republican flag     Second Spanish Republic (1932-1939)

spanish nationalist flagNationalist Spain (1936-1943)
Armored Car – 48 built

Guardian of the Republic

The Bilbao Modelo 1932 was the official armored car of the Guardias de Asalto (Assault Guard – officially known as Secciones de la Vanguardia del Cuerpo de Seguridad – Sections of the Vanguard of the Security Corps), who were essentially riot polic. They were boxy armored cars based on a Ford commercial truck chassis, with a cylindrical turret armed with a Spansh-built Hotchkiss machine gun. The Bilbao armored car was used by both Republicans and Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War, but the majority remained in Republican hands in 1936, and these were used extensively in the first few months of the war. As more were captured by the Nationalists, they also saw service throughout the rest of the war, albeit in smaller numbers.


Surviving Bilbao Modelo 1932 of the Assault Guard at Parque y Centro de Mantenimiento de Vehiculos Ruedas Numero. 1. Credits: Alcantara Forogratis.

Design

The Bilbao Modelo 1932 was designed by an engineer from SECN (la Sociedad Española de Construcción Naval  / Spanish Society of Naval Construction) with collaboration from a Captain of Engineers from the Cuerpo de Seguridad y Asalto (Security and Assault Corps).

They were built by the Department of Railways of the SECN’s factory in Sestao, near Bilbao, hence the vehicle’s name “Bilbao Modelo 1932”. It is unclear what chassis Bilbao Modelo 1932 was based on. Originally, SECN considered using a 4×2 Ford V8 Model 1930 commercial truck manufactured in Barcelona by Ford Motor Ibérica, but the Ford Factory did not start production of engines until 1939. It is believed that the first series (IE the first 36 vehicles) were based on a Dodge 4×2 Model 1932 with either a Chrysler or Dodge K32 Model 1931 engine.

An iron frame of three joined parts was used to strengthen the vehicle in order to take the extra weight of the armoring. The cylindrical turret was placed in the center of the roof, which mounted a Spanish-built Hotchkiss Model 1924 7 mm (0.27 in) machine gun. This gun was manufactured in Spain for the Army, Navy, and even the Police.

Some Spanish sources mention other types of Bilbao armored cars such as a “Modelo 1935”, but this appears to be a misconception, as there appear to have been no production differences between any Bilbao armored cars.


Technical drawing of the Bilbao Modelo 1932.

Organization

The vehicles were originally divided among Republican security forces. The structure of the Compañías de Asalto is as follows: A Grupo de Asalto (located regionally) would be commanded by a Tentiente Coronel (Lieutenant Commander), which would consist of three Compañías de Seguridad, and integrated into this would be a Seccion Vanguardia, commanded by a Lieutenant, which would include nine Bilbao Modelo 1932s.

In total, there were twelve Grupos de Asalto, which would require one hundred and eight vehicles, but only forty two Bilbao Modelo 1932s were contracted to SECN in 1930. In June, 1932, forty Bilbao Modelo 1932s were supplied, with two remaining in Sestao for an unknown reason. Therefore, many Grupos would not have Bilbao Modelo 1932s, or they would not have a full complement of vehicles in each.


Guardia de Asalto in Barcelona receive their Bilbao Modelo 1932s. Credit: Andreu Puig i Farran, as taken from “Los Medios Blindados en la Guerra Civil España: Teatro de Operaciones del Norte 36/37” by Artemio Mortera Pérez.

In 1933, twelve Bilbao Modelo 1932s were ordered by the Grupo de Autoametralladoras del Regimiento de Caballería de Aranjuez (Armored Car Group of the Cavalry Regiment of Aranjuez). One Grupo would have two Esquadrons (squadrons), which would have six vehicles in each.

At the start of the war in 1936, the Bilbao Modelo 1932s were divided thus: forty were assigned to the Cuerpo de Seguridad, seven to the Ejército de Tierra (missing only one vehicle to be fully equipped), and one was at the Parque Regional de Automóviles de Madrid (Regional Park of Automobiles of Madrid). forty one of these were Republican hands, and the seven of the Ejército de Tierra were in Nationalist hands.

Throughout the war, the vehicles appear to have been used by different, often newly-made organizations.


Guardia de Asalto with a Bilbao Modelo 1932, Toledo, 1936.

