The Rifles of Spain " The Silent War " 1939-1952

   by Dan Reynolds

This article is intended to give background information to those who collect and shoot rifles that were used by the official forces of Spain during the post Civil War period up to 1952. It will list the most common rifles found in use and the historical context in which they were used. Other rifles were held in store beside the ones described, but were not issued in large numbers. To put this article into context, the reader should refer to the article on this web site "Rifles of the Spanish Civil War" covering the period 18 July 1936 to 31 March 1939.

General Francisco Franco, Spanish Chief of State, many years after the period of the "silent war " said, "the Civil Guard's sacrifices in the years following the Second World War were made selflessly and in silence, because, for political and security reasons it was inappropriate to publicize the locations, the clashes, casualty figures or names of those who fell in performance of their duty, in a heroic and unspoken sacrifice."

There was an earlier phase to the "silent war" which began in 1939 at the close of the Civil War that is not mentioned in the above quote. In the summer of 1939 the civil war in Spain had ended with the surrender of the Republican military command in Madrid after a short internal battle with the Communists whom wanted to continue the war. Most of the politicians of the various Red factions had already fled abroad. The decisive battle of the war had already been lost in the north when the maximum effort offensive at the Ebro by the Reds was smashed and all the Red forces began fleeing across the river and towards the French border. The victorious forces of the authentic Spain swept up huge numbers of prisoners and large amounts of war material as they pursued the beaten horde. Soon Barcelona fell and the cries of Viva Espana echoed as Nationalist troops entered the city and the Red forces and their sympathizers raced to cross the French border.

The war was over, but the peace was not yet won. To bring tranquility and justice to Spain, order had to be restored and maintained. War criminals had to be identified, tried and dealt with, Red terrorist and bandit gangs had to be eliminated and their supporters interned so that rebuilding could begin in tranquility. In a sense, the struggle for Spain had not ended but entered a new phase. Elements of the defeated Republican forces, illegal combatants, had begun a or in a sense continued a campaign of terrorism. Terrorist activities included bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, bank robbery, ambushes, extortion, and jail breaks.

The Red troops entering France were disarmed and their weapons taken over by the French government. The men were placed in internment camps. Some decided not to submit and took their weapons and went back into Spain to form terrorist gangs in the mountains. The NKVD had earlier in the war formed and led such units behind Nationalist lines and others were formed by escapees and others whom evaded capture after Red defeats.

In many areas of Spain, stocks of arms and ammunition were readily available as battlefield pickups in the chaos of the period. The Nationalist forces tried to clean up the battlefields of arms and ammunition and to confiscate such stocks in storage in areas they occupied as soon as possible. The vast numbers of prisoners were screened to identify security risks whom were likely to engage in terrorist activities or provide support to them. These were segregated and interned.

Despite these preventative measures, a low level counter terrorism campaign was necessary to deal with these groups. At the end of 1942, the effectiveness of the security operations had reduced these groups to insignificance. The Guardia Civil ( the National Paramilitary Police Force) was given primary responsibility for restoring order but was given generous assistance by the all the armed forces. No publicity was given to the threat nor to the counter operations as this would only give other subversive elements possibly motivation to actively join the conflict.

In the period from April 1939 to late 1942, units from the Army, the Legion and the Regulares (Moors), had engaged in numerous actions to assist the Guardia Civil in its pacification mission to eliminate the terrorist/bandit groups which were active in many areas of Spain. Some of these Red units numbered 100 or more combatants and were heavily armed. One lesson derived from after action reports was the need for more light automatic weapons for forces engaged in combating terrorism. This led to the issue of more submachine guns in place of rifles in Guardia units. As a result of fine police work and aggressive application of necessary force, the activities of the the Reds were largely suppressed as 1943 began.

To understand the context of the post Civil War struggle, reference must be made events that took place during the so called Civil War which reveal that the struggle was much more than a civil war, it was a battle to save Spain from Soviet Communism.

The genesis of the postwar terrorist movement can be traced to the early days of the Civil War. Stragglers from defeated Red militia units and members of various left wing parties found themselves behind the advancing Nationalist lines. They began engaging in various violent actions to secure food, money and arms or just to spread havoc in order disrupt the control of rear areas held by the new Burgos government. There was little or no central control of these forces and they had to rely upon their own resources and initiative. This began to change when the NKVD arrived from Soviet Russia in the fall of 1936.

