1. The Blue Division
Spain never officially entered into the Second World War. However, Franco allowed volunteers to join the Axis powers by serving on the Eastern front under Germany’s 250th Infantry Division. This was one way that he supported the Axis powers and allowed those in Spain who wanted to join the war do so without compromising Spain’s neutrality. This Spanish volunteers program had a name – the Blue Division. It was by far one of the most decorated divisions of the Axis and engaged in 21 key battles.
The Blue Division started off in early 1941 with an army of 18,000 volunteers from Spain. This group later expanded to 50,000 men who wore the standard German gray uniform when going to battle. This uniform was not however completely free of all things Spanish; it actually featured a shield bearing Spanish color on the right sleeve.
About 16,000 members of the Blue Division were either wounded or captured as prisoners of war, and 4,500 were killed.
The Blue Division was not the only battalion from Spain that supported the Axis powers. There was yet another group of Spanish airmen, Blue Squadron, which was credited for shooting down 156 aircraft belonging to the Soviet Union.
The Blue Division fought from 1941 until 1943 along the Eastern front until once again Allied pressure caused Franco to scale back his support. He decreased the Blue Division down to 3,00 men and it was renamed the Blue Legion. In March 1944, Franco removed Spanish troops completely. However, some of the Spanish volunteers refused to return to Spain and instead stayed to continue supporting the fascist cause.
Soldiers who fought in the Blue Division received a number of medals and awards as recognition of their service. Many Spaniards were absorbed into various divisions of the Axis. The Waffen SS, for instance, gave Spanish volunteers different ranks and positions. A lot of other Spanish soldiers found their way into other military units such as the 357th Infantry Division, 11th SS Division Nordland, and the 3rd Mountain Division.
Franco ended up walking the best path available to him through the war. If he had ever entered on the Axis side his administration and his country would likely not have survived the war and it would not have made much of a difference. However, there can be no mistaking which side of the war he was on.