Spanish State and Kingdom of Spain (Cold War)

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Spain was left in ruins following a devastating civil war between 1936 and 1939. Generalissimo Francisco Franco had emerged victorious from the conflict thanks, in no small measure, to German and Italian support, military, and otherwise. The quasi fascist regime had itself supported Germany and Italy in a variety of ways throughout the Second World War, but after the Allied landings in North Africa and the Italian defeat, Franco repositioned Spain from non-belligerence to neutrality. Once Germany had been defeated, Spain, due to its past support, was ostracized by the new world order and was treated as a pariah state. However, the new geopolitical situation created by the Cold War resulted in Spain slowly being accepted into the Western alliance, long before the restoration of democracy in the country in 1975.

Spain after the Second World War

It is impossible to underestimate the level of destruction of the Spanish Civil War. The Dirección General de Regiones Devastadas y Reparaciones [Eng. General Directorate of Devastated Regions and Recovery], an organization created in 1939 to assess the level of destruction and organize repairs, found that 81 towns and cities across Spain were more than 75% destroyed. Some towns, such as Belchite, in Aragón, were so devastated that they were left in ruins and new towns were built next to them.

At the conclusion of the war, agricultural production had been reduced by 20%. The economic autarky policies implemented in the aftermath of the war proved to be a disaster, especially with regards to agriculture. There was food rationing up until 1953, and the decline in food production along with the consequent hoarding and the black market resulted in mass starvation. Industrial production had fallen by 30%, and 34% of all railway locomotives were lost during the war. The level of industrial production in 1935 was not equaled until 1955. The civil war, in effect, had wiped out a generation’s worth of Spanish economic development.

In terms of the human cost of the war, most estimates put a figure of between 500,000 and a million total deaths. Deaths on the front have been estimated by historian Hugh Thomas to be 200,000 (110,000 Republican and 90,000 Nationalist), though there are lower estimates. Distinguished Spanish historian Enrique Moradiellos García suggests that as many as 380,000 died from malnutrition and illness, greatly increasing figures from earlier studies.

In addition, the extensive studies of historians Francisco Espinosa Maestre and José Luis Ledesma found that, during the war, 130,199 people were killed in the Nationalist-controlled zone, mainly due to their political affiliation, though the real figure could be even higher. Meanwhile, the same study estimated that just over 49,000 Rebel sympathizers, those loyal to Franco’s factions, were killed in the Republican area.

In the years immediately following the war, at the very least, an additional 50,000 people were executed by the new Francoist regime. On top of that, at the end of 1939, over a quarter of a million (270,719) pro-Republicans were incarcerated in prisons and concentration camps because of their political ideals and their affiliation during the war. By 1942, there were still 124,423 political prisoners and the last concentration camp did not close until 1947. Even so, some 30,610 political prisoners were still incarcerated even in 1950. Not only that, but many of those who had held administrative roles during the Republic lost their jobs and were blacklisted. Lastly, as of April 1939, it is calculated that around 450,000 Republicans had fled into exile. Many would return over the following decades, only to be treated with suspicion and mistrust.

The Franco Regime’s Ideology

Exactly what kind of ideology was embraced by Franco and his regime is a much-debated topic. It can be said that it was not rigid and that it varied depending on international events. Throughout the Spanish Civil War, with the aim of encouraging German and Italian aid, the Rebel, or Nationalist, side did show fascist-like tendencies. The different components making up the Rebels were diverse and included traditional conservatives, Carlists (a conservative political movement in Spain aimed at establishing an alternative branch of the Bourbon dynasty, mainly based in the Basque Country), the Fascist of Falange, the military, and smaller factions which makes an easy categorization problematic. To establish power, Franco, who had been chosen as the leader of the Rebels back in September 1936, played the different groups against each other and unified the different factions and political parties into one in April 1937 as Falange Española Tradicionalista de las Juntas de Ofensiva Nacional-Sindicalista, or FET de las JONS [Eng. Traditionalist Spanish Falange of the Councils of Nationalist-Syndicalist Offensive].

Generalissimo Francisco Franco, dictator of Spain from 1939 to his death in 1975. Note the fascist symbols on display on the uniforms of Franco and his fellow officers. – source: The Independent

The nascent Francoist state owed a lot to Italian Fascism, with the first laws being very similar to Mussolini’s 1927 Carta del Lavoro [Eng. Labor Charter]. Subsequent laws prohibited the use of the Catalan language and gave back powers over education to the Roman Catholic Church.

The Nationalists adopted some of the symbolism of Fascism, including the Roman salute, and there was a cult of the leader, Franco, who was known as El Caudillo or El Salvador de España [Eng. The Savior of Spain]. In the early days of the regime, Franco’s brother-in-law, Ramón Serrano Suñer, a die-hard fascist, played a fundamental role as the Minister of the Interior and then Minister for Foreign Affairs.

On the other hand, the ideology owed more to Miguel Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship of the 1920s and was distinctly Spanish in character. Known as National Catholicism, the ideology incorporated several elements: Catholicism and the power of the church, which was in charge of education and censorship; Spanish or Castilian centralism, which took away existing autonomous powers, concentrating power in the center and prohibited the use of other languages, such as Catalan and Basque; Militarism; Traditionalism, a cultish exaltation of an often non-existent and utopian historical Spain; Anti-Communism; Anti-Freemasonry; and Anti-liberalism.

The change of stance from non-belligerence to neutrality became official policy in late 1943 and, as a result, to appease and gain favor with the Allies, Fascist elements and imagery, such as the Roman salute, gradually began to disappear. Fascist ministers were replaced with more traditional conservative Catholic ones and, while the name Movimiento Nacional [Eng. National Movement] began to be used instead of FET de las JONS, this was not approved until 1958.

In March 1947, the Ley de Sucesión en la Jefatura del Estado [Eng. State Executive Succession Law] outlining the structure of the state as a monarchy without a monarch with Franco as its regent was passed. Franco was also given powers to name a successor as monarch or regent as and when he pleased.

The Spanish Military and its Armor in the Post-Spanish Civil War Years

The Spanish Armed Forces had played a fundamental role in Franco’s success. Many of the senior officers who had supported the coup against the elected government of the Republic were rewarded with senior positions in the Franco regime, though by 1945, the military was poorly equipped, especially in terms of its armor, which mostly dated back to pre-Spanish Civil War times.

In December 1942, there were only 144 tanks denominated as Tipo 1 [Eng. Type 1] and 139 as Tipo 2 [Eng. Type 2]. The Tipo 1s were light tanks, which included the German Panzer I Ausf. As and Bs and the Italian Carro Veloce 33s and 35s. The Tipo 2s were Soviet T-26s which the USSR had sent to the Spanish Republic, but which had been extensively captured by the Nationalists. It is possible that among the Tipo 2s there were also some Soviet BT-5s, which had also been sent to the Republic, but these were not appreciated and were mainly used for replacement parts for T-26s.

These vehicles had initially been divided among 4 tank regiments, with an additional regiment created in 1941. Each regiment theoretically had 27 T-26s and 31 Tipo 1 tanks, primarily Panzer Is. Because of a lack of spare parts and aging material and tank components, in December 1943, two of the regiments were disbanded and the remaining three were renamed. The surviving regiments were the Regimiento de Carros de Combate Alcázar de Toledo nº61 [Eng. Alcázar de Toledo Tank Regiment No. 61] based in Madrid, Regimiento de Carros de Combate Brunete nº62 [Eng. Brunete Tank Regiment No. 62] based in Sevilla, and Regimiento de Carros de Combate Oviedo nº63 [Eng. Oviedo Tank Regiment No. 63] based in Laucien, just outside Tétouan in Spanish North Africa. Shortly afterwards, all three regiments were put under the command of the División Acorazada nº1 [Eng. Armored Division No. 1].

In December 1943, the order was given to create a reconnaissance group, the Dragones de Alfambra [Eng. Alfambra Dragoons] for the División Acorazada nº1. The unit had three squadrons: a first squadron with 8 Republican-made armored cars, a second squadron with 10 CV-33/35s, and a third squadron with 10 T-26s.

The CV 33/35s and T-26s of the Regimiento de Carros de Combate nº4’s [Eng. Tank Regiment No. 4] barracks at some point between 1940 and 1943. This image would be repeated until 1953, with the number of tanks dwindling as age and a lack of spare parts took a toll – source: Amigos del museo de medios acorazados el goloso via Facebook
Also at the end of 1943, through the Bär Program, the Hispano-German agreement for raw materials in exchange for military products, Spain received 20 Panzer IV Ausf.Hs and 10 StuG III Ausf.Gs from Germany. Tank regiments nº61 and nº62 received 10 Panzer IVs each, whilst the StuG IIIs were assigned to an experimental assault battery based in Madrid.

The Regimiento de Carros de Combate Brunete nº62 was disbanded in 1949 and its tanks transferred to the Regimiento de Carros de Combate Alcázar de Toledo nº61. In 1958, the Regimiento de Carros de Combate Oviedo nº63 was reorganized as a light infantry unit.

A column of Spanish Panzer IV Ausf.Hs parade down the Paseo de la Castellana, in the center of Madrid, shortly after their arrival – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2005), p. 21
Spain’s StuG III Ausf.Gs probably at the same parade as the Panzer IV Ausf.Hs – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2005), p. 31

In addition, there were possibly between 100 and 150 armored cars, including Soviet BA-6s, and Republican Blindados tipo ZIS and Blindados modelo B.C.. These were initially assigned to 8 different reconnaissance groups. In 1940, they were reorganized into the following units:

Escuadrón de Autoametralladoras-Cañón de Ifni-Sáhara [Eng. Ifni-Sahara Cannon-armed Autoametralladoras Squadron. The Spanish term “Autoametralladoras” is used to define all armored cars, though it roughly translates to self-propelled machine gun vehicles, with the “-cañón” designating it as a cannon-armed vehicle].

  • Regimiento Cazadores de Santiago n.º 1 [Eng. Santiago ‘Hunters’ Regiment No. 1
  • Regimiento de Dragones de Calatrava n.º 2 [Eng. Calatrava Dragoons Regiment No. 2]
  • Regimiento de Dragones de Pavía n.º 4
  • Regimiento de Dragones de Almansa n.º 5
  • Regimiento Dragones de Villarrobledo n.º 6
  • Regimiento de Caballería de Dragones de Castillejos n.º 10 [Eng. Castillejos Mounted Dragoons Cavalry Regiment No. 10]
  • Regimiento de Caballería Dragones de Alcántara n.º 15

It is worth noting that not all squadrons would have been fully equipped with armored cars, and that, as the years passed, the total number of vehicles diminished. Sturdy as some of these designs were, they began to be taken out of service between 1955 and 1957.

Blindados tipo ZIS and other Spanish Civil War era equipment in a vehicle ‘cemetery’ in the 1940s – source: Defensa

Spanish Armor Development between the Spanish Civil War and 1953

At the very end of the Spanish Civil War, Captain Félix Verdeja, an officer in charge of the maintenance of the Spanish Legion’s tank regiments, designed the Verdeja Nº1, a tank envisioned as an amalgam of the best features of the tanks used during the conflict. Two prototypes were built. This particular project failed, but Cpt. Verdeja did not give up. He presented plans for the Verdeja Nº 2 in December 1941, a redesign of the previous vehicle with increased armor and a more powerful engine. The project would be plagued by delays and production of a prototype was not authorized until July 1942. Lack of parts and funding meant that the prototype was not ready until August 1944. By this point, the vehicle was seriously outdated and did not generate the same level of enthusiasm as the first.

The Verdeja No. 2 as it stands today at the Academia de Infantería de Toledo – source: Die Panzer

Verdeja also planned a heavier tank, the Verdeja No. 3, but these plans came to nothing. The availability of some superior German equipment and poor economic conditions killed the project.

The second Verdeja Nº 1 prototype was repurposed in 1945 to be converted into a self-propelled gun. Armed with a Spanish-made 75 mm howitzer, the converted vehicle did not meet with much success following its trials. Its meager 6 km firing range was deemed insufficient for the requirements of a modern army in 1946. Abandoned for many years, the vehicle survives to this day in the Museo de los Medios Acorazados in Madrid. In the late 1940s, there were also plans to arm a Verdeja with an 88/51 cannon, the Spanish production of the 8.8 cm Flak 36, but once more, these would amount to nothing.

Side photo of the Verdeja 75/40 with the gun lying horizontally in the gun travel lock – source: Ejército: Ministerio de Defensa 

In 1944, an unnamed infantry commander who was an instructor at the Escuela de Automovilismo y Tiro [Eng. Automobile and Firing School] published his vision of the form that new Spanish tanks should take in the Ejército magazine. The two vehicles, which have become known as Carro de Combate 15t and Carro de Combate 20t [Eng. 15 tonne and 20-tonne tanks respectively], would have resembled each other, with the same armor capable of resisting 50 mm guns and powered by an engine of at least 100 hp. The main difference, aside from 5 tonnes of weight, would have been the armament, with the 15t armed with a 50 mm gun and the 20t with a 75 mm one. By all accounts, the 20t looked like a Soviet T-34, which Spanish military delegations would have seen in Germany. The distribution would have been 3 15t for each 20t. Neither design was to materialize.

The late 1940s saw several plans to update or repurpose Spanish Civil War-era armor.

In 1948, the Maestranza de Artillería of Madrid rearmed a CV 33/35 with two German 7.92 mm MG 34s in place of the 8 mm FIATs. Given that it was not a substantial improvement, no more than one prototype was considered. At some point in the post-Civil War years, at least one CV 33/35 was stripped of its frontal superstructure and used as a training vehicle.

The rare CV 33/35 training vehicle – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2005), p. 20

In 1948, there were also plans to upgrade the Republican-made Blindados modelo B.C. with a new 20 mm Oerlikon autocannon. It is possible that at least one vehicle was modified, though photographic evidence is inconclusive.

The proposed 20 mm Oerlikon improvement on the Blindados modelo B.C. – source: Manrique García & Molina Franco, p. 24

The relatively modern StuG IIIs were also subject to planned upgrades in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Two plans existed to equip them with a 105 mm R-43 Naval Reinosa gun in an open-top position, but these got no further than the drawing board. One was forward-facing and the other rear-facing. Drawings were made for a similar project with a Spanish-made 8.8 cm Flak 36. Lastly, there was a plan to arm the StuG III with a large 122 mm gun. This was the plan that went the furthest, as a StuG III chassis was equipped with a dummy gun to study the feasibility of the concept. Unfortunately, no photos exist. None of these projects were seriously pursued.

Design for the forward mounted 105 mm R-43 Naval Reinosa gun on the StuG III – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2005), p. 37
Design for the rear mounted 105 mm R-43 Naval Reinosa gun on the StuG III – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2005), p. 37

The Rare Military Purchase

International ostracism did not prevent Spain from being able to purchase vehicles for military purposes from the United Kingdom. Over a 100 Canadian C15TA Armoured Trucks arrived in Spain in 1947, where they were known as C-15TA ‘Trumphy’. These were the most modern vehicles in the Spanish military for nearly 5 years. They were initially assigned to artillery units, but would eventually see service with motorized infantry brigades and armored cavalry groups before slowly being removed from service and replaced with M113s between 1966 and 1973. In 1968, there were still 133 in service.

Throughout their long service with Spain, the Trumphys were modified to acclimatize them for the Saharan desert conditions in which they operated. This involved creating more water tanks. They were also armed with a machine gun and the cargo bay was modified to carry more troops. One vehicle was even converted into a recovery vehicle with a crane in the cargo bay.

Four C-15TA ‘Trumphys’ in Al Aaiún, in Spanish Sahara, in the early 1970s, over two decades after they entered service in Spain. Note the machine guns on the roof – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2003), p. 18
The recovery vehicle version of the C-15TA ‘Trumphy’ recovering a vehicle stuck in the sand. Note the machine gun on top of the roof on the rear two vehicles – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2003), p. 20

From Ostracism to the Madrid Pact

Spain was excluded from the San Francisco Conference which created the United Nations (UN), and at the Potsdam Conference, the Allies announced that under no circumstance would they allow Spain to join the UN. Throughout 1946, the UN discussed measures to be taken against Spain. The US and the UK rejected a military solution or imposing economic measures. On December 12th 1946, the UN passed a motion, which among other things, recommended that its members close their embassies in Spain and break off relations with the regime. Except for Argentina (Eva Perón visited Spain in 1947 to much acclaim), Ireland, the Holy See (a Concordat was signed in 1953), Portugal, and Switzerland, all other states recalled their ambassadors, and France closed the border with Spain. Spain was also excluded from the Marshall Plan.

