Categories
WW2 Kingdom of Spain Prototypes

Blindado Romeo

Kingdom of Spain (1921-1922)
Armored Car – 1 or 2 built

In terms of armored vehicles resulting from both public and private ventures, the years following the Great War saw major developments. This was even true for those not embroiled in conflict, as was the case of the Kingdom of Spain. One of the vehicles to emerge from this period was the Blindado Romeo designed and funded by the Spanish journalist and parliamentarian Leopoldo Romeo in 1921. The vehicle was envisioned to be used in North Africa in the colonial war Spain was fighting and losing there.

Context – Disaster in the Rif

With the loss of its other overseas colonies in 1898, North Africa had become the focal point for Spanish military expeditions and it created the opportunity for career military officers to progress up the ranks. The initial expansion in the Rif area of Morocco, a mountainous region in the north along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, was slow and peaceful. However, by 1909, Rif tribesmen had begun to ambush Spanish rail workers and settlers. To stop the Rifians who operated over the vastness of the mostly inhabited Rif, the Spanish turned to the new weapon of war, the armored car. Just before the beginning of the war in Europe, Spain had been one of the pioneering states in the use of armored vehicles in military conflicts, with the use of the French-built Schneider-Brillié.

In the summer of 1921, General Manuel Fernández Silvestre, without first securing his rear, led his troops far into enemy-controlled territory until they arrived at the village of Annual. Here, on July 22nd, they met a superior force of Rif fighters under Abd el-Krim. Facing these odds, Silvestre then ordered a month-long retreat to Melilla, 120 km away, during which Silvestre’s forces were constantly ambushed and 14,000 men, including Silvestre (he allegedly committed suicide), died. Furthermore, 14,000 rifles, 1,000 machine guns, and 115 cannons were lost. Shortly afterwards, the Republic of the Rif was created.

Arming the Troops

Despite having a large land army, the Spanish forces in Morocco were not equipped to fight a modern war. The main aim was to acquire a number of the relatively new weapons of war – tanks. In the end, 10 machine gun armed Renault FTs and 6 Schneider CA-1s were bought from France and deployed to the Rif.

Additionally, a number of armored cars were developed in Spain to be sent to North Africa. These included the Blindado Landa and the far more successful series of Camiones Protegidos Modelo 1921.

A lesser-known armored car of this period was the Blindado Romeo. This vehicle was financed, designed and produced by Leopoldo Romeo y Sanz and was presented for the first time on August 22nd 1921.

Leopoldo Romeo proudly stands next to his invention outside the Madrid royal palace – source: Mundo Gráfico via Biblioteca Nacional de España

Who Was Leopoldo Romeo?

The history of Leopoldo Romeo, also known as ‘Juán de Aragón’, is as interesting as that of the vehicle he created. Born on November 15th 1870 in Zaragoza, he did a degree in Law, Philosophy and Humanities in his local university. He dedicated most of his life to journalism, becoming an editor at Ranocés shortly after leaving university. He then moved to El Evangelio before becoming chief editor at the prestigious La Correspondencia de España in 1902. He also served as Spanish correspondent for the French newspaper Le Temps and the British Daily Telegraph. For the latter, he covered the Second Hague Conference of 1907 and the Spanish war in Melilla before the outbreak of the Great War. Based on these experiences, he developed a moralistic, anti-militaristic approach which landed him in prison in Madrid in 1909. It is somewhat ironic that, eleven years later, he would design a vehicle of war.

Leopoldo Romeo, as photographed by the famous Danish photographer Christian Franzen – source: Wikipedia

Leopoldo Romeo was also a politician, first being elected as a member for Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands in 1905. At the time, his profession was listed as lawyer. In 1907, he returned to his main role as a journalist before returning to politics as a member for his native Zaragoza in 1910. He returned as a member of the Spanish Parliament in the 1914, 1916, 1918, 1919, 1920, and 1923 elections representing Belchite, in the province of Zaragoza. Initially an Independent Liberal, by the 1914 election, he was a representative of the Partido Liberal [Eng. Liberal Party], one of Spain’s two largest parties, which alternated power in a system known as ‘turnismo‘ [Eng. taking turns]. He was considered to be part of the most liberal wing of the party and had a great friendship with Álvaro Figueroa y Torres, the Conde de Romanones, leader of the Partido Liberal between 1913 and 1918 and Prime Minister of Spain in 1912. Due to his friendship with Romanones, Romeo was appointed as Civil Governor of Madrid, the capital. During his time in the role, he had to deal with workers’ movements in Madrid during a period known as ‘el trienio Bolchevique’ [Eng. the three Bolshevik years].

