Spanish military authorities have always strived to create military designs for the local production of armored fighting vehicles. Often, financial instability or political turmoil have prevented this from happening. Both, to different degrees, would condemn the Vehículo Blindado de Combate de Infantería VBCI-E General Yagüe and the Vehículo Blindado de Reconocimiento de Caballería VBRC-1E General Monasterio. More records exist for the VBCI-1, which would have been quite similar in appearance to the M113.
Context – A Country in Ruins, Economic Disaster and Political Isolation
With his sides’ victory in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), General Franco would go on to rule Spain with an iron fist for three and a half decades. The conflict had devastated the country, destroying agricultural production and the already limited industrial capacity. The human cost had been immense, and mass famine and political persecution in the post-war years further diminished the population and the prospects of the people.
For its open support of the Axis powers during part of the Second World War, Spain was isolated by the Allied powers and was excluded from the Marshall Plan and the United Nations. The Spanish State imposed a policy of economic autarky with disastrous effects.
However, the new geopolitical situation created by the Cold War was to change Spain’s destiny. Given the country’s strategic location at the mouth of the Mediterranean and Franco’s vehement anti-Communism, the US saw Spain as a new key ally. In 1953, this new relationship was cemented in the Madrid Pact. The economic policy of autarky was abandoned in the late 1950s, as widespread change was adopted, and technocrats were given positions of power.
The Military Context at Home and Abroad
Throughout Franco’s dictatorship, the military held great influence and power. In the 1940s and early 1950s, the Spanish Army continued to be large, though badly equipped. Many of its armored vehicles were of pre-Second World War vintage. In 1942, there were 144 Panzer Is and CV33/35s and 139 T-26s, in addition to around 150 armored cars, including Soviet BA-6s, and former Republican Blindados tipo ZIS and Blindados modelo B.C.. In 1943, Spain’s partner, Germany, supplied 20 Panzer IV Ausf.H medium tanks and 10 Stug III Ausf.G assault guns alongside aircraft, ammunition, artillery, and replacement parts.
Spain had no vehicles capable of carrying out the kind of mechanized warfare that had emerged during the Second World War and which had become consolidated in the early Cold War years. Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) were tested towards the end of the Second World War and would appear in large numbers during and after the Korean War. APCs were, and are, able to transport an infantry squad in the relative safety of an armored hull. In some instances, these vehicles also carry armament of their own to support the infantry dismounts.
In the US, the M75 APC was introduced in 1952, followed by the M59 APC in 1954, and finally, the M113 APC in 1960. The Soviet Union had the MT-LB and larger BTR-50, both introduced in the 1950s. Other nations began introducing their versions in the early 1960s.
Spain relied on a variety of trucks to transport its large land force. Trucks still had a role to play, as they were relatively cheap, largely available on the civilian market and easier to get from abroad. Nevertheless, at some point in the early 1960s, Material y Construcciones S.A. (MACOSA) [Eng. Material and Constructions Limited Company] drew up a design for an APC with comparatively heavy armament for its class.
MACOSA was a large company by Spanish industrial standards. It was created from a merger of the Valencian company Construcciones Devis [Eng. Devis Constructions] and the Sociedad Material para Ferrocarriles y Construcciones S.A. [Eng. Material for Railways and Construction Limited Company] of Barcelona in 1947 and specialized in the production of railway rolling stock in its Barcelona and Valencia plants. MACOSA gained enormously from the Spanish economic miracle of the early 1960s and, benefiting from its close relationships with the US government and US companies, it produced General Motors railway locomotives under license.
During this period of growth, MACOSA ventured into military designs, one of which was for their APC, named Vehículo Blindado de Combate de Infantería VBCI-E General Yagüe [Eng. Infantry Combat Armored Vehicle General Yagüe]. The similarity of its design to the US M75, M57, and M113 APC designs suggests there was a large degree of inspiration.
