debería ser reconocida públicamente. A pesar de las condiciones de acogida miserables, muchos se integraron en la resistencia y participaron muy activamente en la liberación de Francia.

--Denis Pescnanski, Director del Centro Nacional de Investigación Científica de la República Francesa, 2009.

I attach a photo of "la Nueve" entering to Paris. Notice the name "Guernica" at the front of the lead vehicle.

JE comments:  I enlarged the photo until it was nothing but pixels, but I cannot make out Guernica.  The vehicle looks like a Dodge half-track--proudly built in this Arsenal of Democracy (Detroit/Warren).  Presumably "Guernica" is painted on the hood above the radiator?

In any case, this is a very informative essay from José Ignacio Soler.  I see no controversy in concluding that "Spain" fought on both sides of WWII.  It's a history commonplace to view the Spanish Civil War as the opening act of WWII.  Yet everything is relative:  couldn't we describe WWII as Act Two (greatly expanded) of the SCW?

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  • WWII Resistance, Terrorism, and the Hague Conventions (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 09/11/19 3:06 AM)
    Following the detailed post of José Ignacio Soler, 10 September, I have some reflections:

    There were 146 Spaniards in "La Nueve" when they entered Paris, taking over many key places.  In occupying Eccouche they captured more than 120 Germans, took the city of Andelot and 300 prisoners, retook Strasbourg and also Hitler's Eagle's Nest, at the end losing only 120 men of whom 35 survived.... but were they not 146?

    I wonder what the hell the hundreds of thousands of American and Allied troops were doing? Perhaps they were looking for four-leaf clovers if the 146 Spaniards were doing such massive part of the job.

    Furthermore I believe that it is time to evaluate more critically the various resistances which were often violating the articles of the Hague Convention in effect at the time.

    Art. 1 - a fighting group is of combatants and not of terrorists only if:

    a) Its chief is a person responsible for his subordinates,

    b) It has a fixed mark (uniform or equivalent) that can be recognized at distance,

    c) Openly carries weapons,

    d) Obeys the international rules of war.

    Other articles that were violated:

    Art. 23 - An enemy cannot be killed or injured through treachery (i.e. throwing a bomb in a restaurant or shooting an enemy soldier in the back while he is not in action, such as going to see his girlfriend--both cases in my hometown)

    Art.29 - A spy if not acting in his regular uniform can be court-martialed (i.e. see the many young Italian fellows of the RSI executed by the Allies).

    Furthermore the civilians in the occupied zones shall not take any military or hostile action against the occupants otherwise they will face retaliation, which if proportional was legal. We have already discussed it mentioning the retaliation of the US, Soviet, French, etc. armies.

    Therefore most of the members of the resistances during WWII supported by the Allies with money and arms were terrorists and their supporters were accomplices in their crimes. But, of course, as we have seen, the winners cannot be prosecuted for war crimes.

    The new left Italian government is in force from this moment. Pray for poor Italy.

    JE comments: The "everything is relative" distinction between terrorists and freedom fighters may not be the best topic for 9/11. That said, it is striking how the Hague Conventions give almost no latitude for the weak to fight against the strong. How do you "fairly" take on an enemy if you have no uniforms, only rudimentary and irregular weapons, and must use deceit as a tactic?

    Wikipedia just taught me something. The original 1899 convention was the idea of Tsar Nicholas II.  Teddy Roosevelt proposed the second one, in 1907.

    I hope a WAISer or two will send some reflections today on 9/11, eighteen years later.

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    • Terrorism vs Legitimate Resistance: Can We Draw a Distinction? (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 09/12/19 2:03 PM)
      Yesterday's post from Eugenio Battaglia (September 11th), commenting on the Spanish combatants in "La Nueve," deserves a response.

      Eugenio's comments based on the arithmetic of casualties in the group and his sarcastic comment on the uncertain role of the "hundreds of thousands of Americans and Allied troops" seems to discredit and deny the important and iconic role of the Spaniards. Perhaps their role was not fundamental or determinant, but the same could be said of the thousands of French guerrillas, or those in other parts of Europe, but it is of supreme historical ignorance to try to diminish the relevance of their activities fighting against the Nazis and Fascism during WWII.

      Nevertheless, Eugenio poses an interesting question about the differences between a "fighting group" of civilians, guerrillas, partisans, militia (or whatsoever you might want to call them) and a "terrorist group." According to the archaic and thousand-times-violated Hague Conventions rules cited by Eugenio, there is a little thin line, if any, to differentiate them. However in my humble opinion there is an unquestionable difference. A fighting group that concentrates its violence on innocent civilians, not military, to exert terror and the promotion of its political ideas, is definitely a terrorist group. On the other side, when violence is aimed exclusively at military objectives, even if some randomly collateral civilian damage is caused, these should be considered of military character, not terrorist. This must be in the context of a radical conflict, violent or not, although whether there is a declared "formal" war or not might be an unnecessary condition to both.

