Called hebilla in Spanish, belt plates used by soldiers in the civil war reflected both the traditions of the Spanish Army and political identity.

By William K. Combs

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Three Model 1926/31 Infantry Belt Plate Variations.
The Infantry insignia consists of three traditional
emblems of Spanish military power: a hunter’s horn
over a crossed broad sword and matchlock musket.
(left)“Republicanized” M26 with the royal crown
removed. The crown’s base can still be seen over the top
of the twist of the horn. (lower left) Regulation M26/31
made without the earlier crown. Note that the placement
of the sword and musket are reversed. (lower right) Rare
wartime production made of aluminum. It is unclear
which side made these, but Spanish collectors consider
them Republican.

Between 1936 and 1939, Spain was torn apart by tragic civil war. Like the citizens it defended, the Spanish Army was almost equally divided. Half remained loyal to the republican government, a leftist coalition of socialists, communists, anarchist and liberal republican parties. The other half joined the uprising led by a group of army officers and backed by politically right leaning and traditionalist factions including Catholic movements such as the Carlists, the fascist-like Falange, monarchists and conservative republicans. Although a notable number of foreign volunteers served on both sides, the majority of those that shed their blood were Spaniards.

Called hebilla in Spanish, the belt plates used by soldiers in this civil war reflect both the traditions of the Spanish Army and political identity. Because both forces initially drew their supplies from existing Spanish Army stocks, their uniforms — including belt plates — were virtually identical.

The plate pattern in use during the period originated during the reign of King Alfonso XIII as the Model 1926. With the establishment of the Second Republic in 1931 some plate designs were slightly altered by removing the royal crown from the motif.

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Nationalist Elite; the Army of Africa. In the 1930s, Spain still
had large colonial holdings in western North Africa. The forces
that controlled this region were the Spanish Foreign Legion
and indigenous Muslim troops, most notably the Moroccan
Infantry known as the Regulares. At the beginning of the
uprising, these troops declared unanimously for the rebel
Nationalists and would prove to be the best storm troops of the
war. The plate on the left is embossed with the emblem of the
Spanish Foreign Legion, a trophy of medieval weapons. The plate
of the 3rd Regiment of Regulares on the right has the unit number
painted in green on the crescent moon of Islam over
crossed Mauser rifles.

Most plates are brass clip-corner rectangular plates. Although size will vary, most will measure approximately 7.5 cm x 5.5 cm (about 3" x 2 ¼"). Different branch of service insignia will be embossed in bold relief on the face of the plate. The reverse has a flat hook catch and brass wire-standing loop with a long iron wire tongue.

The plate is affixed to the brown leather Model 1911 belt by running the tip of the belt through the standing loop, around the iron tongue and back through the standing loop, holding the plate in place by friction. The hook connects with a brass catch sewn to the opposite end of the belt. Maker’s markings will occasionally be found stamped on the tongue.

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Combat Services Belt Plates. A flaming bomb
emblem represents the Artillery on the brass plate
at the top. The traditional weapons of a horseman,
sabers and lances, are cross on the nickel plate
used by the Spanish Cavalry, shown bottom left.
On the lower right the nickel finished plate with
a castle tower was worn by Engineers.

The United States was not directly involved in the Spanish Civil War, although about 3,000 Americans fought with the communist-led International Brigades and a handful served under General Franco in the Spanish Foreign Legion and Nationalist Air Force. Because of this lack of military contact, Spanish plates have been somewhat scarce in the U.S. until recent years.

The internationalization of militaria collecting, and the growth of collecting on the Internet have made Spanish plates more available to buyers at prices that are attractive compared to their Third Reich counterparts. A wide variety of designs steeped in a proud military tradition make these Spanish plates witnesses to one of the most important events of the 20th century, a fascinating area to start collecting.

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