The Spanish Civil War started on 17 July.
Fuerza Aérea de la República Española - Republican Air Force
Initially, the Republican Government had more than half of the Breguet XIXs of Grupo No 31 and all of the Nieuport 52 C1s of Grupos de caza No 11 at Getafe (near Madrid) and No 13 at El Prat de Llobregat (near Barcelona), while the Fokker F.VII 3ms and L. A. P. E. Douglas DC-2s and all training aircraft were at Cuatro Vientos, Los Alcázares and Alcalá de Henares. Most of the Aeronáutica Naval aircraft, the 27 Vickers Vildebeests, seven Dornier Wal and nearly 30 Savoia S-62 seaplanes, twelve old Martinsyde F.4 fighters and seven Hispano E.30 trainers, remained loyal to the government at the San Javier, Barcelona and Mahón bases.
The third fighter unit, Grupo de Caza No 12, based at Armilla (near Granada), had been disbanded a few days before the military uprising. One of its escuadrillas, commanded by capitán José Méndez Iriarte, was posted to Madrid. The other unit, led by capitán Joaquín Pérez y Martínez de la Victoria, sent its aircraft to the Parque Regional de Aviación (depot) at Tablada airfield, near Seville.
As for military pilots in Spain, some 215 (38 per cent) chose to side with the Republic Government and around 175 (30 per cent) rebelled, whereas the rest, about 185 (32 per cent), were neutral and did not serve either side.
As for personnel, in Madrid those who supported the Republican government included Grupo No 11 CO, capitán Manuel Cascóon Briega, and two capitanes jefes de escuadrilla (squadron commanders), Avertano González Fernández-Muñiz and José Méndez Iriarte. Other Republic supporters were teniente Francisco Márquez Yanguas and suboficiales Antonio Andrés Pascual, Gonzalo García San Juan, Andrés García La Calle and Manuel Aguirre López and cabos Jesús García Herguido, Roberto Alonso Santamaría and Rafael Peña Dugo. They were subsequently joined by tenientes Luis Iglesias Gracia and Ramón Puparelli Francia. Upon the outbreak of the conflict these pilots defended the vast central front, as well as the north of Spain, and they were soon reinforced by volunteer pilots and foreign mercenaries.
Totally about 60 of 135 acquired Ni-H.52 fighters remained in service in government-held areas.
The central aeronautical organs, such as the Dirección General de Aeronáutica, the Oficina de Mando (Headquarters) and the Jefaturas de Aviación (Aviation Command Offices), remained loyal to the Madrid authorities. As regards territorial scope, out of the four large units, the three Escuadras Aéreas and the Fuerzas Aéreas de África, the main core of the 1a Escuadra in Madrid and the 3a Escuadra in Barcelona, proved loyal to the government. The Servicio de Instruccíón y Material (Training and Materiel Service), the Aeronáutica Naval and L. A. P. E. also remained loyal to the government and elements of them formed the basis of the 2a Escuadra, based at Los Alcázares, Murcia while part of their air equipment served to reinforce the 1a and 3a Escuadras.
The L. A. P. E. operated Douglas DC-2s, Fokker F.VII 3ms and Ford F.5s from Barajas airport, Madrid. The DC-2s, the most modern and fastest aircraft in Spain at the time which out-paced the Aviación Militar Nieuport 52 standard fighters, were immediately militarized and fitted with bombsights and even defensive machine gun positions, to be fired through the side windows. Most of the company’s pilots, led by teniente Joaquín Mellado Pascual, were retired military pilots, supernumeraries or reserve pilots and therefore all of them experienced in the military use of transport aircraft. These civil aircraft, once militarised by the Republican government, carried out important long- range bombing sorties on the rebel air bases in North Africa, Seville, León or Logroño, as well as liaison flights to the northern coast of Spain, landing in Asturias and Santander.
The 3a Escuadra de Aviación was at El Prat de Llobregat air base in Barcelona, where the commanding officer was teniente coronel Felipe Díaz Sandino, a senior officer with a sound Republican record. Grupo de caza No 13, with a single Nieuport 52 escuadrilla, was based there with about six Breguet XIX reconnaissance aircraft of the escuadra staff. Díaz Sandino neutralised his second-in-command, comandante Castro Garnica, and some other officers who supported the coup, and allowed the popular militias entry into the base. These militias were under the command of retired infantry comandante Alfonso de los Reyes González de Cárdenas, whom Díaz Sandino appointed second-in-command of the base. With the few Breguet XIXs serviceable, they bombed the barracks of the rebel forces, and this contributed to their prompt surrender.
Pilots loyal to the Republic at Grupo No 13 included capitán Francisco Ponce de León y Díaz de Velasco and oficiales subalternos Amador Silverio Jiménez and Adonis Rodríguez González, as well as sargentos José Cabré Planas, Jesús García Herguido, Fernando Roig Villalta, Alfonso Jiménez Bruguet, Emilio Villaceballos García and Jaime Buyé Berni. These men, together with the Ni-H.52s of the escuadrilla, covered the Aragon. Three pilots, Ponce de León, sargento Emilio Villaceballos and teniente Amador Silverio Jiménez, were even deployed to airfields in the north, the latter two aviators flying Ni-H.52s to Bilbao to cover the Bay of Biscay front.
At Los Alcázares airfield at Mar Menor, where the Escuela de Tiro y Bombardeo Aéreo (Aerial Gunnery and Bombing School) was based, there was a Ni-H.52 flight available for gunnery practice. Its CO was teniente Aurelio Villimar Magdalena, and he was supported by teniente Antonio de Haro López and sargentos pilotos José Jiménez Resino, Augusto Martín Campos, Ángel López Pastor and cabo Rafael Robledano. These resources were sufficient to cover the eastern and central Andalusian fronts, and also to detach elements to the two airfields at Guadix, in Granada, and El Rompedizo, in Málaga.
The Aeronáutica Naval - the Escuela de Aeronáutica and the aero naval Workshops were located on the quayside at Contradique, Barcelona. The regular officers of the Cuerpo General de la Armada were all in favour of the coup and for that reason they allowed the arrival at the base, by air, of general Manuel Goded Llopis, who had been posted there to command the rebel forces in Barcelona. This general, who was in Palma de Majorca, left the Mahón naval air station for Barcelona in a Savoia S-62 seaplane and took command of the headquarters of the 4a División Orgánica. Once he had left the naval air station, the junior officers posted there arrested their seniors and took control. It was then that the Escuadrilla Escuela seaplanes, the Savoia S-62s, Macchi M-18s and Dornier Wal operated in close support with the Aviación Militar Breguet XIXs, until the capitulation of Goded’s forces.
As for the Marina de Guerra air arm located at the Base Aeronaval at San Javier and also at the Mar Menor, in Murcia, there was an Escuadrilla de Combate y Acompañamiento equipped with Martinsyde F 4 Buzzard fighters. Although outdated, these aircraft - 20 of which had been supplied to Spain in the early 1920s - would be briefly used during the early days of the military uprising. This unit was led by oficial tercero Carlos Lázaro Casajust, who commanded auxiliares (NCOs) Javier Jover Rovira, Herminio Moro Álvarez and Manuel Mora Deutú. Additional fighter pilots, although serving within army Ni-H.52 escuadrillas, subsequently joined the naval air arm. They were auxiliares Luis Alonso Vega, Carlos Colom Moliner, Tomás Baquedano Moreno, Eduardo Guaza Marín and Antonio Blanch Latorre.
A Nieuport fighter patrulla was established within Escuadrilla Y-2 at Los Alcázares. Teniente Aurelio Villimar assumed command of the unit and it included sargento Fernando Romero Tejero.
Aurelio Villimar was subsequently relieved by teniente Alarcón.
During the first phase of the civil war the government fighter force was poorly utilised, being dispersed in small flights of two or three aircraft only. Because of this policy equipment soon became worn out, resulting in serious losses that decimated the ranks of the Republican fighter pilots.
In July, Isidoro Jiménez García was promoted to capitán.
On 20 July the newly appointed Prime Minister of the Spanish Republic, José Giral, approached the French government for aeroplanes to help it eradicate the threat posed by the Nationalists. The Spanish Aviación Militar was already primarily equipped with French-designed machines such as the Hispano-Nieuport Ni-H.52 sesquiplane fighter, numerous examples of which had been built under licence in Spain from 1929, and the Breguet XIX reconnaissance bomber. France quickly prepared to send more modern aircraft to its neighbour, these being primarily Potez 540 twin-engined bombers and Dewoitine D.372 monoplane (parasol) fighters.
When the civil war broke out cabo José Riverola Grúas was posted to the Wal-equipped Grupo de Hidros No 6 at Los Alcázares airfield, in Murcia. Having logged many flying hours, he was promoted to sargento mecánico and took a pilot’s course at La Ribera.
At the outbreak of hostilities cabo Leopoldo Morquillas Rubio was on leave in Madrid, but he volunteered for duty at Getafe airfield.
The shortage of flying personnel prompted him to apply for a commission as an air gunner-bombardier, and he duly flew sorties in Breguet XIXs and Potez 540s over the sierra and to the outskirts of Madrid. During this period Morquillas flew with pilots Arcega, Areán, Cremades, Cascón, Jiménez, Hortelano, Lurueñba, Peña, Ramos, Ricote, Salvoch and sargento Vicente Valls Bort.
He was shot down three times (once on 28 October 1936), twice while flying Breguet XIXs and once in a Potez 540.
The start of the civil war caught Chindasvinto González García on leave in Madrid, and he joined his unit on 18 July. Ten days later he was posted to Getafe airfield, from where he operated as a sargento mecánico with the Escuadrilla Mixta de Breguet XIX y Nieuport 52 led by capitán Juan Quintana Ladrón de Guevara. The unit moved first to Don Benito airfield and then to Herrera del Duque for operations on the Extremadura front.
Gerardo Gil Sánchez, who was born in Madrid in 1911, joined the service in July 1928 and graduated from the Escuela de Mecánicos at Cuatro Vientos in December 1930. He was subsequently posted as a cabo mecánico to the Escuadrilla de Hidros of the Fuerzas Aéreas de África based at El Atalayón. By the outbreak of the civil war Gil had been posted as a cabo mecánico de vuelo (flight engineer) to the Destacamento de Hidros of Grupo No 6 at Pollensa, on Majorca. With the island a Nationalist stronghold, Gil was forced to escape in a motorboat on 19 July, being picked up by a Wal flying boat of the Barcelona-based Aeronáutica Naval.
In July 1936, sargento piloto Manuel Aguirre López was posted to the 2a Escuadrilla of the Grupo de Caza No 12. Commanded by capitan Jose Méndez Iriarte, the unit was transferred to Getafe, and after the outbreak of war Aguirre took part in aerial combat over the Sierra and Talavera fronts.
Fuerza Aérea Nacionales (Arma de Aviación) - Nationalist Air Force
Following the coup, the Nationalists had nearly half of the Breguet XIXs at the León, Logroño, Seville and Africa air bases; nine Dornier Wal flying boats in Africa and Pollensa; five Savoia S-62s at Marín, Pontevedra; three military Fokker F.VII 3ms in Seville and Africa, and a Douglas DC-2 - although there was not a single operational fighter, they would soon have three Nieuport 52 C1s that landed in error at Armilla air base, Granada and another one which changed sides from Madrid to Burgos and some others which were gradually finishing overhaul at the Parque Sur de Aviación (South Aviation Maintenance Park) at Tablada, Seville. This made a total of about 100 aircraft available to the rebels.
The 2a Escuadra in Seville and the Fuerzas Aéreas de África in Tetuán, joined the rebels, as did the Grupos de Reconocimiento Divisionarios No 21 in León and No 23 in Logroño, which then became part of a new body called Fuerzas Aéreas del Norte.
The 2a Escuadra in Seville and the Fuerzas Aéreas de África remained under a single high command, which was entrusted to general Alfredo Kindelán, who was appointed chief of the Nationalist Servicios del Aire.
The monarchist journalist Luis Bolín journeyed to Rome on 19 July to ask Mussolini for transport aircraft to assist the Nationalist cause, while Franco was in contact with the Italian Consul in Tangier.
At first the rebels' requests were brushed aside, Mussolini simply scribbling 'NO' at the bottom of a telegram from Franco requesting 12 bombers or civilian transports, while on another the dictator remarked dismissively, 'FILE'. However, as the telegrams from Tangier streamed in, and Russian support of the Left appeared unlikely, Mussolini's interest in the developments in Spain grew, especially when Franco offered the flattering promise to emulate Italian Fascism in his country. On 25 July, Mussolini ordered the transfer of 12 SIAI S.81 tri-motor bombers by air and the shipping of 24 CR.32 fighters to Spanish Morocco to aid the Nationalists. In order to disguise the supply of these aircraft, the deal between Italy and the Nationalists was listed as a 'private sale'. During the evening of 27 July, arrangements were made for the despatch of the 12 S.81s. They were to be assembled at Elmas military aerodrome near Cagliari, in Sardinia, prior to being flown to Spain. As part of this ruse, Italian pilots and ground personnel were enrolled on a voluntary basis into the Tercio Extranjero (the Spanish Foreign Legion) with false identities.
After a meeting on 25 July, Adolf Hitler authorised German help to the Nationalist cause under the codename Untemehmen Feuerzauber (Operation Magic Fire).
As part of this, a fleet of Ju 52/3ms under the command of Generalleutnant Helmuth Wilberg was to take General Franco’s forces from Tetuán in Spanish Morocco to Seville. Wilberg was to establish a new, highly covert “Special Staff” to be known as Sonderstab W after its leader.
The initial German help to the Nationalists were in the form of military technicians, 20 pieces of artillery, ammunition, 20 Ju 52/3ms and six Heinkel He 51s (which received the type identification number ‘2’).
On 27 July, the pilots of the Luftwaffe's fighter units, the He 51-equipped I./JG 132 ”Richthofen” at Döberitz and the Ar 65- and Ar 68-equipped I./JG 134 ”Horst Wessel” at Dortmund, received an appeal for ‘volunteers’ to join a mysterious expeditionary force destined for an unidentified foreign country. In some cases, however, word seems to have got out, as in the case of Oberleutnant Hannes Trautloft. Trautloft was actually serving with 9. Staffel of II./JG 134, which had located to Köln-Butzweilerhof following the occupation of the Rhineland. He recalled:
“On 28 July 1936, whilst serving as an oberleutnant with 9./JG 134 at Köln, I received a telephone call from my Kommandeur, Hauptmann Horst Dinort. His first question was “Are you engaged to be married?” I stated that I was not. He then swore me to secrecy and began to explain to me about the situation in Spain and the need for well-trained pilots in that country. Before he even had the chance to ask me if I would be prepared to go there, I said to him “I volunteer!”Initial pilots were Oberleutnant Hannes Trautloft of 9. Staffel of II./JG 134, Oberleutnant Herwig Knüppel and Leutnant Wolf-Heinrich von Houwald, both also from III./JG 134, and Oberleutnant Kraft Eberhardt, Leutnant Gerhard Klein and Leutnant Ekkehard Hefter. During a farewell inspection along with the rest of the group by General Erhard Milch and Generalleutnant Wilberg, they were told not to enter combat under any circumstances at their eventual destination - the role of the Heinkel pilots would be purely to protect and defend the Junkers transports that would be ferrying troops.