The NKVD evolved out of the CHEKA which had been formed on 20 December 1917 as the internal security arm of the new Bolshevik Government in Russia.  It rapidly became an efficient and brutal force dedicated to rooting out and destroying the enemies of the new order. In 1920 it had 30,000 intelligence officers, interrogators, jailers and support staff, 137,000 internal security troops, and 94,000 border guards.

The CHEKA grew in size and scope with the formation of two new divisions: INO, the Inostrannyi Otdel, or foreign intelligence department and the KRO, an INO subsidiary unit tasked with foreign counter intelligence work. The entire CHEKA organization became the GPU on 6 February 1922, then the OGPU (pronounced OH GAY PEE OO) in 1923 before it became part of the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs where it resided until after the Spanish Civil War. It ultimately became the KGB after Stalin's death.

The CHEKA and its successors always had priority in allocation of small arms. The common Russian revolvers such as the Nagant and Smith&Wesson types were in use early on along with captured foreign handguns of the various foreign powers powers which had fought Russia. The Colt .45ACP Model 1911 which had been supplied in some numbers to the Czarist Government and commercial FN Browning 9mm Long M1903 and 9mm Short M1910 pistols were also observed. Commercial purchases in Europe began about 1921 and large numbers of short barrel 7.63mm Mauser Military "Broomhandle" Pistols were acquired, so many in fact that this type of Mauser was given the nickname "Bolo Pistol". In later years many other pistol types were acquired for various purposes from overseas sources.

Leon Feldbin was born in Bobruysk in White Russia. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the army of the Provisional Government after the Czar was overthrown in 1917. He went over to the Bolsheviks but did not become a Party member until 1920. In September 1920 he was attached to the 12th Red Army and fought the White Armies and against Poland in the Russian -Polish War.  He led partisan detachments behind enemy lines and was quite successful. He was promoted to head the counter intelligence section of the 12th Red Army by the end of 1920. His work in this capacity attracted the attention of the chief of the CHEKA and he was brought into this organization.

His career as a "Chekist" was varied and advancement rapid . Operationally he used a number of different aliases as was the manner of Communist agents and Intelligence Officers. When the Spanish Civil War began he held the NKVD rank equivalent of a Brigadier General of the U.S. Army. He was sent to Spain and given the name of Alexander Orlov by Stalin. He arrived on 16 September 1936 in Madrid. A task group of Soviet operatives had arrived before him to begin "advising" the Republican Government of Spain. The Soviet Ambassador was M. Rosenberg, the Head of Military Advisers was General J. Berzin, A. Stashevsky was chief politruk (political commissar ), Moishe Stern was to head the International Brigades. Orlov was the most powerful. He controlled the secret police and the flow of Soviet arms and other aid to the various groups in the Republic.

"Orlov", as he shall be called from this point onward, set to work organizing his counter intelligence operation and penetration of the various Republican organs. He began taking over the SIM, the Republican Military Intelligence Service. He began establishing control over various active partisan groups in the field. He formed schools to train saboteurs and terrorists for operations behind Nationalist lines. Schools were located in Madrid, Benimamet, Barcelona, Bilbao, and Argen by April of 1937.  Infantry and mounted units were formed from graduates of these schools. Eventually over 3000 trained men were deployed and enjoyed their greatest success in Central and Northern Spain during the summer of 1937, but by the end of 1937, resolute counter measures by the Nationalist organizations such as the Guardia , the Army, as well as special static local volunteer units armed with old VV70 Italian black powder rifles had brought the situation under control.

These terrorist bands were commonly composed of about 50 men, usually armed with M1916 7x57mm carbines and 7x57mm light machine guns to enable them to use ammunition captured from their intended victims. Submachine guns were provided from stocks acquired in Western Europe by the Krivitsky led arms purchasing operation ordered by Stalin. These were mostly 9x19mm weapons and ammunition re-supply was a problem. Pistols were usually 9mm Largo Astras and Stars but many types of 7.65mm pocket pistol were also issued. Grenades and explosives were generously provided. Rarely, smaller groups allotted special targets were dropped by air into their zone of operation.  Re-supply by air was  attempted with mixed results.  Soviet "advisers" were at times attached to a small number of bands, but this was contrary to Stalin's directives.

As 1938 evolved, the terror campaign was effectively throttled and Orlov was concerned for his own safety. He went about heavily armed, fearing assassination. He carried a sub-machinegun in his car and had one handy at his office and residences. He carried a pistol at all times, perhaps two of them. Various sources report a Browning GP 1935 9x19mm and a Walther PP, calibre unknown, in his possession. The purges in Russia were in full swing during this period and Orlov carried them out in Spain before he was recalled to Moscow in July 1938. Fearing he would be purged and executed as was his cousin, another NKVD Officer had been, he stole $60,000 U.S. Dollars of NKVD cash and fled to America where he eventually became a college lecturer.

