Weapons of the Spanish Civil War

The Spanish Civil War is a relatively un-remembered conflict here in the US, but it is a fascinating event for firearms enthusiasts because of the huge variety of arms used. Both sides were supplied by a variety of other sympathetic nations, including Germany, Italy, the Soviet Union, and Poland. The military aid supplies included both cutting edge material used to test new arms and tactics in a proxy war (such as German Stuka dive bombers and Soviet PE and PEM sniper rifles) as well as obsolete or obsolescent material sold to desperate groups who would accept anything they could find. The Soviet Union in particular used the Spain as a dumping-ground for all the miscellaneous small arms they had accumulated during and after WWI, sold to Spain for hard gold bullion.

Well, a reader named Leonard Heinz wrote up an extensive analysis of these small arms, you can read in PDF format via that link. His work is footnoted extensively, and he also created a sortable Excel spreadsheet of the different types of arms, their recipients, shipment dates, and ships used to deliver them. It’s excellent work, and great reading for anyone interested in the topic. Thanks, Leonard!

If you are interested in further research, the books Leonard references in his paper are:

Arms For Spain, by Gerald Howson
Mauser Military Rifles of the World , by Robert Ball
The Standard Catalog of Military Firearms, by Phillip Peterson
The Battle For Spain, by Antony Beevor
Between the Bullet and the Lie: American Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War, by Cecil Eby
The Republic Besieged, by Paul Preston and Ann Mackenzie
The Republican Army in the Spanish Civil War, by Michael Alpert




        I think most people would argue that the German contribution to the Patriotic forces was more in the area of demonstrating the efficacy of bombing mostly undefended cities, an effective tactic used by the British and Americans to make Europe safe for communism in the second world war.

      • The Nationalist Army received 122 German PzKw I tanks(a small machine armed with only two 7,92 mm MGs). With them were formed two small battalions with three companies each (one of them had captured soviet T-26). The Italians sent 155 CV-33/35 tankettes, a still worse vehicle. They were furnished to the “Raggruppamento Carristi”, or tank group, which in 1938 had about one hundred tankettes.

        The Soviet Union delivered to the Republican faction at least 281 T-26 tanks, armed with an excellent 45 mm gun, plus 50 BT-5 fast tanks (system Christie and forerunner of the T-34) and 60 armored cars. They were formed in an armored engines division, but were used in support of infantry in penny packets.

      • It had little to do with the Germans. The Army of Africa commanded by Col Juan Yague Blanco advanced in four columns into western Spain. The infantry was transported in open trucks, most of which towed an artillery piece. Very few tanks. Combined tactical use of motorized infantry, artillery and aircraft using pincer movement, speed and relentless momentum the essence of blitzkrieg. Tanks were used in numbers later in the Civil War.

  2. There are several Spanish books with much better information about materiel used in SCW than Howson´s one. Specially interesting are Artemio Mortera´s book series about artillery and Manrique García & Molina Franco general work “Las armas de la Guerra Civil Española”.

    • Carlos,

      I took a quick online look at Garcia’s and Franco’s book, but couldn’t tell if it covered small arms in the detail that I was looking for. Does the book have extensive material on small arms? I was particularly looking for details on Nationalist weapons, which Howson barely covers.

      • Carlos is absolutely right. The fact that Howson’s book was originally published eighteen years ago (“Arms for Spain”, London: John Murray, 1998) should be taken into consideration. After all, almost twenty years elapsed since then! In the meantime, a whole new generation of studies has seen the light. A mildly comprehensive list is perhaps too long to be posted here. Anyway, the majority of such works was written by Spaniards, with a few also by Russian (eg Yuri Rybalkin), Polish (Wojciech Mazur, who provides precise figures for Polish-made and Polish-supplied materiel ranging from small arms to aircraft) and Czech historians (mostly on aircraft, I think). As far as I know, the seminal works by Rybalkin and Mazur haven’t been translated into English yet, although a revised and improved Spanish version of the former was published in 2007 by Marcial Pons in Madrid.

        As for small arms obtained by the Nationalists from Germany, I think you must get Lucas Molina’s extensive and authorative work “El legado de Sigfrido: la ayuda militar alemana al ejército y a la marina nacional en la Guerra Civil Española (1936-1939)” – Valladolid: AF Editores, 2005. He provides well documented figures for a whole array of small arms, from pistols to machine guns; a few examples:

        – The MG 13 LMG, whose presence in the Nationalist inventory during the SCW is described as “likely” by Mr. Heinz in his interesting PDF article, was indeed supplied by the Germans in sizeable numbers; Molina provides a solid figure backed by documentary evidence: 2438 MG 13s, provided in unequal parts by HISMA (new guns) and also from Condor Legion own stocks.
        – Gew. 98: 178,111 (!)
        – P.08 Luger pistols: 164
        – SMGs (of non-specified types): 170

        An interesting tidbit: in their large tome, mentioned above by Carlos (“Las Armas de la Guerra Civil Española”, Madrid: La Esfera de los Libros, 2006), Lucas Molina and José María Manrique García also refer the shipment of a small batch of modern Soviet AVS-36 rifles to the Republicans. This information is repeated in a much abridged, “popular” version of “Las armas de la Guerra Civil Española”, with some details on uniforms thrown in for good measure – “Atlas Ilustrado de las Armas y Uniformes de la Guerra Civil Española”, Susaeta Ediciones, 2009).

