Monday, 15 August 2016

The Pre-Civil War Spanish Military Machine Gun Company

A machine gun company's Hotchkiss M.1914 machine guns lined up for target practice. In combat the unit would be somewhat more dispersed. 
Besides the mortars and infantry gun of the battalion headquarters, the machine gun companies of the infantry battalions were the principal support element of the infantry companies. Spanish doctrine allowed for the company to be either; deployed en-masse in a single body to pour heavy fire on an eneky position as the infantry companies advanced on it, split into two flanking platoons to isolate an enemy position from reinforcements, or split into individual sections and attached to the companies themselves. When this was combined with the practice of deploying the machine gun companies of the reserves forward in support of the lead battalions of a brigade, all of these options could be employed at the same time.

As was the case with most armies of the era, support fire could be direct onto a visible target at up to 800 metres, or indirectly on plotted pre-designated targets identified by the infantry companies. Spanish military manuals specified that such fire should only be undertaken at a range of over 500 metres, although the reach of weapons firing in this manner could extend far beyond the 800 metres of direct firing weapons.

Administratively the company was treated the same as an infantry company and enjoyed the same level of support staff as its counterparts. The headquarters itself consisted of a captain with a 2nd lieutenant as his adjutant, a company sergeant-major, a bugler and a drummer. The headquarters staff was divided into a small communications squad (a clerk, four signallers-runners) and the staff of two cooks, an armourer, an ordinance specialist, a tailor, a cobbler, a barber and two stretcher bearers. Each squad was led by a corporal and each had a mule for carrying equipment.

The machine gun platoons themselves were tailored more for flexibility. The headquarters was a small  group of a lieutenant, a bugler, a clerk, a runner and a mule with his handler. Each machine gun squad was however effectively independent of the others, with a sergeant over each gun team, which had a corporal as gunner, three men to assist him and carry ammunition, two stretcher bearers and two mules; one to carry the weapon an another to carry ammunition. The peacetime template was to change all this and instead pairs of squads were incorporated into pelotones, each under the command of a single sergeant, as opposed to the one per squad format previously.

The Peacetime Template of a Machine Gun Company, July 1936. 
Weapons and Equipment

While the weapons of the disbanded platoons were supposed to be stored for a possible future mobilisation, the same year as the 1932 reforms were enacted, the redundant weapons were instead withdrawn and issued to the newly-formed Assault Guards. This left a shortfall of 822 machine guns should the machine gun companies need to be mobilised for war. The service regulation machine gun was the Ametralladora 7mm Hotchkiss M.1914, but older weapons like the Ametralladora 7mm Colt-Browning M.1895/M.1917, were required to be used to make up the 1,856 weapons needed on the peacetime template (1,654 for the infantry alone).

The weapons carried by the crew members were very much the same as those carried by their infantry counterparts. Officers and sub-oficiales of sergeant rank and above, the corporal-gunners and the first assistants of the machine gun squads, all carried Campo-Giro or Star pistols. The rank and file carried the Mosquete M.1893 or Mosquetón M.1916 in roughly equal proportions, along with bayonets. 

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