Dinort then told me to get ready to travel to Dortmund within the next two hours, where I would receive orders directly from a Geschwaderkommodore. He also ordered me to maintain absolute discretion about the whole thing, for it would not be easy to explain to my comrades what I was doing when they saw me hurriedly packing my bags!”
German military aid was proving crucial to the success of the Nationalist war effort. The first ten Ju 52/3ms donated to Franco had arrived in Spanish Morocco, and they were put to immediate use ferrying badly needed troops and ammunition from the Ejército de Africa over the Straits of Gibraltar to the mainland. Their presence greatly accelerated what became known as the puente aéreo, which was the first large-scale airlift in history. Between 29 July and 5 August, these aircraft flew 1500 men, including six assault battalions, from Morocco to Seville, and in all 10,500 men were transferred to Spain from North Africa in July and August 1936.
In July, Julio Salvador Díaz-Benjumea was sent to Gancedo’s squadron, at Tablada, and moved with them to Algeciras and Malaga on the morning on 18 July.
Salvador then began flying in Nieuport 52s, and quickly moved to Burgos with Ramón Alvarez Senra.
Capitán Gancedo, teniente Arija, teniente Fernandez Tudela and teniente Valiente and an aero club pilot, Manolo Camino, (who was killed in a flying accident on 1 August), flew their Ni-H.52 into Seville in the end of July.
The Seville fighters sometimes operated from Cordoba, in an attempt to avoid frequent attacks by the Government Air Force.
In Africa, Luis Rambaud Gomá and Manrique Montero Mera took on the task of protecting the aircraft used in the air lift and they waited until the sea convoy had crossed (5 August), before transferring to the Peninsula.
Aviación del Tercio
At 05:35 on 30 July, twelve unmarked S.81, commanded by Tenente Colonnello Ruggero Bonomi (’Francesco Federigi’), took off from Elmas in Sardinia for Nador (Melilla) in Spanish Morocco. The route of the flight ran over the Mediterranean Sea and then along the African coast without refuelling stops. The formation was divided into four groups with three airplanes in each. A Cant Z.506 with General Giuseppe Valle was accompanying the bombers along the way and soon signalled strong wind at high altitude. For about an hour the airplanes were flying 1,000 m above the sea. When the wind eased, the bombers climbed to 4,200 m. The sky was overcast, the clouds were driven by wind called ’libeccio’ and individual groups of airplanes lost contact with each other. The airspeed dropped much below the planned and fuel consumption was higher than planned. Low cloud base hampered positioning and observation of two ships along the route which were to facilitate it. After five hours of flight the airplanes reached the traverse of Oran.
At 10:30, the airplane of Tenente Angelini separated from the group led by Maggiore Altomare. After having run out of fuel Angelini’s Savoia without radio contact turned towards the Algerian coast. A moment later the airplane plummeted into the sea 80 km north of Oran; the crew was killed. (At 11:29, a passenger aircraft of Belgian SABENA spotted the floating wreckage, three survivors were also visible. The Belgians sent a SOS signal but the rescue did not come on time.
The remaining aircraft managed to reach the African coast, but two more Savoias were lost. The bomber of Capitano Ferrari landed without damage on the right bank of the Muluya (Moulouya) river on the beach near its estuary. The landing site was located 3 km away from the border of Algeria and Spanish Morocco, but sadly on the side of the French colony. The bomber was captured by local authorities. The captured aircraft, serial number MM20467 was returned to the Italians in October of 1938. It was temporarily registered as civil ‘I-MARU’ for the ferry flight to Italy. The third bomber of Tenente Mattalia crashed during emergency landing at Zaida (Saidia), also near the Algerian border. This crash was caused by the lack of fuel. Mattalia and three other crewmembers were killed in the crash.
Bonomi landed as the first at Nador airfield around 11.45 with the remaining eight following him.
Upon landing the crews were enrolled into the Tercio Extranjero and thus becoming the Aviación del Tercio with the nine S.81s.
The bombers were in turn subordinated to the head of the Nationalist air forces, general Alfredo Kindelán y Duany, who took his orders from the commander of the African Army, general Franco.
18 July 1936
The best-equipped Aviación Militar air units were at the Getafe, Cuatro Vientos and Alcalá de Henares air bases in Madrid. Based there were the 1a Escuadra de Aviación, the Escuela de Observadores, service units and the Escuela de Vuelo ? Combate. The commanding officers of the first two air bases, tenientes coroneles Antonio Camacho Bemítez and Francisco León Trejo, were loyal to Republican authority, whereas the third, comandante Rafael Gómez Jordana de Sousa, who was with the rebels, was not in Madrid at the time of the coup, but on summer leave. Camacho Benítez and León Trejo, with decisiveness and energy, managed to neutralize the group of officers, NCOs and a few other individuals, who were involved in the military uprising, either by expelling them from the air base or by sending them home as detainees, thus stopping them from taking any decisive action for the coup.
Thus, in the Spanish capital, it was the government aircraft that bombed the barracks of the rebel Ejército de Tierra units at Carabanchel, La Montaña, Getafe and Leganés, consequently preventing the rebel forces taking to the streets of Madrid and seizing the administrative and communication areas. In conjunction with these air strikes, the peoples’ armed militias or the police forces loyal to the government eventually managed to enter the barracks and capture the rebels.
One of the rebel officers at the Getafe air base, the then capitán piloto ingeniero aeronáutico José Gomá Orduña, offered a very accurate description of the decisive action of the government aviation in Madrid to crush the coup. Gomá states that the situation facing a quartered garrison, standing alone for hours, even days, waiting for other forces to arrive and act together, was utter suicide. He recalls that even without the arrival of the expected reinforcements, if rebel airmen had flown aircraft over Madrid, the troops would have eventually poured into the streets. He wrote:
“Immediately after the flights over La Montaña barracks, disaster struck. The role of aviation was decisive. One has to admit that, even though with aviation deployed against them, if the [rebel] ground forces had launched an assault, Madrid would not have remained red, because the aviation would have not stopped an attack by dropping 10-kilogram bombs. But aviation simply had the threat of stopping the plan, thus gaining Madrid for the Republic.”
Sargento Jesús García Herguido of the Grupo de Caza No 13 flew his first mission of the war when he flew a bombing mission from Prat de Llobregat with a Breguet XIX.
19 July 1936
The figurehead of the revolution, general José Sanjurjo was killed when his aircraft crashed on take-off from Portugal, and this and other reasons led to general Francisco Franco, who outranked general Emilio Mola, become the preferred leader of the rebellion.
On the same day, general Franco flew from the Canary Islands to Tetuán and took command of the army in Africa.
At 23:00, Tablada was bombed by Fokker VIIs.
20 July 1936
At 06:00, Tablada was bombed by DC-2s.
During the night of 19-20 July, the Nationalists made use of the 1st fighter force, which was being maintained at constant readiness, but the DC-2 attack was so sudden that the defenders did not have time to take off. Three hours later, the first Nationalist Fokker VII arrived bringing legionaries, and this received a cool reception, despite the fact that it had come from Africa.
Sargento Jesús García Herguido of the Grupo de Caza No 13 flew a bombing mission from Prat de Llobregat with a Breguet XIX when he targeted the rebel-held San Andrés Barracks in Barcelona.
Juan José Armario Álvarez flew his first operational sortie when he bombed the Atarazanas barracks while flying an S.62.
The first fighter operations in the south began at Tablada, with aircraft supplied by the Parque Regional (now Maestranza Aerea). On the same day brigada Ramón Senra Àlvarez was instructed to take Nieuport aircraft No 66 to Tetuan, and while he was there capitán Manrique Montero suggested that they should join forces to try and form a fighter squadron. Senra would not fall in with this suggestion as he had orders to return to his base at Tablada.
21 July 1936
On the morning, teniente Julio Salvador Díaz-Benjumea intercepted a Breguet XIX with a Getafe serial number. This aircraft from Pamplona, which had landed at Burgos, had been sent by general Mola to liaise with general Franco. The pilot, capitán Ángel Salas Larrazábal, had to extend his journey to Tetuan, which brought him the unexpected satisfaction of meeting Franco sooner than he had hoped.
Sargento Andrés García La Calle of 2a/11 (Ni-H.52) claimed a damaged Breguet XIX.
The Nationalists in Granada, which was and would continue to be isolated for a long time, received reinforcements in the form of a patrol of three Nieuport Ni-H.52s from the Getafe group. Unfortunately, these were sent there without knowledge of the fact that the aerodrome had changed hands only a few hours before. The three pilots, teniente Juan Prieto, sargento Gerardo Marin and cabo Laurentino Lozano were all taken prisoner.
22 July 1936
During the first advance on Villareal, a single Breguet flown by Ángel Salas succeeded in disrupting a counter-attack by Government troops.
23 July 1936
Teniente Narciso Bermúdes de Castro (Ni-H.52) claimed a Ni-H.52 at Píñar while operating from Granada.
He was flying one of the three Ni-H.52s captured at Grenanda on 21 July, when they landed there by mistake.
25 July 1936
Cabo Roberto Alonso Santamaría of Grupo de Caza No 11 forced a Breguet XIX to land at Grajera airstrip. At the time he was flying a Ni-H.52.
Sargento Andrés García La Calle of 2a/11 (Ni-H.52) claimed his first victory when he claimed a Breguet XIX.
A Breguet XIX heading from enemy territory landed at Getafe airfield. Coded ‘1-12’, the aircraft belonged to 1a Escuadrilla of Grupo No 1 of the Fuerzas Aéreas de Africa, based at Tetuán. Sargento Félix Urtubi Ercilla had flown it across half the Iberian peninsula. The aircraft was also carrying the body of teniente Juan Miguel de Castro Gutiérrez, an Observador de Aeroplano from Grupo de Regulares No 1 based at Ceuta and Melilla. Urtubi Ercilla told journalists in Madrid:
“We left Tetuán at 0600 hrs today. We were ordered to strafe and bomb the government column travelling from La Línea. There were three aircraft. At an altitude of 1000 ft over the Straits of Gibraltar I turned to the teniente and shot him four times - in the forehead, in the chest and through the mouth. I didn’t give the traitor time to look at me in dismay and cry “No! No!”This account is confirmed by sargento piloto Andrés García La Calle. When Urtubi Ercilla saw capitán Antonio Urzáiz Guzman - reputed to be a monarchist - on the tarmac at Getafe he thought that Madrid was in rebel hands. Although Urzáiz Guzman had indeed taught King Alfonso XIII’s children, he was a staunch defender of the Republican regime.
Under the circumstances I was ready to flee to Valencia or Barcelona, cities which, according to the reports available in Morocco, had remained loyal to the Republic. I was ready to jump into the sea if the teniente was only wounded and reacted, but, as I suspected, he was dead. I flew into the darkness and made for here. I was ready to do anything. I’d rather die than surrender to the traitors to the government.
With very little fuel left I landed at Getafe, and when the officers pointed their guns at me, I put mine to my temple and asked if Madrid was in Republican hands? If not I’d have shot myself rather than surrender. The officers were so moved they embraced me. Then I handed over the corpse of the teniente, whose name I don’t know. He wasn’t carrying any documents.”
While returning from a liaison mission in Africa, teniente Miguel Guerrero García (Ni-H.52) shot down a Málaga-based Dornier Wal over the Straits of Gibraltar.
Guerrero was the Nationalist pilot who recorded the greatest number of victories during the opening stages of the war.
27 July 1936
The first aerial combat in the North involved Ángel Salas. Over Somosierra, he had to fight off a Ni-H.52 attacking the Breguet XIXs he was escorting. His Dragon Rapide received two direct hits, but Salas continued to fly this machine until the middle of August, when a mixed Dragon-Fokker group was formed.
Teniente Alarcón of the fighter patrulla of Escuadrilla Y-2 flew Ni-H.52 ‘3-87’ to Guadix, accompanied by sargento Fernando Romero Tejero in ‘3-24’.
Alarcón crashed on landing, suffering slight leg injuries. When replacement aircraft ‘3-42’, flown by sargento Ángel López Pastor, arrived overhead Guadix, it was attacked in error by Romero Tejero! Fortunately, López Pastor escaped unscathed.
28 July 1936
After the arrival at Burgos of two Nationalist fighters from Tablada airfield, Seville, there was the first combat between Ni-H.52s from both sides of the conflict, over the Sierra de Guadarrama. Aircraft ‘3-43’, flown by teniente Julio Salvador, hit another aircraft with machinegun fire and the republican aircraft fled, conspicuously hit, towards the Santillana dam.
Teniente Salvador’s aircraft, suffering from a faulty engine, had to land at the airfield of Los Negredos.
It is possible that Salvador’s victim was teniente Francisco Márques Yanguas Benavides, who according to an official order of the republican Subsecretaría de la Aviación was killed on this day. Márques Yanguas was a fighter pilot of the former Grupo No 12 at Granada and he had flown to Getafe with capitán Méndez Iriarte's Escuadrilla. On 5 May 1938, Márques Yanguas was posthumously promoted to mayor de Caballeria.
Sargento Andrés García La Calle of Grupo No 11 at Getafe crash-landed Ni-H.52 ‘11-33/3-58’ on the Madrid sierra, where it was profusely photographed and presented by both sides as “a shot down enemy”.
Sargento Fernando Romero Tejero of the fighter patrulla of Escuadrilla Y-2 flew Ni-H.52 ‘3-24’ to Andújar airfield, in Jaén, to escort two Breguet XIXs.
While based there he took off to intercept enemy aircraft, but engine failure caused him to force-land. Emerging from his wrecked fighter with both leg and eye injuries, Romero Tejero was admitted to hospital at Andújar and subsequently sent back to Los Alcazares on 30 July.
29 July 1936
Grenada-based, teniente Miguel Guerrero García (Ni-H.52) claimed a Vildebeest at Iznájar.
30 July 1936
Sargento Andrés García La Calle of 2a/11 (Ni-H.52) claimed a Breguet XIX.
31 July 1936
Both the Nationalist and Republican sides operated over Somosierra and two Nieuport Ni.52s fought with each other inconclusively at 08:30. Andrés García La Calle reported:
"On a surveillance flight over the south side of Somosierra, i.e. quite inside our territory, I caught a Nieuport by surprise, flying much lower than me...he didn't even see me. I calmly aimed, pulled the trigger and...no result...I aimed again, made a "mortal" pass but the machineguns kept on jammed. The other Nieuport, unperturbed despite his critical situation, kept on turning and climbing, always a perfect target...my opponent did not realise he should be "dead" by now and kept on climbing towards me...it came to my mind that I was unarmed but he was not...so, before giving him a chance to shoot at me... I turned away in a violent dive."La Calle's opponent must have been capitán Ángel Salas, who wrote in his logbook:
"I fought another Nieuport, which fled as I reached his height."
Grenada-based, teniente Miguel Guerrero García (Ni-H.52) claimed a Vildebeest at Iznalloz.
Teniente Fernandez Tudela (Ni-H.52) was shot down at Córdoba by a Republican Douglas.