Combat

Summer, 1936

On the morning of the 20th of July 1936, two Bilbao Modelo 1932s, along with other military elements, intervened in the attack on the Cuartel de la Montaña, Madrid.

On the 21st of July, four were part of Colonel Riquelme’s column, which advanced on Toledo in order to besiege the Alcazar. Two of these vehicles were destroyed in combat.

On the afternoon of the 20th July, another column (formed in Madrid by Colonel Puigdendolas) is reported to have had no fewer than eight or nine Bilbao Modelo 1932s. These took part in the occupation of Alcalá de Henares (22 miles northeast of Madrid) on 21st July in order to quell a revolt (although no violence was used). The same vehicles later took part in the occupation of Guádalajara on the 22nd July which saw fierce fighting. Later on, two of these Bilbao Modelo 1932s were captured in the Guadarrama mountain range attacking the Nationalist positions at the port of Alto del León, whilst the other seven were taken back to Madrid.

It is possible that two or three Bilbao Modelo 1932s were part of la Columna Vidal of Tentiente Coronel Vidal Munárriz. It is reported that several were in service when the column was reformed after reaching Villareal on 21st July. Whilst two Bilbao Modelo 1932s were apparently kept at SECN in Sestao in 1932, the vehicles in the Columna Vidal may actually just have been locally built armored cars. On the 26th July, the Columna received reinforcements, and the following day, the newspaper “El Liberal” suggested that they received a “carro de asalto”, which might have been a Bilbao Modelo 1932, but this is unclear. It is quite likely that these vehicles were all locally built Tiznaos (a generic term for crude armored cars built in local workshops).

Autumn, 1936

At Madrid, Bilbao Modelo 1932s were added to different Columns. Lieutenant Colonel Mangada’s column, which had five Bilbaos, went to Cebreros (41 miles west of Madrid) and returned to Madrid three days later. These five Bilbaos also had a prominent role in the disruption of a Nationalist assault on the 19th of August on Navalperal de Pinares (40 miles northwest of Madrid).

Two Bilbao armored cars were involved in the defense of Mérida (August, 1936, 40 miles east of the Portuguese border), where they would be captured by the Nationalists. These were then used to enter Badajoz (34 miles west of Mérida).

Other Bilbao Modelo 1932s were known to be part of the Columna Móvil (Mobile Column) organized in Zaragoza, as well as the Ejército Expedicionario (Expeditionary Army) that left Seville in early August.

In mid-September, the Nationalists organized a two-section Armored Company with the Bilbao Modelo 1932s they had captured. This Company would arrive in Madrid, supporting the columns that were besieging the capital.

Different forces used Bilbao armored cars in the north of Spain. Two were with the Column of Commander Galvis near Irun and another four were sent from San Sebastián and Bilbao to stop to the Nationalists advance from Vitoria.

After 1936

The Bilbao Modelo 1932 was only a capable fighting vehicle in urban areas, and was totally unsuitable for combat in any sort of rural area. As a result, after the first few months of the war, the Bilbao Modelo 1932 would typically be kept in reserve or used in rear guard or ‘2nd line’ duties, such as policing and escorts. For example, at the end of 1938 the Agrupacion de Carros de Combate del Sur (Group of Combat Vehicles of the South, which was a Nationalist unit) nominally had a strength of seven Bilbao armored cars in reserve. Of these though only one was operational, five were in repair, and one was destroyed. This was possible due to the appearance of more versatile armored cars such as the BA-3, BA-6, UNL-35, and AAC-1937.

By the end of 1938, the Nationalists had thirteen Bilbao Modelo 1932s, including the seven belonging to the Cavalry, five which they captured from Republican forces, and one destroyed but used for spare parts. Five of these would be converted into flamethrower-carrying variants (see below). There is no information available for Republican numbers.

After 1939

After the Civil War, the remaining Bilbao Modelo 1932s were removed form the Ejército de Tierra’s stocks and were incorporated into the Cuerpo de Policía Armada y de Tráfico (Armed Police and Traffic Corps), formed under Franco in 1941, and likely served the same duties as they did in the Guardias de Asalto during pre-war Second Republic. The Second Republic’s Secciones de Vangurdia became the Banderas Móviles de la Policía Armada (Armed Police Mobile Flags), which, on paper, would be equipped with Bilbao Modelo 1932s for police transport (six men plus a driver).