As Orlov left Spain in July 1938, Stalin was cutting deliveries of armaments and began recalling Soviet other advisers to Russia, replacing them with a smaller number of new people as the defeat of the Reds loomed on the horizon and Stalin was considering an alliance with Hitler. Many of those recalled to Russia were terminated in the ongoing purges. The new advisers and other Soviet cadres and agents were exfiltrated, mainly by air, when the Republic collapsed in early 1939.

At the time of the surrender in 1939, there were probably in excess of 1.4 million small arms in Spain. About one half of these were either unseviceable or lacking proper ammunition. Captured rifles were collected, sorted by type, graded, cleaned and oiled, re-issued or stored, and some cases scrapped.

The Spanish military cartridge since 1893 had been the 7x57mm Mauser round. At the end of the war many of the rifles using this cartridge were worn out or broken in some way. The most common rifles using this round were the Mauser Modelo 1916 short rifle and the Mauser Modelo 1893 long rifle. As the Nationalist Army was reduced from wartime levels, the best of these rifles were kept in service. The others were placed in storage and in 1940 a program was begun rebuilding some of them to as new but this was at a low level of output.

The Nationalists had captured huge numbers of rifles from the Reds. Among these were some of the most modern and best conditioned rifles in Spain. Many Soviet Russian M91/30 Mosin Nagant 7.62x54mmR rifles were in new, unissued condition as were large numbers of Brno Vz24 7.92x57mm short rifles from Czechoslovakia. There were many other 7.9x57mm rifles in used but very good condition such as the Vz24, German Oberndorf Standard Modell Mausers, Gewehr 98, Kar.98a, FN Model 1930 and others. Hundreds of thousand Mosin Nagant 7.62x54mmR rifles in various condition from poor to excellent condition were also available. Nationalist Spain could manufacture ammunition for the 7x57mm cartridge and had captured cartridge production machinery for 7.92x57mm and 7.62x54mmR ammunition from the Reds.

At some point in 1940 or 1941 it was decided that the Army would change over to the 7.92x57mm cartridge as standard. This was probably influenced by the large number of modern rifles on hand in this caliber as well as the fact that large numbers of the ZB26 Czech light machine gun in 7.92x57mm had also been captured. The ZB26 was the best machine gun in Spain. It was also decided to begin producing the ZB26 at Oviedo Arsenal as the FAO, and to make a modified form of the Vz24 which was adopted as the Modelo 1943 Mauser. Some Modelo 1893 rifle and M1916 short rifles were rebuilt to use the 7.92x57mm Mauser round. ( It would not be prudent to fire one of these older small ring M1893 or M1916 7.92x57mm rifles if you have one.)

It was decided that the Guardia Civil would be issued the best conditioned M1891/30 Mosin Nagants to replace their worn 7x57mm Mausers. Production of 7.62x54mmR ammunition was restarted in 1941.These rifles were said to be popular because of their better accuracy, but somewhat more awkward to carry than the Modelo 1916 because of their length. These rifles remained in issue to the Guardia up until the 1960's.

The Army issued all the various Mauser short rifles in 7.92x57mm and beginning in 1943 began supplementing them with the new Spanish made Modelo 1943 in 7.92mmx57.

Elements of the former Republican Army which had escaped to France in 1939 had become part of the French underground force "Maquis" over the period 1941-44. The Maquis had various factions but was dominated by the Communists. One such group was the A.G.E. which was composed of Spanish Communists. Another was the A.D.E. which was composed of Spanish members of the CNT/FAI (Anarchists), the U.G.T./P.S.O.E. (Socialists), other minor left wing factions, as well as Catalan and Basque nationalists. These groups cached weapons from whatever sources were available to them for future operations in Spain.They had received weapons from the Allies to fight the Germans and had captured German weapons as the Allies forced the Germans to retreat. Additionally, they now began diverting arms from American military depots behind the lines to their stockpiles for the projected invasion of Spain.

In 1944, a force of 3,000 men was infiltrated from France over the Pyrenees in two stages. The first, on October 3rd was into Navarre and the second on October 7th being into Catalonia. They were intercepted by Spanish forces and broken up, with most being forced back into France.

