The British Anti-Tank Battery
Gun commanders of the British Anti-Tank Battery. Otto Estensen is on the far left, on the far right is Chris Smith
The British Anti-Tank Battery was formed in May 1937 from forty volunteers at Madrigueras and issued with three Soviet 45mm guns, capable of firing both armour-piercing and high explosive shells which, at that time, represented state-of-the-art military technology. Well led, trained by Russian instructors and comprising a high proportion of students and intellectuals, they represented somewhat of an elite unit, and quickly became a highly efficient force of the 15th International Brigade.
After cutting its teeth at Brunete in July 1937, the battery was heavily involved in the battles at Quinto and at Belchite in August where, according to Bill Alexander, the battery's commissar, the Anti-Tanks fired 2,700 shells in two days. During October 1937, the XV International Brigade was involved in a disastrous operation against the Aragon town of Fuentes de Ebro. Initially, the Anti-Tank Battery was held back from the main battle until, at one point, the panicked brigade staff ordered the Anti-Tank Battery to advance on the Rebel lines. None of the guns were able to fire and the battery’s second-in-command, Jeff Mildwater, was injured in the knee, before the battery was wisely withdrawn.
During the Aragon retreats in the spring of 1938 the Anti-Tank Battery was virtually surrounded and forced to retreat swiftly from Belchite to avoid being cut off. The battery was forced to destroy one of their guns that couldn’t be moved; low flying rebel aircraft destroyed another. With the battery no longer in existence, the men were incorporated into the British Battalion.
Fred Thomas, To Tilt at Windmills: A Memoir of the Spanish Civil War, East Lansing: State University of Michigan Press, 1996
Miles Tomalin, ‘Memories of the Spanish War’, New Statesman, 31 October 1975, pp.541-542.