Thursday, 16 January 2014

Of trucks clad in armor: the Republican experience during the Spanish Civil war

Of trucks clad in armor:
The Republican experience of creating armored vehicles
during the Spanish civil war


At first, this writer had to revisit one of most interesting topics other than politics, and that is technology. No matter how modern or makeshift being done, technology tries to bring out the best in the community especially in making new things, creating new challenges that brought to reality certain aspirations left in every paper or in an artwork.

It was last year when this writer made writeups regarding the old factories at Metro Manila as well as its failed attempt to industrialize itself, so was he featured the idea of a future shown in a series of postcards like those from Russia and in Germany before the war; these examples somehow how people tried to create the future, tempering reality with those of attempts in oursuit of bringing forth certain changes in a society, may it be in a form of machineries to support those whom continuously create history.

This time, this writer had made this writeup all about the efforts brought by the Republicans during the Spanish civil war. Featuring pictures and descriptions from sites sympathized to the Republican cause, this writeup may at least try to unravel, this time in English the efforts of the Republicans in the home front against the reactionaries led by Franco.
And that includes the creation of their own weaponry, that usually less featured in mainstream sites concerning the 4 year conflict.

"Soft Construction with Boiled Beans"
-A painting by Salvador Dali that "foreshadows" the conflict
during the Interwar period.
Just like any other European country trying to cope up with then "present" day standards, Spain had tried to make efforts in modernizing itself as a country during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Known for being conservative in its leanings, the country itself had been late in developing, especially after being beaten during the Cuban and Philippine Revolutions, and eventually in Spanish-American war wherein they had lost their "Indies" via the treaty of Paris.

And speaking of being conservative, or to others may ought to describe as "Reactionary", would say that it involves the clergymen whom usually meddles in state affairs (using morality as its primary basis), landlords whom trying to keep their properties in midst of the growing peasant power in the Hispanic countryside, so were the Military whom using order as its pretext had to keep themselves in power, to the extent of appointing a general for a prime minister such as Primo de Rivera, whom also tried to modernise his country and at the same time preserving the old social order knowing that lower and middle-class Spaniards had afford to oppose such as Freemasonry, Liberalism, and then "new" ideas such as Anarchism and Socialism.

And as expected by then "subversives", Primo de Rivera's dictatorship as well as the monarchy had failed to achieve its goal. According to wikipedia, it stated that popular support for the regime had gradually faded, forcing the dictator to resign in January 1930. Meanwhile, there was little support for the monarchy in the major cities, with masses often equating the old order with corruption and ultraconservatism, that eventually made King Alfonso XIII abdicated; and replaced by the Second Spanish Republic, whose power would remain until the culmination of the Spanish Civil War.
And that civil war somehow meant a series of effort in trying to defend the young republic- not just being supported by antifascist and popular groups such as those of Mexico, Soviet Union, or the International Brigades, but Spaniards themselves and its ability to contribute, such as creating then "modern" weapons and armor of the interwar period. 

Obviously, this writer, in seeing those pictures had sought the efforts of the Spanish people in trying to resist the German and Italian-supported right-wing war machine of Franco. In the late 19th century would say that factories created industrial districts in urban centers of the country, whether it was from Madrid or Barcelona, factories had produced mainly consumer goods aside from familiar wines and agricultural produce; but in early 20th century may at least given a semblance of development such as Cars and Planes produced by Hispano-Suiza and others somewhat copied from its developed neighbours like France and Italy. 

From introducing to creating armored cars and trucks

In early September 1909, a report for the possible acquisition of vehicles for the Melilla was drafted. Entitled "Report on models own armored cars for Melilla campaign", it had studied different vehicles to be used for combat: Maudslay, SAG, Thornycroft, Armstrong-Witworth, RheinenMetall, Hotchkiss (manufacturer of machine guns in the regulatory time) and Schneider (Artillery material supplier).

German-made RheinenMetall armored car
One of the earliest armed vehicles introduced in Spain under the program was the 1908 RheinMetall armored car. Complete with a machine gun that would fire observation balloons, the vehicle was tested but it was not been purchased by the military whilst favoring the Schneider 1909 armored truck.

French-made Schneider armored car 
The French-made armored truck was the first AFV built and employed by the Spanish Army.  Also included in the Melilla plan, the first one was purchased in 1910, being sent two years later to the Moroccan war theater. While a second one, slightly different (more prominent engine compartment in the front), had arrived in Spain in 1911.

