Biplane fighter aces


Oberfeldwebel Erwin Sawallisch

8 October 1914 – 19 August 1942

Erwin Sawallisch was born on 8 October 1914.

Sawallisch took part in the Spanish Civil War as a member of the Legion Condor.

By the beginning of October 1936 six of the new batch of He 51s had arrived in Spain, together with ten volunteer pilots and more mechanics - ”a necessary and welcome strengthening”, as Oberleutnant Herwig Knüppel described it. ”Just like we had done two months previously, they had put together their He 51 single-seaters in Seville, for which we soon almost fell around their necks with joy.”
This latest batch of pilots comprised Oberleutnante Dietrich von Bothmer, Oskar Henrici and Günther Radusch, Leutnante Kurt von Gilsa, Paul Rehahn and Henning Strümpell and Unteroffiziere Willi Gödecke, Kowalski, Ernst Mratzek and Sawallisch. It was now possible to split the Jagdstaffel into two elements – five aircraft under Oberleutnant Hannes Trautloft headed north on 5 October to León to escort supply and bombing missions around the Nationalist enclave at Oviedo in Asturias, while the others, under Oberleutnant Kraft Eberhardt, went to Barahona and eventually on to Zaragoza. Communications between the two Ketten would be maintained by a solitary Fokker F VII that had been assigned to the Staffel.

By the middle of October, more Heinkels had arrived, and the strength of the fighter Staffel increased to 14 He 51s.

In the afternoon on 13 November, nine He 51s from the German Legion Condor took off from Ávila to provide escort for five German-flown Ju 52/3ms and three He 46s, which were to attack the Republican positions on the west bank of the Manzanares. It seems that at least six CR.32s also were present.
At 15:00, twelve I-16 type 5 “Moscas” and twelve I-15s intercepted them over Madrid. The I-16s were led by the Russian squadron leader Kapitan Sergey Tarkhov (’Antonio’) (he was the commander of the first and newly created escuadrilla of I-16s) in their first combat while the I-15s (Escuadrilla Palancar) were again led by Starshii Leitenant Pavel Rychagov. All Republican pilots taking part in this combat were Russians.
The Republican fighters dove on the Henrici Kette. Unteroffizier Ernst Mratzek was able to claim an I-16 as it dove past. Oberleutnant Oskar Henrici claimed a Russian fighter in the same way as the He 51s dove into the clouds. A bitter dogfight raged over Madrid at 1,500 meters. The Knüppel Kette dove into a cloud, reversed course in a steep turn and re-emerged below the Republican aircraft. Oberleutnant Herwig Knüppel and Unteroffizier Sawallisch claimed two I-15s; Sawallisch made his way home with some difficulty with shot-up tail surfaces. The Eberhardt Kette had remained above the bombers as top cover. Oberleutnant Kraft Eberhardt collided with an enemy fighter he had shot down and was killed when his fighter crashed to the ground at Casa de Campo; the Russian pilot was able to bail out. Oberleutnant Henrici took a bullet through the lung, but was able to land his aircraft in friendly territory at Alcorcon. As he left his aircraft, however, he collapsed and died. The German Staffel became completely scattered, each pilot seeking cover in cloud and making his own way back to Avila. Leutnant Henning Strümpell and Leutnant Dietrich von Bothmer reported the destruction of two further I-15s.
Henrici was probably shot down by Leitenant Sergei Chernykh, (I-16 in Escuadrilla Kolesnikov). It seems that Eberhardt collided with Tarkhov since it’s reported that he single-handed fought against a number of He 51s before being forced to bail out after a collision. While hanging in his parachute, Republican soldiers mistook him for Nationalist pilot and opened fire, hitting him six times. Tarkhov landed in Madrid but was attacked by the public because they thought he was a German. He died of his injuries at Gómes Ulla hospital on 23 November. This led General Miaja to the issue following order the next day:

