Previous posts in this discussion:
PostDivision Azul Histories and Memoirs; from Anthony J. Candil (John Eipper, USA, 05/23/13 10:10 am)
Anthony J. Candil (Austin, Texas) sends this response to Eugenio Battaglia's post of 23 May:
Yes, basically what Eugenio says is correct. However initially the División Azul after the disaster of Krasny Bor--Red Wood--on February 10, 1943, and being almost wiped out, was withdrawn from the front and started reorganizing in some rear area in Lithuania. Back in Spain, Franco gave way to British advice and pressure and made the decision to withdraw the bulk of the division. That's why slowly some units started being repatriated and my uncle managed to get back so early to Spain, after having being in combat for almost a year and a half.
Nevertheless a new unit renamed Legión Azul--Blue Legion--kind of a reinforced infantry battalion, remained in Russia until 1944, in early April. After that Franco's government decided that whoever wanted to continue the fighting could do so on his own decision, but those enlisting in the Wehrmacht would be deprived of Spanish citizenship. Those are the ones who joined the Waffen SS and took part even in the Battle for Berlin. Their commander was a major named Miguel Ezquerra, who eventually managed not to be taken prisoner either by the Soviets or the Allies. After a long and hazardous trip he reached Spain. I have friends who knew him.
On John Eipper's question about returned captives writing their memoirs, there are two who come to mind. One was Captain Teodoro Palacios, who wrote a book titled Embajador en el Infierno--Ambassador to Hell--that was later used as script for a movie with the same title. Another, and in my opinion much better, book was written by Captain Gerardo Oroquieta, titled De Leningrado a Odessa. Both books are in Spanish and haven't been translated into English, as far as I know.
I once met Captain Oroquieta, because my father knew him. He was reinstated in the Spanish Army and became a full colonel later on. Captain Palacios achieved the rank of Brigadier General, because he was awarded by Franco the San Fernando Cross--the highest Spanish military award for combat. Their ordeal anyway was impressive, as they were POWs for eleven years in the Soviet Union and returned to Spain in 1954, once Stalin had died. I don't have any proof of this, but it has been said that the blame for such a long time in captivity was due to members of the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) living in the USSR who advised the Soviets not to ever return the Spanish POWs as long as Franco stayed in power. Names associated with this are Dolores Ibarruri--La Pasionaria--and even Santiago Carrillo. Maybe Paul Preston knows more.
The story of Captain Oroquieta was very impressive, because up to a point he was even legally pronounced dead and funerals took place at a church in his birthplace, in San Sebastián, in the Basque Country. He was a truly Basque officer. Most prisoners--about 5,000--returned to Spain in 1954 on board of a ship named Semiramis hired by the International Red Cross that made the trip from Odessa to Barcelona. Maybe this is why they now want to pay such a tribute to them in Barcelona.
Nevertheless, besides the Division Azul there were other military units that were sent by Franco to Russia as a contribution to the fight on the Eastern Front. Such as several fighter groups from the Spanish Air Force that were integrated into the Luftwaffe--they were deployed in the Southern theater under Army Group South--and even a minesweeping squadron of the Spanish Navy integrated into the Kriegsmarine was operating in the Baltic Sea. But that's another story.
JE comments: All most interesting. After the war did Franco quickly "re-naturalize" the Spanish soldiers who had forfeited their citizenship by joining the Wehrmacht?
Division Azul Prisoners in the USSR; from Anthony J. Candil
(John Eipper, USA
05/25/13 5:08 AM)
Anthony J. Candil sends this followup to his post of 23 May:
A small correction, please! I apologize but in my post on the División Azul POWs I misstated the number who returned to Spain in 1954.
There were never 5,000 ex-prisoners returning from the USSR; I was thinking of the casualties figures. They were just 248 men from the Division Azul--3 were Air Force pilots from the Escuadrilla Azul who fought with the Luftwaffe--on the Semiramis on April 2, 1954 when they disembarked at Barcelona's harbor, as I said, after 11 years of captivity through a variety of Soviet prison camps, many of them in Siberia. Among the prisoners were both Captain Teodoro Palacios Cueto and Captain Gerardo Oroquieta Arbiol. They were also another 34 Spaniards who came along and didn't belong to the División Azul.
As I said before, Captain Palacios was promoted to Brigadier General in 1972 and died in 1980. Captain Oroquieta died from a stroke--already a full Colonel--in 1972. At the time he was the CO of the Mountain Infantry Regiment Sicilia 67, in San Sebastián, a unit that still exists today although it has no real operational role anymore in the Spanish Army. Both were taken prisoner at the Battle of Krasny-Bor. Captain Oroquieta was the CO of Company 3, Reserve Battalion 250 of the Division. Only 12 men survived from his company, and Captain Palacios was the CO of Company 5, 2d Battalion, Regiment 262, in which only 35 men survived (a typical infantry company in the División Azul had a regular strength of approximately 200 men).
According to the late professor Gabriel Cardona (University of Barcelona and former officer of the Spanish Army), the casualties of the División Azul were 4,954 men killed and 8,700 wounded, plus 372 taken prisoner by the Russians, out of a total of circa 47,000 men who fought within its ranks.
I thank professor Stanley G. Payne, who advised me of my mistake.
Please see enclosed the funeral leaflet for Captain Oroquieta, which were distributed on March 10, 1943 at the church in San Sebastián. This is really a must for historians! Happily, when Oroquieta reappeared in 1954 his former sweetheart had remained single, and finally they got married and had three sons. Different fates happened to others who discovered that their wives had assumed them dead and married other men.
JE comments: Here is Oroquieta's "death" notice from 1943. Fascinating--the Captain's alma still had 29 years to serve on this earth: