web analytics

Chain of Command Espana – The Republican Militias

Anarchist Militia in Barcelona

As soon as it became clear that there was a rebellion underway, the militant membership of the Left-Wing political parties and trade unions, as well as ordinary citizens, mobilized to defend their Republic. With the exception of those who had taken part in the numerous gun battles with the Falange in the months prior to the start of the Civil War, there were few with weapons with which to resist the ‘Fascists’ however. The Government, whose cabinet was wholly formed from the more centrist parties, refused to arm the population however, believing that sufficient numbers of the military and paramilitary forces of the state, could be persuaded to support the Republic.

By the time the Government took the decision to disband the Army and to distribute what weapons it had to the general population, the time that this would have been most effective had passed, as had any hopes of containing and suppressing the rebellion. Naturally weapons could not just be handed out, as there would be no checks on who was receiving the weapons, which could obviously mean that the government was arming its opponents. Instead the distribution of weapons was performed by transporting batches of them to individual party or trade union offices, where packing grease was removed when needed and the issue of weapons was dependent on production of membership cards.
The same parties and trade unions also oversaw the formation of their members into units and organized the election or appointment of leaders for them. Nominally these units conformed to the common perceptions of military formation, so there were; section, company and battalion type formations, although in terms of numbers, there was quite a degree of variation. People would naturally choose to serve with people they knew, whether from the same street, factory or department and serve under people they liked, respected, or in some cases feared.

While some members of the militia had performed national service under the ‘Quinta’ system of conscription (one in five men served), most had not. While the disbanded army also had numerous men willing to serve to protect the Republic, they were often not welcomed by the trade union or party members. As a result many sought service within the Guardia Civil or Asaltos instead. Many army officers volunteered to help train and lead the militias, but were treated with distrust and suspicion and were not given command positions in the main. At best these men were accepted as advisors within the militia, although frequently their advice was ignored.

The weaponry available itself also left much to be desired. While a number of rifles were of recent manufacture, more were somewhat less so. There were around 275 thousand rifles spread across those areas of Spain in government hands and while the bulk were various types of Mauser rifle or carbine, some of these dated back to the introduction of the weapon in 1895. In many cases the bolts for these weapons were stored in separate locations, for fear of civil uprisings. Most famously in Madrid, except for 500 bolts, those for the rifles in the city were held in the Cuartel de la Montaña barracks, which at the time was held by rebel troops.

Other rifles pre-dated the introduction of the Mauser, so considerable numbers of licence-built Remington, Winchester and even a few Lee-Metford models were also in evidence. As might be assumed, the ammunition for these weapons was often as old as the weapons themselves and could produce some rather unexpected results. While weapons obtained abroad by the Republic began to filter through after the first few weeks, these were also of disparate designs. Most were Mausers, although often not chambered for the Spanish 7mm cartridge, but Mannlicher, Berthier, Lebel, Ross and even some Arisaka rifles, amongst others, also found their way to Spain.

The situation was the same with other weapons. There had been insufficient support weapons of all types to equip the Peninsular Army at its peacetime-reduced level, let alone when fully mobilized. While both the standard light machine gun, the Hotchkiss M.1925 (Mle. 1922 in French Service) and the standard medium machine gun, the Hotchkiss M.1914, were received straight from the disbanded army formations, the arsenals contained a few surprises. In them were found Maxim-Nordenfeldt M.1897, Vickers-Maxim M.1905, Schwarzlose M.1907 and even some Colt M.1915 (M1895) machine guns, but on the whole nothing more recent. Some more recent weapons were obtained at the same time as the foreign rifles, but in very few numbers.

Despite the quality of their weapons and the general lack of anything but rifles, the militias fought and fought well. There were of course numerous failures in the early days, especially when they were faced by troops from the African Army Corps, but in the main especially when stiffened by units of Asaltos, they held their own. Hard experience led to increased confidence and ability, and if they lacked discipline it was made up for in commitment. It became apparent however that ‘militarisation’ was desirable and the example shown by units that had been trained by the Communist ‘5th Regiment’ training cadre, convinced many that the militia needed to be formally organised into a ‘Peoples Army’.

The influx of weapons from the Soviet Union also contributed to the change. These gave the Communists even more influence than they had previously had and they were able to dictate which formations this equipment was issued to. Both the newly forming Ejército Popular de la República (Popular Army of the Republic) – the EPR, and those units already in the line that had begun as Communist or PSOE formations, all received the new weapons. The Anarchists and those groups opposed to the Communists, particularly the POUM, received the worst of what was left over.

While everyone else was militarising their formations, the POUM and the Anarchists retained the same organisational and command model (or lack of one) that they had begun with. Between October and December 1936 the process was complete across the whole of the Republic and while there were still shortages in automatic and other support weapons, these were being steadily remedied. The Anarchists and the POUM held out until May 1937, when the government, now heavily influenced by the Communists, attempted to forcibly incorporate these groups into the EPR. Gun battles were fought in Barcelona between the respective groups and eventually a compromise was reached, which effectively resulted in the replacement and disbandment of the POUM and Anarchist formations, and the re-assignment of their men across the EPR.

This list allows the formation of a Popular Militia Platoon, representing a ‘below strength’ Centuria. Use of the support choices will increase its size and/or the support options available to it. It will be suitable for any political group until October-November 1936 and after that for groups like the POUM and CNT, who refused to militarise, right up to mid-1937.

The inherent weakness of the formation is its lack of command and control, which is what Chain of Command is all about. In its simplest form, the Platoon leader has to be very energetic to do anything other than follow a simple plan. Lacking leaders, the unit is also fragile and ‘clunky’, pretty much how they are described in the history books. The player can alter this by selecting additional command options from the support list, simulating ‘natural leaders’ coming to the fore. The cost of this is of course that he is spending support points on command and not weapons and a balance will need to be found that gives the player what he wants from his force.

CoC – People’s Militia

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *