Saturday, 6 August 2016

The Pre-Civil War Spanish Military Divisional Artillery

The integral artillery of the Organic Divisions was provided by sixteen light artillery regiments, numbered consecutively 1-16. The fundamental difference between the two was that the odd numbered regiments (1, 3, 5 etc.) were equipped with the Cañón Schneider (75/28) Modelo 1917 and the even regiments (2, 4 etc.) with the etc.) Obús Vickers (105/22) Modelo 1922. Regiments were paired within each division so as to provide one regiment of each type. The reductions in manpower also affected the artillery and each regiment was reduced to two 'grupos' as opposed to its former three. This conformed to the infantry brigade as restructured, so that each infantry brigade had the support of a group each of 75mm and 105mm guns.

The structure of the groups of both artillery types was identical and each group contained its own support staff, as did the two batteries that constituted each group after the reforms. Originally there had been three groups per regiment, each of three batteries, for a total of 36 guns. After the reforms there were two groups per regiment, each of two batteries of four guns, for a total of 16 guns.

Light Artillery Group 1936.
Group Headquarters

The Group Headquarters consisted of a command element, composed of a comandante (major) as the group commander, with a teniente as his adjutant, a trumpeter and a farrier. There was a telegraphy section led by a sergeant, who had two corporal-telephonists and two telephonists under his command. Another sergeant led the observation and exploration section, which consisted of two corporal-surveyors, two privates to assist them and a scout. The ordinary staff of the group consisted of a corporal-medic with an assistant, a clerk, two men to guard the horses of the headquarters and two wagons with drivers, one for each of the aforementioned sections.

The two group headquarters of each infantry brigade would be attached to the brigade headquarters, so as to work in conjunction with each other and the needs of the brigade commander. These headquarters units were linked to their respective batteries by telephone ideally, but visual signals by semaphore, heliograph, or lamp, were also used.

Gun Batteries

Each of the two batteries in the group were also self-sufficient operationally. The headquarters consisted of a capitán as the battery commander, who had two brigadas (sergeant-majors) under him to lead the respective headquarters elements. The first of these supervised the telegraphy and observation squads and the second the actual headquarters staff. The telegraphy squad consisted of a corporal-telephonist and three signallers, while the observation squad had a corporal-surveyor, a scout, an observer and three privates. The second brigada had under his command; a sergeant-armourer, a corporal-farrier, two cooks, a tailor, a barber, a cobbler, three orderlies and a two-man stretcher bearer team.

The actual guns of the battery were divided into two secciones (platoons), each of two gun teams. Each of the secciones were led by a teniente, accompanied by a trumpeter. Each of the gun teams was led by a sergeant and consisted of a corporal-gunner (who aimed and fired the piece) and four gunners. Each piece had a six-horse limber with three drivers and a four-horse ammunition caisson with two drivers. The gunners rode on the gun and limber, while the sergeant and the corporal each had their own horse. In total each battery required 18 riding horses and 73 others to mobilise it fully. Nevertheless shortages of animals often resulted in four or even two-horse teams for the guns and limbers and just two for the caisson.  

75mm Schneiders of the Light Artillery on the move in July 1936. Note that only two horses pull the gun and limber, instead of the usual six, while the crews walk when they would ordinarily ride with a full horse team. The weapon is preceded by its ammunition caisson.
Each battery deployed its own forward observation team as shown above, which combined with that of the group, meant that there were in total three teams deployed per group. While each team communicated with its own topography sections, fire was coordinated through the group headquarters and typically indirect fire over distance was far more usual than direct fire on visible targets. Nevertheless direct fire was utilised on several occasions during the coup of July 1936, typically against loyalist forces within public buildings. Battery commanders were expected to use their discretion and initiative, although these were secondary to the imperative of ensuring the security of the battery and its weapons.

Cañón Schneider (75/28) Modelo 1917

The Schneider had been in service with the Spanish Army since 1906 and had been licence-built in its original form from that date. The original single trail was replaced by a split trail of Spanish design, which allowed higher elevation and ease of loading that had not been present on the original French design.

Using the original shell types the weapon had a range of 8,500 metres, but a new shell type introduced in 1932 (the M.1932) extended this to 10,700 metres. The gun limber carried 60 rounds for the gun and its accompanying caisson carried a further 98. The rate of fire was between 15-20 rounds per minute, or for short durations as many as 30 rounds per minute, depending on whether a short or sustained barrage was being performed. Two shell types were in use in the Pre-Civil War Army; rompedora (high explosive) and metralla (shrapnel). 

During the Civil War Italy supplied a 'perforating shell' (i.e. a solid shell) that had been made for its own artillery pieces and was compatible with the Schneider. The weight, sighting mechanism and the limited traverse of these weapons would make them poor anti-tank weapons, unless they were being approached head-on and the gunner had some luck on his side.

The Spanish licence-built Schneider 75mm Gun, Model 1917, displaying the split trail that deviated from the original French design.
Some units in the North-West of Spain were apparently still equipped with the Cañón Schneider-Canet 75 mm M.1900 (one source gives 16 of these weapons in the inventory), as well as older single-trail versions of the Schneider M.1906 in 1936. It is however possible that these were weapons brought out of storage during the Civil War. To all intents and purposes these weapons performed similarly to the M.1917, that weapon's operational improvements not withstanding.

Obús Vickers (105/22) Modelo 1922

The 105mm howitzer was a more recent design than the Schneider, although with a range of 9,200 metres, it was not substantially further reaching than the 75mm. Its shells were however correspondingly heavier and therefore more effective; the 105mm shell was twice the weight of the 75mm shell at 12 kilos. Like the 75mm, the weapon fired either high explosive or shrapnel. One notable feature of the gun was its box trail, which Vickers adapted for use with motor transport and fitted them to both the 18pdr and 25pdr in British service.

The limber and caisson were of the same design as that of the 75mm, with a corresponding reduction in the number of shell trays which could be fitted and therefore the number of rounds which could be carried as ready ammunition.

Although taken in 1949, this photo shows a battery of Vickers 105mm guns of Civil War vintage deployed for action. Surprisingly the guns still have the original wheels, making them unsuitable for motorised towing.
The Vickers 105mm Model 1922, shown attached to its limber.

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