The onset of the Cold War brought a reappraisal of the geopolitical situation and the UN’s vision of Spain softened. Spain partly controls access to the Mediterranean Sea and was far from the Iron Curtain, so its strategic position, and the vehement anti-Communism of the Franco regime, began to be noticed. Spain took steps to foster this new vision by offering to send troops to fight Communism in Korea to support the US and the UN, an offer that was rejected.

France reopened the border in 1948 and the US Government authorized a $25 million bank credit to be given to Spain. Lobbying by the US led to the 1946 UN Resolution condemning Spain being revoked in 1950. Consequently, embassies were reopened in Spain and the country was able to access some international forums.

But, if there was one event which ended Spain’s isolation, it was the Madrid Pact of 1953. Negotiations between US and Spanish officials had begun in April 1952. Dwight Eisenhower’s election in the US gave a new impetus to negotiations which had begun in April 1952 and were finally signed on September 23rd 1953. This was not a treaty, as that would have had to have been approved by the US Senate, but rather just an executive pact or arrangement.
The pact had three agreements. The first was the supply of $456 million worth of US military equipment to Spain to modernize its armed forces, with a proviso that this equipment was only to be used defensively. The second was economic, with $1,500 million in credits to buy US agricultural and industrial equipment given over the course of the following decade. The third was the agreement to host four US military bases on Spanish soil. These were three air bases, in Morón (near Sevilla), Torrejón de Ardoz (near Madrid), and Zaragoza, and the naval base in Rota, in Cape Trafalgar. Whilst in theory there was joint-sovereignty over the basis, the US was able to use them without needing Spain’s approval. The bases housed around 7,000 US personnel and their families.

The location of the four US military bases on Spanish soil – source: Time Toast

The Madrid Pact helped Spain to receive international recognition with the support of one of the world’s two superpowers, thereby legitimizing the regime that had been propped up by Hitler and Mussolini. Objections raised by European allies prevented Spain from being allowed to join NATO, but the ostracism finally ended in December 1955, when it was admitted into the UN. US President Eisenhower visited Madrid in December 1959, the first sitting US President to do so.

The infamous ‘abrazo del oso’ [Eng. bear hug] between US President Dwight ‘Ike’ Eisenhower and Spain’s dictator Francisco Franco at Torrejón Air Base on December 21st 1959. Eisenhower had been US General of the Army fighting Hitler in Europe and made efforts to make sure the Nazi war crimes and atrocities in the concentration camps were recorded on camera to prevent their ever being denied and to facilitate the prosecution of their perpetrators. Franco, meanwhile, had risen to power with the support of Hitler and Mussolini and it is a paradox that the new geopolitical world situation of the Cold War should have led to this pragmatic embrace – source: Cervantes Virtual

US Military Aid

As a result of the Pact, Spain received a multitude of US military equipment. Whilst the majority of it was second-hand, it was still a vast improvement on what had been available. The Spanish Navy received Fletcher-class destroyers and Balao-class submarines, plus help to modernize many other ships in its fleet. The Spanish Air Force received the modern North American F-86 Sabre.

The Spanish Army received the most varied amount of equipment.

The first US military vehicle to arrive actually predated the signing of the Madrid Pact. In February 1953, 31 M24 Chaffees arrived to replace the Panzer Is and T-26s. These would eventually be deployed to Spanish North Africa to fight in the Ifni War. The dual engines were widely disliked by crews and they were replaced by M41 Walker Bulldogs in 1960.

The widely disliked M24 Chafees, in this instance, of the Grupo Blindado ‘Dragones de Alfambra’ [Eng. Armored Group Alfambra Dragoons] in their barracks in Mostoles, at the time, a town south of Madrid – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2005), p. 91
Next was the M4 High-Speed Tractor, a total 42 of the M4 and M4A1 variants. The first 12 arrived in 1953 alongside an equal number of M115 203 mm howitzers. These were followed by 19 in 1956 and the remaining 11 in 1961.

A number of M4 High-Speed Tractors towing M1 90 mm anti-aircraft guns during one of the multiple victory parades held in Madrid during the Franco dictatorship – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2005), p. 76

More numerous were the lighter M5 High-Speed Tractors. The first batch of 16 arrived in August 1955, followed by another 19 in 1956. A further 49, making a grand total of 84, arrived in 1958. Both tractors remained in service until the 1970s.

A number of M5 High-Speed Tractors towing M1 90 mm anti-aircraft guns during a victory parade held in Madrid in 1956. King Faisal II of Iraq was in attendance at this particular one – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2005), p. 76

Spain never received any M4 Shermans, but they did get 24 M74s, one of the recovery vehicles based on the M4A3E8. A single vehicle arrived in May 1954, followed by 3 in 1956, 4 in 1960, 9 in 1963, and the final 3 in 1964. Shortly after the arrival of the last 3, they were removed from service, as maintenance was difficult given that there were no other vehicles based on the same chassis.

A photo indicating the huge variety in armor in Spain in the late 1950s. A US origin M74 hoists a turretless Renault FT, either of French or Polish origin, in front of a German Panzer IV Ausf.H – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2005), p. 89

Spain also received a number of M series half-tracks. In Spanish service, all these vehicles were commonly known as Camión Oruga Blindado (COB) [Eng. Armored Tracked Lorry]. Six M4A1s armed with an 81 mm mortar arrived first on February 5th 1956. In June 1957, 55 M3A1s arrived, followed by 13 more in August. In total, by 1960, there were at least 154 M3A1s in Spain.

A number of M5 half-track-based vehicles also saw service in Spain. There are photos of M5A1s, but the exact number of these is imprecise. There was also a relatively large number of what Spanish sources denote as M14s. They apparently had a Diamond engine, instead of the usual White engine of the M series half-tracks, and that they were not armed with their dual M2 Browning machine guns. The M14 was the M13 version made for the United Kingdom through Lend-Lease based on the M5 half-track chassis instead of the M3 and without the anti-aircraft armament. How Spain obtained these is unclear. There was also a minimum of 6 M16 half-tracks armed with M45 Quadmount guns. The COBs were removed from service between 1964 and 1974 and were replaced with M113s.

The first M series half-tracks to arrive in Spain were M4A1s that carried an 81 mm mortar, pictured here in a military parade in Madrid – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2005), p. 55
The most numerous M series half-track in Spain was the M3A1 with its 12.7 mm heavy machine gun and machine gunner position – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2005), p. 67
Two M14 half-tracks on the beach at Villa-Bens in Spanish North Africa during the Ifni War – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2005), p. 60
Two of the M16s armed with M45 Quadmount guns – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2005), p. 71

The most modern vehicle Spain received from the Madrid Pact agreement was the 90 mm Gun Tank M47, many of which were brand new. The first 13 M47s arrived in February 1954. Over the next decade, another 29 batches were delivered, adding up to a total of 411, including the initial 13. At first, they saw service alongside the Panzer IVs, but they would go on to see service until 1993, with some recovery variants remaining in service to this day. A further 84 were purchased from Italy in the early 1970s with the aim of modifying them into recovery and engineering vehicles. Most M47s in Spanish service were modified in some way as part of Spanish projects in the 1970s and 1980s.

An M47 of the Regimiento de Carros de Combate ‘Alcázar de Toledo’ nº61 in Spain – source: @KitMeetInfo via Twitter

Spain also received a number of US self-propelled guns. The first was a single shipment of 12 M41 Walker Bulldog-based M44 self-propelled howitzers in June 1956, not too long after first being adopted by the US Army. They were armed with a large 155 mm howitzer. They saw relatively long service, with the first ones being decommissioned as late as 1985.

Nine of the 12 M44s of the Regimiento de Artillería nº13 [Eng. Artillery Regiment No. 13] parading down Paseo de la Castellana in central Madrid. Note the distinctive three-tone camouflage – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2005), p. 126
These were followed by 28 M37 105 mm Howitzer Motor Carriages. This M24 Chaffee-based SPG was relatively modern and had seen service in the Korean War. The first 3 arrived in January 1957, with an additional one in June. The remaining 24 arrived in 1958. They saw extensive service in Spain and 4 can be found in museums.

Spanish M37 at a military exhibition with a three-tone camouflage pattern – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2005), p. 107

Spain was one of the first foreign operators of the M41 Walker Bulldog. The first 38 M41s arrived in August 1957, followed by 34 M41A1s in the early 1960s. Later on, in 1970, close to a 100 were obtained from either West Germany or from US depots in West Germany. They saw long service with the Spanish Army, with the last ones being retired in 1991. Spain also modified a number of them over the years, mainly in the 1980s.

Two M41s of the Regimiento de Caballería ‘Santiago’nº1 [Eng. Cavalry Regiment Santiago No. 1] – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2005), p. 111
In addition, there were hundreds of Jeeps, trucks, motorcycles, and other utility unarmored vehicles included as part of the military agreements. At least 1 M29 Weasel was used by the Spanish Army, but the single known photograph of it suggests it was not extensively used.

The Ifni War

Spain’s presence in North Africa dates back to 1497, with the occupation of Melilla, which it still holds to this day. Over the following centuries, Spain expanded and covered large parts of modern-day Morocco. In 1860, Spain obtained an enclave around the town of Sidi Ifni, on the Atlantic coast. Morocco achieved full independence from France in 1956, and led by Sultan Mohammed V, they set out to incorporate Spanish-controlled territory.

The administration of the different Spanish territories in the region is a rather complex topic. The Canary Islands, off the Atlantic Coast, were, and still are, fully part of Spain. The northern part of these territories, including Ceuta, Tangiers, and Melilla, were part of the Spanish Protectorate in Morocco. The remaining Spanish territories, Cabo Juby (Cape Juby), Ifni, Río de Oro, and Saguía el Harma, were aggregated in the África Occidental Española (AOE) [Eng. West Spanish Africa].

Map roughly indicating which nation possessed what prior to Moroccan independence in 1956. Contrary to what the legend and map suggests, Cape Juby, or Cabo Juby, was administered as part of África Occidental Española (AOE) [Eng. West Spanish Africa], not the Spanish Protectorate in Morocco – source: Wikipedia
Talks for a peaceful solution to the conflict proved fruitless and tensions between the two sides increased by the week. Coinciding with the wishes of the Moroccan ruling family and government, the people of Ifni largely wanted to be incorporated into Morocco. By May 1957, there were a number of acts of sabotage and terrorist attacks in the streets of Sidi Ifni. The unrest continued into the following months with strikes, which were met with violence by the Spanish authorities, and many people were detained. As a result, two battalions of the Spanish Legion were moved to Ifni, followed by two more before the outbreak of hostilities.

In this context, the Army of Liberation [Moroccan Arabic: جيش التحرير], a loose association of united militias fighting for the independence of Morocco, began to infiltrate Spanish territory to destroy infrastructure. Covertly supported by the Moroccan government, it launched a major attack on Ifni on November 22nd 1957.

Over the next week or so, the Spanish forces in the area engaged in a fighting retreat towards Sidi Ifni. To prop up some of the surrounded enclaves, Spain successfully air-dropped a detachment of paratroops to support the ‘native’ forces in Tiliun, followed by part of a Spanish Legion battalion which broke the siege and allowed for the safe passage of civilians and troops to Sidi Ifni. An effort to relieve the detachment in Telata overland was less successful, but together with the besieged troops, they managed to break through enemy lines and return to Sidi Ifni.

Spanish troops on Jeeps in the desert. It is unclear if this photo is from the period of the Ifni War, but images like these would have been common – source:

After failing to recapture any land, Spain went on the defensive in December and prepared to repel any attacks on Sidi Ifni. The town could be supplied by air and sea, and was garrisoned by 7,500 trained troops with a well set-out defensive trench system. The siege of Sidi Ifni lasted until the end of hostilities in June 1958, and was mostly bloodless as the Spanish defenses were too intimidating for the Army of Liberation and the hoped-for, full-scale popular major uprising inside Sidi Ifni never took place.

Map showing Ifni and the territory occupied by Spanish forces in 1957 (light brown) and 1958 (light reddish brown) – source: Wikipedia

Members of the Army of Liberation took the war south into the territory collectively known as Spanish Sahara, with a strategy of using the desert dunes and cover of darkness to ambush Spanish patrols, causing many casualties.

The expansion of the war southwards put the French government, which still controlled the bordering regions in Algeria and Mauritania, on high alert. Alongside Spain, France launched Operation Écouvillion, a massive air bombing campaign to destroy the Army of Liberation. Spain was able to push most Army of Liberation forces out of Spanish Sahara, in some cases in conjunction with French land forces from Mauritania.

Under US pressure, Morocco and Spain sat down to negotiate and signed the Treaty of Cintra in early April 1958. The treaty was inconclusive. Spain officially gave up the territory of Cabo Juby and Ifni, though the latter would actually continue to be under Spanish control until 1969.

In the decade following the Treaty of Cintra, there were many failed negotiations to resolve the status of Ifni and Spanish presence in territory claimed by Morocco. In the end, international pressure, through a number of UN Resolutions, the realization that the territory of Ifni was not strategically important, and in the hope that giving Ifni away would allow for leverage for other territories, resulted in the 1969 Treaty of Fez, which led to the final Spanish exit from Ifni.

The war received poor press coverage in Spain, owing in large part to the Francoist regime’s censorship. Only military victories were reported and the numbers of Spanish casualties, perhaps no more than 250, were hardly mentioned. This has resulted in meager academic interest in the conflict, and the conflict has often been called ‘the forgotten war’.

French Military Aid during the Ifni War

The extent of Franco-Spanish collaboration during the Ifni War included the transfer of a very small number of French armored vehicles to Spain. These were 9 M8 ‘Greyhounds’ and a single M20, the command vehicle version of the M8, of US origin. In Spain, they were named ‘Hércules’ after the Hercules engine. This would mark the beginning of decades of French military equipment seeing service with Spain.

The vehicles arrived in January 1958 and were incorporated into the Grupo Expedicionario Santiago [Eng. Expeditionary Group Santiago], a temporary unit created from the Regimiento Cazadores de Santiago n.º 1. They arrived in Spanish Sahara between January 25th and 27th and first saw action on February 10th. Their main role during the conflict was to escort convoys. At least one vehicle was damaged during the Ifni War. The vehicles remained in Spanish Sahara after the war until they were replaced in 1966.

Two M8 ‘Hércules’ in a base in Spanish North Africa – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2003), p. 23
The sole M20 command vehicle in Spanish service – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2003), p. 27

Spanish Armor in the Ifni War

Overall, Spanish armored vehicles performed poorly in the Ifni War. The stipulations of the US-Spanish agreements prevented Spain from using its modern US equipment, and, as a consequence, the only tanks to participate were the M24 Chaffees, which predated the Madrid Pact.

Sources differ as to exactly how many, either 7 or 10 M24s of the Regimiento Cazadores de Santiago n.º 1 and Regimiento de Dragones de Pavía n.º 4, were incorporated into the newly created Grupo Expedicionario Pavia. The unit landed in Villa Bens (modern-day Tarfaya) on January 30th 1958. A report from February 2nd found that the tanks were damaged (one of them could not even fire its gun) and that the crews were not trained to operate them. Regardless, a number of tanks were used a week later on February 10th. The vehicles were never acclimatized for war in the desert, which, coupled with the poor maintenance, rendered them of hardly any use at all.

M-24 of the newly formed Grupo Expedicionario Pavia disembarking at Villa Bens, in Spanish North Africa – source: García, Carro de Combate M-24 (y obus ATP M-37), p. 13

The Grupo Expedicionario Pavia also had 11 M-series half-tracks which arrived in Spanish Sahara in 1957. Out of the 11, 2 had engine failure before arriving. On their first mission, a reconnaissance operation with the Spanish Foreign Legion, 2 out 4 vehicles broke down.

