Wednesday 13 September 2023

The Blue Squadrons in Russia (new info added 13/09/23)

 The Blue Squadrons

Spanish Volunteers with the Luftwaffe on the Eastern Front

By Richard Baber with additional information from Phil Gray

An earlier version of this article appeared in the Society of Twentieth Century Wargamers (SOTCW) magazine The Journal

When Franco despatched his volunteers for the “Crusade against Bolshevism”, who formed the 250 Infantry (or Blue) Division of the Wehrmacht, he also authorised a volunteer air force to take part in the Crusade. This force, of squadron strength, would fight with the Luftwaffe as the 15th (Spanische) Staffel of JagdGeschwaders 27 and 51, leaving Spain on June 25th 1941 and finally returning in April 1944. To the Spanish it was known as the Azul Escadrilla, the Blue Squadron. It should be noted that whilst the Spanish Volunteer Blue Division was just one of 135 German Divisions at the time in Russia, their volunteer squadron was one of just fifty fighter squadrons!

The  Squadron's emblem - the motto is "Vista suerte y al toro".

The First Blue Squadron

The First Squadron, 130 men including 17 pilots, commanded by Commandante Angel Salas Larrazabal left Spain on June 25th 1941.  These pilots had shot down a total of 79 Republican aircraft between them and were familiar with Me109 fighters.  Even so they were made to go through Luftwaffe instruction on the type in Germany, which took until September 1941.

By September 26th the Squadron was operational, flying their Me109E-7s from Mozhna airfield near Minsk, on the Central Front, as the 15th Staffel of Jagd Geschwader (JG) 27 in Luftflotte VIII, under Wolfram von Richthofen, himself a veteran of Germany’s Condor Legion. The Squadron commander, Comandante Larrazabal was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class for his action in shooting down an I-16 fighter and Pe-2 reconnaissance bomber in October 1941.

“I saw coming 6 Pe-2 and I went after them, cutting the distance between us I found myself below I opened fire from 150 meters with my small machine [guns?] and much closer with my canons, I saw pieces jump from the aircraft after the second burst, it occupant taking to his parachute. Later I continue towards Cholm to join up with the group and see a ‘Rata’ I attack him in a turn while trying to flee in a fast dive that rips his left wing and he crashes near the confluence between Dnieper and Wjasna. Later I attack twice another ‘Rata’ with no effects.”

Larrazabal’s own account of the action.

The squadron was, for the most part, denied the “free hunt” missions that would have offered the best opportunities to engage the Soviet VVS, and was instead ordered to fly low level attack missions in support of German forces in Army Group Centre.

 As Army Group Centre advanced so the Squadron moved further East to support its operations, moving as far as Klin, and then, in the face of the Soviet Winter offensive, falling back to Vitebsk.  The squadron was relieved on January 6th 1942 and returned to Spain in February, having flown 460 missions and claimed 10 enemy aircraft in air to air combat, and four destroyed on the ground in exchange for five of their own pilots, including Commandante Jose Munoz Jimenez, Deputy Squadron Commander and Captain Aristides Garcia Lopez (who was reported missing in November 1941), Lopez was a SCW ace having 18 kills to his credit during the war.

This photo shows a group of Nationalist pilots Captain Lopez in the centre

Lopez in the cockpit of his Me109 as part of the 1st Blue Squadron

  Six of the 10 aircraft shot down by the 1st Squadron and two of those destroyed on the ground, were credited to the Squadron Commander Larrazabal, making him an ace in both the Spanish Civil War (where he shot down 17 republican aircraft) and the Second World War.

The Second Blue Squadron

 The Second Squadron under the command of Comandante Julio Salvador with Squadron commander being Capt. Antonio Noriega Labat. The squadron was formed in Spain on February 6th 1942, and underwent similar training in Germany to the First Squadron did not become operational till June 8th and was assigned to JG 51 as its 15th Staffel, flying the Me109F-4 - better armoured and with faster firing cannon than the Me109F-2 that their German counterparts in the rest of the Geschwader were still flying at this time. The Squadron was not directly involved in Fall Blau but was used around Orel, the boundary with Army Group Weichs. By November 30th 1942, when they were relieved, they had flown 403 sorties, shooting down 13 Soviet aircraft for only two losses. One of these loses was Captain Noriega Labat (shot down on 3rd July 1942), in his honor the squadron add a slogan Black 1 of 2nd squadron "Capitan Noriega Presente".

