The captured T-26 tanks, more popularly called "Vickers" in Nationalist service, were rebuilt and repainted by Panzergruppe Drohne at their Cubas base before being incorporated into the Spanish Legion tank regiment. In ordered to prevent their misidentification as Republican tanks, they were prominently marked with the red/yellow/red flag colors of Franco's forces and usually had the turret roof painted in white with a St Andrew's Cross for air identification to prevent being attacked by Nationalist aircraft. They were often painted in camouflage colors, usually a sand or brown color over the usual Soviet dark. Inset are the unit insignia.
The BT-5 fast tank saw its combat debut with the International Tank Brigade at Fuentes de Ebro on October 13, 1937. This unit was manned by a mixture of Soviet crews from the 5th Kalinovsky Mechanized Corps from Naro-Fominsk, and International Brigade troops trained at Gorky in the Soviet Union. Poor planning led to a debacle and heavy losses. (NARA)
were BT-5 (Bystrykhodniy Tank: fast tank). In contrast to the T-26 light tanks, the BT-5 fast tanks were intended for deep maneuver operations, not for close infantry support. They were a license-built copy of the American Christie tank, but with a Soviet-designed turret and gun identical to that on the T-26. They were considered by the Soviet advisers to be the most modern and best tanks in Spain, and were held in reserve through the late summer and early autumn, waiting for a major opportunity to exploit their capabilities. As in the case of other Red Army units deployed to Spain, Soviet crews made up only a small fraction of the personnel in the regiment. The International Tank Regiment was allotted the cream of the Spanish trainees and the personnel from the International Brigades who had returned from the Gorky Tank School in the Soviet Union. For many of the Soviet advisers in Spain, the International Tank Regiment was the last, best hope to display the power of tanks on the modern battlefield. These hopes would be crushed in the autumn of 1937 during the Zaragoza campaign.
In early October, a Republican offensive was planned against the town of Fuentes de Ebro on the road to Zaragoza. The preparations for employing the tanks were slapdash and incompetent. The International Tank Regiment was subjected to a hasty 50km road march the night before the attack and on arriving, was informed that the tanks would carry infantry during the attack. This decision was opposed by the Soviet advisers as well as by the tank officers, who felt that it would put the infantry at too great a risk. The mission was planned in such haste that the regimental staff had no time to conduct a reconnaissance of the battlefield, and the Spanish command did not provide adequate details of the battle area or likely Nationalist antitank defenses, considering such issues "trivial." This would prove fatal to the operation.
The assault began shortly after noon. The 48 tanks of the International Tank Regiment started the attack with a salvo of their guns, and then set off at high speed "like an express train," with Spanish infantry clinging to their sides. In the din and dust of the action, many of the infantry fell off the tanks, some run over and crushed by other tanks. Crossing the friendly trenches was a fiasco; Republican infantry had not been warned, and in the confusion there was firing between the infantry and the tanks. Once beyond the friendly lines, the tanks continued to race forward, only to be forced to halt again
A BT-5 of the International Regiment after its capture at Fuentes de Ebro. This is an interesting illustration of the wheel-cum-track running gear used on the BT, which allowed the tracks to be removed and stored on the fender and the tank operated on its road wheels. The final road wheel on either side could be powered by a drive from the rear drive sprocket. This feature was only practical on hard, dry ground or roads. (John Prigent Collection)
when they reached the edge of an escarpment about three to four meters over the plains below. After a delay in finding passageways to exit to the low ground below, the tankers were alarmed to see that the terrain in front of the enemy positions was covered with sugarcane fields, crisscrossed with irrigation ditches. The tanks continued their rush forward, but became bogged down. Nationalist field guns and antitank guns began to take their toll. The advance could not press onward due to the terrain, and there was not enough infantry to hold any territory that had been gained. After exhausting their ammunition, the tanks slowly began to make their way back to the start point with little direction or control, leaving behind several tanks stuck in the mud. In total, the International Tank Regiment lost 19 of its 48 tanks in the attack, with several more damaged; a third of its tank crews were killed or wounded. An American tanker in the regiment wrote shortly after the attack: "Courage and heroism are plentiful in Spain and the Spanish people have no lack of it. What they need is tactics. And as for tactics, on 13 October, Regiment BT was bankrupt." The great expectations for the BT tank regiment had been dashed by the continuing incompetence of the Republican senior commanders in employing tanks.
The fiasco at Fuentes de Ebro on October 13, 1937, was the swansong of the Soviet tank force in Spain. While Soviet tankers would continue to act as advisers, the number of Soviet tank crews continued to diminish and the force became mostly Spanish by the end of 1937. The Soviet Union ended large sales of tanks after the delivery of the International Tank Regiment's 50 BT-5 tanks. In October 1937, the head of the Republican tank forces, Colonel Sanchez Perales, initiated a reorganization and consolidation of the force. The four armored brigades, one tank regiment, and assorted small units were to be merged into two armored divisions. These should not be confused with World War II armored divisions as they were not combined arms forces, lacking organic infantry or artillery.
With the end of Soviet tank sales in early 1938, the Republican army attempted to make up for the equipment shortfalls by local production. Aside from the numerous and crude protected trucks, the Republican government had begun to build true armored cars using armor plate and designed in cooperation with Soviet specialists. The Comisaría de Armamentos y Municiones in 1937 tried to standardize the production of an efficient armored car by the Unión Naval de Levante in Valencia, called the UNL-35. This was patterned on the Soviet FAI armored car and was generally built on imported Soviet ZiS-5 or Ford Model 85 truck chassis. The first ten were ordered in February 1937 and about 200 were eventually completed. The Subsecretaría de Armamentos promoted a slightly larger armored car based on
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