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Camiones Protegidos Modelo 1921

Kingdom of Spain/Second Spanish Republic (1921-1934)
Armored Car – 31 Built

Military setbacks often lead military authorities to take drastic measures. In 1921, with war in North Africa not going according to plan for Spain, the government ordered the armoring of several of the Army’s vehicles. Thirty-one lorries and trucks of five different types would be converted and would receive the overall denomination ‘Camiones Protegidos Modelo 1921’ [Eng. Protected Lorries Model 1921], or M-21 for short. These served with distinction in the Rif War and would be Spain’s only armored cars for over a decade. 

Context – The War in Morocco

Following defeat by the United States in the Spanish-American War of 1898 and the loss of its Caribbean and Pacific colonies, Spain’s colonial attention shifted to North Africa. Tensions between Britain, France, and Germany and the 1906 Treaty of Algeciras had led to Spain being able to add part of northern Morocco, commonly known as the Rif, to the small enclaves it already had in the region. 

Soon afterwards, profitable minerals were discovered in the area. French and Spanish companies rushed to exploit these riches and began to build railways to connect the mines and quarries to the coastal ports. This aroused local opposition, and on July 9th 1909, a series of assassinations of Spanish workers and citizens in the area began. In response, Spain declared war, and thus began the Melilla War (July-December 1909). By the end of November 1909, Spain had won the war but done so unconvincingly. 

After a few more concessions and the creation of the Spanish protectorate in Morocco, hostilities broke out again in June 1911, a conflict which saw Spain’s initial use of their first armored vehicles, the Schneider-Brillié armored cars. Led by Abd el-Krim, the Rifian tribes in Spanish Morocco revolted. The situation was stabilized by 1914 at the onset of the Great War (1914-1918). Spain avoided the slaughter in Europe, but by 1920, fighting in Morocco resumed. 

In June 1921, Spain suffered one of its most humiliating military defeats, the ‘Disaster at Annual’, at the hands of a numerically inferior force with antiquated equipment. As a result, the independent Rif Republic was created. This was a major contributing factor to the successful coup in Spain led by Miguel Primo de Rivera and his subsequent dictatorship. In this context, the Spanish military authorities had to take swift and decisive action. 

Map of the Rif Republic. Most of the fighting the M-21s took part in was in the area around Melilla and Nador – source: Wikipedia

Development – A Vehicle for North Africa

The events in Annual in June 1921 sent shockwaves through Spanish society. The defeat by what were deemed inferior people threatened the position and prestige of Spain in the region and opened the possibility of radical and reactionary political instability in Spain itself. Shortly afterwards, the War Ministry ordered the artillery and engineering sections of the Army to design and construct armored cars based on vehicles already in use by the military. As time was of the essence, these had to be cheap and easy to build, and several such designs appeared during August 1921. 

The Camiones Protegidos Modelo 1921 were built by the Centro Electrotécnico y de Comunicaciones [Eng. Electrotecnic and Communications Center] (CEYC), the communications section of the Engineers within the Spanish Army, which would later operate the vehicles in Morocco. Most vehicles were built in Madrid. It is perhaps surprising that such a department within the army was requested to convert ‘civilian’ trucks for military use. The fact is that departments operating trucks suitable for conversion were few and far between in those days and one of the few was the department in charge of communications. 

The artillery section of the army came up with a design known as the Blindado Landa, its automobile chassis being an obvious weakness. Four were built and sent to Morocco, where they performed poorly. Leopoldo Romeo, a journalist and politician, designed a similar vehicle, of which only one prototype was built. The Camiones Protegidos Modelo 1921 were preferred instead. 

The M-21s were based on the chassis of five different lorries or trucks, so each model differed from the others. Nevertheless, they were all built using the same principles: to provide armor all around the chassis in order to protect the crew and mechanical parts of the vehicle, slits on the sides to provide vision and firing spots, and, in most cases, a rotating turret armed with a Hotchkiss M1914 7 mm machine gun. It is worth noting that, like many similar vehicles in these early stages of mechanized warfare, the M-21s were not armored cars in the traditional sense. Whilst many were equipped with turrets, their main duties were to deter attacks on convoys, not pursue offensive operations, though these did also take place. The nature of the conflict and the terrain also played a part in their tactical use. Production began in August 1921 and the last ones were ordered in October 1925. 

M-21 Models

Nash-Quad

The first vehicle was built on a 4×4 1½ ton (2 tonnes) Nash Quad tank transporter belonging to the Spanish Army (registration plate C.A.M. 195) in July-August 1921. The engine was a Buda 312 cu in (5.1 L) side-valve 4 cylinder with a 28 hp output. The truck had four forward gears and one reverse. At 5 m long, under 2 m wide, and around 2 m tall, it was one of the smaller vehicles to be converted.

The truck is better known as the Jeffery Quad, after the Thomas B. Jeffery Company which manufactured them until it was bought by Nash Motors in 1916. In Spanish sources, it is referred to as Nash-Quad. Several thousand were built until 1926, seeing service with many militaries in the world, especially during the Great War. The Spanish conversion was not the first carried out on such a vehicle, as the USA’s Jeffery Armored Car No. 1 used the same chassis in a very similar design in 1915. Subsequent designs were also used by the Canadians, by the British Empire in India, and by different factions during the Russian Civil War in what is now Ukraine.

A Nash-Quad truck which has survived into the 21st century – source: Landships

The CEYC conversion covered the vehicle with 7 mm stainless steel plates bolted into place. The sides of the vehicles had three slits for infantry to fire from and a hatch for the driver and commander’s lateral vision. The left side appears to have had a door for the crew’s entry and exit. The top right frontal part of the superstructure had a medium-sized hatch for the driver’s vision, indicating that the vehicle had right-hand drive. The armored structure included mudguards on top of the wheels, though only the rear two were half-covered by the armor. The 36-inch diameter wheels were made out of steel and the tires were of solid rubber. On top of the vehicle, housing a Spanish production 7 mm Hotchkiss machine gun, was a small turret and on top of that was a large hatch. It is worth noting that not all vehicles on a Nash-Quad chassis had a turret. Following the debut of the first vehicle (nº1) in Morocco, recommendations were made to allow for a larger turret or for it to be removed altogether, as there were issues with operating the machine gun in such cramped conditions.

The Camión Protegido nº1 on a Nash-Quad chassis. Notice the Spanish flag being flown – source: Mortera Pérez (2009), p. 12

Inside the vehicle, there was a crew of four: a commander, a driver, a gunner, and a loader. In some cases, the crew was reduced to three, with the driver as the vehicle’s commander. The driver and commander sat at the front and the gunner was in the turret. The loader had to stand below the turret, due to its small size. In addition to the crew, the Nash-Quad carried four soldiers to fire from inside the vehicle. 

The first Camión Protegido arrived in Melilla on August 17th, 1921, and was designated as nº1. After being used successfully for two months, the order was given to produce more vehicles. The following batch of two (nºs 3 and 4) arrived in Morocco on November 29th, 1921, with another two (nºs7 and 8) in April 1922. Further success led to an order for eleven more, but, due to economic constraints, only three (nºs 15, 16, and 17) would be constructed. It is possible that the other eight vehicles were only semi-armored, as there is mention in official documents of eight Nash-Quad ‘semiprotegido’ [Eng. semi-protected’] trucks in the Parque de Artillería de Melilla in 1923. 

The bizarre-looking Nash-Quad nº15. Its armored superstructure differed significantly from some of the other vehicles in the series, including similar-looking Nash-Quads. For example, its single mudguard covers the whole length of the vehicle. According to García, this particular vehicle was assembled in Melilla – source: García, p. 23

Federal

The second vehicle (nº2) was built on the chassis of a Federal Motor Truck Company 4×2 2 ½ tons (3 tonnes) fuel truck (registration plate C.A.M 194). The author has been unable to identify the exact truck model. Spanish sources state that it had a Continental E4 4 cylinder petrol engine with a 29 hp output and four forward gears and one reverse. 

The truck was completely covered with 7 mm stainless steel plates. The lack of extensive riveting seen in the available photographs would suggest that these were very large armored plates cut to size and shape and fixed to the frame. On each side were three small loopholes to fire from, as well as foldable hatches for lateral vision. At the front of the sides (at least the left side) was a door that appears to have opened to the back, offering no protection to a crew member exiting the vehicle. The top front had a small square hole on the right and a hatch that folded upward on the left for the driver, indicating that the vehicle had left-hand drive. The wheels were given large box-like mudguards. The Camión Protegido Federal did not have a turret, but there was a hatch at the top of the vehicle where a potential turret would most likely have been placed. The crew was made up of four: commander, driver, and two gunners, implying that two 7 mm Hotchkiss machine guns would have been carried inside. Due to its size, it is possible that one or two loaders or a small infantry section could also have been carried.

The Camión Protegido nº2 on a Federal chassis in its original configuration. Note the size compared to the men on the left and the horses on the right – source: Mortera Pérez (2009), p. 11

Shortly after arriving in Melilla, The Camión Protegido nº2 was destroyed and removed from service. The chassis was reused but the new vehicle had a very different look to the original one. The overall size of the armored structure was reduced significantly, especially at the front and rear. In the middle, there was a box-like superstructure with a flat top. As in its original configuration, there was no turret, but there were hatches allowing for gunners to position their machine guns on this top platform. The former large box-like mudguards were replaced with semicircular ones. 

After it was destroyed, the Camión Protegido nº2 on a Federal chassis was rebuilt. Whilst following the same concept, appearance-wise, the two versions bore little similarity – source: Mortera Pérez (2009), p. 33

Benz

Following the first four vehicles, the next to be used were Benz 4×2 trucks. Very little is known about this truck. Spanish sources state that the original truck was heavier than the previous two models used. It also had a more powerful engine, with a petrol Benz 4 cylinder with a 45 hp output. The gearbox consisted of four forward gears and one reverse. The truck had a 170 l fuel tank. Once armored, the vehicles weighed 3,500 kg empty and 4,500 kg ready for combat. Speed was slow at 16 km/h and the range was limited to 100 km.

Two Camiones Protegidos were built using the Benz truck chassis. The original trucks had C.A.M. nº369 and C.A.M. nº370 registration plates, and were stripped of their cabin and bodies. The armored superstructure departed a little from the previous designs and was a forerunner of subsequent vehicles. It was also slightly better protected, with 8 mm stainless steel plates riveted onto the structure. Each side had two rows of three circular firing holes for the infantry carried inside. As in the Federal-based Camión Protegido, the door near the front opened to the rear, endangering exiting crew members. A covered opening at the front, on top of the engine compartment, not only served to ventilate the engine but also to provide limited forward vision for the driver. The wheels were covered by trapezoid-shaped mudguards. Atop of the vehicle was a large short enneagon-shaped turret thought to have been fixed in place. Every other side of the enneagon had a semicircular structure with three vertical firing slits. The remaining sides had two of these vertical firing slits. This allowed for a 360º angle of fire even from a non-rotating turret. The crew consisted of four: commander, driver, gunner, and loader. The driver would have sat at the front of the vehicle, with the gunner, loader, and their 7 mm Hotchkiss machine gun in the turret. Whether the commander sat next to the driver or accompanied the machine gun crew in the turret is unknown. In addition, there was an infantry complement of six troops. 

The Camión Protegido nº5 on a Benz chassis. Notice the large turret with the vertical firing slits and the structure at the front for cooling the engine and providing vision to the driver – source: Mortera Pérez (2009), p. 13

Latil Tipo I

Following increasing activity in Morocco and the expansion of operations to other points in the Spanish Protectorate, a new series of vehicles was ordered at some point from mid to late 1922. These new Camiones Protegidos were larger and are designated in Spanish sources as either Latil Tipo I or Latil Primera Serie [Eng. First Series Latil]. 

The truck chassis used were from French Latil TAR 4×4 heavy artillery trucks, an evolution of the Latil TH introduced in 1915. They were used extensively by the French Army during the Great War to tow large artillery pieces and tanks. The base vehicle was nearly 6 m long, 2.3 m wide, and around 2 m high. Without a load, the vehicle weighed 5,800 kg and could carry over twice that. The engine was a Latil petrol 4 cylinder 40 hp engine, which gave a speed of 18 km/h. There were five forward gears and one reverse. 

A restored Latil TAR at the Berliet Foundation – source: Wikipedia

The Camión Protegido Latil I was a long vehicle with the usual 7 mm of stainless steel riveted onto the structure. Appearance-wise, it was an elongated Camión Protegido Benz without a turret. The trapezoid-shaped mudguards were very wide. Unlike in previous M-21 designs, the wheel frames were not given an armored cover. In the middle and at the rear, there were three firing holes that could be closed from the inside. It is unclear whether the liquid deposit at the rear left was for additional fuel or water, both of which were indispensable in the environment that the M-21s fought in. Sources state that 140 l of fuel was carried inside the vehicle. At the middle front, on top of the door, there was a lamp and, judging by the photographic evidence, the Camión Protegido Latil I nº9 was the first one to have been so equipped. On the front plate, which went from the top of the engine to the roof of the vehicle, there was a large foldable hatch for the driver’s vision. Unless this hatch had a vision slit, it would have put the driver in great danger when driving in combat operations. There was a small turret, probably only used for observation, on top of the majority of Latil I M-21s, while an open hatch on the turretless M-21 Latil I served the same observation purpose. Apparently, one Camión Protegido Latil I had a radio system. 

Frontal-side view of an M-21 Latil tipo I. Note the hazardous foldable hatch for the driver’s vision, and also the liquid container on the rear of the vehicle – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso, p. 23

The first two Camiones Protegidos Latil Is, nºs 9 and 10, arrived in Melilla on January 5th, 1923, followed by nºs 11 and 12 on February 27th, 1923. The following two vehicles in the series, nºs 13 and 14, were sent to Melilla from Malaga on November 30th, 1923. 

Camión Protegido nº14 on a Latil I chassis. This photo shows the length of the vehicle and the inscriptions (INGENIEROS AUTOMOVILISMO MILITAR CAMION PROTEGIDO Nº14 [Eng. Engineers Military Motoring Protected Truck No. 14] and insignia on the side of the vehicle – source: Mortera Pérez (2009), p. 26

Latil Tipo II

The last and most frequently built Camión Protegido was the Latil tipo II or Latil Segunda Serie [Eng: Second Series Latil]. This was by far the most mature design, and it actually resembled a traditional armored car.