M series half-tracks landing at Villa Bens during the Ifni War. Overall, the vehicles performed terribly in North Africa – source: García, Transporte Oruga Acorazado M-113 (y derivados), p. 14
M24 Chafees and M8 ‘Hércules’ marching side by side in Spanish North Africa. Overall, the performance of Spanish armor during the Ifni War was quite disappointing – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2003), p. 25

The End of the First Francoism and Autarky

The period between Franco’s consolidation of power and 1959 is commonly known as the Primer Franquismo [Eng. First Francoism]. Whilst, in the last decade of this period, the Movimiento Nacional, the initial ideological framework of the regime, reached its zenith, cracks began to show.

In 1951, in industrial areas, especially Barcelona, a wave of strikes broke out. The military governor of Barcelona refused to send troops to meet the protestors. Franco resolved to form a new cabinet which reincorporated a hard-line Falangist minister.
In the early 1950s, there had been an increased radicalization of the student movement and the beginning of an anti-Francoist movement in Spain’s universities. This culminated with major clashes between students and Falangists in February 1956. Monarchist and catholic ministers of the government, such as Joaquín Ruíz-Giménez, the Education Minister, who had shown support for the student movements, were replaced by more extreme Falangist hard-liners.

Having recouped some of the power they had lost in the 1940s, in 1957, against the backdrop of the Ifni War, the Falangists, led by the government minister José Luis Arrese, proposed changing course by converting the state into a national-syndicalist one. The other factions of Franco’s regime opposed this, and Franco demoted Arrese to Housing Minister and appointed a number of military men to the important ministries.

By the end of the 1950s, political isolation and infighting had begun to take their toll. Under the autarky economic model, Spain was facing complete ruin. To remedy this situation, long-time member of the Francoist hierarchy and staunch Franco supporter, Admiral Luis Carreo Blanco, the Under-Secretary of the Government’s Presidency, suggested the creation of a new technocratic government to include members of the Opus Dei, a secular Catholic organization, to steer Spain out of its economic troubles.

Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, Under-Secretary of the Government’s Presidency between 1941 and 1973. After Franco, he was perhaps the most powerful person of the regime – source: Wikipedia

The Spanish Economic Miracle

The technocratic government achieved its aims, and the early Segundo Franquismo [Eng. Second Francoism] was marked by the Spanish economic miracle. Between 1960 and 1973, the Spanish economy grew at an average of 7% each year. In this same period, industry grew at an annual average of 10%, as Spain moved from an agricultural to an industrial economy and society. The SEAT 600, a license production of the FIAT 600, an affordable family car for the budget of Spaniards, epitomized the Spanish economic miracle. Between 1957 and 1973, almost 800,000 SEAT 600s were built.

Lines of SEAT 600 being produced in the SEAT factory in Barcelona. Nearly 800,000 cars would roll out of the factory, being one of the motors of Spain’s new industries during the economic miracle of the 1960s – source:

The economic miracle also owed a lot to the growth of tourism, which to this day remains one of Spain’s economic motors. In 1960, there were 6 million foreign tourists. By 1973, there were 34 million. The large influx of tourists had a profound impact on the regime and on Spanish society. Aside from the economic impact, the regime loosened up sufficiently to allow bikinis on the beach.

Benidorm beach in June 1967. With sunny weather and cheap prices, the Spanish coast became a destination for the newly introduced international package holidays for northern Europeans – source:

The improved economic situation led to the introduction of a welfare system in 1963. Spanish citizens also saw an increase in their wealth and spending power during this period.

The regime even became less authoritarian, with the introduction of a law in 1966 allowing for the publication of more non-regime newspapers and magazines and a freedom of religion law in 1967. This period also saw the consolidation of tensions between two marked camps, the Aperturistas, who wanted to open up the regime and were mainly younger Francoists, such as the Minister of Information and Tourism, Manuel Fraga Iribarne, and the Inmovilistas, who wanted to leave things as they were. Among the Inmovilistas were the technocrats and Carrero Blanco, who had been appointed Deputy President in 1967, and were backed by Franco. The Aperturistas achieved some success, but it was the Inmovilistas who would triumph.

Manuel Fraga Iribarne, Minister of Information and Tourism between 1962 and 1969. Fraga was one of the Aperturistas and his ministry was able to introduce laws opening up the publication of magazines and newspapers and a more relaxed censorship – source: Wikipedia

First Steps of Spanish Armor Developments

The economic upheaval enabled Spain to seriously consider armor development for the first time since the Spanish Civil War. Throughout the 1960s, Material y Construcciones S.A. (MACOSA) [Eng. Material and Constructions Limited Company] and Internacional de Comercio y Tránsito S.A. (INCOTSA) [Eng. Commerce and Transit International Limited Company] collaborated on two paper projects.

The first was the VBCI-1E General Yagüe, named after Juan Yagüe, one of Franco’s most notorious generals during the Spanish Civil War, who had died in 1952. The drawing shows a vehicle quite similar to the US M113, but with a fully rotating turret with a 20 mm autocannon operated by the commander. Inside, 8 soldiers would have been transported. The Yagüe was to be powered by a 352 hp Pegaso 9156/8 engine.

Drawing of the VBCI-1E General Yagüe with its M113-like boxy appearance and 20 mm autocannon – source: Manrique García & Molina Franco, p. 32

The second design, the VBCC-1E General Monasterio, was envisioned as a cavalry reconnaissance vehicle. Monasterio, another of Franco’s Civil War generals, is said to have ordered the last cavalry charge in history at the Battle of Alfambra and coincidentally also died in 1952. The drawing vaguely resembled the US M114, but it would have been more potently armed, with the same 20 mm autocannon as the Yagüe. The two designs had the same engine, and would probably have shared more components for ease of production.

Both designs were submitted to the Spanish Army, but their official verdict is unknown. At any rate, none were ever built.

Drawing of the VBCC-1E General Monasterio, Spain’s unfulfilled cavalry reconnaissance vehicle – source: Manrique García & Molina Franco, p. 33

At the end of the 1960s, INCOTSA envisaged a new vehicle, the VBTT-E4. This 4×4 wheeled vehicle was meant to take advantage of the growing Spanish heavy industry by having all components produced nationally. In its main configuration, the VBTT-E4 would have been a troop carrier, with a capacity of 10 soldiers. The vehicle would have had a turret with a 40 mm grenade launcher and an MG-42 machine gun. Additionally, INCOTSA also drew up a number of variants: 81 mm mortar carrier, anti-tank equipped with a BGM-71 TOW, recovery, and armored car with a 90 mm gun. None of these were ever built.

Drawing of the VBTT-E4, a potential 4×4 multiplatform vehicle – source: Manrique García & Molina Franco, p. 35

A Modernizing Armored Force

US Military Aid in the 1960s and Early 1970s

US military aid to Spain continued throughout the 1960s and the early 1970s. In 1963, the 1953 Madrid Pact was extended. Whilst Franco and the Spanish authorities had wished to sign a more equal agreement, the renewed one still left Spain in a position of servitude. Nonetheless, a raft of military vehicles made their way to Spain.

In 1963, Spain received 6 105mm self-propelled howitzers M52 to equip the Infantería de Marina [Eng. Marines] and support beach landing operations. They had a lengthy yet unremarkable service in Spain, replaced by the M109 in the early 1980s.

M52 of the Spanish Infantería de Marina – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2005), p. 133

The acquisition of 16 LVT-4s for active service and a further 9 for spare parts in 1964 is curious, as sources mention that they were bought from a Californian scrap dealer. They served with the Infantería de Marina until the arrival of the LVT-7 in the early 1970s.

The four 12.7 mm machine guns of the LVT-4 of the Infantería de Marina can be appreciated in this photo – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2005), p. 81

To support the M47 that had arrived in the previous decade, Spain obtained 54 90 mm Gun Tank M48s in 1965. Most were integrated into the Regimiento de Infantería Acorazada ‘Alcázar de Toledo’ 61 [Eng. Armored Infantry Regiment Alcázar de Toledo No. 61]. Seventeen of them were assigned to the Infantería de Marina, with which they served until the 1990s. Twelve more M48A1s arrived in December 1970. Between 1972 and 1975, the last batch of 44 M48A2s was obtained. In 1974, the M48s saw service in Spanish Sahara, in one of the last colonial ventures in Africa. Shortly afterwards, in 1977, they began to be replaced.

A column of M48A1s of the Regimiento de Caballería Acorazada ‘Alcántara’ nº10 [Eng. Armored Cavalry Regiment Alcántara No. 10] – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2005), p. 191
One of the most important and successful Spanish imports from the US in the 1960s was the M113, sometimes referred to as Transporte Oruga Acorazado (TOA) [Eng. Tracked Armored Carrier]. This designation also includes any variants of the M113. The first M113s arrived in Spain in 1964. Over the next six years, a total of 23 M113s, 120 M113A1s, 6 M125A1s, 18 M548s, and 4 M577A1 Command Post Carriers were incorporated into the Spanish Army.

A second more numerous batch of 200 M113A1s, M125A1s, and M577A1s and 70 M548s arrived in Spain in 1970. Since then, Spain has obtained, through various means and from various states, an additional 870 M113 based vehicles. Excluding those from the 1963 and 1970 agreements, Spain has also had M113A2s, M113A1 and M113A2 ambulances, M125A2s, M577A2s, M579 Fitters, and XM806E1s. In addition, Spain produced many of its own variants in the 1980s and 1990s. Many continue to be in service with the different branches of the Spanish armed forces.

An M113 on manœuvres. Since 1964, the M113 has been an ever-present vehicle in the Spanish armed forces – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2007), p. 7

M548 of the Grupo de Artillería de Campaña Autopropulsada XII [Eng. Self-propelled Field Artillery Group No. 12] of the Brigada de Infantería Acorazada «Guadarrama» XII [Eng. Armored Infantry Brigade Guadarrama No. 12]. It main role in Spain is to support self-propelled artillery groups, but it has also served with tank regiments – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2007), p. 39
M577A1 of the Regimiento de Caballería Ligero Acorazado ‘Villaviciosa’ nº14 [Eng. Armored Light Cavalry Regiment Villaviciosa No. 14] – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2007), p. 35
An M113 ambulance vehicle of the Regimiento de Infantería Acorazada «Alcázar de Toledo» nº 61 [Eng. Armored Infantry Regiment Alcázar de Toledo No. 61] – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2007), p. 25

A very rare M579 Fitter in Spanish service – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2007), p. 217
One of the XM806E1s in service in Spain – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2007), p. 29

In the mid-1960s, Spain received just 5 90 mm, full tracked, self-propelled gun M56s, better known as the Scorpion. In 1969, they were assigned to support landing operations of the Infantería de Marina. Their light weight, among other factors, meant they were not greatly appreciated in Spain and were not in service for long.

Only available in small numbers, the M56 Scorpions of the Infantería de Marina were not greatly appreciated in Spain – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2005), p. 215

The close collaboration with the US also had its drawbacks. In January 1966, two US Air Force planes collided mid-air above the area of Palomares, in Almería, Spain’s Mediterranean coast. The B-52G involved was carrying 4 thermonuclear bombs which fell. Of them, 3 fell on the land, 2 of which had non-nuclear explosions contaminating the area. The fourth was lost at sea and recovered two months later. The incident had political consequences, as the Spanish government successfully lobbied to stop US planes carrying thermonuclear weapons from flying over Spain. There was a fear that the radiation would severely impact Spain’s booming tourist industry.

After the 1968 extension, a new agreement was negotiated culminating in the 1970 Convenio de Amistad y Cooperación [Eng. Friendship and Cooperation Agreement]. Whilst Spanish diplomats had unsuccessfully once more tried to negotiate a more equal agreement, they still managed to obtain some minor victories. Among them, Spain was granted full sovereignty over the 4 US bases (Morón, Rota, Zaragoza, and Torrejón) and the gas pipeline connecting the Rota and Zaragoza bases.

Spain added 18 M578 Light Recovery Vehicles to its arsenal. These were used to provide recovery capabilities to infantry and cavalry regiments, but seem to have had an unremarkable career.

One of Spain’s 18 M578 Light Recovery Vehicles – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2007), p. 69

First presented in Spain in 1965, it was not until 1970 that 18 Howitzer Medium Self-Propelled 155 mm M109s, known in Spain as 155/23 mm M-109s, were received. A second batch of 18 M109A1Bs arrived in 1973. Spain employed them in the Spanish Sahara to face the Green March in 1974. Between 1976 and 1977, an extra 60 M109A1Bs, the simplified version of the M109A2, were obtained. Lastly, 6 M109A2s were purchased for the Infantería de Marina in 1985. Most of the original M109s and M109A1Bs were upgraded to M109A5E standard, the Spanish version of the M109A5+, in the late 1980s or 1990 and remain in service to this day.

A row of M109A1Bs of the Grupo de Artillería de Campaña Autopropulsada XI [Eng. Self-propelled Field Artillery Group No. 11] of the Brigada de Infantería Mecanizada «Extremadura» XI [Eng. Mechanized Infantry Brigade Extremadura No. 11] – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2007), p. 49
A M109A2 of the Infantería de Marina during a firing exercise – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2007), p. 50
An M109A5E, the most updated version of the M109 to serve in Spain – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2007), p. 43

At the same time as the second M109 delivery in 1973, Spain received 48 Howitzer Light Self-Propelled 105 mm M108s, the lighter version of the M109. After being considered for conversion into M109A5Es, the M108s were eventually scrapped, having had a longer operational life than those in US service.

A column of M108s. Although more successful than in the US, they found it hard to find their space in Spain – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2007), p. 56

In 1972, Spain acquired 12 M107 175 mm Self-Propelled Guns, which saw short service. Like their US counterparts, they were converted into M110A2s, the Spanish ones in 1988.

Several M107s with their 175 mm gun during a military parade – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2007), p. 62

Lastly for this period, between 1972 and 1974, Spain obtained 17 LVTP-7s, 2 LVTC-7s, and 1 LVTR-7. They were all incorporated into the Infantería de Marina. Between 1998 and 2000, they were all upgraded to the AAVP-7A1 standard.

One of the two LVTC-7s of the Infantería de Marina prior to modernization – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2007), p. 152
The bizarre LVTR-7 of the Infantería de Marina – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2007), p. 148

The French Connection

Besides the US imports, Spain purchased a number of armored vehicles during the 1960s and early 1970s. Spain’s first ever armored cars, the Schneider-Brilliè, and tanks, Renault FT, were all bought from France. Strongly condemning the Franco regime and voting down any initiative to join the EEC and NATO did not prevent France from selling war materiel to Spain.

In the late 1950s, a single Fouga VP-90 was tested in Spain. This miniscule French vehicle was armed with a recoilless 75 mm gun and a 20 mm autocannon. No orders were ever placed.

For service in Spanish Sahara, Spain bought 88 Panhard AML-60s and 100 Panhard AML-90s in 1966. Both served a very similar role and were present when the Green March took place in 1974. After Spanish Sahara was transferred to Morocco, they were moved to units in Ceuta and Melilla and the Balearic and Canary islands. Between 1972 and 1975, an additional 15 AML-60s were bought for the Infantería de Marina. Most Panhard vehicles were removed from service in the mid-1980s. The turrets of the AML-90s were recycled for the first series of Vehículos de Exploración de Caballería (VEC).

A Panhard AML-90 named ‘Calatrava’ of the II Grupo Ligero Sahariano [Eng. 2nd Light Saharan Group] – source: Blindados rueda en España: del Schneider-Brillie a las AML via Facebook
A group of Panhard AML-60s, nicknamed ‘Ranas’ [Eng. Frogs] in Spanish service, in Spanish North Africa – source: Blindados rueda en España: del Schneider-Brillie a las AML via Facebook
Another Panhard vehicle in Spanish service during this period was the M3 VTT. The Infantería de Marina acquired 15 between 1972 and 1975. They remained in service until the mid-1980s. There were plans to buy more vehicles, but only 8 were purchased for the Army in 1974 and these were immediately sent to Ceuta and Melilla to face the growing tensions. After a very short period of service with the Army, they were handed over to the Guardia Civil in 1980.

