Categories
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

Development

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.  

Design

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

Armament

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

Interior

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. 

Production

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

Service

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

Replicas

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

Conclusion

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

Bibliography

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

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHpywYtX40w

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Byss0-aE8AM

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
Categories
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.

Design

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.

Organization

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.

Combat

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

Sources

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.
Toledogce.blogspot.co.uk
forosegundaguerra.com
castillejadelacuesta-antonio.blogspot.co.uk
lasegundaguerra.com

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.

Categories
WW2 Republican Spanish Armored Cars

AAC-1937

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.

Links/sources

“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
Amonov.livejournal.com
beutepanzer.ru
knigo-man.livejournal.com
fdra.blogspot.co.uk
regimiento-numancia.es
dishmodels.ru
guerra-abierta.blogspot
vehiculosblindadosdelaguerracivil.blogspot

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.

Video


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

Categories
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.
Sources:
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
Automania.be
Miniarons.eu
ww2history.ru
vehiculosblindadosdelaguerracivil.blogspot
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.