Nationalist Expansion

Following the Brunete campaign, Franco shifted the focus of the Nationalist attack from the stiffly defended Madrid region to the isolated Asturias and Basque regions in the north. Following the Guadalajara debacle, the Italian CTV was shifted to the Asturias front along with the RRS and its four tankette companies. Curiously enough, this was a sector where Republican tanks other than the Soviet types were predominant, including Renault FT tanks. This industrial region was the center of Republican tank-building efforts. Fábrica de Trubia designed another improvised tank based on the Landesa artillery tractor. About ten were converted by Constructora Naval de Sestao and so the tank was known as the Trubia-Naval. The Renaults serving with the Army of the North included some tanks originally acquired from France, along with more recent acquisitions from Poland. Although there was no ideological affinity between the Polish and Spanish governments, Warsaw decided to sell off a great deal of old weaponry to Spain to help fund its own military modernization effort. Two shipments totaling 32 Renault FT tanks were delivered to Alicante on the Mediterranean

Trubia Spain

The Carro Trubia-Naval was the only tank produced in any significant number in Spain during the war. It was sometimes called the "Basque Tank" because of its manufacture in Bilbao. The ten tanks served with the 1o Sección de la Compañía de Carros Orugas, part of one of the battalions serving in the Republican Army of the North. (Patton Museum)

The PzKpfw I was poorly suited to tank fighting due to its machine-gun armament. Four tanks were up-armed with a Breda 20mm cannon in an enlarged turret as seen on the tank in the background here. The PzKpfw I Ausf B in the foreground is a company command tank, identifiable by the M painted on the diamond insignia on the hull front. (NARA)

A rare glimpse of one of the four PzKpfw I Ausf A up-armed by the addition of a Breda M35 20mm cannon. These were allotted on a scale of one per company to provide the units with some organic antitank capability in the event a T-26 was encountered. (John Prigent Collection)

20mm Antitank Canonn

on November 24, 1936, and at Santander in the north on March 3, 1937. The two Republican corps of the Army of the North each had a tank battalion. The defeat of the Army of the North in August/September 1937 led to a sudden windfall of captured tanks for the Nationalists, including 13 Renault FT and 5 Trubia tanks; Italian losses were seven tankettes and an armored car.

The firepower superiority of the Republican T-26 during the spring and summer fighting in 1937 was painfully apparent to the Nationalist tank forces and, with no hope of satisfactory tanks from Italy and Germany, local initiatives were undertaken. The Italian Breda 20mm Modelo 1935 antiaircraft gun was adapted as a tank weapon since it could penetrate 40mm of armor at a range of 250m, more than adequate against the 15mm armor of the T-26. Conversions of the PzKpfw I Ausf A took place at the Fábrica de Armas in Seville in the summer of 1937, and a total of four were completed. The turret was extended upwards to accommodate the larger gun. The Germans were extremely unhappy about the conversion, calling them "death

A rare glimpse of one of the four PzKpfw I Ausf A up-armed by the addition of a Breda M35 20mm cannon. These were allotted on a scale of one per company to provide the units with some organic antitank capability in the event a T-26 was encountered. (John Prigent Collection)

Dutch Armoured Bosnia Nationalist Tank

By late 1937, the Nationalist tank battalion had accumulated enough intact T-26 tanks to deploy one in each PzKpfw I platoon, and a platoon in each company. These tanks are from the 6th Company, 2nd Batallón de Carros de Combate de la Legion. (NARA)

tanks" due to an opening in the turret front for the gun sight, which made the gunner vulnerable to small-arms fire. In the event, further conversions were halted as by this time enough Republican T-26 tanks had been captured to supplement the PzKpfw I. However, the Italian CTV still saw a need for a similar upgrade to give their tankette units more firepower. A single CV 3/35 was converted with the same gun and in August 1937, Nationalist headquarters authorized the conversion of 40 tankettes with the Breda cannon. However none were completed beyond the prototype.

By October 1937, the Nationalist forces had captured ten intact T-26s and many more damaged examples that could be cannibalized for parts. These were turned over to Von Thoma's training center for incorporation into the Nationalist units. Eventually there were enough intact T-26s captured that each PzKpfw I company had a single T-26 for fire support and separate

By late 1937, the Nationalist tank battalion had accumulated enough intact T-26 tanks to deploy one in each PzKpfw I platoon, and a platoon in each company. These tanks are from the 6th Company, 2nd Batallón de Carros de Combate de la Legion. (NARA)

Panzergruppe Drohne
The widespread use of captured tanks by the Nationalists led to efforts to clearly mark the T-26 with prominent insignia. This was usually a tricolor band of red/yellow/red on the turret front and rear, as seen on this Legion T-26 Model 1937 tank in 1938.

The troops of Panzergruppe Drohne stand at attention at their base at Cubas de la Sagra in front of some captured T-26 that they refurbished for the 1st Batallón de Carros de Combate de la Legion. As can be seen, some have the early form of air identification mark on their turret roof, a white St Andrew's Cross on a black background, while the tank in the foreground has the more common black cross on a white background, which was found to be more visible from the air. (NARA)

T-26 companies were gradually added. By 1938 the 1st Batallon de Carros de Combate was organized into two tactical groups, each with two companies of PzKpfw I and one company of T-26 tanks, for a total of six companies. Most of the captured Renault and Trubia tanks were rebuilt in Seville but were of such dubious utility that they were relegated mostly to training. In order to raise the prestige of the tank battalion, in February 1938 Franco assigned it to the Legion as the Bandera de Carros de Combate de la Legion, under the command of the 2o Tercio de la Legion. Under this configuration, the two tactical groups were renamed as battalions but the unit had the same strength of six companies.

The Italian RRS was reorganized in October 1937 as the Raggruppamento Carristi (RC), consisting of two weak battalions, each with two tankette companies, and a motorized infantry battalion with two sections of Italian 47mm and German 37mm antitank guns. The intention was to reorient the tankette force from an infantry support arm to a mobile force. The Raggruppamento Carristi took an active part in the brutal battle for Teruel in the winter of 1937-38 but would not see much opportunity to display mobile combat tactics until the final months of the war.

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