“Any aviator who jumps from his aircraft using a parachute is out of the battle and, therefore, I order all forces defending Madrid not to shoot at parachutists under any circumstances. They may be our own men, but, if they prove to be enemies they can provide us with valuable information, which will be of great use for our operations.”
A second Russian pilot was killed when Starshii Leitenant Vladimir Mikhailovich Bocharov (’Jose Galarza’), after claiming a He 51, was wounded and made a forced-landing in enemy territory with his I-16 “Black 9”. He died of wounds or was killed by Nationalists; according to Russian sources, the next day a wooden box was dropped by an enemy aircraft. When opened it was found to contain the mutilated corpse of Bocharov (who was a detachment leader in Escuadrilla Tarkhov).
Totally, the Nationalists claimed seven victories (2 I-16s and 5 I-15s). Five of them were later confirmed; the two unconfirmed was those made by the killed Henrici and Eberhardt (I-16) for the loss of two aircraft (Henrici and Eberhardt) (other sources claims four lost He 51s).
The Republicans claimed four victories while losing four aircraft and pilots (including Bocharov and Tarkhov). The fourth victory seems to have been claimed by Leitenant Nikifor Balanov (I-16), who reportedly claimed a He 51 on this date. Bocharov and Tarkhov were posthumously awarded the Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union on 31 December 1936.
Oberleutnant Herwig Knüppel recorded:
“13 November 1936 was the blackest day for the Jagdstaffel Eberhardt. We flew in the afternoon as escort for the Kampfstaffel of Oberleutnant von Moreau, starting out from Ávila and heading to Madrid. Following the second bombing run, we were attacked by around 24 low-winged and biplane fighters (Ratas and “Curtisses”) from above on the eastern border of Madrid at an altitude of between 1200-1500 metres. It developed into an exceedingly hard air battle.”
Leutnant Wolf-Heinrich von Houwald recorded:
“On Friday, 13 November 1936, we encountered the Ratas for the first time and a wild melee resulted. We downed five of them, but what were these victories when compared with the loss of our Staffelführer? This only served to show that our good old He 51s were too slow compared with the new Ratas - they could play with us as they wanted. Furthermore, the Soviet “Martin Bombers” [Tupolev SB], which were arriving daily, were 50 km/h faster than us, and the people were scared of them. Feverishly, we waited for the Bf 109s to arrive from Germany.”
Following Eberhardt’s death, Hauptmann Knüppel became the new Staffelkapitän. Eberhardt and Henrici were awarded a posthumous Cruz Laureada de San Fernando. This was the He 51s first combat with Soviet fighters.

On 12 December, the 4.J/88 (He 51B-1) had a great day when they claimed four SBs and one unconfirmed. They were claimed by Leutnant Kurt von Gilsa, Leutnant Paul Rehahn, Unteroffizier Sawallisch, Unteroffizier Willi Gödecke and Oberleutnant Herwig Knüppel (unconfirmed).
None of these claims can’t be verified by Republican records.

On 4 January 1937, the He 51B-1s of J/88 escorted Ju 52/3ms bombing enemy positions when they were surprised above Torrijos by Republican I-15s. The escorting fighters claimed three enemy fighters over the Bilbao area when Leutnant Wolf-Heinrich von Houwald (2 Staffel) claimed an I-16 and Unteroffizier Sawallisch (4 Staffel) and Oberleutnant Harro Harder (1 Staffel) claimed an I-15 each. Oberleutnant Harder (flying He 51B-1 2-64) described his first claim for a subsequent propaganda article:

