Tuesday, 16 August 2016

The Pre-Civil War Spanish Military Divisional Cavalry

While there were four cavalry regiments formally attached to four of the eight organic divisions, the intention was that these would be divided across the whole of the Army when mobilised, each division receiving a two squadron group (half a regiment), which would be further subdivided to give each infantry brigade a single squadron for reconnaissance and march security. The headquarters element of each group would then act as an intelligence hub for the division. As the organisation of a cavalry regiment will be covered under the Cavalry Division itself, this post will relate to the operation of the cavalry squadrons in their role as divisional reconnaissance.

More so than their infantry counterparts, the divisional cavalry were required by their role to act as an independent entity, carrying all it needed with it and somewhat isolated from the troops it was supporting. Like most reconnaissance formations, it was not designed to join the line of battle, yet it was very much a fighting unit and could hold its own in favourable conditions. In addition to its normal complement of men, each squadron was supplemented by one sección (platoon) from its automatic weapons squadron and while there were only two such weapons per regiment, it could also have a 50mm mortar section in addition.

Cavalry Squadron 1936.
Plana Mayor
A squadron colour party of an unknown Nationalist Cavalry unit. A conjectural interpretations is that the man to the right is the squadron alférez (no carbine and a seemingly lighter-coloured shirt), while the man holding the squadron bandera and the man to his rear, are the squadron farriers. The man in the immediate foreground is likely to be the squadron's brigada (as he appears to have the same lighter-coloured shirt as the man to the right, but carries a carbine). A fifth rider is obscured.  

The Squadron Headquarters was somewhat similar to that of the infantry companies. The squadron commander was a capitán and he was accompanied by a brigada (sergeant-major) and the two herradores (farriers) of the squadron (apparently a position of some standing, besides its obvious utility). No alférez is listed in the regulations, but it is possible that these were attached from higher up the chain of command; certainly somebody needed to act as adjutant and to (in theory) carry the squadron bandera. There was a mounted courier to relay orders to the squadron's sub-units and two explosives technicians.

The staff of the headquarters were divided into two dismounted squads, each led by a cabo (corporal). The first consisted of a clerk, two orderlies, three cyclist couriers and a wagon with a driver. No signallers are apparent, but these were probably attached from the divisional communications company. The second squad was also dismounted and consisted of the squadron tradesmen; three cooks, two orderlies, a barber, a tailor and two stretcher bearers. A wagon and driver rounded out this squad. A section of infantry cyclists had originally been attached to all squadron headquarters units, so as to act as a security detachment, but these were in the process of being withdrawn in 1936.     

Secciones de Cazadores

A cavalry squadron at the charge. Although the cavalry still trained in 'traditional' tactics, its more usual use was as mobile infantry. There was to be still one last old-fashioned cavalry charge however, which was to occur at the battle of Alfambra in 1938. This is one of a series of photos 'staged' to represent that charge for the press.
The squadron was sub-divided into four fighting secciones (platoons), but the fourth existed as only a cadre depot element following the reforms of 1931-34. Each sección was led by an alférez or a teniente, with a sargento as his second in command. There were three escuadras, each of a cabo, a jefe del grupo and six cazadores. In the third escuadra the jefe del grupo was also the unit herrador (farrier) and one man in the second escuadra was the unit trumpeter. Each escuadra was capable of being sub-divided into two groups of four men, one led by the cabo and the other by the jefe. When operating dismounted, one man in each group was detailed as a horse-holder, bringing the strength of the squad down to six-men.  

Weapons and Equipment

The regulation weaponry for each soldado and the junior non-commissioned officers was one of two types of cavalry sabre (in some cases this was still the curved M.1885 pattrn, but more usually it was the straight M.1908) and the Carabina M.1895. Both of these weapons were carried on the saddle, the carbine on the right and the sabre on the left. The few available photos of Civil War cavalry however show no carbine sheath and instead the men carry the carbine, or equally as often, the Mosquetón M.1916, slung across their backs. Officers and senior non-commissioned officers carried either the regulation Astra M.1921, or one of the previous issue weapons, like the Campo Giro, or even the Smith and Wesson M.1886. An ammunition pouch was carried on a bandolier, but photos from the Civil War often show infantry style equipment being worn instead.

Secciones de Ametralladora y Fusil Ametralladoras

Each cavalry regiment had an automatic weapons squadron, composed of two secciones each of medium machine guns (ametralladoras) and light machine guns (fusil ametralladoras). Each detached squadron would receive one of these platoons to be attached to it under the control of the squadron commander, but with an even chance of receiving either type. Although fundamentally similar in operation and use, the two units were organised differently.

The machine gun platoons were roughly similar to their infantry counterparts, although pack horses were used for transport rather than mules, so as to be able to keep pace with the squadron they were attached to. The headquarters consisted of a teniente as platoon commander and a cabo, whose sole role was to supervise the horse-holders when the unit was deployed for action. The platoon was sub-divided into two pelotones (sections), each led by a sergeant and sub-divided into two squads, each of a cabo and five men, serving a single machine gun. Two men from each squad handled the two pack horses that carried the weapon and its ammunition.

The light machine gun platoons were slightly different to the machine gun squads, with a teniente in command, assisted by a sargento and with a cabo to supervise the horse-handlers. The squads in this platoon were not organised into pelotones however, instead just having six light machine gun teams of a cabo and three men. Each squad also only had a single horse to carry ammunition, the machine gun and its tripod being carried by the gunner and his assistant on their mounts.

The men in these units carried the same personal weapons, according to rank, as their counterparts in the cavalry secciones.  Gunners and their first assistant however carried pistols rather than carbines, as was the case in infantry machine gun units.  The regulation medium machine gun had been the Ametralladora Browning-Colt M.1895/M.1917, but this was to have been replaced by the same Hotchkiss M.1914 guns as in the infantry units. The light machine gun was the Fusil-Ametrallador Hotchkiss M.1922 or M.1925, but the cavalry model had a heavier barrel than the infantry version and came complete with a tripod for sustained fire, rather than a bipod.  

Hotchkiss M.1922 on tripod.
The U.S. Cavalry was also originally a user of the Hotchkiss light machine gun. The Spanish harness for carrying the weapon on horseback would have been similar, if not identical to that shown here. A similar harness for the weapon's tripod would have adorned the mount of the gunner's assistant. 
"Necessity is the mother of invention". The tripod for the Hotchkiss could not be configured for air defence, so the Spanish cavalry developed a socket that could be fitted over the barrel of a rifle to create an impromptu anti-aircraft mount.