By Félix A. Alejos Cutuli
The Academia General Militar (General Military Academy, from now on AGM) is the Spanish Army’s highest formation institution. Its mission is to prepare the future officers of the Spanish Army and Guardia Civil instilling a common set of values into them. Specialized formation is imparted by the academies of each corps and branch.
Although historical precedents can be traced back to 1340 to the Compañía de los Cien Donceles. (Hundred Donceles Company, a doncel being an offspring of the medieval nobility which has still not been granted his knighthood. He accompanied the king, being trained as soldier and leader of men during peacetime to have the chance to prove his worth in war, upon which he would be granted Knighthood). The institution as we know it today was created by King Alfonso XII in 1882 in the city of Toledo, to be closed in 1893.
It was restored back in 1927 under the kingdom of Alfonso XIII, this time in its current location near the city of Zaragoza and under the direction of the then general and later dictator Francisco Franco. In 1931 the Second Republic closed the center which was opened again in 1940.
Zaragoza was chosen among several other candidate cities and only in the last moment were they able to find an adequate water supply, as the AGM is at the Los Monegros desert, one of the harshest deserts in the world. Next to the Academy is the San Gregorio maneuvers field, current home of the Spanish Army National Training Center (Centro Nacional de Entrenamiento or CENAD).
Zaragoza is the capital city of the Comunidad de Aragón and the fifth largest city in Spain. Sited at a privileged geographical location, its existence has been documented as far back as the Third Century B.C. The city was refounded by the later roman emperor Octavio Augustus as Caesaraugusta and has a rich history. From a military history point of view, its peak moment was the Guerra de la Independencia (Peninsular War for the English speaking world). Napoleon’s armies sieged the city not once but twice. It is also the home of an important Spanish Air Force base that may be familiar to U.S. service personnel as during the cold war it hosted important U.S. Air Force presence.
Small Arms of the World.com was invited to visit the AGM’s Museum Hall, which is in custody of a series of collections related to both de the Academy, the Spanish Army and some friend countries’ equivalent institutions, not forgetting Zaragoza’s military history. It was founded in 1947 as Zaragoza’s Sieges Museum then refunded in 1964 as AGM’s teaching museum.
The entrance hall is illuminated through six polychrome glazed windows representing the four patron saints of Spain. On display are samples of current AGM uniforms, plus a couple Maxim machine guns on wheeled mounts and wallboards of submachine guns, rifles and bayonets.
Next is the Teaching Hall, housing military teaching memorabilia dating back to 1809. The uniforms on display correspond to the first half of the 19th century and include that of a barmaid, which was a military employment from that time which lasted, unofficially, until well into the 20th Century. Barmaids were usually regiment’s orphans or children adopted by the regiment that were given that job upon reaching adulthood. They were issued uniforms (including trousers and shirts to be worn simultaneously, the intent being to be ready for life in campaign and to remember the feminine condition of the wearer), plus sabers and sidearms, as they often supplied the troops under fire and tended the wounded under combat conditions, often giving the last comfort to the dying.
In the Hall of Memories we found memorabilia from the AGM as well as from friendly countries, to include cadet uniforms from American, Arab and Asian military academies. There’s also memorabilia from historic characters related to the Academy, like members of the Spanish Royal Family, uniforms, furniture and other objects from the academy’s early times and even a picture of Asunción, a barmaid that is the subject of the popular song El Vino que Vende Asunción.
The Prince of Asturias Miniature Hall (the Prince of Asturias is the Spanish Crown heir and former pupil of the Academy, as was his father, current King Juan Carlos II) houses a collection of military models, flags, plus memorabilia from the II Republic period and the División Azul which fought the communists during World War II at the Leningrad front. There’s also memorabilia from the Guardia Civil, which is a military corps tasked with rural police duties, similar to other countries’ gendarmeries.
The Laureate Knights Hall honors the 23 academy graduates granted to date the highest Spanish military award: the Cruz Laureada de San Fernando (Laureate Cross of Saint Ferdinand). It also hosts a collection of personal weapons (swords, revolvers and semiautomatic pistols) and other objects from AGM graduates and staff, memorabilia from international organizations related to Spanish Army missions and a set of European armies academies’ uniforms. There are several historic flags, plus the Academy’s Honor Book and several support weapons to include an M40A1 recoilless rifle, a Vickers and a Fiat-Revelli M1914 machine guns and an Italian Brixia 45mm mortar/grenade launcher.
