Spain has mainly depended on foreign technology for its tank forces but there have always been enthusiastic engineers, military commanders and policy-makers who have wanted to break the mould and create indigenous designs. The first of these initiatives would take place in 1925 in the northern town of Trubia, Asturias.
Note – given that the tank’s lack of official designation, it will be referred to as Trubia Prototype.
What Spain Learnt in Morocco
As a result of German, French, and British colonial competition, Spain was granted extensive control over North Morocco in addition to its already existing enclaves following the Algeciras Conference of 1906. In 1912, after signing a treaty with France, the Spanish protectorate in Morocco was formed, with an area of 20,948 km² around the Rif. This increased presence in Morocco and the loss of most other colonies gave wings to the group of military commanders known as ‘Africanistas’ (those with a vocation for Africa) and military and private operations were carried out in the area.
Spain avoided the slaughter of the Great War (1914-1918) by remaining neutral, but following a series of incidents, the Riffian Abd el-Krim led an insurgency that would evolve into the Rif War (1911-27). In 1921, Spain suffered the ‘Disaster at Annual’, their most infamous military defeat ever, and at the hands of a numerically inferior force with less modern equipment, and as a result, the Rif Republic was created, factors which in part led to the successful coup in Spain led by Miguel Primo de Rivera and his dictatorship. Soon afterward, in 1924, France intervened on Spain’s behalf and after the amphibious landings at Alhucemas (North Morocco) in 1925 with Spain using its Renault FT’s in the first amphibious tank landing in combat, the war was all but won. In these campaigns, Spain used its Renault FTs and Schneider CA-1s bought from France in addition to Spanish-made armored cars.
Tank usage during the Rif War had a mixed result. Whilst some clear tactical advantages were gained with them, poor strategy and the lack of experience of the crews hindered their effectiveness.
In addition, it was felt that Spain should develop their own tank program, not only to improve tank capabilities with newer models but also to not have to rely on foreign imports for their armed forces.
The Three Amigos
At the end of the Eighteenth Century, in the northern town of Trubia (Asturias), a weapons factory was established. The factory grew to prominence during the mid-Nineteenth Century and provided ammunition and artillery pieces to the Spanish Army and exported around the world.
In 1925, three men would come to the factory to put in motion their ideas to build an indigenous tank design for the Spanish Army. These men would be Commander Victor Landesa Domenech (an artillery officer attached to the factory), Captain Carlos Ruíz de Toledo (a Commander in charge of the Batería de Carros de Asalto de Artillería [Eng. Artillery Tank Battery] during its first engagements during the Rif War) and the factory’s Chief Engineer, Rogelio Areces. Ruíz de Toledo would be appointed to the Trubia arms factory where he convinced the factory director, Victor Pérez Vidal, to authorize the construction of a tank. Pérez Vidal approved this venture and granted the three men an old workshop (Taller de Escarpa) probably in disuse, for them to build their tank.
The three men would work together to come up with a tank design. Given the lack of tank technology information available, they based their design on what they deemed the best tank in the Spanish Army’s arsenal, the Renault FT. The project, which was to be led by Landesa Domenech, was a private venture paid for out of their own pockets without state supervision or finance.
Given the circumstances, the vehicle strongly resembled the Renault FT, but there were some key differences.
The undercarriage was a direct copy of the FT, featuring a large front drive sprocket and smaller track idler at more or less the same height.
The Renault FT’s armor was slightly improved on and consisted of overall hull armor 18 mm thick. The sheets used were made from oil heated chromium-nickel steel. The construction and riveting of these proved problematic given the absolute lack of experience.
The turret was one of the most interesting and distinguishing features. Lessons learned in North Africa had shown that the Renault FT was extremely vulnerable when its main machine gun jammed, as there was no other weaponry to defend itself with. Therefore, Landesa Domenech and his team decided to equip the tank with a second machine gun in the turret. Their solution resulted in two overlapping turrets moving independently and each armed with a Hotchkiss 7 mm machine gun (either M1909, M1914 or M1922). As a consequence of the additional machine gun, it is possible that an additional crew-member was added to fill the gunner role, though as they would have been incredibly cramped inside this is unlikely, the commander probably having responsibility over the two guns.
The frontal plate had two distinguishing features. The first was a small semi-circular plate attached to an elongated nose of the tank which acted as a ram to cut through obstacles, such as walls and barbed wire. The second is a small box-like extension to the upper frontal hull which had a vision slit for the driver. In front of this box was a hinged two-part door for the driver to access and exit the tank. It is not known from photographic evidence if the iconic rear tail of the FT remained in the Trubia prototype, but given that it was used on the Trubia production series, it can be assumed that it was. A rear tail was used to improve trench crossing capabilities by facilitating balance.
One of the main improvements desired by Landesa Domenech’s teams was to enhance the FT’s poor speed, range, and performance by installing a better engine. As no significantly better engine was available, a 4 cylinder Hispano-Suiza 40/50 (40-50 hp) engine was used, one already fitted in the Army’s Hispano-Suiza trucks.
Testing and a Royal Visit
Once the vehicle was finished, at some point in 1925, it was transferred to the Escuela Central de Tiro in the southern Madrid neighborhood of Carabanchel. There, it was tested, and apparently, the results were satisfactory. Consequently, a budget was set for the creation of a tank producing workshop at the Trubia factory, and a commission led by Areces and Ruíz de Toledo was established to travel Europe and investigate tank technological innovations they could utilize for an improved serial version of the prototype.
The prototype was taken back to Asturias where it was displayed at the Feria de Muestras (a technology fair) in Gijón, where it would be viewed by the Principe de Asturias (title for the heir to the Spanish throne) Alfonso de Borbón y Battenberg. Shortly after the fair it was dismantled.
The commission led by Areces and Ruíz de Toledo would travel around Europe and in Germany, would buy powerful new engines and the ‘Orion’ suspension. These would be used on an improved version of the prototype officially named Carro Ligero de Combate para Infantería Modelo Trubia 75 H.P., Tipo Rápido, Serie A, more commonly known as Modelo Trubia Serie A. Four of these would be built and would go on to serve until the Spanish Civil War and influence multiple other Spanish designed vehicles.
The Trubia prototype showed the way towards a domestically-built tank, though as would later be found out, it was not to be. However, this was a monumental step in the history of Spanish armor and its legacy should not be forgotten.
Artemio Mortera Pérez, Los Carros de Combate “Trubia” (Valladolid: Quirón Ediciones, 1993)
Artemio Mortera Pérez, Los Medios Blindados de la Guerra Civil Española. Teatro de Operaciones del Norte 36/37 (Valladolid: AF Editores, 2007)
Chus Neira, “El primer tanque español salió de la Fábrica de Trubia hace 90 años” La Nueva España [Spain], 30 March 2017 (https://www.lne.es/oviedo/2017/03/30/primer-tanque-espanol-salio-fabrica/2081455.html#)
Rafael Moreno, Master of Military Studies Research Paper “Annual 1921: The Reasons for a Disaster” (2013)
Prototipo Trubia specifications
|5 x 2 x 0.6 m (16.40 x 6.56 x 1.97 ft)
|2 (commander/gunner and driver)
|4 cylinder Hispano-Suiza 40/50 (40-50 hp)
|2 Hotchkiss 7 mm machine gun