By Félix A. Alejos Cutuli
Valencia is one of Spain’s main cities. Sited on the Mediterranean coast, it enjoys a climate that has made it, and the province of the same name, a popular holiday and retirement destination for European citizens. It was founded in 138 B.C. by the Romans and since then has had rich history. Among the most famous Valencians are the Borgia family whose offspring include both a saint (Saint Francis Borgia, Duke of nearby Gandía ) and two popes, one of them, Alexander VI a sinister character whose memory still inspires the entertainment industry, not to mention his son Cesare (who is the inspirational character for Nicolo Machiavelli’s The Prince) and daughter Lucrecia. Getting to more practical issues, Valencia also enjoys the fruits of nature which are skillfully applied to the local gastronomy, known worldwide by the local rice plates, universally named paella, although actually paella is the pan used to prepare the rice. The Requena wines are also one of the local treasures.
Among the many things to do while in this city, a reader of this magazine must not miss visiting the Military History Museum. Located at walking distance from the Cathedral (which custodies the Holly Grail) and not too far away from the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, it’s housed at the San Juan Rivera barracks. The Museum spans 3,500 square meters divided in two floors and is dedicated to Spain’s Military History with emphasis on Valencia and its geographical surroundings.
Admittance is through a side street to the San Juan de la Rivera barracks. The museum’s gate is guarded by a huge 381mm rocket. Just inside is the ticket booth and the first displays, from which stands out a 75mm model of the 1895 Krupp mountain gun, the most modern field Artillery piece used in the Guerra de Cuba (Spanish American War of 1898, which actually started for Spain in 1868 with the uprising of the Cuban independents, ending in 1878 and restarting on 1895). Two of these guns participated in the San Juan Hill battle, during which the first anti-aircraft use of Spanish Artillery and the first time Spanish forces brought down an American aircraft (an observation balloon).
Past the admittance hall is a yard centered around an impressive 88/56mm Flak 36 anti-aircraft gun, complemented by a round of ammunition. In a corner is a French Matra R-530 air to air missile.
Next is a hall dedicated to heavy materiel, containing several Artillery pieces from the first third of the 20th Century, a breech block and a shell from a Vickers 381mm model of 1923 coastal gun dwarfing the same items from a 152.4mm Vickers from the same year, a Spanish multiple rocket launcher from the second half of the 20th Century, and a German Kobra wire guided anti-tank missile, together with launcher and control unit. There’s also a Russian T-26B tank, the most modern tank used by both sides in the latest Civil War (known as Guerra Civil).
Contiguous is the Ammunition Hall, displaying an extensive array of munitions ranging from small arms to artillery. We will highlight here the presence of a 62mm shell from a Sims-Dudley pneumatic “dynamite” gun, used against the Spanish forces by both Cuban insurgents and the U.S. Army during the Guerra de Cuba.
Next is a display of shop machines used for maintenance chores and then is the Small Arms Hall. This is a hallway housing the displays of firearms and cold steel. There are several wallboards displaying the collections of handguns, among which stands a superbly preserved Borchardt pistol. The rifle and submachine gun boards contains, among others, several scope sighted service rifles, a pressure test gun built upon a Mauser 1893 action, plus a Spanish Mauser equipped with a “trench” stock which is a detachable device comprising a crooked buttstock, a periscope and a series of mechanisms to allow a rifleman to employ his gun while keeping himself safe, under the top of a trench. Also worth mentioning are a locally made Labora-Fontbenat and Thompson (with 50 round drum) submachine guns. The oldest firearm in the museum is a morterete (hand gonne) from the 13th Century that may have originated the typical pyrotechnical device known as traca. Back in 1707 when some of those guns were uncovered upon dismantling the local Artillery depot, apparently somebody took off the “stock,” planted the device vertically on the ground, filled it with powder and applied fire, inventing a celebration device that is still in use.
The center of the hallway is occupied by a display of machine guns and automatic rifles on a raised platform, which allows the visitor to closely observe them together with their accessories. Also on display is a firangi sword, a set of Hindu-Persian armour and a still blood-stained sari, taken from the body of a woman chieftain by the officer who took her life in combat after she rose in arms against British rule on India, around the middle of the 19th Century.
The Artillery Hall houses several items related to this service, among them a 1911 German Erhardt mine launcher of 76mm as used both in WWI and Guerra Civil. There are also several mountain guns, 75 and 90mm Krupp, used on the Guerra de Cuba and a Caponera, a Nordenfelt 57mm gun, which was used to defend fortresses by firing shot canisters into close proximity to defenses, kind of final protective fires by machine guns, which also served in the Guerra de Cuba.
