International Brigades order of battle

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The International Brigades Star

The International Brigades (IB) were volunteer military units of foreigners who fought on the side of the Second Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War. The number of combattant volunteers has been estimated at between 32,000–35,000, though with no more than about 20,000 active at any one time.[1] A further 10,000 people probably participated in non-combattant roles and about 3,000–5,000 foreigners were members of CNT or POUM.[1] They came from a claimed "53 nations" to fight against the Spanish Nationalist forces led by General Francisco Franco and assisted by German and Italian forces.[2]

The volunteers were motivated to fight on political or social grounds and made their way to Spain independently of the Spanish government. The brigades were not initially formally conceived and methodically recruited. Instead, they evolved as a means of organising the streams of volunteers arriving from every quarter of the world. It has been estimated that up to 25% of IB volunteers were Jewish.[3] This article describes the order of battle of each of the International Brigades, describing the order and manner in which each brigade was mustered and formed, and following the progress of individual battalions throughout the conflict.


Early International units[edit]

The first volunteers arrived in Spain in Mid-August 1936. These were mostly Franco-Belgian, German, British and Italian. At first, they grouped themselves into sections, called Columns or Centuria (nominally of a hundred men). These were mostly formed in August/September 1936.

Brigade structure[edit]

Each brigade was a mixed brigade consisting of four battalions, sometimes with an ancillary specialist support company. They had a brigade commander and a political commissar, and a small brigade staff. Initially, the battalions were formed entirely of foreign volunteers but, increasingly, it became practice to have at least one Spanish battalion in each brigade (and, from spring 1937, one Spanish company in each battalion). As time went on, and the difficulties of recruiting new international volunteers increased, the percentage of Spaniards went up. At first, these were volunteers but conscription was later introduced. The brigades were formally incorporated into the Spanish Army in September 1937, as Spanish Foreign Legion units.[4]

Battalion structure[edit]

The battalions were originally organised by language, with volunteers sharing the same (or similar languages) and given names that reflected the groups. To develop an esprit de corps, these names were replaced by names of inspirational figures or events, for example, Garibaldi, or Commune de Paris.

"Theoretically, the Battalion organisation consisted of the Battalion Commander, his Second in Command, the Political Commissar, the Adjutant and orderly room staff, three Companies of infantry, one machine-gun Company, Battalion scouts, and the Quartermaster and cookhouse staff. There were three platoons in each company, each divided into [four] sections of ten men, so that the Battalion at full strength would number more than 500 men...."[5]

Political commissars[edit]

See article: Political commissar

International brigade depots[edit]

XI International Brigade[edit]


Songs by Ernst Busch and the choir of the XI Brigade:

Detailed Order of Battle


  • Formed at Albacete: 14–17 October 1936 as IX Brigada Movil ("Mobile Brigade").
    • 1st Bn Franco-Belgian (14 October 1936)
    • 2nd Bn Austro-German (14 October 1936)
    • 3rd Bn Italo-Spanish (14 October 1936)
    • 4th Bn Polish-Balkan (17 October 1936)
  • Re-Organised: 14–22 October 1936 as XI "Hans Beimler" International Brigade. The battalions were renamed as follows:
  • Minor Re-Organisation: 3 November 1936
    • Garibaldi Battalion, as it had no rifles, was transferred to XII Brigade
    • Thaelmann Battalion joined XI Brigade from XII Brigade
    • Asturias-Heredia Battalion (Spanish) joined XI Brigade.

Brigade staff[edit]

Brigade Commanders:)[8]

  • 22 Oct. 1936 - 31 Oct. 1936 Jean Marie François (French)
  • 01 Nov. 1936 - 20 Nov. 1936 Manfred Stern (Ukrainian?)
  • 20 Nov. 1936 – 31 Mar. 1937 Col. Hans Kahle (German)
  • April 1937 – Nov/Dec 1937 Maj. Richard Staimer (German)
  • December 1937 – March 1938 Maj. Heinrich Rau (German) (acting commander since 3 Nov. 1937)
  • March 1938 – April 1938 Maj. Gustav Szinda (German)
  • April 1938 – September 1938 Maj. Otto Flatter (Hungarian)
  • September 1938 – January 1939 Maj. Adolf Reiner (Austrian)

Chiefs of Staff:

  • December 1936 – June 1937 Ludwig Renn(German)
  • July 1937 – September 1937 Gustav Szinda (German)
  • October 1937 – December 1937 Maj. Heinrich Rau (German)

Brigade Commissars:

  • October 1936 – December 1936 Hans Beimler (German)
  • December 1936 – January 1937 Giuseppe Di Vittorio (Italian)
  • February 1937 – April 1937 Artur Dorf (German)
  • May 1937 – September 1937 Heinrich Rau (German)
  • September 1937 – January 1938 Kurt Frank (German)
  • January 1938 – March 1938 Richard Schenk (German)
  • March 1938 – January 1939 Ernest Blank (German)

Division "Kléber" (XI and XII Brigade 20 Nov.36 - 4 Feb 37 )[edit]

XII International Brigade[edit]

Name: The Garibaldi Brigade

Detailed Order of Battle


Raised 22 October 1936 at Albacete, General "Lukàcs" (Mate Zalka) commanding.[9] (Lukàcs was killed during the Huesca Offensive.)

