The first batch of PzKpfw I Ausf A tanks that were delivered to Spain with Panzergruppe Drohne were painted in the Buntfarbenstrich (mottled paint pattern) consisting of No.17 earth yellow, No.28 green, and No.18 brown. When tanks were rebuilt, they were sometimes overpainted in lighter finishes more suitable for Spanish conditions, with bands of sand- or earth-colored paints. The PzKpfw I tanks eventually received similar markings to the Legion T-26, except that the turret bands were far less conspicuous, limited to a tapering quadrangle on the rear of the turret. The St Andrew's Cross marking was usually painted on the turret hatch as seen here. The Legion Escudo marking was carried adjacent to the Nationalist tricolor. The markings of the 1st Batallón were based around the diamond, while the 2nd Batallón used the circle. Colors corresponded to numbers (1 = red, 2 = yellow, and 3 = white). The top of the circle or diamond indicated company, so a circle or diamond with a red top was 1st Company, yellow was 2nd Company, etc. The lower half indicated the section, so a circle or diamond with a red bottom was 1st Section, yellow was 2nd, etc. The headquarters company was a variation on this. In the 1st Batallón, the diamond was in the company color, with a black M (Mando), while in the case of the 2nd Batallón, a red circle was used but with a horizontal band in company colors. Vehicle tactical numbers were three digit, the first indicating company, the second indicating section and third indicating the separate vehicle. In the case of the 2nd Batallón, the company numbers were 4 to 6.
operations. The Republican forces had the largest tank arsenal due to Soviet supplies but, contrary to the widely held belief that 1,000 or more tanks were supplied, in fact only about 300 tanks were sent to Spain. These arrived over the course of two years so on only a few occasions were Republican forces able to field more than 100 operational tanks. Usually operations were conducted by a handful of scattered companies of tanks numbering a few dozen. The Nationalist tank forces had even smaller tank contingents, which seldom operated above platoon or company level.
The second impediment to assessing the tactical importance of tanks was in the quality of the crews in Spain. Except for the Italian CTV tankette companies, the majority of Republican and Nationalist tank crews were Spanish or foreign volunteers. The training provided was rudimentary at best, and consisted of the essentials of tank operation, but little on tank tactics or tank doctrine. Senior Spanish commanders had little or no knowledge about how tank units were supposed to be used on the battlefield. As a result, tank operations in Spain were conducted by tank crews who knew scarcely more than basic operations, led by officers with little or no tactical training, on missions conceived by senior commanders who had no grasp of the tactical potential or shortcomings of tank units in combat.
This Blindado Cardé y Escoriaza is a fairly typical example of the types of protected trucks built by the Republican forces. This particular example was constructed at the well-known railroad carriage plant in Zaragoza in Aragón in September 1936. It is seen here during the fighting in the winter of 1937-38 around Teruel. (NARA)
It should not have come as a surprise to anyone that tanks did not have a decisive impact on the Spanish battlefield.
While most "lessons learned" were based on dubious press accounts and ill-informed speculation, there were important exceptions. Due to its inside connections in Spain, the Red Army had an extensive collection of data on the actual conduct of tank operations during the Spanish Civil War. A Soviet General Staff in 1939 concluded that the full potential of tanks had not been displayed in Spain but that the Red Army should continue to pursue its own plans to use tanks on a mass scale regardless of the Spanish experience, due to the ambiguous lessons of the civil war. The Soviet lessons were also distorted by Stalin's grotesque political purges against the Soviet officer cadres at this time. The German army completely dismissed the tactical lessons of the Spanish experience for many of the same reasons.
