© Hendrik Meersschaert 2017
WORLD WAR II ORDERS, DECORATIONS AND MEDALS OF VARIOUS COUNTRIES
Theoretically one has to consider Spain amongst the neutral countries during the war but it did send some 47,000 volunteers to fight alongside the Germans in Russia between 1941 and 1943 : the "Blue Division" (designated 250th Division within the German Army organisation). The division's members were eligible for the German awards of the period but could also receive some of their own nation's decorations, as shown below.
The Military Merit Medal
Closely affiliated to the above order, the Military Merit Medal was awarded for exceptional valour (note the "RUSIA 1941" bar on the above medal's ribbon). This decoration could also be conferred as a collective unit award.
In all 53 Individual Military Merit Medals are supposed to have been awarded to Blue Division members.
In the case of a collective award, the unit's members wore a 42 mm representation of the medal's planchet with the appropriate action being shown in the centre. Two such awards have been recorded for the Blue Division : one to the Skiers Company for rescuing the German outpost at Vsvad, Lake Ilmen (January 1942) and one to 2nd Battalion, 269 Inf.Reg. for relieving the encirled German garrison at Mal Zamosche, Wolchow river area (February 1942).
Due to a large Russian attack, a German outpost at Vsvad, on Lake Ilmen, was isolated and, on 10 January 1942, the Spanish Ski Company under Captain Ordas was sent to the rescue across the lake, 30 kms in temperatures as low as -52° C. Finally, after 20 hours of bypassing long and deep crevasses in the ice, they reached the south bank of the lake. Half the force had to be evacuated at this point due to frostbite ! But they still hadn't reached their target and it took furious fighting before the remains of the company, 22 out of 205, reached the Vsvad defenders on 21 January, 11 days after they set out. Apart from the Collective Military Merit Medal to the unit, Captain Ordas received the Individual Military Merit Medal for this action. The Germans bestowed 32 Iron Crosses on the unit's members.
The 2nd Battalion, 269 Inf. Reg., commanded by Major Roman, received its Collective Military Merit Medal after a 36 hour march through snow and ice during which they broke through the Russian encirclement of Mal Zamosche and rescued the German garrison there.
Originally instituted in 1811, this order underwent a number of changes in its regulations etc. over the years. With respect to WW2, one of its classes needs to be mentioned : the "Cruz Laureada".
Awarded for individual extraordinary heroism the Laureada Cross is the highest Spanish valour decoration. Eight such awards are reported to have been made to members of the Blue Division.
The Royal Military Order of San Fernando
The War Cross 1937-1942
Originally instituted in July 1890 as the Order of Maria Cristina, this decoration is more commonly known as the War Cross. It was awarded to officers of the armed forces for outstanding action and fidelity. Depending on rank, one of three classes could be awarded : general officers would receive the Grand Cross (gold star, gold cross, gold wreath and silver cross devices), high ranking field officers received the 2nd class cross (all silver) and junior officers the 3rd class (silver star and cross devices, bronze cross and wreath). The central medallion is enameled in all classes.
By a decree of 26 January 1937, the 1st class of the order, slightly altered in design and reduced in size (56 instead of 85 mm), was designated "War Cross". NCO's and other ranks were from then on also eligible to receive this decoration.
The design of this cross was taken over for the 1942 War Cross for officers and NCO's (see below).
The War Cross 1942
Instituted on 14 March 1942 and awarded for distinguished acts or services that proved especially effective in the outcome of a battle or combat. As can be seen in the 3rd picture above, this medal can also be awarded with palms which denotes the recipient performed a higher rated act which was, however, insufficient for an award of the Individual Military Merit Medal or a field-promotion. Soldiers were awarded the ribboned breast badge, officers and NCO's received breast stars (with or without palms) based on the 1937-42 type and a Grand Cross, hanging from a sash badge can be awarded to general officers.
The Military Merit Cross
Originally instituted in 4 classes in 1864 and later expanded to 5 classes, this decoration is awarded for distinguished military service. When bestowed for such services in wartime, the cross arms are red enameled. Battle bars were also created : e.g. the middle one in the picture above right, reading "KRASNIIBOR 10-1-43" (possibly a manufacturing error as the main action there took place a month later, on 10 February 1943).
The Spanish Volunteer Division in Russia Campaign Medal
Created, in silvered bronze, on 9 November 1943 for award to all members of the Blue Division for service in Russia.
The Commemorative Medal of the Spanish Blue Division
Instituted in January 1944 to reward officers and men of the Blue Division that saw service with the German armed forces on the Russian front during the 1941-43 period.
The Wounded Medal
Instituted on 11 March 1943, this medal is hung from various ribbons, according to the circumstances in which the wound was received :
- yellow ribbon with two green stripes and a red St. Andrew's cross for wounds received through enemy fire,
- plain yellow for wounds received from other causes,
- plain black for the next-of-kin of those killed in action,
- plain orange for wounds received when a POW,
- yellow ribbon with green stripes and vertical Spanish flag colours in the centre for wounded foreign volunteers.
The Medal of the Mutilated
Awarded to those mutilated in war.
The Medal of the Old Guard
I've included this medal, which refers to the Spanish Civil War era, because of its date of institution : 10 March 1942. Awarded to the "old fighters" of the Generalissimo Franco's Falange Party : those that were members prior to 16 December 1939. Ribbons have either a yoke and arrows (for Falangists) or a red cross (Traditionalists) woven into it and a silver chevron was created to denote Civil War "Frontliners". Non-official devices, indicating the rank of the recipient within the party, can also be found on this medal's ribbon. The reverse shows the recipient's number, name and the year of adherence to the party.
The Order of Cisneros
As with the previous medal, this order has been included here because of its date of institution : 8 March 1944. It is a political award, created with 6 classes, to recognize distinguished meritorious services to Spain.
The Imperial Order of the Yoke and Arrows
Instituted on 1 October 1937, the criteria and regulations for this order were only set on 27 January 1943. Created in 5 classes, it constitutes the highest award for outstanding services to the country. It is, as the previous order, a political award.
The Medal for Widows of the Fallen
Awarded to widows (or the next-of-kin) of those that were killed in action in Russia. Instituted on 18 July 1954, this medal could also be awarded to POW's on their return home and is quite likely a non-official award. The medal's reverse is blank.
The Blue Division Order
A gilt and a silver class were apparently created but this may be a non-official award by a Spanish veterans' society.
I'm deeply indebted to Messrs. Miguel Agreda, Edward Emering and Antonio Prieto Barrio for their most kind cooperation in supplying information and picture material.
Information on the number of bravery awards etc. was found in "The Blue Division and Squadron" by José Maria Bueno Carrera.