Sunday, December 4

The T-32, the Russian tank that destroyed its German opponents during the Civil War

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The war in Ukraine has brought to light the serious deficiencies of the Russian Army, which in most cases has dedicated itself to partially updating the machinery inherited from the USSR. This is the case of its tanks, whose most modern version, the T-90, keeps alive the long tradition of large, versatile and economical tanks applied since the time of Stalin.

The history of military technology experienced a tsunami between the First and the Second World WarAs if the debut of tanks, aviation and so many other destructive devices hadn’t sounded terrifying enough and the military powers wanted to double down. The first combat tank acquired by Spain was the Renault FT-17, which arrived in Madrid on June 23, 1919 in the post-war heat.

Those light tanks, together with half a dozen Schneider CA-1 assault tanks, laid the foundations for the armored point of the Spanish Army which, almost unchanged, participated in the Civil War.

At the outbreak of the war, the Army added, apart from the Protected Trucks (armored vehicles of some dimensions), a total of ten FT-17, which were divided between Nationals and Republicans almost equally. The only Fiat 3000A (Italian model similar to the FT-17) in service was disassembled to use its parts and the six fuel tanks assault Schneider CA1 from Spain They remained at the disposal of the Republican Army, which used them during the siege of the Alcázar of Toledo and the first defenses of Madrid, where they were destroyed. Three prototypes of the Trubia A4, a battle tank manufactured in Spain, were in the hands of the nationals, while a fourth device passed to the People’s Army of the Republic, according to data from Dionisio García, author of ‘Trubia: The First Battle Tank Spanish’ (Battlement).

The foreign landing in Spain

The Peninsula would become the training ground for the great modern battleship wars that would take place in the WWII, but not because of existing tanks, but because of those that were to come from Italy, Germany and Russia. On August 18, 1936, the nationals received the first Italian tankettes and a month later thirty light German exploration tanks. The Republicans were not far behind thanks to the Soviet supply. According to the legendary book about Hugh Thomas’s Civil WarDuring 1936, 239 Russian tanks arrived at the Levante ports and 120 at Bilbao.

In the image, a tank accompanied by pack animals and soldiers.+ info
In the image, a tank accompanied by pack animals and soldiers.

The maximum endowment on the republican side was reached in September 1937 with 403 Russian tanks on staff, while on the national side in times of greatest abundance the tanks were 60 German and 60 Italian, without ever reaching a hundred from each country. . Not in vain, nor the Italians CV-33 nor the germans Panzer I They were rivals for the numerous Russian T-26 tanks, which destroyed enemy armor with their cannons.

T-26 was designed in the twenties for infantry support using as a model a British light tank, the Vickers 6-ton, which was cheaper than those that had been manufactured in the USSR. A group of engineers from Department of Experimental Design (OKMO) at the Bolshevik Factory Leningrad They manufactured twenty models similar to the British aircraft, with an almost completely riveted structure, although over time they adapted them to their needs and began large-scale production. With more than 11,000 units, the T-26 was manufactured in greater quantity than any other tank of its time and exported, apart from Spain, in large quantities to China and Turkey.

Captured Soviet-made main battle tank.+ info
Captured Soviet-made main battle tank.

From 1934, the different versions of the T-26 were unified in the one that included a single cannon (45 mm) and a 7.62 mm machine gun. It could already reach a speed of 28 Km/h and the welding was improved after the combats with the Japanese of that same decade. Thanks to the experience in this border conflict, the use of welding was decided, which gave them a great advantage in combat without losing speed. Despite being called a light tank, this tank was three tons heavier than its British predecessor and its range exceeded 200 kilometres.

The weak points of the car

The first T-26 tanks that arrived in Spain in their T-26B model were manned by Soviet personnel, but soon the Soviet commander Semyon Krivoshein opened a training school in the town of Archena, near Cartagena, recruiting primarily Republican truck and bus drivers. Although the best tank of the war was the Russian BT5, of which very few units arrived in Spain, the T-26 proved to be impossible to stop by enemy armor. Soviet tanks were present in the battles of Jarama, Guadalajara, Brunete, Belchite, Teruel and the Ebro, where they starred in unprecedented episodes in this type of war.

The best tank of the contest was the Russian BT5, of which very few units arrived in Spain

The T-26 had similar mobility and speed to its enemies, but its protection and armor was far superior and, especially its main armament, the 45mm cannon, caused terror in its opponents. Italian and German tanks they found it difficult to damage the Soviet tank, but the T-26’s 15mm armor was vulnerable to anti-tank weapons. Faced with the inferiority of his side, Franco even offered his soldiers up to 500 pesetas for each T-26 tank captured and organized a recovery unit, designed to seize Soviet armor off the ground and incorporate it into its ranks.

Parade after the Civil War of Franco's tanks.+ info
Parade after the Civil War of Franco’s tanks.

In addition to damaging their armor, another way to neutralize them was to take advantage of the deficiencies of their engine, which could be drowned by throwing blankets over the air intakes or with Molotov cocktails. The high temperatures that were recorded inside the vehicle forced the crew to abandon it as soon as there was a lack of air without damaging the car’s structure. In addition, the T-26s that participated in the Civil War they did not have a radio to communicate, except for the unit’s officer’s car, which was distinguished from the others by a semicircular antenna adapted to the rear of the turret, which made it the enemy’s favorite target.

Outside Spain, the T-26 participated in the first operations of the Second World War

To clearly distinguish the captured T-26s, the Francoist army painted the sides of the turret with red and yellow colors and the upper part, with the cross of Saint Andrew in black on a white background. After the fratricidal conflict, Franco had ten Renault FT-17s, 94 Panzer Is, 60 CV-33/35s and 140 T-26s, which formed the backbone of his army. Stalin himself even joked that he had become the main supplier of arms to the Spanish dictator. These tank units were in service until 1957, when they began to be replaced by material delivered by the United Stateslike the M-26, the M-41 or the M-47.

Outside Spain, the T-26 participated in the first operations of the Second World War, including the invasion of Poland and the Winter War with Finland, where it became clear that it was obsolete. Finnish 37mm anti-tank guns and even some 20mm anti-tank rifles easily penetrated their thin armor. Although production ceased in 1941, existing units still participated in the German invasion of the USSR as they were gradually replaced by more modern ones such as the T-34.

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