According to Spanish sources, this version of the M-21 also used a Latil chassis, either a Latil NTAR-4 or a NTAR-E. Even when cross-referencing, it is difficult to establish which vehicle this would be. It could have been either the TAR 2 or TAR 3, both improvements on the Latil TAR introduced in 1920 and 1924, respectively, with a radiator at the front. Not having been introduced until 1928, Latil TAR 4 was clearly not the basis for the Camión Protegido M-21 Latil tipo II.  

The Latil TAR 3, which may have been the basis for the Camión Protegido M-21 Latil tipo II – source: Wikipedia

It seems as though the truck had a 4-cylinder 80-hp petrol engine, six forward gears, and one reverse. On the M-21 Latil tipo II, this gave speeds of 40 km/h, a substantial improvement on the earlier Camiones Protegidos. The truck had two 100 l fuel tanks, allowing for a range of 300 km, again vastly superior to previous iterations. 

Whilst similar in appearance to previous models, the design of the Latil II was more refined. There were no large mudguards covering the wheels and, on some vehicles, the spokes and center disk of the wheels were protected by a metallic disk. The front of the vehicle had three sets of two openings to contribute to the cooling of the engine. The top two sets had covers to protect them. This was possible because the radiator was at the front, which was not the case in previous designs. There was a lamp on either side of the bonnet to facilitate night driving. A cover to protect the lamps dangled beneath them. Unlike in the previous designs, access was not through the door at the front of the vehicle, as would have been the case in the trucks the vehicles were based on. Instead, it was through a door in the middle on the left side. The door itself was also an improvement on earlier vehicles as it opened to either side, giving protection to exiting crew members. These three factors, openings for cooling the engine, lamps, and a middle door, contributed to the Latil II being a more professional design. However, the vision device for the driver was similar to the one on the Benz-based design, which substantially limited how much the driver could see. There was a turret at the top of the vehicle for a Hotchkiss 7 mm machine gun. 

Rear view of Latil tipo II Camión Protegido M-21 nº22 with what appears to be its crew and two civilian women. Notice the open double door – source: Caballero Fernández de Marcos

The crew was made of four: commander, driver, gunner, and loader. In addition, there were six soldiers who fired out of the two rows of four firing holes on either side of the vehicle. Crew comfort was considered in the design, with wood covering of the floor and other parts of the interior and padded walls. There was also a ventilator to extract the fumes from inside of the vehicle. 

CEYC built the first series of 5 Camiones Protegidos Modelo 1921 on a Latil tipo II chassis in 1924. The construction of a second series of 9 was authorized the following year. One of them, nº29, was even built in Melilla. 

Front side view of Latil tipo II Camión Protegido M-21 nº27. Notice the lamps, the lamp cover, the openings for cooling the engine, and the vision slot for the driver – source: Mortera Pérez (2009), p. 28
Front side view of Latil tipo II Camión Protegido M-21 nº30, one of the last vehicles produced. Notice the mature design and placement of the lamps much lower down than on other Latil tipo II – source: Museo Militar de Valencia
Vehicle Number Denomination Registration Plate Arrived in Morocco
Nº1 Nash-Quad ATM nº195 17/8/1921
Nº2 Federal ATM nº1301* 17/8/1921
Nº3 Nash-Quad ATM nº1301* 29/11/1921
Nº4 Nash-Quad ATM nº1302 29/11/1921
Nº5 Benz ATM nº1304 3/1/1922
Nº6 Benz ATM nº1306 3/1/1922
Nº7 Nash-Quad ATM nº1306 April 1922**
Nº8 Nash-Quad ATM nº1307 April 1922**
Nº9 Latil I ATM nº1308 5/1/1923
Nº10 Latil I ATM nº1309 5/1/1923
Nº11 Latil I ATM nº1310 27/2/1923
Nº12 Latil I ATM nº1311 27/2/1923
Nº13 Latil I ATM nº1312 30/11/1923
Nº14 Latil I ATM nº1313 30/11/1923
Nº15 Nash-Quad ATM nº1314 September 1923+
Nº16 Nash-Quad ATM nº1315 September 1923+
Nº17 Nash-Quad ATM nº1316 September 1923+
Nº18 Latil II ATM nº188 1924++
Nº19 Latil II ATM nº189 1924++
Nº20 Latil II ATM nº190 1924++
Nº21 Latil II ATM nº191 1924++
Nº22 Latil II ATM nº192 1924++
Nº23 Latil II ATM nº1629 1925
Nº24 Latil II ATM nº1630 1925
Nº25 Latil II ATM nº1631 1925
Nº26 Latil II ATM nº1632 1925
Nº27 Latil II ATM nº1628 1925
Nº28 Latil II ATM nº1674 1925
Nº29 Latil II ATM nº1673 1925
Nº30 Latil II ATM nº1672 1925
Nº31 Latil II ATM nº16711 1925
* After the destruction of M-21 nº2 on a Federal chassis, the registration plate ATM nº1301 was passed onto M-21 nº3 on a Nash-Quad chassis.
** Some sources state March 1922. These vehicles were the first vehicles sent to Ceuta, as previous vehicles had been sent to Melilla.
+ These vehicles were most likely assembled in Melilla.
++ Built in Madrid and sent to Ceuta.
A group of M-21s in Morocco. Pictured are a number of Latil tipo Is, the Federal nº2 and at least one Nash-Quad – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso, p. 18

M-21 Service

Service in the Rif War

The Early Days – Melilla 1921-1922

The debut of the M-21s came in August 1921, a week after Spanish troops had been massacred after surrendering in Monte Arruit, in the last event of the Annual debacle. Nash-Quad nº1 and Federal nº2 arrived in Melilla on August 17th 1921. They were organized into the Grupo Mixto de Automóviles y Radiotelegrafía [Eng. Automobile and Radiotelegraphy Mixed Group], under the command of Engineer Commander Andrés Fernández Mulero. Nº1 was commanded by Engineer Sergeant Francisco Rancaño Saville and nº2 by Engineer Sergeant Eusebio Fernández Escourido. 

M-21 Nash-Quad nº1 after it arrived in Melilla – source: García, p. 13

The initial markings on the vehicles were “Cuerpo de Ingenieros” [Eng. Engineers Corps], “Sección de Automovilismo Militar” [Eng. Military Motoring Section], and “Camión Protegido nºx” [Eng. Protected Truck no.x] in three lines on the right side of the vehicles. These were later simplified to “Ingenieros” [Eng. Engineers], “Automovilismo Militar” [Eng. Military Motoring], and “Camión Protegido nºx” [across four lines and the insignia of the Engineer Corps. A further simplified version across two lines had “Ingenieros” and “Camión Protegido nºx” and retained the Engineers badge. 

Insignia of the Cuerpo de Ingenieros which adorned the majority of Camiones Protegidos Modelo 1921 – source: Wikipedia

A few days later, on August 22nd, both vehicles joined the fight against Rifian forces at Casabona (not too far west of Melilla), where they may have supported the bayonet charge of the Tercio de Extranjeros [Eng. Foreign Legion]. Their main role during the fighting, with the vehicles functioning individually or paired-up, was to protect the convoys leaving from Zoco el Had (Beni Chiker*). On August 31st, the Rifian forces laid a trap and Federal nº2 toppled into a ditch. Once immobilized, it was attacked by Rifian fighters leaving it so badly damaged that it was abandoned and not recovered till several months had passed. The driver, Corporal Sebastián Montaner, was killed, and the commander, Sgt Fernández Escourido, was wounded. 

*Please note that most place names are spelt as by Spanish sources. These names have since changed. When possible, the current place name is provided in parentheses.

The sad state of Federal nº2 after its fall into a ditch – source: García, p. 18

In September, the Nash-Quad nº1, under the command of Sgt Rancaño, famed for his daring, was the only vehicle available. After protecting convoys from Zoco el Had to Melilla, and from Nador to Tahuima (Tauima), on September 29th, it arrived in the vicinity of Zeluán (Selouane) by rail. On October 2nd, under intense Rifian fire, it rescued a wounded soldier during an attack on Sebt. Two days later, on October 4th, it broke the enemy lines and captured Segangan (Zeghanghane). 

The boldest of Sgt Racaño’s actions came on October 16th, when on board his vehicle, under intense fire, he rescued a Spanish soldier being held captive, taking three prisoners on the way back. An alternative version of the event has it taking place on December 7th while on board Nash-Quad nº3. On October 24th, nº1 joined a column to capture Monte Arruit (Al Aaroui). Earlier that year, in the aftermath of Annual, 2,000 Spanish prisoners of war had been massacred by the Rifian forces. After Monte Arruit was captured, nº1 took part in the collection of the corpses which littered the field. By this point in the war, Spanish forces had been able to recapture Nador and Zeluán and had been able to reestablish the ‘borders’ set in 1909. 

M-21 Nash-Quad nº1 after another successful mission – source: García, p. 19

In November 1921, nº1 took part in a number of engagements in the vicinity of Melilla. In some of these operations it was joined by the recently arrived Blindados Landa. On November 29th, vehicles nº3 and 4, also on a Nash-Quad chassis, arrived in Melilla, though they were not ready for combat until December 5th. The three M-21s on Nash-Quad chassis and the Blindados Landa were sent south to Zaio on patrol. Nº1 and nº4 returned to Melilla on November 7th and 8th. Nº3 and the Blindados Landa took part in the capture of Tistutín (Testutin), Yarsan (Yarsar), and Batel (Batil). All three M-21s on Nash-Quad chassis were used in conjunction in the capture of Ras Tikermin. 

The crew and infantry component of M-21 Nash-Quad nº4 pose next to their vehicle. Note the open rear door and what appears to be a towing hook – source: García, p. 29

On January 3rd 1922, the two Benz-based M-21s arrived in North Africa. Nº5 was commanded by Sgt Lorenzo Juanola Durán and Sgt José García Marcos was the commander of nº6. They arrived in Batel on January 8th, the same day elsewhere in the war Spanish forces had arrived at Dar Drius, and, with some of the other M-21s, were divided into two sections: nºs 3 and 6; and nºs 4 and 5. The following day, they took Dar Busada (Dar Boujaada) and Dar Azujag. 

On February 4th 1922, nº2, which had been severely damaged in September the previous year, was finally recovered by nº1 and was then rebuilt in Melilla. On February 14th, nºs 3 and 4 captured Hasi Berkan, followed by Zoco el Arbaa on the 17th. At the end of the month, on February 26th, nº4 was badly damaged and was sent back to Melilla for repairs. Nº3 suffered a similar fate a few days later. The two M-21 Benz vehicles were now in need of reinforcements and nº1 was duly sent to join them. 

What appears to be a military parade during the Rif War. From left to right: a Benz, a Nash-Quad, and a Latil I – source: García, p. 26

Following operations, such as seizing small hamlets and patrol duties, in mid-March, the M-21s supported the Renault FTs on their debut in North Africa in Anvar (or Ambar) and Imelahen. Between April 6th and 17th, nºs 3, 4, 5, and 6 occupied Chemorra (Chamorra), Laari Entuya, Dar el Quebdani, Timayast (Timajast), Tamasusit, and Chaif. On some of these operations, they were supported by Renault FTs and Schneider CA-1s. 

Map of the Spanish Protectorate in Morocco, showing its extension at the end of the Rif War in 1927 in orange. Throughout the war, the M-21s were mainly operated around Melilla and Nador. They also saw service in Tetuán – source: Agencia EFE via Google Arts & Culture

The War Expands

Up to early 1922, most of the fighting had taken place to the east of the territory controlled by the Rif Republic, with the Spanish operations being centered around Melilla. To create a new front in the west, the Grupo Mixto de Automóviles y Radiotelegrafía de la Comandancia General de Ceuta [Eng. Ceuta General Commandancy Mixed Automobile and Radiotelegraphy Group] was created. Vehicles of a new model of M-21 on a Latil chassis made up this new group. Before those arrived, the new nºs 7 and 8 on a Nash-Quad chassis were incorporated as a stopgap in March or April 1922. Because of further delays to the Latil vehicles, in August, nºs 5 and 6 were sent from Melilla. 

The Ceuta Sección de Blindados [Eng. Armored Section] had its first notable engagement on September 10th, protecting the approach to a bridge 10 km distance from Tetuán. Three of nº6’s crew members were wounded, and its commander, Sgt García Marcos, was mentioned in dispatches. At some point either in late August or September, nº5 got stuck in a ditch. Its crew and armament were recovered by the other three vehicles, with nº6 returning later to tow the vehicle to safety. For the remainder of 1922, the Ceuta Section took part in routine patrol and convoy protection missions. 

By this stage in the war, Spain had been able to bribe several native chiefs, most notably El Raisuni, to withdraw from fighting and in some cases even join the Spanish forces. This freed up troops that could subsequently be used in offensive operations, such as Tizzi Assa and its port. However, Tizzi Assa was besieged by Rifian forces in June 1923, though they were defeated after reinforcements arrived. 

In January 1923, the first M-21s Latil tipo I were delivered to Melilla. Sometime in 1923, a new Sección de Blindados was created in Larache. In total, there were 10 M-21s in Melilla, 3 in Ceuta, and 4 in Larache. 

From left to right: a Nash-Quad, a Latil I, and either a Latil I or Nash-Quad– source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso, p. 18

Operations between September 1922 and November 1924 are not mentioned in the sources. Much did happen during this period though. In mainland Spain, General Miguel Primo de Rivera successfully carried out a coup on September 13th 1923. Ten days later, he ordered troops from Tetuán to go and relieve Xauen, which was under siege from Rifian forces. The siege was temporarily broken and the relief columns joined the defense of the city. However, the defense could not last, and over a year later, on November 15th, the order was given for 20,000 troops and civilians to leave Xauen and head towards Tetuán. At this moment there were serious fears of a repeat of the retreat of Annual, but this time, the Spanish troops kept their discipline. The Rifian capture of Xauen was the highlight of the short-lived Rif Republic and its peak of territorial expansion. 

