T26 Model 1933 Aranjuez Group Madrid November 1936

Krivoshein's Republican battalion at the time of the Madrid fighting had extremely simple markings, usually a two-digit tactical number painted on the hull front, either side of the turret, and sometimes on the hull rear. This particular example was more colorfully marked than most, with slogans on the turret and hull side: "Viva el Ejercito del Centro" (Long live the Army of the Center) and "Viva Madrid." The communist hammer-sickle was sometimes applied to Republican tanks. The finish is the usual pre-war Soviet-camouflage dark green.

Corpo Truppe Volontarie 1936
Italian tankers inspect a Republican T-26 knocked out during the fighting. The small Italian CV 3/35 was no match for the larger and much better-armed Soviet tank. (Patton Museum)
General Krivoshein

Spanish Renault FT tanks were consolidated in a company under D. Pogodin to support Krivoshein's tanks during the Madrid fighting.

The Republic rebuffed Franco's attack on Madrid and there was almost universal praise for the performance of Krivoshein's scattered tank units. The Soviet advisory team in Madrid sent this assessment to the Kremlin: "Arman's tanks group created real miracles. It is possible to say with complete assurance that if the fighter group and Arman's tanks would not have been present during the first period of the defense of Madrid, the defense of the city would have been an exceptionally catastrophic situation. It is impossible to adequately describe the heroism of the tankers; they prevented the retreat of the infantry; they were always in the vanguard; they fought single-handedly with enemy gun batteries, and they demolished the battle plans of the opponent. They always took best advantage of the tanks in infringement of all technical and authorized norms and never refused or questioned orders to carry out a task. Tanks fought all day long; returned to the support area at night to repair the vehicles and during the morning returned to the fight."

By mid-December 1936, Krivoshein's small armored force was largely spent, due not only to battlefield casualties, but also to the mechanical exhaustion of the tanks themselves. Soviet tanks of the 1930s were not very robust; the T-26 light tank required intermediate overhaul at district workshops after 150 engine hours, and factory overhaul after 600 hours. Tracks and track pins began to wear out after 800km of travel; side clutches became worn; and the powertrain was gradually knocked out of alignment from hard cross-country travel. In the desperate fighting during the defense of Madrid, Arman's company had accumulated over 800 operating hours by mid-December, far beyond the regulations, leaving many of its tanks inoperable. Krivoshein's other units were not in much better shape, as the inexperienced Spanish crews were unable to do field repairs, and their unfamiliarity with tank driving led to high rates of clutch and powertrain failures. There were no established maintenance facilities in the Madrid area, and spare parts were almost nonexistent. While Krivoshein's tank force had succeeded in its immediate mission of bolstering

Legion Gruppe Imker

the Republican forces during the defense of Madrid, this was no way to operate a tank force for prolonged campaigns.

It became clear from the initial fighting that tank units could not be employed nonstop, day and night like infantry, but had to be carefully husbanded for only the most important missions. The experience with the new Spanish tank crews was discouraging, and the Red Army practice of assigning a junior crewman to driving duties usually left them in the hands of inexperienced Spanish crewmen. This led to abnormally high breakdown rates, and forced Krivoshein's unit to reorganize crew tasks, with Russian tank commanders shifted to the driver's position in the hope of keeping the tanks operable. However, this adversely affected the combat capabilities of the tanks, since the more experienced Soviet tanker was unable to command the tank and direct the gunner from the isolation of the driver's station.

Cooperation between the tanks and the infantry was almost uniformly abysmal. There was no training by the tanks and infantry in cooperative tactics before missions, and the tank companies seldom worked with the same infantry unit for more than a few days, so no experience was accumulated. The Republicans could not afford to pull the tank companies out of the line for such training, and Krivoshein's units were reluctant to expend precious engine hours drilling with the Spanish infantry. Krivoshein and Arman were ordered back to Moscow to brief senior Red Army leaders in January 1937.

The violent fighting around Madrid in the autumn of 1936 convinced most of the interventionist governments to drop the fig leaf of "volunteer" troops.

The Italian tankette companies in Spain were supported by smaller numbers of the Lancia 1ZM armored cars in a Squadriglia Autoblindo. This was a modernized version of an armored car originally built during World War I. (NARA)

Modell 1933
Von Thoma's Panzergruppe Drohne was a training establishment and the German tank crews saw very little tank combat. Here, German crews instruct a Spanish soldier on a PzKpfw I Ausf B. (John Prigent Collection)

On December 13, 1936, Mussolini agreed to send entire Italian units to fight in Spain, eventually forming the Corpo Truppe Volontarie (CTV: The Corps of Volunteer Troops). The Italian armored contingent expanded continually as a result. A second tankette company arrived in November 1936, a squadron of eight Lancia 1ZM armored cars in late December 1936, and two more tankette companies in January 1937. The expanded tankette force formed the Battaglione Carri d'Assalto per Oltre Mare Spagna (OMS: Spanish Overseas Tank Battalion). In February 1937 this battalion was incorporated into the larger Raggruppamento Reparti Specializzati (RRS: Specialist Unit Group), which also included motorized artillery, motorized infantry, and an armored-car company. The creation of the RRS was clear evidence of the subordinate role that tankettes played in the CTV, being lumped together with other technical supporting arms. There was little effort made to create a fast mobile force during the first year of the fighting. The battalion was split into two weak battalions later in 1937, each with only two companies. This was typical of the Spanish experience, with the CTV dispersing its limited tank support due to widespread demand on scattered fronts.

Germany was the third major power to intervene and deployed the smallest tank contingent, largely overshadowed by its aviation counterpart, the Legion Condor. The German ground element was codenamed Gruppe Imker (beekeeper) and included a variety of training and support units including Panzergruppe Drohne (drone) headed by the commander of II./Panzer Regiment.4, Oberstleutnant Wilhelm von Thoma. The initial shipment to Spain included 41 PzKpfw I Ausf A. The Panzergruppe arrived in Seville in October 1936 and was followed by additional personnel and 21 of the improved PzKpfw I Ausf B tanks. Panzergruppe Drohne set up its base in Cubas de la Sagra in the Madrid area; its role was training, not combat. The school was a battalion in size, with three tank companies and associated support units; it also contained an antitank element that eventually raised ten antitank gun companies armed with the Rheinmetall 37mm PaK 36. The Spanish Regimiento de Infantería Argel número 37 led by Comandante de Infantería D. José Pujales Carrasco was converted by their German trainers into the 1st Batallón de Carros de Combate, organized into three companies each with 16 tanks. These companies were eventually dubbed "Negrillos" (Blacks) to distinguish them from the "Rusas" (Russians) using captured Soviet T-26 tanks. The name stemmed either from the dark gray paint of the German tanks or the black berets of the German crews.

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