WW2 Kingdom of Spain Tanks WW2 Republican Spanish Armored Cars

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


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


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


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


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


Anon. 4wdonline, “Jeffrey Quad” [accessed 25 September 2021]

Anon. Avant Train Latil, “Les Vehicules Latil” [accessed 29 September 2021]

Anon. Landships, “Jeffrey Quad Nash” [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

WW2 Republican Spanish Armored Cars

Blindado tipo ZIS (UNL-35)

Second Spanish Republic (1936)
Armored Car – ~160 Built

Rightly or wrongly, the armored cars produced by both sides during the Spanish Civil War – the ‘tiznaos’ – have often been mocked and ridiculed. This may stem from their rudimentary and improvised appearance, which is a reflection of what they were. As the war progressed and foreign material became harder to come by, the Republican forces started to manufacture better thought out vehicles which could be produced in series. The most widespread of these vehicles is the often mistakenly designated UNL-35, correctly known as Blindado tipo ZIS, Blindado tipo 3HC, or Blindado Ford Modelo 85.

Context – Spain divided

Spain’s tumultus political situation eventually reached boiling point in July 1936, when a group of conservative minded generals would rise up against the democratically elected government of the Second Spanish Republic. Whilst the coup was mainly a failure, both sides, which were influenced by set ideological grounds, would fight out a bloody civil war which still has consequences to this day.

The view that the Spanish Civil War was a conflict between two cohesive camps, Communism versus Fascism, is totally misguided though. In Catalonia, the anarchists of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo- Federación Anarquista Ibérica (CNT-FAI) [Eng. National Confederation of Labour-Iberian Anarchist Federation] had been instrumental in defeating the 1936 military coup and had since then been the powerbrokers in Catalonia. However, their methods did not match the centralized ambitions of the Republican Government, the Communist Party (PCE), and the Soviet military and its political advisors.

After the enormous losses suffered by the Republic during 1936, the first months of 1937 could, in contrast, be considered a relative success for them. At the turn of the year, the Republican forces defeated the last Nationalist attempts to fully surround Madrid from the north in the Battles of Corunna Road. Throughout February, Republican forces defeated the Nationalist and Italian Corpo Truppe Volontarie (C.T.V.) [Eng. Volunteer Corp Troops] at the Battle of the Jarama and then again a month later at the Battle of Guadalajara. However, Málaga was lost in February and in March, the Nationalists began the slow occupation of the North.

By this point, the Italian and German arms shipments to Franco’s Nationalist forces were tipping the balance in their favor. Of course, the Republic was also receiving armaments as well. Theirs were coming from the Soviet Union, and included T-26 and BT-5 tanks, and BA-6 and FAI armored cars. Whilst, in general, these proved to be superior to the Italian and German vehicles, not enough were available.

Politically, at this time, the situation in Republican Spain had changed. The initial revolutionary spirit had somewhat died out, and the makeshift and often disunited militias were being merged to form the Ejército Popular de la República (EPR) [Eng. People’s Army of the Republic]. Also, the factories which had independently been producing the makeshift ‘tiznaos’ – a name originating from the blackish color given by the iron and other metallic plating from the adjective tiznado (sooty) – were put under the centralized control of the Comisaría de Armamentos y Municiones [Eng: Commissariat of Arms and Ammunition] to help with the overall war effort on December 20th 1936. One of these was the Valencian shipyard of Unión Naval de Levante (UNL) [Eng. Naval Union of Levante], which was renamed Fábrica Nº22. UNL had already provided for the war effort with the construction and assembly of several ‘tiznaos’ for the Valencian columns which went to aid Madrid and its surroundings in the late summer and autumn of 1936. Among these were the two-turreted behemoths of the UNL-2.

A Soviet supplied BA-6 and the large UNL-2 assembled at Unión Naval de Levante during the defense of Madrid in 1936. This photo is testament to the disparities between the kinds of equipment available to the Republican forces – source: Mortera Pérez (2009), p. 108


At the beginning of 1937, under orders from the Comisaría de Armamentos y Municiones for the homologation of production, UNL had built 10 vehicles at its facilities in Valencia. Photographic evidence shows us that there were two different types of vehicle among them, a lighter armored car, which at a glance, looked similar to the Soviet FAI or BA-20, and a heavier vehicle, the ‘Goliat’. The lighter vehicles, sometimes known as UNL Prototipo II, had two cupolas very similar to the one on the FAI, which would later be substituted by a single less prominent one. Similar cupolas were on top of the driver and machine gunners positions, though these would later be removed. The fronts of the vehicle would also change to a wider less pronounced V-shape and the sponsons on each side would disappear altogether. These were the result of several months of experimentation with different designs until a satisfactory one was found. However, the serial production, overseen by Soviet Colonel Nicolai N. Alimov, would have a slightly different design taken from modified Soviet blueprints. As of February 12th 1937, four vehicles were ready to deliver to the front while the assembly of the other six was being completed. There was also a planned series of 150 vehicles for the lighter model. At this point, the project was christened ‘Trabajo nº 35’.

The four light armored cars produced by Unión Naval de Levante which were ready for delivery on February 12th 1937 pictured in front of the company’s factory – source: Mortera Pérez (2011), p. 95
Close-up of one of the four light armored cars produced by Unión Naval de Levante which were ready for delivery on February 12th 1937. Note the FAI-like cupolas on the turret and top of the fighting compartment – source: Mortera Pérez (2011), p. 95
The two Goliat heavy armored cars built by UNL. They were intended to carry a cannon in the turret, but here they are armed with a machine gun. Notice that the vehicle on the right is built on a British chassis, as the driver’s position is on the right hand side of the vehicle – source: Mortera Pérez (2011), p. 97

Not much is known about what happened to the pre-series vehicles. However, photographical evidence exists of two of them parked inside a maintenance garage in Madrid (according to Artemio Mortera Pérez) at some point during the war, meaning that at least some of the pre-series vehicles were sent to Madrid to fight in the late spring and summer of 1937. In addition, some sources claim that in the south of Spain, the Nationalist used a captured pre-series vehicle. However, on close examination, the vehicle could be unrelated and is equipped with a FAI armored car turret.

Two photos showing the preseries Blindados in a workshop in what is thought to be Madrid – Source: Mortera Pérez (2011), p. 99

Initially, General Motors Corporation (GMC) trucks were identified as being suitable for the chassis. In January 1937, UNL requested the Autonomous Catalan government, the Generalitat, to ‘send at least 100 of the GMC 1 ½ and 3 tons chassis’. The Generalitat had managed to get round the Non-Intervention Agreement and the USA’s resolution banning the export of arms to Spain by purchasing non-military vehicles, which they would then use as the chassis for military vehicles, after the acquisition of trucks from Chevrolet. It can be assumed that the GMC trucks were either the T-11 ½ ton powered by a Pontiac 200 60 hp engine or the 3 ton T-44 with the Buick 257 80.5 hp engine. Whatever was the case, these GMC trucks were never sent to Valencia. Instead, the first vehicles were built on the chassis of the venerable Soviet 4×2 ZIS-5 or other available vehicles, including some British vehicles which would have had right-hand drive. Later on, vehicles would be built on the elusive 1 ½ ton ‘Ford modelo 85’. This may not refer to a specific model of Ford, but to the 85 hp engine. Other vehicles are known to have used GAZ-AA chassis (the Soviet license build of the Ford Model AA) and Chevrolets. The 8 mm steel for the armor was provided by the Compañía Siderúrgica del Mediterráneo [Eng. Siderurgical Company of the Mediterranean], renamed Fábrica nº 15, under the command of A. Vorobiov, based in Sagunto, 30 km north of Valencia, and it is possible that final assembly for some vehicles took place there rather than at Fábrica nº 22.

The right-hand side drive Blindado indicates that this particular vehicle, pictured in Teruel during Christmas 1937, is based on a British-made truck. This vehicle has taken some damage on the mudguards and headlight. Notice the second vehicle in the rear also has right-hand side drive – source: Mortera Pérez (2011), pp. 145

Apart from the technical problems related to it being an unprecedented endeavor, the biggest problems UNL had were bureaucratic. Shortly before his return to the USSR, on March 10th 1937, Colonel Semyon Krivoshein, the commander of the Soviet tank forces in the early stages of the Battle of Madrid, sent a report to Moscow. In that report, he stated that, whilst some vehicles may have been ready since February, because authorization for the stock-up of fuel had not been approved by the Ministry of War, delivery had been delayed by one month. Later that month, on the 23rd, G. Dimitrov sent another report to Moscow highlighting the delay in deployment of this new vehicle and how this was causing unrest among the mainly anarchist workforce at Fábrica nº 22. If the delays were caused by political differences between the Socialists and Communists with regards to the Anarchists is impossible to tell, but seeing how the situation would combust in Barcelona in May later that year, it is definitely within the realms of possibility. Dimitrov also highlighted that the vehicles, from a technical point of view, were splendid and could be very useful in combat. 

Name Controversies

The vehicle is often misnamed as the ‘UNL-35’, with ‘UNL’ standing for Unión Naval de Levante (which, at that point, was already renamed as Fábrica nº 22) and 35, which according to the military historian Artemio Mortera Perez, may result from the projects designation, ‘Trabajo nº 35’. However, according to the work of historians Josep María Mata Duaso and Francisco Marín Gutiérrez (Blindados Autóctonos en la Guerra Civil Española), this designation was never officially used during the war.

The vehicles had a variety of names and all related to the type of chassis used as the base. Thus, most vehicles were named ‘Blindado tipo ZIS’, in reference to the ZIS-5 truck chassis. An alternative was the Latin script for the Cyrillic name of the ZIS-5, ЗиС, thus becoming ‘Blindado tipo 3HC’. The ‘3HC’ designation was used in official documents of the Republican 3ª Compañía of the 2ª Brigada de Blindados dated July 24th 1938 during the fighting in Extremadura. Blindado simply means armored in English, whilst tipo is type. For those on Ford chassis, they were known as Blindado tipo Ford mod. 85 or a variation of that. Throughout the article, the vehicle will be referred to as Blindado tipo ZIS unless the exact chassis type is known. Some secondary sources use autoametralladora instead of blindado, or just autoametralladora. This term simply means machine gun vehicle.  


External Appearance

As has been said, the Blindado tipo ZIS was heavily based on already existing Soviet designs, most notably the FAI and BA-20. As the engine compartment was at the front, there was a plate angled at around 20º at the front of the vehicle serving as the engine cover. It had two small doors to access the engine. The front bumper had the hand crank to start the engine. Each side of the armor covering the engine compartment had a two-part hatch to access the engine for repairs and maintenance. The wheels had unpuncturable solid rubber tires. 

Frontally, the slightly inclined top armor of the engine compartment turned upwards around 25º-30º to form a short plate with two openings: the one on the right was round and was for a machine gun, whilst the one on the left was a hinged plate to allow for better vision for the driver behind it. This hinged plate had a thin slit to allow vision through it at all times. Each side of the main structure had a prominent door which opened to the left. All four wheels were covered by straight flat armored mudguards, contrary to the curved ones on Soviet vehicles. The tires were Airsless. On top of the front two mudguards was a headlight or on the sides of the front, depending on the chassis used.. The rear of the vehicle had fittings for pioneer equipment. 

At the rear top of the vehicle was the short, nine-sided turret. The frontal plate was flat and had a hole in the center for a machine gun. The sides, which were the larger of the turret’s plates, had a small slit, which by its size would probably not have been for vision, but rather a fume evacuator. The top had a small dome at the rear which allowed the commander to stand upright inside the vehicle, and a circular hatch which opened to the front. Unless the turret machine gun operator was making use of the hatch, they would have had a hard time firing, as the frontal plate had no slit to see through. 