Reports on the M-21s whereabouts resumed during the actions to cover the retreat from Xauen. On November 19th 1924, nºs 6 and 8 covered the retreat of General Serrano’s troops in Zoco Arbáa, south of Tetuán. This continued until December 9th, by which point nº5 had also joined in the covering of the retreat to Taranes (Taranect). During intense rain on December 10th, nº6 got stuck in the mud and was surrounded by Rifian forces. Later that day, the same fate would befall nº5. On December 11th, Spanish aircraft located the stranded vehicles with their crews still holding on inside and offered aerial support. This would prove insufficient and on the night of the 11th, nº5’s crew abandoned the vehicle after destroying the armament, and made it back to Spanish lines, some having been wounded along the way. Nº6 held on until December 12th with only half of its crew and troop component remaining (four of the five were badly wounded). After destroying the weapons on board, they were taken prisoner. Both Benz-based vehicles were eventually recovered. The column from Xauen reached Tetuán on December 13th

The crews of three Latil I M-21s and a M-21 Benz – source: García, p. 27

At the end of December 1924, during a convoy protection operation in the Melilla area alongside nº12, Latil I nº9 hit an early improvised explosive device which wounded five of the crew and troop complement and knocked out the engine. Nº9’s crew and troops boarded Latil I nº12, and, after some consideration, decided to abandon nº9. A few days later, Rifian forces set it on fire and laid booby traps around it. Unaware of this, a rescue mission involving M-21s nºs 1, 4, 11, and 12 alongside a number of Schneider CA-1s was dispatched. Upon encountering the booby traps, the engineers destroyed them but they were unable to fix nº9. An attempt to tow it with the Schneider CA-1 failed owing to the weather conditions and the Rifian rifle fire. The order was given to abort the mission, but M-21 nº12 and a machine gun section were left to protect the vehicle. On December 31st, a second mission with M-21s nºs 3, 4, and 11 and some Schneider CA-1s was able to salvage the vehicle and it eventually re-entered service after major repairs. 

Two Latil tipo Is with their small turrets. The quality of the photograph does not allow us to be certain about the number. Between them is what looks like a Nash-Quad. The vehicle furthest to the right may also be a Nash-Quad – source: García, p. 26

Little is known about the operations in 1925 and 1926, but it is unlikely that the M-21s took part in the Alhucemas landings of September 7th 1925. These landings effectively ended the war, as they created a new front behind Rifian lines. Less than a month later, on October 2nd, Spanish troops captured Axdir, the Rifian stronghold. On September 9th 1925, the Grupo Mixto de Automóviles y Radiotelegrafía de la Comandancia General de Melilla was granted the highly prized Medalla Militar Colectiva [Eng. Collective Military Medal]. On an individual level, Sgt García Marcos was awarded the Cruz Laureada de San Fernando [Eng. Laureate Cross of Saint Ferdinand], the Spanish Army’s most prestigious medal, and Sgt Rancaño Saville and Sgt Juanola Durán received the Medalla Militar Individual [Eng. Individual Military Medal]. 

On February 7th 1927, with the Rif War over, the CEYC was transformed into the Regimiento de Radiotelegrafía y Automovilismo [Eng. Radiotelegraphy and Motoring Regiment] by royal decree.

The crew and infantry section of M-21 Latil II nº29. Note the wheel covers not present on other Latil II pictures in the article – source: Mortera Pérez (2009), p. 28

The Camiones Protegidos Modelo 1921 in times of the Republic

La Sanjurjada

As of March 31st 1931, the situation of the Camiones Protegidos Modelo 1921 was as follows:

Vehicle Number Chassis Status on 31/3/1931
Grupo Mixto de Automóviles y Radiotelegrafía de la Comandancia General de Ceuta
Nº5 Benz Awaiting repairs
Nº6 Benz Awaiting repairs
Nº13 Latil I In service
Nº14 Latil I In service
Nº18 Latil II In service
Nº19 Latil II In service
Nº20 Latil II In service
Nº21 Latil II In service
Nº22 Latil II In service
Nº23 Latil II In service
Nº24 Latil II In service
Nº28 Latil II In service
Nº31 Latil II In service
Grupo Mixto de Automóviles y Radiotelegrafía de la Comandancia General de Melilla
Nº2 Federal In service
Nº3 Nash-Quad In need of major repairs
Nº4 Nash-Quad In need of major repairs
Nº9 Latil I In need of major repairs
Nº10 Latil I In need of major repairs
Nº11 Latil I In need of major repairs
Nº12 Latil I In need of major repairs
Nº15 Nash-Quad In need of major repairs
Nº16 Nash-Quad In need of major repairs
Nº17 Nash-Quad In need of major repairs
Grupo Mixto de Automóviles y Radiotelegrafía de la Comandancia General de Larache
Nº25 Latil II In reserve
Nº27 Latil II In reserve
Nº29 Latil II In reserve
Nº30 Latil II In reserve

Before this, four vehicles had been removed from service, Nash-Quads nºs 1, 7, and 8, and Latil II nº26.

The veteran Nash-Quad nº1 before its removal from service – source: García, p. 32

On April 14th 1931, the Second Spanish Republic was formed. One of its first endeavors was to plan a reorganization of the Army. When it came to the Regimiento de Radiotelegrafía y Automovilismo, the plan was to reform it as the Agrupamiento de Radiotelegrafía y Automovilismo en África [Eng. Radiotelegraphy and Motoring Grouping in Africa]. The Grouping was to be divided into two companies, one in Ceuta with 12 M-21s, and one in Larache with 8, a plan which did not come to fruition. 

The new Republican government would redistribute the remaining M-21s, which left only 21 in service or reserve. A report from November 31st 1931 put the situation as:

Vehicle Number Chassis Status on 31/3/1931
Grupo Mixto de Automóviles y Radiotelegrafía de la Comandancia General de Ceuta
Nº5 Benz Proposed removal
Nº6 Benz Proposed removal
Nº13 Latil I Proposed removal
Nº14 Latil I Proposed removal
Nº18 Latil II In reserve
Nº19 Latil II In reserve
Nº20 Latil II In reserve
Nº21 Latil II In reserve
Nº22 Latil II In reserve
Nº23 Latil II In reserve
Nº24 Latil II In reserve
Nº28 Latil II In reserve
Nº31 Latil II In reserve
Grupo Mixto de Automóviles y Radiotelegrafía de la Comandancia General de Melilla
Nº3 Nash-Quad In service
Nº9 Latil I In service
Nº10 Latil I In service
Nº11 Latil I In service
Nº12 Latil I In service
Nº15 Nash-Quad In need of major repairs
Nº16 Nash-Quad In need of major repairs
Nº17 Nash-Quad In service
Grupo Mixto de Automóviles y Radiotelegrafía de la Comandancia General de Larache
Nº25 Latil II In reserve
Nº27 Latil II In reserve
Nº29 Latil II In reserve
Nº30 Latil II In reserve
Parque Central de Madrid
Nº2 Federal In service
Nº4 Nash-Quad In service

The moving of two vehicles to Madrid would prove fortuitous. On the morning of August 10th 1932, in Sevilla, General Sanjurjo, the former head of the Guardia Civil [Eng. Civil Guard], launched a right-wing coup known as La Sanjurjada against the Republic. In the Spanish capital, Madrid, only a Cavalry squadron rose against the government. Supported by about a hundred civilians, they marched south from their barracks in Tetuán de las Victorias in northern Madrid to the Ministry of War in the center of the city. The government had been forewarned about the coup and sent four companies of Guardias de Asalto [Eng. Assault Guards] and the Camiones Protegidos Modelo 1921 nºs 2 and 4. It took three hours to defeat the coup in Madrid and, by the end of the day, the coup had also been defeated in Sevilla. Sanjurjo and his followers were arrested. 

M-21 Federal nº2 in Cibeles in Madrid following General Sanjurjo’s failed coup on August 10th 1932. Note that the vehicle has not yet been incorporated into the Regimiento de Carros nº1, as it retains the “INGENIEROS” markings on its side –source: Vehículos Blindados de la Guerra Civil

In 1934, renewed plans to rearrange the M-21s saw the creation of the Servicio de Automovilismo de Marruecos [Eng. Morocco Motoring Service] with a Sección de Autoametralladoras [Eng. Self-propelled machine gun vehicle Section] with 18 M-21s. Based on this number, it might be deduced that perhaps one of the M-21s in Ceuta, Lareche or Melilla had been removed from service between November 1931 and 1934. Like the previous plan, this was not put into motion. At some point after their 1932 involvement in Madrid, the two M-21s (nºs 2 4) were incorporated into the Regimiento de Carros nº1 [Eng. Tank Regiment No. 1] which was equipped with Renault FTs. 

Photographs of the era show a change in the markings on the sides of the M-21s belonging to the Regimiento de Carros nº1. As this Regiment was attached to the infantry section of the Army, the previous Engineer insignia and “INGENIEROS” markings were replaced by the badge of the Regiment and “INFANTERIA” [Eng. Infantry]. 

Asturias October 1934 Revolution

In 1934, the Camiones Protegidos Modelo 1921 would see service again. Dissatisfaction with the new center-right and right-wing Republican coalition government led leftist elements to plan a revolutionary uprising. In October 1934, the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) [Eng. Spanish Socialist and Workers Party] and Unión General de los Trabajadores (UGT) [Eng. General Union of Workers] trade union, along with the anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist parties and trade unions, called for a general strike. The major centers of revolutionary activity were in Asturias and Catalonia. In Asturias, the socialist and anarchist miners were well organized and armed, even with improvized armored cars, and communes were formed. The government soon mobilized forces to counter the revolutionaries. 

A week into the revolution, on October 14th, the Ministry of War ordered the Chief of the Fuerzas Militares de Marruecos [Eng. Military Forces of Morocco] to send the four available ‘camiones blindados’ [Eng. Armored trucks] in Melilla to Santander. Only two drivers were required, and they would receive orders from Santander’s military commander. The M-21s were put on steamships bound for Santander near midnight that same day. A second telegram was sent to the Regimiento de Carros nº1 of Madrid to send its two M-21s to León (south of Asturias) with all their crew members. The Regiment was also ordered to send crews for four armored trucks to Santander to crew the M-21s sent from Melilla. 

Once in Santander with their crews, the four M-21s from Melilla drove to Oviedo and joined General Eduardo López de Ochoa y Portuondo’s column. The two M-21s sent from Madrid arrived in León on October 16th and headed north to join Lieutenant General Joaquín Milans del Bosch’s column in Campomanes, where earlier in the revolution there had been a pitched-battle between miners and government troops. More precise details of their operations in Asturias are lacking, but by this point, most of the revolutionaries had surrendered.

The M-21 Nash-Quad nº4 on Calle Oñón [Eng. Oñón Street] in Mieres following the conclusion of the Asturias October 1934 Revolution. The box-like structure of the armor resembles the original design of the Federal nº2. Note that this particular vehicle lacks a turret and, unlike the vehicles which fought in the Rif War, it has four-tone camouflage. The lamp at the top was also perhaps a post-war addition – source: Mortera Pérez (2007), p. 16
The M-21s from Madrid and Melilla remained in Asturias until November 15th 1934. It was decided to send the Melilla M-21s to Madrid too, which was authorized by the Tetuán military authorities on the 21st. By the end of 1934, the Regimiento de Carros nº1 of Madrid had six M-21s. 

Three M-21s – Federal nº2, Nash-Quad nº4 and an unidentified Nash-Quad during a parade in Madrid in the aftermath of the 1934 Revolution – source: Vehículos Blindados de la Guerra Civil 

Service in the Spanish Civil War?

After their deployment in the October 1934 Revolution, the Camiones Protegidos Modelo 1921 were gradually retired from service. They were no longer necessary in the Spanish Protectorate in Morocco, as the Rif had been pacified. Their role in Spain was supplanted with the introduction of the Bilbao Modelo 1932, a dedicated police and security vehicle. 

It is possible that some vehicles may have survived until the early days of the Spanish Civil War. Unless the six M-21s of the Regimiento de Carros nº1 had been scrapped or repurposed between the end of 1934 and July 1936, it is entirely possible that they played a role in defeating the military coup that started the civil war in Madrid. However, without photographic evidence, it is impossible to tell if they took part in the attack on the Cuartel de la Montaña [Eng. Mountain Barracks]. 

A Nash-Quad-based M-21 at Cibeles, on the corner between Callé Alcalá and Paseo de Recoletos, near the center of Madrid. Some sources suggest that this was nº4, but photographs of said vehicle in Mieres in October 1934 show it did not have a turret and its upper structure was quite different from other vehicles based on the Nash-Quad chassis. Instead, the one in the picture above could well be one of the vehicles which joined the Regimiento de Carros nº1 in Madrid from Melilla via Asturias after November 1934 – source: Mortera Pérez (2009), p. 32

There are accounts of the use of M-21s in different parts of Spain after the coup on July 17th 1936, though none have photographic evidence to corroborate them. 

In San Sebastián, according to Javier de Mazarrasa, the troops of the Regimiento de Zapadores nº6 [Eng. Pioneer Regiment no. 6], stationed in the Loyola barracks, had the Nash-Quad nº4. On July 19th, the M-21 was used as a staff car on journeys through the city by different coup-supporting officers to protect them from civilian and militia fire. The troops in the barracks finally joined the coup on July 21st and nº4 was apparently used to intimidate the population, which was mostly loyal to the government. Having been defeated by loyalist civilians and militias, the troops in Loyola surrendered, and according to Mazarrasa, nº4 was used to transport the formal surrender documents. After the surrender of the rebel garrison, nº4 was incorporated into Commander Augusto Pérez Garmendia’s column, tasked with defeating the coup in the province of Guipúzcoa. Its supposed fate after this is even more convoluted. Mazarrasa states that it fought Colonel Alfonso Beorlegui’s rebel forces in the town of Oyarzun [Eusk. Oiartzun], before being captured near Tolosa on August 11th. On the other hand, a local San Sebastián newspaper stated that the vehicle had been destroyed in the city by a fire caused by a mortar. 