A Panhard M-3, nicknamed ‘Búfalo’ [Eng. Buffalo] in Spain. This particular vehicle was named ‘Jarama’ after one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War – source: Blindados rueda en España: del Schneider-Brillie a las AML via Facebook
The most important import from France in this period was the AMX-30. The main French Battle tank was first tested in Spain in 1964. Two years later, in 1966, Spain decided to modernize its tank force. The Leopard 1 was the desired tank, but the United Kingdom refused to sell the L7 cannon license to Spain. After that, attention turned to the AMX-30. On June 22nd 1970, French and Spanish delegations reached an agreement permitting Spain to produce 180 AMX-30s and their ammunition under license. The Spanish company Empresa Nacional Santa Bárbara de Industrias Militares S.A. [Eng. National Company of Military Industries Santa Bárbara Limited Company] was put in charge of the project and of appointing subcontractors.

Spain also negotiated the purchase of 19 AMX-30s in October 1970. These were dispatched to respond to the mounting tensions in Spanish Sahara not long after, where they remained until the end of 1975.

One of the French supplied AMX-30s sent to Spanish Sahara to face the mounting tension in the region – source: @DCarrionF via Twitter

The first Spanish-made AMX-30s, denominated AMX-30Es, rolled out of the factory in Seville in October 1974. The 180 tanks were completed in 1979, and a second batch of 100 AMX-30Es, to be built between 1979 and 1984, was negotiated. These tanks represented the first mass-produced armored vehicles in Spain since the Blindados tipo ZIS and Blindados modelo B.C. during the Spanish Civil War.

Rear of two AMX-30Es. The engine and powerplant were the biggest drawbacks of this tank – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2007), p. 87

At the end of 1977, Spain bought 6 AMX-30D recovery vehicles from France. An additional 4 were assembled in Sevilla alongside the AMX-30Es.

An AMX-30D or AMX-30DE named “Virgen del Rocío” – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2007), p. 103

As the last of the new vehicles rolled off the production line, Spain tested an AMX-30B2, the modernized French version with improved Fire Control System and engine. In the end, the decision was taken to pursue domestic improvements instead.

Shortly after its introduction in service with the French Army in 1973, Spain trialed a single Berliet VXB-170 in 1975, an armored personnel carrier mostly used by paramilitary and police forces. Spain never purchased any, instead focusing efforts on the BMR-600.

A Berliet VXB-170 during its trial process in Spain in 1975 – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2003), p. 54

Other Purchases in the 1960s and 1970s

In 1965, Spain tested a single Dutch DAF YP-408. The armored personnel carrier seems to have been lent by the Dutch Army. There are many photos of the trials, even if very little is known about the whole testing process or why it even took place.

One of the multiple photos of the Dutch DAF YP-408 during its tests in Spain – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2003), p. 53

Among the last acquisitions before Franco’s death were 4 8-inch self-propelled howitzer M55s from Belgium in 1974. Perhaps too low in number to be deployed operationally, instead, according to several authors, they were used in an experimental battery. All but one of the M55s can be seen today as museum or gate guardian pieces.

The M55 was a small and very odd purchase from Belgium in 1974 – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2005), p. 175

The Tardofranquismo

The period between October 1969 and the death of Franco in November 1975 is often known as the Tardofranquismo [Eng. Late Francoism]. The 1960s ended with the triumph of the Inmovilistas, or Tecnócratas, over the Aperturistas in the internal power struggle. A fraud scandal in 1969 implicating two of the Opus Dei aligned ministers, members of the technocrats, sparked a crisis and the Aperturistas hoped to use the scandal to their advantage. Surprisingly, Franco closed ranks around the Tecnócratas and the new cabinet was made up almost entirely of technocrats or those close to Vice President Carrero Blanco, who by this point de facto was the one calling the shots as Franco’s closest confidant. The most outspoken Aperturistas, Fernando María Castiella (Foreign Minister), Fraga, and José Solís Ruiz (Minister for El Movimiento), were removed from their posts. This new government was often called ‘Monocolor’ [Eng. Monochromatic, a reference to only one group of those that formed the regime being represented] by its critics. This was the first time throughout the entire dictatorship that Franco had decided to give all the power to a single group that supported his regime, at the expense of others, such as Falangists or Monarchists.

The early 1970s saw the main Aperturistas and Inmovilistas take yet more radical positions. Some of the former, including Adolfo Suarez and Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo, who were later to become prime ministers, and Fraga, seeing there would be a need for a democracy of sorts after Franco’s death, became reformists. In contrast, Carrero Blanco and others joined the ranks of the búnker, a group of reactionaries who saw no need for change, and if anything, wanted to remove some of the freedom granted in the 1960s.

The political struggle was even more radical on the streets. Between 1970 and 1973, Spain’s major cities saw multiple student and worker protests leading to an absolutely brutal response from police. Armed far-right groups, seemingly tolerated by the authorities, appeared and clashed with protestors.


Ever since the Ley de Sucesión en la Jefatura del Estado of March 1947, Franco had had the power to name his successor. The following year, in a meeting with Juan de Borbón, the eldest son of Alfonso XIII, the last king of Spain, Franco demanded that Juan’s eldest son, Juan Carlos, be educated and brought up in Spain. After a false start, Juan Carlos moved to Spain in October 1950 and received a military education.

It was always expected that Franco would make plans so that the Borbón monarchy would be restored after his death. Franco’s bad relationship with the heir apparent, Juan, was such that in July 1969, Franco named Juan Carlos as his successor and gave him the title Prince of Spain. On July 22nd 1969, in front of the Spanish parliament, Juan Carlos accepted his position and promised to maintain the regime’s laws after Franco’s death.

Spanish dictator Francisco Franco and the future king of Spain Juan Carlos preside over a military procession – source: Wikipedia

ETA and the Basque Problem

One of the biggest problems the regime faced was from the armed terrorist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna [Eng. Basque Homeland and Freedom], better known as ETA, in the Basque Country.
The Basque Country, or Euskadi, is a nation and region in northern Spain with a distinct and unique language, Basque or Euskera. The mountainous terrain has historically isolated the Basque Country. Part of Spain for centuries, there has been a strong independence movement since the late 19th century. During the Spanish Civil War, the Basque nationalists sided with the Republic, and throughout the conflict, the Autonomous Basque State operated as a quasi independent state. After Franco’s victory, all privileges the region had held before were quashed and the Basque language was prohibited.

ETA was formed by young Basque nationalists in 1959. Their first years were quite messy and disorganized. Most of the early 1960s were spent trying to define the ideology and objectives of the movement, which moved away from the traditional Catholicism of any previous Basque movement. Splinter groups also appeared in this period.

The killing of a Guardia Civil controlling the traffic on June 7th 1968 was ETA’s first assassination. Later, on August 2nd, ETA killed Melitón Manzanas, the hated Chief of the Brigada Político-Social (BPS) [Eng. Political-Social Brigade], the Francoist secret police, in San Sebastián. The Franco regime’s response was swift, detaining 434 people, imprisoning 189, and deporting 75 before the end of that year, in addition to 38 who went into exile to avoid more trouble. Further detentions in 1969 almost crippled the organization.

Sixteen of the detainees were tried under martial law in the city of Burgos in the infamous Proceso de Burgos in December 1970. The Francoist authorities wanted to make an example of the detainees. Mass international condemnation followed the huge publicity the trials received and within Spain, there were mass student and worker demonstrations and strikes. Even the Catholic Church, seen as a firm supporter of the regime, demanded that the detainees, among whom were two priests, were tried under civil rather than martial law. The judge passed 6 death sentences and 9 prison sentences of between 12 and 70 years. Under domestic and international pressure, the death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment.

Two distinct views on how to bring about Basque independence and what shape an independent Basque state would take became apparent at ETA’s 1973 and 1974 conferences. ETA militar (ETA-m) [Eng. Military ETA] were committed to assassinations and bombings, whilst ETA politico-militar (ETA-pm) [Eng. Political and Military ETA] strove for an independent socialist Basque state.

Operación Ogro – The Death of Carrero Blanco

ETA’s biggest coup was the attack that killed Carrero Blanco in late 1973. In September, with his deteriorating health, Franco had named Carrero Blanco, who he expected would continue the legacy of his regime after his death, prime minister. ETA collaborators informed the group that Carrero Blanco made the same car journey from church to breakfast to his offices every morning and that he did not have much security with him. ETA operatives dug a tunnel from a rented flat on Calle Claudio Coello out under the road over which Carrero Blanco’s car always passed. As the car passed on the morning of December 20th, three bombs were detonated killing Carrero Blanco instantly and causing the car to fly several meters into the air and fall on the roof of a nearby building. The perpetrators managed to escape to France.

Recreation of the moment that the bombs detonated launching Carrero Blanco’s Dodge 3700 GT into the Madrid sky – source:
The damage and massive crater created by the bomb that killed Carrero Blanco – source:

The End of Franco

Franco suffered from Parkinson’s disease and the last years of the regime were marked by the dictator’s deteriorating health. The years 1973 to 1975 saw students and workers clash with the state security forces.

The biggest struggle Franco had to face was the death of Carrero Blanco. Although Franco had already named Juan Carlos as his successor, he trusted Carrero Blanco to maintain the dictatorial regime after his death.

In January 1974, Franco named a mediocre politician, Carlos Arias Navarro, prime minister. In the Spanish Civil War, Arias Navarro had been responsible for the bloody repression in Málaga and he was close to the Franco family. He attempted to strike a balance between the Aperturistas and the Búnker, appointing ministers from both sides. For a few weeks early in his premiership, Arias Navarro was able to pass some reformist legislation.

Prime Minister Carlos Arias Navarro (left) and a very old Franco (right) – source:

This minor reformist zeal would not last long. In a newspaper article on April 28th 1974, former minister and hardcore Falangist José Antonio Girón de Velasco accused Arias Navarro of treason to the regime and of betraying the sacrifices of the Spanish Civil War, triggering criticism from other ultra reactionary elements within Spain. It might have been expected that Franco would have sacked Arias Navarro but he did not. Instead, Franco demonstrated his support for the more reactionary elements by sacking other reformists in senior positions losing.

In July 1974, Franco was hospitalized and Juan Carlos was named as temporary head of state. It was feared that Franco would die, but he recovered and took over again as head of state. Some of the ultra-reactionaries were suspicious of Juan Carlos and proposed an alternative, Alfonso de Borbón, a distant cousin of Juan Carlos. Alfonso was considered to be a true Francoist believer and with opinions aligned with those of the Búnker. Additionally, Alfonso was married to Franco’s eldest granddaughter and had supporters among the Franco family.

On September 13th 1974, ETA detonated a bomb in Cafetería Rolando, a café in Madrid, killing 12 and wounding a further 80. This event, alongside the general situation in Spain, gave the ultra conservatives more impetus. In political terms, they managed to get Franco to sack Pío Cabanillas, the reformist Minister for Information and Tourism. As a result, other reformist politicians resigned in protest.

Arias Navarro and the Aperturistas managed to regain some power in March 1975. They enacted a law decree permitting the creation of associations, political parties of a kind which served as a compromise instead of full political parties and elections.
By this stage, the regime was moribund and faced problems on all fronts. In 1975, there was 17% inflation and an increase in unemployment. At the same time, there were two major financial scandals revealing just how corrupt the regime was. The conflict with the Catholic Church, which for years had distanced itself from the regime, reached its zenith, with the church hierarchy demanding the formation of political parties and trade unions and the right to strike.

Between 1974 and 1975, ETA killed 34 people in a number of assassinations and bombings. In addition, the Frente Revolucionario Antifascista y Patriota (FRAP) [Eng. Antifascist and Patriotic Revolutionary Front] killed 6 police officers between 1973 and 1975. In a military trial at the end of summer 1975, 3 members of ETA and 8 of FRAP, including two pregnant women, were sentenced to death. In spite of international condemnation, 5 of them were executed on September 27th. As a result, several Western European countries closed their embassies in Spain and several Spanish embassies around the world were assaulted by angry protestors. Towards the end of the dictatorship, another group, the Grupos de Resistencia Antifascista Primero de Octubre (GRAPO) [Eng. The First of October Antifascist Resistance Groups] surfaced and killed 4 police officers on October 1st 1975.

On October 30th 1975, Franco, who by this point was very ill, again transferred his powers to Juan Carlos. A few weeks later, on November 20th, Franco died . Thousands of Spaniards visited Franco’s open casket, but Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and King Hussein of Jordan were the only foreign dignitaries to attend the funeral. On November 22nd, Juan Carlos was proclaimed king of Spain.

Juan Carlos being named as king of Spain in the Spanish parliament on November 22nd 1975, two days after Franco’s death – source: Wikipedia

Spanish Foreign Policy at the end of Francoism

Spanish foreign policy in the late 1950s and 1960s was marked by Fernando María Castiella, the Foreign Minister. After having negotiated the end of the Ifni War, he pushed for a rapprochement with the Western European powers, even presenting a formal application to join the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1962.

Fernando María Castiella (left) meeting with US President John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office on October 9th 1963. Aside from negotiating several agreements with the US, as Foreign Minister, Castiella oversaw over a decade of Spanish foreign policy, which coincided with Spain’s exit from Africa. Unable to resolve the situation surrounding Gibraltar, his reformist views, especially around freedom of religion, and his close association with the Aperturistas, put him at odds with Carrero Blanco – source:

Under pressure from the UN, Spain granted Equatorial Guinea, one of its remaining colonies in Africa, a large degree of autonomy following a referendum in 1963. This led to the bizarre scenario of free elections and a democratic government in a Spanish colony but not in Spain itself. Further UN prompting led to a second referendum being held in 1968, resulting in a vote for independence from Spain.

The independence arrangement was mostly amicable, with Spain retaining a civilian and security presence in the new country. After independence, most Spanish capital holders left the country, putting Equatorial Guinea in a perilous economic situation and Spain did not help out, even if it had previously promised to do so. Between December 1968 and January 1969, the government of Equatorial Guinea deported a number of Spanish officials and froze the bank accounts of others. On February 15th, the Spanish consul was ordered to remove a Spanish flag from his private residence. He refused to do so and the crisis escalated. The Spanish ambassador ordered the remaining Spanish forces to take over strategic points in the country on February 26th. The following day, however, orders were given from Spain to deescalate the situation. Over the next few weeks, with support from the UN, the remaining Spanish population, around 7,500 people, was evacuated. At the same time, the President of Equatorial Guinea, Francisco Macías Nguema, carried out a purge and consolidated power, laying the foundation for his brutal dictatorship.

Catiella’s main objective as Foreign Minister was to regain sovereignty over Gibraltar, a British territory since the 1714 Treaty of Utrecht. He managed to get two UN Resolutions on the question of Gibraltar which suggested continued negotiations between the two states and a referendum on the matter. Following a referendum in 1967, the people of Gibraltar voted 99.64% to remain under British sovereignty and just 0.36% to fall under Spanish sovereignty. Spain closed the border in June 1969. The border remained closed for 13 years, causing great havoc on either side and was not reopened until 1985.

Within the context of the wider internal political conflict between Carrero Blanco and the Aperturistas, Catiella was sacked and replaced by Gregorio López Bravo.

López Bravo was a technocrat who had been Industry Minister during the Spanish economic boom. His tenure as Foreign Minister was less remarkable than Castiella’s. He succeeded in opening diplomatic relationships with the Eastern Bloc countries, but he was sacked in 1973 after having failed to get the Gibraltar question discussed at the UN General Assembly.

In April 1974, the quasi Fascist regime in Portugal was toppled during the left-wing Carnation Revolution. The regime in the neighboring country had been very similar to Franco’s and its demise had a profound effect in Spain, where there were numerous pro-Revolution rallies. The authorities felt that the revolutionary fervor could be contagious and it has been rumored that Spain informed the US of its willingness to invade Portugal to put an end to the Revolution in that country and restore order.

The Green March

The most important international event in the years leading up to Franco’s death was the Green March and the final Spanish retreat from Western Sahara. In June 1970, there were a number of demonstrations in El Aaiún and the violent response of the Spanish forces left 2 or 3 protestors dead. This prompted a number of Sahrawi in exile in Mauritania to form the Frente Polisario in May 1973. Its military wing, the Ejército de Liberación Popular Saharaui [Eng. Sahrawi People’s Liberation Army], launched a guerrilla campaign in 1974. Under pressure from the UN, Spain agreed to grant Western Sahara an independence referendum.

