Spanish Military Pride: Army Uniforms under King Alfonso XIII of Spain - Military Trader/Vehicles

Army Uniforms under King Alfonso XIII of Spain

Ranging from simple to elaborate, these uniforms rivaled those of any of the world's military powers
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Spanish soldiers in Cuba, 1898. The Infantryman on the reader’s right is from the 38th. Regiment “León”. His three comrades are Artillerymen. All wear variations of the blue and white pin-striped cotton rayadillo uniform.

Spanish soldiers in Cuba, 1898. The Infantryman on the reader’s right is from the 38th. Regiment “León”. His three comrades are Artillerymen. All wear variations of the blue and white pin-striped cotton rayadillo uniform. When viewed from a distance, these uniforms appeared light blue in color. The infantryman’s collar bears the unit number “38” in brass and the collars of the Artillerymen display brass flaming bomb badges.

The number “13” is generally considered unlucky in western culture. This superstition dates back, at least, to the Middle Ages. A serious aversion to the number is probably just silly, but it appears in the case of King Alfonso XIII of Spain that Triskaidekaphobia, the fear of the number 13, may have been justified.

Born in Madrid on May 17, 1886, six months after the death of his father, the infant Alfonso, was immediately proclaimed king at birth. His mother, Queen Maria Cristina of Austria, acted as regent under the Spanish constitution until he reached the age of maturity, 16, in 1902. His reign would end in exile on April 14, 1931. He lived the remainder of his life in Italy and France, dying in Rome on February 28, 1941.

A Batidor or advance scout of the 26th Light Cavalry - Cazadores de Caballería - Regiment “Treviño”, ca. 1905, in full dress uniform. The double breasted jacket and breeches are sky blue with white trim. The buttons on the tunic and the metal insignia on the black fur busby are  silver in color.

A Batidor or advance scout of the 26th Light Cavalry - Cazadores de Caballería - Regiment “Treviño”, ca. 1905, in full dress uniform. The double breasted jacket and breeches are sky blue with white trim. The buttons on the tunic and the metal insignia on the black fur busby are silver in color.

During his rule, Spain lost all of her American and Asian colonies during the Spanish American War of 1898. She fought a series of costly and disastrous wars in North Africa throughout the first quarter of the 20th Century, ending in a hollow victory and shaky peace in 1927. All during his reign, Spain’s economy steadily declined so that the Great Depression of the late 1920’s hit the nation especially hard. This, combined with the king’s tolerance of the failed dictatorship of Prime Minister Miguel Primo de Rivera, led to a popular uprising, mostly bloodless, and declaration of the Second Spanish Republic in 1931.

His time in Spanish history was not without a few bright spots, however. He did manage to keep Spain neutral during the First World War, although a sizable number of Spaniards volunteered for the French Army and Spanish industries supplied the Allies with uniform cloth, a variety of secondary issue revolvers and automatic pistols and even aircraft engines. 

His reign witnessed the rise of the greatest Spanish soldier of the 20th Century; Francisco Franco. Along with his recklessly courageous and oft wounded commander, Millán Astray (nicknamed the “Gloriously Mutilated One” for his many lost body parts), Franco co-founded the Spanish Foreign Legion for the king in the 1920’s. Together through iron discipline, they would mold this unit, originally comprised of adventurers, ex-criminals and other ne’er-do-wells, into the nation’s premier elite fighting force. Franco’s many later accomplishments are generally well known. In addition, he had a rather large and ungainly luxury car named after him and, as a great fan of European football (“soccer” to Americans), he gave royal patronage and titles to several teams, including the still active world champion Real Madrid.

An early postcard photo of a Quartermaster Corps Private dressed in the Peninsular  rayadillo summer field service  uniform  introduced in 1903. The wider set pattern of the stripes in the material is  visible here and differs greatly when compared to the rayadillo fabric used in the colonies before 1898.

An early postcard photo of a Quartermaster Corps Private dressed in the Peninsular rayadillo summer field service uniform introduced in 1903. The wider set pattern of the stripes in the material is visible here and differs greatly when compared to the rayadillo fabric used in the colonies before 1898.

UNIFORMS OF THE ALFONSIAN PERIOD

Army uniforms of the Alfonsian period were both colorful and varied in detail, two features prized by both romantically inclined Spanish girls of the period and modern militaria collectors. Dress regulations codified in the mid 1880s, with some minor modifications as time passed, the most important being in 1908. Established was the basic appearance of the army for the remainder of the period and, indeed, the full dress uniform still used today.