Mazarrasa also speculates that, at the beginning of the coup, two Latil (no type specified) M-21s in the Maestranza de Artillería [Eng. Artillery Arsenal] were in Sevilla, where, in spite of the left-wing tendencies, the coup had succeeded. Shortly after securing Sevilla, apparently, one of the M-21s was used to protect the Sevilla-Huelva road, and the other to attack Jerez de la Frontera. After some repairs, on August 6th, according to Mazarrasa, they joined Commander Francisco Buiza’s column to capture Constantina (87 km north of Sevilla), which was achieved by the 9th. Mazarrasa states that, in September 1936, General José Enrique Valera’s troops had a damaged M-21. He goes on to say that the two M-21 Latils were considered to be in too bad a condition to join Lieutenant Colonel Carlos Asensio Cabanillas’ column, then heading north into Extremadura. Mazarrasa also claims that three M-21s survived until the 1950s. 

It is difficult to assess the veracity of Mazarrasa’s claims. No supporting evidence has emerged that any M-21s were transported to San Sebastián or Sevilla prior to the coup, though there is no reason why this would not have happened. Sevilla was a major armored vehicle repair facility, so a vehicle sent for repairs could have ended up there. Mazarrasa also claims that 41 M-21s were built, but documents put that figure at 31. Without photographic evidence, it is difficult to attest to the participation of the M-21s in the days following the coup in San Sebastián or Sevilla. 

Regarding the vehicles in Ceuta and Larache, if any were still in service or reserve by July 1936, they would not have been needed. The coup was backed almost unanimously in the Spanish Protectorate, so there would be no need to use the M-21s to intimidate opposition or take control of towns. Due to the Loyalist Republican naval blockade, the Rebel troops in North Africa had to be airlifted to the Peninsula by German and Italian aircraft. These would have been unable to transport the M-21s, and by the time the Strait of Gibraltar had opened up, more modern German and Italian equipment would have made the M-21s redundant even if they were still serviceable. 

A vehicle said to have been in Melilla after the July 1936 coup. The pictured vehicle has many resemblances to the Latil tipo I series of M-21s. However, the armored superstructure seems to be too far off the ground – source: Vehículos Blindados de la Guerra Civil 

Side Note – Camiones ‘Semiprotegidos’

As previously mentioned, there is evidence of 8 Nash-Quad trucks in the Parque de Artillería in Melilla in 1923 classified as ‘semiprotegidos’ [Eng. semi-protected or semi-armored]. It is possible that these were going to be converted into M-21s but funds were not available. The name would suggest that a full conversion was never carried out, but that the Nash-Quads had some protective armor, probably around the cabin.

Other ‘semiprotegidos’ did fight during the Rif War. A photo of a convoy carrying ammunition and provisions arriving in Xauen published in 1926 shows two Hispano-Suiza trucks with some armor. The sides and front of the cabin have been protected with the gun shield used for the infantry’s machine guns. This armor arrangement would not have offered much protection to the vehicle as a whole, just the driver. Although there is no photographic evidence, it is not outside the realm of possibility that other similar vehicles operated in the Spanish Protectorate in the turbulent years of the Rif War. 

‘Semiprotegidos’ based on a Hispano-Suiza truck arriving in Xauen in 1926. These vehicles only had their cabin protected – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso, p. 26

Conclusion

The Camiones Protegidos Modelo 1921 show the maturity and improvement in designs that Spanish engineers were able to achieve over the course of a few years in times of war. Budget restrictions forced the CEYC to make use of available trucks to convert into weapons able to wage war. Although some of the early M-21s were armed with a turret, they were best suited for convoy protection and patrol duties. At times, they were not too dissimilar to the tiznaos of the Spanish Civil War era. In contrast, the later M-21 designs, especially that of the Latil tipo II, with its powerful engine, were more akin to traditional armored cars.

In spite of the design progress and refinement, the M-21s were vehicles for the circumstances at the time. The fighters of the Rif Republic had very few modern weapons and certainly no armored vehicles. The Rif War itself had very few pitched battles and was mostly a war of small engagements and hit-and-run tactics. 

Given the time and the war, the Camiones Protegidos Modelo 1921 were a more than adequate vehicle, and the military awards received by M-21 commanders are a fitting testament to this. 

Camión Protegido Modelo 1921 Latil tipo II nº27 3D model drawn and rendered by by Stoneheartisk
Vehicle Nash-Quad Federal Benz Latil I Latil II
Chassis 4×4 1 ½ ton (2 tonnes) Nash Quad Federal Motor Truck Company 4×2 2 ½ tons (3 tonnes) Unclear Latil TAR 4×4 heavy artillery truck Unclear
Size (approx) 5 m long
1.9 m wide
2 m high
Not known 5 m long
1.9 m wide
2 m high
5.75 m long
2.3 m wide
2.5 m high
6.5 m long
1.8 m wide
2.9 m high
Weight (approx) Not known Not known 8 tonnes 8 tonnes 8 tonnes
Engine Buda 312 cu in (5.1 L) side-valve 4 cylinder 28 hp Continental E4 4 cylinder 29 hp Benz 4 cylinder 45 hp Latil petrol 4 cylinder 40 hp Latil petrol 4 cylinder 80 hp
Crew 3 or 4 (commander, driver, gunner, and loader 4 (commander, driver, and 2 gunners) 4 (commander, driver, gunner, and loader) 4 (commander, driver, gunner, and loader) 4 (commander, driver, gunner, and loader)
Infantry 4 Not specified 6 6 6
Armor 7 mm 7 mm 8 mm 7 mm 7 mm
Armament 1 Hotchkiss 7 mm machine gun 2 Hotchkiss 7 mm machine gun 1 Hotchkiss 7 mm machine gun 1 Hotchkiss 7 mm machine gun 1 Hotchkiss 7 mm machine gun
Speed (approx) Not known 20 km/h 16 km/h 20 km/h 40 km/h
Range (approx) Not known Not known 100 km 140 km 300 km
Numbers Built 8 1 2 6 14

Bibliography

Anon. 4wdonline, “Jeffrey Quad” https://web.archive.org/web/20170314045213/www.4wdonline.com/ClassicTrucks/Jeffrey.html [accessed 25 September 2021]

Anon. Avant Train Latil, “Les Vehicules Latil” http://avant-train-latil.com/?i=1 [accessed 29 September 2021]

Anon. Landships, “Jeffrey Quad Nash” http://www.landships.info/landships/softskin_articles/Jeffrey_Quad.html [accessed 25 September 2021]

Artemio Mortera Pérez, Los Medios Blindados de la Guerra Civil Española. Teatro de Operaciones del Norte 36/37 (Valladolid: Alcañiz Fresno Editores, 2007)

Artemio Mortera Pérez, Los Medios Blindados de la Guerra Civil Española Teatro de Operaciones de Andalucía y Centro 36/39 (Valladolid: Alcañiz Fresno’s Editores, 2009)

Dionisio García, Blindados de las Campañas de Marruecos (Madrid: Ikonos Press)

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

Javier de Mazarrasa, Los Carros de Combate en la Guerra de España 1936-1939 (Vol. 1º) (Valladolid: Quirón Ediciones, 1998)

Juan Carlos Caballero Fernández de Marcos, “La Automoción en el Ejército Español Hasta la Guerra Civil Española” Revista de Historia Militar No. 120 (2016), pp. 13-50

Categories
WW2 Kingdom of Spain Tanks

Renault FT in the Service of the Kingdom of Spain

Kingdom of Spain (1919-1931)
Light Tank – 18 Purchased

Debuting on the Western Front in 1918, the French Renault FT was a revolutionary weapon. Small and equipped with a fully rotating turret, it was deployed en masse in the later stages of the Great War, greatly impacting warfare and military thinking. In the post-war period of instability and economic crisis, the small, cheap, and simple FT would be acquired by the militaries of many nations, and in most cases, was the basis on which their own tank development was born. One of these nations was the Kingdom of Spain, which used the Renault FT during the Rif War.

Context – Spain and the Great War

Following centuries of imperial decline culminating in defeat during the Spanish-American War of 1898, Spain’s place as a lower secondary world power was cemented.

Since the mid-Nineteenth Century, Spain had greatly expanded its influence and territory in North Africa, and, as a result, been in conflict with the local Rifian tribesmen. The Algeciras Conference of 1906, convened to resolve Franco-German colonial competition during the First Moroccan Crisis, resulted in concessions to Spain in Morocco. Lead and other metal deposits were soon discovered further inland in Rifian territory and, almost immediately, contracts were given to companies to mine the deposits and build railway links to the coast, further infuriating the locals.

These growing tensions resulted in an armed uprising by the Rifians, whose attack on railway workers in July 1909 started the Melilla War, which Spain won, gaining some new territory south of Melilla.

However, peace was not long-lasting. In 1911, widespread rebellions against the Sultan and Morocco threatened the Spanish and French possessions. To make matters worse, in what is known as the Agadir Crisis or Second Moroccan Crisis, Germany attempted to use gunboat diplomacy by sending the SMS Panther to the port of Agadir, hoping to gain colonial concessions from France in the Congo by further destabilizing the situation in Morocco. In the end, France made concessions in the Congo and both Spain and France gained more territory in Morocco.

In 1913, the Spanish Protectorate in Morocco was established, integrating the new territories. Small armed uprisings began the following year, though they lacked cohesion and there was little activity during World War I. Spain took no part in the Great War but kept a close eye on developments and, by observing, learned valuable lessons.

Map of the Spanish Protectorate in Morocco. Most of the fighting against the tribes from the Rif in the following decade would take place in the Kert region – source: Research Gate

Spain’s First Tank

Designed to break the deadlock of trench warfare, the tank was one of the Great War’s major developments. Even before the guns fell silent, on October 18th 1918, the Spanish Government had made a formal petition to their French counterparts to begin negotiations for the acquisition of a Renault FT. However, the French authorities proved to be uncooperative in sharing their newest ‘toy’ with the rest of the world and did not respond to the Spanish request until January 15th 1919, once the Armistice was in place. 

At this point, the Comisión de Experiencias, Proyectos y Comprobación del Material de Guerra [Eng. Commission for the Testing of War Materiel], a commission within the Spanish Ministry of War for the testing, trialing and acquisition of war materiel, fleshed out their request to the French Government by asking for a Renault FT equipped with the 37 mm Puteaux SA 18 cannon, followed a few days later by one for three more tanks equipped with the cannon and one with the Hotchkiss M1914 machine gun. This was authorized by Spanish authorities on March 5th 1919.

The petition was then amended to include two additional cannon-equipped tanks. This amended order for a total of seven tanks (six with a cannon and one with a machine gun) was rejected by the French Government on March 20th, leading to the negotiation of a new petition on April 12th. After tough talks, the French Government authorized the sale for F52,500 (Francs) of one machine gun armed FT in May 1919. The longed-for vehicle finally arrived in Madrid from the Centre d’Approvisionament de Materiel Automobile [Eng. Center of Automobile Provisioning] in Paris on June 23rd 1919. The vehicle’s serial number was ‘68352’ and it was equipped with an octagonal or ‘omnibus’ turret. It would be the only Renault FT with this type of turret which ever served in Spain.

The first Renault FT (‘68352’) to arrive in Spain – source: García, p. 4

After the vehicle’s arrival in Madrid, it was sent from the Estación del Norte train station (modern day Principe Pío) to either the Campamento military barracks or the Escuela Central de Tiro [Eng. Central Target Practice School] in Carabanchel. This journey was undertaken without the assistance of a truck or lorry. Two days later, the new tank was presented to the monarch, Alfonso XIII, and the Infantes with considerable attention from the press, which at the time, incorrectly claimed that the Renault FT had been a present to Alfonso XIII. Over the next few days, it was vigorously tested and was inspected by a military and political commission headed by Colonel Ramón Acha.

The new Renault FT being presented to a royal and military commission – source: Mortera Pérez, p. 10

More pictures from the presentation to the royal and military commission – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso, pp. 17-20

During testing, by order of the commission, the machine gun was replaced by license-built Hotchkiss machine guns to allow the use of the Spanish Army’s standard 7 mm Mauser ammunition. These tests were so satisfactory that, on August 13th 1919, the Spanish Government ordered a further ten tanks, eight armed with a machine gun and two with cannon, priced at F533,400. The machine gun-armed Renault FTs were to be delivered with Spanish Hotchkiss machine guns and 500 rounds of ammunition per tank. Unfortunately for the Spanish Government, the French Government refused this request, claiming there were no surplus tanks to sell, and later refused any sales at all.  It is possible that French feathers had been ruffled by Spain’s having replaced the machine gun on the vehicle which had arrived in 1919. As a result, Spain decided to look elsewhere in their search for more tanks, though nothing came of this. 

During another presentation organized by the Ministry of War in April 1920, the vehicle was given an “ARTILLERIA” inscription, denoting that it belonged to the artillery,  the section of the army that had carried out the purchase. On the vehicle’s redesignation to the infantry, this inscription was removed.

The only known picture of the Renault FT with the “ARTILLERIA” inscription – source: Molina Franco, p. 9

The Disaster at Annual

After September 1919, Spain made an effort to assert military control over its protectorate in Morocco and to quell the small scale rebellions which were taking place. This conflict is known as the Rif War. Across the dry, mountainous territory, the Spanish military built a series of forts supplied by long convoy routes subject to constant ambushes. With the objective of occupying Alhucemas Bay, the General Commander of the Melilla military region, General Manuel Fernández Silvestre, stretched his troops too far from the supply lines and, in May 1921, pitched camp in Annual. The reinforcement troops which were supposed to aid Silvestre’s troops for the final pacification of the Rif were ambushed and massacred by tribesmen under the command of their famed leader, Abd el-Krim. Krim’s triumph led many to join his forces, including part of the native contingent attached to the Spanish.

Driven by his success, Krim advanced, taking different forts en route to Annual. Silvestre, whose forces were reduced to four days of supplies and ammunition for one day of combat and with over 6,000 Rifians ever closer, ordered the retreat back to Melilla on July 22nd. Chaos and disorder broke out when some of the native contingent decided to fire upon their Spanish officers and the Rifian columns arrived. Four hours later, 2,500 Spanish troops lay dead on the field of battle, including Silvestre, who, it is rumored, committed suicide. For the next month and a half, Krim pressed his attacks, taking several other forts and massacring scores of Spanish troops in the process. Over the next month and a half, between 8,000 and 10,500 Spanish troops died at the hands of the Rifians or as a result of the harsh conditions.