Romeo died of pneumonia on March 26th 1925, four years after his military invention and with the war in the Rif still ongoing.

Section of the El Sol newspaper announcing the death of Leopoldo Romeo on March 27th 1925 – source: El Sol via Biblioteca Nacional de España

Design

As with many Spanish armored wheeled designs of the time, the Blindado Romeo was not an armored car in the conventional sense, but rather an armored transport vehicle, most of its offensive power being offered by the infantry it carried. In its essence, the ‘Blindado’ (Spanish for ‘armored’) was a car with an armored cover meant to withstand enemy rifle fire.

Chassis and Engine

There is some confusion over the chassis of the vehicle. Spanish military authors Francisco Marín Gutiérrez and José Mª Mata Duaso, the only ones to have covered the Blindado Romeo, point towards a Spanish Landa Landaulette 1920 automobile as the basis for the chassis of the vehicle. They claim the vehicle had a gasoline 4 cylinder 15 hp engine. They also state that the vehicle had right-hand drive.

There is not much information about the vehicles produced by the Spanish manufacturer Landa, but, based on the available information, some of Marín Gutiérrez and Mata Duaso’s claims seem questionable. Landaulette is an alternative spelling of Landaulet, which is a car body style where the rear passengers are covered by a convertible top, a popular design at the time. Landaulette may just be the style of the car rather than the type or model, and Landa are known to have produced landaulets at that time. Landa had a limited number of chassis designs, but advertised itself as producing any car body style upon request.

Photographic evidence demonstrates that the vehicle had left-hand drive though. Up until 1921, Landa had produced a number of cars with 2 cylinder engines manufactured by the same company and producing a maximum of 9 hp. Curiously, these had right-hand drive. Although today Spain drives on the right, until 1924, the city of Madrid drove on the left. In 1921, Landa moved to using the more powerful American 4 cylinder 15/35 hp Lycoming engines, which were positioned at the front.

Regardless, even with a meager maximum of 7 mm of all-round armor, which would have probably added around 2 tonnes, the weight would have proven too much for a chassis designed for an automobile. Similarly, the engine would have been underpowered.

The 1921 Landa chassis model using a 4 cylinder 15 hp Lycoming engine. This was most likely the base of the Blindado Romeo – source: Autopasión18
Rear-side view of the Blindado Romeo with its creator, Leopoldo Romeo. This photo demonstrates that the vehicle had left hand drive. The photo also demonstrates how the foldable armored side plates worked – source: Mundo Gráfico via Biblioteca Nacional de España

Armor

One of the distinctive, though by no means unique, features of the vehicle was its armor. The armor itself was far from impressive, probably around 5 to 7 mm thick and made from chromium-nickel steel, more simply known as stainless steel, but considering the period and the opposition it would have faced, it was most likely sufficient. The entire vehicle was armored, including the wheels, with the tires being made from solid rubber. The sides of the vehicle though could be open like a parapet. At its maximum extension using both sides, this extended to 5 m in width.

The Blindado Romeo being demonstrated with both sets of foldable panels at their maximum extent of 5 m– source: Mundo Gráfico via Biblioteca Nacional de España

To remain in position, the armored parapets had to be fixed in position in several parts. On their furthest extents to the sides, they were fixed into the ground with a latch. There were four metallic bars (two on each side) that attached the folding doors to the body of the vehicle near the rear wheels.

The idea is that one of these vehicles could provide enough cover for a squad of infantry soldiers from their shins upwards. Using several, these could provide cover for bigger units of infantry or even artillery pieces. However, for several reasons, it was a flawed design for its intended purpose. To pick up the metal bars at the front of the vehicle, a crewmember or a soldier would have had to expose themselves to enemy fire. Whilst the armor protection was enough to withstand anything that would be found in the Rif, the sides and rear were vulnerable and the parapets could only be deployed statically. In spite of his awards and being an excellent journalist, Leopoldo Romeo had not understood what kind of war was being fought in the Rif. The Spanish had continuously lost to Abd el-Krim because his forces outmaneuvered them, thus a static vehicle would have been of very limited use in open warfare. Had the vehicle been intended for urban policing, which was something very common in Spain at the time, its design would have been of more use. Deploying the parapets, one vehicle could block a whole street. Even today’s riot control vehicles use a very similar system.

Side-view of the Blindado Romeo. The blue circles show the metal bars to hold open the parapet and the latch to fix it to the ground– source: Mundo Gráfico via Biblioteca Nacional de España with added modifications by author

Crew and Armament

The vehicle could have been operated by just one crew member, fulfilling the roles of driver and commander. Given the space at the front, it is likely that the vehicle would have had an actual commander in addition to the driver. The rear of the vehicle could have carried a maximum of four soldiers, who would have most likely sat on benches.

