Improvised Armored Cars in the Spanish Civil War
When war broke out in Spain following the failed coup of Generals Emilio Mola and José Sanjurjo, neither side could field large numbers of armored fighting vehicles. There was a total of 74 armored vehicles throughout the whole country with the governmental forces of the Republic keeping hold of the vast majority of them (58) and the Rebels, (also known as the ‘Nationalists’), only having 16. These vehicles were not the most modern designs and included WWI relics such as the Schneider CA1 and Renault FT, several imaginative indigenous designs, such as the Trubia Serie A and Landesa tanks, and the most numerous vehicle, the Bilbao Modelo 1932 armored car.
To gain the upper hand during the confusing and uncertain first days of the war, each side armed civilian buses, cars, trucks and lorries to use as temporary armored vehicles until a better solution could be found.They were never intended for long-term use. Due to the blackish color given by the iron and other metallic plating, these vehicles quickly gained the nickname of ‘tiznaos’ (from the adjective tiznado – sooty).
The Republicans, who controlled most of the industrial areas, managed to build, with varying success, around 400 of these during the first year of the war, and the Nationalists developed their own models in areas under their control, such as Pamplona, Zaragoza, Valladolid, and Ferrol.
Because of the rushed nature of their manufacture and their poor design, these vehicles were prone to breakdowns and malfunctions, with some vehicles even breaking in half due to the extra weight of their armor of protective steel plates.
While they may not have been the most practical of vehicles, these armored cars had several functions: to transport supplies, weapons and ammunition to friendly troops; for troop and prisoner transport; to impress enemy troops and civilians and inspire allied troops and supporters. Given the unimpressive and uninspiring aspect of these vehicles this may come as a surprise to modern viewers, but, it must be remembered that few Spanish fighters during the Civil War, let alone the civilian population, had been exposed to modern standard tanks or armored vehicles of any kind and these large, noisy and rumbling metallic ‘beasts’ must have had a dramatic impact on all who encountered them.
Following the electoral victory of the left-leaning Popular Front in the February 1936 elections, the political situation in Spain was tense. Foreseeing that these tensions would evolve into violent encounters, several military units across the country took matters into their own hands. Sometime between the months of March and April 1936, in the coastal and strategically important city of Ferrol (in the north of Galicia), the Regimento de Artillería de Costas No.2 (Coastal Artillery Regiment) transformed at least four of the regiments’ Hispano-Suiza 30/40 buses-transports into armored cars. As with many of the other improvised vehicles of the war, the vehicle was named after the town it was built in – Ferrol.
Ferrol No.4 with troops of the Regimento de Artillería de Costas nº2 outside said regiment’s barracks. Source: Blindados Españoles en el Ejército de Franco
Restored version of the Hispano-Suiza 30/40 bus from which the Ferrols were transformed. SOURCE
Unlike many of the other ‘tiznaos’, the Ferrols were built before the war meaning that more time was available to work on the vehicles, and the fact that they were built by qualified military personnel who knew what they were doing and not groups of militiamen, their design was well thought-out and the vehicles resembled modern armored cars, at least more so than other ‘tiznaos’.
As can be expected given the nature of their construction, all Ferrols have differences between them which vary from some models lacking headlights and/or front bumpers whilst others have them, to one example lacking a turret and machine gun. Details of the differences between vehicles will be addressed below. Generally, for all examples of this model, 6-8mm gray painted armored steel plating covered the original vehicle on all sides and a rotatable turret, inspired from the WWI Rolls-Royce Armored Car, was mounted on top with a Hotchkiss Model 1924 7mm (0.27 in) machine gun, which was quite possibly Spanish made. Each side of the vehicle had seven firing holes through which troops inside could fire their rifles, with an additional eight holes on both sides of the turret which could have also serve as a viewing port for the machine gunner. From front to back, the first hole could be found on the top end of the door which served as access for the crew and passengers.
In the front of the turret, 3 viewports could be found. The right one was the driver’s and one of the other ones to the left was for the commander. It can be assumed that the third viewpoint was for another crew member or passenger. Two medium-sized hatches on either side of the vehicle’s front allowed access to the motor for repairs and maintenance otherwise made impossible by the lack of a bonnet in the cladding. The front of the vehicle had two sets of ventilation grilles which were installed to prevent the motor from overheating.