The events had severe political consequences in mainland Spain and brought down the government, leading to the appointment of a national unity government headed by Antonio Maura, although it too would fall in March 1922. A report written by General Juan Picasso commissioned by the War Ministry found General Silvestre chiefly responsible for the disaster. The political instability was such that, in September 1923, General Miguel Primo de Rivera launched a coup and successfully took power with the King’s blessing. 

On the military front, it was felt that more modern equipment was needed to defeat the Rifians. In August 1921, France agreed to sell 6 Schneider CA-1 tanks. Negotiations continued and, on September 14th, an agreement was reached between Spanish representatives and Renault for the acquisition of 10 Renault FTs, a Renault TSF (command and radio vehicle), spare parts for repairs and 11 Renault FU-25 lorries to transport troops. The tanks were equipped with the rounded ‘Berliet’ turret and were either unarmed but built to take a machine gun, or armed with the modified Spanish 7 mm Hotchkiss machine gun. The deal with Renault was worth 31 million pesetas (31,135,098.75).

The Renault TSF was used as a command vehicle – source: Caballero Fernández de Marcos, p. 42

The vehicles were transported from their factory to the border, arriving in Hendaye on December 17th, 1921, and the order to urgently transport them to the Escuela Central de Tiro in Madrid was given. 

Once in Madrid, along with the Renault FT that had arrived in 1919, they were attached to the infantry section in the Escuela, where the infantry familiarized themselves with the new vehicles and tank-infantry operations. The tanks and infantry were amalgamated to form the Compañía de Carros de Asalto de Infantería [Eng. Infantry Tank Company] under the command of Captain Vicente Valero and this was divided into two sections with five tanks apiece and a command section with the Renault TSF.

A column of Renault FTs – source: source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso, p. 21

The Renault FT Lands in Africa

On March 5th, 1922, even before instruction in Madrid was complete, the order was given to transport the tanks, their personnel, and instructors to Melilla with the utmost urgency. Two days later, on the 7th, eleven tanks (one had been left in the Escuela Central de Tiro), fourteen support vehicles, and thirty-seven personnel (four captains, eight sergeants, and twenty-five soldiers) departed Madrid by train towards the southern city of Málaga. 

On March 12th, the tanks embarked the steamship Guillém Sorolla to cross the Strait of Gibraltar, docking in Melilla the following morning. On arrival, the Commander in Chief of Melilla asked Captain Valero to compile a report on the preparedness of the company and to assess if it was ready to enter combat on March 14th. The report found that two of the tanks had been slightly damaged on the journey from Madrid, that the company had only half of their intended drivers (of the required 40 drivers, there were only 22; 9 for the tanks, 11 for the trucks, and 2 for the fuel trucks), and that the commander and machine gun operators had not been fully instructed. The training was so incomplete that three of the Escuela’s instructors were sent from Madrid to continue the instruction whilst on campaign. Captain Valero concluded that eight more days would be needed to carry out the necessary repairs, to await the arrival of more personnel, and to complete training. The instructors even volunteered to cover for the missing and less experienced tank drivers so that the unit could enter combat as soon as possible, but their offer was refused by the Melilla commander. 

A number of Renault FTs forming a circle around the Renault TSF company command vehicle – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso, p. 21

The Compañía de Carros de Asalto de Infantería set up a base in Dar Drius (Driouch*) on March 14th 1922. One source, Carro de Combate Renault FT-17, states that the decision was made to leave one of the tanks in Melilla for training purposes, though this is not corroborated by other sources. Just 24 hours later, the order was given to join a column under the command of General Dámaso Berenguer in Itihuen (Ichtiuen). 

*Please note that place names are spelled as by Spanish sources. Most place names have since changed. When possible, the current name is provided in parentheses. 

Two Renault FTs (no. 3 in the background) and their crews and support staff before their baptism by fire – source: Mortera Pérez, p. 17

On March 18th, the Renault FTs of the Compañía saw their baptism by fire. At 6 a.m., the Tercio de Extranjeros [Eng. Spanish Foreign Legion], with 7 tanks leading the column, advanced on a Rifian position in Tuguntz (Tougount). The tanks moved into the Anvar (or Ambar) settlement under heavy fire. Soon, 800 m ahead of the infantry, they became surrounded by the Rifian forces, who, lacking the knowledge of how to destroy tanks, climbed onto them, began throwing rocks at them, and tried to stick their knives through vision slits. 

Due to the hasty departure, some of the components had not been checked, including the machine guns, some of which jammed, leaving tanks and crews defenseless. Surrounded, and without the means to properly defend themselves, the order came to retreat. Three tanks, either immobilized or without fuel, were abandoned by their crews. Two crew members were killed and a tank driver was wounded.

Two of the tanks (nº 3 and nº4) had been abandoned on the battlefield and Rifian forces destroyed them with explosives on March 23rd. On March 29th, the remaining tanks and infantry managed to capture the positions of Anvar and Tuguntz and recover the damaged tanks. Repairs to tank nº3 by the Maestranza de Artillería took until April 1923, just over a year later.

The Renault FT ‘Infantería nº 3’. It is unclear if this picture is before or after its repair at the Maestranza de Artillería – source: Mortera Pérez, p. 5

Whilst their baptism by fire had been disastrous, the mission itself was successful in capturing the hamlets of Anvar and Yebel-Imelahen. The Army HQ set up a commission to investigate the tanks’ lackluster performance but concluded that this was due to the lack of cooperation between tanks and infantry, which could be explained by a lack of proper and lengthy training. 

A typical operation in Morocco. Renault FT nº11 followed by troops of the Tercio de Extranjeros – source: Mortera Pérez, p. 17

Over the ensuing months, the Spanish FTs would be in the heat of battle on a regular basis, most often supporting columns to protect them from ambush, but also covering retreats. On March 29th, 1922, they protected a retreat at Chemorra (Chamorra). Between May 23rd and 26th, they protected Dar Drius from night attacks. They protected a column in Tamassin on May 29th and one in Tizzi-Azza (Tafersit) on October 18th and carried out small attacks near Cheik in August. From their debut in Morocco to the end of August 25th, at least 21 operations of this kind have been recorded, most, if not all, taking place in the modern-day Driouch province of Morocco. 

Two Renault FTs behind a Tercio de Marruecos machine gun position. This rocky, hilly terrain was the usual environment in which the tanks operated – source: Bruña Royo, p. 28

The most notable engagement involving the Renault FTs in the early stages of the Rif War took place on June 5th, 1923. Colonel Ruiz del Portal’s column was tasked with relieving a besieged position in Tizzi-Azza (Tafersit). The lead tank, nº9, commanded by Sergeant Mariano García Esteban, who had taken command of the whole section when Lieutenant Francisco Sánchez Zamora became a casualty, broke the Rifian positions under intense fire. García Esteban lost his left eye and his right eye was also damaged, though that did not stop him from advancing across the enemy trenches, before turning around and continuing to fire his machine gun from the rear. Wounded, but refusing to be evacuated, the sergeant fought on for 20 hours. Tizzi-Azza was liberated for the time being and García Esteban was awarded the Cruz Laureada de San Fernando [Eng. Laureate Cross of Saint Ferdinand], Spain’s highest military decoration for gallantry. 

Diorama of the rescue of Sergeant Mariano García Estaban after his heroics at Tizzi-Azza which can be found at the Museo de los Medios Acorazados – source: Caballero Fernández de Marcos, p. 41

To make up for losses, an additional six machine gun-armed tanks were purchased in 1925, along with their truck transports and 12,000 rounds of ammunition for a total cost of over one million Francs*. The tanks arrived in Madrid on August 20th and would soon be used to take the war to the enemy.

* 1,036,052.85 F

From Alhucemas to the End of the War

In April 1925, Krim had advanced his operation to the French Protectorate, inflicting a humiliating defeat on French forces at the Battle of Uarga. After this, the Spanish and French governments began to collaborate to defeat Krim and his Rifians. It was decided to strike behind Rifian enemy lines in Alhucemas and, as a result, a massive naval invasion with air support was planned to be led by Miguel Primo de Rivera. This would be the first time in history that air forces, naval forces, and army were deployed under a unified command. 

A number of the surviving tanks from the operations in the vicinity of Melilla and the 6 new tanks were transported to Ceuta to prepare for the landings. Prior to their arrival in Ceuta, landing practice was undertaken at Medik. Part of General Leopoldo Saro y Marín’s column, the 11 or 12 tanks involved in the operation were commanded by Captain Juan de Urzaiz. 

On the late morning of September 8th, 1925, the first of the 13,000 Spanish troops were landed on the beaches of Alhucemas Bay (Gulf of Hoceima) supported by covering fire from bombers, battleships, cruisers, and even a seaplane tender. 26 barges (named ‘barcazas K’ [Eng. K barges] in Spanish sources) bought from the British and used in the failed Gallipoli campaign in 1915, transported troops, and for the first time in combat, tanks. Each barge carried three tanks, though, due to the tides leaving the barges 50 m off the beach, it was impossible to disembark them until the early hours of the 9th with the assistance of some wooden structures. Once landed, the Renault FTs, with support from the 6th and 7th banderas [Eng. Battalions] of the Tercio de Marruecos, were used to secure the right flank of the beach and the advances on Malmusi. The heights controlling the Bay were captured by the end of September. After Alhucemas, a Spanish victory was finally in sight. 

Scenes from the landing at Alhucemas. In this photo it is possible to identify the distance between the barges and the shore, but also the wooden structures used to land the tanks – source: Molina Franco, p. 15
Two Renault FTs getting ready for action after landing at Alhucemas. The vehicle in the foreground belongs to the circle section, though the number (possibly 4) is difficult to make out – source: Molina Franco, p. 16
Eleven Renault FTs after landing at Alhucemas – source: Mortera Pérez, p. 28

In November 1925, the tank forces were reorganized into the newly created Grupo de Carros Ligeros de Combate [Eng. Light Tanks Group] and would prove their worth throughout 1926 in the sieges of Iberloken and Tafrás and the recapture of Xauen (Chefchaouen or Chaouen). The war would dwindle to pacifyin some stubborn Rifians still holding out in 1927. After a rocky start, the Renault FTs had proved themselves. 

The Renault FT in Times of ‘Peace’

The order for the Grupo de Carros Ligeros de Combate to return to Spain was published on October 31st 1926. Sources indicate that between 15 and 17 tanks that had survived the constant fighting were sent back to the Escuela Central de Tiro in Carabanchel. Shortly afterward, the Grupo de Carros Ligeros de Combate was disbanded. On November 22nd 1926, the Renault FTs were reorganized into Grupo de Carros de Asalto [Eng. Tank Groups] of the 3rd section of the Escuela Central de Tiro under the command of Captain Marcos Nieto Malo and were mainly used for training personnel. The Grupo de Carros de Asalto was supposed to be made up of a HQ Company, a Renault Company, and a Trubia Company. The Renault Company had a command tank, two sections with 5 tanks apiece, and a reserve section with 4 tanks for replacements, a total of 15 tanks. The Trubia Company was to have had the same structure except that it would have only had two tanks in the reserve section. However, the Trubias were never built in the anticipated numbers. 

After a few years of being limited to training and maneuvers, the tanks would be used again at the end of 1930. By this point, Miguel Primo de Rivera had resigned his position as dictator and had been replaced by General Dámaso Berenguer. The military dictatorship, which was supported by the monarch Alfonso XIII, was very unpopular among the political establishment, the general population, and even elements within the armed forces. 

On December 12th, 1930, two Army Captains in the northeastern town of Jaca revolted and proclaimed a republic. Following their early success, they marched on Huesca, where they were defeated. The coup attempt was not able to count on the support it had expected. On December 15th, by which time the two Army Captains had been executed for rebellion, General Gonzalo Queipo de Llano and Air Commander Ramón Franco (the brother of General Francisco Franco, future dictator of Spain), took control of the Cuatro Vientos airbase in Madrid and flew planes over Madrid to incite workers and the general population to go on strike against the monarchy and in support of the Republic. This is somewhat curious given Queipo de Llano’s role in the coup against the Republic less than six years later. 

A column incorporating a number of Renault FTs under the command of General Luis Orgaz Yoldi was sent to recapture the base but before they arrived, Queipo de Llano and Ramón Franco fled to France, where they would remain in exile until the proclamation of the Republic a few months later in April 1931. The Renault FTs continued to serve under the Second Spanish Republic and were active on both sides during the Spanish Civil War. 

Influence and Legacy

As with many of the other nations which bought the Renault FT, the tank would serve as the basis from which indigenous tank development was born. 

In 1925, three men, Commander Victor Landesa Domenech, Captain Carlos Ruíz de Toledo and Rogelio Areces came up with the idea of working together to design and build an indigenous tank for the Spanish Army. Given the lack of tank technology information available, it should come as no surprise that they based their design on the Renault FT. The project was a private venture paid for out of their own pockets with no state supervision or finance

The only known photo of the Trubia prototype. Note the overlapping turrets, frontal nose ‘ram’ and general resemblance to the Renault FT – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso, p. 42

The prototype vehicle resembled the Renault FT, with an almost identical tail and suspension. To surmount the firepower concerns which had led the Renault FT to be extremely vulnerable when its main and only machine gun jammed, two overlapping turrets with independent movement and each armed with a Hotchkiss 7 mm machine gun were adopted. There were plans to substantially improve the Renault FT’s armor and engine, but due to financial and technological constraints, these were only marginally improved. 

The success of the prototype in tests inspired the team to create a new tank, the Modelo Trubia Serie A; Spain’s first indigenous tank. Only 4 were built and they saw limited action in the Asturias Uprising of 1934 and the early stages of the Spanish Civil War. 