The riveted steel armor plate used was 8 mm thick all round and was produced by Compañía Siderúrgica del Mediterráneo, renamed as Fábrica nº 15

The Blindado tipo ZIS was nearly 4 m long, over 2 m high and just under 1 m wide. Vehicle weight is often estimated at 2.3 tonnes, though considering the weight of the original chassis, this figure may be a very low estimation. 

Whilst it is likely that the Blindado tipo ZIS’ weight would have allowed it to be carried on the back of a truck, its length means it had to be transported on a tank transporter. This Blindado tipo ZIS has just been captured by Nationalist forces north of the Ebro in March 1937 during the Aragón Offensive. Notice the ammunition trailer being towed – source: Mortera Pérez (2011a), p. 13


The Blindado tipo ZIS was armed with two Soviet machine guns. Initially, these were the gas-operated Degtyaryova Tankovy (DT) machine guns, the armored vehicle variant of the Degtyaryov machine gun. Due to shortages, the majority of models were armed with the older and heavier Maxim–Tokarev machine gun. Both fired the 7.62 mm rimmed (7.62 x 54R) cartridge. 

One of the machine guns was housed in the turret, whilst the second was placed on the right hand side of the frontal plate. In Blindados en España, author Javier de Mazarrasa speculates that each vehicle carried 1,500 ammunition rounds. However, due to the chaotic state of weapons procurement and distribution of the Spanish Republic, it is unlikely that there was a standard load. 

A Blindado tipo ZIS of the Escuadrón de Blindados [Eng. Armored Vehicles Squadron] of the Nationalist Ejército del Sur [Eng. Army of the South] (note the red-yellow Spanish flag on the front of the vehicle) with a third Maxim–Tokarev machine gun in an anti-aircraft mount on the turret. This is an odd arrangement, as, considering this photo was most likely taken in late 1938 or 1939 in the Andalucía theatre of operations, there would not have been much of a Republican aerial threat. Additionally, given the placement of the commander’s hatch on the turret, in this mount, the anti-aircraft machine gun would have been very difficult to operate – source: Mortera Pérez (2009), p. 248


The frontal section of the vehicle housed the engine. Without evidence to the contrary, it should be presumed that the engine on board depended on the chassis used. When using the ZIS-5 truck as a basis, the engine would have been the 6 cylinder ZIS petrol engine capable of producing 73 hp at 2,300 rpm with a maximum torque of 279 Nm at 1,200 rpm. It can be estimated that the Blindado tipo ZIS would have had a speed of possibly as fast 60 km/h. The original ZIS-5 truck had a 60 l fuel tank. It is unknown what fuel capacity the Blindado tipo ZIS would have had, and an assumption would be that whatever its capacity, it would have been placed behind the engine. The transmission on the ZIS-5 built vehicles would have been mechanical and produced by ZIS, with four forward gears and one reverse. 

The crew compartment occupied the rear half of the vehicle. The front left position was for the driver, whilst the front right position was for the hull machine gunner. Behind them was the position of the turret machine gunner, who, it can be assumed, also fulfilled the role of commander. It is unlikely that any radio equipment was carried. 

The Blindado tipo ZIS and its competitors

In a way, the Blindado tipo ZIS was a step forward in regards to the Soviet light machine gun armored cars, such as the FAI and the BA-20. The Blindado tipo ZIS had sturdier armor, its wheels were more effectively protected, and it had superior firepower with the inclusion of two machine guns. Additionally, the Blindado tipo ZIS was built on a sturdier, more reliable and more advanced platform than the FAI, which used an older truck chassis, and the BA-20, which used a car chassis. 

The Blindado tipo ZIS’ main shortcomings were the same for the rest of these relatively large, weakly armed and armored interwar armored cars, that is, that its armor was ineffective against anything which packed more of a punch than a machine gun and that its armament could only effectively deal with infantry, cannon and machine gun emplacements, and soft-skin vehicles. 

However, when it was first introduced in May 1937, the Blindado tipo ZIS was superior to any light machine gun armored car in the Republic’s arsenal and also that of the Nationalist forces, with the elderly Great War era Italian 1ZM being its closest competitor, though the gap was significant, even if, on paper, the Italian vehicle had thicker armor and was more potently armed. 


As of September 1937, a total of 130 vehicles had been completed, with another 30 to be manufactured before the end of the year. By February 1938, production at Fábrica nº 22 switched to the heavier cannon-armed Blindado Modelo B.C.. It is not known with certainty how many vehicles were built between September 1937 and February 1938, but the number may be around 50 based on Fábrica nº 22’s estimates. 

A selection of stills from Roman Karmen and Boris Makasséiev’s documentary for Studio Moscow showing the production of the Blindado inside the Unión Naval de Levante factory. The recording confirms that a selection of different chassis were used during the serial production – source: Mortera Pérez (2011), p. 99

In the spring of 1938, the Nationalist advance on Valencia and Castellón meant that Fábrica nº 22 was to be moved further south. By July-August, the factory began work in Elda and Petrel, in Alicante, though it is not clear if by this point they were still building Blindado tipo ZIS.

Another collection of stills from Karmen and Makasséiev’s documentary showing a number of Blindados leaving the Unión Naval de Levante factory. This event was marked with a political rally – source: Mortera Pérez (2011), p. 101


Barcelona May 1937

Unsurprisingly for anyone who has studied the Spanish Civil War, the debut of the Blindado tipo ZIS would be an internal security matter. Tensions within the Republic intensified over the winter of 1936-37 and, in April, there would be altercations between government forces and anarchist militias for the control of road control posts and custom houses. On May 2nd, a telephone conversation between the President of the Republic, Manuel Azaña, and Lluis Compayns, President of the Generalitat, was cut by an anarchist phone operator. Anarchists had controlled the telephone exchange since the summer of 1936 and their handling was considered to be detrimental to the war effort. 

On May 3rd, a force of police officers was sent to take over the telephone exchange in Barcelona. The anarchists resisted and soon, barricades would be raised all over the city – a civil war within a civil war. On the one side were the government and Catalan forces, and on the other the CNT-FAI, the Trotskyist Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM) [Eng. Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification] and other revolutionary far-left forces. Whilst fighting on the streets of Barcelona continued, the central Republican government decided to send troops from Madrid and Valencia to end the violence and regain control of the crucial region of Catalonia. Lieutenant Colonel Emilio Torres was put in charge of the 4.ª División which arrived in Barcelona on May 7th and consisted of 5,000 assault guards and at least 6 Blindados tipo ZIS. By this point, the May Events were almost over, but some vehicles may have taken part in the clean-up operations the following day. Hundreds had died in less than a week and the political consequences were monumental. Shortly afterward, the POUM leadership would be arrested and disappear, the CNT-FAI was weakened, and the PCE, backed by Moscow, rose to prominence. The Blindados tipo ZIS sent to Barcelona would be taken over by the newly formed Ejército del Este [Eng. Army of the East].

At least six Blindados tipo ZIS on Avenida Marqués de l’Armentera in Barcelona, circa May 7th 1937. These were sent as part of a column to restore order in the Catalan capital during the May Events – source: Mortera Pérez (2011), p. 83
A close-up photo of the lead vehicle in the above photo showing some of the Blindado tipo ZIS’ features in great detail – source: Mortera Pérez (2011), p. 83

Córdoba, Madrid, Segovia and Huesca Offensive

It is possible that some Blindados tipo ZIS were sent to the Ejército Sur and may have seen combat on the Frente de Córdoba [English: Cordoba Front]. Others may have been sent to Madrid to replenish the losses suffered during the battles of Jarama and Guadalajara and could have seen action in the combats around Casa de Campo in May, though how many were used or during which particular actions are unknown at this time. It is also possible that Blindados tipo ZIS were used during the Republican offensive around Segovia in late May and early June 1937. 

A Blindado tipo ZIS somewhere in Madrid, Castilla La Mancha or Andalucía. Notice that the camouflage is meant to resemble the vast areas of olive groves in these regions and that even the tire sidewalls have been painted – source: Mortera Pérez (2009), p. 176

At the beginning of the second week of June 1937, the Nationalist forces began their siege of the defensive perimeter surrounding Bilbao. As the northern Republican region had been cut-off from the onset of the war, the only way of aiding it would be by conducting attacks elsewhere with the aim of drawing out troops and resources.  General Sebastián Pozas Perea was put in charge of the Ejército del Este, and on June 12th ordered his forces to attack the city of Huesca with the intention of capturing it. Pozas’ forces were divided into two groupings each split into two columns. Coordination and communication between the different columns proved troublesome. 

The 4th column under the command of Major Enrique Oubiña Fernández-Cid was composed of the 123ª Brigada Mixta, an engineering company, and 5 armored cars. It is unclear what these may have been, though based on the fact that the Blindados tipo ZIS which had been sent to Catalonia in May were then aggregated to the Ejército del Este, they could well have been those and photographic evidence goes a long way to back this. Nevertheless, the testimony of Avelí Artís would suggest that the vehicles in question may be the ‘tiznao’ Torras. A mix of these two types of vehicles is also a possibility. 

On June 10th, the southern grouping left Huerrios to attack Chimillas at 05:30, with the support of T-26s and Blindados tipo ZIS. The attack was repulsed and a second attack with more armor in the afternoon or evening also failed. The next three days saw lower intensity confrontations before a final major push on the 14th, which, having captured some of the objectives, ran out of momentum and soon lost all gained territory. The offensive had failed.

On June 15th, an abandoned Blindado tipo ZIS was pictured at Chimillas whilst it was being towed to the Nationalist lines. The vehicle seemed in good shape, so it must have had a mechanical failure. It is unknown if the vehicle was lost on the 15th or in the days prior and that only when the fighting calmed down did they bother to recover it. The Nationalists would end up capturing and making use of many Blindados tipo ZIS. 

Three pictures of the Blindado tipo ZIS captured by the Nationalist at Chimillas. Notice that the machine guns have been removed to avoid capture and that the left-hand headlight has fallen off from its fitting – source: Mortera Pérez (2011), pp. 87-88

Battle of Brunete

In mid-May 1937, Francisco Largo Caballero’s government would fall and give way to the premiership of Juan Negrín López, who was much closer to the PCE and Moscow. In an effort to gain credibility on the world stage and to try to convince France that the Republic could win the war, along with the need to delay the Nationalist advance in the north on Santander, a major offensive was set in motion. After much discussion over where to launch the offensive, through Soviet pressure, the area around the town of Brunete, west of Madrid, was chosen. The Battle of Brunete would be one of the biggest of the war and saw a large deployment of armor. 

Map showing the deployment and advances of Republican (red) and Nationalist (blue) armored vehicles at the Battle of Brunete. Whilst any exact actions of the Blindado tipo ZIS are unknown, the map gives some indications as to where they may have fought – source: Mortera Pérez (2009), p. 198

Republican forces in the Ejército de Maniobra [Eng. Maneuver Army] had ‘150 tanks and 50 armored vehicles’ (Mortera Pérez, 2009, p. 193). It is almost impossible to identify exactly what vehicles these would be, but certainly, some Blindados tipo ZIS were used. The 50 armored vehicles were divided into five groups of ten and were part of the attack on the towns of Brunete and Quijorna that began on the night of July 5th. Over the next few days, Republican forces would advance but fail to properly break the Nationalist line. Armor, according to Enrique Líster, commander of the Republican 11.ª División, was used disastrously, with vehicles being used as mobile artillery pieces in support of infantry. Most vehicles did not even reach the enemy lines and were lost in the open. By July 11th, the Republican offensive was at a standstill and armor losses were major. With reinforcements from the north, the Nationalists launched a counteroffensive on July 18th, which also soon ran out of steam. A new offensive with much more limited objectives was able to recapture Brunete for the Nationalists between July 24th and 26th. The battle was inconclusive, as the Republicans had captured some territory and slowed down the Nationalist advance on Santander, but, overall, they had failed to achieve an overwhelming victory and had much higher casualties and losses, especially regarding aircraft, than the Nationalists. The limitations of the tactical usage of armored vehicles as mobile artillery and infantry support were especially highlighted in Brunete. 