From the inside, the commander and driver had two slits in front of them and two each on the sides of the vehicle. These would have mainly been used to see their surroundings, but also probably to fire from, especially when the vehicle was static. The foldable parapet side armor had three slits for each panel, as did the rearmost side armor. The rear of the vehicle also had two slits. From the photographic evidence, it seems that these slits could have had a protective cover. This would suggest that the vehicle was also designed for the infantry complement to fire from the interior when in motion. Contemporary sources (Mundo Gráfico) suggest that inside the vehicle, two machine guns could have been carried. These would most likely have been Hotchkiss 7 mm light machine guns recalibrated to fire Spanish-made Mauser ammunition. Given the narrowness of the vehicle, operating two of these would have been difficult and uncomfortable. 

At the front of the vehicle, between the wheels, was a single headlamp. It was fixed at a very low position, meaning it would not have illuminated a great distance forward, but also that it would have been prone to being damaged or falling off when not driving on good roads, which were not common at all in the Rif.

Frontal view of the Blindado Romeo showing the majority of the vision and firing slits and also the headlamp between the wheels – source: Mundo Gráfico via Biblioteca Nacional de España

Service and Possible Inspiration

Save for the photographs of the vehicle during its presentation on August 22nd 1921 at the Palacio Real, very little is known of the vehicle. At the time of its presentation, the weekly illustrated magazine Mundo Gráfico claimed that a hundred could be built in three or four weeks. This claim is rather ridiculous, as Landa was never able to build many vehicles in the first place and Spain did not have the industrial base to produce that amount of armor, even if only 5 mm thick. Marín Gutiérrez and Mata Duaso suggest that this was a mistake and they meant months, not weeks, but this is still a very non-realistic number. Reading the article by Mundo Gráfico, they stated that ‘they supposed the Minister for War was aware of the vehicle, but that if he was not, they offered to provide him the information which they considered to be of interest and importance at a time when its soldiers were fighting with limited weaponry’.* It is speculation, but it is likely that Leopoldo Romero used his contacts in the liberal media to promote his vehicle and tried to gain a contract to equip the troops in the Rif.

*Original Spanish text: Suponemos que el Ministro de la Guerra tendrá conocimiento de tan importante obra; pero por si no lo tuviese, nos apresuramos a ofrecerle esta información, de interés y trascendencia en los momentos actuales en que nuestros soldados luchan con tan escasos elementos de guerra”.

The vehicle is only mentioned once again in an official telegram dating from November 27th, 1921, which stated that two Blindados Romeo had been received in Melilla on the boat A. Lázaro, which had departed from Málaga. This telegram raises the possibility of a second vehicle, indicating that the Blindado Romeo had some success or that Leopoldo Romeo commissioned a second vehicle. It could also well be the case that the telegram confused the vehicle with the very similar-looking Blindado Landa, which were also being shipped to Melilla in November 1921, though documents would suggest this predated the November 27th date.

On the topic of the Blindado Landa, Marín Gutiérrez and Mata Duaso have speculated that the Blindado Romeo was the source of inspiration for it. On inspection, this seems to be very probable, as the vehicle also used a Landa chassis, had a similar shape, including the shape of the cabin, and the presence of a metal bar behind the front wheel would suggest it also used a parapet.

The Blindado Landa, potentially inspired by the Blindado Romeo – source: Marín Gutiérrez and Mata Duaso, p. 17

Conclusion

The Blindado Romeo has had quite an unremarkable history, being ignored or forgotten even by Spanish armor military historians. Its design was flawed and would have been near useless in the Rif. In addition, the chassis, which was meant for an automobile, would not have been able to carry the weight of the armor on the rocky Rif roads and terrain and the engine was underpowered. In the end, the solution Spain would find would be Renault FT tanks and Camiones Protegidos Modelo 1921, armed with fully rotatable turrets. However, the Blindado Romeo also deserves some recognition as the first fully Spanish armored vehicle design, predating the Blindado Landa by a month or so. Its long-term legacy can perhaps be seen in the Blindados tipo ZIS and modelo B.C. of the Spanish Civil War and the Blindados Medio sobre Ruedas (BMR) and the Vehículos de Exploración de Caballería (VEC) which are part of the Ejército de Tierra to this day.

The Blindado Romeo. Illustrated by Yuvnashva Sharma.

