Verdeja was the name of a series of light tanks developed in Spain between 1938 and 1954 in an attempt to replace German Panzer I and Soviet T-26 tanks in Spanish service. The program was headed by Captain Félix Verdeja Bardales and led to the development of four prototype vehicles, including a self-propelled howitzer armed with a 75 millimeter (3 in) gun. It was designed as an advanced light tank and was one of the first development programs which took into account survivability of the crew as opposed to the protection of the tank itself. The tank was influenced by several of the light tanks which it was intended to replace, including the Panzer I and T-26, both of which were originally used during the Spanish Civil War. The Verdeja was considered a superior tank to the T-26 after a lengthy testing period, yet was never put into mass production.
Three light tank prototypes were manufactured between 1938 and 1942, including the Verdeja 1 and the Verdeja 2. Interest in the vehicle’s development waned after the end of the Second World War. Despite attempts to fit a new engine in the Verdeja 2 and convert the Verdeja 1 into a self-propelled artillery piece, ultimately the program was unofficially canceled in favor of adopting the US M47 Patton Tank in 1954. A prototype of the 75 millimetre self-propelled howitzer and of the Verdeja 2 were put on display in the early 1990s
The appearance of the resulting Verdeja 1 prototype was close to that originally envisioned in Captain Verdeja’s first designs. The vehicle’s hull was elongated and the rear plate sloped, while the fuel capacity—and thus combat range—was increased, as was the ammunition capacity and the thickness of the armor. The vehicle was fabricated in Bilbao, the only city in Spain with a heavy vehicle assembly line. Due to the end of the Spanish Civil War and a shortage of funds, construction was postponed until May 1940. The prototype was completed three months later and delivered to the proving grounds in Carabanchel, Madrid. A major external difference between the previous model and this prototype was the new, low-profile turret which allowed the 45 millimetre gun to depress and elevate from 8º to 70º. The original 45 millimetre model 1932 gun was exchanged with a new 45 millimetre Mark I tank gun fabricated by S.A. Placencia de las Armas, in Spain. However, the new prototype adopted the suspension and tracks from the original prototype. In essence, the majority of the advantages of the new prototype were relevant to its low-profile, high elevation of the main gun and the increased sloping of the armor from 12º to 45º. It should be noted that the Verdeja 1 retained the original configuration by placing the engine in the front, to increase crew survivability.
On arrival at Carabanchel, the vehicle was tested against the T-26 in mobility over different terrain types and in firepower. The vehicles were graded based upon a five-point scale for each test, which would be multiplied by a coefficient of importance for each test. During the testing the Verdeja traveled for some 500 kilometres (300 mi) without any maintenance problems, the only issue being the large consumption of water by the gasoline engine, due to the lack of an efficient radiator, and the loss of a rubber liner of one of the roadwheels. It was found that the maximum velocity of the Verdeja was either on par with similar vehicles in foreign service or superior, while the Verdeja proved itself capable of going over trenches almost 2 m wide and climbing slopes of 40º. In regards of firepower, it was proved that the vehicle could withstand the recoil of the 45 millimetre high-velocity tank gun. One of the vehicle’s disadvantages was that the tank commander’s aiming device was designed for a 37 millimetre anti-tank cannon, adapted into the Verdeja due to the lack of time to manufacture one for the 45 millimetre Mark I. Testing concluded with the Verdeja receiving a total of 243 points, compared to the 205 points awarded to the T-26B. Testing completed, the prototype was returned and several problems were fixed, including engine deficiencies, the elevation of the sprocket and an increase to 10 millimetre of armor on all areas that had less. These changes made, the Verdeja returned to testing, this time scoring 261.98 points.
Plans to produce one thousand Verdeja tanks were approved on 2 December 1940, divided into ten batches of one hundred tanks each. The Verdeja production prototype was to adopt the 120 horsepower (89 kW) Lincoln-Zephyr gasoline V12 engine, requiring a contract between the Spanish government and Ford Motor Ibérica, Ford’s Spanish subsidiary. Simultaneously, in case of failure of talks between Ford and Spain, the government also began to contact a number of German companies, including Maybach. In order to begin production, the Tank Workshop in Zaragoza was to be expanded to allow final assembly of at least five tanks per month. Despite funding and two years of construction alloted, the factory construction and expansion was never completed. Other problems arose, including the failure to reach an agreement with Ford or Maybach. These factors, the poor economic situation in Spain, the lack of clients other than the Spanish Army and the lack of incentives for Spanish companies to partake in the construction program, led to the abandonment of the attempt to fabricate the Verdeja 1. Another attempt was undertaken at contracting the company ADESA (Armamento de Aviación, S.A.) to manufacture two Verdeja light tanks for experimental purposes. Despite the failure to procure an engine, ADESA offered to construct 300 units, but these attempts concluded fruitlessly and the program was abandoned by 1941.
Carro de Combate Verdeja Modelo 1
Specifications: Crew of 3: Commander/Loader/Driver
Dimensions (length/width/height): 5.1m/2.1m/1.75m
Armor: 7–25 mm (0.3–1.0 in)
Combat weight: 6.5 t (7.1 short tons)
Armament: 45 mm cannon (1.77 inches), 2 x 7.92 MG
Ammunition: 72 rounds
Engine: 120hp Lincoln
Road range: 220 km (136 mi)
Maximum speed: 44 km/h (28 mph) (road) 25km/h (cross-country).