One of the many destroyed Republican vehicles at the Battle of Brunete, this knocked-out Blindado tipo ZIS is inspected by Nationalist forces. Note the red star painted on the left mudguard. Also note the KhPZ Komintern artillery tractor in the background of the first picture – source: Mortera Pérez (2009), p. 202

Zaragoza Offensive and Battle of Teruel

It is likely that the Blindados tipo ZIS saw action during the August-September 1937 Zaragoza Offensive, but there are no known testimonies or photographs. However, their involvement in the Battle of Teruel, popularly known as ‘the Spanish Stalingrad’, is well documented. 

After the loss of Asturias, the last Republican position in the north, and in the hope of preventing the planned Nationalist offensive on Guadalajara and Madrid, the Republican military authorities planned an attack on the city of Teruel. To do so, they amassed a significant force, the Ejército de Levante, which was expected to easily topple the weak Nationalist forces at the Frente de Aragón. 

Blindado tipo ZIS at the Frente de Teruel in December 1937. Notice that the machine guns have been covered in a protective coat to shield them from the frigid temperatures – source: Mortera Pérez (2011), pp. 139
Two Blindados tipo ZIS in one of the many villages near Teruel in December 1937 – source: Mortera Pérez (2011), pp. 140

Republican forces were divided into 3 columns: north, center, and south. The central column, or the XX Cuerpo de Ejército [Eng. XX Army Corp], was under the command of Colonel Ledopoldo Menéndez López and was composed of the 40.ª and 68.ª infantry divisions, a regiment of ‘heavy’ tanks made up of a depleted force of Soviet BT-5s, two artillery groups, and an armored cavalry squadron with a dozen Blindado tipos ZIS. Starting from Mora de Rubielos, the offensive would begin on the night of December 15th with elements of the central column reaching the towns outside Teruel on the 17th and the outskirts of the city itself the following day. On the 19th, Republican forces would break through most of the Nationalist defensive perimeter in Teruel but the resistance was proving to be much tougher than expected. On that same day, Nationalist General Francisco Franco decided to send reinforcements to the besieged city. 

On December 22nd, the 40.ª Division, supported by Blindados tipo ZIS, broke into the center of Teruel and would take part in bloody street-to-street combat for the whole evening. 

Rear shot of a Blindado tipo ZIS inside Teruel on December 22nd 1937 – source: Mortera Pérez (2011), pp. 142

Further shots of a Blindado in Teruel after it was captured by Republican forces on December 22nd, 1937. This particular vehicle was not on a ZIS chassis, as it has right-hand side drive, indicating it was based on a British-made truck – source: Mortera Pérez (2011), pp. 145

After the capture of Teruel by Republican forces and before the impending Nationalist counterattack, French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson recorded a Blindado tipo ZIS for his pro-Republican film documentary Victoire de la vie, which provides many images of the vehicle. The Hungarian photographer Endre Ernő Friedmann, aka ‘Robert Capa’, was also present in Teruel at this time. This may be the reason why there are so many surviving pictures of the Blindado tipo ZIS in Republican service for the Battle of Teruel. Most other pictures of the Blindado tipo ZIS in other theatres of the conflict are in Nationalist service or showing them knocked-out or being towed to Nationalist lines. 

Stills from Henri Cartier-Bresson’s pro-Republican film documentary Victoire de la vie show a Blindado tipo ZIS running through the streets of Teruel. Despite the sub-zero temperatures, the side doors and engine hatches are open, perhaps indicating that the Blindados tipo ZIS suffered from engine overheating. These stills also provide us some indication as to what color schemes and camouflage would have been used. A dark olive green color similar to the Soviet 3B would have been the base, with a lighter green being the secondary color and the shapes on the turret, rear of the vehicle, and behind the door, could have been a shade of brown – source: Mortera Pérez (2011), pp. 146

By December 29th, there were enough reinforcements for the Nationalists to carry out their counterattack. By the 31st, they advanced to the outskirts of Teruel themselves and the units originally assigned to the central column began to abandon the city they had fought so hard to occupy before the situation was controlled and they returned to their positions at the end of the day, with the Blindados tipo ZIS occupying the center of the city. 

The front would stabilize for two and a half weeks until the Nationalists launched a major attack on January 17th, 1938, which was followed by Republican counterattacks the next two days and a major attack on the 25th. These would fail at a very high cost in tanks and personnel, and by the end of the month and beginning of February, the Nationalists had the initiative again. With the situation nearing criticality, Republican forces planned a major attack on the small town of Vivel del Río, north of Teruel, roughly halfway to Zaragoza. The attack of February 15th was able to count on three infantry divisions, three T-26 tank companies, and the Blindado tipo ZIS company, and was initially successful before receiving a Nationalist counterattack. However, this attack was poorly timed, as it took a considerable force away from Teruel, which the Nationalists were about to attack and try to re-occupy. Once the attack on Teruel proper began, some of the forces employed on the attack on Vivel del Río, alongside reinforcements, were dispatched south. These consisted of three infantry brigades, three T-26 tank companies, one BT-5 tank company and 2 Blindado tipo ZIS sections. The advance through the rocky and hilly countryside north of Teruel was met with fierce resistance from Nationalist anti-tank cannons, aircraft, and their own tanks, captured T-26s and Panzer Is. These actions on February 21st saw the loss of four T-26s and three BT-5s. Teruel would fall back into Nationalist hands between February 22nd and 23rd, bringing the battle to an end. 

The Aragón Offensive and the Rush to the Sea

With momentum on their side and the majority of units already in the region, the Nationalists decided to abandon plans to strike Madrid and attack the tired and depleted forces in Aragón. The attack began on March 9th, with the Nationalists capturing town after town over the following few days and the Republican defenders, many young and inexperienced, retreating in disarray. Among the Republican reinforcements were a number of Blindados tipo ZIS. The Blindados tipo ZIS fought on the front north of the River Ebro. 

Among the first reinforcements for the Republican forces were the Blindados tipo ZIS aggregated to the 16.ª División – source: Mortera Pérez (2011a), p. 13

The offensive cut through the Republican defense like a knife through butter and, by the end of March and beginning of April 1937, Nationalist forces began capturing towns in Catalonia. The advancing forces captured a multitude of Republican vehicles, which they quickly pressed into service, including a number of Blindados tipo ZIS. One of these may have been captured by the Corpo Truppe Volontarie (C.T.V.) in very early April in Gandesa, but the company’s reports are far from conclusive.

A knocked-out Blindado tipo ZIS (see the prominent hole in the rear of the hull, most likely caused by an anti-tank cannon) with Nationalist soldiers posing on it. Notice the soldier inside the vehicle posing through the hole – source: Mortera Pérez (2011a), p. 14

At this point, what seemed the logical step for the Nationalist forces was to press on with the attack on Barcelona, but Franco, fearful that this attack would encourage France to join the war on the Republican side, surprised his generals by ordering them to turn south and advance on Castellón and Valencia, the Republican capital. By mid-April, the Republican forces were offering no resistance and on the 15th, Nationalist troops reached the Mediterranean coast, cutting the Republican territory in two. 

Two shots of abandoned Blindados tipo ZIS encountered by Nationalist forces during the Aragón Offensive. As per usual, the machine guns were removed to avoid their capture. The presence of many other vehicles could suggest that the Blindados tipo ZIS were moved from where they were found by Nationalist forces to a depot of captured vehicles – Mortera Pérez (2011a), p. 24

Balaguer Offensive

Whilst the Nationalist troops advanced on Castellón and to counter the territorial losses over the previous months, Republican command planned an offensive on the Nationalist positions along the River Segre and Lleida. The initial main objective was to capture the bridges over the Segre at Tremp and Balaguer. Whilst the Republican offensive on the Segre has often been forgotten in historical accounts of the Spanish Civil War, the Republican forces for this attack were larger in number than those at Brunete or Teruel and included around 150 armored vehicles, including some Blindados tipo ZIS. The offensive began on May 22nd, but due to poor tactics, Republican forces were unable to fully defeat the stretched and vulnerable Nationalist forces. On the 24th, Republican forces captured Tremp, though Nationalist forces would try to retake it. On the 26th, the Republicans made one last attempt to capture Balaguer and lost some armor on the road between Bellcaire and La Rápita. Overall, short of capturing some territory, the offensive was a failure with a high cost in men and materiel. 

A knocked out Blindado tipo ZIS on the Bellcaire-La Rápita road at the end of May 1938 – source: Mortera Pérez (2011a), p. 54

Levante Offensive

As soon as the Aragón Offensive was over, Franco launched his offensive south on Castellón and Valencia, which would soon become known as the Levante Offensive. The defense presented by the newly reformed Republican Grupo de Ejércitos de la Región Central (G.E.R.C.) [English: Army Groups of the Central Region] proved to be superior to what was anticipated, and by April 25th, the second day of the offensive, Nationalist forces were halted. The Nationalists pushed on, but had to stop every couple of days, as the rocky and mountainous terrain favored the defenders, who had dug well-defended trenches along the route. 

By the beginning of June, the Nationalist advance had overcome the rocky and mountainous terrain and had their eyes set on Castellón de la Plana. Defending Castellón was the Agrupación Toral, with 8 BT-5s, 14 T-26s, and 34 other armored vehicles, among which were a number of Blindados tipo ZIS. This grouping saw action towards the end of May and the beginning of June around the town of Ares del Maestre. During the first two weeks of June, they continued to see action as they fell back on Castellón, potentially engaging enemy forces on the 10th near La Pelechaneta and La Barona. On June 11th, a force of 17 Republican armored vehicles, most likely including some Blindados tipo ZIS, tried to attack Nationalist forces between Villafamés and La Pobla Tornesa, which had captured a number of Republican artillery pieces. Whilst the attack was unsuccessful and was repulsed with anti-tank cannon fire, the Nationalist forces were forced to destroy the captured equipment. By June 12th, Nationalist forces began to occupy parts of Castellón, which was defended by a contingent that included around 30 armored vehicles. Castellón would fall to Nationalist forces on June 14th, though Republican armor would try to recapture it with an offensive on Villarreal, a town just south of Castellón. 

Knocked out Blindados tipo ZIS outside Castellón, June 1938 – source: Mortera Pérez (2011a), p. 40

Once Castellón had fallen, Nationalist command set course on the offensive’s prime objective, the Republic’s capital, Valencia. The advance, which was launched from the south of Teruel through very rocky and mountainous terrain, was halted several times by repeated Republican counterattacks with armor. Towards mid-July, Nationalist forces reached the last major defensive position before Valencia, the XYZ Line. Between July 18th and 23rd, Nationalist forces failed in their repeated attempts to break the defensive line, suffering many casualties. However, by the 24th, with news of a major Republican offensive on the Ebro, troops were pulled out to counter this new major threat. Valencia had been saved. 

Two Blindados captured by the Nationalists during their advance on Valencia. The lack of camouflage and the fitting behind the engine hatch may suggest that these were later models not on a ZIS chassis, which had been sent straight from the factories in Valencia or Alicante – source: Mortera Pérez (2011a), p. 46

Andalucía and Extremadura Summer 1938

The southern front in Andalucía had remained quiet after the first year of the war and the capture of Málaga by Nationalist forces in early 1937. Nevertheless, in the late spring-early summer of 1938, a Nationalist offensive was launched to close a defensive pocket in the province of Córdoba. Given the relative lack of importance of this front, the armor available for either side was second-rate, with the Nationalists mainly using captured equipment and the Republican forces relying on Blindados tipo ZIS aggregated to the 2.ª Brigada de Ingenios Blindados.