Morocco protested the celebration of a referendum and took the matter to the International Court of Justice and the UN asked Spain to delay the referendum until the courts deliberated. To put pressure on Spain to abandon Western Sahara, King Hassan II of Morocco organized a civilian march into Western Sahara to reclaim the territory for Morocco. Among the estimated 300,000 unarmed civilians were 25,000 Moroccan troops. Cold War politics also played a role. The Sahrawi people were close politically to Algeria, which was then a Soviet ally. Morocco, on the other hand, was a strategic partner of France and the USA. The USA covertly supported Morocco and it is debatable as to whether Hassan II would have ordered the march were it not for US support.
The Green March crossed the Spanish-Moroccan border on November 6th 1975 and around 50,000 Moroccans camped in Spanish territory. The UN demanded that Morocco put a stop to this, but more Moroccans crossed the frontier. With Franco on his deathbed, negotiations began with Spain, and Morocco agreed to withdraw its demonstrators on November 9th.

A three party agreement between Mauritania, Morocco, and Spain was reached on November 14th 1975 dividing Spanish Sahara between the two African states. At the UN, all three voted to recognize the right of self-determination of the Sahrawi people, something which has yet to happen and seems unlikely to ever do so. Spanish forces finally left Western Sahara on February 26th 1976.

Map of the division of Spanish Sahara between Mauritania and Morocco – source: Wikipedia
Spanish Armor during the Green March

As of October 1974, the only Spanish armored forces in Spanish Sahara were the AML-60s and AML-90s of the grupos ligeros Saharianos [Eng. Saharan light groups] of the Spanish Legion and 18 of the newly arrived AMX-30s of the Compañía de Carros Medios ‘Bakali’ [Eng. Bakali Medium Tank Company].

In response to the growing tension, several units of the Brigada de Infantería Acorazada «Guadarrama» XII (BRIAC XII) [Eng. Guadarrama Armored Infantry Brigade No. 12] were sent from Madrid on October 10th 1974. These included 45 M48A1s and M113s of the II Batallón Regimiento de Carros de Combate «Alcázar de Toledo» n.º 61 [Eng. Alcázar de Toledo Tank Regiment No. 61 2nd Battalion] and M109s of the Grupo de Artillería de Campaña Autopropulsada XII (GACA ATP XII) [Eng. Self-propelled Field Artillery Group No. 12].

Vehicle ‘712’ of the 7th Company of the II Batallón Regimiento de Carros de Combate «Alcázar de Toledo» n.º 61 [Eng. Alcázar de Toledo Tank Regiment No. 61 2nd Battalion] in Spanish Sahara, possibly El Aaiún in October 1974 – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2005), p. 195
The Spanish expeditionary force was sent by train to the port of Cádiz, where they embarked. The force began to disembark at El Aaiún on the morning of October 20th. Shortly after, the 18 AMX-30s were aggregated to this new unit. The first few weeks were spent acclimating the tanks and crews to the desert conditions. Over the first few months of 1975, tensions heightened, and the Spanish expeditionary force suffered its first casualties when a Land Rover of the GACA ATP XII drove over a mine during a patrol, killing 5 soldiers. Months of operations in the desert began to take a toll on the tanks.

Spanish AMX-30 in Spanish Sahara in autumn 1974 – source: @DCarrionF via Twitter

Between October 15th and 28th, the expeditionary force took up defensive positions near El Aaiún to meet potential Moroccan aggression. Once the Green March had crossed into Spanish territory the order was not to engage with civilians, but to prevent any Moroccan military forces from trying to cross. With the negotiations in Madrid putting an end to Spanish presence in Western Sahara, the expeditionary force’s armor returned to its barracks on November 20th, the same day as Franco’s death. The Spanish military withdrawal from Western Sahara began on December 20th and finished on January 12th 1976.

Spanish M48s returning to Lanzarote in December 1975 after the end of the Spanish presence in Western Sahara – source: Togores, p. 56

The Early Transición

The political situation in Spain after Franco’s death was extremely complex and volatile. This period is known as La Transición [Eng. Transition (to democracy in this case)] in Spain. King Juan Carlos initially maintained the regime, ratifying Carlos Arias Navarro as prime minister while appointing several reformists, including Fraga and Adolfo Suárez, to the new government. At first, Fraga’s transition to democracy proposals, slow gradual changes to the Francoist legislation, were adopted by the temporary government.

After forcing Carlos Arias Navarro to resign as prime minister, King Juan Carlos appointed the largely unknown Adolfo Suarez to the role. His relatively young age and inexperience was no impediment to Suarez’s overseeing of an extremely tumultuous and delicate period in Spanish history as it transitioned to democracy after over 35 years of Franco’s dictatorship – source:

For the anti-Francoist opposition, this timid break with Francoism was not enough. For them, a complete split with the Francoist system and its institutions was what was required. There were two main groups; the radical Junta Democrática de España [Eng. Spanish Democratic Union] formed by far left political groups, including the Partido Comunista de España (PCE) [Eng. Spanish Communist Party], and the Plataforma de Convergencia Democrática [Eng. Democratic Alignment Platform], a more moderate organization which relied on the support of the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) [Eng. Spanish Socialist Workers Party], which had been the largest party prior to the Spanish Civil War.

The political situation in Spain was very tense. On March 3rd 1976, 5 people were killed and over a 100 were injured in a demonstration in the Basque city of Vitoria. Other demonstrators were killed in the preceding and following months, and leading trade unionists were arrested.

The relationship between Juan Carlos and Arias Navarro had significantly deteriorated. Juan Carlos asked Navarro for his resignation on July 1st 1976 and replaced him with the largely unknown Adolfo Suarez. Suarez’s new cabinet was made up of younger people who, for the most part, had not held important roles during the dictatorship. He wanted to go further than Fraga and worked towards a new system, the Ley para la Reforma Política [Eng. Law for Political Reform]. This would create a bicameral system elected through universal suffrage. Suarez, knowing that a republican option would overcome a monarchist one, was able to divert pressure to call a referendum on who should be head of state by enshrining the king and the monarchy in law.

Suarez began to meet with the anti-Francoist opposition, even the PCE, to gather support for his reform law. On September 8th 1976, Suarez held talks with the military authorities to convince them of the need for political reform, with those publicly voicing their opposition to the democratic transition being sent to the reserve. The biggest hurdle was to get the political reform law passed by the Spanish parliament, as essentially, it would be voting to abolish itself. Suarez obtained an outstanding victory on November 18th 1976 with 435 votes for, 37 abstentions and no shows, and only 59 votes against. Following this, the law was put up to a referendum on December 15th, receiving a massive 94.2% for the new law to give Suarez the mandate he needed.

Inevitably, the most reactionary elements opposed these changes and the last week of January 1977 was one of the most delicate in la Transición. A student was killed by a gang affiliated to the far-right Fuerza Nueva [Eng. New Power] and another student the following day by the police at a rally condemning the first killing. That same night, January 24th, a group of far right thugs, including Fuerza Nueva militants, broke into a labor law firm, assassinating 5 of the lawyers and wounding another 4. This resulted in a wave of solidarity with the PCE and left-wing trade unions, with which the lawyers were affiliated. At the same time, the far left GRAPO continued with police killings and kidnapped several important political-military authorities.

The Francoist system had maintained itself for nearly 40 years by focusing on the perceived enemies of Spain, chief among which were the Communists. Now, the solidarity shown for the PCE had proven to Suarez that to transition into a fully democratic state, all political parties, including the Communists, had to be legalized and allowed to take part in elections. So, on April 9th 1976, Suarez legalized the PCE, earning the disapproval of most of the right in Spain, including the army. As a countermeasure, the PCE, led by Santiago Carrillo, had to accept the king as the head of state and the red-yellow-red flag as the official flag, not the Republican tricolor.

Santiago Carrillo, the leader of the Partido Comunista de España (PCE) [Eng. Spanish Communist Party] between 1960 and 1982. Initially a fervent Stalinist, he distanced himself from the USSR in 1968 and embraced Eurocommunism. Carrilo played a decisive role during la Transición – source: Wikipedia
The first post-Franco elections were held on June 15th 1977 and resulted in a simple majority for Suarez’s Unión de Centro Democrático (UCD) [Eng. Union of Democratic Center]. The second most-voted for party by a large margin was the PSOE, ahead of the PCE and Fraga’s Alianza Popular (AP) [Eng. People’s Alliance], the right-wing party of most Francoist moderates.

One of the first laws passed by the new Suarez government was the Ley de Amnistía [Eng. Amnesty Law] which amnestied those imprisoned by Francoism for political reasons. On the other hand, the law also prevented any investigation of the Francoist crimes of the Spanish Civil War and the dictatorship and any effort made to deal with them.

The new government, together with the opposition parties, set to work on a new constitution. Suarez and UCD had to accept many of the PCE and PSOE proposals. The new constitution granted the right to strike and to abortion whilst it removed the death penalty. The new constitution was approved by both legislative houses and then by referendum on December 6th 1978, with just under 92% of the vote.

Spanish Armor Developments of the 1970s

At the same time that the Spanish state was going through such profound change, Spain began to develop its own domestic arms industry. A number of the developments during the 1970s were the modernization of old materiel.

Around 1970, Spain used one of its old StuG III Ausf.Gs to experiment with. The gun was removed and a G-1 missile launcher was mounted on the top of the superstructure. This was only an experimental design of rather crude appearance.

The sole StuG III Ausf.G testbed with a G-1 missile launcher – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2005), p. 41

In 1975, the Spanish subsidiary of Chrysler, Chrysler S.A., offered to update Spain’s M47s in a similar way to BMY’s upgrade for Iran and Pakistan a few years earlier. The main improvement was the replacement of the high consumption, low range, and low power engine with a Continental AVDS-1790-2A. Aside from changes relating to the engine and the fuel tanks, the rear compensating idler wheel, the bow machine gun, and the assistant loader’s position were removed. The turret rotation and gun elevation/depression mechanisms were changed. The coaxial machine gun was replaced with a MG1A3 and a smokescreen system linked to the engine was implemented. A total of 329 tanks were upgraded between 1975 and 1980. The first 100 had a slightly different gas outlet and were designated M-47E. The remaining 229 were designated M-47E1.

M-47Es or M-47E1s on an exercise in 1988. Note that the camouflage has been applied by the crews – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2005), p. 165

In 1976, Chrysler also modified 17 M48s of the Infantería de Marina to create the M-48A3E. The propulsion system was considerably enhanced by the installation of a new engine bay, engine, and transmission. The coaxial machine gun was replaced by an MG3 and the crew’s vision devices were greatly improved.

A Infantería de Marina M-48A3E participating in a joint Spanish-US military exercise in 1983 – source: Wikipedia

Between 1978 and 1979, Chrysler España S.A. carried out major improvements to the army’s M48s and M48A1s. It took the M-48A3E’s propulsion improvements and also replaced the 90 mm gun with a 105 mm M68. Somewhat ironically, this was the US version of the British L7 gun which had been denied to Spain in the 1960s. With the new gun, a completely new FCS was introduced. The new up-gunned version was denominated M-48A5E, of which 164 were modernized. Among these was a sub-variant with a new turret rotation system and a Cadillac Gage cannon designated M-48A5E1.

Either a M-48A5E or M-48A5E1 crossing a pontoon bridge. In spite of their considerable numbers, few photographs of them exist – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2005), p. 208


The most significant development of the decade was the initiation of the Blindado Medio sobre Ruedas (BMR) [Eng. Wheeled Armored Vehicle] program. Initially conceived in 1969, the Spanish military authorities wanted a domestically produced family of 6×6 armored vehicles. Empresa Nacional de Autocamiones S.A. (ENASA) [Eng. Truck National Limited Company] was tasked with overseeing the project. The first prototype, initially named ‘Pegaso 3500.00’ and later ‘BMR-600’, although ‘V-001’ is also used in primary and secondary documents, was finished in December 1973. It was first tested outside its factory on December 11th followed by a semi-public presentation on December 21st. The Pegaso 3500.00 was only armed with an MG 42 machine gun and had hydrojets, a feature removed later in production. After an accident in a reservoir, the project was put on ice. In January 1976, the military top brass set a modified number of specifications and asked for the production of new prototypes.

The V-001 during presentation trials, probably in 1974. Its over reglementary large size was its main handicap – source: Manrique García & Molina Franco, p. 47

Later in 1976, a new series of prototypes, the Pegaso 3560.00s, was approved for production and ENASA was given the contract for the three prototype APCs. The first personnel carrier, ENASA 3560/00 or BMR-600-A.1, had a small turret with a mounting for a 7.62 mm MG-3S machine gun and no hydrojets. It was extensively tested at the end of 1977. The second personnel carrier prototype, ENASA 3560-1 or BMR-600-C.1, had the same armament but in a MOWAG turret and had hydrojets. This prototype would begin testing in January 1978. The last personnel carrier prototype, ENASA 3560-2 or BMR-600-T.1, also acted as a platoon support vehicle. It had a rear mounted French TOUCAN-1 turret armed with a 20 mm autocannon and a 7.62 machine gun. This vehicle was first presented in May 1978.

Left-to-right: the BMR-600-A.1 with a 7.62 mm MG-3S machine gun, the BMR-600-C.1 with MOWAG turret, and the BMR-600-T.1 with the TOUCAN-1 turret armed with a 20 mm autocannon and a 7.62 machine gun – source: Manrique García & Molina Franco, p. 53

After testing, in 1979, the Spanish Army authorized the production of 12 pre-series vehicles with modifications taken from the three prototypes. What would become the BMR-600 was essentially a slightly enlarged BMR-600-A.1, designated BMR-600-A.2. In 1980, the Spanish Army authorized the construction of a first series of 106 BMR-600s. Their factory designation was BMR 3560/01. The first 40 vehicles had the MOWAG turret of the second prototype. A total of 38 vehicles of the first batch were temporarily armed with a mounting for a Browning 12.7 mm machine gun, whilst the rest of the batch were unarmed until the new turret could be produced. At some point between 1979 and 1981, the decision was made to equip the BMR-600s with a CETME TC-3 turret armed with the Browning and a coaxial 7.62 mm. By 1982, 257 BMR-600s had been built.

Nearly finished BMR-600s awaiting their turrets at the Pegaso factory in Valladolid in April 1980 – source: Manrique García & Molina Franco, p. 68

As ENASA was considering the three APC prototypes, they also planned two mortar carrying vehicles, an 81 mm and a 105 mm one based on the BMR-600-A.1 designated BMR-650-A.1. Initially, each variant was going to have its own prototypes, but the fifth prototype vehicle was set aside to create a separate vehicle. The mortar-carrying prototype was ordered in 1977, but it would not be ready for tests until June 1980.

The BMR-650-A.1, the mortar carrying prototype of the BMR, on the right, and the BMR-625, what would eventually become the VEC, on the left during tests in 1980 – source: @DCarrionF via Twitter

In 1980, the Spanish Army put in an order for ENASA to produce 22 mortar carrying vehicles. By 1982, ENASA had delivered 22 81 mm armed vehicles, sometimes called BMR-681 PM or BMR 3560/03. By that time, ENASA had also presented 9 of a BMR variant which towed a 120 mm mortar, designated BMR-612 MR or BMR 3560/04.

Since then, another 42 of the 81 mm mortar carriers have entered service with the Spanish Army. The 120 mm mortar carrier has been far less successful.

A 81 mm mortar carrier BMR-681 PM of the second series – source: Manrique García & Molina Franco, p. 109
Whilst there was always a desire for a BMR-600 capable of carrying a 120 mm mortar, initially, it was only possible by towing, as demonstrated by the BMR-600-A.1 prototype. Although a vehicle of these characteristics was finally designed in 1987, it has never been fully convincing – source: Manrique García & Molina Franco, p. 111

In the same 1980 order, ENASA was tasked with producing two other prototypes, the BMR-636, a missile launcher variant, and the BMR-620, an anti-aircraft variant with a Meroka turret. Although a turret for the Meroka variant was built, neither of the prototypes were completed.