By August 1936 Spain was broadly cut in two, with general Mola's Ejercito National del Norte controlling much of the north from Pamplona and Saragossa in the east, over to León, Lugo and La Coruña in the northwest (excepting the Basque coastal area and hinterland around Gijon, Santander and Bilbao), to Teruel, Segovia and Cáceres in the south, while general Franco was gaining territory by advancing from the south and pushing on towards Córdoba. The rest of Spain, bar a few isolated Nationalist strongholds, was Republican.
The Nationalist goal was Madrid, symbolic, but held firmly by the Republicans. If Madrid could be taken, the Republican infrastructure would splinter and eventually collapse. To do this, Franco, with his forces now ‘on the ground’, intended to march his Legionnaires and Regulares north from Seville to Mérida and connect with Mola, before clearing Badajoz of enemy forces and establishing a link with Portugal, through which supplies would be brought. Following that, the way would be open for an advance on Madrid. Republican and Nationalist forces clashed seriously for the first time in the south on 5 August at Almendralejo, resulting in the Nationalist advance being halted and then coming under attack by Republican aircraft.
However, the Republicans suffered from heavy casualties, as well as desertions, and fell back, allowing Franco's forces to resume their march and eventually hook up with Mola just north of Mérida. The general eastward advance on Madrid along the valley of the Tajo resumed on 20 August under the overall command of coronel Blanco Yagüe, a veteran of the Rif War.
In late August, an international agreement of ‘non-intervention’ was drawn up and subscribed to by 27 nations, including France, Great Britain, Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union. Signatories were legally prevented from supporting either side in the Spanish conflict through the provision of military equipment. Apart from Great Britain, whose special economic and strategic interests in Spain and the Mediterranean forced it to observe strict neutrality in its dealings with the Nationalist and Republican regimes, the agreement was duly ignored by the remaining four signatories.
16 August 1936
The Spanish Republican Army landed on the coast of Majorca, under heavy bombardment by Italian aircraft. Capitán Alberto Bayo established a small base on the coast.
Fuerza Aérea de la República Española - Republican Air Force
In August, a number of Breguet XIXs were moved south to Andújar and Herrera del Duque to provide air cover to the Republican units retreating from Franco's columns advancing on Madrid.
Twin-engined French Potez 540 bombers arrived at El Prat de Llobregat, in Barcelona, in early August, where they equipped the international Escadre Espana.
14 Dewoitine D.372 parasol-winged fighters arrived in mid-August.
In August, sargento Andrés García La Calle’s fighter patrulla, made up of a Hawker Spanish Fury and two Nieuport Ni-H.52s flown by cabos Roberto Alonso Santamaría and Rafael Peña Dugo, moved to the Herrera del Duque and Don Benito airfields at Extremadura. The unit was commanded by teniente Ramón Puparelli Francia.
Later in the month the unit was sent to Talavera de la Reina airfield, in Toledo.
Because of the overwhelming number of enemy CR.32s in the area, government pilots refused to fly alone from the late summer of 1936. Although the Jefatura de Aviación did not agree to their operating in groups, the pilots’ indiscipline was not punished.
On 2 August, two Ni-H.52s flew from El Prat de Llobregat to the forward airfield at Sariñena, in Huesca, escorting four Breguet XIXs during the flight. The Nieuports and their pilots, teniente Amador Silverio Jiménez and sargento Jesús García Herguido, remained at this location for some time.
Fellow Grupo de Caza No 13 pilots sargentos Fernando Roig Villalta, José Cabré Planas, Jaime Buyé Berni and Emilio Villaceballos were flown to Sariñena in Breguet XIXs, as was unit CO alférez Alfonso Jiménez Bruguet, and they all flew sorties in the Nieuports from the airfield. Jiménez’ pilots, most of whom were officially still sargentos, were promoted to alférez by the Catalan Generalitat authorities, whose Consejero de Defensa (Secretary of Defence) was teniente coronel de Aviación Felipe Díaz Sandino. These promotions were officially confirmed on 31 August according to a decree dated 27 September.
The Escuadrilla Mixta, based at Sariñena, was unofficially called ’Alas Rojas’. This name was displayed on some of the unit’s vehicles, and it was also the title of the newspaper published at the Republican airfield.
On 14 August capitán Isidoro Jiménez García was deployed to Sariñena to lead a three-aircraft
Breguet XIX patrulla.
Shortly thereafter he became CO of the mixed Breguet XIX/Ni-H.52 Escuadrilla Mixta ‘Alas Rojas’, which also included some de Havilland DH 84 Dragons and DH 89 Dragon Rapides within its ranks.
Chindasvinto González García was promoted to sargento mecánico in August 1936.
From Barcelona Gerardo Gil Sánchez was posted to Los Alcázares and, on 25 August, he joined the Escuela de Pilotos at La Ribera.
Fuerza Aérea Nacionales (Arma de Aviación) - Nationalist Air Force
When the revolt started, capitán Joaquín García Morato y Castaño was in London on vacation. He returned across France, to Burgos in a light civil aircraft on 1 August. He immediately joined the Nationalist air force and was transferred to Tablada 24 hours later. Given a Ni-H.52 fighter, Morato flew to Córdoba on 3 August with orders to defend the city.
At Córdoba he replaced teniente Timoteo Valiente, who had joined the forces at Córdoba only the day before.
Until 7 August, Morato operated on his own in Córdoba and then, for the following two days, he joined with capitán Gancedo who was in command of the Nieuports at Seville.
On 14 August, Morato he returned the Nieuport to teniente Valiente and joined the Heinkel He 51 squadron which was being formed in Seville. Valiente was able to make little use of this machine, for on August 15th he was involved in an accident which prevented him from flying in fighter aircraft again.
A small fighter squadron was formed in Burgos and for a brief period it was under the command of capitán Chamorro, although he soon went on to pilot Dragon Rapides and an Airspeed Envoy, in which he was killed whilst escorting General Mola. Pilots who flew with this squadron included Julio Salvador, Miguel Guerrero García, Martín Campos and Ramón Alvarez Senra, tenientes Miguel García Pardo and Ramiro Pasual, and occasionally capitán Ángel Salas.
In the middle of August, Ángel Salas collected the only Fokker XII to arrive in Vitoria, and ferried this to the Dragon-Fokker Group in Burgos.
He then flew to Saragossa with a Nieuport 52.
During the succeeding days Salas operated at Teruel and Ramón Alvarez Senra at Huesca.
On 27 August, Captain Ángel Salas took off from Aragon in a Nieuport aircraft, eventually arriving at Olmedo. He had written to Joaquín García Morato, from Saragossa hospital, asking if he could occupy the vacant place in the He 51 squadron. Morato had replied to the effect that the situation, so far as the He 51s were concerned, was not very hopeful, but that he had heard some Fiat fighters were due to arrive in Seville, and suggested that it might be better for him to try to get one of these machines allocated to him.
In fact, Salas went to Cáceres, where for some days he acted as a machine-gunner in Ricardo Guerrero's squadron of Ju 52/3ms, and from there he went to Seville in company with Julio Salvador.
Aviación del Tercio
At dawn on 14 August 1936, the Italian freighter Nereide entered the port of Melilla, on the Mediterranean coast of Spanish Morocco. This important town had been occupied four weeks earlier by Nationalist forces led by general Franco himself. The vessel’s cargo consisted of 12 CR.32s, which had been embarked in the Italian port of La Spezia a week earlier.
As well as spare parts for the Fiat fighters, the ship had also transported 18 volunteers from the Regia Aeronautica to North Africa, their passports bearing false details. Amongst them were the first 12 Italian fighter pilots to arrive on Spanish territory. They were led by Capitano Vincenzo Dequal (’Paride Limonesi’) of the 1o Stormo CT and his flight leaders were Tenente Vittor Ugo Ceccherelli (’Vaccarese’), also of the 1o Stormo CT, Tenente Ernesto Monico (’Preti’) of the 4o Stormo CT and Sottotenente Giuseppe Cenni (’Vittorio Stella’) of the 1o Stormo CT. The remaining enlisted pilots were Sergente Maggiore Giuseppe Avvico (’Nannini’) the 4o Stormo CT, Sergente Maggiore Bruno Castellani (’Ribaudi’) of the 6o Stormo CT, Sergente Maggiore Sirio Salvadori (’Salvo’) of the 4o Stormo CT, Sergente Angelo Boetti (’Ilacqua’) of the 1o Stormo CT, Sergente Adamo Giuglietti (’Guglielmotti’) of the 1o Stormo CT, Sergente Giovanni Battista Magistrini (’Marietti’) of the 1o Stormo CT, Sergente Vincenzo Patriarca (’Boccolari’) of the 4o Stormo CT and Sergente Guido Presel (’Sammartano’) of the 6o Stormo CT. The groundcrew consisted of just three aircraft riggers and three mechanics.
After being welcomed by Spanish officers and the local Italian Consul, the pilots and groundcrew were immediately enrolled into the Tercio Extranjero with their equivalent ranks.
The CR.32s were assembled at Nador (Melilla) over the course of several days and eventually transferred by air to Tablada (Seville), in southern Spain.
The 12 CR.32s were integrated into the Aviación del Tercio and these, the first fighter unit of this force became the Primera Escuadrilla de Caza de la Aviación del Tercio (1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio) and was commanded by Capitano Dequal.
The new squadron's initial operations consisted of patrols and single sortie missions as dictated by the particular operational requirements and limited efficiency of its aircraft. The CR.32 pilots struggled at first to have an impact on their Republican counterparts because only two of the dozen Fiat fighters in-theatre boasted compasses following a supply oversight in Italy! Unfamiliarity with Spanish terrain and inadequately detailed maps further compounded the unit’s navigational problems when in the air, and the end result was pilot disorientation culminating in emergency landings and damaged aircraft.
Initially, the CR.32s were assigned defensive duties, patrolling overhead Nationalist forces in Andalusia and protecting them from aerial attack, as well as escorting S.81 bombers. The Italian biplanes also provided air cover for the infantry columns of the African Army that had been transported to Spain in the Ju 52/3ms. These troops were particularly vulnerable to attack from the numerically superior Republican air force in the early weeks of the war as they advanced north, occupying western Extremadura. The African Army’s next target was the Spanish capital, Madrid, which it intended to occupy so as to claim international recognition in favour of a new Nationalist administration.
By the end of August, after the first 12 CR.32s, and their pilots, had reached Melilla, three more had been sent to Majorca and nine were offloaded in the port of Vigo de Galicia, on Spain’s Atlantic coast, from the Spanish ship Ebro. The latter had been renamed Aniene in Italy so that it could run contraband under a flag of convenience.
The nine CR.32s delivered to Vigo de Galicia were unloaded on the night of 27 August, although the presence of a British naval vessel in the port at the same time meant that this operation could not be completed in secrecy. Nine pilots under the command of Tenente Dante Olivero (from 6o Stormo) were also on board Aniene, and each of them had a false identity. Amongst the aviators were Sottotenente Adriano Mantelli (’Arrighi’) and Sergenti Brunetto di Montegnacco (’Antonio Romualdi’), GianLino Baschirotto (’Edoardo Giri’) and Raffaele Chianese, while five groundcrew provided technical support. The men and their machines then travelled by train southwards along the Vigo-Orense-Salamanca-Caceres-Seville route, which was controlled by Nationalist forces that had recently occupied the eastern Extremadura to unite the occupied zones of southern and north-western Spain. The reassembly of the nine aeroplanes, which were destined for the Segunda Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio (2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio), commenced after the three-day journey had ended in Tablada on 30 August.
The three CR.32s sent to Majorca were unloaded from the Italian steamer Emilio Morandi at Palma de Mallorca during the night of 27-28 August. The ship docked at 20:30 and during the night, the personnel and aircraft were transferred to Son San Juan airfield. Two of the pilots to the aircraft were Capitano Giuseppe D’Agostinis and Sergente Guido Carestiato.
During the latter half of August 1936, Nationalist troops continued with their advance through Extremadura and New Castile in the direction of Madrid. Accompanying them was a flight of CR.32s from 1a Escuadrilla under the command of Tenente Ernesto Monico, these aircraft being sent to Cáceres for the defence of the local airfield and general Franco’s General Headquarters, which had recently been established in the city.
SS Usaramo with the first contingent of German volunteers arrived at the roadstead off Cádiz on 6 August before docking the next day. They were sent by train to Seville. Hannes Trautloft recalled:
“The next morning we found ourselves at Seville airfield [Tablada], a frequent target for “Red” airmen. On 9 August we started the job of rebuilding our six He 51s - a real piece of teamwork involving pilots and ground personnel. The Spanish personnel were quite surprised to witness us work with such energy, but we really were getting quite impatient and wanted to get our machines into the air as soon as possible.”Conditions at Tablada were rudimentary. Oberleutnant Herwig Knüppel recorded of this initial period:
“Our single-seaters had to be put together rapidly, as we wanted to strike out as soon as possible to the Front. Breaking open crates, raising aircraft fuselages, attaching wings, fixing bracing struts - that was our first occupation. In doing so, we established friendships with the Spanish pilots [Joaquín García] Morato, [Julio] Salvador, [Luis] Rambaud and others, and with the Spanish mechanics. Many beads of sweat flowed.”On 10 August, the first He 51 was fully assembled and ready for operations.
“After some seven days of strenuous work, with our toothbrushes and shaving gear stashed in the stowage compartment of our He 51s, we flew via Salamanca and the Sierra de Gredos to our small combat airfield of Escalona del Prado, near Segovia.Wolf-Heinrich von Houwald also recorded his observations of early conditions in Spain:
There, on the northern perimeter of the Guadarrama hills, we were located together with an Escuadrilla de reconocimiento, with whom we soon established a warm friendship. The aircraft stood in the open, replacement parts, ammunition and fuel and oil laying protected from the sun under tarpaulins at the edge of the forest. We ourselves likewise lay to some extent protected from the full glare of the sun and slept when we were not flying, or else had language tuition with the Spanish crews.”
“We arrived at Salamanca, the second stopping place on our way to Escalona - a small town close to the Madrid Front. Salamanca was the first combat airfield I saw. We took a big chance in actually finding it because everything, including the aircraft, was very well camouflaged. We refuelled and took off for Escalona, an airfield that we heard was incredibly small and hard to find. It lay so close to the front that it was quite probable that we would engage the enemy. Nevertheless, we found it after half-an-hour and landed. The airfield was so poor that we were worried whether our Spanish comrades would be able to fly our aircraft from there.The small cadre of Spanish pilots working with the Germans had formed themselves loosely into what they called the Escuadrilla Rambaud. After the losses suffered on 23 August, the Escuadrilla was disbanded in the end of the month.
Next day I had a most annoying experience. Full of enthusiasm and idealism, five Spaniards proudly climbed into our aircraft. They did not want foreigners to fight for them while they had to stay on the ground with nothing to do. But as they returned, my aircraft crashed on landing. Fortunately, the other Heinkels managed to land safely. From now on, without an aircraft, I had to stay on the ground while the others each shot down two or three enemy in short order. I had nothing better to do than to wait for new aircraft to come from home. I kept thinking that they would arrive too late because the “Rojos” would be forced to surrender in front of Franco’s massive offensive.”
Of the time at Escalona del Prado, Oberleutnant Herwig Knüppel wrote:
“A fighter pilot must always be ready for action. We flew other pilots back in a Ju 52 in rotation in order to fetch aviation fuel for our next flights over the front. Our mechanics worked untiringly to maintain the engines and machine guns. We – as the “Kette Eberhardt” – flew four to five times daily to the front, with a view of the buildings of Madrid lying in the distance in the haze of the sun. Eberhardt, Trautloft and I proudly called ourselves “the Jäger from Guadarrama”.”
1 August 1936
Grenada-based, teniente Miguel Guerrero García (Ni-H.52) claimed a Breguet XIX.
Nationalist pilot Manuel del Camino Parladé was killed during a test flight at Tablada, Sevilla, in a Ni-H.52.
2 August 1936
Teniente Ramón Puparelli Francia flew a reconnaissance mission over the San Rafael-Ávila, Navacerrada and Alto del León roads in a Breguet XIX, dropping bombs on the pine forests.
3 August 1936
Over Córdoba, at the controls of a Nieuport Ni.52, capitán Joaquín García Morato threw a Republican formation of Breguet XIXs escorted by a solitary Ni-H.52 into total confusion and forced it to withdraw.
The Escuadrilla Mixta, based at Sariñena performed its first sortie when Ni-H.52s escorted Breguet XIXs sent to attack targets in the La Zaida area of the Aragon front.
Teniente Ramón Puparelli Francia bombed an Nationalist battery at Alto del León.
4 August 1936
Sargento Jesús García Herguido from the Escuadrilla Mixta at Sariñena used his Ni-H.52 to shoot down a Nationalist Breguet XIX flown by capitán Eduardo Prado Castro, CO of an escuadrilla of Grupo No 23 detached to Saragossa. The aircraft made a forced-landing and both crewmen escaped unhurt. The resulting communique issued by the Consejero de Defensa de la Generalitat reported:
“Late this evening four Fascist aircraft from Andalusia tried to attack the advanced forces at La Zaida by taking advantage of today’s stormy weather, which reduced visibility. A fighter aircraft of the Republic forces, flown by oficial señor Herguido, who was returning to base, engaged the four rebel aircraft and brought one down in flames. Aviator Herguido chased the other three beyond Saragossa, where he lost them. Returning to base, and over Saragossa, he noticed strong concentrations of rebel forces on the Paseo de la Independencia, which he strafed. Our airman returned safely to base.”
6 August 1936
Cabo Rafael Peña Dugo of the Grupo de Caza No 11 (Ni-H.52) attacked friendly Ni-H.52s that had taken off from Barajas. Sargento Andrés García La Calle suffered a buttock wound, but escuadrilla CO, capitán José Méndez Iriarte, crashed in enemy-held territory and was killed.
7 August 1936
Sargento Arístides García López flew a Breguet XIX that still bore Republican tricolour markings on the Granada front and he was shot down in error by a Ni-H.52.
Fortunately, García López and his observer/rear gunner escaped unhurt.
8 August 1936
Republican fighter pilots Antonio Andrés Pascual and Avertano González Fernández-Muñiz were shot down and killed in combat in the Madrid area.
9 August 1936
Teniente Miguel García Pardo claimed his first victory against a Breguet XIX over Sierra de Guadarrama
12 August 1936
Capitán Joaquín García Morato claimed his first victory when he shot down a Vickers Vildebeest bomber which was opposing General Varela's advance on Antequera.
It seems that it was part of a formation of three Vildebeests escorted by Ni-H.52s, which didn’t suffer any losses.
13 August 1936
Sargento Fernando Romero Tejero of the fighter patrulla of Escuadrilla Y-2 took off from Guadix with a Ni-H.52 and shot down two Nationalist Breguet XIXs. The first crashed at Venta Navas and the second at Pinos Puente.
Upon returning home, Romero Tejero was congratulated by both the local committee and the CO of Los Alcázares airfield, comandante Ortiz, who was making a tour of inspection at the time.
14 August 1936
Republican fighter pilot José Cabré Planas was shot down and in killed in combat in the Aragón area.
17 August 1936
Julio Salvador Díaz-Benjumea claimed his first victory when he claimed a Potez 54 over Santa Cruz de Mudela.
18 August 1936
Joaquín García Morato claimed a Potez 540 and a Nieuport flying in a Heinkel He 51B.
Julio Salvador Díaz-Benjumea claimed one Ni-H.52 and two Breguet XIXs over Merida flying in a Heinkel He 51.
21 August 1936
The first aerial encounter between CR.32s and Republican aircraft came during the day over the city of Córdoba, in southern Spain, which had fallen into Nationalist hands the previous month. The rebel troops had subsequently come under repeated attack from the air by Republican aircraft, so a flight of three Fiat fighters was sent on detachment from Seville with orders to defend the city. The CR.32s were led by Tenente Vittor Ugo Ceccherelliand included Sergente Boetti and Sergente Salvadori.
In the evening, during the fifth scramble of the day, Tenente Ceccherelli single-handedly engaged two Republican Ni-H.52s. The Italian pilot duly succeeded in shooting down one of the fighters, expending 172 7.7 mm rounds.
The Ni-H.52 was flown by capitán Antonio Martin-Luna Lesundi, the commander of 2. Escuadrilla ’Lafayette’. The airplane crashed near Talavera in the vicinity of Seville.
Two CR.32s were damaged during landing at the provisional aerodrome at Córdoba. The airfield was very dusty, the dust risen by landing airplanes blinded the pilots. Tenente Ceccherelli collided with a Breguet XIX. The other damaged airplane was the CR.32 of Sergente Boetti. However, all three airplanes needed repairs because the guns had jammed in Sergente Salvadori’s fighter. This one flew back to Seville, the remaining two were transported by road.
23 August 1936
The Escuadrilla Rambaud first action took place during the day, when three He 51s escorted Spanish-flown Ju 52/3ms sent to attack Getafe airfield on the southern outskirts of Madrid. It had been intended that the Spanish pilots fly some of the newly-arrived Fiat CR.32s that were due in Spain at any moment from Italy, but these had been delayed. In view of the depth of penetration of enemy airspace, it was decided that the Heinkels should be used instead. Furthermore, at this early stage of the conflict it was considered to be too risky to send German airmen flying over the Spanish capital.
Under a strong midday sun, and despite dense anti-aircraft fire over the capital, the mission was a success. Upon returning home, capitán Luis Rambaud’s He 51B, which had received a hit in the undercarriage, and teniente Ramiro Pascual’s He 51B were damaged on landing on the short runway at Escalona, 40 km south-west of Madrid.
The Spanish pilots had some problems with the He 51 when bringing the aircraft in to land since the fighter had a tendency to bounce and veer once on the ground. One of the damaged He 51Bs on this date suffered a broken propeller for which there was no replacement. Later, the resourceful German mechanics repaired the propeller using what was on hand at Tablada, and the aircraft was ready for operations once again.
With a sense of increasing frustration, the German contingent demanded of general Alfredo Kindelán y that they, and they only, should be allowed to fly the Heinkels. Thus the Escuadrilla Rambaud was disbanded in the end of the month.
Ángel Salas over the Teruel front Salas attacked and destroyed a light aircraft.
This was his first victory during the war. The following day he was admitted to hospital suffering from exhaustion, after completing 50 operational sorties totalling 116 flying hours (a figure which was bettered only by Ureña with 180 hours, 24 combat sorties and 101 transport missions), which had been amassed within four weeks.
Two SM.81s bombed the army and militia at Navarmoral de la Mata. The raid contrib¬uted to the seizure of the town by the Nationalists commanded by mayor Tell.
25 August 1936
On the afternoon, the German fighters made their operational debut in support of the drive on Madrid. A patrol comprising Oberleutnant Kraft Eberhardt (now in nominal command of the German fighter force) , Oberleutnant Hannes Trautloft and Oberleutnant Herwig Knüppel took off. The Spanish heat made conditions somewhat unusual for aerial combat, and as Trautloft recorded ’I sat in my aircraft in shorts and a T-shirt - my tennis clothes!’ Knüppel recalled:
“It was once again a sunny day with a clear blue sky. Catalonia lay beneath us, with its superb Guadarrama forested hills, on whose heights battles were being fought on the Puerto de Somosierra, Navicicerada and on the pass road from León. In the northwest, beyond the hills, lay Segovia, and in the southwest, the mighty rectangle of the Escorial, with its imposing walls, domes and towers, while in the south, in the haze of the summer day, Madrid. We were flying on our way to the west. Suddenly, Oberleutnant Eberhardt gave the signal for attack.”Eberhardt had spotted three Republican Breguet XIXs about two kilometres away over the outskirts of Madrid, flying towards, and about 500 metres below, the Heinkels. With his hands ’shaking from excitement, Trautloft switched on his gunsight, entered into a dive from the sun, closed to within 30 metres and opened fire with his MG 17s:
“As I approach I see the gunner aiming his gun at me and then the muzzle lights up as he opens fire. It all looks rather harmless. With my first burst, the gunner disappears - his machine gun points vertically towards the sky. The “Red” now pushes over into a steep dive. My second burst is brief, but on target, because all of a sudden the Breguet rears up, rolls over, roars towards the earth in a steep, uncontrolled dive and smashes into the ground north of the village of Comenar.”Trautloft had claimed what is believed to be the first aerial victory by German forces in Spain. Knüppel was forced to break off his attack when his guns jammed but Eberhardt claimed the second Breguet. When the Heinkels landed back at Escalona del Prado, Eberhardt and Trautloft each lodged a claim for a Breguet shot down, and celebrated the occasion wildly with their mechanics.
The Italian SM.81s conducted a raid in the region of Navarmoral de la Mata in support of Nationalist troops moving towards Oropesa.
26 August 1936
During a mission to Madrid, Oberleutnant Kraft Eberhardt and Oberleutnant Herwig Knüppel claimed a Breguet XIX each. Knüppel recalled:
“Now, full power and attack! I head for one of the enemy Aufklärer, a Breguet 19. I have him in my cross-wires and open fire. He dives away beneath me. I make yet another attack – l his engine stops and his observer stops firing. He crashes close behind the enemy line. In my great joy over this aerial victory, I perform a loop. But already an enemy fighter, a French parasol monoplane, is sitting on my tail. Just as I was about to turn onto him, he shot upwards. I was unfortunately unable to catch him, as his aircraft climbed better and was faster.”
Three SM.81s attacked Toledo, their target was the local ammunition factory.
27 August 1936
Tenente Vittor Ugo Ceccherelli and Sergente Giovanni Battista Magistrini had been sent to the southern city of Granada to defend it from attack. Scrambling on his own, Sergente Magistrini shot down a Ni-H.52 that had been escorting Breguet XIX bombers heading for the city.
This was the second CR.32 victory in Spain.
The Republican pilot seems to have been teniente Antonio de Haro López, who reportedly was killed in combat in the Guadix area.
Oberleutnant Herwig Knüppel accounted for a Ni-H.52, possibly from the Republican Grupo No 11 at Getafe.
Italian SM.81s attacked Malaga.
28 August 1936
At noon, the first Fiat, marked “Black 1”, which had arrived at Palma de Mallorca the previous evening was ready to fly, and Capitano Giuseppe D’Agostinis took off for a test flight.
At 12:30, Sergente Guido Carestiato took off in the same aircraft and headed to Cala Morlanda, where six Republican SIAI S.62s were riding at anchor. Carestiato fired on all of them and destroyed two; "S-5" of Enrique Pereira and "S-30" of Antonio Orejuela. As he was returning home, he saw another S.62 flying over the bay and he intercepted and shot it down. Carestiato landed at Son San Juan after just ten minutes with his aircraft slightly damaged by ground fire.
After an hour, the “Black 1” took off again with D’Agostinis in command. D’Agostinis attacked the seaplanes, which in the meanwhile had been pulled ashore, then, as he was returning home, spotted two more S.62s while taking off from Puerto Cristo Bay. He attacked one, which was forced to ditch. Capitano José Maria Freire and Capitano Fernando Beneito flew this aircraft and Freire was killed. The aircraft was claimed as destroyed but in fact, it was only damaged, and was later recovered by the Republican merchant ship Mar Negro. The second S.62 managed to escape since D’Agostinis had run out of ammunition.
The following days, the three CR.32s were strafing troops, trucks and boats, avoiding ground fire flying at 2000 m, then, after spotting the targets, going away, and returning to strafe at low level with sun behind them.
Although D’Agostinis was the CO, his personal aircraft wasn’t no. 1 (this was used by Guido Carestiato) but no. 4 (perhaps in honor to the 4o Stormo). On the starboard side, this aircraft had a personal insignia; a shield with an armored reddish cat (after his nom de guerre and his reddish hair) wearing a sword, in a cartouche appeared the motto: OCIO CHE SGRAFA! (Venetian dialect – ‘Look out, he’ll scratch you!’).
Italian SM.81s attacked Malaga.
29 August 1936
Oberleutnant Kraft Eberhardt claimed an unconfirmed Potez 540 over the Sierra Guadarrama.
It seems that Oberleutnant Herwig Knüppel and Oberleutnant Hannes Trautloft were involved in (inconclusive) combat with Potez 540s over the Sierra Guadarrama during the day and they reported that during their first pass, they had their windscreens smeared with oil from the shot-up Potez, forcing them to break off their attacks. They were also set upon by a Dewoitine D.372 fighter.
30 August 1936
Sergente Guido Presel of the 1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio took off from Tablada as the lone escort for a Ju 52/3m that was heading for Nationalist northern Spain. As the pair neared Badajoz, on Spain’s border with Portugal, Republican Fury ‘4-2’ flown by alférez Félix Urtubi Ercilla from Grupo de Caza No 11 (on detachment to the Don Benito airfield) suddenly attacked the Junkers tri-motor. Presel immediately engaged the British fighter, whose pilot broke off his pursuit of the Ju 52/3m and concentrated on the Italian aircraft instead. What followed was a closely fought engagement between two evenly matched biplane fighters flown by determined and well-trained pilots.
Concentrating on each other, both men neglected to keep an eye on their fuel, or their location. The engine in Urtubi Ercilla’s aircraft fell silent first, and he was forced to land near Alburquerque, which was controlled by the Nationalists. Disguising himself as a peasant holding the halter of a donkey, he then had to walk for a week to reach Republican territory, keeping away from main roads and populated areas as much as he could. His intact Fury was recovered by Nationalist forces and pressed into service.
Presel, meanwhile, had lost sight of the Ju 52/3m during the fight, and lacking a compass in his CR.32, he found himself alone over unfamiliar territory. With the engine of his aircraft running on vapours, Presel had little choice but to make an emergency landing on Portuguese soil, damaging the undercarriage of the CR.32 in the process. Fortunately for him, the Portuguese government supported the Nationalist cause, so the aircraft was quickly recovered and Presel returned to Tablada.