“I hear machine guns behind me. A Red is coming for me sharply from above, his radial engine appearing like a giant eye. I pull “2-64” into a turn and the Red streaks past with two of our fighters already in pursuit. Far below, down in the valley, I see one turning around. Using my superior speed I know I can block him off. I get behind him, fire, he turns, I cut him off, another turn, the smoke twists from my tracer shells disappear into his machine. Now he climbs, black, with a red band in front of the tail, rolls onto his back and plunges almost vertically to the ground. I pull myself together - the intoxication has blinded me to everything else going on. I see a He 51 nearby. Exhausted, I pull up and fly to Vitoria, where I make a low-level loop over the airfield.”
One Ju 52/3m from 3.K/88 was lost over Bilbao when they attacked the Campsa fuel depots. Oberfeldwebel Adolf Hermann and Karl Schmidt parachuted but Feldwebel Herbert Barowski, Unteroffizier Paul Ziepek and Gefreiter Hans Schüll were all unable to escape the burning bomber and were all killed. This was the only bomber loss on this day. Once upon the ground, Oberfeldwebel Adolf Hermann tried to defend himself with his pistol from an armed mob but was rapidly overpowered. His body was dragged through the streets of Bilbao provoking a demand for rerisals by the Legion Condor which were, however, refused.
The Republicans reported that eight I-15s intercepted nine Ju 52/3ms escorted by 20 He 51s, claiming two Ju 52/3ms and two He 51s. One Ju 52/3m crashed near Bilbao while the second crashed at Vitoria airfield. Spanish sources credit the Ju 53/3m that was shot down near Bilbao to alférez Felipe del Río Crespo from the Escuadrilla de Chatos del Norte. There is some confusion in this claim since Soviet sources credits the Ju 52/3m shot down at Bilbao to Leitenant Sergei Bulkin while the second was credited to Leitenant Nikolai Petrukhin (both from Escuadrilla Turzhanskii). No claimants for the He 51s have been found.
One I-15 was lost when teniente Juan Roldán Maldonado of the Escuadrilla de Chatos del Norte was shot down and killed in I-15 ‘15’. Three more I-15s were damaged and Leitenant Petrukhin was wounded.

On 2 March, the Chief of Staff, Oberstleutnant Dr.-Ing. von Richthofen’s plans for reorganisation and rotation began to start when four of the original pilots, Oberleutnant Hannes Trautloft, Leutnant Wolf-Heinrich von Houwald, Unteroffizier Sawallisch and Oberleutnant Alfons Klein, were sent back to Germany.

Sawallisch ended the Spanish Civil War with 3 biplane victories.

In August 1942, he served with 4./JG 27 in North Africa flying Bf 109F-4s with this unit.

Between 18:25-19:30, in the evening of 3 August 1942, ten Spitfires from 145 Squadron took off to patrol over the northern part of the line at 19,000 feet followed by Hurricane IIcs from 33 and 213 Squadrons.
Eight Bf 109s of II./JG 27 were sent off on a Frei Jagd about ten minutes later, six more escorting Jabos on a raid at the same time. The German unjt’s pilots reported three different engagements.
The first was with two Spitfires, one of which was claimed by Oberfeldwebel Emil Clade of 5./JG 27 at 19:03 north of El Bahrein, the pilot reportedly baling out. Spitfire V BP865 of 145 Squadron was shot down into the sea with Pilot Officer A. E. Mulhall (Argentinian) safely baling out.
The second engagement reported was with eight more Spitfires, two of which were claimed. The first at 19:12 north-west of El Hammam by Oberfeldwebel Karl-Heinz Bendert (4./JG 27) and the second by Oberfeldwebel Sawallisch (4./JG 27) north-north-west of El Hammam at 19:15. 145 Squadron recorded meeting 12 Messerschmitts, Spitfire V BR519 being damaged and crashed on landing, the pilot Sergeant R. A. Cunningham being safe. They claimed two possible victories over two Bf 109s, these being claimed by Flight Lieutenant Cecil Saunders (Spitfire Vb BR583/ZX-T) and Sergeant P.G. C. Thomas (Spitfire Vb BP986/ZX-X) over the north end of the line.
The third engagement was with a reported 24 Hurricanes, three of which were claimed. Oberleutnant Rudolf Sinner (6./JG 27) claimed one at 18:55 south-east of El Daba and a second at 19:00 over Bir Ibrahim. The third was claimed by Oberfeldwebel Herbert Krenz at 19:20 north-west of Quabr Hanizadr. Again, one of the pilots was seen to bale out. 33 Squadron lost two Hurricanes and got one damaged at around 19:00. Pilot Officer W. Friend returned with BP352 slightly damaged. Pilot Officer H. Steward safely baled out of BP192 while Sergeant J. A. Kingdon was wounded, and he crash-landed his badly damaged BE409/G. Hurricane IIc BP331 from 213 Squadron was also lost when 23-year-old Pilot Officer Robert Joseph Wallace (RAF No. 49696) was seen to spin in and crashed for no apparent reason 10-15 miles south-west of Burg el Arab.