Bibliography

Alicia Delgado, Dirección General de Tráfico ¿Por qué circulamos por la derecha? https://revista.dgt.es/es/motor/noticias/2020/07JULIO/0715-Conducir-derecha.shtml [accessed on 24/06/2021]

Anon. “El Automóvil Blindado ‘Romeo’”, Mundo Gráfico [Madrid], 24 August 1924

Anon. “Fallecimiento de Leopoldo Romeo”, El Heraldo de Madrid [Madrid], 27 March 1925, Third Edition

Anon. “Muerte de un Periodista Leopoldo Romeo”, El Sol [Madrid], 27 March 1925

Autopasión18, Historia Landa http://www.autopasion18.com/HISTORIA-LANDA.htm [accessed on 20/05/2021]

Congreso de los Diputados, Buscador Histórico, Leopoldo Romeo y Sanz https://www.congreso.es/web/guest/historico-diputados 

Francisco Marín Gutiérrez & José Mª Mata Duaso, Los Medios Blindados de Ruedas en España: Un Siglo de Historia (Vol. I) (Valladolid: Quirón Ediciones, 2002)

Categories
WW2 Kingdom of Spain Prototypes

Prototipo Trubia

Kingdom of Spain (1925-1926)
Light tank – 1 prototype

Spain has mainly depended on foreign technology for its tank forces but there have always been enthusiastic engineers, military commanders and policy-makers who have wanted to break the mould and create indigenous designs. The first of these initiatives would take place in 1925 in the northern town of Trubia, Asturias.

Note – given that the tank’s lack of official designation, it will be referred to as Trubia Prototype.

What Spain Learnt in Morocco

As a result of German, French, and British colonial competition, Spain was granted extensive control over North Morocco in addition to its already existing enclaves following the Algeciras Conference of 1906. In 1912, after signing a treaty with France, the Spanish protectorate in Morocco was formed, with an area of 20,948 km² around the Rif. This increased presence in Morocco and the loss of most other colonies gave wings to the group of military commanders known as ‘Africanistas’ (those with a vocation for Africa) and military and private operations were carried out in the area.

Map showing Spanish and French possessions in Morocco in 1912 – source: Rafael Moreno (2013), p. 35

Spain avoided the slaughter of the Great War (1914-1918) by remaining neutral, but following a series of incidents, the Riffian Abd el-Krim led an insurgency that would evolve into the Rif War (1911-27). In 1921, Spain suffered the ‘Disaster at Annual’, their most infamous military defeat ever, and at the hands of a numerically inferior force with less modern equipment, and as a result, the Rif Republic was created, factors which in part led to the successful coup in Spain led by Miguel Primo de Rivera and his dictatorship. Soon afterward, in 1924, France intervened on Spain’s behalf and after the amphibious landings at Alhucemas (North Morocco) in 1925 with Spain using its Renault FT’s in the first amphibious tank landing in combat, the war was all but won. In these campaigns, Spain used its Renault FTs and Schneider CA-1s bought from France in addition to Spanish-made armored cars.

Map of the front line as it was in 1921 – source: Rafael Moreno (2013), p. 36

Tank usage during the Rif War had a mixed result. Whilst some clear tactical advantages were gained with them, poor strategy and the lack of experience of the crews hindered their effectiveness.

In addition, it was felt that Spain should develop their own tank program, not only to improve tank capabilities with newer models but also to not have to rely on foreign imports for their armed forces.

The Three Amigos

At the end of the Eighteenth Century, in the northern town of Trubia (Asturias), a weapons factory was established. The factory grew to prominence during the mid-Nineteenth Century and provided ammunition and artillery pieces to the Spanish Army and exported around the world.

In 1925, three men would come to the factory to put in motion their ideas to build an indigenous tank design for the Spanish Army. These men would be Commander Victor Landesa Domenech (an artillery officer attached to the factory), Captain Carlos Ruíz de Toledo (a Commander in charge of the Batería de Carros de Asalto de Artillería [Eng. Artillery Tank Battery] during its first engagements during the Rif War) and the factory’s Chief Engineer, Rogelio Areces. Ruíz de Toledo would be appointed to the Trubia arms factory where he convinced the factory director, Victor Pérez Vidal, to authorize the construction of a tank. Pérez Vidal approved this venture and granted the three men an old workshop (Taller de Escarpa) probably in disuse, for them to build their tank.

The three men would work together to come up with a tank design. Given the lack of tank technology information available, they based their design on what they deemed the best tank in the Spanish Army’s arsenal, the Renault FT. The project, which was to be led by Landesa Domenech, was a private venture paid for out of their own pockets without state supervision or finance.

Design

The only known photo of the Trubia prototype, which, in this instance, is going over a brick wall. Date and location unknown. Note the overlapping turrets, frontal nose ‘ram’ and general resemblance to the Renault FT – source: Artemio Mortera Pérez (2007), p. 6

Given the circumstances, the vehicle strongly resembled the Renault FT, but there were some key differences.

