WW1 French Vehicles in Foreign Service WW2 Kingdom of Spain Tanks

Carro Pesado de Artillería M16 (Schneider CA-1 in Spanish Service)

Kingdom of Spain (1921-1931)
Heavy Tank – 6 Purchased

Although the Schneider CA (or Schneider CA-1) was the French Army’s first tank during World War One, its legacy has largely been eclipsed by the Renault FT. In terms of impact on tank development and exports to other nations, the Schneider CA-1 pales in comparison to the light, turreted Renault vehicle. One of the few countries to import the Schneider CA-1 was the Kingdom of Spain, where it was known as the Carro Pesado de Artillería M16 (or Modelo 1916) [Eng. Heavy Artillery Tank Model 1916]. As fate would have it, the Schneider CA-1 would also be the first tank to see combat with the Spanish Army, but once more, its impact and legacy in Spain is largely forgotten compared to the Renault FT.

Spanish Schneider CA-1 “ARTILLERIA Nº4” in full flow across the rocky terrain of eastern Morocco during the Rif War. This excellent photograph allows some of the main features of the tank to be distinguished– source: García, p. 1

Context – The Schneider CA-1

The Schneider CA-1 was the brainchild of Schneider engineer Eugène Brillié, who had already contributed to the design of Spain’s first ever armored car, the Schneider-Brillié. It made its combat debut in April 1917, becoming the first French tank to see active service. Colonel Jean Baptiste Eugène Estienne, more readily associated with the Renault FT, was also involved in the design and was a main proponent of its production. Throughout the Great War, 397 Schneider CA-1s were used by the French Army and one was evaluated by the Kingdom of Italy.

Like many of its contemporaries, the Schneider CA-1 was an armored box. Its main armament, a 75 mm Blockhous Schneider gun, was positioned in a sponson on the right of the vehicle, which provided very limited traverse. Secondary armament consisted of two 8 mm Hotchkiss machine guns on the rear sides. The tank’s overhanging front in the shape of a pointed nose was designed to destroy German barbed wire, allowing infantry to break through. The nose meant the 6.32 m-long Schneider CA-1 often ditched. Crew ergonomics were apparently not a priority in the design. Six crewmembers (commander/driver, main gunner, two machine gunners, loader, and mechanic) were crammed into an interior which was 1.5 m high and under less than 2 m wide and shared with the engine, making it hot and noisy when operating. The Schneider CA-1 was extremely slow, with a maximum speed of 8.1 km/h and a ‘practical’ speed of between 2 and 4 km/h. The riveted and bolted armor had a maximum thickness of 11 mm, though this was later improved by an additional 5.5 mm. With the added armor, the total weight of the tank was 13.5 tonnes.

The Carro Pesado de Artillería M16 Nº6 going across a ditch. The tank’s short track length and overhanging nose often resulted in the tank becoming ditched – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso, p. 13

The French Schneider CA-1s were first used during the Nivelle Offensive on April 16th 1917. Aside from a few noteworthy actions, in general, this first engagement proved to be quite disastrous. Sources put CA-1 losses at 76 out of 128 tanks, with 57 of them burning. With its rival, the Saint-Chamond tank also failing, and insufficient numbers of Renault FTs available, Schneider CA-1s continued to operate on the Western Front. They achieved recognition for their role in halting the German Spring Offensive, especially at the Battle of Soissons.

By early 1918, the Schneider CA-1 was already obsolete, and several never-to-materialize improvements, partly motivated by the April 1917 failure, had been considered. France had moved on to tactics which involved lighter and more maneuverable tanks which could be operated in large numbers to swarm the enemy. Just before the November 1918 Armistice, the order was given to phase out all Schneider CA-1s from operational units, putting an end to the Schneider CA-1’s service with France.

The Schneider CA-1 was France’s first tank. Throughout its short time in service, many deficiencies in the design were identified. In the end, a change in doctrine in the last year of the war, doomed the tank – source: The Tank Museum

A Second Chance – Spain and the Rif War

Spain had been fighting for control in northern Morocco for several decades. The Algeciras Conference of 1906, convened to resolve Franco-German colonial competition during the First Moroccan Crisis, granted Spain concessions in Morocco. Clashes with local tribes in July 1909, in what became known as the Melilla War, saw Spain victorious and control of the region was consolidated with the creation of the Spanish Protectorate in Morocco in 1913. Spain did not fight in the Great War, but it did have to deal with small scale rebellions, which continued to escalate until a full-blown conflict, known as the Rif War, broke out in September 1919. Spanish failures in the summer of 1921 gave the Schneider CA-1 a second chance.

Two Carros Pesados de Artillería M16 driving across the arid terrain of the Rif. Note the hoisted flag to signal orders and instruction on the vehicle on the right – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso, p. 10

Across the dry, mountainous territory, the Spanish military built a series of forts supplied by long convoy routes subject to constant ambushes. With the objective of occupying Alhucemas Bay, the General Commander of the Melilla military region, General Manuel Fernández Silvestre, stretched his troops too far from the supply lines and, in May 1921, pitched camp in Annual. The reinforcement troops sent to bolster Silvestre’s troops for the final pacification of the Rif were ambushed and massacred by tribesmen under the command of their famed leader, Abd el-Krim. This triumph led many to join Abd el-Krim’s forces, including part of the native contingent attached to the Spanish.

Driven by their success, Rifian forces advanced, taking different forts en route to Annual. Silvestre, whose forces were reduced to four days of supplies and ammunition for one day of combat and with over 6,000 Rifians ever closer, ordered the retreat back to Melilla on July 22nd. Chaos and disorder broke out when some of the native contingent decided to fire upon their Spanish officers as the Rifian columns arrived. Four hours later, 2,500 Spanish troops lay dead on the field of battle, including Silvestre, who, it is rumored, committed suicide. For the next month and a half, Abd el-Krim pressed his attacks, taking several other forts and massacring scores of retreating Spanish troops in the process. Over the next month and a half, between 8,000 and 10,500 Spanish troops died at the hands of the Rifians or as a result of the harsh conditions.

The events had severe political ramifications in mainland Spain and brought down the government, leading to the appointment of a national unity government headed by Antonio Maura, although it too would fall in March 1922. A report written by General Juan Picasso commissioned by the War Ministry found General Silvestre chiefly responsible for the debacle at Annual. The political instability was such that, in September 1923, General Miguel Primo de Rivera launched a coup and successfully took power with the King’s blessing.

The military solution to resolve the conflict in the Rif was to acquire modern equipment – tanks.

Map of the Spanish Protectorate in Morocco. Most of the fighting against the tribes from the Rif in the following decade would take place in the Kert region – source: Research Gate

Export Schneider CA-1s

As early as 1919, a Spanish Army commission inspected and considered the import of French tanks, namely the Renault FT and the Schneider CA-1, but apart from a single Renault FT, no vehicles were purchased. Spurred into action by the disastrous events of the summer of 1921, the Comisión de Experiencias de Artillería [Eng. Artillery Testing Commission] was tasked with coordinating the acquisition of modern armored vehicles. Part of the purchase included 10 Renault FTs, 1 Renault TSF, replacement parts, support trucks, and ammunition to form a Compañía de Carros de Infantería [Eng. Infantry Tank Company] in September 1921.

Another deal at the same time was agreed to form a ‘batería de carros de asalto’ [Eng. assault tank battery], which was to include: 6 Schneider CA-1s, 6 Latil TAR tractors, 6 tank transporter platforms, 6,000 rounds of 75 mm ammunition, and replacement parts. The purchase was authorized by Royal Decree on September 16th 1921, with a total cost of 1,367,303 Francs. Though the exact dates of the arrival of these tanks in Spain is unknown, the Renault FTs arrived in mid-December 1921, so it is not implausible to assume that the Schneider CA-1s, or Carro Pesado de Artillería M16, as they would be known, arrived at the same time.

A Carro Pesado de Artillería M16 on top of a tank transporter platform pulled by a Latil TAR tractor. Notice that the Latil TAR was painted in the same camouflage scheme as the tank – source: García, p. 19

The Schneider CA-1s sent to Spain had the thicker 16 mm armor and were re-armed with Spanish 7 mm Hotchkiss machine guns. Externally, the tanks were painted in the original French colors – a gray background with green and ochre ‘stains’, sometimes outlined in black, while the interiors were painted white. Initially, the vehicles were inscribed with “ARTILLERIA Nºx” [Eng. Artillery No. x] on the left side to identify individual tanks. In Spain, they were designated as Carro Pesado de Artillería M16 (M16 standing for Modelo 1916) [Eng. M16 (or Model 1916) Artillery Heavy Tank].

Carro Pesado de Artillería M16 “ARTILLERIA Nº3” behind the evacuation on stretcher of a Spanish soldier carried by members of the native contingent. This photo clearly shows the initial camouflage scheme – source: Mortera Pérez, p. 17


At some point in early 1922, the Proyecto de Reglamento provisional para la Artillería de Asalto [Eng. Assault Artillery provisional Regulations Project] was written. This document stipulated that a battery’s organization should be as follows: 1 command tank, 4 tanks, 5 Latil TAR tractors and tank transporter platforms, a tractor to carry ammunition, and a workshop truck. In the event of war, the battery size would be incremented by one tank, one Latil TAR tractor and tank transporter platform, a Pavesi tractor, four ammunition trucks, and a water tank truck. The document stated that an ‘assault artillery’ group consisted of three batteries and a reserve column, and a regiment was made up of two groups and a headquarters (HQ) company. If Spain had needed to equip a full regiment, it would have needed at least 30 Schneider CA-1s without considering those in the reserve columns or the regiment HQ. As it turned out, Spain did not purchase any more than the initial six tanks, limiting it to only being able to form a single battery.

Emblem created for the Batería de Carros de Asalto in 1924 – source: García, p. 14

Arrival in Melilla

The 6 Carros Pesados de Artillería M16 and their support equipment were sent to Melilla alongside three 45 hp Krupp trucks, a Hispano-Suiza water tank truck, a 15 hp Hupmobile automobile, and two Harley-Davison motorbikes. They arrived in the North African city on March 6th on board the Guillem Sorolla steamship and were inspected by the Commander General of Melilla, José Sanjurjo y Sacanell, as soon as they were unloaded.

A Carro Pesado de Artillería M16 being unloaded from the steamship Guillem Sorolla in the port of Melilla on March 6th 1922 – source: García, p. 2
General José Sanjurjo y Sacanell, the Commander General of Melilla, inspecting the newly arrived Carros Pesados de Artillería M16. Later, he would be a key figure in the planning of the coup that brought down the Second Spanish Republic – source: García, p. 11
Crowds gather to greet the Carros Pesados de Artillería M16 at the port of Melilla – source: García, p. 11

Command of the battery was assigned to Captain Carlos Ruiz de Toledo, who, in the future, would play a crucial role in the development of Spain’s first indigenous tank – the Trubia Serie A. Each Carro Pesado de Artillería M16 had a crew of seven: commander (with the rank of lieutenant), a second commander (with the rank of sergeant), a corporal, a driver/mechanic, a main gunner, and two machine gunners. It can be assumed that the sergeant and corporal acted as loaders for the main gun and the machine guns.

Tank Commander (lieutenant) Second Commander (sergeant)
Tank nº1 Francisco Goicoechea Valdés Miguel Gallego
Tank nº2 Guillermo Vidal Cuadras (sometimes written as Vidal-Quadra) Pablo Tudela
Tank nº3 Roque Reig Escalante Manuel Pérez
Tank nº4 Francisco Roldán Guerrero Gonzalo Fernández
Tank nº5 Manuel León Juan Martínez
Tank nº6 Antonio Rexac Pargas Rafael Astigarraga

In total there were 6 lieutenants, 6 sergeants, 6 corporals, and 24 artilleros [the equivalent to soldier or private for the artillery regiments]. It is unlikely that the crews received any training in how to operate the tanks, with the drivers having some experience in driving tractors at most.

On March 8th, the Carro Pesado de Artillería M16 battery departed Melilla towards Batel to join General Miguel Cabanella Ferrer’s column. On route was the first instance of what was to become a recurring problem during the Carro Pesado de Artillería M16‘s time in North Africa. The bridges in the region were unable to sustain the combined weight of a tractor, the tank carrying platform, and the tank at the same time, meaning the Carro Pesado de Artillería M16 had to be dismounted and cross the rivers (in most cases dry), by their own propulsion.