Tenente Ernesto Monico and Sergente Maggiore Bruno Castellani of the 1a Squadriglia were bounced by a flight of three D.372 fighters flown by French pilots from the Republican Escuadra España between Talavera de la Reína and Oropesa whilst returning from a reconnaissance flight over the enemy airfields at Getafe and Cuatro Vientos. Tenente Monico’s CR.32 quickly caught fire and the pilot took to his parachute and his aircraft crashed near Las Herencias. Sergente Maggiore Castellani force-landed near Villanueva de la Serena and returned to friendly territory on foot. Monico was not so fortunate, being taken prisoner by militants retreating towards Talavera. Declaring his proper nationality shortly after his capture, he requested to see the Italian ambassador in Madrid. This was refused, however, and Monico was executed shortly thereafter. According to Republican sources he was subsequently shot dead while trying to escape. Monico was the first Italian pilot to lose his life in action during the Spanish Civil War and he was posthumously awarded Italy's highest military decoration, the Medaglia d’oro al valor militare. When his fate became known some days later, on 4 September, the inscription MONICO ! PRESENTE (‘Monico is Present’) was applied to all the CR.32s flown by both Tercio fighter units.
The three He 51Bs flown by Oberleutnants Kraft Eberhardt, Herwig Knüppel and Hannes Trautloft chased three Potez 540 deep over enemy territory, Trautloft angrily expended almost all of his ammunition from just 50 metres away and behind. In response, the bomber simply went into a steep glide, again spraying oil all over the German’s windscreen and severely limiting his ability to see anything. Eberhardt and Knüppel were similarly frustrated. Lessons were being learned, for as Trautloft noted:
“From this range we can't possibly have missed. We suspect that the pilot’s seat in the Potez bomber is armoured. Therefore in future we shall have to attack from the front.There was perhaps cold comfort for the Germans since the bombers did, in fact, come down, and all three pilots were credited with the destruction of a Potez.
“I attempt an attack from the front in an effort to knock out the pilot. But he has, meanwhile, got a good lead and my machine just is not fast enough. In addition we are almost out of ammunition, so there is nothing else for it but to break off our attack.”
On a later mission the same day Oberleutnant Hannes Trautloft (again flying in his tennis gear) was bounced by an enemy fighter (probably a Dewoitine D.371) whose machine gun fire raked the right wing of his Heinkel (2-4), sending it into a spiral dive. With his controls shot away, Trautloft decided to parachute, and opened his parachute at about 8000 ft. The attacking Republican fighter attempted to return for a second pass and open fire at the vulnerable German airman, but Kraft Eberhardt and Herwig Knüppel chased him away. Trautloft recalled:
“In spite of these encouraging results against the Potez, it was clear that our aircraft were not superior enough for us to feel completely safe from the enemy. In fact, on 30 August, I was, for my part, shot down and had to bail out. I was lucky that I was not wounded and that I landed behind Nationalist lines. However, Franco’s troops were, of course, not only surprised to see a tennis player landing in their positions by parachute, they were also very suspicious of me. I did not speak Spanish very well and I suppose they thought that I could have been a foreign volunteer for the “Red Army”. I proved to them that this was not the case by showing them my passport. In it was written “Este aparate y su piloti Don. Hannes Trautloft, estan al servicio del Ejercito Nacional del Norte”. After having carefully read these lines, the Spanish officer shook my hand and I was treated in a very friendly fashion.'It is possible that Trautloft had been attacked and shot down by teniente Ramón Puparelli Francia of the Grupo de Caza No 11, who claimed a He 51 during the day and this is the only known Republican claim this day.
While flying Hawker Spanish Fury ‘4-1’ from Talavera de la Reina, sargento Andrés García La Calle of Escuadrilla Mixta claimed a Ju 52/3m.
Italian SM.81s attacked Malaga.
31 August 1936
Sargento Andrés García La Calle (Hawker Spanish Fury ‘4-1’) lead a fighter patrulla of two Ni-H.52 from capitán Juan Quintana y Ladrón de Guevara’s Escuadrilla Mixta, based at Talavera de la Reina. The two Ni-H.52s were flown by cabos Roberto Alonso Santamaría and wingman Rafael Peña Dugo.
Over Talavera de la Reina, southwest of Madrid, La Calle shot down a CR.32 while Alonso Santamaría and Peña Dugo shot down a second CR.32.
Both Roberto Alonso Santamaría and Rafael Peña Dugo were promoted to alférez after this success.
During the night of 31 August/1 September three S.81s were alternately bombing Malaga for five hours. The targets were the ships anchored in the harbour. The destroyer ’Churruca’ was damaged.
4 September 1936
Nationalist forces occupied Talavera and its local airfield some 60 miles to the south-west of Madrid just as a new Republican Government was being formed in the capital city. Socialist Francisco Largo Caballero duly became prime minister, heading a cabinet that included communist ministers for the very first time.
5 September 1936
The Basque city of Irún was taken by the Nationalists.
The Spanish Republican Army re-embarkation from Majorca began and the Republicans held the beaches until September 12, when the last ship steamed off in retreat, leaving the island in Nationalist hands.
13 September 1936
The Basques surrender San Sebastián to the Nationalists.
29 September 1936
The Fascist junta in Burgos declared Franco Generalísimo.
Fuerza Aérea de la República Española - Republican Air Force
Andrés García La Calle record in the Talavera battles was outstanding, and he was promoted to alférez on 3 September 1936.
In September, Juan Comas Borrás was sent to the Escuela de Pilotos at San Javier for a refreshment course.
On 6 September, six French Loire 46 C1s were flown across the Spanish border from Toulouse-Montaudran to Barcelona. Some of their French pilots duly joined the Escuadra España.
The first 33 Soviet bomber pilots, who arrived on 10 September 1936, flew combat missions in Potez 540s with mixed crews. They were ironically nicknamed Protezy (prosthesis)!
Manuel Aguirre López was transferred with his Ni-H.52 ‘3-74’ to Andújar and the 1a Escuadrilla of the re-established Grupo No 21. This was a mixed unit, equipped with Breguet XIX bombers and Nieuport fighters.
Miguel Zambudio Martínez joined the Republican air force in September 1936. He enrolled in the pilot’s course at the Escuela de Vuelo y Combate at Alcalá de Henares, from where he moved to Santiago de la Ribera for elementary and fighter pilot training. By this time Zambudio had already flown the DH 60 Moth Major, Hispano-Suiza E-34, Breguet XIX, Miles Hawk, Caudron C.600 Aiglon, Fleet 10, Morane-Saulnier MS.230, GL.32, Koolhoven FK.51, Avro 626 and Ni-H.52.
Returning to Getafe in late September, Chindasvinto González García served as a flight engineer for the DH 89 Dragon Rapide flown by teniente Miguel Kiriguine - a White Russian whose name has also been rendered in Spanish records as ‘Kriguine’, ‘Kryguine’ and ‘Kringuin’. González flew with Kiriguine on liaison missions between Los Alcázares and Alcalá de Henares.
Francisco Viñals Guarro volunteered for flying training.
Although born in Germany, Walter Katz held Spanish nationality. As a volunteer with a private pilot’s license, he was readily accepted as a military pilot in September 1936 and posted to the 1a Escuadrilla of the Grupo No 21, equipped with Breguet XIXs. The unit was deployed to Andújar to fly reconnaissance and bombing missions over the Cordoba front. Sorties were also flown over the Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza sanctuary, in Jaén, where the province’s rebel Guardia Civil forces were besieged under the command of capitán Santiago Cortés.
Known Soviet aviators arriving in Spain in September 1936
|Arrival||Name||Nom de guerre||Rank||Role||Born||Comment||Departure|
|1936-09-??||Demenchuk, Kuz’ma Terent’evich||Leitenant||Potez 540/Breguet XIX navigator||1909||Returned home early due to illness.
1937-01-02 Order of the Red Banner
|1936-09-29||Kovalevskii, Anton||’Kasimir’||I-15 pilot||1937-02-01 KIA|
|1936-09-??||Kopets, Ivan||’Jose’||I-15 pilot||1937-06-17|
Fuerza Aérea Nacionales (Arma de Aviación) - Nationalist Air Force
On 2 September, when Huesca was about to fall into Republican hands, the Nationalists hastily transferred two Ju 52/3m escuadrillas of the Escuadra ‘B’ and comandante Juan Antonio Ansaldo’s Grupo ‘Dragon’ to the Aragon front, where they flew several sorties against advancing Republican troops.
Aviación del Tercio
As a result of the events of 31 August and Republican air superiority the Aviación del Tercio was reorganized into two Escuadrillas; the 1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio (CO Capitano Vincenzo Dequal, who also was overall commander of the fighters) and the 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio (CO Tenente Dante Olivero).
From mid-September the 1a Escuadrilla had the nickname ’La Cucaracha’ - The Cockroach, probably after the song of the same title.
Tenente Colonnello Ruggero Bonomi, who was the commander of the entire Italian group, ordered flying in formations of no fewer than six airplanes, usually amounting to 8-12 fighters. Initially he recommended patrolling over the front in small groups. During the escort flights three CR.32s were to fly with the bombers and the remaining were to patrol above in vertical distances of 1,000 m between each other. The Republicans flew by ones or in pairs so the new Italian tactics quickly brought excellent results. Between 18 August and 4 November 1936 the Italian pilots claimed 75 enemy aircraft shot down (during September, CR.32 pilots were credited with the destruction of 35 enemy aircraft and three probables).
On 6 September, capitán Joaquín García Morato became flight leader of the 1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio and also flew the CR.32 for the first time following brief instructions on the ground from Sottotenente Adriano Mantelli.
Capitán Morato was the first Spanish pilot to try the Fiat CR.32.
Three new CR.32s were delivered to Palma de Majorca on 7 September, thus doubling the number of Fiat fighters on the island. They formed the Squadriglia Mussolini, led by Capitano Giuseppe D’Agostinis. Later they became part of the 130a Squadriglia of the Aviazione delle Baleari. The aircraft were then used to defend the Nationalist-controlled island from Republican air attacks.
On the morning of 9 September capitán Joaquín García Morato led Italian pilots Sergente Raffaele Chianese and Sergente Achille Buffali from Tablada to the airfield at Cáceres, in Extremadura, from where they could support the Nationalist advance towards Madrid.
It is possible that capitán Morato already at this time was serving as a flight leader in the 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio since it is known that he served in this role during September-December 1936.
During the second week of September, capitán Ángel Salas and Julio Salvador arrived at Tablada, offering to serve with the Italians in the
Aviación del Tercio on recommendation from capitán Joaquín García Morato who was at this time already serving in the 1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio.
Initially they were unwilling to accept them, but after Salas had given them a demonstration of his flying ability, including some manoeuvres, which even the Italians, had not attempted in the Fiats, they were finally convinced.
By this time, Capitano Vincenzo Dequal commanded both Escuadrillas of the Aviación del Tercio and capitán Salas was accepted into the 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio
On 20 September, Ángel Salas and Julio Salvador Díaz-Benjumea joined the forces in Cáceres, where they continued to operate with the Fiat squadron.
On 25 September, the squadron moved from Cáceres to Talavera (Gamonal aerodrome) to be better located to participate in the advance on Toledo.
On 29 September, 12 CR.32s arrived at Cadiz, accompanied by 11 pilots that were destined to form the 3a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio. The unit was headed by Capitano Carlo Alberto Maccagno (’Alfredo Pecori’), who was transferred to Spain in early October from the 4o Stormo CT.
On 23 September, the German Jagdstaffel was ordered briefly to Ávila in the first of what would become many temporary relocations to support the Nationalist ground offensives. They were then quickly relocated north to the Basque town of Vitoria, on the Bilbao front, where the Republicans continued to hold ground on the coast.
On 29 September, they were ordered back to Ávila.
At the end of September, nine Heinkel He 51 fighters arrived. This was a second batch He 51s and the Germans then handed over to the Nationalists the three He 51s from the first batch that were still operationally serviceable. These three aircraft were flown for some days by Joaquín García Morato, Ángel Salas and Julio Salvador, being alternated with Fiats.
The German Ju 52/3ms transferred 9700 men from North Africa to Spain in September.
Back in Germany, Sonderstab W had arranged for further shipments of war materiel to Spain, including millions of rounds of ammunition, 2000 hand grenades, 86 tons of bombs, signals equipment and field wire and 45 trucks. For air support, a further 36 He 51s had been assigned - 24 for the Nationalist air force and 12 as reinforcements for Oberleutnant Kraft Eberhardt’s Staffel, as well as three more Ju 52/3m bombers, a twin-engined He 59 float-equipped biplane and single-engined He 60 floatplane for maritime patrol operations, a Heinkel He 50 bomber/reconnaissance aircraft and a pair of Henschel Hs 123s. These latter aircraft, being sent with pilots and specialist maintenance crews, were intended for testing in field conditions. Crucially, also creeping in to the German plans was the decision to send three prototypes of the new Messerschmitt Bf 109, essentially for testing and evaluation.
1 September 1936
Oberleutnant Hannes Trautloft claimed a Ni-H.52 during the day.
2 September 1936
Joaquín García Morato shot down a Nieuport.
Alférez Jesús García Herguido of Grupo de Caza No 13 strafed the enemy airfield at Huesca, landed, saluted the astonished enemy airmen that ran up to his fighter with a tight fist and then took off again! The prank was recorded in a communique from Barcelona, which noted ”The advance on Huesca goes on. A loyal aeroplane landed on the enemy airfield. It took off again safely”.
Teniente Ramón Puparelli Francia of Grupo de Caza No 11 targeted the village of San Rafael, in Segovia, flying in a Breguet XIX.
Later teniente Puparelli accompanying capitán Manuel Cascón, in a D.372 and claimed a He 51 over the Madrid front. This earned Puparelli promotion to capitán, and he was also made CO of all Republican fighter units on the Madrid front.
Sargento Manuel Aguirre López of 2a/12 (Ni-H.52) claimed a CR.32 shot down.
Aguirre was rewarded for his success with promotion to alférez a little over three weeks later.
While flying Hawker Spanish Fury ‘4-1’ from Talavera de la Reina, sargento Andrés García La Calle of Escuadrilla Mixta claimed a Ju 52/3m.
5 September 1936
Leutnant Wolf-Heinrich von Houwald claimed one Ni-H.52 and Breguet XIX during the day while Oberleutnant Herwig Knüppel claimed a second Ni-H.52.
6 September 1936
Oberleutnants Kraft Eberhardt and Herwig Knüppel claimed a Potez 540 each.
11 September 1936
At dawn, the 1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio took off from Cáceres with the orders to intercept Republican aircraft in the Talavera area.
Here three CR.32 led by Capitano Vincenzo Dequal and with Sergente Maggiore Giuseppe Avvico and Sergente Vincenzo Patriarca intercepted Breguet XIXs escorted by some Nieuport Ni-H.52s. Dequal and Avvico each claimed one Breguet while Sergente Patriarca claimed one of the Nieuports. The Ni-H.52 was flown by British pilot Brian Griffin of the Escuadra Internacional, who was killed. Francisco Portillo Ortega flew the Breguet claimed by Dequal and he escaped back to Republican lines but the observer was killed.
In the morning, capitán Joaquín García Morato and Sergente Raffaele Chianese claimed a Ni-H.52 each. These were flown by French pilots Captain Jean Labitte and Sergeant Abel Guidez, who had enrolled in the Escuadra España from the reserve corps of the Armée de l’Air. Both pilots survived to return to their unit.
This was capitán Morato’s fifth victory, and his first with the CR.32.