 The Third Blue Squadron

 The Third Squadron, commanded by Comandante Carlos Ferrandis Arjonilla, began its tour on December 1st 1942.  It was short of pilots so six of those from the Second Squadron remained with it temporarily.  It was an inauspicious start, as Capt Andres Asensi Alvares-Arenas was shot down and taken prisoner on the first day of its operations. 

Atrocious weather conditions provided limited flying opportunities, and the Spaniards scored only two victories until January 27th 1943, when they successfully shot down seven Soviet aircraft.  Operations were still sporadic, with 11 victories claimed between 22-24 February and seven more between 7 and 10 March, flying Me109G‑2s and G‑4s as the 15th Staffel, JG 51 – it was only in March that the remaining Third Squadron pilots joined the unit, allowing those six that had stayed on from Second Squadron to finally return to Spain

The Luftwaffe decided to re-equip the Spaniards with the new FW190A-3 fighter in March and they became operational on the type by April 25th 1943, and so were able to take part in the aerial battles that preceded the battle for Kursk.  The Third Squadron was officially relieved on July 8th 1943, having scored 62 aerial victories (29 of them with their new FW190s) and without losing a single Ju87 from the formations they had escorted.

 The Fourth Blue Squadron

 The Fourth Squadron began to replace the Third in July 1943, again the pilot complement was incomplete and some of the Third Squadrons ‘old hands’ stayed with them, under Comandante Mariano Cuadra Medina.  The squadron was based at Seschstsniskaya, to the South‑East of Roslav

 The squadron had arrived just in time for the last great German offensive in the East, and, with the rest of the staffeln in JG51 and JG54, bore the responsibility providing fighter cover for Generaloberst Walther Model’s 9th Army attacking the North of the Kursk salient. The intense fighting is reflected in the Squadron’s operational record: although only officially operational for three weeks in July they flew 391 sorties, and shot down 12 Soviet aircraft, in August they shot down 21 and in September another 15.  These victories were scored over the latest Soviet types, the Il2m3 tank busting Sturmovik introduced for Kursk, and the Lavochkin 5 and 7 fighters. 

 On at least two occasions the pilots of the Blue Squadron had the opportunity to renew old acquaintances in the air as they fought against Spanish fighter pilots flying in the VVS. 

 Although the Blue Division was withdrawn from the Eastern Front, to be replaced by the Blue Legion brigade sized formation, at Franco’s command in October 1943, the Blue Squadron was allowed to remain with JG51, staying until January 1944.  By the time they were withdrawn they had scored some 52 aerial victories, and 22 destroyed on the ground, but at significantly higher cost to Spain – seven of its 20 pilots had been killed in action (including 8 victory ace Sen Lt Sanchez‑Arjona) and three of the remaining 13 were badly wounded.

 The Fifth Blue Squadron

 The Fifth Squadron, under Major Murcia Rubio completed its training on FW190s in early February 1944, and within a couple of weeks, was active on the Eastern front, albeit flying Me109G-6s!  Political pressure from the Allies forced Spain to recall its forces from the Eastern Front, the Blue Legion being ordered back on March 6th and the Blue Squadron in April - the Fifth Squadron still managed to fly 86 sorties, fight six aerial engagements and lose one pilot though.

The Blue Squadron’s Record

Between them the five Blue Squadrons had brought 89 Spanish pilots into action with the Luftwaffe, flown over 3000 operational sorties, including 606 aerial engagements, resulting in the shooting down of 159 Soviet aircraft the loss of 23 of the 89 pilots - 18 killed in action, 2 missing in action and 1 POW, a loss rate over 25% of the 89 pilots committed.  The Spanish airmen never did get to fly in support of their Spanish compatriots in the Wehrmacht.

Gaming the Blue Squadron In Action

Depicting the Blue Squadron in action is relatively straight forward given its use of German aircraft types.  Aside from the unit emblem shown in Figure 1 these aircraft are marked identically to those of the German staffeln in the same Geschwader. 