The first Trubia Serie A still inside the Trubia arms factory with its impressive array of armament – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso, p. 44

The legacy of the Renault FT in Spain lives on. When the Regimiento de Infantería Acorazada «Alcázar de Toledo» n.º 61 [Eng. Mechanized Infantry Regiment ‘Alcázar de Toledo’ No. 61] was formed in December 1943, it was decided that the regiment’s emblem should feature a Renault FT. Additionally, when the regiment was incorporated into the newly formed Brigada de Infantería Acorazada «Guadarrama» XII [Eng. ‘Guadarrama’ Mechanized Infantry Brigade No. 12] in 1966, the Brigade would also choose the Renault FT as its emblem. Fate would have it that the Brigade would be one of the last units to serve in Morocco when, as part of Spain’s last imperial foray on mainland Africa, it was deployed without seeing action during the Green March in 1975. 

Badge of the Regimiento de Infantería Acorazada «Alcázar de Toledo» n.º 61 with a Renault FT in the center of it – source: Wikipedia
Badge of the Brigada de Infantería Acorazada «Guadarrama» XII with a Renault FT featuring prominently in the center – source: Wikipedia

Camouflage and Markings

The first Renault FT arriving in Spain in 1919 had a three-tone camouflage, the light base color being khaki and the other two colors dark green and brown, which may have been applied in the French factory. Apart from its period with the “ARTILLERIA” insignia, no other insignia or unit marking was present on this vehicle. 

Because of the poor quality of some of the photos, it is difficult to tell what camouflage was painted onto the 1921 batch of Renault FTs. Whilst some photos would suggest just a two-tone camouflage, possibly khaki or sand and dark green, this was probably not the case and the contrast in the photographs is not the best. A grey-green and dark green camouflage combination has also been suggested by some artist’s interpretations, but this may not be the case. In some better contrast pictures, the two tones of camouflage appear to be separated by a thin dark line, maybe black. 

A collection of Renault FTs and a Renault TSF. Note the camouflage – source: Mortera Pérez, p. 22

Based on photographic evidence, individual tank markings seem to be inconsistent. Without accurate dating of said photographs, it is almost impossible to tell when different aspects were introduced. However, vehicles are often seen with an “INFANTERIA Nº” [Eng. Infantry No.] inscription on the left side. 

To distinguish between the two sections of the Compañía de Carros de Asalto de Infantería, a system of circles or triangles on the rear sides of the tank was developed. Some photos of the vehicles atop of trucks, presumably taken as the vehicles arrived in the Protectorate, show the circles and triangles empty. The tank numbers and the number in the circle or triangle were not necessarily the same, as the number in the circle or triangle denoted the number within each individual section. In other photos, it is possible to distinguish a number 1, number 2, and number 5 (tank no. 10) in a triangle and number 4 in a circle. 

Photo of three tanks with a blank triangle symbol (left) and four with a circle (right) – source: Mortera Pérez, p. 22
A closer view of the Renault FTs of the circle section before a number was applied. The picture also shows the variety of uniforms of early Spanish tank crews – source: Molina Franco, p. 11
Tank no.10 (see suspension beam), and fifth vehicle of the triangle section. A two-tone with dark lines camouflage scheme appears to have been used on this particular vehicle – source: Mortera Pérez, p. 29

One photograph shows a confusing vehicle with a circle with a number crossed out and a number 4 written on the suspension beam. Other photos depict Spanish Renault FTs with a small white number inconsistently painted on the suspension beam. 

Whilst this tank was nº 4 (see suspension beam), the number in the white circle in the rear has been crossed out. This perhaps may imply it is a section leader, though there is no evidence that confirms it – source: Molina Franco, p. 9

The FU-25 trucks purchased to transport the tanks had a similar camouflage pattern. Each truck was assigned to an individual tank and would have the relevant “INFANTERIA Nº” insignia on the side. 

Renault FT ‘Infantería Nº12’ atop a FU-25 truck. Notice the camouflage duplicated on the two vehicles and the inscription on both – source: Mortera Pérez, p. 18

The vehicle which was left in Carabanchel had an “ESCUELA CENTRAL DE TIRO INFANTERIA” insignia instead of the infantry insignia. It also had an “ATM 1080” inscription on a white rectangle on the suspension beam. A similar numbered inscription on a white background was given to vehicles at some point between 1926 and 1931. By this later point, the Renaults’ three-tone camouflage had been replaced by single-tone camouflage. 

Renault FT ‘ATM 1080’ with the “ESCUELA CENTRAL DE TIRO INFANTERIA” insignia on its slide – source: Mortera Pérez, p. 32

The Renault TSF

With the summer 1921 purchase from Renault came a Renault TSF (Télégraphie Sans Fil [Eng. Wireless Telegraphy]). This vehicle differed from regular Renault FTs in that it was turretless and unarmed. In place of the turret was a superstructure that housed an E 10 radio system with possibly other radios. The top of the superstructure had a tall pole used for flag communications with other vehicles. Instead of the Renault FT’s crew of two, the Renault TSF had three – driver, commander, and radio operator. 

In Spain, the vehicle was known as Renault TSH (Telegrafía Sin Hilos) and was used as the command vehicle for the Compañía de Carros de Asalto de Infantería. This was indicated by the “CARRO DE MANDO” [Eng. Command Tank] inscription at the front of the superstructure. Additionally, the vehicle was designated as “INFANTERIA Nº1” [Eng. Infantry No 1] with the inscription being present on either side of the superstructure. 

The different inscriptions on the Renault TSF are apparent in this picture – source: Molina Franco, p. 13
Division General José Sanjurjo standing atop a Renault TSF in Imelhagen in March 1922 – source: Mortera Pérez, p. 29
Division General José Sanjurjo (left) and General Dámaso Berenguer (center) discuss tactics. Sat atop the Renault TSF, Captain José de Alfaro, commander of the Compañía de Carros de Asalto de Infantería – source: Bruña Royo, p. 27

Once it was in North Africa, the vehicle was given a lamp fixed to the left side of the superstructure. In a number of photos in Morocco, the vehicle has a light circle with a dark triangle inside it painted on either rear side. As has been explained, the two sections of the Compañia either had a circle or a triangle in this position, so being a command vehicle for both sections, a combination of the two makes sense. 

The lamp on the left side of the superstructure of the Renault TSF is plainly visible in this picture – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso, p. 35

The tank was painted in a two-tone camouflage with a light base (possibly light grey) and thick dark vertical lines (possibly dark grey or green). After its use during the Rif War, the fate of this particular vehicle is unknown. 

The Renault TSF overcoming an obstacle – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso, p. 35

Conclusion

As occurred in many other nations worldwide, the Renault FT was the first step in the armored history of Spain. It was sent straight into battle without much preparation or training. After an underwhelming start, it proved its worth time and time again as Spanish forces fought for a hard-earned victory against well-organized and motivated resistance in the Spanish Protectorate in Morocco. Its continued legacy to this day is testament to the high esteem the small tank was held in. Whilst a number of Renault FTs remain in Spain, these are all Polish imports dating from the Spanish Civil War. 

Renault FT ‘INFANTERIA Nº10’ used by Spain during the Rif War. Illustrated by Andrei Kirushkin, based on the work of David Bocquelet, funded by our Patreon Campaign

Bibliography

Artemio Mortera Pérez, Los Medios Blindados de la Guerra Civil Española Teatro de Operaciones de Andalucía y Centro 36/39 (Valladolid: Alcañiz Fresno’s editores, 2009)

Dionisio García, Carro de Combate Renault FT-17 (Madrid: Ikonos Press)

Francisco Marín Gutiérrez & José Mª Mata Duaso, Carros de Combate y Vehículos de Cadenas del Ejército Español: Un Siglo de Historia (Vol. I) (Valladolid: Quirón Ediciones, 2004) 

Juan Carlos Caballero Fernández de Marcos, “La Automoción en el Ejército Español Hasta la Guerra Civil Española” Revista de Historia Militar No. 120 (2016), pp. 13-50

Lucas Molina Franco, El Carro de Combate Renault FT-17 en España (Valladolid: Galland Books, 2020)

Oscar Bruña Royo, Vehículos Acorazados en el Tercio Vol 1 De Cáceres a Sarajevo pasando por El Aaiún (Valladolid: Quirón Ediciones, 1998)

Pablo García Sánchez, “Historia del Regimiento de Infantería Acorazada Alcázar de Toledo Nº 61”, Grupos de Estudio de Historia Militar, 2015

Categories
WW2 Kingdom of Spain Tanks

Fiat 3000 in Spanish Service

Kingdom of Spain (1925-?)
Light Tank – 1 Purchased

The Fiat 3000 was the first mass-produced Italian tank and owed many of its design features to the French Renault FT. The Fiat 3000 would see action in most of Italy’s interwar conflicts and even right into the Second World War, though, by this time, the tank was seriously out-dated. The Fiat tank would also attract foreign attention and in 1924 the Kingdom of Spain purchased a single example for testing.

Context: The Spain of 1924-25

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. In 1912, after signing a treaty with France, the Spanish protectorate in Morocco was formed, with an area of 20,948 square kilometers 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’ (with a vocation for Africa) and military and private operations were carried out in the area.

Spain avoided the slaughter of the Great War (1914-1918), but following a series of incidents, the Riffian Abd el-Krim led an insurgency which would evolve into the Rif War (1920-27). Early in the war, Spain suffered the ‘Disaster at Annual’, their biggest ever military defeat, and 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 FT’s and Schneider CA-1’s bought from France in addition to Spanish-made armored cars.

The Search for a New Light Tank

Although the FT’s were serving admirably in the ongoing Moroccan conflict, in 1924 the War Ministry wanted to carry out a study of light tanks which would form the country’s armored divisions. To that end, the Spanish government authorized the Artillery section within the Ministry to purchase an Italian Fiat 3000A for the price of 183,400 Italian lira in October 1924. The tank would not arrive in Spain until February 1925. After that it was given ‘ATM-984’ as its number plate and assigned to the Escuela Central de Tiro in Carabanchel, Madrid (a military firing range), to be put through a set of trials.

The results of the trials are unknown but it can be safely assumed that they were not a success given that no more vehicles were purchased and the tank was stored away. It seems as though the FT’s were viewed similarly and in 1925, an indigenous tank design heavily based on the Renault FT and named Trubia Serie A was developed by the Spanish firm Trubia and was possibly considered to be the replacement and future Spanish light tank.

The End

After the unsuccessful trials and its rejection as the next Spanish light tank, ‘ATM-984’ was left at the Escuela Central de Tiro. Not much is known about its life after this, but it is assumed that the tank was either destroyed or scrapped in 1936 during the chaotic early stages of the Spanish Civil War.

The Controversies

For many years, the existence of a Fiat 3000 in Spain was regarded as somewhat of a myth. There was an agreement that the tank had in fact been ordered as there are documents to prove it, but there were doubts of its arriving and even more concerning the fact that it survived until the Spanish Civil War [For other controversies surrounding the arrival of another Spanish tank see Bolivian Vickers Mk.E article].
The controversy was cleared when this photo was released:

Juan Antonio Luceño – right – Captain of the Estado Mayor de la 31 Brigada Mixta holding a piece of artillery ammunition. Date and location of the photo are unknown. The Fiat 3000 in the photo has often been mistaken with a Renault FT. Note, the image has been restored (original can also be found in link) – SOURCE

 

The existence of this photo of a Republican officer alongside the tank is clear evidence that the tank existed. Other photos suggest Luceño was in the tank corps in Madrid during the early stages of the Civil War and it can be assumed that this photo is of a similar time meaning the Fiat 3000 was in Spain and did survive until at least 1936.
Other photos are more complicated.

This image has been put on the internet and has been claimed to represent the three tanks Spain had in 1925 – from left to right, the Fiat 3000, the Renault FT and the Schneider CA-1. However, this image is just a cropped version of an Italian photo of their tanks, which also includes a Fiat 2000 furthest to the right. Furthermore, the Fiat 3000 has an Italian triangle marking on the side of its’ turret. See photo below.

 

SOURCE for both photos.

The tank makes two further appearances in Spanish media of the Civil War period.

 

‘Fascist kid’ atop a Fiat 3000. This image depicts a child in fascist regalia atop a Fiat 3000. The image is thought to be the cover of the Pamplona francoist newspaper ‘Arriba España’, though this is probably not true. The photo was clearly not taken in Spain: 1. As explained, the only Fiat 2000 in Spain was on the Republican side; 2. The kid’s uniform seems to be that of the Italian fascist youth, not a Spanish falangist, and the rifle is the youth model of an Italian standard rifle; 3. The existence of very similar Italian war propaganda photos – (PHOTO) – where the kids are wearing the same uniform and may well have been taken at the same time. Furthermore, a fourth reason, which may also disprove that it was for ‘Arriba España’, is the way the inscription on the bottom is written. “Espana” is spelled without an eñe (ñ) – as it would be in Spanish – which may suggest the photo was part of a campaign for support for Spain within Italy – source: WW2 In Color

 

Front cover of the Estampa magazine May 1st 1937 in which a Fiat 3000 can be seen under the title “nuestro tanques” – our tanks – source: ‘Nuestros tanques’ Estampa, 1 May 1937, cover.

This issue of the conservative pro-Republican magazine Estampa had tanks in Republican service as its main feature (The whole issue can be accessed HERE). The article uses a number of press photos throughout (an example is a photo on page 6 of Soviet twin-turret T-26 tanks during Soviet exercises) and it can be assumed that the cover with the Fiat 3000 is also a press photo. It is unknown if during trials the Spanish Fiat 3000 trained or was tested alongside infantry units, but even if it was, it is very doubtful if it was photographed and the photo probably corresponds to Italian Army exercises during the 1920’s.

Conclusion

This article hopes to shed light on a very confusing and often misinterpreted tank within Spain’s early armored history. A lack of concrete information has resulted in a few inaccuracies in otherwise respectable internet sources. Overall, it is clear that Spain did indeed purchase a Fiat 3000 in 1924 and conducted some testing of it. It is also certain that it remained in Spain until at least 1936, when it was in the besieged Republican capital of Madrid. After this, the fate is unknown as it may have been destroyed or scrapped.