During the day, Sergente Achille Buffali of the 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio shot down a Ni-H.52 flown by Spaniard alférez Jesús García Herguido of the Escuadrilla Mixta. Although wounded in the engagement, Herguido managed to return to Republican territory.
In the afternoon, Sergente Giovanbattista Magistrini of the 1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio shot down a Ni-H.52 flown by British pilot Claude Warsow of the Escuadra Internacional, who was killed.
12 September 1936
Nationalist pilot Francisco Cuesta was killed when he was brought down by small arms fire at La Granja, near Segovia, while flying a Ni-H.52.
13 September 1936
A patrulla of Aeronáutica Naval Vickers Vildebeests arrived at Getafe from Los Alcázares to reinforce the surviving Breguet XIXs of Grupo No 31. Heading for the Talavera de la Reína front, and escorted by two Ni-H.52s flown by teniente Félix Urtubi Ercilla (a former Nationalist pilot) of the Grupo de Caza No 11 and auxiliary naval pilot Carlos Colom Moliner, the Vildebeests were intercepted at dawn by three CR.32s led by capitán Joaquín García Morato and including Sergente GianLino Baschirotto and Sergente Vincenzo Patriarca.
The bombers managed to escape but Baschirotto quickly shot down one of the Ni-H.52s. The Republican pilot, teniente Félix Urtubi Ercilla, crashed on the Nationalist side and his body was never recovered nor was the wreckage of his aircraft ever found. Urtubi Ercilla was posthumously promoted to capitán.
Patriarca, meanwhile, got involved in combat with a second Ni-H.52 with which he collided. The Republican pilot, Aeronáutica Naval pilot Colom Moliner, was killed and the charred remains of his body were recovered and identified by his squadron mates. Patriarca, however, managed to parachute. As soon as he landed he was captured by Republican troops and was only saved from a summary execution by showing his American passport. He was later trailed and sentenced to death. Because of the uproar occasioned by the capture of an American citizen, the US State Department successfully applied pressure to the Republican government and Patriarca was released and sent back to the U.S. in November 1936.
Patriarca’s CR.32 was the only lost in combat during September-October 1936.
Legend soon had it that it was Félix Urtubi Ercilla who collided with the aircraft flown by Patriarca (perhaps due to his illustrious past). Following the release of a brief communique, government war correspondents asked for the name of the airman involved to be released so that ”all the Spanish people can engrave it on their hearts”.
The following day Republican newspapers named teniente Félix Urtubi Ercilla, and they attempted to give more details of the combat that had ended in his death. El Noroeste contained a reasonably accurate version of events:
“Five enemy aircraft - two tri-motors and three fighters - were sighted over the Navalmoral road, but the tri-motors quickly turned tail in the presence of a loyal fighter pilot, who opened intense machine gun fire. He hit one of the tri-motors and then, when the latter vanished, began a hair-raising pursuit in the clouds, trying to hunt down the three enemy fighters. The loyal fighter pilot hit another enemy aeroplane, which also escaped, but he then pounced on a third enemy aeroplane and almost broke it in two. It was a dreadful clash. The enemy pilot parachuted from his aircraft. Our fighter also crashed. Our brave pilot succumbed to his injuries. Teniente Félix Urtubi is the name of our hero.”But the dead Republican pilot was not Félix Urtubi Ercilla. The remains were those of Aeronáutica Naval pilot Carlos Colom Moliner. This was made clear in the Madrid evening newspaper La Voz on 16 September. Under the heading ”Urtubi or Colom?” the paper reported:
“Today, we have been visited by two comrades from the Aeronáutica Naval who asked us to partially correct the information in the Madrid press on teniente Urtubi’s alleged death. The corpse of the airman recovered from the Toledo field is that of auxiliar naval Carlos Colom. The fact that Urtubi was also flying at the same time over the same spot and on the same mission created all the confusion.
Both airmen fought courageously, as we reported yesterday. It is thought that Carlos Colom succumbed when he attacked the enemy aeroplane with his aircraft. There is no news of Urtubi’s whereabouts. We hope that he will be found safe. Whatever happens, Félix Urtubi and Carlos Colom have written a new and heroic page in the feats of loyal aviators.”
14 September 1936
The CR.32 of Tenente Dante Olivera (CO 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio) crashed at Tablada airfield and the pilot was killed.
15 September 1936
Capitán Ángel Salas led his first war sortie in a Fiat CR.32. This was to strafe Andújar aerodrome, which had been the base for the first bombing attack on Santuario de la Cabeza. According to the Nationalist communiqué three aircraft were damaged by fire, one was destroyed and eight more holed by machine-gun fire. The Air Force bulletin announced only the destruction of two Breguet XIXs by the Fiats.
Giuseppe Cenni claimed two aircraft destroyed on the ground at Andùjar airfield.
The German Heinkels flew, for the first time, a mission in direct support of friendly ground forces advancing along the Tajo valley, when they were called upon to conduct a low-level strafing mission against Republican infantry. For this operation the group was relocated south, to Navalmorales, not far from the walled city of Ávila between the Sierra de Gredos and the Sierra de la Paramera. Oberleutnant Herwig Knüppel recalled:
“We flew daily to-and-fro between Cáceres, Navalmorales and Talavera and accompanied the Spanish columns in the Tajo valley as they advanced on Madrid. It was here that Trautloft and Houwald brought down some enemy light bombers. This was greeted in especially lively fashion by the brave Moroccans of the Spanish Foreign Legion. At Navalmoral forward airfield, the Morros supplied us with tea and mutton when, after our first flight to the front in the Talavera region, we made an interim landing there for breakfast.
Starting from here, we also escorted the first Spanish Ju 52 bombers to the Front. In this way, we took part in the capture of Maquedas. This village, and road nodal point, was especially heavily defended by the enemy. The road from Madrid to Maquedas was choked with trucks and cars, taxis and various other types of vehicles, in which enemy troops had been brought up. Some bombs dropped by our Spanish comrades into these columns caused the enemy to panic so that that village was soon captured and enemy troops hastily driven away to the east.”
During the day there was further air combat in the Tardienta area involving Nieuport fighters from both sides. Escuadrilla ’Alas Rojas’ (Grupo de Caza No 13) teniente Adonis Rodríguez González and alféreces Jesús García Herguido and Fernando Roig Villalta took off from Sariñena and headed for the front in their Ni-H.52s. Once on patrol, the aircraft were bounced by three enemy fighters and teniente Rodríguez was wounded. Force-landing near Tardienta, the Republican pilot was helped by militiamen to a field hospital. On the Nationalist side, a three-strong Breguet XIX patrulla that was attacked by Herguido and Roig was forced to land at Tardienta frontline airfield.
Both the Consejeria de Defensa communiqué in Barcelona and the press coverage of this combat were remarkable. According to the first communiqué, ”In the Tardienta area our airmen scored a great success by shooting down three enemy aeroplanes”. The second communiqué added details:
“In the Huesca area rebel forces have carried out strong attacks, escorted by their aircraft which have been battered. Three of our fighter aircraft have shot down two enemy bombers and one fighter.”A third communiqué admitted that it was the enemy Ni-H.52s - three actually - that had attacked the friendly aircraft:
“A republican Aviation patrulla was attacked by six enemy aeroplanes when it was returning from Huesca. Our airmen forced an enemy aircraft down and it was captured by the Tardienta militias. Both the aircraft and the aviator are foreign.”The Catalan press published additional details:
“Our airmen chased a rebel bomber and forced it down at the village of La Zaida. The pilot was taken prisoner and the aircraft was captured intact by our troops, together with all the crew.”As we have seen, however, the outcome of this clash was quite different from the official version. Teniente Adonis Rodríguez was the captured ‘foreign airman’ referred to by the communiqué! Coronel Felipe Díaz Sandino, Consejero de Defensa of the Catalan autonomous government, seemed well versed in the techniques of propaganda and disinformation.
16 September 1936
Capitán Joaquín García Morato and Sergente GianLino Baschirotto claimed a shared Potez 540 near Navalcarnero. The damaged Republican bomber crash-landed behind its own lines and only the wounded pilot survived. Morato claimed an additional Potez 540.
Sottotenente Franceschi became disorientated whilst fighting Republican aircraft and landed in enemy territory close to Don Benito, in Extremadura. He was killed a short while later in a shoot-out with a militia patrol. Franceschi’s CR.32 was captured intact, and after being thoroughly evaluated by the Republicans, it was lost in a landing incident at Los Alcazares airport, near Cartagena, in November.
Sergente Raffaele Chianese of the 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio downed a D.372 near Talavera that was piloted by British pilot Keith Lindsay of the Escuadra Internacional. The injured pilot managed to return to the Republican side.
A short while later during the same sortie Chianese downed a militarised, red-painted. Miles M.2 two-seat single-engined monoplane that was being used as a makeshift reconnaissance aircraft - both crewmembers were killed.
Sottotenente Adriano Mantelli of the 1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio shot down a Breguet XIX near Talavera de la Reína.
While flying Hawker Spanish Fury ‘4-1’ from Talavera de la Reina, alférez Andrés García La Calle of Escuadrilla Mixta claimed a CR.32.
17 September 1936
On a mission to engage enemy bombers attacking a Nationalist column, a lone Republican D.372 fighter, accompanied by a single Hawker Fury, bore in on the German He 51s and forced them to scatter. The Heinkels were only ‘rescued’ once a second Kette of three aircraft arrived and finally the Republican fighters pulled away. This, together with the failed attacks against the Potez bombers, had been a stark warning to the Germans, who recognised that they could not in any way assume that they had air superiority while flying the He 51.
Oberleutnant Herwig Knüppel claimed an unconfirmed Ni-H.52.
18 September 1936
A patrol of Fiat CR.32s led by Vincenzo Dequal took off from Caceres. The fighters were tasked with protection of friendly troops near Casar de Escalona. The CR.32s were flying at 4,000 meters when five enemy fighters were spotted. Their pilots, seeing the Italians headed for clouds for rescue. The CR.32s flew above the clouds and soon gained the opportunity to attack. Sottotenente Adriano Mantelli (1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio) shot down a Dewoitine D.372 of the Escuadra Internacional flown by British pilot Edward Hillman, who escaped back to Republican territory.
20 September 1936
Joaquín García Morato claimed a Hawker Fury over Santa Olalla, but in fact, no Fury was destroyed in combat.
Four CR.32s encountered three bombers escorted by a single fighter. Three fighters rushed for the enemy while Sergente Angelo Boetti, having problems with the engine stayed behind. In the meantime, a new group of Republican fighters arrived and immediately became interested in the lonely Fiat. Despite problems with the airplane Boetti managed to outmanoeuvre the enemies but run out of fuel and made a forced landing near Villanueva de la Vera.
22 September 1936
During the morning, three CR.32s led by Capitano Vincenzo Dequal spotted a formation of four Republican Breguet XIXs escorted by three French-built parasol monoplane fighters. After an aerial duel that lasted 15 minutes, Sergente Brunetto di Montegnacco (probably CR.32 NC 183) managed to get on the tail of an enemy fighter, which he identified as a Loire 46 C1, and shot it down near Maqueda. The pilot of the latter machine, 27-year-old British engineer Edward Downes Martin from the Escuadra Internacional, lost his life.
23 September 1936
The castle of Espejo was bombed by S.81s from the Aviación del Tercio.
25 September 1936
During a morning patrol, Capitano Vincenzo Dequal’s flight of four CR.32s intercepted six enemy fighters that were attacking a pair of Ju 52/3ms. Thanks to the Italian pilots’ intervention, the opposing fighters were dispersed. Following a short duel, Sergente Brunetto di Montegnacco (probably CR.32 NC 183) shot down a Loire 46 C1 near Villamiel de Toledo, the enemy fighter crashing to the ground with a Frenchman by the name of Maxime Hantz (from Alsace) still strapped into the cockpit. Hantz was 40-year-old veteran of World War 1 (he had served as pilot in l’escadrille 521 and l’escadrille 523), who had joined the Republican Escuadra España as a mercenary.
During that same combat Sergente Guido Presel was credited with the destruction of two Dewoitine D.372 fighters. One of the pilots to be shot down was Frenchman René Issard, who was also a member of the Escuadra España. He suffered injuries as he crash-landed his fighter in friendly territory between Talavera and Madrid.
Capitán Joaquín García Morato claimed a Breguet XIX in the Bargas area.
During the day, Sergente GianLino Baschirotto claimed a shared Potez 540 together with capitán Ángel Salas near Barciencie and Villamiel. The Potez crashed vertically into the ground near Rielves, killing the crew of seven.
The Republican aircraft, a Potez 540 c/n 4219, which was named ’Aqui le espero’ (I will wait for you here), was flown by capitán Joaquín Mellado Pasqual (CO of the Grupo Potez) and teniente Moreno (who had been involved in the assassination of Calvo Sotelo). It had taken off from Getafe (Madrid) on an attack mission near Toledo.
This aircraft had gained some distinction three days before when it bombed the Canarias in Galician waters. It had also been involved in incidents across the whole of Spain from Asturias to Málaga. Mellado had, from the very beginning, been the most active pilot on his side, performing outstanding service at Seville, Madrid and in the Sierra.
Potez 540 c/n 4219 had been flown from Toulouse-Montaudran to Barcelona on 8 August 1936.
Sottotenente Giuseppe Cenni claimed some fighters damaged over Maqueda-Torrijos.
The castle of Espejo was bombed by S.81 from the Aviación del Tercio.
26 September 1936
Sottotenente Giuseppe Cenni claimed a Breguet XIX and a Potez 540 as a shared with Sottotenente Adriano Mantelli over Bargas. The Potez 540 was from the Escuadra Internacional and came down in Republican territory with five of its six crew members wounded.
Sergente Guido Presel of the 1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio downed a D.372 during an evening patrol.
The German pilots accounted for the destruction of three enemy aircraft - a Vickers Vildebeest for Leutnant Wolf-Heinrich von Houwald and a Breguet XIX each for Oberleutnants Ekkehard Hefter and Alfons Klein.
Nationalist Ju 52/3m “22-64” from 2-E-22 flown by capitán Eustaquio Ruiz de Alda was shot down over Toledo and surviving crewmen murdered and their bodies mutilated.
Some authors have attributed this victory to French pilot Jean Dary. According to Andrés García La Calle, alférez Rafael Peña Dugo, who had by now distinguished himself as a fine shot, downed the tri-motor. Everything seems to point to the conclusion that Dary, who also claimed two Ju 52/3ms in head-on attacks, was a member of the attacking Republican patrulla, however. The victory should, therefore, have been attributed jointly to the entire D.372 patrulla.
It also seems that while flying Hawker Spanish Fury ‘4-1’ from Talavera de la Reina, alférez Andrés García La Calle of Escuadrilla Mixta claimed a Ju 52/3m during the day but this is perhaps a share in the above aircraft.
27 September 1936
Sergente Raul Galli of the 1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio shot down a Dewoitine D.372 near Toledo.
This aircraft was one of 14 examples originally built for the Lithuanian government, which rejected them and instead delivered to the Spanish Republic from early August 1936. It was flown from Toulouse to Barcelona by French pilot Bois on 9 August.
