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The Tercios Especiales, or Special Tercios, are an infantry elite corps of the Spanish Royal Army, whose task is to use guerrilla warfare to confront the enemies of the Kingdom of Spain when necessary. They are trained in such arts, as well as survival in many different climates and use of many kinds of weaponry.
The origins of the Tercios Especiales draw from the times of the Romans, when Viriathus, one of the leaders of the native tribes of Lusitania, used this kind of warfare and his military and political genius with great success, with betrayal being the only thing that stopped him. Also, during the Spanish Independence War, the invasion of Spain by Napoleon, the guerrilleros were the most successful defense Spain had, preventing total French control over the nation as they made it less than impossible for French soldiers to come out of a city without being attacked.
However, the spark for the creation of the Tercios was the Hohenzollerns' War, where Carlist requetés (militias) assisted Francisco Serrano's army in stopping the French invasion. Former Carlist general Ramón Cabrera, who had broken with Carlism several years before the war, used this and knowledge about Bushido provided by Gregorio López Jiménez, the military attaché to the Spanish Embassy in Japan, to develop the idea of a guerrilla group that would be a formal part of the Army and would use their training to wreck the enemy's supply lines. The Tercios Especiales consider September 29th 1871 (the day when Cabrera met with King Leopoldo I, President Francisco Serrano and Minister of War Juan Prim to present his idea to them) their birth date.
After being formally created on October 1871, several soldiers that had demonstrated great ability and use of weapons were invited to join the elite corps. Their next two years were full of hard training in as many possible environments as possible, as well as in the use of many kinds of weaponry, so that they could always be armed against an enemy, even if it came down to the use of primitive weapons.
Their fire test was on early 1874. The Carlist Rebellion had started on March 1874, and the regular army had been unable to catch them, due to their great knowledge of the territories where they acted. Wishing for a rapid elimination of such a problem so that Spain could concentrate on the Cuban Revolution, President Prim sent the Tercios to Navarra and the Maestrazgo, where the Irredent Carlists were concentrated, and they were given orders to locate the Carlists so that the Army could finally attack them.
However, no one knew about the Tercios for three weeks. It was then that the Tercios that had been sent to Navarra presented themselves in Pamplona, stating that they had captured and killed most Carlists in the region without suffering a casualty, and had brought them all to the city, A few days later, the city of Teruel received a similar visit. The Tercios' actions ended all support for militant Carlism in a stroke.
After a few days of rest and being decorated by the government, the Tercios were sent to deal with the Cuban Revolution. Just a few days after arriving, they managed to arrest former Revolutionary Cuba President Carlos Manuel de Céspedes. Máximo Gómez, the main General of the Cuban Revolutionary Army, fell to a Tercio sharpshooter two weeks after Céspedes' arrest. The Tercios would collaborate with the army in mining the rebels' confidence, until, on June 15th, they asked for an armistice, which eventually gave way to the Compromise of Baraguá.
The Tercios make use of the many different climates that can be found within the Kingdom of Spain. The Pyrenees (in the north) and Sierra Nevada (in the south) provide the mountain training. The desert of Tabernas in Almeria provide training in desert conditions. The forests of Galicia provide for forest training.
The Tercios are grouped in platoons of 60 soldiers, each of which is named after a Spanish military hero. When the Tercios were created, there were 360 ready to join them, so there were 6 platoons: Viriato, Don Pelayo, Rodrígo Díaz de Vivar, Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro. When he became President of Spain, Antonio Cánovas del Castillo would expand the size of the Tercios to 15 platoons, forming 900 soldiers in total.
Each platoon is divided in 4 squadrons of 15 soldiers, and each squadron in 4 squads, 3 formed by 4 soldiers and the remaining one by 3 soldiers. Each squad has certain specializations that make them better suited for certain kinds of work or others:
- Squad 1 is usually the best in assaults, and takes point position when a great attack by the squadron or platoon is started.
- Squad 2 is the tracking squad, able to track their enemies in any place, be it jungle, desert or city. They also act as scouts.
- Squad 3 is formed by those who are the best at sharpshooting, allowing them to take out their enemies from long distances.
- Squad 4 is the one that takes care of injuries in the squadron. They have to be stronger than the others, since they must not only carry the same supplies all other soldiers carry, but they also have to carry the medical supplies for the squadron.
All soldiers are always equipped with the last and best weapons the Spanish Royal Army can offer, although they are also trained to fight with any weapon they can find. When founded, the equipment was this:
- Main weapon: RESA 1871 (a copy of the Mauser Model 1871).
- Secondary weapons: Pistola RESA 35, steel saber.
As the Spanish armament industry improved, so did the weapons carried by the Tercios. By the end of the 1890s, they had the following:
- Main weapon: RESA 1890.
- Secondary weapons: Pistola RESA P60, steel saber, switchblade.