At 08:30 on 4 August, 12 Tomahawks of 5 SAAF Squadron were provided with cover by Kittyhawks during a raid, the South Africans being attacked by two Bf 109s of 4./JG 27 which were escorting a reconnaissance Bf 110. Oberfeldwebel Karl-Heinz Bendert and Oberfeldwebel Sawallisch each claimed one fighter shot down south-east of El Alamein at 08:08 and 08:10 respectively. One Tomahawk IIa was shot down when 2nd Lieutenant E. H. Johnson crash-landing with AK429 (Cat. II) 10 miles west of El Alamein, wounded in his left leg. He remained unconscious in the cockpit for three hours, but ultimately recovered, then walked for eight hours until picked up and put in hospital.
At 13:25 on the same day, 213 Squadron patrolled over the El Alamein line as top cover to 33 Squadron, awaiting the return of a formation of Baltimores, Kittyhawks and Spitfires from a raid. Eight Bf 109s of II./JG 27, pilots including Sawallisch and Bendert again, were scrambled, this latter pair each claiming a Spitfire shot down north-west of El Hammam at 13:28 and 13:30 respectively. Flight Sergeant S. R. Fry of 213 Squadron was shot down, force-landing Hurricane IIc BN117 north of Hammam. The Squadron reporting that they had been bounced by MC.202s, but no Italian claims were made in the area during this day.

He was killed in a flying accident on 19 August 1942.

At the time of his death, Sawallisch was credited with 3 biplane victories and a total of 36.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
1 13/11/36 15:00- 1 I-15 (a) Destroyed He 51B-1   Madrid area J/88
2 12/12/36   1 SB (b) Destroyed He 51B-1   Spain 4.J/88
3 04/01/37   1 I-15 (c) Destroyed He 51B-1   Bilbao area 4.J/88
4 30/10/39 15:23 1 Blenheim Destroyed Bf 109   NE Helgoland 4./JG 77
5 14/12/39 15:28 1 Wellington Destroyed Bf 109   N Wangerooge 4./JG 77
6 14/12/39 15:30 1 Wellington Destroyed Bf 109   N Wangerooge 4./JG 77
7 30/04/40 20:50 1 Wellington Destroyed Bf 109   SW Stavanger 4./JG 77
8 13/06/40 02:10 1 Skua Destroyed Bf 109   Trondheim 4./JG 77
9 08/09/40 19:45 1 Hudson Destroyed Bf 109   Bergen 4./JG 77
10 15/07/41   1 MiG-3 Destroyed       Stab/JG 77
11 25/08/41 10:50 1 I-153 Destroyed     E Ljuban Stab/JG 27
12 11/09/41 17:38 1 Pe-2 Destroyed     Wolchowskaja Pristanj Stab/JG 27
13 21/09/41 09:52 1 I-153 Destroyed     Leningrad Stab/JG 27
14 21/09/41 09:55 1 I-153 Destroyed     Leningrad Stab/JG 27
15 04/10/41 10:45 1 I-18 Destroyed     Michjejewa Stab/JG 27
16 04/10/41 13:55 1 DB-3 Destroyed     Michjejewa Stab/JG 27
17 04/10/41 13:56 1 DB-3 Destroyed     Michjejewa Stab/JG 27
18 04/10/41 14:08 1 SB Destroyed     Spass Stab/JG 27
19 03/08/42 19:15 1 Spitfire V (d) Destroyed Bf 109F-4 trop   NNW El Hammam 4./JG 27
20 04/08/42 08:08 1 P-40 (e) Destroyed Bf 109F-4 trop   SE El Alamein 4./JG 27
21 04/08/42 13:28 1 Spitfire V (f) Destroyed Bf 109F-4 trop   NW El Hammam 4./JG 27
22 07/08/42 09:12 1 Hurricane II Destroyed Bf 109F-4 trop   E Alam-el-Kadim 4./JG 27
23 07/08/42 09:15 1 Hurricane II Destroyed Bf 109F-4 trop   SE Alam-el-Kadim 4./JG 27
24 10/08/42 08:31 1 P-40 Destroyed Bf 109F-4 trop   N El Muhafid 4./JG 27
25 10/08/42 08:34 1 P-40 Destroyed Bf 109F-4 trop   NW El Muhafid 4./JG 27
26 11/08/42 10:10 1 Hurricane II Destroyed Bf 109F-4 trop   NW El Hammam 4./JG 27
27 11/08/42 10:13 1 Hurricane II Destroyed Bf 109F-4 trop   E El Hammam 4./JG 27
28 12/08/42 06:42 1 Hurricane II Destroyed Bf 109F-4 trop   SE El Alamein 4./JG 27
29 12/08/42 06:48 1 Hurricane II Destroyed Bf 109F-4 trop   W Alam-el-Kadim 4./JG 27
30 12/08/42 06:51 1 Hurricane II Destroyed Bf 109F-4 trop   N Alam-el-Kadim 4./JG 27
31 12/08/42 07:00 1 P-40 Destroyed Bf 109F-4 trop   SW Alam-el-Kadim 4./JG 27
32 14/08/42 06:15 1 P-40 Destroyed Bf 109F-4 trop   2km N Fuka: 2000m [ENE Fuka] 4./JG 27
33 14/08/42 06:30 1 P-40 Destroyed Bf 109F-4 trop   S Ras-el-Maquiran: 20m [NW El Alamein] 4./JG 27
34 16/08/42 08:26 1 Hurricane II Destroyed Bf 109F-4 trop   W Alam-el-Halfa 4./JG 27
35 16/08/42 08:32 1 Hurricane II Destroyed Bf 109F-4 trop   SW El Hammam 4./JG 27
36 16/08/42 08:39 1 Hurricane II Destroyed Bf 109F-4 trop   SSW El Hammam 4./JG 27