Two Republican Blindados tipo ZIS advance through a mountain road in Andalucía in 1938 – source: Mortera Pérez (2009), p. 236

Throughout June 1938, the Nationalist forces broke the front and advanced, securing several objectives. At the end of June, Republican reinforcements were sent from other fronts to mount a counterattack. The fighting would extend for another few weeks, but without any major breakthroughs. 

After some weeks with no major fighting, on July 20th, 1938, the Nationalists launched an offensive to capture the La Serena pocket near Badajoz. Between July 23rd and 24th, with the Nationalist capture of the towns of Castuera and Campanario, the Republican 37.ª División was almost completely enveloped. There was also the 3ª Compañía of the 2.ª Brigada de Ingenios Blindados equipped with at least 10 Blindados tipo ZIS in the same pocket. Fearing they would be totally surrounded, they requested permission to retreat to Puebla de Alcocer, but this was rejected by Major De Blas, who instead ordered them to attack, threatening to shoot the company’s commander for insubordination. The attack was an absolute disaster, with the 1st and 3rd sections of the 3ª Compañía losing nine Blindados tipo ZIS, which were either knocked out or abandoned, and 12 crew members. The one surviving Blindado tipo ZIS of the 3ª Compañía, No. 27, had been previously sent away for repairs and thus survived the bloodbath. 

Battle of the Ebro and the Catalan Offensive

There is scant information regarding the deployment and usage of Blindados tipo ZIS during the Ebro Offensive of the summer of 1938. Even so, given the high number of these vehicles present in the subsequent Catalan Offensive, they were undoubtedly present, even if only used in reserve. The Ebro Offensive was meant to be a massive Republican assault across the River Ebro, an ‘all-or-nothing’ scenario with which Juan Negrín, the President of the Republican Government, hoped to convince France and Britain to intervene as a prelude to the imminent European conflict with Hitler’s Germany. Whilst initially successful, logistical issues and a ferocious Nationalist defense halted the offensive in early August. The Nationalists counterattacked throughout the following two months and pushed back to the original lines before the battle in mid-November 1937. The remaining Republican forces were tired, ill-equipped, and lacked experience. Furthermore, the results of the Munich Accords in late September sealed the fate of the Republic by putting an end to any hope of French or British intervention. 

With the momentum from the Battle of the Ebro, Franco set his sights on Barcelona. On December 23rd, 1938, the Nationalist offensive on Catalonia began with the crossing of the Segre River. Initially, the weather and a courageous Republican defense held up the advance, but by the end of the first week of January 1939, the Republican line began to crumble. With the materiel losses in the Aragón and Ebro offensives, the 1.ª División de Ingenios Blindados of the Republican forces of the Grupo de Ejércitos de la Región Oriental (GERO) [Eng. Army Groups of the Eastern Region] consisted of a limited number of armored vehicles. According to Ramón Salas, author of Historia del Ejército Popular de la República, these consisted of 63 autoametralladoras (Blindados tipo ZIS and domestically produced machine gun-armed armored cars from Catalan factories, such as the Torras or Hispano-Suiza 3TS), 27 autoametralladoras-cañón (Blindados B.C. and possibly BA-6s) and 90 carros de combate (T-26s and BT-5s). A more conservative estimate from J. M. Martínez Bande (La Campaña de Cataluña) places the number at 40 tanques (T-26s and BT-5s) and 80 blindados (Blindados tipo ZIS, Blindados B.C. and other armored cars). Given the chaotic state the Republic was in, very little is known of the use of their forces in Catalonia at this time. 

The Republican crew of a Blindado tipo ZIS – missing the frontal machine gun – surrendering during the early weeks of the Catalan Offensive – source: Mortera Pérez (2011a), p. 103

Following the breaking of the front in early to mid-January 1939, Republican forces, seriously lacking ammunition and equipment and very low on morale, were unable to offer any kind of resistance, and Nationalist forces spent the following month occupying the whole of Catalonia. On January 15th, a Nationalist dispatch stated that, up to that point of the campaign, 33 tanks and 11 armored cars had been captured, including without doubt a number of Blindados tipo ZIS. Over the following weeks, more vehicles would be captured. 

Nationalist troops encounter an abandoned Blindado tipo ZIS on the side of a road somewhere in Catalonia January-February 1939 – source: Mortera Pérez (2011a), p. 119

On January 14th, Tarragona fell, sending the whole of the region into chaos. As a result, civilians and military personnel headed north towards the French border to escape Franco’s forces. A week and a half later, on the 25th, the Nationalist forces began occupying the surrounding areas of Barcelona, marching into the semi-abandoned city the following day, encountering no resistance. 

A sabotaged Blindado tipo ZIS abandoned during the flight from Barcelona to prevent it from falling into Nationalist hands. The remains of the vehicle are pictured outside the Gran Garage Universal on the corner of Albareda and Carreras streets. Notice the other sabotaged cars behind the Blindado – source: Mortera Pérez (2011a), p. 123

On the night of January 27th, 1939, France opened the border with Spain, allowing thousands of Republican refugees, civilians, and military personnel, to cross into France. Among these were the remaining armored vehicles in Catalonia, most numerous of which were the Blindados tipo ZIS and Blindados B.C.. All the vehicles that crossed the border were interned by French authorities. It is estimated that at least 22 Blindados tipo ZIS crossed into France in late January early February 1939. Due to the massive bottleneck to enter France, many vehicles were abandoned and captured by the pursuing Nationalists. On February 8th, Figueres, the last major town before the French border, fell, with Nationalist troops reaching the border two days later. On the 11th, Llivia, a Catalan town surrounded entirely by France, was taken by Franco’s forces, putting an end to the Catalonia Offensive.  

The defeated. Two Republican soldiers, with a Blindado tipo ZIS in the background, head towards the French border. Note that the Blindado has its turret facing backward in the sign of surrender – source: Mortera Pérez (2011a), p. 125
A column of 3 Blindados tipo ZIS and a Blindado Modelo B.C. (bringing up the rear) on La Junquera road, awaiting authorization to enter French territory – source: Mortera Pérez (2011a), p. 128
A Blindado with its turret facing backward shortly after crossing the border into France. Notice that this vehicle had the right-hand drive and was thus built on a British truck chassis – source: Mortera Pérez (2011a), p. 128

Battle of Valsequillo/Peñarroya

On the morning of January 5th, 1939, whilst Catalonia was falling, the Republic launched its last offensive of the war in the Peñarroya sector in Córdoba. A large army of soldiers and armored vehicles (including Blindados tipo ZIS) was assembled for this operation, and after three days, 500 km2 of territory, the most extensive of the war, had been captured. After a few days, the Nationalist defense and the downpour of rain slowed the Republican offensive to a halt. On January 24th, after hurrying in numerous reinforcements, the Nationalists counterattacked, making use of a number of Blindados tipo ZIS of the Escuadrón de Blindados of the Ejército del Sur. The counterattack finished on February 4th, with the Nationalists pushing back to almost the original frontline at the beginning of the battle and destroying or capturing many Republican vehicles. 

By the final stages of the war, the Nationalists had as much Republican armor as the Republic itself. Here, a T-26 tows a Blindado tipo ZIS which has fallen off the road. These vehicles were most likely reinforcements from the Escuadrón de Blindados of the Ejército del Sur to counter the Republican offensive in Córdoba in January 1939 – source: Mortera Pérez (2009), p. 244

The Blindado tipo ZIS in Nationalist service

Throughout the war, the Nationalists made good use of captured Republican vehicles, with the Blindado tipo ZIS no exception. The first Blindados tipo ZIS captured were taken at Chimillas (Huesca) in June 1937, with potentially more falling at Brunete and Teruel later that year. Whilst some were used in the Aragón front, as with many of the second-rate captured equipment, they were sent south to Sevilla. Sevilla was the major repair and workshop facility for the Nationalists during the war. The armor used by the Nationalist Ejército del Sur in the Andalucía front was mainly captured equipment. These saw service at the Battle of Valsequillo/Peñarroya and during the final offensive. 

Towards the end of the war, the Agrupación de Carros de Combate [Eng. Fighting Vehicles Grouping] of the Ejército Sur under the command of Miguel Cabanellas Torres was mainly composed of Blindados tipo ZIS. The grouping was composed of two groups with three squadrons each. Two squadrons were ‘light’, with 8 Blindados ZIS and 2 FAIs each. The other squadron of each group was ‘heavy’, with 8 BA-6s and 2 FAIs. This was a total of 32 Blindados tipo ZIS in the Agrupación. This unit took part in the military victory parades in Sevilla (April 17th 1939) and Valencia (May 5th 1939). 

Whilst unconfirmed, it can be assumed that the Blindados tipo ZIS continued to be used to different degrees by Franco’s forces after victory in the civil war. The most likely destination would have been the Spanish protectorate in Morocco or even Spanish (Equatorial) Guinea for colonial duty. The ones that remained would have been scrapped when more modern American equipment started arriving in the mid-50s. 

A Blindado tipo ZIS which has been captured by Nationalist forces and has been assigned to Escuadrón de Autoametralladoras-cañón de Caballería [Eng. Cavalry Squadron of gun-armed Armored cars] of the Ejército del Sur. Notice that the forward-facing DT machine gun has been removed and the position sealed, the red-yellow flag painted on the front of the turret, and what seems to be a black and white aerial identification marking, though it is impossible to tell if it is a Cross of Saint Andrew. The vehicle seems to be towing a trailer or cannon. Some sources have misidentified this as a second rear wheel and incorrectly state that the vehicle is a Blindado B.C. – source: Mortera Pérez (2009), p. 219
Three Blindados tipo ZIS of the Escuadrón de Blindados of the Nationalist Ejército del Sur. In the rear, still on its transport wheels, a T-26. The vehicle furthest to the left is an unidentified vehicle. Artemio Mortera Pérez has speculated that it is an early pre-standardization Blindado tipo ZIS, though it could also be a completely unrelated vehicle. The turret is almost certainly a FAI turret, and it is currently unknown if the vehicle was designed like that or if the chassis and the turret were mated by the Nationalists – source: Mortera Pérez (2009), p. 240

A congregation of all the vehicles (minus the Panzer Is) of the Agrupación de Carros de Combate of the Ejército del Sur at the Estadio de la Exposición (modern day Estadio Benito Villamarín) before the victory parade in Seville on April 17th 1939. Pictured are 4 FAIs, 8 BA-6s, 15 (though most likely 16) Blindados tipo ZIS and a large number of T-26s. Additionally, the vehicles at the back of the second picture are most probably more Blindados tipo ZIS. All of these vehicles were of course captured, a testament to the Nationalists’ reliance on captured materiel, especially at the least important fronts – source: Mortera Pérez (2009), p. 253
A group of requetes (Carlist militias) pose alongside a captured Blidado tipo ZIS of the Ejército Sur. Note the black St. Andrew’s cross painted on a white background on top of the vehicle – source: Mortera Pérez (2009), p. 257
Blindados tipo ZIS and B.C. in what seems as a post-Civil War parade. Notice the darker colors of the vehicle’s camouflage and the white on the tires which are not present in Civil War eras photos. Additionally, the vehicles have number plates and unit or regimental markings on the side of the turret and behind the door – source: Defensa

Blindado tipo ZIS of the Corpo Truppe Volontarie (C.T.V.)