Aside from the battles around Kursk and its aftermath – the time of the First, Second and Fifth squadrons, the Spanish were most often tasked with either low level ground attack or escort missions in support of German ground and air units.   The Third Squadron was faced by a resurgent VVS keen to disrupt German preparations for the Kursk battle, and the Fourth by a further reinforced VVS contingent – the 1st and 16th Air Armies – over the battlefield itself.

A&A Game Engineering’s “Scramble” rule set covers all these mission types in some detail, and will allow you to distinguish between ace and novice pilots on both sides, while fielding the whole of the Azul Escuadrilla in action if you wish.

“Airforce” covers the distinctions between fighter types and air to air combat in great detail, The Blue Skies rule set module “Red Star Blue Sky” concentrates on low level battlefield interdiction and has the stats for the aircraft involved.

While the contribution of Franco's Nationalists was made as a contingent the former Republican pilots who flew with the VVS were scattered across the VVS fighter regiments.  However at least four aces, Vicente Beltran, Antonio Aras, Antonio García Cano and José Pascual Santamaria (killed 1942), flew together in 283 Fighter Regiment (IAP) when the war broke out. 283 IAP was initially equipped with MiG 3 fighters. Both Arias and Santamaria were aces in both the SCW and Great Patriotic War.


  1. In the Skies of Europe, Hans Werner Neulen
  2. Axis Europa magazine issue 17, spring 1999 has a good article of the Blue Squadrons


Sunday 10 September 2023

Starring Pancho Villa

 Starring Pancho Villa

The Battle of Ojinaga, 1914

The Battle of Ojinaga, also known as the Taking of Ojinaga, was a major battle during the Mexican Revolution was fought on January 11, 1914.  Villa`s Army of the North won a resounding victory and put an end to the last stronghold of the Federal Army in Northern Mexico.

After the rebel Generals Toribio Ortega Ramirez and Panfilo Natera Garcia could not finish the place off, Pancho Villa arrived in Ojinaga with a large force, and defeated the forces of Salvador Mercado and drove them from the city.

Villa has made an agreement with Mutual Film led by Harry Aitken and movie mogul D. W. Griffith with the offer of an exclusive deal to film Villa and the Revolution (at a price). Griffith sends a young junior executive Frank Thayer down to the border with a film crew to negotiate and hopefully get and agreement and film Villa.

 Thayer and his crew arrive just in time to witness Villa`s attack on Ojinaga just across the Rio Grande.

 Ojinaga sits in a bend of the river atop a rise, there is a bridge across the Rio Grande at this point. The Federals have placed their defences on the southern side of the town facing southwards, these consist of trenches and wire.

 Villa plans to use this attack as a showcase for himself, his attack plan consist of three simultaneous moves: the first directly against the trench line, the other two both rapid mounted charges from both the east and west catching the defenders in a pincer like trap against the river.

In reality this was a large battle with thousands of men on each side, I`ve reduced it down to a battalion level game for my tabletop. My Mexican Revolution armies are a huge mix of manufacturers - Raventhorpe, Jacklex, Shellhole Scenics, Early War Miniatures, Irregular Miniatures plus loads of my own conversions (head swaps, arm swaps, etc)

Federal defenders


HQ (General Salvador Mercado)

2 platoons from the Federal 29th Regiment

Trench-line south of town

HQ + 4 platoons of 29th Regiment


1 75mm field gun

Some wire & entrenchments

Villa`s forces

Group A

2 companies on foot

Supported by:

2 x 75mm field guns

1 machine gun

Cavalry flanking moves enter table on turn 10

Group B (right flank) commanded by Villa

Mounted company

Group C (left flank) Commanded by Rodolfo Fierro

Mounted company

Special rules

Federal morale is shot and they suffer -1 to all morale checks

At the first signs of Villa`s men breaking into the town the Federal HQ will break and flee across the bridge into the US. This further reduces the defenders morale by an additional -1

Both Villa and Fierro boost their men`s morale and these groups gain +1 to all checks

My table

Federal defences south of town


Mexican customs post and Federal HQ

Looking across the Rio Grande to the US side

US Border and customs post

Frank Thayer and cameraman watches on

The Game

Turn 1 the two Villaista infantry companies advanced one each side of the road; their artillery remained off table initially targeting the farm on the right, the opening salvo fell short.

The Federal infantry awaited them getting into range, their `75 scored first blood of the game on the enemy infantry!

