A pre-war homegrown
The Hispano Suiza MC-36 was a truck-based, little-known vehicle from the Spanish Second Republic. It was actually only a prototype vehicle, and was intended to see service with the security forces, but it lost out on the contract to the smaller Bilbao armored car. Very little is known about the vehicle, seeing as though it was produced in such small numbers, but some photographs do exist, and they provide a wealth of information.
Nationalist MC-36. Slogan: Viva Espana!
It was based on the very large Hispano Suiza T-69 truck chassis. Hispano Suiza was a Spanish engineering firm founded in 1904, which, among other things, made luxury cars and commercial trucks. The Republican government took control of the Spanish side of the company during the Civil War in order to produce weapons, armored cars, and other vehicles. Similarly, it also had a French subsidiary which was taken under control by the French government in 1937 (by owning 51% of the shares) for the same reason – war-material production. However, the MC-36 was actually a pre-Civil War armored car, which was in direct competition with the Bilbao to be produced for the Republic’s security forces – probably the Assault Guard or Police.
They were reportedly built in Barcelona, with the hulls made in Madrid by La Sociedad Comercial de Hierros. It ultimately lost the competition, perhaps due to the Bilbao’s simpler design and smaller size. The MC-36 looks as though it would have been very unwieldy in urban combat – a rough estimate based on a scale model reveals it to be 7.4 meters long, which could make traversing around narrow streets an issue.
The shape of the armor is interesting as well. Such a sleek design would allow it to be fairly aerodynamic for such a large vehicle, although the overall benefit is dubious due to the weight of the vehicle. The engine cover also appears to be very well designed – its grill system would allow the engine to be air-cooled (although the engine was probably water-cooled, also). This is important, as armored vehicles in Spain tended to suffer from engine problems as a result of overheating. However, the protection from shrapnel and even small arms fire offered by the grill design is dubious.
They were armed with a dome-shaped turret (which appears riveted together from many plates) with a Hotchkiss machine gun. It appears as though the machine gun would have had minimal elevation, as a result of the basic pistol port that it was poked through, as opposed to having an integrated ball-mount design. Two or four pistol ports can be seen on the side of the hull (sometimes seen with two light machine guns poking out, although photos are not clear enough to definitively say how many there were), and the rear windows could also open. Entry appears to have been done by side doors, certainly for the drivers, but possibly for the passengers as well, as no other discernible entrances can be seen. The tires were each protected by a slightly smaller armored tire, as seen in photos. It could reportedly carry up to ten people, which was quite a lot, and perhaps shows that there was an intention for use as an APC during riots, too.
Riot control is certainly something that would be on the minds of the security forces of the time. There were three elections, 1931-1936, and various deadly events across Spain, such as the Asturian Miners’ Strike (1934) – a protest against the entry of CEDA (a right-wing Catholic-conservative party) into government, which had to be crushed by the armed forces, and cost the lives of over 2000 (260 of which were Republican soldiers). Spain was simply unstable. Armored cars would give security forces a means of protected transport for their staff, but also allow effective fire to be laid down onto armed rebels, thus minimizing casualties for the security forces. One of the biggest concerns during unrest in Spain was rebels capturing buildings and locking the area down with snipers. Having an armored car that could fit ten men meant that the vehicle could easily drive up to the building and allow the crew to storm the building, without fear from being shot by snipers.
Supposed prototype MC-36 being presented to police officials.
An estimated 5-15 vehicles were built (probably closer to 5), and were committed to combat in the Civil War with Republican forces. They were most likely sent to the southern front, with unknown combat results. Interestingly, the T-69 truck was used for towing field guns and artillery pieces during the Civil War, but there is a substantial lack of information on them.
More is perhaps known about their service with the Nationalists. According to slogans on the side of one vehicle, they were in service under Lieutenant Colonel Carlos Asensio Cabanillas (hence the slogan: “Columna Madrid, Tte. Coronel Asensio“). Assuming that this is more than just a slogan, these MC-36s were captured somewhere between Seville and Madrid, as this is where Cabanillas’ forces saw combat.
The Nationalists also did one huge modification – adding a T-26 turret to at least one. It is unknown why this was done, and if only one was modified in this manner. It was, reportedly, the command vehicle for “Agrupacion de Carros del Sur“. The Nationalists would have quite liked to operate a captured T-26, seeing as though they were easily the best tanks in the war, owing to their deadly 45 mm (1.77 in) gun. Perhaps the T-26 it came from was damaged, save for the turret, and this is why the turret was salvaged and placed onto a suitable chassis. Whilst quite a heavy turret (an estimated 0.94 tons), the chassis would be able to carry such a load, although it would raise the center of mass substantially, thus making it top heavy and more prone to toppling over. The MC-36 with a T-26 turret has been photographed in service with Agrupacion del Ejercito del Sur during the Victory Parade in Seville, 17th April, 1936, and again in Andalucia.
The MC-36’s production run remains unknown, as do specific details about its armor thickness, weight, and top speed. It is likely that the armor was roughly 10 mm (0.39 in) thick, as per most armored cars of the period. Its very streamlined shape (more so with the Hotchkiss turret) would mean it was aerodynamic, but at the speeds of most armored cars of the time, this would have been very close to irrelevant. Moreso, it would undoubtedly be a heavy and road-bound vehicle, therefore, it is likely that it could hit speeds of no higher than 40 km/h (25 mph) in the best of conditions.
Side-note: A Chinese Copy?
Photographs of this vehicle must have also appeared in China, too, in around 1936/7, as the Nationalists built an improvised armored car that is simply too similar-looking to be a coincidence, especially with regards to the turret, although nothing is known about this vehicle, aside from what can be seen from the photograph. It is also unclear what gun is used in the turret, although it appears to be a low caliber gun, possibly a mountain gun, mortar, or some kind of jacketed-machine gun, such as the Lewis gun.
Las Armas de la Guerra Civil: El Primer Estudio Global y Sistematico del Armamento Empleado por Ambos Contendientes” by José María Manrique García and Lucas Molina Franco
“Spanish Civil War Tanks: The Proving Ground for Blitzkrieg” by Steven J. Zaloga
“The Battle for Spain, The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939” by Anthony Beevor
“A Short History of: The Spanish Civil War” by Julian Casanova
“The Spanish Civil War” by Stanley G. Payne
The original MC-36 featuring the ‘Hotchkiss hemispheric turret’ in Nationalist service, “Columna Madrid Tte. Coronel Asensio“.
The field conversion T-26 turret-armed MC-36 in Nationalist service.
Nationalist MC-36. Slogans: Columna Madrid, Viva Espana.
Different view of the above MC-36. Slogan: Columna Madrid, Tte. Coronel Asencio.
Nationalist MC-36. Possibly the same as above at a different point in time (hence the similarity of the slogans, particularly when “Columna Madrid” is compared closely), or, at least part of the same column. This one does not have the additional armored wheels protecting the tires.
Republican MC-36. Slogan: Partido Comunista
Unknown MC-36. Republican service. Appears to be the same vehicle as above.
Nationalist MC-36 with a T-26 turret. Falangist markings are seen on the wheelguards.
Different view of the above MC-36. Postwar parade in the south.
Possibly a second MC-36 in Nationalist service with a T-26 turret. Above photos do not show a headlamp on the gun, but it may have just been removed or added at a different point in time.