During their push through Aragón, Catalonia and Castellón throughout 1938 and the early parts of 1939, the C.T.V. came across plentiful abandoned or knocked out Republican armor. As the Nationalist forces they were fighting alongside, they did not waste any chance to incorporate these vehicles into the Raggruppamento Carristi [English. Tank Grouping]. This was done out of sheer necessity, too. The Lancia 1ZMs were not just a few in number but also unreliable. Designed during the Great War, by the mid-30s, they were showing their obsolescence and performed poorly. Their main shortcoming was their limited off-road driving, which, with the lackluster road network in Spain, was a major problem. For reconnaissance duties, the C.T.V. used captured BA-6s, Blindados tipo ZIS, and Blindados B.C.. These were put together in an armored car grouping attached to the Raggruppamento Carristi and saw service on the Aragón, Levante and Catalan offensives and possibly at the Battle of the Ebro. It is known that one BA-6 was transported to Italy for tests, but the most likely outcome for the rest of the C.T.V.’s captured armor, including the Blindados tipo ZIS, was that they were passed on to Franco’s forces. 

A Blindado tipo ZIS of the C.T.V. during the Catalonia Offensive, circa January 1939 – source: Mortera Pérez (2011a), p. 111
A Blindado tipo ZIS – followed by a Blindado B.C. – belonging to a C.T.V. column in Catalonia in January or February 1939 – source: Mortera Pérez (2011a), p. 116
A C.T.V. column during a stop in a village in Catalonia during either the Aragón or Catalonia offensive. Pictured are two Blindados tipo ZIS, a Blindado B.C., a Lancia 1ZM and a Lancia 1Z with two turrets – source: Mortera Pérez (2011a), p. 116

From the frying pan into the fire – The Ford in French service

With the flight from Catalonia in early 1939, many vehicles crossed the border into France and were subsequently interned, among them, several Blindados tipo ZIS. 

Twenty-two of these, which may have been all the vehicles seized, were given to the Ministère des Colonies [Eng: Ministry of Colonies] in April 1939, suggesting the blindado may have been considered for colonial service. In French sources, the vehicle is referred to as ‘Ford’, regardless of what chassis was used. There is photographic evidence that at least one of the vehicles that crossed the border into France in late January 1939 was built on a British chassis, as it had right-hand drive. What happened to the vehicles later is unclear, with reports of some having been used in the campaign of France and later captured and pressed into service with the Wehrmacht, though no photographic evidence appears to support such suggestions. These claims may be confusing the Blindado tipo ZIS with the Blindado B.C., which was used in combat by France and then used by Germany on the Eastern Front. All known photos of Blindados tipo ZIS in France show them in storage, suggesting they were never sent to the colonies. 

At least five ‘Fords’ in French storage, 1939 – Source: Vauvillier, p. 116


No Blindados tipo ZIS survived the conflict, but some replicas have been made since. One with a running engine sits at the Museo de los Medios Acorazados (MUMA) [Eng. Museum of Armored Vehicles] at the El Goloso military base, north of Madrid. Housed in the Spanish Civil War section, it sits between a T-26 in Nationalist colors and an Opel Blitz truck. 

At least two (though possibly just the one) other replicas exist which are used for military reenactments, exhibitions and films. However, one, possibly yet another replica, is currently listed for sale on Milanuncios (a popular website for online classified advertisements in Spain). 

A collection of pictures of the Blindado tipo ZIS replicas as posted on the Atrezzo website, a company specialised in providing historical vehicles and weapons for films, TV shows, adverts, etcetera – source: Soldier Satrazzo


All things considered, the Blindado tipo ZIS was a remarkable achievement for the inexperienced and often disjoint Republican workforce. Whilst the design and production of the vehicle would have been impossible without Soviet assistance, the armored car was a considerable improvement on what was available. Its widespread use on almost all fronts by Republican, Nationalists, and C.T.V. forces is testament to the vehicle. However, Spain’s most produced armored vehicle until the AMX-30E in the 1970s and the Pegaso 3560 Blindado Medio sobre Ruedas (BMR) in the 1980s is little known in the wider AFV community. Its role in the Spanish Civil War is often overshadowed by Soviet, Italian, and German vehicles and even the heavier Blindado modelo B.C. which went on to see service during the Second World War in French and German hands. 

Pre-production Blindado, sometimes known as UNL II, as pictured outside the Unión Naval de Levante factory and in a Madrid workshop
Blindado armed with Maxim machine guns as pictured outside Fábrica N22 where it was built
Blindado with camouflage pattern as seen in Barcelona, Chimillas and Castellón between May 1937 and 1938. This was the main camouflage scheme on Republican Blindados
Blindado as seen at the Battle of Brunete in July 1937
Rare Republican camouflage pattern believed to have been used somewhere in Madrid, Castilla La Mancha or Andalucía. The camouflage was meant to resemble the vast areas of olive groves in these regions
Blindado of the Escuadrón de Blindados of the Nationalist Ejército del Sur during the victory parade in Sevilla on April 17th 1939
A Nationalist Blindado based on the one in a picture with Carlist requetes. All illustrations by Pavel ‘Carpaticus’ Alexe

Blindado tipo ZIS specifications

Dimensions (L-w-h) 3.87 x 1.90 x 2.39 m
Total weight, battle ready 2.3 tonnes
Crew 3 (commander, gunner, driver)
Propulsion 6 cylinder ZIS engine 73 hp
Speed (road) 55 km/h
Range 230 km
Armament 2 x DT 7.62 mm machine gun (or Maxim–Tokarev machine guns)
Armor 8 mm
Total production ~160


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)

Artemio Mortera Pérez, Los Medios Blindados de la Guerra Civil Española Teatro de Operaciones de Aragón, Cataluña Y Levante 36/39 Parte I (Valladolid: Alcañiz Fresno’s editores, 2011)

Artemio Mortera Pérez, Los Medios Blindados de la Guerra Civil Española Teatro de Operaciones de Aragón, Cataluña Y Levante 36/39 Parte II (Valladolid: Alcañiz Fresno’s editores, 2011)

Carlos A. Pérez, “Medios Blindados de la Guerra Civil”, El Miliciano No. 4 and 5 (1995 and 1996)

C. Albert, Carros de Combate y Vehículos Blindados de la Guerra 1936-1939 (Barcelona: Borras Ediciones, 1980)

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

François Vauvillier, Tout les Blindés de l’Armée Française 1914-1940 (Paris: Histoire & Collections, 2014)

Javier de Mazarrasa, Blindados es España 1ª Parte: La Guerra Civil 1936-1939 (Valladolid: Quirón Ediciones, 1991)

Josep María Mata Duaso & Francisco Martín Gutierrez, Blindados Autóctonos en la Guerra Civil Española (Galland Books, 2008)

Videos and Other Pictures

Blindado tipo ZIS destined for the Ejército de Andalucía of the Ejército Popular de la República on board a flat truck – source: Mortera Pérez (2009), p. 183
Blindado tipo ZIS with its crew somewhere in Andalucía – source: Mortera Pérez (2009), p. 183
Austrian International Brigadiers under the command of Sepp Mittermaier posing in front of their Blindados tipo ZIS – source: Mortera Pérez (2009), p. 225
A column of at least six Blindados tipo ZIS in Andalucía in 1938 – source: Mortera Pérez (2009), p. 236
Blindados tipo ZIS knocked out outside of Castellón in June 1938 – source: Mortera Pérez (2011a), p. 41
Condor Legion personnel inspect a knocked out Blindado tipo ZIS as the approach Castellón, June 1938 – source: Mortera Pérez (2011a), p. 42
Several captured Blindados tipo ZIS now fighting for the nationalist cause mounted on flat trucks – source: Mortera Pérez (2009), p. 247
Captured Blindados tipo ZIS and BA-6s at Las Quemadas (Córdoba), the group’s headquarters – source: Mortera Pérez (2009), p. 253
Several Blindados tipo ZIS of the Escuadrón de Blindados of the Nationalist Ejército del Sur during the victory parade in Sevilla on April 17th 1939. Note that a red-yellow Spanish flag has been painted across the front – source: Mortera Pérez (2009), p. 241
A Blindado tipo ZIS captured by the Nationalist being prepared to be put on a flat truck to be transported elsewhere – source: Mortera Pérez (2009), p. 247
Blurry picture of a Blindado tipo ZIS being used by the C.T.V. in the Mediterranean town of Benicarló in mid-April 1937 – source: Mortera Pérez (2011a), p. 28
The rear of two Blindados tipo ZIS of the C.T.V. during a military parade celebrating the second year of the Nationalist uprising in the Plaza del Castillo in Pamplona (Navarra), October 31st 1938 – source: Mortera Pérez (2011a), p. 86
C.T.V. servicing an abandoned Blindado tipo ZIS to join its ranks alongside the two Lancia 1ZMs – source: Mortera Pérez (2011a), p. 119
A very rare camouflage on this C.T.V. Blindado. Note the white tires. Also note the text: “Flechas Negra! Agredir Para Vencer” [Eng. Black Arrows! Attack To Win”] – source: DogsWar
WW2 Republican Spanish Armored Cars WW2 Spanish Armored Cars

Bilbao Modelo 1932

Second Spanish Republic (1932-1939)
Nationalist Spain (1936-1943)
Armored Car – 48 Built

Guardian of the Republic

The Bilbao Modelo 1932 was the official armored car of the Guardias de Asalto (Assault Guard – officially known as Secciones de la Vanguardia del Cuerpo de Seguridad – Sections of the Vanguard of the Security Corps), who were essentially riot polic. They were boxy armored cars based on a Ford commercial truck chassis, with a cylindrical turret armed with a Spansh-built Hotchkiss machine gun. The Bilbao armored car was used by both Republicans and Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War, but the majority remained in Republican hands in 1936, and these were used extensively in the first few months of the war. As more were captured by the Nationalists, they also saw service throughout the rest of the war, albeit in smaller numbers.

Surviving Bilbao Modelo 1932 of the Assault Guard at Parque y Centro de Mantenimiento de Vehiculos Ruedas Numero. 1. Credits: Alcantara Forogratis.


The Bilbao Modelo 1932 was designed by an engineer from SECN (la Sociedad Española de Construcción Naval  / Spanish Society of Naval Construction) with collaboration from a Captain of Engineers from the Cuerpo de Seguridad y Asalto (Security and Assault Corps).
They were built by the Department of Railways of the SECN’s factory in Sestao, near Bilbao, hence the vehicle’s name “Bilbao Modelo 1932”. It is unclear what chassis Bilbao Modelo 1932 was based on. Originally, SECN considered using a 4×2 Ford V8 Model 1930 commercial truck manufactured in Barcelona by Ford Motor Ibérica, but the Ford Factory did not start production of engines until 1939. It is believed that the first series (IE the first 36 vehicles) were based on a Dodge 4×2 Model 1932 with either a Chrysler or Dodge K32 Model 1931 engine.
An iron frame of three joined parts was used to strengthen the vehicle in order to take the extra weight of the armoring. The cylindrical turret was placed in the center of the roof, which mounted a Spanish-built Hotchkiss Model 1924 7 mm (0.27 in) machine gun. This gun was manufactured in Spain for the Army, Navy, and even the Police.
Some Spanish sources mention other types of Bilbao armored cars such as a “Modelo 1935”, but this appears to be a misconception, as there appear to have been no production differences between any Bilbao armored cars.

Technical drawing of the Bilbao Modelo 1932.


The vehicles were originally divided among Republican security forces. The structure of the Compañías de Asalto is as follows: A Grupo de Asalto (located regionally) would be commanded by a Tentiente Coronel (Lieutenant Commander), which would consist of three Compañías de Seguridad, and integrated into this would be a Seccion Vanguardia, commanded by a Lieutenant, which would include nine Bilbao Modelo 1932s.
In total, there were twelve Grupos de Asalto, which would require one hundred and eight vehicles, but only forty two Bilbao Modelo 1932s were contracted to SECN in 1930. In June, 1932, forty Bilbao Modelo 1932s were supplied, with two remaining in Sestao for an unknown reason. Therefore, many Grupos would not have Bilbao Modelo 1932s, or they would not have a full complement of vehicles in each.