Rendition of the Spanish Fiat 3000. Illustration by Bernard ‘Escodrion’ Baker, funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Specifications

Dimensions 4.29 x 1.65 x 2.20 m (14.07×5.41×7.21 ft)
Total weight, battle ready 5.5 – later 6 tons
Crew 2 (driver, gunner)
Propulsion Fiat SPA, 4 cyl, 50 hp
Speed 21 km/h (13 mph)
Range (road) 100 km (62 mi)
Armament Model 1921: 2x Breda 6.5 mm (0.25 in) machine guns
Model 1930: 37 mm (1.45 in) gun +Breda 6.5 mm (0.25 in) machinegun
Armor From 6 to 16 mm (0.24-0.63 in)
Total Purchased 1

Links & Resources

No author, ‘Nuestros tanques’ Estampa, 1 May 1937, cover.
Javier de Mazarrasa, La Máquina y la Historia Nº13: Los Carros de Combate en la Guerra de España 1936-1939 (Vol. 1º) (Valladolid: Quirón Ediciones, 1998)
www.sbhac.net

Categories
WW2 Kingdom of Spain Tanks WW2 Republican Spanish tanks

Modelo Trubia Serie A

Kingdom of Spain/Second Spanish Republic/Nationalist Spain (1926-1937)
Light Tank – 4 Built

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 mold and create indigenous designs. The first of these initiatives would take place in 1925 in the northern town of Trubia, Asturias. Following the satisfactory completion of a prototype, plans were put in motion to design an improved serial production tank which was to be known as the Modelo Trubia Serie A4, or ‘Trubia tank’ for short.

Context – Lessons from Morocco

Colonial competition and internal politics meant that Spain took possession of large areas of what today is Morocco. The locals loathed the Spanish colonial administrators, leading to the Melilla War (1909) and the Rif War (1911-1927). In the latter, Spain would use for the first time in its history the modern technology of aircraft, armored cars, and tanks. The Spanish brought 11 Renault FT’s and 6 Schneider CA-1’s from France which would take part in multiple actions throughout the war with mixed results. The main shortcomings found in the Renault FT, regarded by the Spanish as their finest tank, were: poor performance, speed, range of operation due to a poor engine, and its vulnerability when its only machine gun jammed.

To overcome these, a team involving Commander Victor Landesa Domenech (an artillery officer attached to the Trubia arms factory), Captain Carlos Ruíz de Toledo (a Commander in charge of Batería de Carros de Asalto de Artillería [Artillery Tank Battery] during its first engagements during the Rif War) and the Trubia arms factory’s Chief Engineer, Rogelio Areces, took it upon themselves to design and build a superior vehicle for the Spanish Army.

The Trubia prototype

Designed and built in 1925 on their own initiative and financed out of their own pockets, the Trubia prototype would be tested in 1926 with a very satisfactory reception. So much so, that, 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 use for an improved serial version of the prototype.

Appearance-wise, the tank resembled the Renault FT, as it was in the minds of Landesa Domenech and co. the best tank they had knowledge of. However, there were a few differences:
– To surmount firepower concerns, two overlapping turrets with independent movement and each armed with a Hotchkiss 7mm machine gun were adopted.
– At the front of the tank there was a small semi-circular plate attached to an elongated nose of the tank which acted as a ram to break through obstacles such as walls and barbed wire.
– Due to circumstances, armor and engine-power were only marginally improved.

The only known photo of the Trubia prototype, which, in this instance, is mounting 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.

The European Expedition, Notions of Tank Design

Areces and Ruíz de Toledo’s European adventure would not be as fruitful as they may have hoped and expected. Tank technology was in its infancy and most tank producing nations were wary of sharing their findings, and the technology they did exhibit and share was mostly outdated. Companies like Vickers did at the time sell custom-made tanks to the buyer’s needs, but it seems that Areces and Ruíz de Toledo did not explore this option as they probably did not want to spend much of their limited budget.

According to Artemio Mortera Pérez, author of the most complete book on the Trubia tanks, in Germany, they were shown a very peculiar suspension inspired by the one intended to be used on the K-Wagen behemoth. However, although the K-Wagen’s suspension was unsprung, the vehicle or suspension system they were shown was probably from or inspired by the earlier Orion-Wagen.

Artist’s impression of the K-Wagen. Apart from the fact it was unsprung, little is known about what is suspension would exactly be – source: The Vintage News
The Orion-Wagen Prototype with its Orion track system of feet treads – source: Landships.info

This undercarriage system was named ‘Orion’ and was supposed to improve upon traditional systems in addition to enhancing turning capabilities and minimising the effects on roads. In this integrated track design, the links were suspended from the chassis and held together by a lateral metal wall. This system was designed to prevent the tracks from coming off when maneuvering.

It is possible that the vehicle they were shown was a totally different vehicle. In 1926, the Leipzig-based firm Wotan-Werke built to test the differences between a suspended and not-suspended tracked chassis. When considering the suspension of this vehicle (see picture below) and the Trubia Serie A (later in the article), the visual similarities are uncanny. The vehicle was known as the Wotan-Werke Type A. The Trubia tank was designated as Serie A (Eng. Series A). Whilst type and series do not mean exactly the same, it is possible that there is some correlation. Notwithstanding, it could just be a coincidence.

The Wotan-Werke Type A tracked tractor, built in 1926 – source: Walter J. Spielberger

At a time when Germany was prohibited from having a standing army, the designers behind the Wotan-Werke Type A may have been eager to find a foreign buyer and saw in Areces and Ruíz de Toledo an opportunity.

Additionally, a few Daimler engines of different horsepower were shown to the commission. As a side note, the Wotan-Werke Type A used a Typ M 1574 100 hp Daimler-Mercedes 4-cylinder Otto engine.

Satisfied with what they saw, the Commission bought at least four ‘Orion’ systems and Daimler 4 cylinder 75 hp engines for the tank series, and two larger undercarriage systems based on the same principle and two Daimler 8 V-shaped cylinder 200 hp engines with the intention of building a large tank recovery tractor.

The team behind the design had several ideas to improve upon the Renault FT:
– Improving firepower and lessening vulnerability when the only machine gun jammed. For this, the same idea as on the prototype was adapted though the lower turret was intended to use a modified Ramírez Arellano 40mm infantry gun. However, this would not materialize.
– Enhancing the FT’s poor speed, range and performance by equipping the more powerful Daimler 75hp engine.
– Avoiding the vulnerability of the crew having to exit the tank to access the engine for repairs by creating a bigger engine compartment which could be accessed from the inside.
– Improvement of the undercarriage, which had caused many headaches. It is possible that early on a wheel-cum-track system was considered, but given the failures of the Chenilletts Saint Chamond in Spanish service which used this system, the idea was quickly abandoned. The ‘Orion’ system bought in Germany was to be used instead.

The design team was willing to sacrifice small size as they felt their improvements were more important.

Design

Blueprints of the Trubia Serie A. Note, not the original – source: Alabarda

Exterior Appearance

The square-shaped central hull part housed the crew compartment and above it was the turret. The back resembled that of an FT – rear tail included – but was much larger and housed the engine. At the front, to each side was a hinged door to access the engine. Behind it only on the right-hand side was a large exhaust pipe. To the front of the central piece was a sheet going down at a 45º angle. On the center-right were two boxes of different shapes. The most central and smaller one had a vision slit for the driver, whilst the larger one to the right had a forward firing machine gun. This position was a detachable piece which allowed the crew to enter and access the tank. The frontal and side pieces sloped inward meeting at the beak of the tank, upon which was a removable small semi-circular plate which acted as a ram to break through obstacles, such as walls and barbed wire. On the earlier version of the tank, there was a mudguard which covered the whole top of the tracks to prevent enemy infantrymen from planting explosives on them.

The side and frontal armor was 20 mm thick and made with chromium-nickel steel plates riveted to an inner frame.

Turret

One of the tank’s most recognizable features, the turret, was made out of two overlapping turrets with independent movement and each armed with a Hotchkiss 7 mm machine gun. Each turret consisted of a truncated cone forged in nickel steel 16mm thick. Each one had a ball machine gun mount which allowed for 65º of vertical and 110º of horizontal fire. On the direct opposite side of the ball mount was a small vision slit, and on either side of the turret there were small sliding windows to improve the gunners’ vision. On the top of the upper turret was a circular outwards opening hinged hatch upon which a cylindrical panoramic visor – a stroboscopic cupola – was fixed. The cylinder had vertical openings around it protected by ‘unbreakable’ glass and turned by means of a small electrical engine, providing a continuous panoramic vision of the exterior by means of the ‘persistence of vision’ phenomenon.

Armament

Armament consisted of three 7 mm Hotchkiss M1914 machine guns. Each turret had one (operated by two different gunners, one of whom was also the commander. The gunners would have to load their own weapons) and the third was at the front and operated by the driver. In total, for the three guns. the tank carried enough ammunition for 8,000 shots. Initially, the lower turret was supposed to carry a modified Spanish-built Ramírez Arellano 40 mm infantry gun, but the project behind this gun would not materialize until a few years later. The machine gun was a stop-gap solution, but with plans to fit the infantry gun in the future, though these never materialized. The sides of the tank also counted with small loopholes through which the crew could fire their personal weapons. Additionally, the first series production vehicle had a ball joint on the right side for a Mauser rifle, the purpose for which is unclear – this was later removed.

Engine

The engine could be started by means of compressed air provided by a compressor, but if this system malfunctioned, it could always be started up manually with a crank and an Bosch electrical system. The engines used were the Daimler MV1574 4 cylinder 75 hp with 900 rpm bought by Ruíz de Toledo and Areces in Germany fitted with Beru spark plugs.

However, these were modified to improve performance. To ensure that enough lubrication was provided for when the tank was at a 45º angle, the oil container was changed. A cogwheel and chain transmission was added to put the air compressor into motion.

Cooling for the motor and the interior was provided by two large ventilators. One was placed in front in the middle of the vehicle sucking air from inside the crew compartment inwards and was expelled to the exterior one through the second ventilator at the back.

The engine and two ventilators were built as one piece and were connected on each side to the body-on-frame.

The manual engine start was situated in front of the frontal ventilator and could be accessed from outside from both sides through the hinged doors.

Beneath the front ventilator was the double cone clutch which was activated by a pedal to the right of the driver.

The tank was capable of traveling at 30 km/h with a range of 100 km, a slight improvement over the Renault FT. The fuel tank held 180 liters.

Driving Mechanisms

The gearbox was beneath the driver and was made from cast steel. It consisted of four speeds with the first speed being used to overcome obstacles and for driving over uneven ground.

Changing direction was possible by means of a mechanism which immobilized or reduced the speed of one of the tracks.

Body-on-Frame and Tracks

Each track consisted of a long ellipse-shaped structure formed by two parallel steel sheets. Between the two sheets there was a track for the track rollers to travel through. The tracks on either side were joined to each other by 4 u-shaped bars traveling underneath the tank. The engine lay over the two furthest to the back. At the front of the tracks, there was an opening to the inside of the tank for the mechanism to connect them to the gearbox. Between the steel sheets were some sort of drum breaks.

Unlike in most other vehicles, the track rollers were integrated into the tracks and moved in unison with the track links along the tracks set between the two sheets. The track links had a cross pressed into them to improve traction.

Name

The tank’s name has caused some controversy over the years. Officially, it was named Carro Ligero de Combate para Infantería Modelo Trubia 75 H.P., Tipo Rápido, Serie A – meaning Infantry Light Tank Trubia Model 75 hp (the engine’s hp), Rapid Type (30km/h was considered quite fast in comparison to the Renault FT and Schneider CA) Series A. Ruíz de Toledo designated the tank Modelo TRUBIA. Serie A. – with this designation being used throughout the article. From the 1930’s onwards, official documents would add ‘A4’ or ‘4A’ at the end, possibly referring to the fact that 4 were built in total. The name Carro Rápido de Infantería [Rapid Infantry Tank] is also used.

It is, however, incorrect to call them Trubia-Naval, as this was a different tank entirely dating from 1936. Furthermore, many sources refer to the tanks as a prototype to the Trubia Naval, including the original Tanks Encyclopedia article on the vehicle. There was a direct connection between the two and they shared multiple features, but that is as far as it went. The tanks were two different projects with two distinct purposes.

The name follows a general Spanish tendency to name tanks and other armored fighting vehicles after the place where they were designed or built, or after one of the engineers behind the project.

The first Trubia Serie A still inside the Trubia arms factory. It was not yet completed, as it was missing its machine guns and mudguards (though the supports for these are visible) – Photo: Artemio Mortera Pérez (2007), p. 7
Photo taken shortly after the one above. The tank now has its three machine guns, mudguards, and Mauser rifle which only this version was equipped with – Photo: Artemio Mortera Pérez (2007), p. 8
The first Trubia Serie A mounted on an open truck bound for Madrid after its completion with all the men involved in its construction. Furthest to the right is the factory’s chief engineer, Rogelio Areces – Photo: Artemio Mortera Pérez (2007), p. 5

Testing

After their construction was rushed by demands coming from Madrid, four vehicles were finished at some point in 1926 as part of a pre-production series. This meant that as soon as they were finished (only one was constructed at each time), they were transported by train to Estación del Norte (modern-day Príncipe Pío) in Madrid. One, most likely the last one, was not even finished when it was transported, and a small workshop garage next to the train station in Madrid had to be hired to finish the vehicle off before it joined the other three at the Escuela Central de Tiro, the Army’s testing ground, in Carabanchel, South Madrid. Due to the hurry imposed from Madrid, the vehicles had not been properly factory tested and a group of factory workers were sent along with the tanks to make sure everything ran smoothly.

The testing of the four tanks would garner lots of interest and many officials would visit during the long demanding tests they were submitted to. These tests included cross-country travel, obstacle demolition, overcoming gradients, pulling heavy artillery and spare armor plates of the same thickness as the tank were fired upon with a 40 mm gun to test the level of protection it offered. The 40 mm gun was the same one as originally planned to be used by the tank. While the tank’s performance was generally considered to be good several important deficiencies were noted.
Pros:
– The engine was considered overall to be an improvement.
– The space and comfort inside.
– The fact that the engine could be accessed from within the tank.
Cons and recommendations:
– The main con was the undercarriage, which broke down several times.
– The ventilator blades and supports snapped because of their excessive weight and were to be replaced with aluminum ones. Changes were made to soften the abrupt halting of the blades when the engine stopped.
– The support for the ventilator at the back was to be changed from cast to forged steel.
– Improvements to the fuel feed.
– The spark plug was unsatisfactory and was first replaced by a Bosch one and later by a K.L.G. one.
– The compressed-air driving system was to be changed by a driving wheel and pedals.
– The vehicle was found to lack rigidity and its main structure had to be reinforced. The top of the vehicle supporting the turrets was of special concern.
– Adding a hinged hatch for the driver’s entry and exit to the left of the detachable boxes on the frontal plate.
– Eliminating the mudguards.
– Recommendations were made for overall improvement to make the undercarriage more durable.
The accompanying factory workers carried out multiple repairs during the tests and made notes of what went wrong. Along with the official recommendations, these would be used on return to Trubia.

