Tanks In Spain

Spain had been in the backwater of European military developments for more than a century. It had a dozen Renault FT light tanks and six of the heavier Schneider CA1 tanks from France in the years after World War I. The Renault FTs were dispatched to Morocco in 1921 to support the Spanish Foreign Legion (Tercio de Extranjeros) in its fight against the Rif rebellion. A young officer of the 1st Batallón (1a Bandera) of the legion, Major Francisco Franco, remarked, "Armored cars and tanks are well suited for this war. We shall see if time proves me right." In fact, the first tank action on March 17, 1922, was discouraging. The tanks advanced in front of the infantry due to their higher speed, but a number proved useless in combat when their machine guns jammed. Two tanks broke down and were left behind, only to be blown up by the Rif with dynamite. This combat debut had several clear lessons. Tanks were not miracle weapons, even when used against poorly armed rebels. Tanks could not hold ground on their own without proper coordination with the infantry. Mechanical reliability issues as much as tactical issues remained the bane of early tank operations. The Renaults were reinforced by the six Schneiders in 1923. The tanks saw small-scale use over the next few years, and the FT tanks took part in the bold amphibious landings on Alhucemas Bay in September 1925, a major victory in the pacification campaign. While the use of tanks in the Rif war attracted little attention in the outside world, it had considerable influence on ambitious young officers of the Foreign Legion like Franco, who would play critical roles in the later civil war.

Following the Rif War, the tanks returned to Spain. The Moroccan campaign had excited enough interest to inspire tank manufacture in Spain. The Trubia tank was manufactured at the Fábrica Nacional de Trubia in 1925. It resembled an enlarged Renault FT but with three machine guns. After initial trials, the improved Carro Ligero Trubia A4 went into pre-series production with four examples built. Tanks were associated with the artillery,

The Spanish Army acquired six French Schneider CA1 tanks in the early 1920s, which were used in the Rif War in Spanish Morocco. The Republicans had four in Madrid, including this one, and the Nationalists had the other two in Zaragoza. (Author's collection)

Spanish Schneider TankDerelict Battlefield

The Regimiento LCC número 1 based near Madrid sided with the Republic and was used in some of the early actions of the war including Sierra de Guadarrama (July 1936), where one of their Renault FT tanks is seen derelict after the fighting. (Oscar Bruña Royo)

and after an abortive coup by artillery officers in 1926, their programs fell out of favor. Spain purchased samples of other tanks in the 1920s, such as an Italian Fiat-3000A light tank in 1924, essentially an Italian copy of the Renault FT. During the Asturias Rebellion in 1934, the Trubia plant converted five Landesa tractors into improvised tanks, the Carro Armado Landesa, by constructing an armored superstructure on the chassis. It was fitted with a single machine gun in the casemate. When the civil war started in 1936, most surviving tanks belonged to the Regimiento Ligero de Carros de Combate (LCC) número 1 stationed near Madrid, and Regimiento LCC número 2, near Zaragoza.

Although Spanish tank production was meager, there was a continual interest in the production and use of protegido camión (protected trucks). Unlike the more familiar armored car, these vehicles were for the most part built using non-armor steel or iron plate, which offered limited protection against small arms. Numerous types were built in small batches in the 1920s in Spain and Morocco, and they were used for convoy escort and other secondary military tasks. Production of protected trucks accelerated in the early 1930s due to the growing political unrest in Spain. With the abdication of the king and the creation of the Second Republic in the summer of 1931, political violence reached fever pitch. The October 1934 revolt in Asturias led to the construction of more than a dozen protected trucks. Various state police forces began ordering protected trucks for riot control, and a number of political militias also constructed their own examples. The new Republican government formed the Guardia de Asalto, a paramilitary riot-police force equipped mainly with small arms, but a motorized section with armored cars

The Regimiento LCC número 1 based near Madrid sided with the Republic and was used in some of the early actions of the war including Sierra de Guadarrama (July 1936), where one of their Renault FT tanks is seen derelict after the fighting. (Oscar Bruña Royo)

Armored Truck The Spanish Civil War
The Bilbao armored car was the only mass-produced armored vehicle in Spain before the war. It was a simple design, intended more for internal security duties than battlefield use. These two examples are in Nationalist units in the 1938 fighting. (NARA)

was also planned. To equip these units, the Sociedad Española de Construcción Naval (SECN) developed the Camión Blindados Bilbao Modelo 1932 armored car on the basis of imported Dodge K32 trucks. This was a lightly armored vehicle with a 7mm Hotchkiss machine gun in a simple turret and at least 45 were completed. Some were built for the cavalry and served with the Grupo de Autoametralladoras-Cañón of the cavalry division in Aranjuez near Madrid.

While this book does not have the space to discuss the complex origins of the war in Spain, a basic summary is helpful to better appreciate the tank warfare that took place. Following the end of the Spanish monarchy in 1931, Spain attempted to establish a parliamentary democracy, with little success. Lacking a democratic tradition, Spanish politics were bitterly polarized by the political extremes of right and left. The government in 1936 was controlled by the Popular Front, a left-wing alliance including liberal, socialist, trade-unionist, and communist parties. The left's anti-clerical excesses aggravated the more traditional elements of society and led to plans for a military coup by the army, supported by various conservative, monarchist, and clerical parties.

The Spanish Army at the time was modest in size - about 100,000 troops, of which 30,000 belonged to the Army of Africa in Spanish Morocco. The metropolitan army was a poorly trained and poorly led conscript force, with most ambitious officers serving in the colonies. It was so ineffective that the government had been forced to create paramilitary security units to quell the political violence that wracked Spain through the 1930s. The army in Morocco included most of the professional units, with a core of experienced colonial troops, as well as the battle-hardened Legion. Not surprisingly,

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