The Hall of Arms contains an exhibit of the evolution of small arms from the 16th Century to the last models designed and made in Spain, plus some communications equipment and a display of hand grenades and mortar bombs. Standing out from the pistol collection are a couple Austrian Schwarzlose semiautos, one of them is a 7.62x25 Mauser model of 1898 and the other one is a model labeled “experimental 12mm.” Among the submachine guns present we will highlight the set of Spanish service models, plus a very well preserved United Defense M42. The rifle displays include a full set of Spanish service rifles from the Remington Rolling Blocks to the latest model CETME L assault rifles, without forgetting Winchester lever actions and most of the Spanish Mauser variants from 1893 to 1943, including some scoped versions and a 9mm Largo Destroyer bolt action carbine. Catching our eye from the machine gun collection was a cutout and cased Fusil Automático Oviedo Coruña, a Russian RPD, a fully accessorized Spanish Alfa, and several Italian machine guns from the interwar period.
The Zaragoza’s Sieges Hall displays documents and historic artifacts related to the city’s deed including a mantle worn by the image of Nuestra Señora del Pilar during the siege and a portrait of local hero Agustina de Aragón.
The Hall of Deceased honors the memories of the first combat fallen from each of the three AGM’s epochs, plus the terrorist attack of 1987 against an Academy’s bus and the first Army officer fallen on a humanitarian mission. It also honors current King Juan Carlos I and his heir, honorary cadets and commemorates silver and golden anniversaries of each class.
As usual in many military installations, AGM’s streets are decorated by several retired pieces of equipment that served in the Army or even prototypes and test items that never entered service. The entrance to the Museum-hall was well guarded by several artillery pieces: a couple of Vickers 105/30 Mod. 1922 pattern howitzer, made at Fábrica Nacional de Trubia in 1968, a 75/46 PAK 40 anti-tank gun of WWII fame. A Placencia 60/50 Mod. 1951 represents the Spanish made anti-tank/support guns after that war and there’s also a couple 20mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns, these particular specimens were of the Czech OKN pattern, made at Fábrica de Armas de Oviedo from 1943 on.
Walking around the block we found a cannon armed Renault FT-17 tank. This tank served several Allied armies (including the U.S.’s) during WWI and soldiered on at least until WWII. Spain acquired 9 units armed with Hotchkiss machine guns which participated in the 1922 Alhucemas (North Africa) landings. During the Civil War of 1936-39 another 22 units arrived in country.
Our stroll ended in the yard separating the original academy buildings from the modern ones where we were able to contemplate a M47 Patton MBT. This tank was widely used both by the U.S. and their allies although never saw combat under the U.S. flag. It was crewed by five and armed with a 90mm cannon, two 12.7 and one 7.62 machine guns. The M24 Chafee also arrived from the U.S. and other sources during the 1950s. It’s a light tank crewed by five and armed with a 75mm main gun and two .30 and one .50 caliber machine guns. It served into the Spanish Army up to the 1980s. Also in the 50s, Spain got 36 M-37 105/19 self-propelled howitzers. The AGM custodies the only remaining Russian T26-B in working condition. The model arrived from the URSS as aid to the Republican side during the last civil war and was the most modern, powerful and numerous tank used in that conflict. It was crewed by three and armed with a 45mm cannon and two 7.62mm machine guns.
Next to the armored vehicles we also saw a 240/14 Placencia mortar M1940, dwarfing a 120mm Valero Ecia of 1942, and a 150/55 Rheinmetall (Trubia) Model of 1953 field gun; this is a Spanish copy of the WWII German K-18 170mm gun reduced in caliber. Only 24 pieces were made but never entered service because its sheer size made it impractical for the Spanish Army of the time. The arrival of U.S. material a few years later sealed the fate of the project in spite of its remarkable performance.
Address and contact info:
Museo Específico de la Enseñanza de la AGM.
Academia General Militar.
Carretera de Huesca s/n.
50090 Zaragoza (Spain).
Tfno: + 34 976 73 97 82 / 98 73.
Fax: + 34 976 73 98 99.
The museum is open during the school period Monday to Friday from 09:00 to 14:00. Free admittance via previous appointment. All visits are guided. There’s public transport from Zaragoza. Please, check the museum’s website for visit details.
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