At some point in the development of the mortar-carrying BMR prototypes, one was set aside to convert into a reconnaissance vehicle for cavalry units. This vehicle was denominated BMR-625 or ENASA 3562/00, but would later become known as the Vehículo de Exploración de Caballería (VEC) [Eng. Cavalry Reconnaissance Vehicle]. Construction was authorized in 1978.

The converted prototype had its internal arrangement changed to suit its new intended role. As a stopgap measure, before a turret and armament had been decided on, the VEC’s first prototype was given an Oerlikon turret with a 25 mm autocannon and a coaxial 7.62 mm FN machine gun. The prototype had hydrojets and tests took place in 1980.

The initial BMR-625, the first VEC prototype with an Oerlikon turret with a 25 mm autocannon and a coaxial 7.62 mm FN machine gun – source: @DCarrionF via Twitter

In 1980, ENASA was commissioned to build a second VEC prototype, and if this vehicle was satisfactory, 4 pre-series vehicles. The second prototype was equipped with a Rheinmetall turret armed with a 20 mm autocannon. It was tested with success later in 1980. The pre-series vehicles were delivered in 1981 with the same armament but in an OTO-Melara turret. While the VECs had a future, there was still no firm decision over their turrets or armament.

The Consolidation of Democracy

After receiving massive support for the new constitution, Adolfo Suárez called for fresh elections in the hope that his UCD would win an absolute majority. UCD once more fell just shy of a majority and both PSOE and PCE had minor increases, whilst Fraga’s AP, campaigning under the name Coalición Democrática (CD), was decimated. To get policy through parliament, Suárez needed one-off deals with PSOE and the plethora of regionalist parties in the Spanish parliament.

The main task of Suárez’s premiership was to pass legislation granting different regions of Spain autonomous governments. The Basque Country and Catalonia voted in separate referendums in 1979 to have their own regional governments with vast and varied powers, including, among others, education, health, and language. These were followed by a successful referendum in Galicia in 1980 and Andalucía in 1981.

In spite of their success in the 1979 elections, UCD, which in reality was a loose coalition around the central figure of Suárez, began to fracture. The party was split on foreign policy and religious issues, whilst voters lost trust in UCD’s failure to deal with the 1979 Oil Crisis and domestic terrorism.

On January 29th 1981, Suárez resigned as prime minister. Second Vice President Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo was chosen by UCD to succeed him.

Leopoldo Ramón Pedro Calvo-Sotelo y Bustelo, better known as Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo, succeeded Adolfo Suárez as prime minister. The assassination of Leopoldo’s uncle, José, in July 1936, was one of the events that led to the Spanish Civil War. Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo had held important public office during the Franco regime, but he was never involved in any cabinet before Suárez became prime minister – source: Wikipedia
The flags of Spain from the consolidation of the Francoist dictatorship to the modern day. From left to right: the flag used between October 1945 and January 1977; the flag used between January 1977 and December 1981 with a remodeled eagle; and the latest flag adopted in December 1981 with a different shade of red and yellow and a new monarchic coat of arms – source: author’s own compilation from Wikipedia


The armed forces, which had played such an important role during Franco’s dictatorship, posed the major threat to the transition to democracy. The military were unhappy with their loss of power and had a particularly bad relationship with Prime Minister Adolfo Suárez, who they did not believe was solving the problems Spain faced adequately. In 1978 and 1980, Spanish intelligence had been able to derail two military plots. There were also several notable cases of insubordination. These incidents were nothing compared to what happened in February 1981, when tanks took to the streets during the attempted coup d’état, better known as the 23-F.

Throughout 1980, the main plotters of what would become the 23-F had been hatching their plans and mobilizing public opinion in their favor. The main personalities involved were: Alfonso Armada, a close confidant of the king, Juan Carlos, and by the time of the 23-F the Second Chief of Staff of the Spanish Army; Antonio Tejero, a disgraced Lieutenant Colonel of the Guardia Civil, who had been arrested several times for insubordination and had been involved in the 1978 Operación Galaxia [Eng. Operation Galaxy], a failed planned coup; and Jaime Milans del Bosch, the lieutenant general and commander of the III Región Militar [Eng. 3rd Military Region], centered around the Valencia region of Spain. Both Armada and Milans del Bosch had served in the Spanish Civil War and with the División Azul in the Second World War.

Division General Alfonso Armada y Comyn. Born to a military family, Armada fought for the Nationalist side during the Spanish Civil War and then as a volunteer for the División Azul [Eng. Blue Division] on the Eastern Front. Armada taught and mentored the young Juan Carlos when he moved to Spain. Armada and Juan Carlos remained good friends for years to come – source: Wikipedia
Lieutenant General Jaime Milans del Bosch y Ussía, the commander of the III Región Militar [Eng. 3rd Military Region], centered around the Valencia region of Spain. Milans del Bosch was a survivor of the Siege of the Alcázar early in the Spanish Civil War. He was later a captain in the División Azul [Eng. Blue Division] on the Eastern Front – source:
The coup was set for February 23rd 1981, the same day that the Spanish Parliament would have its second round of voting on confirming Leopoldo Calvo-Sotleo as Prime Minister. In the morning, Tejero made the preparations to assault the Parliament during its investiture session, and in Valencia, Bosch planned to implement a state of exception throughout the region under his command. At around midday, General Luis Torres Rojas flew into Madrid from La Coruña in northern Spain to convince the División Acorazada Brunete [Eng. Brunete Armored Division] to join the coup and then to take command of the unit. The leaders of the coup claimed that they would create a civilian-military government presided over by Armada and that the plan had the support of the King, Juan Carlos.

At 18:23, with between 200 and 450 Guardias Civiles supporting him, Tejero assaulted the Spanish Parliament. Pistol in hand, Tejero entered the chamber and demanded that all deputies take to the ground. At that point, Lieutenant General Manuel Gutiérrez Mellado, the Vice President, got out of his seat and headed towards Tejero demanding that he lower his weapons and surrender. Tejero and a few of his men attempted to force Gutiérrez Mellado onto the floor, but in spite of the lieutenant general’s age, they were unable to do so. At this point, Tejero and his men lost patience and fired their weapons into their air, prompting all but three of the people within the Parliament to lie on the ground. These three were Gutiérrez Mellado, who stayed standing up until Adolfo Suárez asked him to return to his seat next to his, Adolfo Suárez, who was still acting prime minister and who remained sat defiantly, and Santiago Carrillo, the leader of the PCE. All of this was caught on camera and radio, and millions of Spanish people and others around the world were able to witness the violent military takeover bid.

Lieutenant General Antonio Tejero Molina of the Guardia Civil breaks into the Spanish Parliament’s chamber pistol in hand to start the 23-F coup – source: Wikipedia
Vice President Lieutenant General Manuel Gutiérrez Mellado was one of the heroes of the 23-F. At the age of 69, he immediately got out of his seat to confront Tejero and his troops. In spite of their attempts to knock him to the ground and firing pistols and submachine guns into the air right in front of him, Gutiérrez Mellado stood firm – source: Wikipedia

Meanwhile, in Valencia, Milans del Bosch pronounced the state of exception throughout the III Región Militar and ordered units onto the streets of Valencia. Among these were 50 M-47E1s of the División de Infantería Motorizada Maestrazgo nº 3 [Eng. 3rd Motorized Infantry Division Maestrazgo]. Some of these were sent towards the air base at Manises, the commander of which, Colonel Luis Delgado Sánchez Arjona, had not only refused to back the coup but threatened to deploy fighters to destroy the armored column. Bosch contacted the other commanders of the military regions to get them to back the coup. Most said they would not commit for the time being and that they would see how events proceeded.

A M-47E1 on the streets of Valencia during the failed 1981 coup attempt – source: Cadena Ser
A column of M-47E1s advancing through the streets of Valencia – source:

Outside Madrid, tanks of the División Acorazada Brunete were sent into the city center. General José Juste Fernández, suspicious of the conspirators, contacted the Royal Palace to find out if the King was really involved in the coup. After finding out he was not, the general contacted Division General Guillermo Quintana Lacaci, who was in command of the I Región Militar [Eng. First Military Region] to tell him what was occurring. Div. Gen. Lacaci was loyal to the King and ordered the Brunete tanks to return to their barracks just before 19:00 and later Gen. Torres Rojas was dismissed and sent back to Galicia by his superior. King Juan Carlos then got in touch with the other military region commanders to assure them that the coup did not have his support. Even then, some commanders remained indecisive as to whether to support the coup or not. Bosch disobeyed the King’s order to remove the troops from the streets of Valencia.
Gen. Armada had requested an audience with the King to explain what was going on, but the King’s close circle refused, having already begun to suspect he was somehow involved. At around 21:00, Armada entered into negotiations with Tejero and about 00:30 proposed a government of national unity with representatives of all parties as ministers and headed by himself. The proposal’s inclusion of ministers from PCE and PSOE perplexed Tejero and he rejected it out of hand and, by doing so, distanced himself from Armada and Bosch.

At 01:14, the King, in military uniform, gave a live speech condemning the coup and in defense of the Spanish Constitution. This was a crucial moment, as it showed the King in favor of the Constitution and delegitimizing the coup. At this point, many Spaniards finally went to sleep. A mere 5 minutes after the speech, Bosch ordered the tanks back to the barracks, and before morning, lifted the state of exception.

King Juan Carlos, dressed in military uniform, informs live on television that he had ordered all military units to stand down and that the Crown opposed the coup and that it supported the Constitution – source: RTVE

This did not stop more units joining those already in the Spanish Parliament, which was still under Tejero’s control. During the morning of February 24th, however, Tejero and his co-conspirators surrendered, bringing the failed coup to an inglorious end.
In the following months, the high ranking officers involved in the coup were given prison sentences and those who had not been involved in the coup but had not necessarily opposed it were retired from service.

The 23-F is a very controversial subject in Spanish history. Not long after, several right-wing writers claimed that the King had been involved in the coup after all and that it was all a plan to reinforce his and the Crown’s image. More recently, far-left and nationalist elements have also bought into this theory. As it stands, no concrete evidence has emerged disproving the official story.
Whilst there were at least 3 or 4 more coups planned after this, they were all quickly uncovered by the security services. This effectively put an end to a 150-year period of direct military intervention in Spanish politics to enact the change it wanted. Another consequence of the coup was the Spanish military’s loss of power, as successive Spanish governments reduced the military and cut their budgets whilst making them more accountable to parliament.

PSOE’s Spain

A few days after the 23-F, Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo was named as Prime Minister. His premiership was short-lived and characterized by party infighting. By summer 1982, scores of the UCD’s deputies had defected to AP and to PSOE. As a result, Calvo-Sotelo called for elections. Felipe González’s PSOE won an absolute majority, the biggest in Spain’s recent democratic history. UCD lost 152 seats and PCE dropped to just 4. AP on the other hand, became the second largest party and the main opposition.

In the preceding years, PSOE had survived its own party infighting. Like many traditional social democratic parties in Europe, PSOE had radical left-wing origins and still defined itself as a Marxist political party. After the unconvincing results in the 1979 election, in an extraordinary party conference in September 1979, the more moderate centrist-wing of the party, led by Felipe González and other politicians born in the Andalucía region, took over the party and erased all Marxist connections.

Felipe González and PSOE would go on to win three more general elections in 1986, 1989, and 1993, the first two with absolute majorities.

Felipe González Márquez, Spain’s longest serving prime minister since the transition to democracy and Hervé Villechaize lookalike – source: Wikipedia

In office, PSOE introduced the most ambitious major military reform since 1931. Between 1982 and 1991, the officer class was reduced by 20%. The three branches of the armed forces, air force, army, and navy, were put under the command of a chief of staff directly responsible to the Ministry of Defense. The number of military regions was reduced from 9 to 6. Compulsory military service was reduced from 15 months to 12 in 1982 and conscientious objection was permitted in 1988.

During the 1980s, Spain moved away from being an industrial economy to a service-based one. In the process, many of the state owned heavy, medium, and light industries were closed or privatized, affecting many industries historically involved in the production of Spanish military hardware.

By the end of the 1980s, PSOE was involved in a number of scandals which eroded trust in its ability to govern.

The EEC and NATO

In the later years of Franco’s regime, there had been attempts to formalize the military agreements and pacts with the USA into a treaty or fully-fledged alliance. There were some who wanted to go further by advocating Spain’s membership to NATO, though most NATO member states other than the USA would have vetoed this.
The post-Franco transition government of Carlos Arias Navarro made the first approach to NATO regarding membership, though it would not be until his successor’s administration that the first official contact was made. In international affairs, Suárez’s presidency was marked by ambivalence and a neutralist position. Nevertheless, some ministers, most importantly Foreign Affairs Minister Marcelino Oreja Aguirre, were strong advocates of joining NATO and argued that should Spain wish to join the European Economic Community (CC), this would be facilitated by joining NATO first, a standpoint rejected by Suárez. Linking NATO to the EEC would be a key argument for the pro-NATO camp for the following decade.

The basis of Spain’s foreign policy post-Franco was universal and focused especially on a Europe-Atlantic axis and relating to nations in this group by signing bilateral and multilateral agreements. There were several roles Spain could play in the international arena which were vigorously debated at this early stage of foreign policy formation, leaving Spain with several options:

  • Continuing the status quo and renewing (or not) the bilateral military aid agreements signed with the US during the Franco years, which were due to expire in 1981. Renewing these agreements would mean continuing to be in the preamble to the NATO stage Spain had been in since the Madrid Pact of 1953, whilst not renewing would mean a much larger degree of independence. There was a growing feeling among public opinion, backed by some political parties, PSOE and PCE, that not renewing the agreements and, as a consequence, eliminating the presence of American bases and personnel from Spanish territory, was a valid alternative.
  • Neutrality, with three options:
    1. de jure neutrality which meant that, like Austria, Spain’s constitutional arrangements would make the country neutral by law.
    2. de facto neutrality within which there were further options of armed neutrality, like Sweden or Switzerland, or non-armed neutrality.
    3. Non-alignment. Spain was invited to and participated in the VI Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement held in Havana in early September 1979. The previous year, Adolfo Suárez became the first Spanish prime minister to visit Cuba and, in September 1979, Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat visited Madrid. Both events would anger US officials.
  • Signing a formal alliance with France, resulting in a close relationship with NATO which would include economic and military cooperation but without the other commitments being inside the organization entailed. France and Spain had a history of military collaboration and Spain had many French armored vehicles in its arsenal.
  • A foreign policy based on bilateral agreements with NATO and non-NATO states granting a greater degree of flexibility. This would mean being indirectly integrated into NATO while prolonging a possible entry process. It would also allow for bilateral agreements with nearby countries around the Mediterranean, such as Morocco or Algeria.
  • Full entry into NATO.

Suárez was keen on non-alignment, but after he resigned, the Spanish government became more pro-NATO. In 1982, Spain became the sixteenth member after a parliamentary decision the previous October.

At this point, there was a significant and widespread anti-NATO, and, more broadly speaking, anti-American sentiment. The majority of opposition parties objected to the decision.
In their 1982 electoral program, PSOE had promised to meet public expectations and freeze Spain’s integration into NATO. Spain had not joined NATO’s military structure, and a referendum on continued membership was promised before the end of its term in office. Despite having been anti-NATO and maintaining throughout 1981 and 1982 that if a simple parliamentary majority had been enough to join NATO, leaving it could be achieved the same way, by late 1983 and early 1984, Prime Minister González began to change his position.

As a statesman, González recognized that leaving NATO would have a very high political cost in the international arena and could seriously hinder Spain’s efforts to join the EEC. González argued that the situation had changed and that the conditions for not entering were different from those of leaving – famously saying that not getting married is less traumatic than getting divorced – that if Spain wanted to be part of European institutions (EEC) it also had to be part of Europe’s defense (NATO), and that there would be ‘compensations’ and conditions for being in NATO: the removal of all US military bases on Spanish soil, non-integration into NATO’s military structure, and that Spain would not store any nuclear weapons. Polling at the time showed that the Spanish public was more opposed to the presence of US military bases than it was to NATO.