Guardia de Asalto in Barcelona receive their Bilbao Modelo 1932s. Credit: Andreu Puig i Farran, as taken from “Los Medios Blindados en la Guerra Civil España: Teatro de Operaciones del Norte 36/37” by Artemio Mortera Pérez.
In 1933, twelve Bilbao Modelo 1932s were ordered by the Grupo de Autoametralladoras del Regimiento de Caballería de Aranjuez (Armored Car Group of the Cavalry Regiment of Aranjuez). One Grupo would have two Esquadrons (squadrons), which would have six vehicles in each.
At the start of the war in 1936, the Bilbao Modelo 1932s were divided thus: forty were assigned to the Cuerpo de Seguridad, seven to the Ejército de Tierra (missing only one vehicle to be fully equipped), and one was at the Parque Regional de Automóviles de Madrid (Regional Park of Automobiles of Madrid). forty one of these were Republican hands, and the seven of the Ejército de Tierra were in Nationalist hands.
Throughout the war, the vehicles appear to have been used by different, often newly-made organizations.

Guardia de Asalto with a Bilbao Modelo 1932, Toledo, 1936.


Summer, 1936

On the morning of the 20th of July 1936, two Bilbao Modelo 1932s, along with other military elements, intervened in the attack on the Cuartel de la Montaña, Madrid.
On the 21st of July, four were part of Colonel Riquelme’s column, which advanced on Toledo in order to besiege the Alcazar. Two of these vehicles were destroyed in combat.
On the afternoon of the 20th July, another column (formed in Madrid by Colonel Puigdendolas) is reported to have had no fewer than eight or nine Bilbao Modelo 1932s. These took part in the occupation of Alcalá de Henares (22 miles northeast of Madrid) on 21st July in order to quell a revolt (although no violence was used). The same vehicles later took part in the occupation of Guádalajara on the 22nd July which saw fierce fighting. Later on, two of these Bilbao Modelo 1932s were captured in the Guadarrama mountain range attacking the Nationalist positions at the port of Alto del León, whilst the other seven were taken back to Madrid.
It is possible that two or three Bilbao Modelo 1932s were part of la Columna Vidal of Tentiente Coronel Vidal Munárriz. It is reported that several were in service when the column was reformed after reaching Villareal on 21st July. Whilst two Bilbao Modelo 1932s were apparently kept at SECN in Sestao in 1932, the vehicles in the Columna Vidal may actually just have been locally built armored cars. On the 26th July, the Columna received reinforcements, and the following day, the newspaper “El Liberal” suggested that they received a “carro de asalto”, which might have been a Bilbao Modelo 1932, but this is unclear. It is quite likely that these vehicles were all locally built Tiznaos (a generic term for crude armored cars built in local workshops).

Autumn, 1936

At Madrid, Bilbao Modelo 1932s were added to different Columns. Lieutenant Colonel Mangada’s column, which had five Bilbaos, went to Cebreros (41 miles west of Madrid) and returned to Madrid three days later. These five Bilbaos also had a prominent role in the disruption of a Nationalist assault on the 19th of August on Navalperal de Pinares (40 miles northwest of Madrid).
Two Bilbao armored cars were involved in the defense of Mérida (August, 1936, 40 miles east of the Portuguese border), where they would be captured by the Nationalists. These were then used to enter Badajoz (34 miles west of Mérida).
Other Bilbao Modelo 1932s were known to be part of the Columna Móvil (Mobile Column) organized in Zaragoza, as well as the Ejército Expedicionario (Expeditionary Army) that left Seville in early August.
In mid-September, the Nationalists organized a two-section Armored Company with the Bilbao Modelo 1932s they had captured. This Company would arrive in Madrid, supporting the columns that were besieging the capital.
Different forces used Bilbao armored cars in the north of Spain. Two were with the Column of Commander Galvis near Irun and another four were sent from San Sebastián and Bilbao to stop to the Nationalists advance from Vitoria.

After 1936

The Bilbao Modelo 1932 was only a capable fighting vehicle in urban areas, and was totally unsuitable for combat in any sort of rural area. As a result, after the first few months of the war, the Bilbao Modelo 1932 would typically be kept in reserve or used in rear guard or ‘2nd line’ duties, such as policing and escorts. For example, at the end of 1938 the Agrupacion de Carros de Combate del Sur (Group of Combat Vehicles of the South, which was a Nationalist unit) nominally had a strength of seven Bilbao armored cars in reserve. Of these though only one was operational, five were in repair, and one was destroyed. This was possible due to the appearance of more versatile armored cars such as the BA-3, BA-6, UNL-35, and AAC-1937.
By the end of 1938, the Nationalists had thirteen Bilbao Modelo 1932s, including the seven belonging to the Cavalry, five which they captured from Republican forces, and one destroyed but used for spare parts. Five of these would be converted into flamethrower-carrying variants (see below). There is no information available for Republican numbers.

After 1939

After the Civil War, the remaining Bilbao Modelo 1932s were removed form the Ejército de Tierra’s stocks and were incorporated into the Cuerpo de Policía Armada y de Tráfico (Armed Police and Traffic Corps), formed under Franco in 1941, and likely served the same duties as they did in the Guardias de Asalto during pre-war Second Republic. The Second Republic’s Secciones de Vangurdia became the Banderas Móviles de la Policía Armada (Armed Police Mobile Flags), which, on paper, would be equipped with Bilbao Modelo 1932s for police transport (six men plus a driver).
It is known that the surviving Bilbao Modelo 1932s were assigned to the 10th Bandera Móvil at Valencia, which indicates that only a handful of vehicles survived the war – likely no more than nine. Photos from Policía Armada y de Tráfico magazine show that these were used for training of policemen, although the vehicles were unarmed.

Bilbao Modelo 1932 being used for training by the Policia Armada, post-Civil War. From Policía Armada y de Tráfico magazine, courtesy of Coronel Juan Antonio Penacho, General D. Antonio Nadal, and Octavio Almendros.
With the reorganization of the Fuerzas de Orden Público (Public Order Forces) in 1943 (essentially, a new organization of armed police with the absorption of the Carabineros by the Guardia Civil) the trace of all Bilbao Modelo 1932s is lost, and they were likely retired.
Today, two Bilbao Modelo 1932s still exist. One is on display at the Parque Central de Mantenimientos de Vehñiculos Rueda No. 1 (Torrejón, Madrid), and the other is at the Academia de Logística (Calatayud, Zaragoza).

Bilbao Modelo 1932 ‘Lanzallamas’ – the flamethrower variant

What had previously been considered a myth in early scholarship on Spanish Civil War vehicles was proven reality by private photos taken by the Condor Legion. These Bilbao ‘Lanzallamas’ were essentially  Bilbao armored cars which were captured by the Nationalists, and then armed with heavy flamethrowers.

Context: Flamethrowers in Spain

As early as October, 1936, the Nationalists began training of flamethrower infantrymen under the direction of the Condor Legion. From January, 1937, Commander Peter Jansa (Chief of the Condor Legion’s anti-tank artillery instructors) was put in charge of the training. The Gruppe Von Thoma supplied eighteen flamethrowers of three types: nine standard, four light, and five heavy ‘trench’ (IE improvised) types. On the 17th of October, 1936, the training of a specialist flamethrower company began.
Of the four light flamethrower units, two were sent to the Tercio (Spanish Legion), one remained for training, and one was installed on a Panzer I Ausf. A, which joined other vehicles on October 27th for operations at the Talavera front.

Designing the Bilbao Modelo 1932 ‘Lanzallamas’

Several armored cars were requested in October in order to mount some of the five heavy trench flamethrowers, and the vehicle chosen was the Bilbao armored car. Five Bilbaos were sent to the workshop of the Condor Legion (in the town of Quismondo). Some of these vehicles were damaged and subsequently had to be repaired whilst they were being fitted with flamethrowers. These so-called ‘Bilbao Modelo 1932 Lanzallamas’ were no different from a regular Bilbao armored car, save for a large flame projector poking through the co-driver’s vision hatch, and an internal storage tank.

One of the five Bilbao “Lanzallamas”. The man on the left is a member of the Condor Legion. The distinctive flamethrower pokes through the co-driver’s hatch, and the tank is placed behind. Interestingly, the Hotchkiss machine gun armament has been kept. The turret and the front engine grill are marked with Spanish Nationalist two-tone flags. Source: Author’s collection

The Bilbao was chosen because of its large internal space, and also because multiple vehicles were readily available. Several were captured by the Nationalists after the uprising in 1936, and at least seven more were captured in advance operations at Toledo in September. These captured vehicles (some of which were converted into ‘Lanzallamas’) went on to form the “Compañía de Carros Blindados” (Armored Car Company).
Of the five Bilbao ‘Lanzallamas’, two were left in the Las Arguijuelas Castle for training. This was the first base of the Condor Legion Armored Detachment in Spain, and was an anti-tank training ground for Spanish troops until 1937. The other three ‘Lanzallamas’ were sent urgently to the Talavera front on the 26th of October, 1936.
On the 1st of November, new crews were appointed to be trained on the two reserve Bilbao ‘Lanzallamas’.
Little to no information is available on the combat performance of flamethrowers in the Spanish Civil War, let alone the Bilbao ‘Lanzallamas’.

Bilbao from the Assault Guard
Bilbao Modelo 1932 of Assault Guard, currently on display at Parque y Centro de Mantenimiento de Vehiculos Ruedas N°1.Bilbao Lanzallamas
Bilbao Modelo 1932 ‘Lanzallamas’ (flamethrower version).
Camouflaged Republican Bilbao Modelo 1932, the Plaza de Zocodover, Toledo, 1936.
Camouflaged Republican Bilbao Modelo 1932, the Plaza de Zocodover, Toledo, 1936.

A knocked out Republican Bilbao Modelo 1932 with the corpses of its crew beside it. It was abandoned during the retreat from Talavera to Toledo. Note that the tires are missing, likely having been scavenged.

Different view of the above, after some time had passed. The engine appears to have been removed by this point, likely as salvage. Source: Author’s collection

Different view of the above after even more time has passed. Now, the vehicle has been stripped down for scrap even further. The soldier is of the Condor Legion.

Bilbao ‘Lanzallamas’ with the door open, showing the large internal tank for the flamethrower.

Bilbao Modelo 1932 of the Assault Guard at the barricade of the Plaza de Zocodover, Toledo, September, 1936.

Bilbao Modelo 1932 at the Plaza de Zocodover, Toledo, 1936.

Bilbao Modelo 1932 in La Plaza de Campana, Seville. It was abandoned by its crew on the 18th July, 1936, and later recovered by Captain Gabriel Fuentes.

Bilbao Modelo 1932, on display at the Escuela de Logística, Zaragoza.

Different view of the above.

Bilbao Modelo 1932 being used for training by the Policia Armada, post-Civil War. From Policía Armada y de Tráfico magazine, courtesy of Coronel Juan Antonio Penacho, General D. Antonio Nadal, and Octavio Almendros.