The Engineers Hall displays elements related to the specialty, as models of engineers’ bridges, tools, demolitions, heliographs, telephone and radio equipment, going as far back as 1921 which was the year designation of a Morse radio station used during the Guerra de África of the 1920s.
The Valencia and the Army Hall is dedicated at the mutual relationship, with some emphasis on the relevant historical architecture, displaying blueprints, maps and models, like those of the Royal Palace destroyed in 1810 to prevent its use by the invading Napoleonic Army sieging the City, or the Citadel.
There are two more yards housing heavy materials, as two trucks used as personal quarters by General Franco during Guerra Civil, a WWII 75L46 PAK 40, which probably reached our coasts when the axis forces were forced to evacuate Tunis during WWII, a very scarce 60L51 Placencia 1951 anti-tank gun, a pair of specimens of the successful 105L26 Naval-Reinosa howitzers in their 1943 and 1950 incarnations, and a 40L70 Bofors anti-aircraft in the Spanish JEPE towed mounting, which incorporated an engine supplying power to the electrical and hydraulic motors. The highlights are a huge Barr & Stroud optical rangefinder, and a series of light AA pieces (a quad Fifty on a M55 carriage and 20mm Oerlikon-Becker from 1949.) Among other objects is a safety boat used when the army soldiers enjoyed bathing in the local beaches circa 1957.
On the second floor we visit the Flag and Uniform Hall. On display is an impressive array of flags and uniforms from different times, including a Somatén flag. Somatén was a militia that originated in the Middle Ages and existed up to 1978. There’s also a series of models of historical fortifications and battles. Several uniforms and models are related to the Spanish-American war of 1898, including the frustrated American attack on San Juan de Puerto Rico, on May 12, 1898 as well as the Battle for San Juan and El Caney. Remembering the Philippines campaign is a model and memorabilia from the Siege of Baler: a handful of Spanish soldiers endured a 337 day siege (February 12 1898 to June 2 1899) well past the end of the war. There’s a model of the Victory parade in celebration of the end of the latest civil war comprising more than 5,000 individual pieces that took 20 years to complete. The collections of 20th Century helmets and gas masks are also worth mentioning.
The paintings gallery is very interesting with several very detailed depictions of battles and military equipment. The works of José Cusachs stand out due to his meticulous attention to military matters.
This floor has a hall dedicated to Guerra Civil. On display is the usual memorabilia from both sides of the conflict, from which we will highlight the extensive collection of hand grenades and the 7.92mm Maxim 1905 machine gun presented to Republican General Miaja, by then commander of the local forces, by the workers of a refurbishment plant. The authenticity is verified both by the inscriptions on the gun’s receiver and documentation tracking its endeavors, from its acquisition by Spain’s República from Russia’s Communist Party, to the Battle of Teruel, where it was captured by the Nacionales then recaptured by the Republicanos. After being presented to General Miaja it continued to soldier on until the end of the war. The gun sits now on a French Saint Etienne tripod, next to several portable mortars.
Next is the Logistic´s Hall dedicated to all the services that make possible the proper working of the combat arms. In the hall dedicated to Infantry Regiment Nº21 (Vizcaya) is a 106mm M40 recoiless rifle, an 81mm mortar, an 88mm Instalaza rocket launcher (Spanish version of the U.S. Superbazooka) and a wallboard displaying a set of the individual weapons in use by the regiment circa 1960: A Mauser, CETME rifle, Star Z-45 and a Z-70 SMGs. There’s also an Illustrious Characters Hall and a Medic Corps hall.
Museo Histórico Militar
General Gil Dolz, 6 - 46010 Valencia (Spain).
Phone: +34 961 696 215
The museum is open form Tuesday to Friday from 10:00 to14:00 and from 16:00 to 20:00 h. Sundays, and public holidays from 10:00 to 14:00. The Museum is closed on Mondays.
The museum is well connected by public transport. Please check the web for details. Admittance is free. There are no facilities for the physically impaired, but most of the exhibits are on the ground floor. The museum has informative sheets that can also be downloaded from its website and that of the Association, most are in Spanish but the web offers reading material in several languages. The museum does not allow picture taking.
There’s a lively Association of Friends of the Museum reachable through its website: www.amigosmuseovalencia.es/
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