Wednesday, 3 August 2016

The Pre-Civil War Spanish Military Infantry Companies

Infantry deploy in the streets of Barcelona during the '1934 Asturias Revolt'. Not counting the two officers, this looks to be a complete 'peacetime' infantry section, complete with its light machine gun. Note the officers' riding boots; every officer within a battalion was to be mounted and a horse was carried for them on the battalion strength for this purpose. With some men in just shirts and one (far-right) in what appears to be overalls, it might be suggested that this unit deployed in a hurry.
The three companies of fusileros in each line battalion formed the 'tactical' elements of the battalion, as opposed to the flexible support function of the machine gun company. As part of successive reforms from 1931 to 1934, the company had two templates (plantilla); one for peace and one for war.

Infantry Company War Template 1936. 
A captain headed the company, with a 2nd lieutenant as his adjutant. A company sergeant-major and the company bugler and drummer rounded out the 'command element' of the company. The company was supposed to be a self-contained fighting unit and so had all the necessary support elements to do so. A corporal headed a small communications squad, consisting of a technician for the field telephone, six runners and signallers (semaphore and heliograph) and a mule to carry the squad's equipment. The more material needs of the company were catered for by another corporal, whose manpower consisted of two cooks, an ordinance specialist (grenades and mortars), an armourer (light machine guns and rifles), a tailor, a cobbler, a barber, two stretcher bearers and a mule.

Each of the three platoons (secciones) was headed by a lieutenant, who was accompanied by a bugler. A new feature of the platoon was the introduction of the 1st Sergeant (sargento-primero), who was to supervise the two light mortar squads, which were added to the platoon to replace the old rifle grenades formerly issued. These squads could be grouped as a single section to support the entire platoon, or could be attached on an individual basis to each section. Each squad possessed a mule to carry the weapon and its ammunition on the march. The two former platoon scouts were now attached to the mortar squads and their role changed to encompass identifying good firing positions and prospective targets for the mortars. As previously they would almost certainly have operated as a two man team.

The main fighting elements of the platoons were their two sections (pelotones). Each was headed by a sergeant and were each identically composed of two rifle squads (1st and 3rd Squads) and a light machine gun squad (2nd Squad). The two rifle squads were headed by corporals, had two hand grenade specialists (fusileros-granaderos) and three other fusiliers who carried additional grenades for the 'bombers'. The light machine gun squad was also headed by a corporal and served a single light machine gun. The squad also had a mule and handler to carry the weapon's ammunition. The function of the remaining members of the squad besides the gunner and 'first provider', was to ferry ammunition from the mule to the weapon and to reload empty clips or magazines (each weapon only had seven magazines or feed clips issued to it).

Recognising that the unlikelihood of war in the foreseeable future and wanting to reduce both the cost of the Army and to somewhat dilute its strength should a revolt occur, manpower changes were made in 1934. In the company headquarters and probably in recognition of the technical nature of some roles, only two men were removed from the communications squad. The platoons saw rather more substantial reductions however. The number of platoons was reduced to two and only one mortar squad was actually embodied in each of the platoons. Each squad also lost a man and in all each platoon would require thirteen men to bring them up to wartime strength, with each company requiring eighty-one men in total.

Infantry Company Peace Template 1936. 
The implications of these reductions was that allied to the normal leave-giving for the Summer, the usual home-leave given to local recruits and the disbanding of some conscripts in their final year, the strengths of companies were well below that which might be expected. The options for a commander when the coup was enacted was therefore; muster the troops as they stood, or to amalgamate what was available into full strength companies. Certainly some units like the 2nd battalion of the 'Cádiz' regiment took the latter option, as the 'battalion' actually only had two companies when it operated within the Columna de Redondo as late as December 1936.

An escuadra de fusil-ametralladore poses for the camera. The men wear a mix of M.1921 (left foreground) and M.1926 helmets (second-row left) and are equipped with either the Mauser 'Mosquet' or 'Mosquetón'. The machine gun itself is the strip-fed Hotchkiss M.1922. 
Weapons and Equipment

Spain had purchased licences to produce almost all of its weaponry from foreign sources and only a few items just coming into service in the 1930s were actually designed in Spain itself.