It is unclear when exactly MACOSA drew the design. It was supposedly submitted alongside the Vehículo Blindado de Reconocimiento de Caballería VBRC-1E General Monasterio [Eng. Cavalry Armored Reconnaissance Vehicle General Monasterio]. According to Spanish military historians Jose Mª Manrique García and Lucas Molina Franco, another company, Internacional de Comercio y Tránsito S.A. (INCOTSA) [Eng. Commerce and Transit International Limited Company] collaborated in the project. However, their fellow historians, Francisco Marín Gutiérrez and José Mª Mata Duaso, make no mention of INCOTSA’s involvement. Later that decade, INCOTSA drew a family of 4×4 armored vehicles named VBTT-E4.
Name and Namesake
The Vehículo Blindado de Combate de Infantería VBCI-E General Yagüe is not a name that rolls easily off the tongue. The Vehículo Blindado de Combate de Infantería part is a description of the vehicle’s role – Infantry Combat Armored Vehicle. The Spanish designation for tracked APCs is Transporte de Orugas Acorazado (TOA). The name Vehículo Blindado de Combate de Infantería would indicate an infantry combat vehicle (IFV). IFVs were another recent addition to arsenals at the time of the VBCI-E, with the West German Schützenpanzer Lang HS.30 entering service in 1960. This had a limited capacity of 5 infantry dismounts, whereas the Spanish design would have been able to carry 8.
‘VBCI’ were simply the initials for Vehículo Blindado de Combate de Infantería. Neither the original drawings nor secondary sources clarify what the ‘E’ stands for, but it could well stand for Español [Eng. Spanish] or experimental.
For brevity, this article will refer to the vehicle as simply the VBCI-E.
The vehicle’s namesake was General Juan Yagüe Blanco. Yagüe made his military career during the Rif War as an officer in La Legión [Eng. Spanish Foreign Legion]. He was a friend of Franco, with whom he had studied at the Infantry Military Academy in Toledo. He was also a friend of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of Falange Española, the Spanish Fascist party, of which Yagüe was a member.
Yagüe achieved notoriety for his brutal repression of the miner’s uprising in Asturias in 1934. He disapproved of the Popular Front government elected in 1936 and joined the military conspiracy which would lead to the Spanish Civil War. Stationed in Ceuta, in Spanish North Africa, Yagüe’s troops were some of the first to rebel against the legitimate Republican government on July 17th 1936.
Yagüe’s legionnaires and North African native troops caused panic as they advanced through Andalucía and Extremadura. For his part in this early campaign, Yagüe would become known as El Carnicero de Badajoz [Eng. The Butcher of Badajoz], after his role in ordering the execution of between 2,000 and 4,000 prisoners in the city.
Yagüe clashed with Franco over military strategy and political leadership and would be removed from his commands in September 1936. Following a change of heart, in November 1937, he was put in charge of an army corps which took part in the Battle of Teruel, and the Aragón, Levante, Ebro, and Catalonia offensives over the next 18 months.
In the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, Yagüe was promoted to division general and sent on a mission to Germany, where he interacted extensively with Hermann Wilhelm Göring and became a committed germanophile. He was appointed head of the Air Ministry and in charge of the Spanish Air Force, but was sacked in 1940 for opposing and conspiring against Franco. Even so, after the Allied landings in North Africa, he was given command of the defenses in Melilla. In 1943, Yagüe was appointed lieutenant general and fought against the Spanish Republican Resistance invasion and guerrilla campaign in northern Spain. He died in 1952, aged 60.
The VBCI-E’s Design
Appearance and Dimensions
Like the US designs that most likely inspired it, the available drawings show the VBCI-E to be box-shaped, 5.8 m long and 2.8 m wide. It had a total height specified as 2.28 m, 1.88 m without the turret, and the hull itself at 1.44 m. Ground clearance between the bottom of the hull and the ground is noted as 0.44 m.
The front would have been angled, though the detailing is inconsistent. The front was probably designed that way to act as a wave breaker in amphibious operations. The bottom frontal plate would have had the transmission cover hatch and the upper frontal plate the engine cover hatch. From the drawings, it seems that, on each side of the transmission cover hatch, there would have been a metal piece to attach cables, hooks, or ropes. The drawings also show headlights on either side of the front and, in the middle of one of the drawings, a shovel.