It is known that the surviving Bilbao Modelo 1932s were assigned to the 10th Bandera Móvil at Valencia, which indicates that only a handful of vehicles survived the war – likely no more than nine. Photos from Policía Armada y de Tráfico magazine show that these were used for training of policemen, although the vehicles were unarmed.


Bilbao Modelo 1932 being used for training by the Policia Armada, post-Civil War. From Policía Armada y de Tráfico magazine, courtesy of Coronel Juan Antonio Penacho, General D. Antonio Nadal, and Octavio Almendros.

With the reorganization of the Fuerzas de Orden Público (Public Order Forces) in 1943 (essentially, a new organization of armed police with the absorption of the Carabineros by the Guardia Civil) the trace of all Bilbao Modelo 1932s is lost, and they were likely retired.

Today, two Bilbao Modelo 1932s still exist. One is on display at the Parque Central de Mantenimientos de Vehñiculos Rueda No. 1 (Torrejón, Madrid), and the other is at the Academia de Logística (Calatayud, Zaragoza).

Bilbao Modelo 1932 ‘Lanzallamas’ – the flamethrower variant

What had previously been considered a myth in early scholarship on Spanish Civil War vehicles was proven reality by private photos taken by the Condor Legion. These Bilbao ‘Lanzallamas’ were essentially  Bilbao armored cars which were captured by the Nationalists, and then armed with heavy flamethrowers.

Context: Flamethrowers in Spain

As early as January, 1936, the Nationalists began training of flamethrower infantrymen under the direction of Commander Peter Jansa (Chief of the Condor Legion’s anti-tank artillery instructors). The Gruppe Von Thoma supplied eighteen flamethrowers of three types: nine standard, four light, and five heavy ‘trench’ (IE improvised) types. On the 17th of October, 1936, the training of a specialist flamethrower company began.

Of the four light flamethrower units, two were sent to the Tercio (Spanish Legion), one remained for training, and one was installed on a Panzer I Ausf. A, which joined other vehicles on October 27th for operations at the Talavera front.

Designing the Bilbao Modelo 1932 ‘Lanzallamas’

Several armored cars were requested in October in order to mount some of the five heavy trench flamethrowers, and the vehicle chosen was the Bilbao armored car. Five Bilbaos were sent to the workshop of the Condor Legion (in the town of Quismondo). Some of these vehicles were damaged and subsequently had to be repaired whilst they were being fitted with flamethrowers. These so-called ‘Bilbao Modelo 1932 Lanzallamas’ were no different from a regular Bilbao armored car, save for a large flame projector poking through the co-driver’s vision hatch, and an internal storage tank.


One of the five Bilbao “Lanzallamas”. The man on the left is a member of the Condor Legion. The distinctive flamethrower pokes through the co-driver’s hatch, and the tank is placed behind. Interestingly, the Hotchkiss machine gun armament has been kept. The turret and the front engine grill are marked with Spanish Nationalist two-tone flags. Source: Author’s collection

The Bilbao was chosen because of its large internal space, and also because multiple vehicles were readily available. Several were captured by the Nationalists after the uprising in 1936, and at least seven more were captured in advance operations at Toledo in September. These captured vehicles (some of which were converted into ‘Lanzallamas’) went on to form the “Compañía de Carros Blindados” (Armored Car Company).

Of the five Bilbao ‘Lanzallamas’, two were left in the Las Arguijuelas Castle for training. This was the first base of the Condor Legion Armored Detachment in Spain, and was an anti-tank training ground for Spanish troops until 1937. The other three ‘Lanzallamas’ were sent urgently to the Talavera front on the 26th of October, 1936.

On the 1st of November, new crews were appointed to be trained on the two reserve Bilbao ‘Lanzallamas’.

Little to no information is available on the combat performance of flamethrowers in the Spanish Civil War, let alone the Bilbao ‘Lanzallamas’.

Bilbao from the Assault Guard
Bilbao Modelo 1932 of Assault Guard, currently on display at Parque y Centro de Mantenimiento de Vehiculos Ruedas N°1.

Bilbao Lanzallamas
Bilbao Modelo 1932 ‘Lanzallamas’ (flamethrower version).