Biplane victories: 3 destroyed.
TOTAL: 36 destroyed.
(a) The Soviet volunteers claimed 4 He 51s while losing 4 I-16s and pilots. The German pilots claimed 2 I-16s and 5 I-15s (1 of each as an unconfirmed) while losing 2 He 51s.
(b) This claim can’t be verified with Republican records.
(c) J/88 claimed 2 I-15s during the day. It seems that Republican losses was one shot down (pilot KIA) and three damaged.
(d) Claimed in combat with Spitfires from 145 Squadron and Hurricanes from 33 and 213 Squadrons, which lost 2 Spitfires and 3 Hurricanes with 1 more damaged while claiming 2 probables. II./JG 27 claimed 3 Spitfires and 3 Hurricanes without losses.
(e) Claimed in combat with Tomahawk IIas from 5 SAAF Squadron, which lost 1 Tomahawk. 4./JG 27 claimed 2 Tomahawks without losses.
(f) Claimed in combat with Hurricane IIcs from 213 Squadron, which lost 1 Hurricane. II./JG 27 claimed 2 Spitfire without losses.

Aces of the Legion Condor – Robert Forsyth, 2011 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84908-347-8
Aces of the Luftwaffe
A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945: Volume Two – Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello with Russell Guest, Frank Olynyk & Winfried Bock, 2012 Grub Street, London, ISBN-13: 9781909166127
Aircrew Remembered
Condor: The Luftwaffe in Spain 1936-1939 - Patrick Laureau, 2000 Hikoki Publications, Ottringham, ISBN 1-902109-10-4
Das Online-Gedenkbuch
Russian Fighter Aces of 1914-1953 years
Soviet airmen in the Spanish civil war 1936-1939 - Paul Whelan, 2014 Schiffer Publishing Ltd, ISBN 978-0-7643-0
Spanish Republican Aces – Rafael A. Permuy López, 2012 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84908-668-4
The Legion Condor - Karl Ries and Hans Ring, 1992 Schiffer Publishing, ISBN 0-88740-339-5
Additional information kindly provided by Alfredo Logoluso.

Last modified 01 November 2018