Repository: Alfredo González-Ruibal Personal Collection
Fond or Collection
Alfredo González-Ruibal, Research Project, 2011
Repository and Location
Alfredo González-Ruibal Personal Collection, Place
Extent: 1 item
Geographic Region: La Fatarella, Spain
This unwrapped packet of Soviet ammunition appeared in a Republican trench in La Fatarella (Tarragona), part of the last defensive line in the Ebro. Soviet military aid, which started arriving in October 1936 and continued until the end of the conflict, was crucial for the survival of the Republic. Weapons associated with new modalities of war, such as tanks and airplanes, have captured the attention of most historians and the public alike, but the truth is that a very important part of the aid consisted of rifles and heavy and light machine guns, as well as their respective ammunition. Massive importa allowed the Popular Army to increase its firepower and the standardization of its weapons, which was essential for the military efficiency. A diversity of munitions entailed several problems in the battlefield, because soldiers could not exchange cartridges and the quartermaster had to supply a diversity of calibers (some rarer than others) to the frontline. Many of the light weapons that entered Spain in 1936 were obsolete and heterogeneous ad had been languishing in Soviet military depots for decades, but from early 1937 onwards, the USSR began sending large numbers of Mosin Nagant rifles, Maxim heavy machine guns and Degtyarev light machine guns. In August 1937 alone, 209,160 Mosin Nagant rifles were acquired by the Republic. Not only were they more reliable and effective, but they had the advantage of firing the same 7,62 mm bullets as the Maxim and Degtyarev machine guns. Republicans also started to produce this caliber in their own factories.
Although the Popular Army never attained total homogeneity in its weaponry, by mid-1938 the immense majority of its soldiers were armed with Soviet 7.62 mm guns, including all the army of maneuver and the International Brigades. This progressive standardization is clearly perceptible on the battlefields. Around 90% of the munitions found in active fronts during the last months of the war belong to the 7,62 mm caliber. Nevertheless. archaeology has also shown that the USSR kept shipping old munitions to Spain: cartridge markings indicate that the great majority of the exported cartridges were already many years old, in some cases going back to Tsarist times. This was a problem, because old cartridges were more likely to cause problems in combat. In contrast, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy furnished the Francoists with recently produced materials from their factories, as demonstrated by casings dated around the period of the Spanish Civil War.
Many of the Soviet munitions that arrived in Spain came from Ukrainian factories, such as Lugansk. This is the case with several of the cartridges found in La Fatarella. The chalk into which the trench was cut helped preserve the brown paper on which the cartridges came wrapped from the USSR. The speed with which combat developed during the last day of the Battle of the Ebro (November 15, 1938) explains that the soldiers did not have the time to unwrap the cartridges and even less to load them in the magazines and clips of their machine guns and rifles. Fighting in this part of the Republican line lasted just a few hours. The remains of the soldier that should have employed the ammunition appeared next to the wrapped cartridges.