A Carro Pesado de Artillería M16 towing its own tank transporter platform across the bed of the Zeluan River in 1922 – source: Mortera Pérez, p. 17

The Carro Pesado de Artillería M16 in Action

The Carros Pesados de Artillería M16 made their combat debut on March 14th 1922, becoming the first ever Spanish tanks to see action. With accompanying infantry, atop of their tank transporter platforms, the Carros Pesados de Artillería M16 left Batel heading towards Kandoussi at 5:30 in the morning. After a stop in Aasel, they arrived on the bank of the River Kert opposite Kandoussi at 8:20. At this point, the Carros Pesados de Artillería M16 dismounted and attempted to cross the river bed to attack some Rifian trenches.

Whilst crossing the river, Carro Pesado de Artillería M16 nº5 got stuck and nº3 went to its rescue, with its crew exiting the tank to attach ropes to tow nº5. A similar fate befell nº6, leaving only three tanks to carry out the attack. Nº2 advanced to the right of Sbuch-Sba (a mountain near to the west of Kandoussi), whilst nºs 1 and 4 took the left, enabling the position to be occupied by infantry by 9:45. As a result of this first ever tank deployment, Lieutenant Vidal Cuadras was mentioned in dispatches.

Scenes of war, the “ARTILLERIA Nº3” Carro Pesado de Artillería M16 during the Rif War – source: Mortera Pérez, p. 16

The following day, March 15th, the battery returned to Batel and on March 17th, they occupied Chief. They then went to Driouch, from where, on March 19th, they joined the Renault FTs and a number of Camiones Protegidos Modelo 1921. Over the next five days, they took part in camp protection duties and the engagements in Midar, Issen-Lassen, and Azrou Ntminta. On March 24th, the battery returned to Melilla by train.

The battery was soon back in the Driouch area, taking part in action alongside two banderas [the term used to denote a battalion] of the Tercio de Extranjeros [Eng. Foreign Legion], a battalion of the Regimiento de Infantería “Otumba” Nº 49 [Eng. No. 49 “Otumba” Infantry Regiment], and a squadron of the Regimiento de Húsares de Pavía [Eng. Pavía Hussar Regiment] on May 17th 1922.

Three native contingent troops in front of two Carros Pesados de Artillería M16 – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso, p. 13

There is no information about their actions and engagements for the following year, but the Carro Pesado de Artillería M16 battery most likely took part in night and day guard duties, convoy protection, occupying settlements, and covering retreats. In most operations, because of the 75 mm gun and 16 mm of protection, the tanks were used as mobile forts.

Troops of the native contingent carry a wounded Spanish soldier and lead a horse, whilst in the background, a Carro Pesado de Artillería M16 uses its flags to communicate with other tanks – source: Mortera Pérez, p. 16

Between May 28th and June 7th 1923, the Carro Pesado de Artillería M16 battery took part in combat in the hills around Tafersit. Its distinguished actions across those two weeks resulted in the battery being awarded the Medalla Militar Colectiva [Eng. Collective Military Medal] by Royal Decree on April 30th 1925. The new commander, Captain Luís Ruano Peña, was also awarded the Medalla Militar Individual [Eng. Individual Military Medal]. However, according to the book Carro de Asalto Schneider CA-1, by this point in 1925, two Carros Pesados de Artillería M16 had been reportedly lost.

The six Carros Pesados de Artillería M16 – source: Mortera Pérez, p. 13
Photo taken during the ceremony to award the Medalla Militar Colectiva [Eng. Collective Military Medal] to the Batería de Carros de Asalto. The Battery’s commander, Captain Luís Ruano Peña, was also awarded the Medalla Militar Individual [Eng. Individual Military Medal] – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso, p. 11

Field Modifications

Based on combat experience, a series of field modifications were carried out on some or perhaps all of the Carros Pesados de Artillería M16. More often than not, because they were used as mobile forts, the tanks found themselves in close combat. Crews needed an increase in firepower, and to that end, a third 7 mm Hotchkiss machine gun was positioned on the rear access doors. Similarly, an opening cut into the front of the driver’s position added a fourth machine gun to be operated by the driver when the tank was stationary.

The two bracket-shaped structures, one at the rear and the other on top of the driver’s position, identified in some photographs, are thought to be antennas for radio equipment. This theory is supported by photographic evidence of crewmembers with what appears to be a primitive headset.

