Pushkin – 10 kilometers from Leningrad (21 November 1942)
Following the serious fighting of March/April 1942, the Blue Division was withdrawn from the line to rest and refit. Fresh volunteers arrived from Spain to fill out the depleted infantry companies. On 10 September the division re-entered the line near the town of Pushkin only 10 kilometres from Leningrad. By this point both sides were exhausted and the front had stabilised into static trench warfare.
For many men in the Blue Division this must have seemed to re-create their time during the Spanish Civil War when, seemingly unstoppable, the Nationalists had surged forward only to become bogged down on the outskirts of Madrid. The war in the east had changed from a ‘Crusade against Bolshevism’ to a desperate struggle for survival. In an effort to keep the enemy off balance, and to maintain the initiative, division staff have decided to introduce punitive raids against Russian positions (termed in Spanish ‘golpe de mano’ – literally ‘slap of the hand’). This would have the triple effect of keeping their own men alert and active; continually threatening the Soviets and permitting reconnaissance gathering and prisoner taking.
Such golpes de mano were conducted by small assault strike forces. The number of troops involved would range from about seven to as many as 40. These were led by either an officer or NCO, depending upon the size of the objective. They were armed with automatic weapons, hand grenades, bayonets and knives (though axes, sharpened spades and even meat cleavers were reported). Sometimes the assault force would slowly work its way across no-mans land, defusing mines and marking a safe escape route, then, after quietly eliminating the sentries, they would pour fire and throw grenades into their objective to inflict the maximum casualties and chaos before withdrawing.
Alternatively the division would use its artillery and mortars to hit the Soviets all along the front, and make no assault but nevertheless cause confusion and alarm. At other times the artillery would cover an assault elsewhere along the line, again adding to the frustration and confusion within the Soviet lines. Any assault would last no more than twenty or thirty minutes, after which time the assault force would regroup and withdraw – usually covered by machine guns, mortars and artillery. The idea was to keep the enemy guessing, creating uncertainty regarding the nature of the Spaniards’ actions. An attack? A raid? A bluff?
Such raids proved highly successful in keeping the Soviets on the back foot and the Soviets were not slow to reciprocate leading to occasions when two patrols ran into one another in no mans land. The Spanish felt that the golpes de mano had a great effect on enemy morale and saved lives by creating the constant threat of attack amongst the enemy. When a soldier had taken part in five such operations, he was awarded a special decoration called the Assault Plaque – an award highly prized by the soldados.
This scenario simulates such a golpe de mano by Spanish forces against a Soviet outpost. It should play well with any set of commercial skirmish rules. I’ve not given any specific rule mechanics so you can convert the scenario without difficulty.
Table and terrain
We played the game on a four by two feet table. The opposing trench lines should be on somewhat raised ground on opposite sides (or ends) of the table separated by a valley dotted with areas of trees and bushes to provide line of sight cover for the attacking Spanish patrol. The defender may place some concealed booby-traps and mines (positions written down before the start of the game). You may wish to add a Soviet sniper, lurking on the hillside.
You are a brigada (sergeant major) serving with 3rd Company, 1st Battalion, 269th Infantry Regiment. You are to lead a ‘golpe de mano’ against a Soviet observation post overlooking your lines. The plan calls for artillery to lay down fire north of your target, whilst battalion mortars lay smoke to the south. This should confuse the enemy, allowing you to attack with surprise. You are to take prisoners and recover any papers. Before you return, conceal a satchel charge with a delayed fuse to bring even more death to the communists.
Brigada (PPsh41 + three grenades)
Four soldados (SMGs + grenades, one satchel charge)
You are an ensign with the 42nd Infantry Regiment are in command of an observation post overlooking the enemy’s front line. Your orders are to observe and to direct local artillery fire upon the enemy trenches.
Telephone operator (pistol)
Four men (rifles)
Uniforms and equipment
The soldiers of the Blue Division were equipped as a standard German infantry division with the grey-green uniform jacket and trousers and high marching boot and the standard German helmet, side cap or peaked forage cap. Insignia and rank were also according to the German system except for an arm shield (red/gold/red) with the title ‘España’ worn on the right upper sleeve.
The Spanish unit, however, was a volunteer division from an independent country and its troops were not subject to strict German discipline like other volunteers from occupied countries. Soldados (and their officers and NCOs) took to wearing their shirt collars outside over their jacket collars (in Spanish fashion). These were often the dark blue shirts (from which the Division gained its name) or the German grey shirt. Some volunteers (ex-Foreign Legionnaires) wore the olive green shirt of La Legion in this manner. Spanish decorations and badges of rank also began to find their way onto the Wehrmacht uniform. For example, the Osprey book ‘Germany’s Spanish Volunteers’ shows an engineer sergeant in a blue shirt with a Falange (the Spanish fascist party) badge on the breast pocket.
The Spaniards were armed as any other German infantry unit – Mauser, MP40, MG34. In common with the Germans they quickly learned to appreciate the value of captured Russian automatics and would actively trade and buy these from German units as well as scavenge them on the battlefield. The excellent PPsh41 SMG and Degtyarev DP LMG were both highly popular. The Spaniards had all the standard German stick grenades, the round anti-personnel grenades and rifle grenades.
We have played a few games, using scenarios available on the internet, involving the Blue Division. We used standard German figures with the odd conversion (an arm swap to give a figure a PPsh). There are now several late war German figures available already armed with this much prized Soviet weapon which will save a lot of work.
Article by Richard Baber.