        • Thanks, that’s great information. I’ll look for book on German aid that you mentioned. Even though Howson is old, it looks like he had good access to Polish and Russian records. He’s weaker on identifying the precise types of small arms delivered by the Poles and the Russians, and on arms delivered by other countries, such as Czechoslovakia and Greece. And of course, his focus was not at all on aid to the Nationalists. I haven’t found much on aid to the rebels beyond a few references in more general works. The numbers you cite are in line with my expectations, which were that the insurgents got many small arms from Germany.

          Len Heinz

          • You are welcome. Another essential book is Wojciech Mazur’s and Marek Piotr Deszczyński’s “Na krawędzi ryzyka. Eksport polskiego sprzętu wojskowego w okresie międzywojennym” [On the Edge of Risk: Polish arms exports in the interwar era] (Warsaw: Neriton, 2004). It provides a detailed analysis on Polish exports of arms, the activities of SEPEWE, etc, in the interwar era. Poland was really a big player in this field, with exports to more than 30 countries between the mid Twenties and 1939, becoming a major arms exporter by the end of the Thirties; most of the exports went to Balkan countries (Greece, Bulgaria, Romania) and Turkey, but the Spanish Republic was by far SEPEWE’s largest market.

          • That would be great, if only I could read Polish. I’ve managed German with Fraktur lettering, but I fear that Polish would be beyond me. It’s interesting that the Poles continued to export arms even after they got rid of their Czarist and German hand-me-downs. Were they after had currency to pay for imports?

  3. I’ve looked at the bibliography in Ian’s original post. Two look interesting. The Spanish Civil War is a definite hole in my history knowledge. I’d appreciate it if some readers out there can recommend other good books (in English) that deal with the overall conflict – origins, inside/outside influences, immediate aftermath. Thanks ahead of time.

      • There is a vast historiography of the SCW.

        Arguably, the best military history is Antony Beevor’s _The Spanish Civil War_.
        One of the most accessible biographies, and an excellent primer on the internal politics of the Republic: George Orwell’s _Homage to Catalonia_.
        For the libertarian socialist/anarchist perspective and a rebuke of liberal historical scholarship: Noam Chomsky, “Objectivity and Liberal Scholarship.”
        Paul Preston’s _Spanish Holocaust_ is an important book, and he has written a biography of Francisco Franco who won the war.
        An excellent social history from all sides is offered by Hispanist Ronald Fraser’s _The Blood of Spain_, which also has several interviews that are part of the excellent BBC/Granada TV documentary series from 1982. If you check youtube, you should be able to find it. Lots of excellent interviews with participants.
        Arturo Barea’s _Portrait of a Rebel_ is a good Spanish memoir, and there are others.
        The definitive account of the politics of the ill-fated 2nd Republic is Bolloten’s _The Spanish Civil War_ but this is a phone book best used as a reference more than anything.
        Adam Hochschild’s _Spain in Our Hearts_ is an important recent book from a mostly Anglo-U.S. perspective.

      • Sorry, Peter Elstob’s book is very outdated (published in the early 70s, if memory serves me well). Spanish, German and French authors have since published better books.
        As Dave pointed out, the bibliography on the SCW is vast, but the best current works, both on military/technical subjects and also on more general issues, have been published in Spain and the UK.

    • Hugh Thomas´ book is a classic and still a good book, but is a general history not a military one.

      Beevor’s “The Spanish Civil War” for me is a money maker. Nothing new is on it.

      Preston. I don´t like his books, too side minded. He has find in Spain his gold mine … Stanley G. Payne is a much better historian.

      Gerald Howson’s “Arms For Spain” is an interesting book, but is incomplete. It was mainly based in the incomplete lists of arms shipping from Soviet Union.

  4. When it comes to the un-remembered conflicts and the un-remembered weapons they were fought with, whether the Spanish Civil War or elsewhere, one notable and recurring trait is that collectors are often able to buy more for less, which is always a good thing, a situation where “rarity” does not necessarily equate to a higher price.

    As the James D. Julia Auction begins today in the far-off and largely-rural ‘border’ state of Maine, I’ve got to wonder if it might attract any similar kind of attention from federal law enforcement agencies that gun shows in the opposite corner of the country are being subjected to, as widely reported in yesterday’s news:


    But whether ALPRs will be buzzing around or not, I bet that the Julia auction will probably hit a new sales record, perhaps not coincidentally with the considerable viewership that ForgottenWeapons directs there.

  5. Goodness knows how many people dismissed this period of history as a “family feud” settled with foreign “guests” duking it out using new-fangled toys…

    America and England didn’t think that the stuff going on in Spain applied elsewhere, it appears…

    Did I mess up?

    • No. The United States and Great Britain largely brushed off the events in Spain as inapplicable to “real” warfare.