Turn 2 the advance continues, forward federal positions exchange fire with advancing Villaistas, both sides take casualties, but the Federal shaky morale affects their accuracy. The Federal `75 misses this turn! One of the Villaista guns targets the now spotted Federal gun but misses! The other gun hits the farm causing casualties.

Turn 3 the Federal gun scores a hit among the advancing enemy, lucky for the unit it targets the company commander & standard bearer are close at hand and these remove the need for a morale check.

Unfortunately Villa`s guns are on fine form and wipe out the Federal gun

Villa`s other gun changes target to the farm wall and scores another hit taking more Federals

Both sides infantry exchange fire, again both side take casualties, once again the Federal morale issues reduce their effectiveness.

Turn 4 On the left some Villaistas have reached a rocky outcrop, they exchange fire with Federals defending it. Everywhere else The infantry slowly continue moving forward, on the right they are blocked by barbed wire so call up their dynamiters to blow a gap. The Federals are spread thin, the resist however they can.

Turn 5 The defenders on the left hand outcrop are over run, the sole survivor must make a morale check. On the right Villa`s men have reached the foot of that rocky hill.

In the centre Villa`s men can`t move forward due to barbed wire protecting the entrenched Federals. They call for artillery support via bugle (fail).    

Turn 6 The sole Federal survivor on the left surrenders and changes sides (quite normal from my reading of the Revolution).

On the right the dynamiters go to work

In the centre Villa`s guns begin to hit home along the Federal trench line

Turn 7 The right hand hill also falls to Villa`s men and the rest of that company begin an assault on the farm, both sides take casualties, but the Federals come off worse and fail their morale.

In the centre Villa`s artillery continues working on the Federal trenches killing the majority of the defenders forcing the survivors to retreat.

With defensive fire slackening dynamiters are called forward to blow gaps in the wire.

Turn 8 On the right Villa`s troops storm the farm wall, driving surviving Federals before them.

In the centre the wire is blown

And Villa`s men storm forward

The Federals retreat towards the town

Villa`s artillery limber up to move onto the tabletop

Turn 9 The farm is captured, the last Federal survivors surrender

On the outskirts of the town, a Federal officer appears to halt and rally those troops retreating along the road

Turns 10-12 see the Villaistas reorganise themselves and move toward to outskirts of the town, the artillery move forward and set up to support the attack. The Federals also do some re-organisation, placing those men retreating from the trenches into new defensive positions within outlying buildings or adding them to existing positions. During this period Villa and Fierro have been moving their cavalry into position on either flank also.

Villa`s Positions at the start of Turn 13



Villa`s cavalry (coming from the right)
Fierro`s cavalry (coming from the left)
Turn 13 started with a general advance by all units, the cavalry coming in from both flanks split the Federals defence. During this turn on a couple of infantry and the machine gun were in range and these killed a few Villaistas. Villa`s artillery replied killing some visible Federals

Turn 14 The general advance continues, with only the Federal MG resisting, Villa`s artillery spotter fails to find the gun.

Turn 15 More general advance, Federals shooting down from buildings onto Villa`s men, once again the artillery spotter fails to find the machine gun. Panic strikes the town civilians and they begin to flee across the bridge into the United States.
Turn 16 Villa`s and Fierro`s mounted troops swirl around the buildings, being fired on by Federal troops inside or on the rooves. Finally the artillery spotter finds the gun, but the first salvo misses the house.
Turn 17 The battle continues more and more Villaistas enter the town, they storm some outlying buildings putting any Federals to the sword. They do however take constant casualties from Federal snipers! Villa`s gun finally get the range and silence the federal machine gun.
The civilians continue to move across the bridge into the US
Thayer and his cameraman work to capture the scene
Among his crew he has an actress, so he poses her among the refugees
Turns 18 -20 Villa`s men are mopping up, storming buildings, shooting Federals as they try to escape across the river. General Mercado leaves his escape too late and dies when the Mexican customs house is blown up by dynamite!

Federal gun limber fleeing across the bridge 
General Mercado moments before the end
Villa & Fierro
Some final shots as the Villaista`s close in

Fun game to play, I should have started the Federal retreat across the river sooner and tried to save more men (or them trying to save themselves). Historically the US authorities captured and detained several thousand Federal soldiers who fled the battle across the Rio Bravo!