A Carro Pesado de Artillería M16 with the bracket-shaped structures which are speculated to be for radio equipment – source: Mortera Pérez, p. 23
As this photo of four Carros Pesados de Artillería M16 indicates, the bracket-shaped structures were widely adopted – source: Marín Gutiérrez & Mata Duaso, p. 15

At some point during their time in the Spanish Protectorate in Morocco, the Carros Pesados de Artillería M16 were repainted with larger green and ochre ‘stains’ on top of the gray base color. Additionally, the “ARTILLERIA NºX” inscription was replaced by a large white number on either side denoting the number of the vehicle. Inside the numbers, the shapes of female figures were painted in gray.

Although unfortunately not the highest quality photograph, this image shows the new numbering system with the female figure painted in it. This vehicle was nº5 and commanded by Lieut. Federico Gomá Orduña. The photo was taken at Dar-Drius on October 16th 1923 – source: García, p. 20

End of Service?

Despite the best efforts of the crews and mechanics, the Carros Pesados de Artillería M16 were plagued by mechanical issues, putting their future in the Spanish Army at risk. In a communiqué to the Commander in Chief of the Ejército de África [Eng. Army of Africa] in August 1925, the Minister of War, Juan O’Donnell y Vargas, announced that due to the unreliability of the Carros Pesados de Artillería M16, and the concerns over the Trubia factory’s ability to deliver their new tank, the order of a Vickers tank was being processed. This new tank, presumably the Vickers Medium Mark I, was never purchased.

Carro Pesado de Artillería Nº6 smashing through a sandbag wall. Note the headlamp and cage added on top of the vehicle and not seen on other vehicles – source: García, p. 23

Although Spain’s victory in the Rif War was all but complete in 1925 and fighting would die down in 1927, the Carro Pesado de Artillería M16 battery remained in the Spanish Protectorate until 1929, when it returned to Spain. How many were left is subject to dispute, with some sources claiming only four and others affirming all six.

According to Marín Gutiérrez and Mata Duaso, on arrival, two tanks were sent to the Parque de Artillería of Madrid. The other four were dispatched to the Escuela de Automovilismo Pesado de Artillería [Eng. Artillery Heavy Motoring School] in Segovia for major repairs. García, on the other hand, claims that all the Carros Pesados de Artillería M16 were sent to Segovia, with two or four making their way to Madrid at a later date.

Stored in Madrid, the Carros Pesados de Artillería M16 would see service again in 1936 in defense of the Second Spanish Republic during the crushing of the coup in Madrid in July and later in the failed attack on Toledo. By this point, this antiquated vehicle was already twenty years old and had a limited impact during the chaotic early days of the Spanish Civil War.


The service of the Schneider CA-1 in Spain is quite comparable to its original use in France. In both cases, they were their first ever tank to see combat, but were surpassed by the more modern Renault FT. The Schneider CA-1 was a limited platform suited to slow, static warfare. Its low speed was a major drawback when fighting in the open spaces of the Rif.

Nevertheless, the Carros Pesados de Artillería M16 proved themselves. In a theater where Spanish troops were often outnumbered and surrounded, they were able to act as mobile forts, which Rifian troops could not defeat with their weaponry. Their worth was acknowledged with the award of the Medalla Militar Colectiva for their actions during the war.

All in all, the Carros Pesados de Artillería M16 hold an important place in Spanish armored history which has often gone unrecognized.

Carro Pesado de Artillería M16 ‘INFANTERÍA Nº3’ illustrated by David Bocquelet


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

Dionisio García, Carro de Asalto Schneider CA-1 (Madrid: Ikonos Press)

Francisco Marín Gutiérrez & José Mª Mata Duaso, Carros de Combate y Vehículos de Cadenas del Ejército Español: Un Siglo de Historia (Vol. I) (Valladolid: Quirón Ediciones, 2004)

Juan Carlos Caballero Fernández de Marcos, “La Automoción en el Ejército Español Hasta la Guerra Civil Española” Revista de Historia Militar No. 120 (2016), pp. 13-50

Lucas Molina Franco, El Carro de Combate Renault FT-17 en España (Valladolid: Galland Books, 2020)

Oscar Bruña Royo, Vehículos Acorazados en el Tercio Vol 1 De Cáceres a Sarajevo pasando por El Aaiún (Valladolid: Quirón Ediciones, 1998)

4 replies on “Carro Pesado de Artillería M16 (Schneider CA-1 in Spanish Service)”

Hello Lauris,

The mistake has been rectified and the article now appears under Kingdom of Spain.


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