One of the Trubia Serie A4 during trials in Escuela Central de Tiro in Carabanchel, Madrid. Note that because the of the hasty construction, this example has the side door to access the engine open, and the machine guns, detachable frontal piece and detachable ‘ram’ piece not yet fitted – source: World of Armor
Another of the Trubia Serie A’s being trialed in Carabanchel. It may well be the same one as in the previous image, but in this photo it now has had the ‘ram’ piece attached – source: Vehículos Blindados de la Guerra Civil

Death of the Project

The four tanks were taken back to Trubia by train to be disassembled and at least one was modified. The modified tanks are often called ‘segunda serie‘ [second series] to distinguish them from the original ones. The idea was to create a production series from the lessons learnt.
A modified tank was tested in the factory grounds in front of the military commanders of the Asturias region, led by General Zuvillaga. During these tests, the vehicle lacked the detachable frontal boxes, ‘ram’ piece, and machine guns.

One of the modified Trubia Serie A (segunda serie) undergoing balance and slope trials. The man next to the tank is thought to be Captain Carlos Ruíz de Toledo – source: Artemio Mortera Pérez (2007), p. 9
The same modified Trubia Serie A (segunda serie) as in the above picture during trials at the factory’s grounds. Note the lack of the detachable frontal boxes, ‘ram’ piece, mudguards, and machine guns – source: Artemio Mortera Pérez (2007), p. 10
The same modified Trubia Serie A (segunda serie) as in the above pictures being inspected by General Zuvillaga and other officers of the Asturias region outside the Trubia arms factory – source: Artemio Mortera Pérez (2007), p. 10

This vehicle was later sent to Madrid in May 1928 for a second round of testing which took place on the 19th under the watchful eye of Lieutenant Colonel Antonio García Pérez, Secretary General of the Estado Mayor Central, the person in charge of supervising military centers.

The results were judged satisfactory and the tank was given ‘A.T.M. 2204’ as its number-plate and was incorporated into the Army. The commission in charge of supervising the tests concluded in a report that [paraphrasing] “the Trubia light tank, had all the required capabilities for a tank of its nature” and the order was made to build one of the heavy tractors envisioned by Ruíz de Toledo and Areces with the larger suspension system and 200 hp engine. As far back as November 1926, plans were made to equip a section within the Tank Group with an undefined number of Trubia Serie A tanks depending on how many could be made available by the Trubia factory.

Unfortunately, none of these projects would materialize. To understand why, it is important to note the context of what had been happening in Spain. In September 1923, the Captain General of Catalonia Miguel Primo de Rivera led a successful coup with King Alfonso XIII’s blessing. Primo de Rivera’s aim was to put an end to the problems associated with the ongoing war in Morocco and labor and trade union unrest. From his position of power, Primo de Rivera attempted to carry out military reforms. These were very unpopular among Army officers, especially those in the artillery section, leading to the dissolution of the latter. The artillery had been up to then responsible for the production of the Trubia Serie A’s and other military vehicles, and without their budget and blessing, the project was all but dead.
The project was never officially canceled, but without the stimuli and finance, it faded away. However, this would not be the end of the Trubia Serie A nor of Landesa Domenech and Areces’ adventures with tank and military vehicle production.

Active Service

Asturias Revolution of 1934

Popular myth and culture has led to an image of the Second Spanish Republic [established in April 1931] as a radical, progressive and left-wing state. Whilst there is some substance behind this, it is not entirely true. In the second elections held in November 1933, the centrist Partido Radical Republicano (PRR) of Alejandro Lerroux came to power with the support of the right-wing Confederación Española de Derechas Autónomas (CEDA). Following a crisis of government in September 1934, CEDA removed their support and demanded that the PRR enter a formal coalition with 3 CEDA members to take a ministerial portfolio. Despite opposition from the left, this was done and as a consequence, the most left-wing elements began to mobilize.
An indefinite revolutionary general strike, organized by radical left-wingers within the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) [left wing social democrats] and Union General de Trabajadores (UGT) trade union with the support of elements of the Anarchist party and trade unions (FAI and CNT) and the Communist Party, was called for October 5th 1934. Following a few days of strike, the revolution was brutally put down, except in Catalonia, where an independent state was declared, only to be toppled by Republican forces a few days later, and in Asturias, where the workers, mostly miners, were well armed and mobilized.

Asturias was where the Trubia Serie A’s were, too. On October 6th, the revolutionary forces (in Trubia led by the Communists among the factory workers) took control of the Trubia factory (the revolutionary forces felt that for their success they had to capture the factory with its large weapons deposits) and with up to three of the tanks inside, some or all of which were without engines. It is likely that two Landesa tanks were in a nearby factory also in Trubia and in much better running condition. In the town, the factory workers fought off the Civil Guard forces, though it is unknown if they used any of the available vehicles.

By October 14th, state forces were putting down the revolution. In a last ditch attempt to save the revolution, an armored train was sent down the line from Trubia to the neighboring Grado where it defeated the state forces. Another armored train was hastily prepared in Trubia using locomotive number 2544 ‘El Cervera’ of the Northern Railway. The train itself was only minimally armed, but it had two open-topped carriages. Upon each carriage a Landesa tank, without an engine, was placed. Until the re-discovery of several photos in the October 1934 edition of Estampa magazine, it was believed that these two tanks on the ‘Cervera’ train were in fact Trubia Serie A’s. By the 17th, the revolution in Asturias had been crushed.

Following the revolution, the 3 Trubia Serie A’s which had been left unmodified following the Madrid trials of 1926 were put back into service with a series of modifications, including the removal of the mudguards which covered the top half of the tracks and the addition of the hinged hatch for the driver’s entry and exit to the left of the detachable boxes on the frontal plate. Three of them had ‘Carro Ligero nº’ [Light Tank No.] written on the sides followed by a 1, 2 or 3 and were attached to the Infantry Regiment <<Milán>> nº 32 which was barracked in Oviedo, the capital of Asturias. The vehicles were in a poor condition, but there were plans to continue to carry out tests on them. The fourth vehicle, which may have had a number 4 written on its side, remained in the factory.

Spanish Civil War

The failed General’s coup which drew the country into a bloody civil war gave the Trubia Serie A’s their chance to prove themselves in combat for the first time, ten years after they had left the factory.
To most people’s surprise, given Oviedo’s history, the coup there was successful and the city would be the only main city in central northern Spain to join the nascent Nationalist forces. In Oviedo were the three Trubia Serie A’s of the Infantry Regiment <<Milán>> nº 32 which would serve the war in Nationalist service. On the other hand, Trubia remained loyal to the Republican government forces, and the tanks within the factory, along with a Landesa tractor (which was transformed into a tank), were pressed into service by the workers and militiamen in the town.

The two Republican tanks were first used in an offensive against Oviedo on September 10th 1936, seeing action in the small town of Las Cruces (north of Trubia and north-west of Oviedo) and Loma del Canto, in the outskirts of Oviedo. In Loma del Canto, both broke down in no-mans-land, apparently because of a burnt-out clutch caused by the inexperience of the crew. Efforts were made to recover the tanks, but this was not possible until October when Loma del Canto was captured. No more is known of the fate of the Republican Serie A4 and it was possibly scrapped.

Fortunately, the history of the three in Nationalist service is slightly better recorded; most likely they were used to quell the first attacks by militiamen on the city and helped consolidate Nationalist control of the city.

On August 22nd 1936, the three Trubia Serie A’s, accompanied by two rifle companies and one machine gun company from the Infantry Regiment <<Milán>> nº 32, a Civil Guard detachment, and a battery of Schneider 105/11 guns, were used offensively against Loma del Campón, on the road to Trubia. The objectives were reached, but nº2, under the command of Engineer Brigadier Antonio Morales Elvira broke down. The vehicle was towed back during the night, but because of the general poor condition of the tank and the unevenness of the ground, the turret fell off. It is unknown if the turret was put back, but the vehicle remained in service.

Trubia Serie A nº2 after it broke down in Loma del Campón. The man furthest to the right is Engineer Brigadier Antonio Morales Elvira, the tank’s commander. The other men in the photo appear to be infantrymen or militiamen, though some of them could also form part of the tank’s crew – source: Artemio Mortera Pérez (2007), p. 36
Still from a video showing the rear of a Trubia Serie A4 in Oviedo with Moorish troops of Franco’s army marching past – source: Vehículos Blindados de la Guerra Civil

Following this small offensive, the vehicles were to be deployed defensively in the besieged city of Oviedo. Multiple further breakdowns meant that they were used statically in defensive positions; one defended La Argañosa (the western entrance to the city) and the other two, one of which was now operated by elements of the Civil Guards, were situated between Campo de los Patos street and the arms factory defending the eastern approach along the Santander road.
The one situated in La Argañosa was destroyed at some point before the end of the initial Republican offensive on Asturias in October by Nationalist forces to prevent Republican irregulars from capturing it, as it was broken down and could not be towed to safety due to the crossfire. The remaining two Trubia Serie A’s continued to be used for defensive duties.

The remains of one of the Nationalist’s Trubia Serie A in La Argañosa – source: Artemio Mortera Pérez (2007), p. 38

On October 27th, nº3 was sent to the Naranco Hill to tow back to Oviedo a Republican Landesa tank which had broken through the lines but had broken down.

Series of photos taken in Escandalera square (Oviedo) on October 27th 1936 showing the Nationalist Trubia Serie A nº3 towing a Landesa tank captured at Naranco Hill. The towing through the streets of Oviedo received lots of attention from the besieged Nationalist troops. Not the improvised camouflage on the Trubia Serie A with branches and foliage – Photo: Artemio Mortera Pérez (2007), p. 41-42

In January 1937, the Republican Army of the North planned a major offensive on Asturias with all available men and vehicles. The offensive would properly commence on February 21st with Republican Army forces penetrating the defensive perimeter near Campo de Patos, where the two remaining Trubia Serie A and Nationalist infantrymen managed to fend them off.

Two Nationalists posing next to a Trubia Serie A in Oviedo – source: Vehículos Blindados de la Guerra Civil

It is unknown if the two tanks survived the whole offensive (at least one did), but they were most likely scrapped once the offensive was over and plenty of German Panzer I’s, Italian CV 33-35’s and captured Soviet vehicles were available. It has been subsequently speculated that one was sent to Seville at the end of the War in the North, and was used in victory parades, but there is no evidence to substantiate this claim and no logical reason why this might have occurred. Unless or until firm evidence of their appearance in Seville is produced this has to be considered unlikely at best.

One of the Nationalist Trubia Serie A in Oviedo defending Campo de los Patos and the eastern entrance to the city – source: Artemio Mortera Pérez (2007), p. 76
A Nationalist Trubia Serie A still in its static position defending the weapons factory in Oviedo following the end of the war in Asturias in October 1937 – source: Artemio Mortera Pérez (2011), p. 143

Legacy and Conclusion

Following the unofficial termination of the Trubia Serie A project in 1928-1929, Landesa Domenech, now a Captain, and Areces embarked in a new project, a tractor for military and agricultural use based on the same, but improved and updated, mechanisms as the Trubia Serie A. The tractor, named Tractor Landesa [Landesa Tractor], would also have an armored upgrade which would be used in the Revolution of 1934 and the Spanish Civil War. In the Spanish Civil War, another vehicle, the Trubia-Naval, influenced by the original Trubia Serie A would see service with both Republican and Nationalist forces.

The Trubia Serie A was a brave, but ultimately, unsatisfactory effort to improve upon the existing Renault FT. Had the vehicle worked properly, it would definitely have been a major improvement; it had improved firepower, improved engine performance, which could be accessed from the inside, allowed for higher speed, range and performance, slightly thicker armor, and more comfort for its crew. However, the experimental suspension system used proved to be inefficient and too prone to breakdowns due to its delicate nature. The problem was, that for a variety of reasons, a copy of this suspension system was still being used in new tank designs as late as 1936.
Regardless, the Trubia Serie A was the first example of a Spanish designed tank to overcome the dependency on foreign tanks and valuable lessons were learnt by the designers and engineers.

Modern Reconstruction

In the Museo de la Historia Militar Española, el Cueto, in Asturias, along its impressive collection of Spanish Civil War era reconstructions, is one of the Trubia Serie A. Whilst due to its complexity and obsoleteness the Orion suspensions system has not been replicated, everything else seems to be an accurate reproduction of the vehicle, including the double rotating turret. The vehicle has been given an engine and is used to drive around the museum’s grounds. A video of the vehicle in action can be seen here.

The reproduction of the Trubia Serie A at el Cueto – source: Facebook, Museo el Cueto
Illustration of the Trubia A by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet, with corrections by Jaycee ‘AmazingAce’ Davis.

Specifications

Dimensions Excluding tail 4.36 x 2.8 x 1.8 m (14.3 x 9.19 x 5.9 ft)
Total weight, battle ready 8.1 tonnes
Crew 3 (Driver/frontal gunner; Commander/gunner/loader; and Gunner/loader)
Propulsion Daimler MV1574 4 cylinder 75 hp
Max speed 30 km/h (19 mph) on road
Range 100 km (62.14 miles)
Suspension None
Armament 3 x 7 mm Hotchkiss M1914 machine guns
Armor 16-20 mm (0.63 – 0.79 in)
Production 4

Sources

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)
Artemio Mortera Pérez, Los Medios Blindados de la Guerra Civil Española. Teatro de Operaciones de Levante, Aragón y Cataluña 36/39 2.ª Parte (Valladolid: AF Editores, 2011)
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#)