Bilbao Modelo 1932 specifications

Dimensions (LxWxH) 5.44 x 2.07 x 2.6 m
17’10” x  6’9″ x  8’6″
Total weight, battle ready 4800 kg (5.29 US tons)
Crew 3 + 5 (commander, driver, gunner + 5 riflemen)
Propulsion Unknown. Chrysler or Dodge K32 Model 1931 engine.
Speed (road) 50 km/h
Armament 7 mm (0.27 mm) Hotchkiss Modelo 1924
Armor Unknown


Private correspondence including Coronel Juan Antonio Penacho (the director of military history courses for universities in Spain), General D. Antonio Nadal (director of the Instituto de Cultura y Historia Militar), and Octavio Almendros regarding the Bilbao Modelo 1932, and its post-war use.
Private correspondence with Guillem Martí Pujol, Gorka L Martínez Mezo, and Francisco Javier Cabeza Martinez regarding the Bilbao Modelo 1932’s history, paint schemes, and use of flamethrowers during the Spanish Civil War.
La Maquina y la History No. 2: Blindados en España: 1a. parte: La Guerra Civil 1936-1939” by Javier de Mazarrasa
Camion Blindado Bilbao Mod. 1932 “Lanzallamas“” by Ángel P. Heras.
La Base Alemana de Carros de Combate en Las Arguijuelas, Caceres (1936-1937)” by Antonio Rodríguez González
Los Medios Blindados en la Guerra Civil España: Teatro de Operaciones del Norte 36/37” by Artemio Mortera Pérez
Blindados Españoles en el Ejército de Franco 1936-1939” by Lucas Molina Franco, and Jose Manrique Garcia.
Las Armas de la Guerra Civil: El Primer Estudio Global y Sistematico del Armamento Empleado por Ambos Contendientes” by José María Manrique García and Lucas Molina Franco
Spanish Civil War Tanks: The Proving Ground for Blitzkrieg” by Steven J. Zaloga
AFV Collection No. 1: Panzer I: Beginning of a Dynasty” by Lucas Molina Franco
Revista policía Armada y de Trafico” (1941-1942)” Ministerio de la Gobernación España.
Revista Policía”. Artículos de José Eugenio Fernández Barallobre” Ministerio del Interior, 2003-2004.
Colección de Ordenes generales de la Inspección General de la Policía Armada y de Trafico”, Archivo Histórico del Ministerio del Interior.

Panzer I equipped with a flamethrower, which was upgraded along with five Bilbao Modelo 1932s. Source: Private collection of Ruy Aballe, as taken from “AFV Collection No. 1: Panzer I: Beginning of a Dynasty” by Lucas Molina Franco.

WW2 Republican Spanish Armored Cars


Second Spanish Republic (1937-1939)
Heavy Armored Car – Approximately 70-90 Built

The Spanish BAI / BA-6

The AAC-1937 (Autometralladora blindado medio Chevrolet-1937), sometimes known as the “Chevrolet 6×4 1937”, was an armored car made by the Republican forces in Spain during the Civil War. It was, essentially, a copy BA-3/6 (although it closely resembles a BAI).
Its armament varied quite a bit – usually two machine guns (various models), but sometimes a French 37 mm (1.46 in) gun, and even cannibalized Soviet turrets with 45 mm (1.77 in) guns were used. Like many AFVs in the Spanish Civil War, it changed hands quite a lot, and saw service with Republicans, Nationalists, and even with the French and Germans during WWII. With such an impressive list of users, it seems odd that it is such an obscurity.

Context: Soviets in Spain

The Soviet Union had a major interest in Spain before the Civil War even began. The possibility of securing a satellite state in Western Europe would be excellent for Comintern. After the overthrowing of the monarchy in 1931, the radical left political parties, such as the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers Party), PCE (Spanish Communist Party), and unions such as the UGT (General Workers Union), and Anarchist CNT (National Confederation of Labor) were able to secure power.
Knowing that the balance between traditional, Catholic Spain, and modern, socialist Spain could be tipped one way or the other at any moment, the USSR attempted to influence the situation. After successive failed governments, and several elections, 1931-1936, whereby power swung from the far left to the far right, Civil War inevitably broke out between Republican forces (a conglomerate of left-wing parties and organizations) and the Nationalist forces (a similar conglomerate of traditionalist forces such as CEDA, Carlists, and the Falange, supported by much of the armed forces and Guardia Civil).
The Republicans desperately needed arms, as the Nationalists controlled half of available rifles, and two thirds of the machine guns and artillery pieces, thus giving them the upper hand. Worse still, due to an agreement of non-intervention from France and Britain, the only viable option was to buy from the Soviet Union (although small shipments were secured from France, it was far from sufficient). By this time, the Soviets were less concerned about receiving a new satellite state as much as they were about stopping the spread of Fascism.
By spending some of its gold reserves to pay for the aid, it is estimated that Spain received 242 aircraft, 703 artillery pieces, 731 tanks, 300 armored cars, 15,000 machine guns, 500,000 rifles, and 30,000 sub-machine guns from both Soviet and Comintern sources, as well as over 2000 Soviet personnel, mainly consisting of pilots and tank crews, but also engineers and military advisers.

Design process

By 1937, the German and Italian navies had control of, or were blockading, all Spanish ports, meaning that the USSR could not supply more tanks and armored cars to the Republicans. Knowing this, the Republican government turned to local industry to produced AFVs.
There was, apparently, a specification for a heavy armored car, and a number of prototype armored cars were made in April, 1937, generally based on the BA-6 design. One which the Republicans liked the most was a prototype of the AAC-1937. It was based on a Chevrolet SD 1937 lorry chassis, and produced at the General Motors Factory in Barcelona.
However, there was a problem – the Chevy SD 1937 only had two axles which was a problem for heavy armored cars, as the vehicle would not be stable enough. To fix the problem, a GAZ-AAA truck, taken from a damaged BA-6 was cannibalized, and the Chevrolet SD 1937 was modified to have three axles.
This was only made possible by the fact that Soviet lorries were, in effect, copies of American designs. As a result, the newly modified armored car was similar to the BA-6, but it was slightly more agile because it had a stronger engine with 10 hp more than its counterpart.
The original Chevrolet SD 1937 lorry
The original Chevrolet SD 1937 lorry.
The armor for the hull was made at a factory in “Altos Hornos de Sagunto“, Valencia; the same place where armor for the UNL-35 (a Spanish copy of the FAI / BA-20) was made. It was made from 8 mm (0.31 in) plates welded together. The bodywork looked like a typical Soviet armored car. The major differences were the engine access hatches, the tires, and the mudguards.
The AAC-1937 usually had a four man crew, including a driver, commander, gunner (to operate the turret gun/guns), and a co-driver (to operate the hull machine gun). However, the main armament and turret configuration seem have varied a lot. Some appear to have locally built BAI-like turrets (although not round, but welded from many plates), sometimes featuring a machine gun, and sometimes a machine gun and a 37 mm (1.46 in) Puteaux gun. The original configuration is unknown, however. Sources give the following suggestions:
1. Single machine gun (MG-13s, DTs, and Maxim guns being the most common), in what appears to be a locally built turret, fairly similar to the BAI turret.
2. Cannibalized T-26, BT, and BA-6 turrets – which there is photographic evidence for the AAC-1937 using.
3. Other sources also suggest that the original locally built BAI turrets were later rearmed with French 37 mm Puteaux guns, believed to be taken from old FT tanks. Photographs certainly show 37 mm guns, but whether they were originally designed to feature them, or were later upgraded to feature them, is a mystery.
A variety of AAC-1937 models in Republican service, circa 1937.
A variety of AAC-1937 models in Republican service, circa 1937. Some appear to have cannibalized BT/T-26/BA-6 turrets, and others appear to have only an offset machine gun in their locally built turrets.
It is most likely the case that their armaments varied from batch to batch – each batch dictated by what was available – Spanish armored cars of the period are not known to have been too well standardized. As mentioned, the original configuration remains unknown. Whilst it does make sense that these armored cars would follow the Soviet heavy armored car doctrine, and therefore feature a large caliber gun as the original, the Spanish also followed a more European doctrine of just having machine guns.
In any case, AAC-1937s, in their various models, started leaving production lines in April 1937. Four were made every month, but by March, 1938, there was a shortage of steel armor plates as a result of the Nationalists dividing Republican held territory in two. Small numbers were made until February, 1939, when Catalonia was captured by Nationalists. A reported 70 were built in total, but perhaps as many as 90, according to combat data.
Nationalist T-26 and AAC-1937 with a T-26 turret (and original Republican hull colors).
Nationalist T-26 and AAC-1937 with a T-26 turret (and original Republican hull colors). They both appear to be knocked out. Date and location unknown.

In Combat

Parallels with the UNL-35 do not end with the design process. Similar to the UNL-35’s combat history, the first piece of combat that the AAC-1937s saw was during the suppression of an anarchist uprising in Barcelona in May, 1937. After this, they were in service with the Republican 1st (Catalonia) and 2nd (Center South) Armored Divisions. During the war, an estimated thirty were captured by the Nationalists. They were reportedly rearmed with MG-13 machine guns.
Fighting in Spain might have been troublesome for a heavy armored car. If the UNL-35 is anything to go by, they would probably suffer from engine overheating. However, it must be remembered that these were not crudely built improvised gun trucks which would be mechanically stressed by the weight of their armor. These were fairly professionally built with high quality materials – in effect, they might have been mechanically better than their Soviet counterparts!
With the Nationalist victory in the Catalan Offensive in February, 1939, AAC-1937s crossed over into France with retreating Republican forces. Those which were left operational in Spain were used by the Nationalists until the 1950s with Cavalry units.
AAC-1937 in Nationalist service, possibly post-Civil War. The machine guns appear to be dummies. The hull marking appears to be a Cavalry unit.
AAC-1937 in Nationalist service, possibly post-Civil War. The machine guns appear to be dummies. The hull marking appears to be a Cavalry unit.
The total number of those captured by France is unknown, but probably few more than twenty. At some time around May, 1940, France took out roughly twenty AAC-1937s from storage to fight against the Germans. According to photos, they saw very limited service, seeing as though France was quickly defeated.

German AAC-1937

The remaining AAC-1937s (believed to be about thirty) were then used by the Germans for security operations in the Eastern Front. Designated “Pz.Kpfw 612“, many of these received nicknames, such as “Tiger“, “Cheetah“, “Leopard“, “Jaguar“, and “Panther“. Various models were used by the Germans, mainly comprising of their own field conversions such as: A troop transporter (by removal of the turret), a SPAAG (by replacing the turret with an AA dual-MG 34), and one modified to fit an MG 34 in the turret. Sources also discuss rail conversions, and a command version, but photographic evidence of these has not been seen by the author.
Germany deployed their AAC-1937s on June 22nd, 1941, in reserve duties near Moscow. However, the fighting at Moscow was brutal and as a result, these armored cars were called upon for front-line duties. They were knocked out in a matter of days.
At least three AAC-1937s reportedly saw service at Leningrad with the Division Azul, but were also quickly lost.
By winter, 1942, it is believed that there were three remaining AAC-1937s in German service, which were sent for security/anti-partisan duties, although exactly where is unclear. Probably in the RSFSR.
German Army, Spanish Built AAC-1937 armoured car named Jaguar captured by Soviet forces.
German Army, Spanish Built AAC-1937 armoured car named ‘Jaguar’ captured by Soviet forces. As taken from “Tanks Illustrated No. 16, Operation Barbarossa” by Steven J. Zaloga and James Grandsen. Grandsen suggests that AAC-1937s were purchased by Germany and “presumably used by Brandenburger units to confuse Soviet forces” but this does not seem to be true at all.