Camouflaged Republican Bilbao Modelo 1932, the Plaza de Zocodover, Toledo, 1936.
Camouflaged Republican Bilbao Modelo 1932, the Plaza de Zocodover, Toledo, 1936.


A knocked out Republican Bilbao Modelo 1932 with the corpses of its crew beside it. It was abandoned during the retreat from Talavera to Toledo. Note that the tires are missing, likely having been scavenged.


Different view of the above, after some time had passed. The engine appears to have been removed by this point, likely as salvage. Source: Author’s collection


Different view of the above after even more time has passed. Now, the vehicle has been stripped down for scrap even further. The soldier is of the Condor Legion.


Bilbao ‘Lanzallamas’ with the door open, showing the large internal tank for the flamethrower.


Bilbao Modelo 1932 of the Assault Guard at the barricade of the Plaza de Zocodover, Toledo, September, 1936.


Bilbao Modelo 1932 at the Plaza de Zocodover, Toledo, 1936.


Bilbao Modelo 1932 in La Plaza de Campana, Seville. It was abandoned by its crew on the 18th July, 1936, and later recovered by Captain Gabriel Fuentes.


Bilbao Modelo 1932, on display at the Escuela de Logística, Zaragoza.


Different view of the above.


Bilbao Modelo 1932 being used for training by the Policia Armada, post-Civil War. From Policía Armada y de Tráfico magazine, courtesy of Coronel Juan Antonio Penacho, General D. Antonio Nadal, and Octavio Almendros.

Bilbao Modelo 1932 specifications

Dimensions (LxWxH) 5.44 x 2.07 x 2.6 m
17’10” x  6’9″ x  8’6″
Total weight, battle ready 4800 kg (5.29 US tons)
Crew 3 + 5 (commander, driver, gunner + 5 riflemen)
Propulsion Unknown. Chrysler or Dodge K32 Model 1931 engine.
Speed (road) 50 km/h
Armament 7 mm (0.27 mm) Hotchkiss Modelo 1924
Armor Unknown

Sources

Private correspondence including Coronel Juan Antonio Penacho (the director of military history courses for universities in Spain), General D. Antonio Nadal (director of the Instituto de Cultura y Historia Militar), and Octavio Almendros regarding the Bilbao Modelo 1932, and its post-war use.
Private correspondence with Guillem Martí Pujol, Gorka L Martínez Mezo, and Francisco Javier Cabeza Martinez regarding the Bilbao Modelo 1932’s history, paint schemes, and use of flamethrowers during the Spanish Civil War.
La Maquina y la History No. 2: Blindados en España: 1a. parte: La Guerra Civil 1936-1939” by Javier de Mazarrasa
Camion Blindado Mod. 1932 “Lanzallamas“” by Ángel P. Heras.
La Base Alemana de Carros de Combate en Las Arguijuelas, Caceres (1936-1937)” by Antonio Rodríguez González
Los Medios Blindados en la Guerra Civil España: Teatro de Operaciones del Norte 36/37” by Artemio Mortera Pérez
Blindados Españoles en el Ejército de Franco 1936-1939” by Lucas Molina Franco, and Jose Manrique Garcia.
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
AFV Collection No. 1: Panzer I: Beginning of a Dynasty” by Lucas Molina Franco
Revista policía Armada y de Trafico” (1941-1942)” Ministerio de la Gobernación España.
Revista Policía”. Artículos de José Eugenio Fernández Barallobre” Ministerio del Interior, 2003-2004.
Colección de Ordenes generales de la Inspección General de la Policía Armada y de Trafico”, Archivo Histórico del Ministerio del Interior.
Toledogce.blogspot.co.uk
forosegundaguerra.com
castillejadelacuesta-antonio.blogspot.co.uk
lasegundaguerra.com


Panzer I equipped with a flamethrower, which was upgraded along with five Bilbao Modelo 1932s. Source: Private collection of Ruy Aballe, as taken from “AFV Collection No. 1: Panzer I: Beginning of a Dynasty” by Lucas Molina Franco.

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One Response to Bilbao Modelo 1932

  1. Zocodover is not a village in Toledo, as implied in the text of the image, but a square in Toledo, just below the besieged fascists in the Alcazar castle.

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