There is an ongoing debate over the number of Ferrols converted. The established view is that there were at least four, but several, especially among the war-modelling community, claim that there was also a fifth, with some highly improbable speculation that a sixth was converted.
Three of the vehicles (Numbers 1*, 1, 3 and 4) are very easy to account for, as they had distinguishable features.
What the main historiography considered to be number 1 had a very different appearance to the rest as it lacked a turret, the front plate consisted of a single inclined metallic plate going from the top of the ventilation grilles to the beginning of the roof of the vehicle and the viewports were all at different heights and angles, unlike the other vehicles, where all three viewports were at the same height and angle.
What is usually considered to be the Ferrol No.1 crossing the bridge between Cabañas and Puentedeume in northern Galicia in July 1936. Note the lack of a turret and distinctive frontal armor plating. Source: Blindados Españoles en el Ejército de Franco
However, newer photographic evidence offered by the archives of the Museo Manuel Reimóndez Portela would suggest that the actual No.1 was more similar to the rest. Its distinctive features are a number 1 painted at the front of the vehicle, a radiator cap or hood ornament on top of the grilles and a circular hatch to access the engine rather than the quadrilocular or rectangular of other models. It also lacks a bumper, has forward lights and text (although faint) over the spider crab insignia. This leads to two options: a) What is usually considered No.1 should be considered as a prototype (1*) and the one in the image below as the actual No.1; or b) That although being built without a turret and fighting for the first few weeks and even months of the war in that configuration at some point in late 1936 or early 1937 a turret, forward lights and other substantial changes were made, though there is no strong evidence supporting these claims and the comparison of both photos does not point towards that direction.
The actual Ferrol No.1 with its distinctive features as the number 1 painted at the front of the vehicle, a radiator cap or hood ornament on top of the grilles and a circular hatch to access the engine rather than the cuadricular or rectangular of other models. This photo was taken in Villamanin (León) on the 22nd of July 1937. It has been recorded that at least two Ferrols fought in this area. SOURCE
Numbers 3 and 4 were photographed together at least four times, which is quite remarkable given that there are only ten known photos of these vehicles. They are easy to identify as there was a number 3 and 4 painted beneath the ventilation grilles. Other differences include both front and back wheels being different and No.3’s lack of a front bumper, which No.4 has.
Rendition of the Ferrol Armoured Car by Tanks Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet
Ferrols number 3 and 4 easily distinguishable because of the numbers 3 and 4 painted beneath the grilles outside Regimento de Artillería de Costas nº2 barracks. Other differences include both front and back wheels being different and No.3’s lack of a front bumper, which No.4 has. Source: Blindados Españoles en el Ejército de FrancoIdentifying No.2 and the potential No.5 is harder. The photographic evidence is not the clearest and details can be missed to the naked eye, leaving all work on the matter up to speculation.
Author’s Note: After having spent many hours inspecting all available images of the vehicles I have come to the conclusion that at least five vehicles were made. Small details, such as the frame where the mudguards originally sat, the elevation and inclination of different armored plates, the detailing on the spider crab insignia on the side of the vehicle or the peephole on the doors, in my opinion, differ substantially between vehicles leading me to believe more than four were made. I have provided all available photos of the armored car so the reader can make his judgment about the numbers made.
Ferrols number 3 and 4 outside the Pelayo barracks in Oviedo in October 1937 after the conclusion of the war in the north. Source: Blindados Españoles en el Ejército de Franco
Combat History and Performance
With the outbreak of hostilities in July 1936, the Ferrols were the only armored vehicles in Galicia, giving their owners, the Nationalists, an advantage. The first recorded use of these vehicles was on the 20th of July 1936 when they were used to transport grenades, a mortar and machine guns from the coastal artillery barracks to the troops of the No.35 ‘Mérida’ Infantry Regiment. The following day, at dawn, a number of the vehicles carried out similar functions carrying another mortar and ammunition to the Comandancia del Arsenal building and on the return journey, transported the dismissed Chief of the Arsenal to imprisonment. During these journeys, they were in action against elements of the navy loyal to the Republic. In the morning, the commander of the Regimento de Artillería de Costas No.2, Sánchez Esperante, used one of them to visit the officers of the newly proclaimed military government and after their conversation, the Ferrols were used to assault the Town Hall and the People’s House (a community center) which were still under governmental control. Despite intense fire from the defenders, these buildings were soon captured after the rebels threatened to fire the two Plasencia mod. 1870 8cm cannons the Ferrols were transporting against the Town Hall.