      Maybe this distinction might be simplistic, but it helps to distinguish the wicked character of violence exerted. This distinction of course helps to identify as such the crimes of the Colombian Guerrilla, Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and the state terrorism exerted by some governments that I need not mention here.

      JE comments: Which partisan/guerrilla group was most effective in WWII?  Like any rigorous scholar (!), I asked Google, which took me to Quora (note my scholarly rigor).  The first answer was the anti-Japanese resistance in the Philippines, which I hadn't considered.  Next, my original guess:  Tito's partisans in Yugoslavia.  They tied down many German (and Italian, I believe) divisions which could have been used productively elsewhere.

      As for José Ignacio Soler's distinction between "irregular" fighters and outright terrorists, I am convinced.  Nacho, would you label a political assassination a terrorist act?  Politicians are not "military," but they're not mere civilians either.

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      • Is the Bombing of Civilians an Act of Terrorism? (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 09/19/19 3:58 AM)
        Recent WAIS discussion on the indiscriminate bombing of civilians reminded me of a previous discussion about terrorism and "legitimate" fighting in a war.

        In that discussion we dared to define terrorism as when violence is exerted deliberately on the civilian population. I also mentioned that state terrorism is one type of terrorism, which in fact is the use of illegitimate methods to produce fear or terror among the civilian population.

        In this context, indiscriminate bombing in WWII, or any other conflict (Vietnam, Korea, Gulf War, etc.), regardless of whether the Allies or the Axis started this kind of violence, is merely terrorism, including the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Attempts to justify and legitimate these actions are vain and useless.

        State terrorism in modern times is perhaps more sophisticated and subtle, particularly with the role of social networks, fake news, etc., but unfortunately many places still continue to practice "classic" physical violence and repression.

        JE comments:  For the sake of argument, a couple of questions:  1)  Is there any meaningful way to distinguish between "civilian" and "military" targets, especially in the context of asymmetrical or non-traditional warfare?  2)  At least since the times of Sherman, the whole point of warfare is to exert maximum economic and emotional pain on the other side.  Chivalrously limiting your violence to uniformed enemies (according to this thinking) only prolongs a war.

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        • Is Asymmetrical Warfare Always an Act of Terrorism? (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 09/20/19 2:56 AM)
          Following the excellent post of José Ignacio Soler (September 19th) and the comments from our wise and attentive moderator, I would like to add a few observations:

          1) Asymmetrical or non-traditional warfare should be broken down without any ifs, ands or buts.

          Any nation that supports asymmetrical or non-traditional warfare (as the so-much-praised criminal resistance of WWII or the attack on New York of 9/11) should be considered a non-civilized country not adhering to the International Conventions:

          2) General William T. Sherman was a bloody criminal, period.

          Chivalrously limiting violence to uniformed enemies means that fighting them is correct, but as soon as the enemies are unable to fight back because wounded or prisoners, they should be treated as equals, as they too were doing their duty.

          I already mentioned my father enjoyed inviting captured British officer prisoners to dinner during the war in Libya.

          It should not be difficult to distinguish between "civilian" and "military" targets.

          Towns are definitely civilian, while the military targets are those handled by military personnel. However we should consider industries that support the war effort to be of military interest. This would include ports and roads/railways, but a civilian train should not be attacked. (Remember the case in Serbia 12 April 1999 and the ridiculous self-defense of General Clark?) Also, no hospital ships should be attacked. During WWII 8 Italian hospital ships (Navi Bianche) were sunk and 5 damaged by the Allies. This was a crime.

          One of these ships, the California, was sunk at anchor during the night of 10 August 1941. She was not with all lights on as required, therefore unfortunately, she was wrong and I cannot fault the pilot of the British bomber.

          About chivalry, after the Battle of Cape Matapan (28 March 1941), the victorious British Admiral called the Italian White Ships to rescue the shipwrecked Italians of the sunken ships, giving the correct positions, as he could not stop to rescue them, as he was being attacked by German planes. Glory to Andrew Cunningham.

          A tragic irony of this battle: the three Italian heavy cruisers that were lost were named for the Italian towns of Zara, Fiume and Pola and at the end of the war the Diktat (Peace Treaty) gave all three towns to Yugoslavia.

          Going back to my post and John E's comments, here are my answers:

          No, the anti-aircraft defenders of Savona did not make false claims about planes shot down, but there were very few cases of planes apparently shot down and falling into the sea. This was the source of the joke.

          Just some time ago not far away from Savona a sub found the wreck of an Allied airplane. The sea around Italy is full of wrecks from the time of the Roman Empire, all the way to WWII.

          JE comments:  I do try to be attentive, Eugenio, but wise?  You are very kind.  I'm still at a loss as to how a weak group can carry a "fair" fight to the strong.  Perhaps it's because we Americans started out as sneaky fighters against the British?  We've all seen pictures of the Minutemen hiding behind trees and taking pot-shots at the tidily arrayed Redcoats.  We schoolchildren would laugh at the foolishness of the British.  "Asymmetrical" was too hard a word for us to understand.

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