Spain Revisited: The Marines
By Julio A. Montes

Although most of the Naval Infantry forces in South America are equipped and modeled to the USMC, and maintain close ties with US counterparts, all military forces in Latin America - with the exception of Brazil - can trace its origins to the Spanish Armada.

Spanish Naval Museum (www.museonavalmadrid.com)

A good place to start with the history of the Spanish Marines is at the Spanish Naval Museum, centrally located across Paseo del Prado, one of the most important boulevards in downtown Madrid and close to the offices of the Ministry of Defense. The Museum reflects the glorious days of the Spanish Armada that at one point was the most powerful entity on the planet. Here we find the collection and origins of the Real Compañía de Caballeros Guardias Marinas and other historical units.

The Royal Decree 1.888 of July 10, 1978 ratifies the lineage and antiquity of the Marine Corps since many Spanish military units claim origins to the Tercios de Infantería Española that sailed around the world during the conquests. It was Felipe II who established the Naval Infantry Corps in the 1700s, but the Marines’ roots can be traced further back to the Tercio Nuevo de la Mar de Nápoles, established by Emperor Carlos I in 1537 - making it the oldest of such entities in the world. The modern Spain’s Naval Infantry Corps is composed with the TEAR, the FUPRO, and the Ocean Marine Company.

Spanish Navy Small Arms

The modern Tercio de Armada (or TEAR - roughly meaning Regiment) comprises the Marine Brigade (BRIMAR - Brigada de Infantería de Marina) and the Base Unit, and comes under the command of a Marine Brigadier General.

The TEAR is housed at the San Carlos garrison, at San Fernando since 1969, where we also find the BRIMAR, which is also the basis of the Marine Expeditionary Force - or the amphibious assault force available to the fleet. The BRIMAR deploys three amphibious assault battalions (BD - Batallones de Desembarco) BD-I, BD-II and BMD-III. The first two refer to infantry units while BMD-III refers to a mechanized battalion. The naval infantry battalions (BDI & II) count for their missions and tasks with a reconnaissance unit equipped with Hummer vehicles, three riflemen companies, one headquarters (HHC), and a weapons company. The reconnaissance section of the HHC (or Compañía de Plana Mayor y Servicios) is of particular interest since it deploys a Reconnaissance Section (called SERECO) with six sniper teams equipped with Accuracy C-75 and Barrett M-95 precision rifles.

The Riflemen Companies I, II and III (Compañías de Fusileros) deploys in three rifle platoons (“secciones” in Spanish terms), each divided in three squads, and one Weapons Platoon. The Marine Squad (denominated “pelotón” in Spanish) is divided in two fire teams of 5 men. Until recently, the standard small arm was the CETME C or LC rifle in 5.56mm, but the many complaints by the Marines regarding the reliability of the weapon eventually resulted in its replacement with the HK G-36E. Each fire team is also equipped with the reliable Ameli light machine gun. The Weapons Section supports the riflemen with ECIA 60L (60mm) light mortars, a machine gun section equipped with four MG-42/58 machine guns, and an antitank section with three teams equipped with C-90C disposable AT rockets.

The Weapons Company (Compañía de Armas) provides a platoon equipped with the six ECIA 80LL (81mm) medium mortars, and three teams of spotters, an antitank platoon with eighteen Dragon missiles, and a heavy machine gun platoon with six Hummers with M2HB .50 cals. The mechanized BMD-III battalion (Batallón Mecanizado de Desembarco) is organized with two Mechanized Riflemen Companies equipped with MOWAG LAVs. There is also a Tank Company (Compañía de Carros de Combate) with a tank section of sixteen M-60 A3 TTS and one recovering vehicle, and a reconnaissance platoon. This last mentioned was equipped with the seventeen Alvis Scorpion FV-101, but these are now in the process of retirement.

The Artillery Support for the BRIMAR comes from the Grupo de Artillería de Desembarco (GAD), with two towed artillery batteries equipped with twelve OTOMelara M56 howitzers, which are scheduled to be replaced soon. There is also a Self-Propelled Battery with six M-109A2 howitzers, supported by six ammo carriers M-992. The HQ and Support Group complete the formation.

A most important combat role in support of landing forces comes from the Special Weapons Group or GAE (Grupo de Armas Especiales) deploying an Antitank Company (with 24 Hummers equipped with TOW-2 missiles), an Amphibious Tractor Company (with some sixteen AAV- 7 transport vehicles, two Command and Control variants, and one recovery model). The Engineer Company assists with several specialized pieces of equipment while the Fast Boat Unit (Unidad de Embarcaciones Rápidas) provides between 12 and 18 Duarry SuperCat Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIBs). The GA (Air Group) provides air defense with a battery of twelve Mistral Manpads. At headquarters level, the BRIMAR counts with a General HQ Company, a Communications Company, and a Military Intelligence Company.