A training exercise by the 1st Batallón de Carros de Combate de la Legion at the Panzergruppe Drohne training camp near Cubas de la Sagra in 1938 after a smoke grenade was thrown underneath the lead T-26 tank. (NARA)
Though there was little to learn about tank tactics from the Spanish experience, there were some significant technological lessons. Spain signaled the deathknell of the cheap, machine-gun-armed tank. Tank-vs-tank-fighting in World War I had been rare, so in the 1930s many armies thought that a machine gun would be adequate. The Spanish conflict showed that tank-vs-tank had become routine, so a tank gun in the 37mm range with a coaxial machine gun for antipersonnel use were the minimum acceptable tank weapons. The Spanish conflict exposed the vulnerability of the flimsy armor of most interwar tank designs. During World War I there had been few dedicated antitank weapons, but by the 1930s, the arrival of abundant and powerful infantry antitank guns in the 37-45mm range overwhelmed the armor protection of typical tanks. The parsimonious budgets of the interwar years favored lightly armored tanks, since tanks with better armor would also require more powerful engines and more robust suspensions, resulting in a rapid escalation of both purchase price and operating costs.
These trends were not entirely unexpected. By the mid-1930s France was already in the midst of adopting a new generation of infantry and cavalry tanks that would be protected against the 37mm-gun threat, and these emerged as the Renault R-35 infantry tank, Hotchkiss H-39 cavalry tank, Somua S-35 cavalry tank and the Char B1 bis battle tank by 1940. Until the civil war in Spain, both Germany and the Soviet Union relied on lightly armored tanks that were vulnerable to 37mm guns. The German army quickly appreciated the threat posed by the new guns, and had further incentive to move to thicker armor due to the poor performance of its own machine-gun armed PzKpfw I tanks against the gun-armed Soviet T-26 tank. The German army began to shift to better-protected medium tanks such as the PzKpfw III. The Soviet Union's response was more extreme, and proved to be a watershed in tank design: the legendary T-34 tank. The original Red Army 1937 requirement for its new A-20 cavalry tank was unexceptional and had the same 45mm gun, with only marginally better armor protection than the BT cavalry tank used in Spain. In 1938, Soviet tank designers debriefed a number of Spanish Civil War veterans and concluded that the next-generation cavalry tank would have to be proof against the current 37mm gun. Furthermore, the Soviet designers concluded that other armies would follow the same path and up-armor their tanks in similar fashion. So to deal with the threat posed by future enemy tanks, the new Soviet cavalry tank would have to be armed with a weapon more powerful than the 37mm gun or its Soviet 45mm equivalent to defeat the future enemy tank armor. The Soviet designers applied one of the critical paradigms of technological innovation to the design - that to prevail on the battlefield, the new tank had to be based on an appreciation of the future threat. The A-20 was redesigned and emerged in 1940-41 as the T-34 tank.
The T-34 extended the three primary attributes of tank design - armor, firepower, and mobility - in a well-balanced package not previously seen anywhere else. So, for example, while contemporary French infantry tanks like the R-35 and British infantry tanks like the Matilda I had excellent armored protection, they were deficient in both firepower and mobility. British cruiser tanks had excellent mobility, but poor armor and mediocre firepower. French battle tanks like the Char B1 bis had good armor protection and firepower, but mediocre mobility. German medium tanks such as the PzKpfw III had a good balance of armor, firepower, and mobility, but not enough to deal with the T-34. When it first appeared in combat in June 1941, the T-34 proved to be a major shock to the Wehrmacht, which was expecting to encounter an adversary equipped with tanks of the Spanish Civil War generation. The poor performance of German tanks and antitank guns against the T-34 set off an arms race on the Russian Front that had
One of the odder footnotes of the Spanish Civil War armor battles was the use of a few Blindado B.C. by the Wehrmacht in the opening phases of Operation Barbarossa in Russia in June 1941. About 20 of these vehicles had crossed the border from Spain into France in 1939 and were subsequently used by the French army in 1940. They were captured by the Germans in 1940 and put back into service. (Author's collection)
repercussions in every other theater of the European war. The German response, the Panther medium tank and the PaK 40 75mm antitank gun, would prove to be the bane of Allied tank forces elsewhere, such as the Allied campaigns in France in 1944. The T-34 set the standard for tank design in World War II based on the technological lessons of the Spanish Civil War.
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