Most foot troops wore uniforms similar to that adopted by the Infantry in 1886. The uniform consisted of a shako, called a Ros, of light gray or white felt with a black leather visor and sloped crown; a single breasted dark blue wool tunic that closed with seven brass buttons and had a red collar bearing brass regimental numbers. trousers were madder red with a dark blue double side stripe. On campaign, a steel blue double breasted greatcoat was habitually worn in the French manner. Leather accoutrements were black until 1911, brown thereafter.

A 1907 dated image of  a Light Cavalryman. This time from a regiment that wore a silver trimmed sky blue shako. The headgear of the Cazadores de Caballería ran the spectrum from shako to fur busby to metal spiked helmet depending on the regiment. The uniform is sky blue trimmed white. His mount is decked out in  regulation horse furniture, also sky blue with white trim and the Cavalry branch insignia. He is armed with a Model 1895 Cavalry saber.

A 1907 dated image of a Light Cavalryman. This time from a regiment that wore a silver trimmed sky blue shako. The headgear of the Cazadores de Caballería ran the spectrum from shako to fur busby to metal spiked helmet depending on the regiment. The uniform is sky blue trimmed white. The double breasted tunic would be replaced in 1909 with a single breasted model. His mount is decked out in regulation horse furniture, also sky blue with white trim and the Cavalry branch insignia. He is armed with a Model 1895 Cavalry saber.

In keeping with European tradition, the mounted services were clothed in a more colorful fashion. Depending on which branch of the Cavalry a man served in, he could wear either a shako, busby or metal spiked helmet. Tunics were generally light blue, white or red. Details varied considerably from unit to unit.

Such uniforms were fine for the forces in Spain, called the Peninsular Army, but in her overseas colonies, the “Ultramar”, troops wore lightweight tropical cotton uniforms of closely woven blue and white pin stripes known a rayadillo. In 1903, a new version of the rayadillo uniform was adopted as a summer service dress for troops in Spain and North Africa. It differed from its colonial forerunner in that the stripes were much wider and spaced about an half inch apart.

A cabinet card image of an NCO of the 20th. Light Infantry, or “Cazadores”, Battalion “Manila” in full marching order, late 1890s. The Model 1886 Infantry greatcoat has a green collar with the hunter’s horn insignia with unit number in the twist. The shoulder wings are also green. A black  oilcloth field cover protects his shako.

A cabinet card image of an NCO of the 20th. Light Infantry, or “Cazadores”, Battalion “Manila” in full marching order, late 1890s. The Model 1886 Infantry greatcoat has a green collar with the hunter’s horn insignia with unit number in the twist. The shoulder wings are also green. A black oilcloth field cover protects his shako.

In 1914, the first khaki field service uniform was introduced, eventually replacing the uniquely Spanish rayadillo. The tunic had a standing collar, seven brass buttons, and two patch pockets on the chest. This was worn with either the Ros or a khaki sun helmet. Around 1917 a soft khaki canvas brimmed hat, called the Americano because it bore a slight resemblance to the US Army’s campaign hat, replaced the sun helmet.

New regulations in 1926 established the first universal service uniform ever adopted by the Spanish military. It was the same for all branches of the army with only the insignia to denote to which arm a soldier belonged.

A late-1880s CDV of an Line Infantry Sergeant from the 14th. Infantry Regiment “América”. He wears the 1st pattern Model 1886 dark blue tunic with a madder red collar.

A late-1880s CDV of an Line Infantry Sergeant from the 14th. Infantry Regiment “América”. He wears the 1st pattern Model 1886 dark blue tunic with a madder red collar.

The tunic, now with a more comfortable roll collar replacing the antiquated standing one, was olive in color and made in wool for winter and canvas for summer. The old metal buttons were replaced by ones of natural colored pressed wood or leather. Initially, an olive wool beret was worn but was replaced shortly before the king’s exile by a matching side cap with branch color piping and tassel similar to that worn by Belgian soldiers. Breeches with integral leggings, called granaderos and a wool poncho, the capote-manta in place of a greatcoat, were unique Spanish additions to this uniform.

A Private from the 6th Infantry Regiment “Saboya”. He is attired in the Model 1914 tunic and trousers, Spain’s first ‘camouflaged’ field uniform. The “ganaderos” trousers have integral leggings and the blue and red wool fatigue cap was still worn with this uniform.

A Private from the 6th Infantry Regiment “Saboya”. He is attired in the Model 1914 tunic and trousers, Spain’s first ‘camouflaged’ field uniform. The “ganaderos” trousers have integral leggings and the blue and red wool fatigue cap was still worn with this uniform.

This uniform would outlast the king who authorized it. It would be the combat dress that Spanish soldiers would continue to wear during the dark and bloody years of the Civil War of 1936 to 1939.