Some groups from this operation managed to slip through into Spain. Smaller bands followed. They infiltrated southward into selected areas of operations. Arms and ammunition were smuggled in to support them. These were hardened ideologues, be they anarchist, socialist or communist. Some set up as operational units, others were detailed as individuals or small groups to form units from local sympathizers or take over dormant existing bands.They were extremely experienced men and could serve as effective cadres for local groups, many of whom had gone inactive due to the pressures of the earlier counter terror campaign. The NKVD sent cadres from Latin America to insure the proper "party line" was imposed but their "advice" was probably not welcomed by all left factions, especially the Anarchists whom were present in large numbers.

The areas of operation chosen by the terrorists were rural regions which provided places of concealment and covert venues of travel. Ideological sympathy among the populations was an equally strong factor. Bands would range in size from six to more than one hundred men.These second phase groups were much better armed for the type of activity they were engaged in than groups in the earlier period. The sub machine gun was their favored weapon and a high percentage were armed with this class of weapon. The British Sten was most common, followed by the German MP40, both in 9x19mm caliber. The .45ACP Thompson Gun was also widely used along with the M1911 and M1911A1 pistol in this caliber. Other pistols new to this period of conflict were the German P08 and P38 in 9x19 and various smaller .32ACP (7.65mm) and .380ACP (9mm Corto) pistols taken from captured Germans stocks. Rifles such as the U.S. .30 Model 1917 and Carbine .30 M1 were reported to be in use.

These new forces and material served to ignite the second phase of the "silent war" and it flared up to the point of becoming a major challenge. Spain at this point was isolated and could not expect aid from outside sources. It was critical that the initiative be regained from the terrorists. Slow but steady progress was made and the borders effectively sealed off to prevent more weapons and supplies from being supplied. First class police work provided very good intelligence which was the key to victory.

In 1947, a new anti-terror force was deployed. Extremely well trained and highly motivated, these detached units were briefed with accurate intel, dressed, armed and organized as the terrorists and infiltrated into their areas of operation. They were able to make contact with the sympathizers and support structures of the terror gangs gaining further information allowing the insertion of police agents into the terror infrastructure. The were able to ambush the enemy groups and stage raids on support infrastructure creating chaos and confusion, discrediting the terrorists with their supporters.

As 1949 came to end so did the renewed terrorist campaign. It had been defeated by the superbly trained men of the Guardia Civil and the Army. External support had been cut off and although some bands were barely able to survive in Andalusia until 1952, they were a spent force. After that, all whom had not escaped abroad were wiped out except for some urban terrorist cells which continued to exist in Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia until 1962 when that threat was neutralized.

There was little public knowledge of the struggle being waged against Communism and anarchy in Spain during the 1940's . This was due to an active effort on the part of the government to keep the situation from becoming widely known as this would only serve the interests of the terrorists. Lieutenant-General Camilo Alonso Vega of the Guardia Civil whom headed up the counter terrorist operations for twelve years did a splendid job of eliminating terrorist violence and banditry. He was to say in later years that the threat posed by this malignancy had to be rooted out as " it disrupted communications, demoralized the people, wrecked our economy, shattered our unity and discredited us in the eyes of the outside world''.

Official figures for the second phase period of 1944-1952 indicate that the Civil Guard suffered 628 casualties (258 of these KIA) between 1943 and 1952. 5,548 terrorist/bandits were taken out of action in 2,000 armed clashes. KIA = 2,166, captured or defected = 3,382, active sympathizers and facilitators arrested =19,407.

In the period in question, the rifles used by the various Spanish armed forces are listed below:

Guardia Civil (National Paramilitary Police)

Mausers Modelo 1916, Modelo 1893 7x57mm

Mosin Nagant Modelo 1891/30 7.62x54mmR

Destroyer Carbine 9mm Largo

Armada (Navy)

Mausers Modelo 1893, Modelo 1916.............7x57mm

Mausers Wz29, Vz24, Modelo 1943, Polish and

German Kar.98az, others, .....................all 7.92x57mm


Modelo 1893, Modelo 1895, Modelo 1916..7x57mm

Mausers Modelo 1943, Gewehr 1898, Vz24, the

FN1930, Wz29, M1893, the Oberndorf Standard

Modell, all ..............................................................7.92x57mm

Air Force

Modelo 1944, Vz24 (a large number of these, some

still issued today at the Air Force Academy at San

Javier for parade ground drill and ceremonies),

Polish Wz29, German and Polish made copies of

the Kar.98az called 'Negrillos, the Oberndorf

Standard Modell , all 7.92x57mm

Foreign Legion

Modelo 1893, Modelo 1916................................7x57mm

Various Mausers of the types listed above in
7.92x57mm above, all ....................................7.92x57mm