The standard service pistols, which were carried by officers, sub-oficiales of the rank of sergeant and above, along with the principal members of weapon crews (gunners and assistants), were either of the Campo-Giro M.1916, or the Star M.1921 type, both firing the quite powerful 9mm 'Largo' cartridge, as opposed to the more usual 9mm Parabellum used by other nations.

The standard service rifle was the Mosquete 7mm M.1893, which was the essentially the '8mm Mauser' chambered for the Spanish 7mm rifle cartridge. This was supplemented by the Mosquetón 7mm M.1916, which was a shorter barrelled version of the rifle, roughly analogous to the Mauser Karabiner M.98. Both types were used in conjunction, the shorter weapon being carried by the squad leaders, grenadiers and weapon teams, with the longer weapons being carried by ordinary fusileros.

The light machine guns consisted in the main of the strip-fed Fusil-Ametralladora M.1922 (Typo I) and somewhat fewer of the almost identical box-fed M.1925 (Typo II). Attempts had been made to introduce Spanish designs such as the aborted Astra-Unión M.1927 and more latterly the 'Trapote' M.1933 had been selected as the new standard light machine gun, but few had been delivered by 1936. By and large machine gun issue was problematic, against a need for 2,814 light machine guns, there were only 1,334 available. This was made somewhat worse by the fact that the units of the Moroccan Army Corps had their full complement of weapons, while the Peninsular units shared what remained. If the army was mobilised then a total of 4,576 weapons would be required.

The peacetime issue of light mortars produced a requirement of 1,864, of which 1,680 had been produced; although given reports that large numbers were held in stock at the Valero Factory, presumably quite a few units did not even have their one per platoon. The full requirement of these weapons if the army should be mobilised was 3,588. The weapon in question, the Mortero 50mm Valero M.1932 was intended to replace the antique rod-type rifle-grenade, the Granada de Fusil Llamada de Rabiza Comisión de Experiencas Modelo 1913.

With only one mortar being issued per platoon at best, instead of the two that were supposed to exist on the 'war template' and that there were considerable stocks of the rifle-grenade held at unit level, it would seem very likely that the mortar merely supplemented the rifle-grenade in actuality. Spanish manuals of the time suggested the grouping of rifle-grenadiers in a team of two, in the same way as the French did and it may be that the lack of mortars was overcome by having a rifle-grenadier fill the place of the mortar in each squad. Originally the rifle-grenadier had been integral to the first squad, instead of the two fusileros-granaderos and this practice might have been reverted to.

The regulation issue of arms and equipment for a rifle platoon on the plantilla de paz of 1934 was set at;

15 Mosquete 7mm M.1893 with bayonet.
17 Mosquetón 7mm M.1916 with bayonet.
9 pistols (Astra M.1921 or Campo-Giro M.1916).
2 Fusil-Ametralladoras Tipo I or II (each with 7 chargers).
Mortero Valero 50mm M.1932.

Ammunition allowances by weapon type was 50 per pistol, 65 per Mosquetón, 155 per Mosquete, 4,500 per Fusil-Ametrallador and 50 mortar rounds. Each 'fusilero-granadero' squad was allocated 25 hand grenades (100 total). The Spanish used two main types of hand grenade, the defensive Tonelete M.1918 and the offensive Lafitte M.1921.

A conjectural weapon allocation would appear to be that the platoon leader, the two sergeants, each light machine gunner and his assistant, and the two principal mortar crew, were armed with pistols (9 weapons). Each cabo, the bugler, the mortar squad scout and two men in the light machine gun and mortar squads, along with the fusileros-granaderos, were equipped with the Mosquetón. The rest carrying the Mosquete. The rifle-grenade could only be fired from the Mosquete and its use ruined the weapon for accurate normal shooting in addition.

The Valero 50mm Mortar M.1932 'emplaced for firing'.


  1. You sir, are doing amazing work as usual.

    1. Thank you! I do hope to move on to the actual Civil War itself eventually. ;-)