The roof of the vehicle would have been on two levels. A smaller frontal level had a cupola to the left and an engine deck on the right. The second higher level would have had a triangular front, at the center of which would have been a turret, with railings on either side. Given the supposed height of the hull, 1.88 m, these railings would have been rather impractical to use to get onto the vehicle without a step or ladder, something which would most likely not be available in a combat situation. A large hatch is drawn at the rear of the roof.
The plans show mudguards all along the sides. They also show four small ports on either side to fire from inside the APC, roughly 0.5 m to 0.55 m apart. This is a major difference from US designs and seems to be a hangover from pre-Spanish Civil War designs, such as the Schneider Brilliè and the Camiones Protegidos Modelo 1921.
The rear would have also been angled, and it is hard to tell from the drawings if it would have also had a ramp to allow the infantry dismounts to exit the vehicle faster and safer.
To keep weight down, the VBCI-E would have had very thin armor, estimated at 10 mm of steel alloy. This would have been sufficient protection from small arms fire, but even some medium and certainly heavy machine guns would have had no trouble penetrating it. Weight has been estimated at 13 tonnes.
Cupola and Turret
The drawings show a very small cupola for the driver on the top left of the vehicle. No dimensions are provided, but comparing it to other elements, the cupola would probably have been 10 cm to 15 cm high. It would have been so small that, in the drawings, the driver’s head and eyes are another 10 cm to 15 cm below the vision hatches. This would suggest that the designers envisioned the use of hyposcopes to see through the vision ports. The drawings show 5 vision hatches across the frontal 180º of the cupola plus probably an additional one at the very top of the cupola. Even so, the driver would have had very limited vision of their right and none at all of the rear.
The 40 cm tall turret in the drawings is shaped like a truncated cone. The armament is drawn on the right of the turret. A 360º vision would have been provided for the commander/gun operator by the 6 vision slits around the turret.
Other than saying it would have been a 20 mm autocannon, neither the drawings nor secondary sources specify what armament the VBCI-E would have carried. Analyzing 20 mm autocannons available at the time allows a speculative assessment of what armament this might have been.
Throughout the Spanish Civil War, Italy had supplied the Rebels with 143 Breda 20/65 mod.35s, which were used to arm the CV33/35 Breda and Panzer I Breda in 1937. The 20 mm Breda remained in service after the war. Nominally an anti-aircraft weapon, it was extensively used by the Italians as a weapon for armored vehicles in the Second World War.
Introduced in 1935, it was a fairly modern weapon for the Spanish Civil War. It was gas-operated and was ideal to fit in small confines, such as a turret or small tank. Sources differ, but it had a maximum firing range of 5.5 km (though a much lower effective range), a rate of fire of 240 rpm, and could penetrate 40 mm of 90º angled armor from distances of 250 m and 30 mm of 90º angled armor from 500 m. The Breda was side-fed, meaning it would have been able to fit in the VBCI-E’s turret.
Similarly, Germany supplied the Rebels with 116 2 cm Flak 30s. This anti-aircraft gun was discarded from what would become the Breda projects because of its size. Although the Flak 30 performed similarly to the Breda, it had a disappointing 120 rpm rate of fire. A modified shortened variant, the 2 cm KwK 30, was added on later variants of the Panzer II, but this weapon was not supplied to Spain.
Another possibility is the Oerlikon 20 mm autocannon. The Spanish Second Republic imported over 210 of the S and 1S versions during the Spanish Civil War from all over the world, including considerable numbers from Bolivia. Many were captured during and after the war by the victorious Rebels.
In 1943, a further 120 Oerlikon 20 mm autocannons were provided by Germany to Spain as part of the Bär Program.
The Oerlikon S and 1S were developed specifically as anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns, with an increased muzzle velocity of around 850 m/s at the cost of increased weight and decreased rate of fire of 280 rpm. Spain had both the single and double barrel configurations of the gun. With its side-fed magazine, it could have fitted in the VBCI-E turret.
Other 20 mm autocannons possibly available in Spain at the time were the Hispano-Suiza HS.404, of which the Second Spanish Republic had imported 18 before and during the Spanish Civil War, and the Solothurn S-5/100, of which only 4 are known to have been imported by the Second Spanish Republic. Because of their small numbers and the obsolescence of the Solothurn S-5/100, they should probably not be considered.
