Orders of Battle for the Spanish Civil War

I’ve outlined orders of battle from the Spanish Civil War for the following formations:

Militia

The Republicans formed ad hoc militia units at the beginning of the uprising which took a variety of forms (Cordery, 1993; Turnball, 1978). Through 1936 the ad hoc formations were standardised into a column organisation, with each column comprising six centuries of 100 men divided into a three sections of 30 men plus a HQ. At 600 men a column is a similar size to a full strength infantry battalion, and at 100 men a century is comparable to a weak infantry company. Militia columns were, however, seen as clumsy compared to the conventional formations so there must be something about the structure that was inefficient. It is not clear to me if the inefficiency was because of the number of centuries or the lack of sub-units in the section – I tend to think the later.

Militia Column Orbat

  • 6 x Century (Centuria)
    • 1 x Century HQ of 10 men
    • 3 x Sections of 30 men

By the end of 1936 most the Militia columns were replaced by more conventional battalions within brigades of the Popular Army (Cordery, 1993; Turnball, 1978). The column organisation, however, remained in use in some areas .

Nationalist Infantry Division Orbat

The pre-war Divisional organisation was optimised for garrison duty, so the Nationalist revised it for combat operations (Cordery, 1993).

Nationalist Infantry Division Orbat

On the Nationalist side the Infantry Battalions were numbered by battalion within regiment, e.g. IV/22nd Infantry was the 4th Battalion of the 22nd Infantry Regiment (San Marcial) (Cordery, 1993). The regiments, however, were merely administrative, and the battalions of a single regiment might not serve together.

Republican Infantry Division Orbat

The Republicans also adopted a new Divisional structure, but based around “Mixed Brigades” (Brigada Mixta) (Cordery, 1993; Turnball, 1978). Whereas the Nationalists seemed to have their support arms (e.g. artillery, anti-tank weapons, etc) at Divisional level, the Republicans put them in the Brigades.

Republican Infantry Division Orbat

  • 1 x Division HQ
  • 1 x Artillery Group
  • 1 x Anti-tank Battery
  • 2 – 3 x Mixed Brigades
    • 1 x Brigade HQ
    • 0 – 1 x Armoured Car, Cavalry, and/or Reconnaissance Squadron
    • 0 – 1 x Anti-tank Battery
    • 0 – 1 x Engineer Company: 4 x Sapper Platoons
    • 1 x Supply Column
    • 3 – 4 x Infantry Battalions
    • 1 x Infantry Gun or Mortar Group
      • 1 x Artillery HQ
      • 1 – 3 x Artillery Batteries
        • 4 x Artillery Platoons

The Republicans favoured those Divisions with Communist commanders at all levels, so by the end of the war largely only these “Elite” Divisions would be up to strength (Cordery, 1993). Less favoured Mixed Brigades, the majority, only had three infantry battalions and one artillery battery (Cordery, 1989).

Republication Brigades were numbered with Arabic numerals, except for the International Brigades which were numbered in Roman numbers (e.g. XIth International Brigade) (Cordery, 1993).

The Republican International Brigades included Commissars at Brigade, Battalion and Company level (Bradley, 1994).

Infantry Battalion

Officially Infantry Battalions on both sides had four rifle companies and a machine gun company (Cordery, 1993; Turnbull, 1978). Many Battalions, however, had only four Companies in total, not the full complement of five; either an infantry company or the machine gun company would be omitted.

Infantry Battalion Orbat

  • 1 x Battalion HQ [Plana Mayor]
  • 3 – 4 x Infantry Companies
  • 0 – 1 x Machine Gun Company: 4 x Machine Gun Platoons

The Republican International Brigades included Commissars at Brigade, Battalion and Company level (Bradley, 1994).

As the war progressed the best units and certainly those within the Nationalist army at least, fielded an increased number of machine guns (Gauntlet). Some banderas of the Tercio may have had as many as sixteen machine guns.

It was common practice to attach a machine gun platoon (2-4 weapons) from the machine gun company to each rifle company (Gauntlet; Willoughby, 1992). However, machine guns could also be used in batteries, often including the weapons from reserve units.