PHOTO SURVEY OF SPANISH ARMY UNIFORMS

Many collectors will be surprised to see very little German influence on Spanish military fashion. It is mistakenly supposed that because Spain bought Mauser rifles from Germany that Teutonic military dominance would come packed in the crates along with the ammunition.

A young Rifleman of the 6th Light Infantry Battalion “Figueras” in Morocco in 1914. He wears a French made khaki “Bartolini”  pattern sun helmet. His tunic is made of Peninsular rayadillo but his trousers are in the newly  regulation khaki cloth and are tucked into black wool Peninsular winter uniform leggings. His brown leather Model 1911 accoutrements help him service his Model 1893 Mauser rifle.

A young Rifleman of the 6th Light Infantry Battalion “Figueras” in Morocco in 1914. He wears a French made khaki “Bartolini” pattern sun helmet. His tunic is made of Peninsular rayadillo but his trousers are in the newly regulation khaki cloth and are tucked into black wool Peninsular winter uniform leggings. His brown leather Model 1911 accoutrements help him service his Model 1893 Mauser rifle. Eager lads like him fell by the thousands fighting Muslim extremists in the deserts of North Africa.

The Rough Rider movie got it wrong—there were no German advisors nor any Maxim machine guns on San Juan Hill. In reality, France, England and even Belgium had more effect on Spanish uniform design than did Germany.

In honor of King Alfonso’s unlucky number, 13 period photographs have been selected to illustrate the evolution of Spanish uniforms under this hapless monarch. This is just a glimpse for collectors into the fascinating and mostly undiscovered field of Spanish militaria and the research connected to it. 

Although not widely issued during the reign of Alfonso XIII, the olive side cap with service color braid and tassel, called an “Isabelino”, was being worn by some troops, including the Foreign Legion, as early as 1927.

Although not widely issued during the reign of Alfonso XIII, the olive side cap with service color braid and tassel, called an “Isabelino”, was being worn by some troops, including the Foreign Legion, as early as 1927. Spanish troops had worn a somewhat similar cap during the time of Queen Isabella II (1843 to 1868), hence the nickname.

A soldier of the Medical Department  poses for an artistic portrait wearing the olive wool poncho known as the  “capote-manta”. The branch of service was embroidered on a diamond shaped olive wool background and sewn on the left chest. The visor cap was introduced for enlisted men about 1930.

A soldier of the Medical Department poses for an artistic portrait wearing the olive wool poncho known as the “capote-manta”. The branch of service was embroidered on a diamond shaped olive wool background and sewn on the left chest. The visor cap was introduced for enlisted men about 1930.

A soldier wearing the khaki or olive canvas brimmed hat, called the “Americano” that was introduced in 1917. He is from the 70th Infantry Regiment “Cartagena.”

A soldier wearing the khaki or olive canvas brimmed hat, called the “Americano” that was introduced in 1917. He is from the 70th Infantry Regiment “Cartagena.”

The 1926 dress regulations introduced Spain’s first truly modern uniform. The Model 1926 uniform was universal throughout the Army and was worn in dress, service and campaign modes. This soldier of the 60th Infantry Regiment “Ceuta” wears the winter version in olive wool with pressed wooden buttons. He displays brass Infantry branch insignia on his collar. His matching olive wool beret has a red tassel worn on dress occasions.

The 1926 dress regulations introduced Spain’s first truly modern uniform. The Model 1926 uniform was universal throughout the Army and was worn in dress, service and campaign modes. This soldier of the 60th Infantry Regiment “Ceuta” wears the winter version in olive wool with pressed wooden buttons. He displays brass Infantry branch insignia on his collar. His matching olive wool beret has a red tassel worn on dress occasions. With the winter uniform, breeches and puttees often replaced the ganaderos trousers. This basic uniform would remain the regulation until 1943 when Italian, not German, military fashion would influence a new Spanish service dress.

A commercial postcard with a portrait of His Majesty Don Alfonso XIII, King of Spain, wearing a General’s Peninsular rayadillo campaign uniform complete with scarlet and gold sash. The General’s rank insignia on the collar and cuff is on a scarlet wool backing, used only for a short time between 1911 and 1914. The left pocket of his tunic is embroidered with the combined emblems of four  different knightly Military Orders.

A commercial postcard with a portrait of His Majesty Don Alfonso XIII, King of Spain, wearing a General’s Peninsular rayadillo campaign uniform complete with scarlet and gold sash. The General’s rank insignia on the collar and cuff is on a scarlet wool backing, used only for a short time between 1911 and 1914. The left pocket of his tunic is embroidered with the combined emblems of four different knightly Military Orders to which he belonged.

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