During alférez Rafael Peña Dugo’s (Grupo de Caza No 11) second sortie six Republican fighters escorting a Potez 540 were attacked by five CR.32s led by capitán Ángel Salas Larrazábal, who chased the bomber. Sergente Manlio Vivarelli shot down the D.372 flown by alférez Peña, who bailed out with a leg wound. It is possible that British pilots Vincent Doherty and Eric Griffiths were also wounded during the same combat, although both managed to fly their D.372s back to Getafe airfield.
Peña was initially treated at the hospital in Toledo, before being evacuated to Madrid just prior to the provincial capital falling into enemy hands. His wound eventually became gangrenous and his leg had to be amputated.
28 September 1936
The German contingent suffered its first loss in Spain when the wing of Oberleutnant Ekkehard Hefter’s He 51 struck the tower of the town hall in Vitoria shortly after he had taken off for a mission. Apparently, his aircraft developed engine trouble and he was unable to make it back to the field, although one source states that, in fact, Hefter had been demonstrating his skills at low-level flying, which he had been taught at the Jagdfliegerschule in Schleissheim, for the benefit of the locals. Whatever the case, his Heinkel crashed into the plaza at Vitoria and burst into flames.
30 September 1936
Taking off from Ávila, Oberleutnant Hannes Trautloft managed to inflict sufficient damage on a Potez 540 that it crashed into the ground. Staffelkapitän Oberleutnant Kraft Eberhardt claimed a second Potez.
29 October 1936
The Republican forces made a counter-attack in the Madrid area and the Russian T-26 tanks were used for the first time.
Fuerza Aérea de la República Española - Republican Air Force
The Soviet freighter Stariy Bolshevik delivered 30 Tupolev SB bombers from Feodosia to Cartagena on 23 October 1936. Along with the SBs the ship also carried engineers, technicians, and several assembly workers from Aircraft Factory No. 22. Military technician Petrov wrote the following description of the docking, unloading, and assembly:
“We assembled the airplanes in daytime, as air strikes by Junkers’ interfered with work at night. The San Javier airfield is situated on the shore of the bay and has only four buildings, which provided good landmarks for the enemy during bombing.
...While the freighter was being unloaded I did not sleep for six nights in a row. The unloaded cargo was often left as it was, as the drivers would disappear elsewhere. There were a lot of fascists at the unloading site. When the bombs were being unloaded one of them began writing down their quantities. We reported this fact to a representative of the local political department and the fascist was arrested and shot two hours later.
The local workers were ill disciplined. When the siren for lunch went off everyone stopped working immediately and left. One time a box with aircraft parts was unloaded. It had almost reached the ground when the workers dropped what they were doing and left for an hour and a half to have lunch. In the evening fascist bombers arrived and it became impossible to continue unloading.
When the steamer arrived at the port the military representatives did not allow us to leave the ship, which was carrying airplanes and bombs. A Junkers arrived at night and started dropping illuminating flares. It would have taken only one bomb to blow everything to pieces. The second night we spent ashore.
After unloading the bombs we had to personally escort them to their destination, otherwise they could have been diverted elsewhere.
During fascist air strikes the Spaniards created panic themselves. When enemy airplanes appeared everyone ran away. For instance, a driver would jump out of the car and run away and you had to threaten him with a weapon to get him back into the car and going.
We transported the airplanes from the port to San Javier by truck. Wing outer sections were placed around the hangar walls. During one of the air raids a bomb hit a hangar and the fragments damaged six wing panels.
A lot of Spanish workers participated in the assembly work. Anyone who wanted to could get onto the airfield, there was no security control whatsoever. A lot of workers were required as the work had to be done quickly and every day counted.
During and after the assembly I carried out inspections and tests. There were cases when wooden plugs were found in the oil pipes during such checks. When pilot Fedorov crashed his airplane right after takeoff several assembly workers burst out laughing and scattered about.”
Petrov continued his report:
“On almost all SBs the upper and the front stabilizer braces broke off in flight. Brackets and bafflers had to be tied down by wire. The celluloid on the F-1 [the navigator’s canopy] cracked due to the strong air stream. This also happened when enemy bombs or anti-aircraft shells exploded near the airplane.
In order to connect the storage batteries it was necessary to open a hatch, which was very inconvenient. It is necessary to cut an opening so that one may insert his hand into it and connect the storage battery without opening the hatch.
The engines are a bigger problem. They often failed. We had to replace six out of nine recently installed engines right off. I know that the factory is trying to improve the junction between the cylinder jacket and the engine block, but this joint continues to crack. The engine clatters very much. On one occasion the engine started to clatter severely. We thought that the reduction gear cogs had been displaced. I opened the cover, removed the reduction gear but did not find anything wrong, while the engine still roared even at low rpms and caused lots of shaking. On another occasion all the brackets and rods of the mixture control unit broke. One of the engines began leaking water through the junction between the cylinder jacket and the engine block, and the M-100 cylinders also leak. The magneto coupling often breaks and the ignition is often inoperable.
Fuel was poured into the fuel tanks until it overflowed the drain. A total of 1,260 kg of fuel and 40 kg of oil filled the tanks. Early on, after we lost our bearings in flight we crossed the Portuguese border twice, flew for over five hours, and successfully returned to home base only by flying along the Mediterranean coast. If the SBs had been short of fuel we would not have been able to get back. The fuel tanks were filled to the brink even for a 25-minute flight to Madrid, though it was not necessary.
In short, the engine needs improving, as it quickly develops problems. We had to send three of our engines to the Hispano factory in Barcelona as they had a metallic-sounding clatter, the cause of which could not be detected in the field.
Our designers are correct in trying to develop high-altitude SB’s, flying at an altitude of four to five kilometres. No fighter is capable of intercepting the SB at such altitude. On the whole the SB is a good airplane and it will justify itself if it is used to do what it has been designed for.”
A total of 15 pilots who were already familiar with the SB arrived in Spain at that time. The other pilots had to be trained in the field. Some of them had never even piloted two-engined aircraft before and they had to receive their initial training on the DH.84 Dragon. Ernst Shakht was in charge of the training process. He rejected some of the pilot candidates and it was he who led the first SB escuadrilla into combat.
The first batch of aircraft to arrive in Spain from the Soviet Union included 40 I-15 fighters. On 28 October 1936 the steamship Carl Lepin docked in the Spanish Mediterranean port of Cartagena, having sailed from Sebastopol with 15 pilots (including starshiy leitenant Georgiy Zakharov), led by starshiy leitenant Pavel Rychagov (nom de guerre Pablo Palancar), and 25 dismantled I-15s. A few days later a further group of ten pilots, headed by Boris Turzhanskii, and 15 I-15s arrived at Bilbao, in the north of Spain.
The first group was quickly sent to Alcantarilla airfield near Murcia, where the fighters were promptly assembled in an olive grove by Soviet technicians and then flight-tested. According to starshiy leitenant Zakharov, the I-15s were assembled on the day of their arrival, 28 October. Spanish Republican markings of red wingtips and fuselage stripe and red, yellow and violet striped rudders were also hastily applied.
From October of 1936 until February of 1937, starshiy leitenant Rychagov served as commander of the so-called Escuadrilla Palancar.
In the end of October, the SB bombers were assembled and formed into three Escuadrillas, which were assigned to Grupo No 12. All 30 SBs were initially deployed in an area centred on the city of Albacete.
The 1a Escuadrilla, commanded by Mayor Ernst Shakht, was stationed at Tomelloso airfield.
The 2a Escuadrilla, commanded by Mayor V. Kholzunov was stationed at Los Llanos airfield.
The 3a Escuadrilla, commanded by Captain G. Nesmeyanov was stationed La Torrecica airfield.
The airfields at San Clemente and Sisante were also used.
The tactics for operations varied and the 3a Escuadrilla operated as follows: an airplane carried a bomb load of not more than 300 kg, its fuel tanks were filled to the brink, and it always flew to the target and back at a maximum speed. In the 1a Escuadrilla and the 2a Escuadrilla, the SBs flew along the route at cruising speed and used full throttle mode only when necessary. The aircraft's fuel load depended upon the duration of the mission. Also, in both of these Escuadrillas the pilot’s seat was armoured and the bomb load was increased to 400-600 kg. Before returning to the USSR in February 1937, Shakht had managed to install on his aircraft four additional bomb racks for 10-kg bombs. The above tactics resulted in the following: the 1a and the 2a Escuadrillas remained operational while the 3a Escuadrilla was disbanded after using up the service life of their spare engines. The remaining aircraft of the 3a Escuadrilla were then shared between the 1a and the 2a Escuadrillas.
A sole Dewoitine D.500 was sent to Spain during October, this aircraft probably being the company’s demonstration prototype of the export version of the monoplane fighter.
By the end of October, the majority of the French-built Republican aircraft defending the Spanish capital had either been destroyed, were unserviceable or undergoing repair.
The situation was so bad that only one fighter was available to defend the whole of the Madrid front.
The Soviet command in Spain eventually permitted the best Spanish fighter pilots to join the two escuadrillas that had been established upon the I-15s’ arrival. Aviators such as Andrés García La Calle, Fernando Roig Villalta and Augusto Martín Campos soon began flying the biplanes, and although the latter pilot was quickly dismissed because the Soviet command did not trust him, further Spanish pilots joined the escuadrillas. They included José Cuartero, Emilio Galera, Jesús García Herguido, Alfonso Jiménez Bruguet, Manuel Aguirre López, Roberto Alonso Santamaría and Rafael Robledano Ruiz.
García La Calle was transferred to the 1a Escuadrilla de “Chatos” at Alcalá de Henares, in Madrid, commanded by the Russian volunteer, Pavel Rychagov in October and with this unit, he took part in the defence of Madrid from 4 November 1936.
José Riverola Grúas graduated from a pilot’s course in October 1936 and soon afterwards trained as a fighter pilot.
Gerardo Gil Sánchez logged 38 hours and graduated as a military pilot. After qualifying to fly fighters, he was posted to the Ni-H.52-equipped patrulla de protección at Manises. Gil flew several sorties over the Teruel front and in October was promoted to alférez mecanico.
Walter Katz became a brigada, after which he was posted to Manises and he continued flying Breguet XIXs, as well as a Latécoère 28, on coastal reconnaissance sorties.
The 1a Escuadrilla Internacional was based at Albacete. The unit was commanded by capitán Antonio Martin Luna and consisted of three Patrullas, two which operated Potez 540s (three in each Patrulla) while the third had two or three Breuget XIXs. The members of this unit included men from several countries including several Russian.
Known Soviet aviators arriving in Spain in October 1936
|Arrival||Name||Nom de guerre||Rank||Role||Born||Comment||Departure|
|1936-10-13||Akulenko, Prokopiy Semenovich||Leitenant||I-16 pilot||1913||1937-01-02 Order of the Red Banner
1937-07-04 Order of the Red Banner (2nd)
1940-05-21 Order of the Red Banner (3rd)
|1936-10-13||Pumpur, Petr||’Julio’||I-15 pilot||1937-05-11|
|1936-10-20||Agafonov, Pavel||Pedro Jienez’||I-15 pilot||1937-04-07|
|1936-10-20||Artemyev, Nikolay||Leitenant||Fighter pilot||’Artimio’ according to Baumler.||1937-03-26|
|1936-10-20||Kondrat, Emelyan||’Konrad’||Leitenant||Fighter pilot||1937-04-07|
|1936-10-20||Kondratev, Vladimir Mikhailovich||Fighter pilot||1936-11-03 POW||1937-06-13|
|1936-10-20||Kovtun, Karp||I-15 pilot||1936-11-13 KIA|
|1936-10-20||Matyunin, Viktor||Fighter pilot||1937-03-27|
|1936-10-20||Miroshnichenko, Nikolay||I-15 pilot||1937-04-07|
|1936-10-20||Mitrofanov, Petr Aleksandrovich||Fighter pilot||1910||1936-11-05 KIA
First Soviet fighter pilot killed in Spain.
|1936-10-20||Purtov, Petr Andreyevich||Starshiy Leitenant||Fighter pilot||1906||1936-11-13 KIA|
|1936-10-20||Rychagov, Pavel||’Pablo Palancar’||I-15 pilot||1937-02-06|
|1936-10-20||Samsonov, Ivan Dmitrievich||Leitenant||Fighter pilot||1908-02-01||1941-12-08 KIFA||1937-09-29|
|1936-10-20||Shmelkov, Nikolay||Leitenant||I-15 pilot||1937-01-23|
|1936-10-20||Voronov, Mikhail Vasil’evich||Fighter pilot||1936-11-09 DOW|
|1936-10-20||Zakharov, Georgiy||I-15 pilot||1937-04-07|
|1936-10-20||Zverev, Nikolai Matveevich||Fighter pilot||1937-06-13|
|1936-10-??||Alisiuk, Aleksandr K.||NCO||SB Radio/Gunner||1912||1937-05-27|
|1936-10-??||Androsov, Boris A.||Leitenant||Bomber pilot||1908||1937-01-02 Order of the Red Banner||1937-07-26|
|1936-10-??||Antonets, Pavel Andreyevich||Leitenant||I-15 pilot||1910||1937-01-02 Order of the Red Banner||1937-01-30|
|1936-10-??||Arakcheyev, Nikolay V.||Leitenant||SB Radio/Gunner||1913||1937-01-02 Order of the Red Banner||1937-03-08|
|1936-10-??||Babin, Viktor A.||Leitenant||SSS pilot||1908||193?-??-??|
|1936-10-??||Baranchuk, Konstantin Gavrilovich||’Ramon’?||Leitenant||Fighter pilot||1907-03-08||1937-01-01 Order of the Red Banner (1st)
1937-07-04 Order of the Red Banner (2nd)
1943-08-23 Order of the Red Banner (3rd)
1945-05-29 Order of Lenin
|1937-07-26||1936-10-??||Bazhenov, Valeriy Vasil’yevich||Leitenant||SB pilot||1905||1936-11-12 KIA
1937-01-01 Order of the Red Banner.
|1936-10-??||Ben’kovski, Kiril Stanoyev||SB pilot||1907||Real name: Kiril Aleksandrov Kirilov. Bulgarian?