      For instance, dive-bombing, while an American innovation (see “Al Williams Gulfhawk”) was ignored by everybody except the United States Navy, which developed it into the single most lethal ship-killing technique of WW2.

      The U.S. Army, by comparison, had few dive bombers (A-36 Apache/Mustang, A-24 Dauntless, A-25 Helldiver, the latter two actually Naval aircraft) and used them poorly.

      The RAF took no notice of Luftwaffe tactics. The “finger-four” was developed in the skies over Spain based on theories dating back to “the Great War”, notably Oswald Boelcke’s. The RAF went into France in 1940 with the old three-fighter “vic”, and their losses showed it.

      And nobody took note of German panzer tactics except a few unpopular mavericks like Lyne, Crisp, Patton, De Gaulle, and LeClerc. The latter two got cashiered for “not fighting properly” in 1940, and exiled to Morocco before June, which was how they ended up commanding the Free French after that.

      Ironically, everybody rounded on the Germans for bombing Guernica, overlooking the detail that the arms factory there was the primary target and the town itself was “collateral damage”.

      Seven years later, the RAF would be mounting thousand-plane raids on German cities at night, the U.S. 8th AAF would be pounding hell out of German war plants in daylight, and the U.S. 20th AAF in the Far East would be gearing up for saturation fire-bombing of Japan.

      Somehow the comparison to that town in Spain never got mentioned anywhere.

      The winners always write the history books.



      • Actually, Abraham Lincoln vets, while black listed and red baited as “premature antifascists” were consulted quite closely about German weapons when the U.S. finally entered WWII.
        British and U.S. political circles did not entirely ignore events in Spain. They favored a Nationalist victory, which is what transpired. Check out the role of Texaco, Henry Ford, and a few other major corporations sometime. The “anti-intervention committee” tacitly looked the other way as Germany and Italy supplied the Nationalists. After angling for an alliance with one or another of the Western Powers, Stalin decided to just make the Molotov-Ribbentrop treaty and be done with it. His interest in the fate of Spain, where the PCE led the so-called “Ejercito Popular” and used Soviet aid, weapons, advisers with political strings very strongly attached, waned after the “ultra-left” was crushed, and he purged the Red Army and the Great Terror got underway.

        Franco’s Spanish State was probably the last nation to field the Polikarpov I-16 fighter and T26 tank.

        As for Guernika, the ASTRA factory was conspicuously not bombed. The Condor Legion and Spaniards in the Nationalist wing were highly cognizant that the Basque country was about to fall, and the arms factories were going to be theirs unless they were sabotaged. Francisco Franco invited foreigners to bomb his own nation’s capital Madrid. This was terror bombing, pure and simple. As Swedish writer Sven Lindqvist has pointed out, while everyone knows about the bombing of civilians at Guernica, no one knows about Chechouen, a Berber village in then Spanish Morocco. It was a defenseless civilian population center subject to terror bombing by mercenary pilots flying for Spain’s Army of Africa.

        Chechouen, Guernica, Warsaw, Rotterdam, Coventry, Berlin, Hamburg, the Ruhr, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki…

        • ASTRA factory had very few military importance as it made only pistols. Of much more importance in the north (Basque Country and Santander)were “Sociedad Española de Construcción Naval” or SECN’s factories in Sestao y Reinosa. The SECN is a Vickers Owned company, dedicated to shipbuilding and artillery construction.

          The reasons of Guernica bombing are not clear (to my knowledge). In general both sides (Francoist & Republicans-Popular- Front) made bomb attacks on enemy industry, communications, troops concentrations, … but also to afraid civilian population and low its moral. Not in a very different way as allies made in WW2.

  6. A message to Ian Collum

    The next series should be…weapons used in the border wars in Manchuria between Soviet Russia and Imperial Japan

    Weapons used in the Finnish Soviet winter war

    weapons used in the bolivian paraguan war in the twentienth eight year of the twentienth century.

    weapons used in the sino japanese wars in the 1930s

    weapons used during the continental battles of Manchuria/Korean in 1904-05

    weapons used duriin the banana wars in latin ameerica

    weapons used during the polish soviet war of 1920

    weapons used during the czech hungarian border war

    Weapons used during the Spanish. Moroccan Rif Wars

    Lenin Chigbundu signing off

    • Yep, as you can tell from the text, the records are a bit vague on this, but the 08/18 SMGs seemed the best fit for the known facts. The Austrian reference is puzzling, but I could not find any Austrian “08/15” weapons that would explain it. It would be cool to actually find some of these guns in Spain, if they still exist.

  7. I only see a slight mention of possible Pattern 14 rifles when there are pictures of the Lincoln Brigade using P14 or US M17 rifles. Did I miss something?

  8. “The Soviet Union in particular used the Spain as a dumping-ground for all the miscellaneous small arms they had accumulated during and after WWI, sold to Spain for hard gold bullion.”

    I was going to bring this up. The Communists proved to be robber baron capitalists – they just didn’t have the top hat. The war was an awakening for George Orwell, who came home from the International Brigades, totally disillusioned by the back-stabbing, feuding and outright betrayal by his ostensible “comrades”. Read Homage to Catalonia

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