In addition to several relatively small conflicts (at least in terms of the scale of use of armored vehicles) in the second half of the 30s of the last century, there were several major armed clashes that became a real breakdown of forces for a new type of military equipment - tanks. These include, first of all, the civil war in Spain.
Armored vehicles Spain acquired on the eve of the First World War. In 1914, the 24 Schneider-Creusot armored car made on the Paris bus chassis was purchased in France. These vehicles were used for patrols and combat operations in the territory of Spanish Morocco.
After World War I, Spain received four French Schneider CA-1 tanks and then several dozen Renault FT-17 light vehicles.
From 1926, work began at the state-owned Trubia plant to create its own Spanish tank, which acquired the name “High-speed infantry tank” or “Trubia Model”. Series A ". Total 12 manufactured such machines.
18 July 1936 began an armed insurrection against the government of the Spanish Republic, led by General Franco, commander of the African army in Spain. Having landed the African army on the continent, within a few weeks Franco captured half of the country's territory. However, the rebellion was not supported in large industrial centers and the capital. The civil war began.
By 1936, the Spanish armored forces had a negligible number of combat-ready vehicles. Ten operational Renault FT-17 tanks were counted in the 1-m tank regiment, five - in the 2-m. At the artillery depot in Madrid were four Schneider CA-1 vehicles. Finally, Trubia tanks were at the disposal of the 32 Infantry Regiment of Milan.
On the side of the republican government remained the 1 tank regiment, three Trubia tanks from the Milan regiment and 24 (according to other data, 41) the Bilbao armored vehicles.
As you can see, the number of armored vehicles in Spain at the beginning of the civil war was so small that it could hardly have had a noticeable impact on the course of hostilities if it were not for deliveries from abroad. Sources of these supplies were very diverse. So, let's say, in 1937, Paraguay sold a significant amount of weapons to the Spanish Republic, including the Vickers mod tanks. A (three pieces) and mod. B (one piece) captured during the war with Bolivia.
The most massive supplies of armored vehicles were carried out from Italy, Germany and the USSR.
Italian Expeditionary Force
The combat debut of Italian armored vehicles took place during the second Italo-Ethiopian or, as it was then called, the second Italo-Abyssinian war. Due to the natural features of Ethiopia, armored vehicles were mainly used to protect transport convoys. In fairness, it should be said that the geographical conditions of the country did not allow the use of significant tank forces, and this was not required. To suppress the centers of resistance in Abyssinia, there was enough infantry, artillery and aviation.
Thus, the real civil war baptism for the armored units of Italy was the Spanish Civil War. Moreover, this war turned out to be a real test of the Italian concept of using mechanized units. Since 1936, Mussolini has sent in support of the forces of the nationalists 149 tankettes CV 3 / 35 and 16 armored cars Lancia IZM. These forces were consolidated into the Italian Expeditionary Force (CTV). The first five tankettes arrived in Spain 16 August 1936 th, armored cars - December 22, but they did not take part in the battles, and used to train Spanish crews. September 29 came another 10 tanket, three of them flamethrower. By October, a company of mixed crews was formed from the arrived tankettes, which was shown to General Franco at the October military parade on October 17. The baptism of the company took place on October 21 on one of the roads leading to Madrid near Navalkarnero. Republicans were kicked out of the village, one nationalist lost one tanket, but the proud of their victory immediately called their part Navalkarnero.
October 29 Italian wedges (half of the eight CV3 / 35) first encountered the Soviet T-26 tanks that were in service with the Republican Army. There was a tank duel, in which the Soviet cannon tank and the Italian flamethrowing wedge participated. Tankette was hit by a direct hit, while her entire crew was killed. Another wedge is damaged. The Republican tank received very serious damage only from the fire of field artillery of the nationalists. In general, the assessment of this collision is twofold: on the one hand, tankettes showed their uselessness against cannon tanks, on the other - their maneuverability and inconspicuousness often saved cars from projectiles. In total, the battle for Madrid in the fall of 1936, the Italian tank company lost four cars, three people were killed, 17 wounded and one missing. December 8 1936-th arrived another replenishment from Italy - more 20 tankettes.
The ensuing military clashes clearly showed the Italians the complete unsuitability of their equipment in the confrontation with the Soviet tanks. As a result, they began to use their wedges as part of mixed units, including armored cars, motorcycles with machine guns, as well as cavalry and motorized infantry. Such parts received the designation Celere (fast). Despite the weak material part in battles with the Republicans, they proved to be very effective. It was with their help that the nationalists managed to occupy Santader. Later, in July 1938, Italian motorized units, reinforced by German 37-mm anti-tank guns Xak 35 / 36, broke through the front of Republicans in the Teruel region and, thanks to their high mobility, advanced more than a hundred kilometers.
January 26 The nationalist tanks entered Barcelona on 1939, and the Italians lost their last wedge in this war on February 3 in February during the storming of the city of Gerona. 10 February, their units reached the French border, while during the offensive Italian units captured 22 Republican tank (mainly T-26), 50 guns and about a thousand machine guns. In military operations in Spain, the loss of the Italians amounted to 56 tankettes.