“Las Armas de la Guerra Civil: El Primer Estudio Global y Sistematico del Armamento Empleado por Ambos Contendientes” by José María Manrique García and Lucas Molina Franco
“Spanish Civil War Tanks: The Proving Ground for Blitzkrieg” by Steven J. Zaloga
“Tout les blindés de l’armée française 1914-1940” by Francois Vauvillier
“Comintern and the Spanish Civil War” by Svetlana Pozharskaya
“The Battle for Spain, The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939” by Anthony Beevor
“A Short History of: The Spanish Civil War” by Julian Casanova
“The Spanish Civil War” by Stanley G. Payne

AAC-1937 reported specifications

Dimensions (L,W,H) 4.4 x 2.25 x 2.4 m (14.4 x 7.38 x 7.9 feet)
Total weight, battle ready 4.8 tons (4354 kg)
Crew 4 (commander, gunner, driver, secondary gunner)
Engine Chevrolet, 78 hp, 8 cylinder gas
Speed (road) 62 km/h (39 mph)
Range Unknown, estimated 250 km (155 miles)
Armament Various. Usually 2x machine guns
Armor 8 mm (0.31 in)
Total production Approximately 70 to 90

A Soviet BAI, for comparison.
A Soviet BAI, for comparison.
Republican AAC-37 in green livery. Turrets are believed to have just been armed with single machine guns, originally.
Republican AAC-37 in green livery. Turrets are believed to have just been armed with single machine guns, originally.
Nationalist captured AAC-37 with a T-26 turret. Some others received BT turrets.
Nationalist captured AAC-37 with a T-26 turret. Some others received BT turrets.
French camouflaged AAC-37 as shown in a depot, possibly 1940
French camouflaged AAC-37 as shown in a depot, possibly 1940.
French AAC-37 used in 1940, captured by German troops. Probably original Republican colors
French AAC-37 used in 1940, captured by German troops. Probably original Republican colors.
Camouflaged AAC-37 at a French depot, possibly 1940. Probably original Republican colors.
Camouflaged AAC-37 at a French depot, possibly 1940. Probably original Republican colors.
Beutespähpanzer AAC-37(f). About 20 captured were used in the Eastern Front
Beutespähpanzer AAC-37(f). About 20 captured were used in the Eastern Front, some were named after animals, like this “Jaguar”. armed here with a MAC Mle 1931 machine gun.
AAC-1937s in Nationalist service. The first one did not have a 37 mm gun, just an off-set machine gun. The one behind appears to be a BA-6, as it features a BT turret, but the differently shaped and notably lower placed mudguards indicate this to be an AAC-1937
AAC-1937s in Nationalist service. The first one did not have a 37 mm gun, just an off-set machine gun. The one behind appears to be a BA-6, as it features a BT turret, but the differently shaped and notably lower placed mudguards indicate this to be an AAC-1937.
Camouflaged AAC-1937, in a storage warehouse in France. French tanks can be seen behind it. Possibly in original Republican colors.
Camouflaged AAC-1937, in a storage warehouse in France. French tanks can be seen behind it. Possibly in original Republican colors.
AAC-1937s in France- possibly 1939, shortly after they were captured from the Spanish Republicans.
AAC-1937s in France- possibly 1939, shortly after they were captured from the Spanish Republicans. However, the camouflage appears more like a French type.
Different view of the above.
Different view of the above.
German soldiers pose with a French AAC-1937 - one of the few to actually see combat with France. Possibly in original Republican colors.
German soldiers pose with a French AAC-1937 – one of the few to actually see combat with France. Possibly in original Republican colors.
German AAC-1937 converted into a SPAAG with twin AA MG-34s. The different wheel shape and lower mudguards are the only real giveaway that this is not just a BAI.
German AAC-1937 converted into a SPAAG with twin AA MG-34s. The different wheel shape and lower mudguards are the only real giveaway that this is not just a BAI.
German conversion of an AAC-1937 into a turretless vehicle. This photo was likely taken around Moscow, winter, 1941-2.
German conversion of an AAC-1937 into a turretless vehicle. This photo was likely taken around Moscow, winter, 1941-2.
Interior of a German AAC-1937 turret. The MAC Mle 1931 machine gun is distinctive with its round drum on the side of the gun.
Interior of a German AAC-1937 turret. The MAC Mle 1931 machine gun is distinctive with its round drum on the side of the gun.


Short footage of AAC-1937 “Jaguar” in combat on the Eastern Front. Probably near Moscow, 1941.

WW2 Republican Spanish Armored Cars

Hispano Suiza MC-36

Second Spanish Republic (1935-1936)
Armored Car – 5-15 Built

A pre-war homegrown

The Hispano Suiza MC-36 was a truck-based, little-known vehicle from the Spanish Second Republic. It was actually only a prototype vehicle, and was intended to see service with the security forces, but it lost out on the contract to the smaller Bilbao armored car. Very little is known about the vehicle, seeing as though it was produced in such small numbers, but some photographs do exist, and they provide a wealth of information.

Nationalist MC-36. Slogan: Viva Espana!
Nationalist MC-36. Slogan: Viva Espana!

It was based on the very large Hispano Suiza T-69 truck chassis. Hispano Suiza was a Spanish engineering firm founded in 1904, which, among other things, made luxury cars and commercial trucks. The Republican government took control of the Spanish side of the company during the Civil War in order to produce weapons, armored cars, and other vehicles. Similarly, it also had a French subsidiary which was taken under control by the French government in 1937 (by owning 51% of the shares) for the same reason – war-material production. However, the MC-36 was actually a pre-Civil War armored car, which was in direct competition with the Bilbao to be produced for the Republic’s security forces – probably the Assault Guard or Police.
They were reportedly built in Barcelona, with the hulls made in Madrid by La Sociedad Comercial de Hierros. It ultimately lost the competition, perhaps due to the Bilbao’s simpler design and smaller size.

The MC-36 looks as though it would have been very unwieldy in urban combat – a rough estimate based on a scale model reveals it to be 7.4 meters long, which could make traversing around narrow streets an issue.
The shape of the armor is interesting as well. Such a sleek design would allow it to be fairly aerodynamic for such a large vehicle, although the overall benefit is dubious due to the weight of the vehicle. The engine cover also appears to be very well designed – its grill system would allow the engine to be air-cooled (although the engine was probably water-cooled, also). This is important, as armored vehicles in Spain tended to suffer from engine problems as a result of overheating. However, the protection from shrapnel and even small arms fire offered by the grill design is dubious.They were armed with a dome-shaped turret (which appears riveted together from many plates) with a Hotchkiss machine gun. It appears as though the machine gun would have had minimal elevation, as a result of the basic pistol port that it was poked through, as opposed to having an integrated ball-mount design. Two or four pistol ports can be seen on the side of the hull (sometimes seen with two light machine guns poking out, although photos are not clear enough to definitively say how many there were), and the rear windows could also open. Entry appears to have been done by side doors, certainly for the drivers, but possibly for the passengers as well, as no other discernible entrances can be seen. The tires were each protected by a slightly smaller armored tire, as seen in photos. It could reportedly carry up to ten people, which was quite a lot, and perhaps shows that there was an intention for use as an APC during riots, too.
Riot control is certainly something that would be on the minds of the security forces of the time. There were three elections, 1931-1936, and various deadly events across Spain, such as the Asturian Miners’ Strike (1934) – a protest against the entry of CEDA (a right-wing Catholic-conservative party) into government, which had to be crushed by the armed forces, and cost the lives of over 2000 (260 of which were Republican soldiers). Spain was simply unstable. Armored cars would give security forces a means of protected transport for their staff, but also allow effective fire to be laid down onto armed rebels, thus minimizing casualties for the security forces. One of the biggest concerns during unrest in Spain was rebels capturing buildings and locking the area down with snipers. Having an armored car that could fit ten men meant that the vehicle could easily drive up to the building and allow the crew to storm the building, without fear from being shot by snipers.
Supposed prototype MC-36 being presented to police official
Supposed prototype MC-36 being presented to police officials.
An estimated 5-15 vehicles were built (probably closer to 5), and were committed to combat in the Civil War with Republican forces. They were most likely sent to the southern front, with unknown combat results. Interestingly, the T-69 truck was used for towing field guns and artillery pieces during the Civil War, but there is a substantial lack of information on them.In CombatMore is perhaps known about their service with the Nationalists. According to slogans on the side of one vehicle, they were in service under Lieutenant Colonel Carlos Asensio Cabanillas (hence the slogan: “Columna Madrid, Tte. Coronel Asensio“). Assuming that this is more than just a slogan, these MC-36s were captured somewhere between Seville and Madrid, as this is where Cabanillas’ forces saw combat.
The Nationalists also did one huge modification – adding a T-26 turret to at least one. It is unknown why this was done, and if only one was modified in this manner. It was, reportedly, the command vehicle for “Agrupacion de Carros del Sur“. The Nationalists would have quite liked to operate a captured T-26, seeing as though they were easily the best tanks in the war, owing to their deadly 45 mm (1.77 in) gun. Perhaps the T-26 it came from was damaged, save for the turret, and this is why the turret was salvaged and placed onto a suitable chassis. Whilst quite a heavy turret (an estimated 0.94 tons), the chassis would be able to carry such a load, although it would raise the center of mass substantially, thus making it top heavy and more prone to toppling over. The MC-36 with a T-26 turret has been photographed in service with Agrupacion del Ejercito del Sur during the Victory Parade in Seville, 17th April, 1936, and again in Andalucia.
The MC-36’s production run remains unknown, as do specific details about its armor thickness, weight, and top speed. It is likely that the armor was roughly 10 mm (0.39 in) thick, as per most armored cars of the period. Its very streamlined shape (more so with the Hotchkiss turret) would mean it was aerodynamic, but at the speeds of most armored cars of the time, this would have been very close to irrelevant. Moreso, it would undoubtedly be a heavy and road-bound vehicle, therefore, it is likely that it could hit speeds of no higher than 40 km/h (25 mph) in the best of conditions.Side-note: A Chinese Copy?Photographs of this vehicle must have also appeared in China, too, in around 1936/7, as the Nationalists built an improvised armored car that is simply too similar-looking to be a coincidence, especially with regards to the turret, although nothing is known about this vehicle, aside from what can be seen from the photograph. It is also unclear what gun is used in the turret, although it appears to be a low caliber gun, possibly a mountain gun, mortar, or some kind of jacketed-machine gun, such as the Lewis gun.
Las Armas de la Guerra Civil: El Primer Estudio Global y Sistematico del Armamento Empleado por Ambos Contendientes” by José María Manrique García and Lucas Molina Franco
“Spanish Civil War Tanks: The Proving Ground for Blitzkrieg” by Steven J. Zaloga
“The Battle for Spain, The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939” by Anthony Beevor
“A Short History of: The Spanish Civil War” by Julian Casanova
“The Spanish Civil War” by Stanley G. Payne
shushpanzer.ruThe original MC-36 featuring the 'Hotchkiss hemispheric turret' in Nationalist service
The original MC-36 featuring the ‘Hotchkiss hemispheric turret’ in Nationalist service, “Columna Madrid Tte. Coronel Asensio“.The field conversion T-26 turret-armed MC-36 in Nationalist service
The field conversion T-26 turret-armed MC-36 in Nationalist service.
Nationalist MC-36. Slogans: Columna Madrid, Viva Espana.
Nationalist MC-36. Slogans: Columna Madrid, Viva Espana.
Different view of the above MC-36. Slogan: Columna Madrid, Tte. Coronel Asencio.
Different view of the above MC-36. Slogan: Columna Madrid, Tte. Coronel Asencio.
Nationalist MC-36. Possibly the same as above at a different point in time
Nationalist MC-36. Possibly the same as above at a different point in time (hence the similarity of the slogans, particularly when “Columna Madrid” is compared closely), or, at least part of the same column. This one does not have the additional armored wheels protecting the tires.
Republican MC-36. Slogan: Partido Comunista
Republican MC-36. Slogan: Partido Comunista
Unknown MC-36. Republican service. Appears to be the same vehicle as above.
Unknown MC-36. Republican service. Appears to be the same vehicle as above.
Nationalist MC-36 with a T-26 turret. Falangist markings are seen on the wheelguards.
Nationalist MC-36 with a T-26 turret. Falangist markings are seen on the wheelguards.
Different view of the above MC-36. Postwar parade in the south.
Different view of the above MC-36. Postwar parade in the south.
Possibly a second MC-36 in Nationalist service with a T-26 turret. Above photos do not show a headlamp on the gun, but it may have just been removed or added at a different point in time.
Possibly a second MC-36 in Nationalist service with a T-26 turret. Above photos do not show a headlamp on the gun, but it may have just been removed or added at a different point in time.