Cv 335breda Raggruppamento Carristi 1938

This is the sole example of the CV 3/35 tankette that was upgraded with the Breda 20mm M35 cannon. The rhomboid side markings are those used by the independent company of the RC, which contained the regiment's flame-thrower tanks and other specialized types.

Breda M1935Converted Pzkpfw
A column of PzKpfw I Ausf A tanks of the Nationalist 1st Batallón de Carros de Combate moves forward with the crew riding outside. (John Prigent Collection)

Panzergruppe Drohne converted a single PzKpfw I Ausf A into a flame-thrower tank by mounting a small man-portable flame-thrower in place of one of the machine guns. (NARA)

Germany eventually supplied a total of 122 tanks: 96 PzKpfw I Ausf A, 21 PzKpfw I Ausf B, 4 Befehlswagen I command tanks and one turretless training tank. Only a handful of German tankers saw regular combat action. The PzKpfw I proved to be far more robust and durable automotively than the T-26 and 93 remained in service at war's end.

The Nationalist "Negrillos" tank companies were gradually deployed into combat during the fighting around Madrid starting in early November 1936, usually in company strength to support various infantry units. They had their first encounter with T-26 tanks during the fighting around the Ciudad Universitaria. Losses in the November fighting were significant, with six tanks destroyed and 16 damaged. Although the panzers were used mainly for infantry support, they continued to bump into Republican T-26 tank and BA-3 armored-car units. During the fighting around Pozuelo in December 1936 and January 1937, over a dozen PzKpfw I tanks were knocked out fighting Soviet armored vehicles. The PzKpfw I could fire the special SmKH armor-piercing machine-gun round, but this could penetrate the T-26 only at ranges of about 120-150m. Once the Republican crews realized this they avoided close-range combat with the German tanks, and stood off where their 45mm guns were still effective; the 45mm gun on the T-26 could penetrate the PzKpfw I at ranges up to 1km. The Germans responded by deploying five 37mm PaK 36 towed antitank guns in each Spanish tank

Panzergruppe Drohne converted a single PzKpfw I Ausf A into a flame-thrower tank by mounting a small man-portable flame-thrower in place of one of the machine guns. (NARA)

Cross Flame Airbrushed Tanks PicsInitial Panzer Befehlswagen

Germany sent four of these Befehlswagen I command tanks to Spain, which were a version of the PzKpfw I Ausf B but with a fixed superstructure and additional radio equipment. They were issued on a scale of one per company plus one in the battalion headquarters. The prominent St Andrew's Cross painted on the roof was an air identity mark common on Nationalist tanks to prevent strafing by friendly aircraft. (NARA)

company. On December 6, 1936 Von Thoma sent back an urgent report to Berlin urging that gun-armed tanks be deployed to Spain as quickly as possible, armed at least with the 20mm KwK30 gun already in use on German armored cars.

As the Spanish Civil War intensified, Stalin agreed to reinforce the Spanish contingent. A second wave of about 200 Soviet tank crews and tank specialists arrived on November 26, 1936, commanded by Kombrig D. G. Pavlov. The expansion permitted the formation of the 1a Brigada Blindada (1st Armored Brigade). Pavlov's brigade in Spain was only about a third the size of a normal Red Army light-tank brigade, with a nominal table of organization and equipment of 96 tanks, and an actual strength through most of the winter and spring fighting of seldom more than 60 tanks. As in the case of Krivoshein's units, there were not nearly enough Soviet tankers to man this unit, and as a result Spanish crews had to be used. In total, some 351 Soviet tankers served in Spain during the course of the war but, from available unit records, the total at any one time was never more than 160 men, and usually not more than 100 tankers. Pavlov's new brigade absorbed the surviving remnants of Krivoshein's tank units, which constituted its 1st Tank Battalion.

Pavlov's brigade was prematurely pressed into action in early January 1937 with only 47 tanks on hand. The mission was to support the counteroffensive of the 12th and 14th International Brigades towards Majadahonda on January 11, 1937, on Madrid's western front. In contrast to the previous experience with the Spanish units, the cooperation with the International Brigade infantry was somewhat more successful. The tanks were very useful in overcoming the Nationalist defensive line but once the initial defensive lines were broken by the tanks and infantry, the infantry was unable to keep up with the tanks and became separated. The tanks could have penetrated the Nationalist lines more deeply but, as Arman's initial raid had shown, breakthroughs without accompanying infantry were futile. The scourge of the Republican tank force was the new German 37mm PaK 36 antitank gun; in three days of fighting, the unit lost five tanks.

The Majadahonda offensive soon ended when the Nationalist forces switched the focus of their assault on Madrid to the southeastern front along the Jarama River. Pavlov's brigade was broken up into small company-sized detachments to reinforce the Republican lines. As the French had found in World War I, the presence of tanks provided a strong psychological reinforcement to demoralized infantry, and there was great demand for tank support across the Madrid front. Even after the losses suffered in recent weeks, the brigade's strength had increased to 60 tanks as more crews became available and more tanks repaired. The Republican forces went over to the offensive, supported by Pavlov's scattered units. The Nationalist forces around Madrid had numerical tank superiority in this campaign, with about 70 tanks, but the T-26 was clearly superior to the German and Italian types.