Note: Willoughby (1992) mistakenly gives 3 Infantry Companies to the Battalion, and three Machine Gun Platoons to the Machine Gun Company.

Infantry Company

Infantry companies (Compañias) seem to have had a conventional triangular formation (Cordery, 1993; Willoughby, 1992) however the terms Section and Platoon are reversed from normal English usage, i.e. a Company comprised Sections which comprised Platoons (Thomas, 1998; Bradley, 1994). (Note: Cordery uses the English terms in their traditional meaning throughout.)

Bradley (1994), when describing the International Brigades, gives a fairly conventional triangular structure. Aside from reversing the Sections and Platoons in the hierarchy, this is consistent with the organisation given by Cordery (1993) and Willoughby (1992). The potential number of men also tallies with the total numbers Bradley gives for a company. He says there were usually 100, but up to 145.

Infantry Company Orbat

  • 1 x Company HQ
    • 1 x Lieutenant [Teniente or Alferez].
    • 0 – 1 x Commissar (for Communist units only)
    • etc
  • 3 x Sections [Seccions]
    • 1 x Section HQ
      • 1 x Sergeant [Sargento]
      • etc
    • 3 x Platoon [Pelotón]
      • 1 x Corporal [Cabo]
      • 8+ Men

The Republican International Brigades included Commissars at Brigade, Battalion and Company level (Bradley, 1994).

Companies in the Spanish Civil War lacked integral heavy weapons(Gauntlet). Officially each rifle platoon had a LMG (i.e. 6-9 per company), however, more commonly there was only one LMG per section (i.e. 3 per company). Gauntlet gives the LMG squad as 5-6 men.

It was common practice to attach a machine gun platoon (2-4 weapons) from the machine gun company to each rifle company (Gauntlet; Willoughby, 1992).

Machine Gun Battalion

In 1936 the Peninsular army had four Machine Gun Battalions and the Army of Africa had a Machine gun Battalion attached to the Eastern Division (Cordery, 1993).

Machine Gun Battalion Orbat

  • 1 x HQ
  • 4 x Machine Gun Company
    • 4 x Machine Gun Platoon

Cavalry Regiment

Cavalry regiments had a similar structure to infantry battalions with four sabre squadrons and a mounted machine gun squadron (Cordery, 1993). According to the Gauntlet, regiments also had a support squadron with mortars, anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns, but only where available.

1 x Cavalry Regiment Orbat

  • 1 x Regiment HQ
  • 4 x Sabre Squadrons
  • 1 x Mounted Machine Gun Squadron
  • 0 – 1 x Support Squadron

Cavalry Squadron

According to the Gauntlet the cavalry squadron (Escuadrón) was the equivalent of an infantry company, in firepower if not numbers. Each cavalry troop approximated a rifle platoon having three sections, each with three or more squads each of one to two groups of three to four horsemen. Each section had a light machine gun.

Sabre Squadron Orbat

  • 1 x Squadron HQ
  • 3 x Sections [Seccions]
  • 1 x Section HQ
  • 1 x LMG
  • 3 x Squads [presumably Escuadras]
    • 2 x Groups
      • 3 – 4 men

Operate as mounted infantry ????

Horse holders ????

Armoured Brigade

The following organisation was taken from Cordery (1993). The first Republican Armoured Brigade – 1st Armoured Brigade (La Primera Brigada Blindada), formed in Oct 1936 – had only two battalions (Cordery, 1993). By Jan 1937 it had grown to the organisation given here.

Armoured Brigade Orbat

  • 2 – 4 x Tank Battalions *
    • 3 x Tank Company
      • 1 x HQ Tank
      • 3 x Tank Section
        • 3 or 5 x Tanks *
  • 1 x Armoured Car Company
    • 3 x Armoured Car Sections

* Republicans had 3 tanks per Section (Cordery, 1993). Pre-war armoured units had 5 tanks per section, and I assume the Nationalists continued this practice, particularly as it followed German practice.