It is also completely possible that other foreign models or even domestic or licensed production of a new autocannon were considered.
Based on the drawings, the short turret and its position so far back would have severely limited the gun depression, questioning the utility of such a weapon supposedly providing support to infantry.
Running Gear and Engine
The VBCI-E was drawn with a suspension consisting of 5 large wheels on each side, in addition to a sprocket at the front and an idler at the rear. Visually, the wheels in the drawings are quite similar to the aforementioned US armored personnel carriers.
Sources mention a diesel Pegaso 9156/8 352 hp engine for the VBCI-E and VBRC-1E. Pegaso was a brand under Empresa Nacional de Autocamiones Sociedad Anónima (ENASA) [Eng. National Truck Limited Company] which specialized in trucks, but would go on to produce the BMR-600 armored cars and VEC cavalry vehicles for the Spanish Army in the 1980s.
The 9156 was the main Pegaso engine. Used in different forms for varying purposes, their technical manual shows 22 different variants of the 9156, with horsepower ranging from 270 hp to 352 hp. None of these is named “9156/8”, but there are 3 which match the 352 hp: 9156.00, 9156.03, and 9156.00.25.11. ENASA nomenclature used full stops, not slashes for its factory designations. It is unclear if the “9156/8” was a new variation specifically for the VBCI-E and VBRC- 1E or just a mistake in the sources.
All three 352 hp engines were diesel 6 cylinders with 2,200 rpm. There were some very minor differences between the fuel consumption of these engines. They would have been positioned vertically inside the engine bay, on the right-hand side of the front of the vehicle. Sources have estimated maximum speed at 60 km/h, realistic considering the low weight and relatively powerful engine.
Neither the drawings nor the sources give the position of the fuel tank(s) nor how much fuel it would have carried.
Crew and Infantry Dismounts
The VBCI-E would have had a crew of two: commander and driver. The driver would have sat on the front left. The commander would have been positioned in the turret with the overburdening tasks of commanding the vehicle and operating the 20 mm autocannon.
The infantry component would have been a squad of 8 infantry dismounts sat on either side of a middle bench. Considering the VBCI-E’s interior, it would probably have been possible to seat more infantry dismounts with a different seating plan, as the drawing indicates a lot of wasted space.
It is unclear how they would have entered and exited the vehicle, as the drawings show only a large hatch on the top of the vehicle, which, if the sole point of access and exit, would have been a major drawback of the design. It is unclear if a ramp or a set of doors were available at the rear as well.
Compared to the US APCs, the VBCI-E would have been a longer, yet lower vehicle. The extra length would not have resulted in a larger infantry component, at least, according to the drawings, as the VBCI-E would have had fewer infantry dismounts than the other three vehicles. The VBCI-E’s weight would have been smaller than the M75 and M59, yet this came at the cost of much thinner armor, especially compared to the M113.
Although the VBCI-E had the most powerful engine, according to the sources, this would not have resulted in a considerably higher speed. The area in which the VBCI-E was superior to the US APCs was its armament, with the 20 mm autocannon compared to the .50 M2 Browning.
|Height (m)||2.28||2.8||2.8||2.5 (over MG)|
|Ground clearance (cm)||44||45.7||45.7||41|
|Engine horsepower (hp)||352||295||127*||215|
|Armament||20 mm autocannon||.50 M2 Browning machine gun|
|*The M59 had two 127 hp engines|
Assessment: an IFV or an APC?
Whilst the designers from MACOSA had some clear military credentials, they could not decide if the VBCI-E was an armored personnel carrier or an infantry fighting vehicle. In that sense, it was similar to some contemporary IFV designs, such as the Austrian Saurer 4K 4FA, Swedish Pansarbandvagn 301 and 302, and even the Soviet BMP-1. Whatsmore, like the Austrian and Swedish designs, the VBCI-E was to be armed with a 20 mm autocannon. On the other hand, the VBCI-E’s main armament would have been in a turret, which, based on the drawings, would have had very limited depression. The 20 mm autocannon in the Austrian and Swedish designs was its own mount providing it with significantly more maneuverability. Excluding the autocannon mount, the VBCI-E would have been a taller vehicle than the Austrian and Swedish counterparts, and certainly longer and wider. It would also have been significantly less armored and protected.