Another photo of the Ferrols number 3 and 4 (in the background) outside the Pelayo barracks in Oviedo in October 1937. SOURCE
On the 22nd of July 1936, the Ferrols patrolled the towns around Ferrol crushing any elements loyal to the government and one was sent in the attempted capture of the town of Puentedeume, less than 10 km (6 miles) south, which had a strategically important bridge, but they were unsuccessful due to the opposing forces and terrain. The following day a bigger force accompanied the lone Ferrol and captured the town. The next day (July 23rd), they were used for patrolling duties in the north of Galicia. During these early days, without any armored opposition or organized resistance, the Ferrols proved to be very effective and efficient vehicles.
In late October or November 1936, the Ferrols were split up and sent to different fronts in the North. At least two (most probably numbers 3 and 4), were sent to the Oviedo-Grado sector in Asturias with a foot artillery battery. The other two were sent to the La Robla-Matallana-La Vecilla sector on the Leon front. It is suggested that two Ferrols accompanying the first Galician troops sent to Asturias in the summer of 1936 were knocked out or left inoperative whilst covering troops attacking the town of Bolgues on the Trubia road. These claims, however, are probably false as there is no other recorded presence of the Ferrols until November 1936 and it is likely that the aforementioned vehicles were not Ferrols but other armored cars, very likely captured from the Republican forces.
By February 1937, two of the Ferrols (again, most probably numbers 3 and 4), were defending Oviedo from the Republican attack to take this key city. The crews of the vehicles had taken casualties in the previous months and they were now manned by a combined total of 15 men. They were accompanied by two Trubia tanks protecting the weapons factory-Campo de los Patos sector against the combined total of 40 Republican armored vehicles, though not all were deployed in the same sector as the Ferrols.
Front of the Ferrol No.3 somewhere in Oviedo with Jesús Evaristo Casariego, a Réquete (Carlist militiamen) officer. SOURCE
Fate and Conclusion
Having served for over a year until the conclusion of the war in the north in October 1937, some of the vehicles, at least numbers 3 and 4, could be found in Oviedo, whilst at least one remained in León.
By this point they had exhausted their useful life and with plentiful Italian CV.33/35 and German Pz.I tanks, they were rendered surplus to requirements. Their fate for the remainder of the war is unknown but it seems likely that they were used for some time for patrolling and policing duties before being broken up for scrap or being put back to use into their original pre-conversion role.
Thanks to their more thought-out and, therefore, studier design and production, the ‘Ferrols’ were able to outlive other improvised ‘tiznao’ designs of the early weeks and months of the war, but once modern mass-produced vehicles were available in large numbers and the limitations of the ‘tiznaos’ became increasingly apparent, it was clear that they had had their day.
Links, Resources & Further Reading
Artemio Mortera Pérez, Los Medios Blindados de la Guerra Civil Española. Teatro de Operaciones del Norte 36/37 (Valladolid: AF Editores, 2007)
Francisco Antonio Martín, Los Medios Blindados de Ruedas en España, un Siglo de Historia (Valladolid: Quirón, 2002)
José López Hermida, Los Días del Alzamiento en Ferrol
Lucas Molina Franco and José M Manrique García, Blindados Españoles en el Ejército de Franco (1936-1939) (Valladolid: Galland Books, 2009)
Curiosidades de los CC y blindados. Su historia y reseñas on www.portierramaryaire.com
Los Primeros Años de Hispano-Suiza on hispanosuiza.webcindario.com
Ferrol Armored Car images on vehiculosblindadosdelaguerracivil.blogspot.com.es
Ferrol Armored Car images on Galería Museo Manuel Reimóndez Portela