The Legion (La Legion)

The organisation taken from Cordery (1993) and Scurr (1985).

The Legion * Orbat

  • 2 x Tercios *
    • 3 x Infantry Banderas **
      • 1 x Bandera HQ
      • 3 x Rifle Companies
      • 1 x Machine gun Company: 3 x Machine Gun Platoons: 2 guns ***
      • 1 x Platoon of Sappers
  • 0 – 13 x Independent Banderas **
  • 1 x Tank unit (late war only) ****
  • 1 x Anti-Tank Company (late war only)
  • 1 x Flame-Thrower Company (late war only)

* Officially created as the “Regiment of Foreigners” (Tercio de Extranjeros), the unit quickly became “The Tercio” (El Tercio) in official communications (Scurr, 1985). Despite this, the unit was popularly known as “The Legion” from the beginning. Similarly the next level in the hierarchy were were officially Legions and popularly called Tercios. The popular terminology was officially adopted on 8 May 1937.

** The Legion expanded from 6 to 19 Banderas during the war (Cordery, 1992; Scurr, 1985). Unlike the first six Banderas, the new units were not incorporated into Tercios. Bandera were numbered sequentially irrespective of Tercio, so, for example, the 6th Bandera was in the 2nd Tercio. Similarly for Companies, for example the 2nd Bandera comprised the 5th, 6th, and 7th Rifle Companies and the 8th Machine Gun Company. The 67th “Joan of Arc” Company of the 17th Bandera was composed of Frenchmen. The first incarnation of the 15th Bandera was the short lived Irish Bandera.

*** Officially the machine gun company had three platoons (one less platoon than a normal machine gun company) each of two guns, however, Legionary units commonly fielded a greater number of machine guns(Gauntlet). Some banderas may have had as many as sixteen machine guns. It is not clear to me how the 16 weapons would have been distributed across the platoons; it is possible that there were up to 8 machine gun platoons or that each had a larger complement of guns. Gauntlet suggests machine gun platoons could have 2-4 weapons, so possibly 4 large platoons each with 4 guns is the solution.

**** The composition of the Legion Tank Unit varied during the course of the war; see below.

Legion Infantry Company

Thomas (1998) gives an unconventional structure when describing the composition of a rifle company in the Legion. He says it comprised three sections (secciónes) each comprised of two platoons (pelotónes), each of three squads (escuadras). Given Thomas was a Legionnaire himself, I’m inclined to believe him despite the fact is contrasts significantly with the organisation of other infantry companies.

Legion Rifle Company Orbat

  • 1 x Company HQ
    • 1 x Captain [Capitán]
    • etc
  • 3 x Sections [Seccions]
    • 1 x Section HQ
      • 1 x Lieutenant [Teniente or Alferez].
      • etc
    • 2 x Platoon [Pelotón]
      • 1 x Sergeant [Sargento]
      • 3 x Squads [Escuadras]
        • 1 x Corporal [Cabo]
        • 5 – 6 Men

Tank Unit of Spanish Foreign Legion

Oct 1936 Tank Company with 15 Italian Fiat Ansaldo L3/35 (Scurr, 1985).

In early 1937 became the Tank Bandera of the Legion (Bandera Legionaria de Carros de Combate) (Cordery, 1993; Scurr, 1985).

Tank Bandera of the Legion
(Bandera Legionaria de Carros de Combate)
Orbat

  • 2 x Tank companies
    • 15 x Panzer 1A.

From early 1938 it became the Legion Group of Light Tanks (Agrupacion Legionaria de Carros Legeros de Combate) (Scurr, 1985).

The Legion Group of Light Tanks
(Agrupacion Legionaria de Carros Legeros
de Combate
) Orbat

  • 2 x Tank Banderas
    • 2 x Tank companies
      • 15 x Panzer 1A and Pz I B.
  • 1 x Tank company
    • 15 x T-26

Moroccan Regulares (Tropas Regulares de Marruecos)

Organisation taken from Cordery (1993).

Moroccan Regulares
(Tropas Regulares de Marruecos Orbat

* Expanded from 5 to 10 during the war.

