The Russian ship MV Komsomol arrived at Cartagena on 12th October 1936. In her hold were 50 brand new T-26's. Later in December the Komsomol was challenged by a Spanish cruiser, and in light of its past cargo the crew were taken off and the Komsomol was set on fire by the cruiser’s main batteries. She sank later that night.
|The MV Komsomol on fire.|
However by that point Komsomol had played her part. The T-26's were destined for the Republican forces fighting the Spanish Civil War. At this early stage in the war most of the Republican forces were untrained civilians. And they were facing off against the might of the Spanish Moroccan Army, with its years of experience fighting in Morocco. In addition those forces had been bolstered by both German and Italian arms and advisers. The Russians had also sent their advisers. And is often the case the advisers started to train the locals but had to take up arms and fight with their students.
On towards the end of October 1936, 15 of the T-26's were dispatched to the front line. They were led by the Soviet officer, Major Pavel Arman. Of the rest of the crew the majority were Russian, with only eleven of the most advanced students serving as loaders. Things started to go wrong immediately when the entire battle plan was read aloud by the Republican Mayor of Madrid, and the same information was issued in a press release to all the papers. The only piece of information not given was the date, which was to be the day after, the 29th.
At 0630 to enthusiastic applause by the infantry of Brigade Lister, whom were to be supporting the attack, the column of T-26's arrived. A brief speech was given where Maj. Arman said the following:
"The situation is not so hopeless. They have 15,000 soldiers, we have 15 tanks, so the
strengths are equal!"
|Major Pavel Arman|
The T-26's moved forward towards the town of Seseña, their terrible luck continued as three of the tanks hit anti-tank mines and were disabled. However the tanks continued on and skirted the area and by 0645 the tanks had entered the town. In front of them they saw a field gun covering their approach, none of the T-26's fired. As they approached a Spanish officer walked out in front of them and raises his hand to halt the column. Maj. Arman leans out of his turret to hear what the officer has to say, the question is simply "Italiano?"
Maj. Arman dropped into his turret and opened fire on the surprised officer and field gun, then led his tanks roaring into the town. As they approach the town square they ran into a mounted company of Moorish cavalry. As always with tanks vs horses, the tanks win with little difficulty leaving a huge bloody mound of dead horses and cavalry men blocking the road where the tanks’ machine guns had chewed through the charging mass. With no other option the tanks have to drive through the pile of dead, liberally coating their hulls with the churned up blood and gore.
During the brief lull the Spanish Nationalists had prepared Molotov cocktails and managed to knock out three of the rampaging T-26's. Maj. Arman quickly realised that the enemy defences are beginning to stiffen, and with no sign of friendly infantry, leads his remaining nine tanks out of the village and deeper behind enemy lines.
As they push deeper into enemy territory they spot dust in the distance. They decide to quickly set up an ambush on a blind corner and the tanks destroy the motorised infantry that are rushing to help defend Seseña. Again the tankers use their tanks to ram trucks and guns, while the turret crews fire as fast as they can. The column continues its advance, as it enters Esquivias one of the tanks gets stuck in an anti-tank ditch so Maj. Arman leaves two tanks to help the stuck one and continues onwards.
In the distance Maj. Arman sees more dust approaching, and as they crest a rise they see three Italian CV3/35's at short range. One is armed with a flamethrower and immediately tries to close the range to bring its flame gun to bear on the tanks. Spotting the threat the the 6 T-26's all turn their main guns on the tank as it races forward. The lightly armoured vehicle is easily destroyed by the powerful 45mm guns at such short range. The remaining Italian tankettes are now at the mercy of the T-26's, one gets rammed and then pushed into a small ravine.
However by now the crews of the T-26's are exhausted, with low ammo supplies and they have been baking in the Spanish heat for many hours. Maj. Arman orders the tanks to fall back to their starting point. When they arrived they found Brigade Lister sitting around as if nothing had happened. When Maj Arman demanded to know what had happened the Brigade Commander Enrique Lister said that once his men had covered about 1500m they'd lost sight of the tanks, felt tired and just sat down for a rest in small groups scattered over the area.
|Brigadier Enrique Lister|
Despite the failure of the infantry Maj. Arman’s column of T-26 tanks had wreaked a huge toll and caused massive damage on the local Nationalist forces, even if they'd never captured any ground.
kbismarck.org, warheroes.ru, Bundesarchiv, Wikipedia