Arguably, González’s main political motivation in foreign policy was getting Spain into the EEC, something which was also very popular among the Spanish public. So, he decided to unite domestic and foreign policy and argued that they benefited each other mutually. In a highly controversial move going against the wishes of his own party and PSOE’s West German counterpart, SPD, González supported West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl on the deployment of 572 Cruise and Pershing missiles in Europe. The reasons behind it were to garner German support for Spain’s entry to the EEC and for Kohl to put pressure on the French to not veto Spain’s entry application, as they had done in 1980.
After a setback in the December 1983 EEC summit in Athens, in which Spain’s entry was delayed, González threatened that he would not campaign for continued membership of NATO if Spain did not enter the EEC. Eventually, Spain gained admittance to the EEC in June 1985.

González had also been put under pressure from abroad. On a visit to Madrid in May 1985, Kohl and the President of the European Commission, Gaston Thorn, claimed that Spain’s continuance in NATO and their entry into the Common Market were inseparable. Juan Luis Cebrián, editor of El País, Spain’s most-highly regarded newspaper, claimed that by 1984, regardless of what it may have wanted, Gonzalez’s government had no power to leave NATO, as NATO countries would use sanctions to blockade Spain economically and politically and would go as far as to encourage Morocco to agitate over Ceuta and Melilla through the United States Department of Defense to deter Spain from leaving.

Eventually, González would fulfill his promise and the referendum was held in March 1986, three months before the general election was due. Continued membership won with 56.85% of the vote against the 43.15% who did not want to continue within NATO.

Terrorism and the Continuation of the Basque Problem

The problems with domestic terrorism did not disappear with the transition to democracy. ETA-pm largely abandoned terrorist action and integrated itself into the political process. In spite of an amnesty granted to all Basque prisoners in 1977, ETA-m (referred to as just ETA from here on) believed that they had not fulfilled their objectives and that the transition to democracy was just a continuation of many elements of the Francoist regime. In 1977, ETA killed 3 people and the following year, 85. The majority of ETA’s victims were military personnel and police officers and at that time, ETA’s policy of targeting the security forces and informants, both of which had been instrumental in Franco’s repression of the region, gained a great deal of popular support and many in the Basque Country were sympathetic towards ETA.

In the 1980s, ETA slightly changed its strategy and broadened its targets. Among the most infamous acts was a bomb in a supermarket in Barcelona in June 1987 which killed 21 civilians and the bombing of a Civil Guard barracks in Zaragoza, which killed 11, including 5 girls. These attacks on civilians played no small part in turning public opinion against the terrorist organization.

ETA Victims between 1975 and 1990
1975 1
1976 17
1977 11
1978 64
1979 84
1980 93
1981 32
1982 41
1983 44
1984 32
1985 38
1986 41
1987 41
1988 20
1989 18
1990 25
Total 512

To fight ETA, once in government, PSOE formed and financed through the Ministry of Home Affairs the Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación (GAL) [Eng. Anti-terrorist Liberation Groups] in an example of dirty war. This organization was tasked with destroying ETA and its support structure. They operated in Spain and in France, which acted as a safe haven for ETA’s members. Many of GAL’s operatives were French mercenaries. Throughout its short existence, between 1983 and 1987, GAL killed 27 people, including some with no connection whatsoever with ETA, in addition to other counts of kidnappings and torture.

In addition to GAL, in the early democracy years, there were a variety of ultra right-wing groups which carried out attacks on ETA and its sympathizers but also on many left-wing groups. Between 1975 and 1989, these far-right groups killed between 64 and 71 people, with another 77 murders not confirmed.

GRAPO, which had become active in the last year of Francoism, continued to operate, committing multiple bombings and kidnappings. While active, GRAPO killed 93 people. In addition, there were a number of left-wing nationalist organizations which committed terrorist acts. These were, among others: Movimiento por la Autodeterminación e Independencia del Archipiélago Canario (MPAIAC) [Eng. Movement for the Self-determination and Independence of the Canarian Archipelago], a small organization with links to Algeria which dissolved in 1979 after the death of a policeman who was deactivating one of its bombs; Terra Lliure [Eng. Free Land], a Catalan group which carried out over 200 terrorist acts, but only killed one civilian, an old woman, in an accident; Liga Armada Galega (LAG) [Eng. Galician Armed League], a very short-lived organization linked to GRAPO; and the Exército Guerrilheiro do Povo Galego Ceive (EGPGC) [Eng. Guerrilla Army of the Liberated Galician People] which carried out a number of attacks but did not kill anybody and later became involved in drug trafficking.

Spanish Armor Developments of the 1980s

Spain spent a large part of the 1980s modernizing old equipment or repurposing it for other roles, such as engineering vehicles. There were also some indigenous and new designs.


The AMX-30E had served successfully with Spain, but some design issues concerning the engine and more broadly, the whole of the propulsion system hindered the vehicle. So, during the late 1970s and 1980s, the Spanish Army and the company Empresa Nacional Santa Bárbara (ENSB) [Eng. National Company Santa Bárbara] considered a number of improvements.

In July 1979, ENSB introduced a new French gearbox to an AMX-30E. Originally, the plan was to introduce an Allison one, but allegedly, GIAT, which still had the patent, would not give permission. In October 1979, the same AMX-30E was given a new power-assisted steering, but the whole project was considered unsatisfactory.

In 1979, Chrysler S.A. modified an AMX-30E with a new 750 hp Continental engine and Allison transmission. For the new engine and transmission, the whole engine compartment had to be modified. This vehicle, designated Prototipo 001 [Eng. Prototype 001] and nicknamed ‘El Niño’ [Eng. The Child], was tested between November 1979 and February 1980. ‘El Niño’ can be seen today as a museum piece.

The AMX-30E Prototipo 001 ‘El Niño’ showing its modified rear engine bay – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2007), p. 94

A second prototype, Prototipo 002, with the same MTU 720 hp engine as in the Marder 1 IFV and a ZF 4 MP 250 transmission was tested in October and November 1980.

The Prototipo 004 is even less well known than 002. It maintained the original engine but was equipped with a Renk transmission.
There was even a project, named Proyecto Leox, to mount an AMX-30E turret on what the sources consider to be a Leopard 1 hull. This could possibly also be the Prototipo 005. However, on closer inspection, the front hull corners and mudguards are significantly different to those on a Leopard 1. A Gepard hull , whose hull corners lack the classic Leopard hull corners slant, can also be discarded as this vehicle does not have the APU hatch. The mudguards and sideskirts do however match those of the Italo-German Leone project. A hull was purchased and taken to the ENSB factory in Seville, where it was mated with the AMX-30E turret.

The Proyecto Leox Leone and AMX-30E hybrid – source:

The Prototipo 003 kept the HS-110 engine but coupled it with an Allison transmission. 003 was tested throughout 1981. The prototype was initially rejected, but looking for a cheap alternative and commonality with US tanks in service, 003 had a second lease of life through the 1987 Programa de Reconstrucción y Modernización [Eng. Reconstruction and Modernization Program]. To deal with the new transmission, the engine bay was enlarged. A total of 60 vehicles were upgraded to this AMX-30ER1 standard with the first ones delivered in 1988. The end of the Cold War meant their opportunities for service were few.

An AMX-30ER1 (left) and a normal AMX-30E (right) showing the slightly modified rear and engine bay – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2007), p. 97

The Prototipos 009 were the most ambitious of all as they went further than trying to improve the propulsion system. There were two prototypes, A and B, and both had an 800 hp General Motors engine and an Allison transmission. Prototype A had an AEG Telefunken FCS and new tracks similar to those on the Leopard 1. Prototype B had a Hughes Mk 9 A/D FCS and a new hatch for the loader with a support for a 12.7 mm machine gun. The 009s were tested between May and June 1985 and the engines caused many problems.

AMX-30E Prototipo 009 A (top) and Prototipo 009 B (bottom) – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2007), p. 95

Another prototype, Prototipo 011, used a new 850 hp MTU engine and ZF LSG-3000 transmission and was tested between June and July 1986. Notwithstanding its cost, it was chosen as the basis for the AMX-30EM2, the other modernization authorized by the Programa de Reconstrucción y Modernización. Aside from the engine and transmission, the Hughes FCS and loader’s hatch of 011B were incorporated. Other modifications included side skirts, new side grenade launchers, and fire extinguishing systems. A total of 150 tanks were modified and saw limited service.

Two AMX-30EM2s of the Brigada Acorazada XII [Eng. 12th Armored Brigade] on maneuvers. Note the distinctive side skirts – source: @DCarrionF via Twitter
In 1984, Spain acquired 18 turrets and 414 missiles for the Roland system used on the AMX-30R. Spain built the AMX-30 hulls in the Seville factory and assembled the vehicles there, creating the AMX-30RE. A total of 18 were created, 16 for frontline units and 2 for training. These have remained in service until quite recently.

The Spanish AMX-30RE, early in its career – source: @DCarrionF via Twitter

When work began on the project that would result in the Pizarro tracked IFV, ENSB presented the idea of an AMX-30E-based IFV. This 30 tonne vehicle was to be armed with a 25 mm gun. This project is unnamed but is considered to be part of the Triana family of vehicles. The Spanish Army rejected the idea as it was too heavy and it was at too early a stage of development. There are two other known vehicles of the Triana project. A 155 mm-armed self-propelled gun named San Carlos, of which a model was built and shown in military exhibitions, and a Bofors 40 mm self-propelled anti-aircraft gun named Rocío, of which a model was also built.

Model of the 155 mm-armed self-propelled gun named San Carlos – source: @Ninja998998 via Twitter
The Rocío 40 mm Bofors armed self-propelled anti-aircraft gun model – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2007), p. 219

US Equipment

Like the AMX-30E, Spain had multiple US armor with origins in the 1960s and even 1950s which were becoming increasingly obsolete. Several projects designed to modernize or repurpose them met with varying success.


In 1980, Chrysler S.A. built a prototype of the M-41E, replacing the engine with an 8 cylinder one with the same horsepower as was already being used on the M107, M108, and M109 also operated by Spain. The prototype also sought to create a commonality between the M41 and M41A1 versions in terms of the turret rotation and gun elevation mechanism. The coaxial Browning 7.42 machine gun was substituted by a MG-42. Given the limited possible use of this vehicle by this point, the Spanish Defense Ministry rejected it.

Chrysler S.A.’s M-41E, which was rejected by the Spanish Defense Ministry – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2005), p. 136

Chrysler S.A. also considered using the M41 as the basis for a SPAAG vehicle. Initially, they considered the possibility of Mauser 20 mm, 25 mm, and 30 mm systems. Later, they considered the 20 mm Meroka system, but all these were mere suggestions and not even drawings were made.

In 1982, Talbot, previously Chrysler S.A., created 5 different M41-based vehicles with different anti-tank uncrewed turrets. All vehicles were supposed to incorporate the engine improvements of the M-41E and had a new superstructure welded onto the top of the vehicle on which the new turret was to be placed.

The most successful was the M-41E TUA Cazador armed with a dual M220 TOW launcher. It was presented at international arms fairs in 1983 and tested by the Spanish Army. After attracting admiration and allegedly even interest from abroad, an industrial dispute between Talbot and ENSB doomed the project.

The M-41E TUA Cazador, the most successful of Talbot’s M41-based tank hunters. In spite of receiving praise, an industrial dispute killed the project – source: Peugeot-Talbot

Talbot built a second prototype with a HCT-2 turret, also known as a HAKO, and fired HOT missiles. It is unclear if the prototype had a real or a dummy turret. The prototype was less developed than the Cazador and was armed with a temporary Browning 12.7 mm heavy machine gun.

The M-41E HCT-2 prototype. This vehicle was less developed than the Cazador and lacked the frontal smoke grenade launchers – source: Peugeot-Talbot

Talbot also drew three other anti-tank M41-based vehicles, these were: M-41E Mephisto armed with a 4 tube Mephisto turret firing HOT missiles; M-41E Thune-Eureka with a turret which could be reloaded from the inside with TOW missiles; and M-41E K3S, the simplest of the models, with a single HOT missile launcher.

The M-41E Mephisto armed with its four missile launchers – source: Peugeot-Talbot
The M-41E Thune-Eureka had the advantage of having the potential to reload the dual TOW launchers from the interior of the hull, unlike the majority of Talbot’s designs. Surprisingly, in view of its realism, the image is an artist’s impression, not a photograph – source: Peugeot-Talbot
The M-41E K3S, the simplest of Talbot’s M41-based tank destroyer vehicles – source: Peugeot-Talbot

In 1985, in collaboration with Israel, the M-41/60E was created. This was an M41 armed with the 60 mm HVMS gun as on the Chilean M24s and M50s which Israel had provided. Work on the turret was done in Israel, but other changes, including the addition of the same 472 hp Cummins engine as on the M2 Bradley, the addition of an automatic fire extinguishing system, and new side skirts were done in Spain. Although the prototype’s performance was excellent, it was still a wholly obsolete vehicle.

The Hispano-Israeli collaboration on the M-41/60E. Although it performed admirably, Spain had much superior options already – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2005), p. 137


The M47’s in Spanish service had already been extensively modernized during the latter half of the 1970s. That same decade, Spain also purchased 84 M47s from Italy to use their hulls for a wide range of engineering and logistic vehicles. In 1978, the Corps of Engineers Headquarters set out the requirements for these vehicles.

Chrysler S.A., which by this point was in the process of becoming Talbot, presented a project for an engineer’s vehicle named M-47E2I or VR-70I. After approval, the prototype was tested in October 1981. The M-47E2I had a crane with 20 tonnes lifting capacity, a towing hook, a bulldozer, and a drill. Sadly, as with the rest of Talbot’s engineering vehicles, lack of funds condemned the project. The prototype was introduced and was not taken out of service until the mid-2000s.

Alongside the M-47E2I, Talbot also presented the M-47E2LP, a bridge launching vehicle. The bridge was the same ‘scissor’ one as on the US M60A1 AVLB.

The M-47E2I prototype using its drill during a test. Notice the M-47E2LP in the background – source: Pugeot-Talbot

In 1980 or 1981, the Spanish Army set requirements for a new recovery vehicle to replace the aging M74s. Talbot’s proposal, the M-47E2R or VR-70E, was finalized in 1981 and tested between January and April 1982. The final vehicle was not too dissimilar from the M-47E2I, but it had a sturdier crane, no drill, and a significantly larger towing capacity. Allegedly, a second prototype was created to meet Turkish Army requirements, but it did not win the tender.

Around the same time as the other M47 modernization projects in the late 1970s, a more ambitious upgrade, the M-47E2, was also conceived. It incorporated the improvements of the M-47E1, including a new engine, but also changed the original gun with a 105 mm mm Rh-105. Obviously, the Fire Control System (FCS) was improved, as was the night vision. Additionally, a set of four smoke grenade launchers were introduced on each side of the turret. Only 46 of these tanks were created and they were introduced in 1983.

The M-47E2 prototype with the new 105 mm Rh-105 gun – source: Peugeot-Talbot

Following the failure of the M-47E2I, in 1988, Talbot, sometimes also referred to as Peugeot-Talbot, proposed a new pioneer or combat engineer vehicle, named M-47E2Z. The vehicle could be equipped with a variety of ‘arms’ to fulfill different roles and could have a variety of equipment, including mine rollers, attached to the front of the vehicle. In the vehicle drawing, the M-47E2Z has a bulldozer and an excavator arm. No prototypes were built, but the concept was revisited with the M60-based CZ-10/25E.

The curious looking M-47E2Z with its excavator arm and bulldozer – Peugeot-Talbot

Still without a bridge-laying vehicle, the Spanish Army set out the requirements for such a vehicle. Peugeot-Talbot entered into an agreement with the German company Mann to acquire a Leguan bridge. The prototype of the M-47 VLPD or VLPD 26/70E was presented in June 1990 and thoroughly tested. Lack of funds once more cut the vehicle’s ‘life’ short, but the lessons learnt were applied to the M60-based VLPD 26/70E.

The M47-based VLPD 26/70E prototype during tests. Notice the bulldozer blade at the front – source: Peugeot-Talbot

Lastly, at some point in the mid-to-late 1980s, Peugeot-Talbot envisioned two different M47-based SPGs armed with 155 mm guns in a new turret. The vehicles were to have powerful new engines. One was forward-facing and the other rear-facing. These have sometimes been referred to as M-47E 155/39 and M-47E 155/45.