(In the Mehal-la Jalifianas, and perhaps in other Moroccan units, the native officers had different titles: Kaid-Tabor was the equivalent of an Alferez, and a Kaid was a Teniente.)

Civil Guard (Guardia Civil)

(?? Need to find my sources again ??)

The Civil Guard (Guardia Civil) were the original para-military group. Once war broke out they tended to support the rebels.

Civil Guard (Guardia Civil) Orbat

  • 24 x Tercios
    • 1-2 x Commands (Comandancias) *
      • 1 x machine gun (not a company, not a platoon, not a section, just one gun)
      • 4 x companies armed with pistols and rifles **
      • 0-2 x mounted squadrons armed with pistols, rifles and swords ***

* The word ‘Comandancias’ refers to a administrative sub-division of the country; each of these ‘Comandancias’ would contain various security forces, administrative functions and the like (J. Bruce private communication citing Blindadoes en España). There were 52 Civil Guard commands in total. Given this hierarchy there should have been at most 48 Comandancias, so I suspect the hierarchies were not absolute, i.e. they had Comandancias which were not in Tercios. Certainly this was true for the Legion; only the first 6 Banderas of the Legion were in Tercios, and the rest were independent.

** 224 companies in total, of which two were motorised. I assume they were a conventional organisation – see Infantry Companies.

*** 9 squadrons in total.

Assault Guards (Guardia de Asaltos)

(?? Need to find my sources again ??)

The Assault Guards (Guardia de Asaltos) were the second main para-military force. They were created some years prior to the war by the Republican government as a counter to the right wing Civil guards (Guardia Civil). Once the war broke out they tended to stay loyal to the Republican government.

The Assault Guards were formed into infantry companies and cavalry squadrons. Mounted Assault Guards were armed with swords (Gauntlet). Each platoon had two rifle squads and one LMG squad. The squads had a corporal and five guards, making them quite small.

Assault Guards (Guardia de Asaltos) Orbat

  • 18 x Assault Groups (Grupos Guardia de Asalto)
    • 3 x Companies
      • 3 x Rifle platoons
        • 2 x Rifle squads
        • 1 x LMG squad
    • 1 x Specialist Company
      • 1 x HQ
      • 1 x Mortar section
      • 1 x Gas section
      • 0 or 1 x Motorised section *
        • 3 x Bilbao Armoured Cars **

* There were a total of 36 Bilbao Armoured Cars supplied to the Assault Guards in 1932 (Tanks: Spain: The Bilbao Armored Car). At the time there were only 14 Assault groups, and I don’t believe any more armoured cars were subsequently purchased. This probably means some of the original Assault groups didn’t have a Motorised section, let alone the 6 added in 1934.

** They were Bilbao at the start of the war anyway.

Based on Blindadoes en España John Bruce (of Force of Arms miniatures) believes there were 2 Armoured Cars per Assault Group, which makes sense given there were 18 Assault Groups and 36 vehicles. He also suggested an alternative organisation for the Specialist company (using platoon for the Spanish seccíon)

Alternative for Specialist Company Orbat

  • 1 x HQ Platoon
  • 1 x MG Platoon
  • 1 x Mortar & Gas Platoon
  • 0 or 1 x Motor Platoon *
    • Transport
    • Workshop/supply/ambulance
    • 2 x Bilbao Armoured Cars

Frontier Guards (Carabineros)

The Frontier Police (Carabineros) were the third main para-military group. Once war broke out they tended to side with the government.

The Frontier Police (Carabineros) Orbat

  • 114 companies (in 20 Comandancias) armed with pistols and rifles. (Gauntlet)

Army of Africa Order of Battle

Largely taken from Scurr (1985).