XIII International Brigade[edit]

Names: The Dabrowski Brigade, The Dombrowski Brigade

Detailed Order of Battle

1st formation[edit]

Raised: 12 December 1936

2nd formation[edit]

Reformed: 4 August 1937

3rd formation[edit]

Reformed (in Monredón): 1 October 1938 (exclusively Spanish battalions)

4th formation[edit]

Reformed: 23 January 1939 (from demoblised International Brigade members who had remained in Spain)

Brigade staff[edit]

Brigade Commanders:

Chiefs of Staff:

  • Albert Schreiner "Schindler" (German)

Brigade Commissars:

  • Ferry (Italian)

XIV International Brigade[edit]

Name/s: The Marseillaise Brigade

Order of Battle


Raised 20 December 1936 with volunteers mainly from France and Belgium, under General "Walter" (Karol Świerczewski). After the Battle of Brunete (6–25 July 1937), brigade strength was reduced from four to two battalions.[10] The battalions attached to this Brigade at different times were:

XV International Brigade[edit]

Order of Battle

Date joined Number Battalion Name Composition Date left Comments
31 January 1937 16th British Battalion Irish, Basque, Catalan & British 23 September 1938 Demobilised
31 January 1937 17th Lincoln Battalion US, Canada, Irish, British 23 September 1938 Demobilised
31 January 1937 18th Dimitrov Battalion Balkan 20 September 1937 Moved to 45th Div. Reserve
31 January 1937 19th Sixth February Battalion French & Belgian 4 August 1937 Moved to 14th Brigade
14 March 1937 24th Volontario 24 Spanish volunteers Destroyed in the Ebro Battles
5 April 1937 ~ Español Battalion Latin Americans 23 September 1938 Demobilised
29 June 1937 ~ Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion Canadian & US 23 September 1938 Demobilised
4 July 1937 20th Washington Battalion US 14 July 1937 Merged with Lincoln Battalion[11]
Main Sources: (i) (in Spanish) EPR Order of Battle Website, (ii) *(in Spanish) Associació Catalana Website

Other International Brigades[edit]

86th Brigade[edit]

Raised 13 February 1938

  • Units that formed part of the Brigade at different times:
    • Veinte Battalion (Twentieth Battalion)

CXXIX / 129th Brigade[edit]

Name/s: Central European Brigade Raised 13 February 1938

  • Units that formed part of the Brigade at different times:
    • Dimitrov Battalion
    • Djure Djakovic Battalion
    • Thomas Mazaryk Battalion (after Tomáš Masaryk)
    • Tschapaiew Battalion

CL / 150th Brigade[edit]

Name/s: Dabowski Brigade Raised 27 May 1937

  • Units that formed part of the Brigade at different times:

Ad hoc units[edit]

  • Agrupació Torunczyk (21 January 1939 – 9 February 1939)
    • Elements from XI, XIII and XV Brigades

Catalonia Offensive

  • Agrupació Szuster (1 February 1939 – 9 February 1939)
    • Elements from XII and CXXIX Brigades

Catalonia Offensive


  1. ^ a b Thomas (2003), pp 941-5; Beevor (2006), p. 257.
  2. ^ Thomas (2003), pp 941-5
  3. ^ Sugarman, pp 1-2
  4. ^ Thomas (2001), p. 759
  5. ^ Gurney (1974), p. 64
  6. ^ Beevor (2006), p. 163
  7. ^ Boadilla by Esmond Romilly. The Clapton Press Limited, London. 2018. ISBN 978-1999654306
  8. ^ (in Spanish) XI Thaelmann Brigade Archived 2011-07-28 at the Wayback Machine.
  9. ^ a b Beevor (2006) p. 167
  10. ^ Beevor (2006), p 285
  11. ^ Briefly known as the Washington-Lincoln Battalion
  12. ^ Thomas (1961), p. 460
  13. ^ Thomas (1961), p. 461
  14. ^ (in Russian) Combat use of BT-5 in Spain (Боевое применение танков БТ-5 в Испании)


  • Beevor, Antony. (2006). The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2006. ISBN 978-0-297-84832-5
  • Gurney, Jason (1974) Crusade in Spain. London: Faber, 1974. ISBN 978-0-571-10310-2
  • Thomas, Hugh. (1961) The Spanish Civil War. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1961.
  • Thomas, Hugh. (2003) The Spanish Civil War, 2003. London: Penguin (Revised 4th edition), 2003. ISBN 978-0-14-101161-5
  • O'Riordan, Michael. "The Connolly Column", 1979. Reprinted by Warren and Pell, 2005.
  • Rust, William (2003). "Britons in Spain", 1939. Reprinted by Warren and Pell, 2003.
  • Ryan, Frank (ed.) "The Book of the XV Brigade", 1938. Reprinted by Warren and Pell, 2003. ([1])
  • Sugarman, Martin. Jews Who Served in The Spanish Civil War PDF file

See also[edit]