Drawing of the M-47E 155/39 with what appears to be a 155 mm Israeli Soltam M-71 howitzer – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2005), p. 190


Following the M-48A5E and M-48A5E1 modernization of the late 1970s, an even more upgraded version was introduced, the M-48A5E2. In addition to the previously introduced 105 mm gun, a Hughes Mk 7 FCS and night vision system were added. Initially, only 54 tanks were modernized, followed by another 110 in the period between 1981 and 1983. They were put in reserve with the arrival of the M60 in 1993.

A Spanish M-48A5E2 shortly after introduction in a joint Spanish-US training exercise in 1983 – source: Wikipedia


Like other M106 and M125 operators, Spain considered upgrading some of its M113s and M125s to carry a 120 mm mortar. The new mortar was a Spanish ECIA L-65/120 which could fire from inside and outside the vehicle. The vehicle is designated TOA portamortero de 120 mm [Eng. Tracked Armored Transport 120 mm mortar carrier]. A first series was up-gunned by Peugeot-Talbot between 1982 and 1983 and a second in 1988. In total, 190 M113A1s and A2s and 25 M125s were modified, though it appears 23 were quickly removed from service or repurposed.

Peugeot-Talbots 120 mm mortar TOA. This was perhaps Peugeot-Talbot’s most successful modification – source: Peugeot-Talbot

Throughout the 1980s, a total of 98 M113A1s and A2s were modified into communications vehicles. Initially, they were given Mercurio, Centauro, Plutón, and Tritón communications systems. Each system differs in its components and purpose and the only way to identify the vehicles is by the number of antennas and such. All bar the Mercurio have been upgraded to new systems since.

An M113 with a Mercurio communications system – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2007), p. 34


In 1988, Spain upgraded its 175 mm-armed M107s to 203 mm-armed M110A2s. This modification was carried out in Segovia.

Aside from the M110A2s modified from M107s, Spain also received a number of M110A2s in 1993, such as the one pictured – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso (2007), p. 65

Spanish Vehicles

The successes of Spanish designs during the 1970s gave an impetus for the development of new vehicles and the modification of others.


The introduction of the BMR and the export potential granted the opportunity to experiment and create a wide variety of variants for different roles on its chassis.

In 1982, ENASA presented two prototypes for a BMR company and battalion command vehicle. These had a reworked interior and are referred to as BMR-600/PC or ENASA 3560.51. ENASA introduced a standardized version in 1984. Precise figures regarding how many were actually made are unavailable.

A BMR-600/PC during a military parade. Externally, there are very few differences compared to the regular BMR-600, except for the antenna and electricity generator – source: @DCarrionF via Twitter

Between 1984 and 1986, Spain incorporated an additional 173 BMR-600s, sometimes designated BMR 3560.50, originally intended for export to Egypt. These had a number of differences, mainly to improve the vehicle’s ergonomics. Some even had a more powerful engine.

The main differences between the first series (left) and second series (right) BMR-600s can be appreciated in this image. Whilst the second series BMR-600s were built for export to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, many served with Spain – source: Manrique García & Molina Franco, p. 101

An ambulance variant, ENASA 3560.54, was created just prior to the export order to Egypt and Saudi Arabia. This ambulance variant has received major modifications over the years, from just simply an adapted BMR-600 to a fully fledged medical vehicle. The exact number made is unclear and perhaps as few as 8 were created for Spanish service.

The initial BMR-600 ambulance variant was just an adapted BMR-600 – source: @DCarrionF via Twitter

At the same time as the ambulance variant, a recovery vehicle with a crane, the ENASA 3560.55, was conceived. In place of the turret, there was a crane which could lift 10 tonnes. Four stabilizing ‘legs’ added stability whilst the crane was used. This version was also exported to Egypt and Saudi Arabia and it appears that only 8 were initially created for the Spanish Army.

Modern iteration of the BMR-600 recovery variant – source: @DCarrionF via Twitter

As with the M113s, a number of BMR-600s were created as communication vehicles. These were given Mercurio, Centauro, Plutón, and Tritón communications systems and were designated ENASA 3560.56. Perhaps 16 of all variants were created. Each system differs in its components and purpose and the only way to identify the vehicles is by the number of antennae and such. All bar the Mercurio have been upgraded to new systems since.

A BMR-600 with a Mercurio communications system of a Spanish mechanized infantry regiment – source: Manrique García & Molina Franco, p. 114

To compete with Peugeot’s Cazador, ENASA added a HCT-2 turret, also known as a HAKO, which fired HOT missiles onto the 3560/01 prototype. The new vehicle, ENASA 3560.57, was not successful.

The 3560/01 prototype with HCT-2 turret to compete with Peugeot’s Cazador – source: Manrique García & Molina Franco, p. 151

In 1985, a BMR-600 was equipped with a GIAT TS turret with a 90 mm gun. This vehicle, designated ENASA 3564.1 or BMR-640 CV, was created for export for Egypt, although it was unsuccessful.

The BMR-600 with a GIAT TS turret armed with a 90 mm gun unsuccessfully built for export to Egypt – source: Manrique García & Molina Franco, p. 65

One of the more numerous modifications were around 32 BMR-600 adapted to carry a MILAN anti-tank guided missile launcher on the rear of the vehicle. The MILAN system was operated by one of the crewmembers who had to have half their body outside the vehicle to fire it.

A BMR-600 with a MILAN anti-tank guided missile launcher – source: Manrique García & Molina Franco, p. 126

Given the continued issues with the 120 mm mortar carrier BMR, which could only be fired from outside the vehicle, the Spanish Army requested an improved version from ENASA. The ENASA 3560.59 was tested in November 1986 with a ECIA L-65/120 mortar which could fire in all directions. Remaining issues with the recoil led to an improved version being tested in 1987. Around 38 vehicles were introduced, but were never fully satisfactory.

A BMR-600 with a TC-7 turret armed with two 106 mm recoilless guns was extensively tested in 1987 but not pursued. Probably around the same time, a BMR-600 with a TC-13 turret was also tested.

The BMR-600 with a TC-7 turret armed with two 106 mm recoilless guns – source: @DCarrionF via Twitter
The BMR-600 with TC-13 turret armed with the same 25 mm autocannon as the VECs and a Spanish 5.56 mm machine gun – source: @DCarrionF via Twitter

A BMR-600 variant armed with an Italian Sidam-25 turret with a quadruple 25 mm autocannon was created in the late 1980s or even early 1990s for export to Kenya. Designed for use against helicopter-based poaching, none was ever bought.

The BMR-600 with an Italian Sidam-25 turret with a quadruple 25 mm autocannon to combat helicopter-based poaching in Kenya – source: Manrique García & Molina Franco, p. 150

At the end of the 1980s, Pegaso began development of a Vehículo de Rescate de Áreas Catastróficas (VRAC) [Eng. Catastrophe Areas Recovery Vehicle] based on the BMR-600. It would carry specialized personnel and equipment inside the vehicle. Santa Barbara took over the project and in 1991 presented a prototype which was not adopted.

The remains of the VRAC (right) alongside another experimental BMR-600 (left) – source: Manrique García & Molina Franco, p. 153


Although 2 of the Vehículo de Exploración de Caballería (VEC) prototypes had been delivered, there were still major questions over what turret and armament they would be equipped with. In 1981, the commission overseeing the project considered the Rheinmetall turret with a 20 mm autocannon. Its high cost prompted a search for alternatives. A total of 4 TC-20 turrets were acquired for testing alongside the 20 mm Rh-202 autocannon on the following 4 pre-series vehicles which had a central driving position. Even without a concrete decision on a turret, serial production was authorized.

A VEC prototype with a Rheinmetall turret and a 20 mm Rh-202 autocannon. Whilst this was the preferred option, it was discarded because of its high cost – source: Manrique García & Molina Franco, p. 70
An early VEC with the central driving position, an OTO-Melara TC-20 turret, and a 20 mm Rh-202 autocannon – source: Manrique García & Molina Franco, p. 71

Between 1980 and 1984, a total of 240 VECs were delivered, though only 32 had turrets, the TC-20. The rest were given temporary machine guns. In 1984, tests were carried out with what became the standard 25 mm-armed OTO-Melara turret. Ninety-six VECs were given H-90 turrets recycled from AML-90s which were being retired from service. One vehicle was even tested with a Cockerill Mk III turret with a 90 mm cannon. In 1986, an additional 50 VECs were delivered. Beginning in 1988, the 162 turretless VECs were armed with the TC-25 turret and the 25 mm McDonnell Douglas MC-242 ‘Bushmaster’ autocannon.

A newly produced turretless VEC. As a decision was being made on what turret to equip the VEC’s with, some were armed with provisional 12.7 mm machine guns taken from M47 tanks – source: Manrique García & Molina Franco, p. 69
VEC armed with a H-90 turret recycled from an AML-90 – source: @DCarrionF via Twitter
The VEC with a Cockerill Mk III turret and a 90 mm gun – source: Manrique García & Molina Franco, p. 70

The VECs with TC-25 turret of the Regimiento de Caballería Ligero Acorazado «Santiago» n.º 1 [Eng. Light Armored Cavalry Regiment Santiago No. 1] of the Brigada de Caballería «Jarama» I [Eng. Cavalry Brigade Jarama No. 1] – source: @DCarrionF via Twitter
The VECs were far less successful than the BMRs in the export market and there were no specialized variants.

Other ENASA Vehicles

In 1979, ENASA also created a vehicle for security forces, the Blindado Ligero de Rueda (BLR) [Eng. Light Wheeled Armored Vehicle] or ENASA 3540. The vehicle was quite similar to the BMR, but only had 4 wheels and had a large internal capacity. The Guardia Civil received 15 in 1980 and 6 in 1986 and were designated ENASA 3540.01. Between 1980 and 1982, 28 were delivered to the Spanish Navy and 14 to the Spanish Air Force and were designated ENASA 3545.00. Around 20 were exported to Ecuador.

Spanish Air Force BLR with a ‘funky’ three-tone camouflage – source:

At some point in the decade, ENASA also studied a vehicle for the Policía Nacional [Eng. National Police] based on one of their existing minibus designs. The vehicle designated ENASA 3530 was not adopted.

In 1987, ENASA created a BMR-600 variant to replace the LVTP-7s, the BMR 8331 G 1316 Vehículo Mecanizado Anfibio (VMA) [Eng. Mechanized Amphibious Vehicle]. Two prototypes were built. The first was merely a BMR-600 adapted with amphibious equipment, whilst the second had a redesigned boat-like front hull and a different engine. Both were tested in 1988, but proved to be less effective than the existing LVTP-7s.

The second VMA prototype with its boat-like front – source:

Other Spanish Projects

In addition, ENASA and Santa Bárbara’s success encouraged other Spanish companies to submit designs.

A consortium of companies, Empresa Nacional Santa Bárbara, Land Rover Santana S.A., and Material y Construcciones S.A. (MACOSA) [Eng. Material and Constructions Limited Company] presented a light vehicle for tests in February 1983. The Blindado Multiuso BMU-2 [Eng. Multiple Use Armored Vehicle] was based on the chassis of a Land Rover Santana 109, which was widely in service with the Spanish Army. The idea was to produce several vehicles based on the chassis, but nothing came of it.

The BMU-2 prototype survives to this day as a museum piece – source: Defensa

In 1983, the company Luis Morales S.A. created a vehicle for security forces based on existing commercial and civilian components. The vehicle was called Vehículo de Intervención Rápida Cobra (VIR) [Eng. Rapid Intervention Vehicle Cobra] and was supposed to create a family of vehicles based on the chassis. However, with the BMR-600 family vehicles already in service, there was no place for the VIR Cobra.

The unsuccessful Vehículo de Intervención Rápida Cobra (VIR) during a test – source: unknown

The most important and controversial development in the 1980s was the Proyecto Lince [Eng. Lynx Project]. In 1984, the Spanish Ministry of Defense made 120 million pesetas (€721,214.53 aprox.) available for the development of a future tank to replace the aging fleet of M47 and M48 tanks. The German Krauss-Maffei and Santa Bárbara presented a joint bid to produce an advanced 1970s tank in mid-1984, followed by a French bid of what would become the Leclerc MBT. General Dynamics offered the M1 Abrams and Vickers the Vickers MBT Mark 4 ‘Valiant’. There was also an Italian proposal for joint-collaboration. In 1985, the French, General Dynamics, and Vickers offers were discarded because of the lack of domestic production and export rights.

Krauss-Maffei was essentially offering a Leopard 2A4 light with armor sacrificed to increase mobility. The Spanish Government was reluctant to offer a contract. In 1987, GIAT and the French Government offered to co-develop and co-produce the Leclerc with more lucrative export potentials. The Spanish Government continued to drag its heels yet went on to invest up to 200 million pesetas (€1,202,024.33) in the joint German-Spanish project while maintaining conversations with their Italian counterparts. In the end, Krauss-Maffei, their patience exhausted, pulled out of the project after one mock-up had been built. Santa Bárbara was heavily criticized for its role in the project and causing the loss of millions of pesetas. In the end, Spain modernized its AMX-30 fleet and sought alternatives in the market, which would arrive, in the shape of the M60, Leopard 2A4 and Leopard 2E, in the 1990s. The Lince was officially canceled in 1989.

The alleged Proyecto Lince mock-up – source: Wikipedia

Limited Foreign Imports in the 1980s

Whilst the 1980s were largely dominated by indigenous designs and modernizations carried out domestically, there were a number of imports from abroad, mainly for the Infantería de Marina.

A single M88A1 medium recovery vehicle was purchased in 1982 to support the M48A3Es of the Infantería de Marina. It is still in service to this day, now supporting M60 tanks.

The single M88A1 in service recovering a tank – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Molina Franco (2007), p. 210

In 1985, Spain acquired 17 British FV101 Scorpions to satisfy the need for a reconnaissance vehicle for the Infantería de Marina. These were the upgraded variant with a Perkins engine, plus improvements to the FCS. They saw relatively short service in Spain.

Two Infantería de Marina FV101 Scorpions ahead of two M-48A3Es at a military parade – source:

Also in 1985, Spain bought 6 M992 FAASVs to provide ammunition for the Infantería de Marina’s M109A2s. They are still in service.

Spanish Infantería de Marina M992 (foreground) and M109A2 (background) during a training exercise – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Molina Franco (2007), p. 60

In winter 1987-1988, the Spanish Army tested two Swedish BV 206s, one with a diesel engine and the other with a petrol one, at the foot of the Pyrenees. Spain ordered 32 immediately, followed by another 10, all of which were delivered between 1988 and 1991. In Spain, they are designated as Tractores Oruga de Montaña (TOM) [Eng. Mountain Tracked Tractors].

A column of BV 206s training in the Pyrenees – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Molina Franco (2007), p. 206

In the mid-1980s, the Spanish Army tested an M901 ITV, the M113 variant armed with the dual M220 TOW launcher. Whilst it impressed, its high cost put Spanish officials off purchasing any.
In 1990, an M113 adapted to carry a Swedish RBS 56 BILL launcher was tested. This was a one-off conversion on a Spanish M113, but no orders would materialize. Throughout the 1990s, after the end of the Cold War, Spain added MILAN, Spike, and TOW launchers on part of its M113 fleet.

The Spanish M113 tested with a Swedish RBS 56 BILL launcher – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Molina Franco (2007), p. 42


Throughout the Cold War period, Spain’s domestic and geopolitical situation changed dramatically. It started the period as an impoverished, war devastated, isolated quasi Fascist dictatorship reliant on mainly pre-Second World War armor. It ended it as a model booming democracy, a member of the EEC and NATO, and a producer and exporter of armored vehicles. The changing geopolitical situation and the 1953 Madrid Pact fundamentally changed Spain. It ended its period of absolute isolation and opened the door for US imports to modernize Spain’s armored forces. The 1960s economic miracle and the transition to democracy allowed for more investment, leading to the ample modernizations of French and US equipment, but more importantly the heyday of Spanish domestic armor development, with the BMR as its biggest success story.


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One reply on “Spanish State and Kingdom of Spain (Cold War)”

The C-15TA ‘Trumphys’ were withdrawn from service in 1966 and replaced with Panhard AML-245. If the picture was taken in the 1970s, the localtion must be the Canary Islands, as those vehicles were used by then by the Grupo de Caballeria XI in La Cuesta

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