In spite of being better armed than most APCs, the VBCI-E carried fewer infantry dismounts and was seriously unprotected.
A fair, yet slightly cruel assessment would be that the VBCI-E would neither have been an APC nor an IFV. It could not carry enough infantry dismounts to be an effective APC, it was too big to be an IFV, and not armored enough to be either. In addition, the autocannon’s turret was too poorly designed to be effective enough in supporting any accompanying infantry, whether as an APC or IFV.
The VBCI-E’s biggest drawback, however, would probably have been the inability for the infantry dismounts to enter and exit the vehicle. The drawings do not clearly show a rear door or ramp. On the other hand, they do show a large hatch on the top of the vehicle. This would have slowed down entering or exiting the vehicle, making the infantry dismounts easy targets and vulnerable to enemy fire. Additionally, if the infantry dismounts were to use this hatch, they would have found it very difficult to get off the roof of the vehicle given its height.
Even if the VBCI-E Yagüe had been a competent design, the easy availability of free US military equipment would have made such a vehicle surplus to requirements. The relationship established between Madrid and Washington DC after the 1953 Madrid Pact saw the arrival in Spain of hundreds of US AFVs and equal, if not larger, numbers of utility vehicles, such as jeeps and trucks. Starting in 1956, the USA provided M series half-tracks to mechanize Spain’s infantry brigades.
Nonetheless, later on, one of the most important and successful Spanish imports from the USA in the 1960s was the M113, sometimes referred to as Transporte Oruga Acorazado (TOA) [Eng. Tracked Armored Carrier]. This designation also includes any variant 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.
Developing a whole new vehicle, necessarily the case with the VBCI-E Yagüe, would have been a costly endeavor which Spain could ill afford. In spite of the economic miracle of the 1960s, there were plenty of other areas where the country needed the cash injection more desperately. Cheaply available and proven US designs were the most realistic option at the time. Furthermore, at that point, Spain did not have the expertise to mass-produce such vehicles. It would take nearly a decade for the Spanish assembled AMX-30Es to start rolling out of the factories and not until around 1980-1981 for the first serially Spain-produced vehicles, the BMR-600, to be produced in enough numbers. This would have been a pipe dream in the early-to-mid 1960s.
The VBCI-E Yagüe was a courageous attempt to create an armored vehicle for Spain in the early-to-mid 1960s. Unfortunately, some aspects of the design perhaps revealed technical naivety and a lack of experience on the part of the MACOSA designers. The small turret was a poor design choice which would have considerably limited the VBCI-E’s performance. Additionally, the VBCI-E design sat between an APC and an IFV without satisfactorily being either.
In the end, regardless of the VBCI-E’s capabilities, or lack thereof, the project was destined to be a fruitless task. The development and production of such armored vehicles was too expensive and ambitious for the fragile Spanish heavy industries, which had no experience in the matter. At the same time, there were plenty of M113 APCs available from the USA to sufficiently fulfill the needs of the Spanish Army.
Spain did not actually acquire a tracked IFV until the mid-1990s, when the ASCOD Pizarro entered service.
Francisco Marín Gutiérrez & José Mª Mata Duaso, Carros de Combate y Vehículos de Cadenas del Ejército Español: Un Siglo de Historia (Vol. III) (Valladolid: Quirón Ediciones, 2007)
Francisco Marín Gutiérrez & José María Mata Duaso, Los Medios Blindados de Ruedas en España. Un Siglo de Historia (Vol. II) (Valladolid: Quirón Ediciones, 2003)
José Mª Manrique García & Lucas Molina Franco, BMR Los Blindados del Ejército Español (Valladolid: Galland Books, 2008)
R. P. Hunnicutt, Bradley, A History Of American Fighting and Support Vehicles (Novato: Presidio Press, 1999)