There were other vehicles introduced in Spain especially after the First world war. Mostly made in France, the Spanish armed forces had to modernise evenly such as tanks and armored cars replacing horse cavalry in the field of national defence; Obviously, their interest in mechanized warfare was more of necessity, especially during the Rif war, and with the use of then-modern vehicles such as Renault, Schneider, and other French-manufactured vehicles had brought enough idea for the armed forces to create their own versions, of proposing Spanish-made armored vehicles as part of their modernization plans, and perhaps to gain back their prestige that was lost during the Spanish-American war.

Camion Protegido armored car 

Camion Protegido armored car 
In 1921, the The engineering corps' Centro Electotécnico de Ingenieros created Spain's first domestic-made armed vehicle, known as the Camion Protegido armored car (or truck). It was a 4x2 vehicle, with many variations on this design, some with turrets, some without.  31 of this vehicles were built by the Centro Electrotécnico de Ingenieros between 1921 and 1924 on the following chassis: 1 Federal, 8 Nash-Quad 40 hp, 2 Benz 40/50 hp and 20 Latil 35 hp.

Some of these vehicles were also carrying machine guns in its 6-8 loopholes. And at the turret one of which had tried to install a flamethrower. The vehicle is also used as a mobile radio facility which was then new in the field of mobile warfare.

This kind of ingenuity made by the armed forces was a result of its earlier interest in armored warfare, that somehow heightened during the 1930s with the armed laborers taking the opportunity of creating its own Blindados.

Blindados For the republic! 
- revolutionaries in armed trucks

It was during the Spanish Civil War when the use of mechanized warfare been adapted much in the front. Unlike World War I that emphasised thoroughly on infantry and trench warfare, it had emphasised the use of tanks, planes for the offensive, that with Gemans applying its earlier Blitzkrieg tactics over Guernica, or the stubborn defence of Madrid by the republican forces with the use of armored trucks, the civil war that had started in 1936 was itself a testing ground for a bigger battlefield in which Spain itself, ironically speaking, and despite being controlled by the German-supported Franco, had chose to remain neutral.

Like the earlier topic about the Camion Protegido, this writer sought how Spaniards extensively create theirs not just depending on foreign aid especially from France, Mexico, or the Soviet Union. And since this writeup tackles about armed vehicles used during the battle, specifically on the republican side, certain groups like the Anarcho-Syndicalists, Socialists, and the Communists had not just trained its members firing guns, but being workers in its background had afford to create their own armored car, truck, if not repairing or refitting an existing tank with a new gun just like their enemies did by replacing machine guns with an anti-aircraft gun in its turret. 

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In Barcelona, Anarcho-Syndicalists created a variety of armored vehicles using an existing chassis and armed with machine guns. Just like the Camion Protegido of the engineering corps, they were primarily used for patrol and infantry support; and since those vehicles were makeshiftly made by the armed workers (as in working at the factory with a gun in hand) had served as basis for the latter to defend the young republic and the revolution trying to advance forth.

One example of the armored vehicles manufactured by the Anarchists and Socialists was the UNL-35. UNL stands for Union Naval de Levante, a shipyard in Valencia that was occupied by militants during the Civil war. 
According to the website "Tanks!", the republican forces, facing with an acute shortage arms, had to engage in the production of ordnance. Aside from shipbuilding, they engaged in the manufacture of armored vehicles and armored railway cars for the Teruel front (at the Devis works). The metallurgical industry in Valencia applied their vast applied techniques and knowledge gained in the naval sector to their production of some well finished armored vehicles.

UNL-35 of the Union Naval de Levante,
 occupied by the Anarchists and Socialists against the Fascists during the civil war
This vehicle  was designed by Soviet engineer Nikolai N. Alymov for Spain and inspired by the Soviet FAI. Like other vehicles patterned after French models and eventually adapted, the prototype was completed and Spanish engineers improved the initial design. A trained eye can spot the difference between a Soviet production FAI and the Spanish production UNL-35. The Spanish production unit has an almost "German" like turret.
Its Armor consisted of 8mm plates of high quality steel. There were four different variants (including an armored ambulance).

Production began at the beginning of January 1937 at the rate of 5 per month, although in 1938 deliveries were curtailed due to air raids which eventually forced the relocation of the plant to the facilities of the firm Amat at Elda; where production recommenced once again in September. The production of ordnance continued until April 1939, when aircraft again bombed the facilities. There's evidence of the completion of 130 vehicles of the UNL-35 type alone (some of which were captured by the Franco's "Nationalists").