September 1936

Army of Africa (Sep 1936) Orbat

  • Column Asensio (Lt. Col. Carlos Asensio Cabanillas)
    • Column Headquarters
    • 1 x recon Assault Guard armoured car
    • 2nd Tabor of Tetuán
    • 4th Bandera, Spanish Foreign Legion
    • 1 x battery of 70L19 mountain guns (Turnball, 1978, says ½ a battery of field guns)
    • 1 x Sapper Company
    • Trucks
  • Column Castejón (Major Antonio Castejón)
    • Column Headquarters
    • 2nd Tabor of Ceuta
    • 5th Bandera, Spanish Foreign Legion
    • 1 x battery of 75L27 field guns
    • Trucks
  • Column Tella (Lt. Col. Heli Rolando de Tella)
    • Column Headquarters
    • 1st Tabor of Tetuán
    • 1st Bandera, Spanish Foreign Legion
    • 1 x company of Civil Guard
    • 1 x battery of 75L27 field guns
    • Trucks

December 1936

Army of Africa (Dec 1936) Orbat

  • Column #1 (Lt. Col. Asensio commanded the 6th Bandera and Regulares de Tetuán in November in the University City, so probably still was in December)
    • Column Headquarters
    • 1st Tabor of Tetuán
    • 3rd Tabor of Tetuán
    • 6th Bandera, Spanish Foreign Legion
    • 1 x battery of 75 mm field guns
  • Column #2 (The presence of 1st Bandera suggests Lt. Col. Tella commanded)
    • Column Headquarters
    • 1st Tabor of Melilla
    • 2nd Tabor of Melilla
    • 1st Bandera, Spanish Foreign Legion
    • 1 x battery of 75 mm field guns
  • Column #3
    • Column Headquarters
    • 1st Tabor of Alhucemas
    • 3rd Tabor of Alhucemas
    • 4th Bandera, Spanish Foreign Legion
    • 1 x battery of 105 mm field guns
  • Column #4 (The presence of the 5th Bandera suggests Major Castejón commanded)
    • Column Headquarters
    • Battalion, Sevilla Infantry Regiment
    • 5th Bandera, Spanish Foreign Legion
    • 1 x battery of 105 mm field guns
  • Column #5
    • Column Headquarters
    • 8th Bandera, Spanish Foreign Legion
  • Column #6
    • Column Headquarters
    • 3rd Tabor of Melilla
    • Battalion, Sevilla Infantry Regiment
    • Battalion, Canarais Infantry Regiment
    • Sapper Company
    • 1 x battery of 75 mm field guns
  • Column #7
    • Column Headquarters
    • 3rd Battalion, Toledo Infantry Regiment
    • 5th Battalion, San Quinton Infantry Regiment
    • Sapper Company
    • 1 x battery of 75 mm field guns
  • Column #8
    • Column Headquarters
    • 1st Tabor of Rif
    • 3rd Tabor of Rif
    • 7th Bandera, Spanish Foreign Legion
    • Falange Bandera of Morocco
    • 1 x battery of 75 mm field guns
    • 1 x battery of 105 mm field guns
    • 1 x battery of 155 howitzers
  • Cavalry Corp (Probably under Monasterio)
    • Column Headquarters
    • 7 x Sabre Squadrons
    • 2 x Machine Gun Squadrons
  • Force Artillery
    • Column Headquarters
    • 2 x groups of 65 mm infantry guns (Italian)
    • 2 x groups of 105 mm field guns
    • 2 x groups of 155 mm howitzers
    • 1 x battery of 8 howitzers

References

Cordery, B. (1989). Arriba Espana!: Spanish Civil War Wargames Rules. Partizan Press.

Cordery, B. (1993). La Ultima Cruzada: A Wargamers guide to the Spanish Civil War (2nd ed.). Partizan Press.

Gauntlet – Mark Hannam’s outstanding site on the Spanish Civil War which appears to now be defunct

Thomas, F. (1998). Brother against Brother: Experiences of a British Volunteer in the Spanish Civil War (R. Stradling, Ed.). Sutton.

Scurr, J. (1985). The Spanish Foreign Legion. Osprey.

Tanks: Spain: The Bilbao Armored Car

Turnball, P. (1978). The Spanish Civil War 1936-39. Osprey.

Willoughby, C. A. (1992). The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939: An American military perspective [P. Condray Ed.]. Editions Brokaw.

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