The undercarriage was a direct copy of the FT, featuring a large front drive sprocket and smaller track idler at more or less the same height.

The Renault FT’s armor was slightly improved on and consisted of overall hull armor 18 mm thick. The sheets used were made from oil heated chromium-nickel steel. The construction and riveting of these proved problematic given the absolute lack of experience.

The turret was one of the most interesting and distinguishing features. Lessons learned in North Africa had shown that the Renault FT was extremely vulnerable when its main machine gun jammed, as there was no other weaponry to defend itself with. Therefore, Landesa Domenech and his team decided to equip the tank with a second machine gun in the turret. Their solution resulted in two overlapping turrets moving independently and each armed with a Hotchkiss 7 mm machine gun (either M1909, M1914 or M1922). As a consequence of the additional machine gun, it is possible that an additional crew-member was added to fill the gunner role, though as they would have been incredibly cramped inside this is unlikely, the commander probably having responsibility over the two guns.

The frontal plate had two distinguishing features. The first was a small semi-circular plate attached to an elongated nose of the tank which acted as a ram to cut through obstacles, such as walls and barbed wire. The second is a small box-like extension to the upper frontal hull which had a vision slit for the driver. In front of this box was a hinged two-part door for the driver to access and exit the tank. It is not known from photographic evidence if the iconic rear tail of the FT remained in the Trubia prototype, but given that it was used on the Trubia production series, it can be assumed that it was. A rear tail was used to improve trench crossing capabilities by facilitating balance.

One of the main improvements desired by Landesa Domenech’s teams was to enhance the FT’s poor speed, range, and performance by installing a better engine. As no significantly better engine was available, a 4 cylinder Hispano-Suiza 40/50 (40-50 hp) engine was used, one already fitted in the Army’s Hispano-Suiza trucks.

Testing and a Royal Visit

Once the vehicle was finished, at some point in 1925, it was transferred to the Escuela Central de Tiro in the southern Madrid neighborhood of Carabanchel. There, it was tested, and apparently, the results were satisfactory. Consequently, a budget was set for the creation of a tank producing workshop at the Trubia factory, and a commission led by Areces and Ruíz de Toledo was established to travel Europe and investigate tank technological innovations they could utilize for an improved serial version of the prototype.

The prototype was taken back to Asturias where it was displayed at the Feria de Muestras (a technology fair) in Gijón, where it would be viewed by the Principe de Asturias (title for the heir to the Spanish throne) Alfonso de Borbón y Battenberg. Shortly after the fair it was dismantled.

Impact

The commission led by Areces and Ruíz de Toledo would travel around Europe and in Germany, would buy powerful new engines and the ‘Orion’ suspension. These would be used on an improved version of the prototype officially named Carro Ligero de Combate para Infantería Modelo Trubia 75 H.P., Tipo Rápido, Serie A, more commonly known as Modelo Trubia Serie A. Four of these would be built and would go on to serve until the Spanish Civil War and influence multiple other Spanish designed vehicles.

The first Trubia Serie A receiving finishing touches at the Trubia factory – source: Artemio Mortera Pérez (2007), p. 7

Conclusion

The Trubia prototype showed the way towards a domestically-built tank, though as would later be found out, it was not to be. However, this was a monumental step in the history of Spanish armor and its legacy should not be forgotten.

What the Prototipo Trubia may have looked like with a prototype grey coat of paint. Illustration produced by Andrei ‘Octo10’ Kirushkin, funded by our Patreon

Bibliography

Artemio Mortera Pérez, Los Carros de Combate “Trubia” (Valladolid: Quirón Ediciones, 1993)
Artemio Mortera Pérez, Los Medios Blindados de la Guerra Civil Española. Teatro de Operaciones del Norte 36/37 (Valladolid: AF Editores, 2007)
Chus Neira, “El primer tanque español salió de la Fábrica de Trubia hace 90 años” La Nueva España [Spain], 30 March 2017 (https://www.lne.es/oviedo/2017/03/30/primer-tanque-espanol-salio-fabrica/2081455.html#)
Rafael Moreno, Master of Military Studies Research Paper “Annual 1921: The Reasons for a Disaster” (2013)

Prototipo Trubia specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 5 x 2 x 0.6 m (16.40 x 6.56 x 1.97 ft)
Total weight 7,840 kg
Crew 2 (commander/gunner and driver)
Propulsion 4 cylinder Hispano-Suiza 40/50 (40-50 hp)
Armament 2 Hotchkiss 7 mm machine gun
Armor 18 mm