In 1934 Las Milicias Antifascistas Obreras y Campesinas (The Workers and Peasants Antifascist Militia)-MAOC, had been formed by Communists and Socialists, to train members to act as protection details for their leadership, due to the mounting attacks being made on them by Falangist death squads. When news of the rebellion was received, MAOC’s volunteers, along with a hundred or so other militants, formed the 5th Battalion of Popular Militia and thanks to a sympathetic army commander, were given access to the Artillery Park’s arsenal in Madrid. Following the storming of the Cuartel de Montana the same day, several militia and communist leaders agreed to form a ‘5th Regiment of Popular Militia’, by combining the battalion with two other Militia formations; the Battalion ‘Fernández Navarro’ and the Battalion ‘Francisco Galán’.
There were two main motivations behind the formation of the 5th Regiment, first was the obvious aim of defeating the ‘Fascist Rebellion’, the second was to create a ‘Communist Army’ that would match the armies of Anarchists, Marxists, to a lesser extent the Socialists and finally the Left of Centre Republican Government, in a predicted post-rebellion struggle within Spain. To this end the 5th or ‘Quintas’ as they popularly became known as, did not only seek volunteers for their army, but also disseminated propaganda via radio, newssheet and even street theatre, and engaged in what are today called ‘outreach projects’ within Madrid’s population, so as to win ‘hearts and minds’. Finally they instituted an ‘Information’ section, whose role was to vet recruits and to gather intelligence on the activities of suspected fifth columnists.
On the military side of things the recruitment drive undertaken was very successful, the Quintas opened the gates to all who wished to join, regardless of which party they belonged to. Unsurprisingly neither the CNT/FAI nor the Marxists, like the POUM, availed themselves of this offer, but many others did. In addition many former soldiers chose to volunteer, as besides the Quintas, only the Asaltos and other Security Services did not treat them with distrust, suspicion and occasionally outright hostility. As a result the Quintas were able to train machine gunners, mortar and artillery men, as well as other specialities, besides offering the usual small arms training.
The idea of a Popular Militia being disciplined and militarised, in the way in which the Quintas were doing so, was heavily criticized by the other parties, particularly the anarchists of the CNT/FAI who considered it reactionary and bourgeois. The Communists argued that they were following the principles behind the formation of the Red Army of the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution and that discipline, along with political indoctrination, were essential if the Republic was to beat the fascists. The Regiment’s training regimen, besides the obvious formation and weapons drill, also included political education. To further this Commissars were also trained and added to units at all levels from Company upwards, and were expected to continue the political education of the troops in the field.
Despite being based on Red Army principles, the usual Spanish system of military organisation was used, along with the same levels of command, making them somewhat unique within the Popular Militia at that time, who appear to have done anything but adopt a formal military command structure. While company, battalion and other higher level commanders were selected by the command of the Regiment, individual platoon and other low level unit commanders were elected by their men. Having elected their junior leaders, the men were expected to obey them without question or refusal, a policy that was reinforced by both a military code of justice and backed by the institution of what were effectively battalion and regimental field police.
At first the period of training was measured in days rather than weeks, such was the need to get men out into the field. Despite this short period of training, the difference between the ‘Compañías de Acero’ (Steel Companies) produced by the Quintas and the typical militia unit, was quite marked. When the training period was extended this became even more so. While other militia units were as capable as the Quintas, most were not, but each of the Steel Companies distinguished itself in battle. This of course popularized the Regiment, which in turn increased the numbers of volunteers wanting to join.
By the end of July 1936 and including those personnel of the original three battalions which had formed it, the Regiment counted its personnel at just under 8,000 men. The following month this had risen to almost 15,000, the next month after that 25,000. When the Regiment was disbanded in December 1936 and its units absorbed into the new Ejército Popular de la República (Popular Army of the Republic) – EPR, almost 80,000 men in total had been trained by the Fifth Regiment. The survivors were to form several of the EPR’s brigades, some of whom were composed entirely of 5th Regiment trained personnel, such as the 1st Brigade, which was commanded by Enrique Lister, who had the first of the Steel Companies into battle.
This list can be used to form a 5th Regiment trained platoon, most typically one belonging to one of the Steel Companies, from the beginning of August 1936 to December 1936. It may then be used from then until mid-1937 to represent one of the militarised militia battalions that had yet to be incorporated into the EPR. The influx of Soviet equipment from October largely went to those formations the Communists approved of, amongst which their own 5th Regiment units, as well as the International Brigades.
This list is also usable for some early International Brigade units, who received similar training in Catalonia, before being sent to Madrid to assist in its defence. The specific International Brigade lists provide a fuller treatment of the Internacionales, with the Popular Militia list covering the very early International Centurias. Like the Quintas the Internacionales were amongst the first units to be absorbed into the EPR as the army was reorganised.
The 5th Regiment Steel Companies List is here: CoC – 5th Regiment
MOUT, FIBUA, OU, OBUA, all contemporary acronyms referring to the conducting of operations in an urban environment. But whilst “Military Operation in Urban Terrain”, “Fighting in Built Up Area” and so on do the job, nobody has yet to find a better term than the British Army’s colloquialism “Fish & Chips”; Fighting in Someone’s House