Germany sent four of these Befehlswagen I command tanks to Spain, which were a version of the PzKpfw I Ausf B but with a fixed superstructure and additional radio equipment. They were issued on a scale of one per company plus one in the battalion headquarters. The prominent St Andrew's Cross painted on the roof was an air identity mark common on Nationalist tanks to prevent strafing by friendly aircraft. (NARA)


Technical data

Type T-26 tank Model 1937 with radio

(Radiyniy tank T-26 vypusk 1937 goda) Crew 3: driver, gunner, loader Loaded weight 9.75 metric tons Unloaded weight 8.9 metric tons Length 4.62m Width 2.44m Height 2.24m Ground clearance 0.38m Road speed 30 km/h Avg. cross-country speed 10 km/h Main gun 20-K 45mm tank gun with semi-automatic breech

Engine air intake GAZ 4-cylinder engine Radiator

Radiator air intake with armored grills

Rear turret DT 7.62mm machine gun

Left turret side 45mm ammunition stowage

7. 20-K 45mm tank gun with semi-automatic breech

8. Gunner's episcope

9. Gunner's telescopic sight

10. Loader's hatch with P-40M anti-aircraft machine gun mount

11. DT 7.62mm machine gun on P-40M mount

12. Turret ventilator cover

13. Loader's periscopic sight

14. Co-axial DT 7.62mm machine gun

15. Driver's controls

16. Transmission

17. Drive sprocket

18. Turret pistol port (loader's side)

19. Suspension bogie

20. Driver's seat

21. Loader's 45mm ammunition stowage

22. DT machine gun ammunition stowage bin on floor

23. Loader's seat 24

Drive train between engine and transmission

25. Idler wheel

26. Fuel tank

27. Muffler

Main gun ammunition 107 rounds (111 rounds in tank without radio)

Secondary armament DT 7.62mm coaxial machine gun+ DT on P-40M AA mount on turret

Ammunition 3,024 rounds (48 drums): 2,772

in tank without radio Engine GAZ 4-cylinder, 93 hp Range 220-240 km on roads, 130-140 km cross-country Radio 71-TK-1 with clothesline antenna on early tanks; 71-TK-3 with whip antenna on later tanks

Armor 15mm sides, 6-10mm top

15mm International Brigades Tercio Armor

A Befehlswagen I command tank sometime after February 1938. when Franco attached the battalion to the Tercio; the Legion's Escudo marking can be seen on the superstructure above the driver's open visor. The provision of dedicated radio vehicles was due to the Wehrmacht's prescient view that radio communications were essential in coordinating modern mobile operations. (John Prigent Collection)

The Soviet advisers' report to Moscow on the Jarama operation was not favorable. The fighting cost the brigade 34 tanks, nearly 70 percent of the force committed, mainly to Nationalist antitank guns. Soviet artillery specialist Komkor (General) G. I. Kulik sarcastically remarked that the antitank gun could sweep the battlefield of tanks the same way that machine guns swept it of infantry.

In March the front shifted yet again, this time to the north of Madrid, as an Italian offensive began at Guadalajara. Two of the CTV divisions had the support of two tankette companies each. Once again, Pavlov's tanks rallied to save the day. On March 13, 1937, one of the few tank-vs-tank skirmishes took place when the Republican T-26 light tanks shot up a company of Italian CV 3/35 tankettes near Trijueque, destroying five and seriously damaging two more. There were many small tank encounters, and the Italian tankers soon learned to fear contact with the Republican rearguards defended by T-26 tanks. When the Italian CTV offensive was finally exhausted the Republicans went over to the offensive, with Pavlov's tanks in the lead. On March 18, three Republican infantry brigades with tank support routed the lead Italian units and seized the town of Brihuega. By the end of the day Pavlov's force had suffered so many casualties, to both enemy fire and mechanical problems, that of its original 60 tanks at the beginning of the Guadalajara fighting it was able to muster only nine tanks to chase the retreating Italians. The Republicans were unable to exploit their victory, achieved in no small measure due to the tank support. Tank losses were lower than in earlier campaigns: 28 tanks or about 40 percent of the force in three weeks of fighting.

Pavlov's force received a major infusion of new equipment and manpower in March 1937 with the arrival by sea of 100 new T-26 tanks. This was nearly as many tanks as had been supplied since the beginning of the Soviet intervention. The main problem was to train enough Spanish crewmen to equip them. The unfavorable view held by many Soviet officers of the Spanish tank crew led to plans to recruit tankers from the more highly-regarded International Brigades. Since there were limits on the amount of

Spanish Volunteers Skull Badge

training that could be undertaken in Spain, these foreign volunteers were sent to the Soviet tank school in Gorky. Due to the influx of new tanks in the spring of 1937, it was possible to increase the number of tank battalions in Spain from three to four. These new units, and the demands from other fronts for armor support, led to the decision to organize three additional armored brigades in the spring and summer of 1937. Unlike the 1st Armored Brigade, these later brigades had only a single tank battalion, plus two battalions of locally manufactured armored cars. Manned by Spanish personnel, they did not have the mobility or firepower of the 1st Armored Brigade and were not ready until late in 1937.

Soviet Tank Shipments to Spain

Date of Arrival Ship Quantity Type

Soviet Tank Shipments to Spain

Date of Arrival Ship Quantity Type

Oct 12, 1936



T-26 light tank

Nov 25, 1936

Cabo Palos


T-26 light tank

Nov 30, 1936

Marc Caribo


T-26 light tank

Mar 6, 1937

Cabo Santo Tomas


T-26 light tank

Mar 8, 1937



T-26 light tank

May 7, 1937

Cabo Palos


T-26 light tank

Aug 10, 1937

Cabo San Agustin


BT-5 fast tank

Mar 13, 1938



T-26 light tank

By the time of the Brunete offensive, the 1st Armored Brigade had filled out its three tank battalions, and Republican tank strength was 129 T-26 tanks plus 43 BA-3 and FAI armored cars. Under the plan for the offensive, the 1st and 4th battalions with 70 tanks and 20 armored cars would support the main assault by the 5th and 18th corps (one tank battalion per corps), while the 2nd Battalion with 30 tanks and 10 armored cars would support the separate offensive by the 2-bis Corps southeast of Madrid. The Brunete offensive was intended to relieve Madrid, enveloping the Nationalist forces

German Cars Symbols
An interesting photo of a PzKpfw I of the 3a Compañía of the Nationalistlst Batallón de Carros de Combate with its distinctive emblem, a skull and crossbones, probably inspired by widespread use of this symbol by the German Panzergruppe Drohne. (John Prigent Collection)

A PzKpfw I Ausf A of the 1st Batallón de Carros de Combate prior to its attachment to the Tercio in 1938. This shows the early markings style of this unit, with the Nationalist tricolor flag insignia extending along the whole front plate; later it was reduced in size to a smaller rectangle. Some of these tanks had a St Andrew's Cross painted on the hull side on a white rectangle, but this was overpainted on this tank. (John Prigent Collection)

on the approaches to the city. The attack by the 18 th Corps on Villanueva de la Cañada on July 6 began badly. The tank battalion advanced across an open field with the infantry from the 34th Division following behind, but the tanks were stopped about 500-600m from the town by two well-concealed antitank guns and two field guns. Four more attacks failed to overcome resistance in the town; one of the German 37mm guns had been mounted in a church steeple and was credited with a dozen tanks. The town was finally taken by the 15th Division, but the corps failed to reach its objectives during the first day of fighting. Although the 5th Corps made better progress, it too failed its main objectives. Over the next few days, the tanks were used to support the Republican infantry in a series of small local attacks, which largely failed to dislodge the reinforced Nationalist positions. Even after committing its reserve tank battalion, by July 11, 1937, the 1st Armored Brigade in the Brunete sector was reduced in strength to only 38 tanks. On July 18, the Nationalists shifted to the offensive against the exhausted and demoralized Republican forces. They proved no more able to dislodge the Republicans, and the campaign ended in stalemate.

Brunete attracted far more attention by Western military analysts than most other tank engagements in Spain during the war due to extensive press coverage. The inability of the tanks to advance in the face of enemy antitank guns was cited by many as evidence of the failure of the tank to restore mobility to warfare. Even noted British theorist B. H. Liddell Hart began to have his doubts in view of the Spanish experience. Yet, to other observers, the tanks had been poorly employed, and there was skepticism whether many lessons could be learned from the Spanish experience. British armor advocate Major-General J. F. C. Fuller remarked: "Battles are not won by clichés or Liddell-Hartisms," and he dismissed most of the press remarks about armor, attributing the tanks' poor performance to the abysmal tactics employed in Spain. Russian assessments of the lessons of the Brunete campaign paid little attention to the tank operations and focused instead on the poor quality of the Republican infantry, its continued inability to cooperate effectively with either tanks or artillery, and the inflexibility of the artillery in assisting in offensive operations. It was also pointed out that the main attack sectors

Qty Carristi

had an unusually high density of antitank guns and artillery, 26.6 guns per kilometer compared to an average of 13.8 guns per kilometer on the front as a whole.

Republican T-26 Tank Casualties in Spain October 1936-August 1937

Campaign Date Tanks participating Destroyed tanks Disabled tanks Total casualties

Republican T-26 Tank Casualties in Spain October 1936-August 1937

Campaign Date Tanks participating Destroyed tanks Disabled tanks Total casualties


Oct 26-28, 1936 Nov 28, 1936


16 (18.3%)

36 (41.4%)

52 (59.7%)


Feb 5-27, 1937


14 (29.8%)

20 (42.6%)

34 (72.4%)


Mar 9-22, 1937


7 (9.7%)

21 (29.2%)

28 (38.9%)

Casa del Campo

May 5-12, 1937


10 (11.9%)

13 (15.5%)

23 (27.3%)


Jul 6-28, 1937


21 (15.9%)

26 (19.7%)

47 (35.5%)



68 (16.1%)

116 (27.4%)

184 (43.6%

Was this article helpful?

0 -1

Post a comment