Blindado Uni photo image_zps1c7e83d5.jpg

Blindado Uni photo image_zps8b0569ee.jpg

There were other armored vehicles made by the UNL. Following the same design, some were modified to accommodate an enough number of fighters patrolling the streets, supporting the infantry in the offensive, or acting as a mobile pillbox. Meanwhile, there are other groups whom also took interest in the creation of makeshift armored trucks often featuring the initials of the group belonging to.

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Most of the pictures, other than those featured in this writeup had no technical classifications except the place and group behind the manufacture of such armored vehicles through its acronyms prominently featured. Groups like the FAI and CNT were aligned with the Anarchist camp while others had to paint their respective groups like the Communists with its hammer and sickle. 

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And just like its earlier counterparts, they had used an existing truck or car chassis, as well as engines while carefully putting steel armor into it; similar to the UNL and earlier armored vehicles, it had gunports or turrets wherein machineguns being placed or a mortar, serving as a mobile mortar launcher. It also served as ambulances for the wounded troops or as radio facilities for the Republican forces for information on enemy's movements, if not propaganda dissemination to demoralise enemy troops.

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They also create armored tractors as well. Similar to tanks, they had to put steel in an agricultural tractor and arming it with machine guns with the same purpose as the wheeled vehicles during the conflict. 

Most of these "mobile pillboxes" depolyed during the civil war were destroyed. Most of the Republican exiles, prior to their escape, had afford to take pictures and gather data related to the vehicles being used. Those vehicles used had shown an expression of self reliance that most Spaniards, fuelled by love of country and its republican principles, and inspired by modern warfare had to assemble every metal sheet in every car or truck, turning into an armored vehicle armed with machine guns pointing against the troops of Franco.

So was their enemy, Franco and his Falangistas

Meanwhile, Franco's troops also had shared the idea of making armored trucks as well. The difference lies in having slogans such as "Arriba España" or "Viva Franco" painted in it. 

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However, these vehicles weren't featured much compared to the German or Italian-made tanks and other armored vehicles being shown. Like the Republicans in which they were supported by the Soviets with its tanks and planes, Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy were eager to support Franco and his men with the latter trying to put Spain in order and using the Falange, originally an organization leaning to Modernism, as a mere support group in his regime. 
Like the earlier article about Franco, this writer depict him as a conservative who thinks largely about keeping Spain the same as prior to the creation of the Republic. He had to joint Falange, the Traditionalist-leaning Carlista, and other groups supported into a "National Movement" that made original Falangists dismayed with its original objectives not been realized, save for rhetoric.

But, their ideas in making improvised mobile armor, just like its enemies was also unravel how Spain tries to be self-sufficient despite being supported by its allies. They had to create armored trucks, and using it as mobile pillboxes for the offensive or as patrol vehicles in occupied zones.  

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An early German Panzer whose turret being modified
 to place a Breda Anti-aircraft gun
 And as what earlier said, they had afford to modify the turret of a German Panzerkampfwagen in order to place a Breda Anti-aircraft gun, acting as its main armament against the Soviet-supported Republicans with its own T-29. The original turret of the German-made vehicle were armed by machine-guns, and Spanish troops had to improvise by modifying it trying to be at par with its enemies. 


Personally, it is quite curious to see the ingenuity of the Spaniard shown during the conflict. That, in making those armored vehicles on both sides, those weren't shown much by mainstream media and instead depicting aircraft and tanks coming from other countries such as France, Germany, or the Soviet Union.

This writer also sought the stubbornness of the Republicans trying to defend their homeland against its own enemies. Using their ingenuity and despite lack of resources needed, the vehicles featured in this writeup showed the Spanish worker had to battle with time, spending its own mind and sinew to create, assemble, repair in every factory and at the same time kill its enemies in their garrison; hammer in hand and rifle on the other all trying to defend and create the homeland based on their aspirations trying to realize through the establishment of the Republic. 
Or as what they said much against their enemies trying to pass through their stations, factories, farmlands, homes and communities: ¡No Pasaran! They shalt not pass! Fighting stubbornly till the end with the rest trying to escape and creating resistance against the regime such as in Paris or in Mexico where a government-in-exile was created until Franco's death and the eventual transition to what Spain had known today.

But again, looking back in thine past, would say that the Spanish Civil War, although there were trenches and remnants of static warfare involved, had served as a model for a future battle wherein armored vehicles been thoroughly used in every major conflict.