The Fuerza de Protección (FUPRO) is dedicated to the security of naval bases, installations, and other naval dependencies. It comes under the command of another Marine Brigadier General, and it comprises the Tercio del Norte from Ferrol, La Coruña, Tercio del Sur from San Fernando, Cádiz, Tercio de Levante from Cartagena, Murcia, and the Agrupación de Madrid (in Madrid) and Unidad de Seguridad de Canarias (with HQ at Las Palmas de Gran Canaria garrison). This “Tercios” are roughly battalionsize.

The Ocean Marine Company refers to the Compañía Mar Océano serving within the elite Regimiento de la Guardia Real de S.M. el Rey, plus a platoon serving aboard the Príncipe de Asturias aircraft carrier.

Spanish Naval SpecOps

There are two units that provide for special operations to the Naval Command: the UOE, and the UEBC. The first one refers to the Amphibious Special Operations Unit (Unidad de Operaciones Especiales), and the second unit refers to the Commander Gorordo Special Combat Diver Unit (Unidad Especial de Buceadores de Combate).

The UOE is comprised of 169 men divided in three operational, and one Administrative Estol (term used to describe the naval commando team in Spaniard naval military parlance). The UOE calls San Fernando, Cádiz, home. In 1952, the Spanish Armada established the Marine Amphibious Climber Company (Compañía de Escaladores Anfibios de la Infanteria de Marina) at Ferrol. The unit became part of the Special Naval Infantry Group (now TEAR) in 1957. The outfit became the Special Operations Unit (UOE) in 1967, adopting the Green Beret as its distinctive headdress. The outfit was increased in 1969 with the assimilation of the Amphibian Zapper Section (Sección de Zapadores Anfibios- Grupo Illetas) and received the denomination of Special Amphibious Infiltrator Unit between 1970- 1974, becoming the Special Amphibian Commandos in 1983, and finally becoming the UOE once again in 1988.

Each Estol is comprised of 33 men divided in four naval commando teams, with each team dividing in two patrols of 4 men. These men are equipped with Llama M82 and Star pistols in 9mm. Other favorites are the MP5 and silenced L34A1 submachine guns. A trademark is the SIG-Sauer P-230 pistol equipped with a silencer, Remington Wingmaster M870 shotguns, M4 carbines, and an assortment of machine guns such as the Ameli, MG-42, MG-43 and M60. The assault rifles in use include the G-36E and KE rifles, and there are some CETME L and LC models. There are C-90/CR antitank weapons, and Calderon P-01 hand grenades. For precision work, the UOE uses the Mauser 66SP, Accuracy AW (denominated C-75), and Barrett M-95 models. Communication equipment includes Thompson CSF PR- 4G VHF, and the AN/PRC-104 HF. The Motorola GSP-300 and Yaesu FT-26 are used for communication between operators.

Other equipment available to the naval commandos include self-breathing apparatus, Kayaks, twelve Zodiac F470 RIBs and Duarry SuperCat raider boats, parachutes (manual MC-1B, MT1XS and MT1XX and automatic G-11 and G-12 models).

The Spanish Marines also use the Santa Barbara (now part of General Dynamics) LAG-40. This is an automatic grenade launcher firing 40x53mm ammunition, with a rate of fire of 215 rpm, at a range of 1,500 meters. They also have access to M14 rifles and M79 grenade launchers. The commandos seem to like the British SUSAT on their small arms, as well as laser Tasco LMB9, Zeiss and Smith & Bender 3-12x50, or Simrad KN-20F Mk3 sights. The Barrets come with the Swarovski Habicht PF 10x42.

The Commander Gorordo Special Combat Diver Unit has its origins at Algameca, Cartagena, with an experimental unit established in 1967. The outfit became the Commander Gorordo UEBC in 1970. Today, this outfit lists 60 operators, distributed between a HQ unit, two operational platoons and one support platoon, ready to act at a moments notice. Each platoon is divided in two operational teams of 12 operators, and those tasked with “tactical” duties include the Alfa, Bravo, Charlie, and Delta teams.

An interesting weapon in the hands of these naval commandos is the locally made Star Z-84. This submachine gun is very similar in external appearance to the Uzi, utilizing the same wrap-around bolt style. It has proved very efficient and reliable even after being submerged and beat up for long periods of time. The ever-present MP5 is also found. For some unknown reason, the M60 seems to be preferred over the MG42/58 as machine gun.

Diving equipment includes the traditional Beuchat tanks, Fenzy DC-55, Fenzy PO-68 and Draguer LAR-VI. The night vision goggles include the AN/PVS-5 and AN/PVS-7, along with Magellan GPS, and radios Harris PRC-138, and Thompson RT-9200/PR4G. Boats available include Valiant DR-175, Zodiac F470, and Duarry SuperCat. The Farallon Mk-8 propulsion machine is used for insertion.


The UOE and UEBC are now under the command and control of the Special Naval Warfare Nucleus (CGNE - Célula de Guerra Naval Especial), which together with the Army’s Special Forces Command (MOE - Mando de Operaciones Especiales) are ready to fight any enemy, any time, anywhere.

The Spanish Navy does not protect the vast empire it once did. Nevertheless, the Spaniard legacy - for good or bad - is imprinted in a large chunk of the American Continent.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V10N12 (September 2007)
and was posted online on November 16, 2012


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