- De héroes e indeseables: La División Azul
The División Española de Voluntarios (DEV), commonly known as the "Blue Division" from the shirt-color of the Spanish fascist movement which provided many of its first volunteers, was a full-strength infantry division assembled by the Franco regime to assist Nazi Germany in its invasion of the Soviet Union. The Spanish government never entered the war, though it spent three and a half years (1940–43) as a self-declared "non-belligerent," strongly tilted toward Germany. The Blue Division was not a regular Spanish army division but an ad hoc unit, its mission justified as a response to Soviet intervention in the Spanish Civil War, the Franco regime holding the Soviet Union largely responsible for that fratricide, though it prudently never declared war on Moscow.
The DEV has exerted a powerful appeal on the Spanish imagination ever since, and has attracted more than a little attention from non-Spanish historians as well, producing the paradox that the only combat division from any state not officially participating in World War II has generated a more extensive bibliography than any single division from any of the regular participants. In their Escritores en las trincheras: La División Azul en sus [End Page 1272] libros, publicaciones periódicas y filmografîa (1941–1988) (Madrid: Barbarroja, 1989), Carlos Caballero and Rafael Hernández presented a 162-page annotated bibliography of publications and films, a list which has only grown further in the past two decades. The best one-volume military narrative is probably still Gerald R. Kleinfeld and Lewis A. Tambs, Hitler's Spanish Legion: The Blue Division in Russia (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1979), while the best treatment of the DEV within the Spanish institutional and political context is Xavier Moreno Juliá, La División Azul: Sangre española en Rusia, 1941–1945 (Barcelona: Crîtica, 2004).
Is there anything left to say about the Blue Division? In terms of descriptive military narrative, probably not, but José Luis Rodrîguez Jiménez has shown that systematic archival research can continue to yield valuable new data. His new book is a social and military history of the DEV, which carefully treats its military action but excels as the best social history of the division that has been written. Research in the extensive personnel files of the unit has enabled him to assemble the most complete portrait of its members yet published, analyzing their varied social and political backgrounds and providing a great wealth of new individual sketches and anecdotes.
It is well-known that even when the DEV was initially organized, not all the members were genuine volunteers, and that subsequently, as conditions on the eastern front deteriorated, it became harder and harder to assemble replacements. By the second half of 1942, even members of the political opposition were being recruited, leading to more than a few individual cases of what the commanders called "undesirables" in the ranks, a term reflected in the book's title.
This is not, however, a debunking study but an objective treatment that provides the most rounded portrait that we have of the division's membership. Rodrîguez Jiménez generally ratifies the standard interpretation of a valiant military unit that fought courageously and effectively on the most challenging front of World War II, fulfilling all assignments to the best of its ability and never completely breaking under Soviet attack. Though not at all path-breaking as a combat history, this volume is an important contribution to the mammoth literature on the Blue Division, the best available account of its members.