Tank group "Dronet"
Hitler’s decision to help General Franco led to the creation of the Condor Legion, which included air force and ground forces.
The first nine light tanks Pz.I Ausf.A entered the Legion in October 1936 of the year, followed by another 32 fighting vehicles. Part of the legion, armed with tanks, was called the Panzergruppe Drohne tank group. Lieutenant Colonel Wilhelm Ritter von Thom was appointed as its commander. At first the group had the following organization: a headquarters and two tank companies with three sections in each. Each section consisted of five tanks plus one command vehicle. The support units consisted of a transport department, a field repair shop, anti-tank artillery and flamethrower departments. Personnel - 180 soldiers and officers of the 6 of the German Tank Regiment, who arrived in Spain under the guise of tourists. It was assumed that the group "Dronet" will deal mainly with the training of Spanish tankers, and not to fight. However, von Toma was immediately convinced that “the Spaniards learn quickly, but just as quickly forget what they learned,” so the Germans performed the most important part of the work in mixed German-Spanish crews.
The first encounter with the Republican T-26 occurred on October 28 1936. Pz.IA in this battle supported the cavalry of the Franco and proved completely powerless in front of the Republican cannon tanks. The arrival in December of the first batch of 19 Pz.IB did not improve the situation. However, the Francoists did not have anything else, and the group “Drona” was transferred to Madrid.
In order to somehow increase the firepower of the German tanks, the Breda mod 20 cannon was installed in the Pz.IA turret, which was slightly increased in height. 35. How many cars have been altered in this way is difficult to say. It is usually reported that several. However, in both domestic and foreign literature only one photograph of those years is published with one converted tank. These machines are not found in the later shots.
In March, 1937 of the year included a tank company manned by captured Soviet T-26 into the Drona group, and in August, the group was re-formed into a Spanish unit. This process ended in March of 1938 with the creation of the Bandera de Carros de Combate de la Legion, organizationally incorporated into the Spanish Foreign Legion. "Bandera" consisted of two battalions: one was armed with German tanks Pz.I Ausf.A and Ausf.B, the other - with Soviet T-26. Both battalions participated in the battles of Teruel and Brunete, in the Basque Country, in the Battle of the Ebro and in the battles in Catalonia in 1939. During the fighting, the loss among the German tank crews was seven. Their participation in the Spanish Civil War ended in a parade in Madrid 19 May 1939. After that, the "tourists" returned to Germany. The German Pz.I tanks were operated in the Spanish army until the end of the 40s.
Yielding to the request of the republican government, the leadership of the USSR decided to sell military equipment to the Spaniards and send military advisers to Spain, including tankmen.
26 September 1936 of the year in the port of Cartagena arrived the first batch of X-NUMX T-15 tanks, which were supposed to be used to train Spanish tank crews. For this purpose, a training base was created in the small resort town of Archena, located in 26 kilometers from Cartagena. But the situation was complicated, and from the instructors and cadets of the training base they formed a tank company from 90 T-15, which the Red Army captain Paul Armand took command of. Already on October 26, the company entered the battlefield, advancing deep into the enemy’s location to 29 kilometers.
November 1 struck at the Franco tank colonel Semyon Krivoshein’s tank group, which included 23 T-26 and nine armored vehicles. At the same time on the part of the cars were Spanish crews.
6 November 1936, the Franco launched an offensive against Madrid with all their might. A group of republican tanks of nine T-26 and six Renault FT17 counterattacked the rebels in the Mostoles and Carabanchel Alto areas. The success was complete: tanks destroyed up to two infantry battalions, four field batteries, eight anti-tank guns, 12 heavy machine guns and 10 tankettes. In the subsequent battles for Madrid, the tanks acted in small groups or fired from the spot. The enemy was stopped two kilometers from the city, in which the Franco could only enter in March 1939 of the year.
Already on November 13 Republicans organized a counterstrike. The strike group consisted of 17 infantry battalions with 11 guns and a company of X-NUMX T-16 tanks under the command of Voinovsky. However, this attack failed.
It should be emphasized that a worthy opponent opposed the Soviet tank crews. The infantry of the rebels, especially the Moroccan, suffering heavy losses from the actions of the tanks, did not leave the trenches and did not depart. Moroccans bombarded combat vehicles with grenades and bottles of gasoline, and when they were not there, the enemy soldiers with rifles at the ready threw themselves right under the tanks, beat butts on armor, clutching at the tracks.
From the beginning of December, X-Numx tanks and other military equipment, as well as personnel headed by the brigade commander Dmitry Pavlov, began to arrive in Spain on a massive scale in Spain. The commanders and driver mechanics were regular military personnel sent from the best units and formations of the Red Army: the Volodarsky Mechanized Brigade (Peterhof), the 1936 of the Mechanized Brigade (Bobruisk), the K. B. Kalinovsky Mechanized Corps (Naro-Fominsk ). On the basis of almost a hundred units of the arrived equipment and personnel, the formation of the 26 of the republican tank brigade began. Mainly due to Soviet aid by the summer of 4, the Republican army already had two armored divisions.
The BT-5 wheeled-tracked tanks also performed well in Spain. 24 July 1937 was a Spanish steamer Kabo San-Augustin with 50 BT-5 tanks and Soviet volunteer tankers from Sevastopol. The vehicles arrived from the factory number 48, where they underwent a major overhaul, and the tank crews arrived mainly from parts of the 5-th mechanized corps named after K.B. Kalinowski. After unloading in Cartagena, a separate international tank regiment of the Republican Army was formed from the arrived tanks. His commander was Stepan Kondratyev. The regiment entered the first large-scale battle near Zaragoza on October 13 1937.
Tankers, together with the 15 international brigade attacked the heavily fortified village of Fuentes de Ebro. During the stubborn two-hour battle, Republicans lost 16 tanks.
Another important operation involving BT-5 was the storming of the fortress city of Teruel in December 1937 - February 1938. During the prolonged assault, the 15 combat vehicles also dropped out of the tank regiment. After the withdrawal of Soviet volunteers and military advisers, the regiment was disbanded in March, and the remaining BT-1938s joined the armored brigade of the Republican Army. A small number of captured vehicles used by the troops of General Franco.
All in all, until the end of the civil war, the Soviet Union delivered Republican Spain 297 tanks T-26 (only single-turreted vehicles of the model 1933 of the year) and 50 wheeled-tracked tanks BT-5. These machines took part in almost all combat operations conducted by the Republican army, and showed a good side. The German Pz.I and the Italian CV3 / 33 wedges, which had only machine gun weapons, were powerless against the T-26 and BT-5, armed with 45-mm cannons. The last circumstance can be illustrated by the following example.
During the battle near the village of Esquivias, the T-26 tank Seeds Osadchiy rammed the Italian CV3 wedge heel and threw it into the gorge. The second wedge is also destroyed, and the other two are damaged. The loss ratio was sometimes even greater. So, during the battle of Guadalajara in one day, 10 in March a platoon of two T-26s under the command of the Spaniard Ferrera knocked out Italian tankettes 25!
11 March 1937 for the first time during the war in Spain, the Italians used flamethrowing wedges and broke through the front, but the next day the Republicans, concentrating 10 thousands of soldiers, 21 gun and 60 tanks 1 of the armored brigade, launched a counteroffensive. The main blow was delivered by a group of 20 vehicles with Soviet crews. Passing through a difficult wooded area, the group attacked the Italian division Littorio in the flank and rear. This division has already suffered severe losses from the attacks of the Republican aviation and approached the battlefield morally shocked. The appearance of the 20 T-26 tanks in its rear caused panic among the Italian soldiers. As a result of the bold and decisive actions of the tank crews, several hundred Italian infantrymen and several artillery batteries were destroyed. After several days of stubborn fighting, the Italian Expeditionary Force began to depart. The Spanish infantry, with the support of the 45 T-26 tanks, pursued the enemy.
The fighting in Spain demonstrated, on the one hand, the superiority of Soviet tanks over German and Italian weapons, on the other, they also revealed their main drawback - the weakness of the reservation. Even the frontal armor T-26 was easily penetrated by German and Italian anti-tank guns.
From 1936 to 1939, attempts were made to organize their own production of armored vehicles in Spain itself. In the area controlled by the nationalists, prototypes of light tanks S.С.1 (1937) and Verdeja (1939) were developed and manufactured, using the elements of the undercarriage of the Italian X XUMUM / 3 CV tank and the Soviet T-35 tank. In contrast to the nationalists, the Republicans focused on the construction of armored cars and achieved impressive success in this. From autumn 26 to March 1936, several dozens of armored vehicles were manufactured at the Bilbao and Barcelona factories. The type of their reservation depended on the availability of the armor sheet and the capabilities of the manufacturer. In addition to these improvised armored vehicles in Spanish factories, with the help of Soviet specialists, we managed to launch the production of full-fledged military armored vehicles - UNL-1939 and Chevrolet 35. They formed the basis of the armored car park of the Spanish Republic.
After the defeat of the Republicans, their armored vehicles became trophies of Franco's army. However, the first captured Soviet tanks entered the nationalist forces at the beginning of the civil war. In March, 1937, in the tank group Drohne, four companies were deployed, equipped with T-26 vehicles. Since August, the transformation of this German tank unit into Spanish began. Subsequently, it, as well as the 1 Battalion of the Spanish Foreign Legion, became the basis of the armored forces of the Franco.
Looking ahead, I will say that General Franco was able to prevent Spain, which had been ravaged by the civil war, from being drawn into World War II, although the Germans were trying to achieve this. The participation of Spain was reduced to sending a volunteer Blue Division to the Eastern Front. Nothing is known about equipping it with armored vehicles. Most likely it simply did not exist, since the division was infantry.
The armored units of the Spanish army during the Second World War mainly consisted of tanks Pz.I and T-26, armored vehicles BA-6, UNL-35 and Sevrolet 1937.