1937-01-23 Order of the Red Banner
|1936-10-??||Bibikov, Vasiliy Nikolayevich||Starshiy Leitenant||SB pilot||1910||1937-01-02 Order of the Red Banner (1st)
1937-10-22 Order of the Red Banner (2nd)
|1936-10-??||Bocharov, Vladimir Mikhailovich||’Jose Galarea’||Starshiy Leitenant||I-16 pilot||1910||1936-05-25 Order of the Red Star
1936-12-31 Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union
1936-12-31 Order of Lenin
|1936-10-??||Bogachev, Nikita G.||Leitenant||SSS pilot||1906||1937-01-02 Order of the Red Banner||1937-01-23|
|1936-10-??||Brovko, Ivan K.||Leitenant||SB navigator||1908||1937-05-27|
|1936-10-??||Bulkin, Sergei||Leitenant||Fighter pilot||1937-04-07|
|1936-10-??||Burdeninskii, Pavel A.||Leitenant||SB navigator||1908||1937-04-07|
|1936-10-??||Cherepko, Pavel S.||Leitenant||SSS navigator||1907||1982-??-?? +||1937-07-02|
|1936-10-??||Chernykh, Sergey Aleksandrovich||’Garcia’||Leitenant||Fighter pilot||1912-01-23||1941-06-27 Executed||1937-02-06|
|1936-10-??||Khovanskii, Ivan Andreevich||Fighter pilot||1908||1937-01-06 KIA|
|1936-10-??||Kolesnikov, Konstantin Il’ich||Fighter pilot||1937-05-12 KIFA|
|1936-10-??||Morozov, Andrei Mikhailovich||Fighter pilot||1937-07-26|
|1936-10-??||Petrukhin, Nikolai||Fighter pilot||1937-06-03|
|1936-10-??||Putivko, Pavel ll'ich||Fighter pilot||1937-03-25 WIA||1937-05-27|
|1936-10-??||Ryabov, Konstantin Aleksandrovich||Fighter pilot||1937-07-02|
|1936-10-??||Salnikov, Fedor Alekseevich||Mayor||Fighter pilot||1902||1937-01-21 KIFA|
|1936-10-??||Sharov, Ivan Nikolaevich||Fighter pilot||1937-07-26|
|1936-10-??||Semenyuk, Ul'van Zinov'evich||Fighter pilot||1937-08-27|
|1936-10-??||Shevtsov, Petr Fedorovich||Fighter pilot||1937-08-13|
|1936-10-??||Smushkevich, Yakov Vladimirovich||’General Douglas’||Fighter pilot||1937-06-17|
|1936-10-??||Sobolevskii, Oleg Vladimirovich||Fighter pilot||1937-10-28|
|1936-10-??||Suyazin, Vlasilii Andreevich||Fighter pilot||1937-09-29|
|1936-10-??||Tarasov, Aleksandr Ignat'evich||I-16 pilot||1937-03-27|
|1936-10-??||Tharkov, Sergey Fedorovich||’Antonio’||Kapitan||Fighter pilot||1936-10-21 Departed from Sevastopol
|1936-10-??||Turzhanskiy, Boris Aleksandrovich||Fighter pilot||1937-02-11|
|1936-10-??||Vzorov, Vladimir Nikolayevich||Fighter pilot||1912||2002 +||193?-??-??|
|1936-10-??||Yerlykin, Yevgeniy||I-15 pilot||Arrived possibly in September 1936||1937-03-27|
Aviación del Tercio
In October, Miguel García Pardo moved to Seville, where he began flying the CR.32 within the fighter group of the Aviation del Tercio, which was in the process of being formed under the command of recently arrived Maggiore Tarcisio Fagnani (’Faroni’).
On 13 October a further dozen CR.32s, and their pilots, reached Cadiz, these new arrivals being led by Capitano Guido Nobili (’Notabili’). The latter had previously served with the Scuola Caccia Terrestre (Fighter School) of the Regia Aeronautica.
Nine more CR.32s, and pilots, were disembarked at Seville under the command of Capitano Goliardo Mosca (’Massa’) from the 6o Stormo CT.
During October, the CR.32s pilots were credited with around 35 victories.
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 Erwin 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.
The German Ju 52/3ms airlift from North Africa to Spain ended on 11 October. The airlift had transported just under 14,000 troops and some 500 tons of materiel, including 36 artillery pieces.
8 October 1936
Sottotenente Adriano Mantelli of the 1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio claimed a Ni-H.52. The enemy aircraft falling near Granada.
9 October 1936
Sottotenente Adriano Mantelli of the 1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio claimed a Ni-H.52. The enemy aircraft falling not far from Andujar.
His victim was probably, oficial segundo Luis Alonso Vega of the 1a Escuadrilla Mixta of Grupo No 21, who engaged a CR.32 patrulla. His Nieuport ‘3-28’ suffered damage to its engine and fuel tank. Bleeding from a leg wound, Alonso Vega force landed in a field 22 km from Montoro, in Córdoba, and was taken to the local field hospital.
16 October 1936
On the morning, Sottotenente Adriano Mantelli of the 1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio destroyed two Breguet XIXs directly over the airfield of Andujar, killing pilot Jose Serrano Sánchez.
Capitán Joaquín García Morato of the 1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio claimed a Loire 46 C1 in the Mocejon-Madrid area.
18 October 1936
Capitán Joaquín García Morato claimed two Breguet XIX.
During the afternoon, Sottotenente Giuseppe Cenni of the 1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio claimed a light aircraft that was performing a reconnaissance mission for the Republicans over Santa Cruz.
19 October 1936
At Zaragoza, the German He 51s made their presence felt when a Kette formed of Leutnant Wolf-Heinrich von Houwald, Leutnant Henning Strümpell and Oberleutnant Oskar Henrici was attacked by 13 Republican aircraft, but shot down five of their number on the Alcubierre, northeast of Zaragoza. Oberleutnant Henrici claimed a Ni-H.52C, a Breguet XIX and a Fokker F VII, while Leutnant von Houwald and Leutnant Strümpell each accounted for a Nieuport. Oberleutnant Herwig Knüppel recalled:
“Henrici alone had shot down three. He rammed one of them, a Breguet 19, on its wing with his undercarriage. Afterwards, he said quite simply, “Well, after that he really ‘fell out of his slippers’”. Our Oskar - we all called Henrici by his first name - was able to fetch the devil out of hell, if it came to that. And our mechanics and armourers were as pleased as we were about this success. They had, again and again, untiringly put the machine guns and engines in order, and had thereby helped the pilots to achieve success.”
20 October 1936
Sargento Fernando Romero Tejero of the fighter patrulla of Escuadrilla Y-2 (Ni-H.52) took off on his own initiative to intercept enemy raiders on the night of 19/20 October. He engaged a Nationalist tri-motor (probably a Ju 52/3m) and watched it explode over the sea ten miles west of Cartagena naval base.
The claim was officially confirmed by comandante Ortiz.
21 October 1936
Sergente Brunetto di Montegnacco of the 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio wrote in his diary:
“Talavera de la Reína, 21 October 1936. Defensive patrol over the Illescas front - myself, Capitán Morato and Sergente Maggiore Presel.The CO of the Aviación del Terico Colonello Ruggero Bonomi’s diary entry for the same day commented on the ‘SPAD’ claimed by Sergente Montegnacco:
We attacked three Loires, a SPAD, a Dewoitine 500 and a Fury that were escorting a Potez and five Breguets. Morato was overwhelmed due to his inferior altitude by a Loire, which Presel managed to shake off the Spaniard’s tail and shoot down. I followed the SPAD down over Jetafe airfield and fired my guns at it. The fighter crashed there.
Returning to our lines, I encountered a Potez and fired my guns at it until one of its engines burst into flames. I could not follow it down, as I went to my colleague’s aid. Presel followed the Dewoitine all the way to Madrid but then had to break off contact due to engine trouble. Capitán Morato attacked a Breguet, although he failed to shoot it down despite firing a considerable amount of ammunition in its direction.
The Potez I had previously hit managed to drop its bombs over enemy territory and was later declared destroyed after falling east of Madrid.”
“During the night we were informed that the cannon-armed SPAD was in fact an experimental machine that was actually being flown by a test pilot during a demonstration flight.”This aircraft has been attributed to have been a Bleriot SPAD 510 C1s but since only 60 were built and all are accounted for in the Armée de l’Air it was probably a Bleriot SPAD 51 or Bleriot SPAD 91 of which one of each type are known to have operated from Getafe at this time.
A shortage of fighters in the Madrid area forced capitán Ramón Puparelli Francia (CO of all Republican fighters on the Madrid front) to scramble in the sole Boeing 281, and he fell victim to Nationalist CR.32s between Pinto and Parla. Bailing out successfully, he broke ribs on landing and spent the next few months recovering in hospital in Madrid.
22 October 1936
Fighter patrols ranged over the outskirts of Madrid. During the last patrol of the day Joaquín García Morato, Ángel Salas and Tenente Giuseppe Cenni flew a protection cruise over Navalcarnero. Before returning to Talavera they headed towards Madrid and in the Casa de Campo area they spotted two barrage balloons. They attacked and Cenni destroyed one, which burst into flames. Salas destroyed the second.
23 October 1936
Capitán Joaquín García Morato of the 1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio shared in the destruction of two airships moored at Casa de Campo (Madrid’s race course), where Sottotenente Giuseppe Cenni had noticed them the day before. Both caught fire, the first being an old unbraced design, while the second was of semi-rigid construction with an internal metal structure.
25 October 1936
One SB was damaged on landing at Los Llanos airfield.
26 October 1936
Five Dewoitine D.372s were claimed destroyed at Barajas airfield. The attack was performed by twelve Spanish Ju 52/3ms escorted by six Italian CR.32s.
27 October 1936
In the afternoon, Sottotenente Adriano Mantelli of the 1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio and his wingmen attacked a formation of five unescorted Breguet XIXs between Peguerinos and El Escorial. Sottotenente Mantelli claimed one of the Breguets and shared in the destruction of three others with Sergente Maggiore Bernardino Serafini and Sergente Raul Galli.
Sergente Galli’s CR.32 was hit by return fire, however, severing its aileron control lines. Nevertheless, Galli managed to nurse his damaged fighter back to Ávila and perform an uneventful landing, in spite of the fighter’s poor handling.
All four of the aircraft destroyed belonged to the last Republican unit to be equipped with the Breguet XIX on the Madrid front, Escuadrilla Gonzalez, as the rest had been decimated by the all-conquering CR.32. The commander of this unit, capitán Gonzalez Martin, had in fact been flying the first aircraft to be shot down on this day. He and another pilot, and their respective rear gunners, all lost their lives, while the remaining two crews survived emergency landings in Republican territory. The one surviving Breguet XIX returned home to Alcalá de Henares with only the pilot on board, as the gunner, Ramos, had taken to his parachute over the Republican zone near El Escorial in the belief that his aircraft was falling out of the sky following the apparent death of his pilot! It was Ramos who had hit Galli’s fighter, forcing him to break off his attack.
28 October 1936
Three SBs of the 1a Escuadrilla attacked Tablada airfield near Seville led by Ernst Shakht. The range to the target was 350 km. Although the enemy assessed the damage caused by the raid as insignificant, this very first strike did create quite a stir. The airplanes suddenly appeared over Tablada, bombed the airfield, and disappeared at a high speed; all three returning home without damage.
The Nationalists reported that three unknown aircraft flew over Tablada and they were first identified as North American Martin B-10s (Martin Bomber), which were going to be licence built by CASA, as these bombers had been selected in 1935 by the Dirección Gerneral de Aeronáutica to re-equip the Aviación Militar. But some remains of the bombs were picked up at Tablada had Russian inscriptions which were read by teniente Ragosin, a White Russian who had been living in Spain for many years; the inscriptions proved that the bombs had been .manufactured in June 1936. This was the first mission by the SBs in Spain and Cáceres and Armilla (Granada) were also bombed during the day.
Sargento piloto Vicente Valls Bort and his observer cabo Leopoldo Morquillas Rubio fell victim to CR.32s, but they managed to force land in a field. Both men were unhurt.
The 1a Escuadrilla Internacional (Potez 540) flew their first mission against the enemy airfield at Talavera, where they claimed to have destroyed 15 enemy aircraft on the ground.
One of the Potez 540s (‘N’) was flown by flown by the Bulgarian Zakharij Zakharev (’Volkan Goranov’) with Petr Desnitskiy (gunner) in the crew.
29 October 1936
During the day, the SB bombers were over the front in the first large counter-attack of the Ejército Popular against the so-called Columnas del Sur (Southern Columns), with the main push towards Seseña-Esquivias-Illescas, and the secondary at Humanes-Griñón, Parla-Torrejón de la Calzada and Pinto-Torrejón de Velasco.
A Fiat patrulla from the 1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercioled by capitán Ángel Salas Larrazábal with Terenzi and Sergente Achille Buffali as wingmen over Valdemoro, 26 km south of Madrid reportedly met “four extremely fast bomber aircraft”. Capitán Salas managed to climb above the four SBs and made three attacks, first “in the tail, later in an almost vertical dive and finally in the tail again, until I ran out of ammunition.” One of the aircraft lagged behind the others, flying lower. Salas added: ”Terenci was firing at him as I was.”
It was later reported from ground positions that the SB was seen crashing in flames. Bonomi, in his memoirs, recalls that a Katiuska fell over enemy lines.
On this day it was confirmed that the SBs had higher horizontal speed than the CR.32s, something which had been anticipated on the previous days, when the fighters could not chase the twins that bombed Tablada.
30 October 1936
In the morning, Sottotenente Adriano Mantelli of the 1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio and his flight consisting of Sergente Ligabò and Sergente Adamo Giuglietti, intercepted a formation of three Potez 540 bombers over Navalcarnero. Leading the Republican bomber formation was the second- in-command of the Escuadra Internacional (Escuadra No 4), Spaniard comandante Sampil, while the remaining two aircraft were flown by Bulgarian Zakharij Zakharev (’Volkan Goranov’) and Russian Ivan Proskurov. Zakharev’s (Potez 540 ‘N’) crew included three Spaniards (co-pilot, flight mechanic and a gunner), Petr Pavlovich Desnitskiy (lower turret gunner), Anatoli Ivanov (gunner) and leitenant Kuz’ma Terent’evich Demenchuk (navigator).
The Republican bombers were surprised and initially blinded by the sun when the CR.32s initially targeted Zakharev’s Potez, setting one of its engines on fire. The lower turret gunner Desnitskiy kept firing his gun even after he was hit, claiming an enemy fighter. He was pulled from his position and replaced by leitenant Demenchuk, who also was pulled from the turret just before the bomber crash-landed.
Proskurov attempted to assist his comrade by slowing down and positioning his aircraft between Zakharev and the opposing fighters. This courageous action won him the admiration of the Italian pilots, but it was ultimately performed in vain as the damaged bomber was doomed.
Although wounded in the leg by a bullet, Zakharev tried to nurse his stricken aircraft to the safety of Republican territory, but he and his Spanish co-pilot Pérez Sancho force-landed the aircraft in a clearing in No Man’s Land. All five crew managed to escape the wreckage and reach friendly troops with Zakharev, Desnitskiy and Demenchuck wounded by gunfire from the Italian fighters. A short while later Sottotenente Mantelli shot down Proskurov’s Potez over Republican territory. Like Zakharev, the skilful Russian pilot also managed to save the lives of his crew by carrying out a successful emergency landing in a vineyard near Getafe. Although Mantelli also was credited with the destruction of flight leader Sampil’s Potez, the latter had in fact made it back to base at Albacete.
Mantelli, like his wingmen, returned to Talavera to find that his CR.32 had been holed in several places by fire from Proskurov’s gunner, Vladimirov, who had continued to fire at the Italian fighter in spite of a serious wound to one of his hands.
The Potez 540 flown by Zakharev was flown from Toulouse to Barcelona on 15 September, before heading on to Madrid to be assigned to the Escuadra Internacional (Escuadra No 4).
During a test flight over Tablada, Sergente Giuseppe Ruzzin of the 1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio encountered two Martin Bombers (Tupolev SBs) and fired on them, but he only managed to damage them due to too great distance.
SB bombers attacked Nationalist airfields near Talavera.
4 November 1936
The Nationalists took the Madrid suburb Getafe.
23 November 1936
By this date both sides were exhausted after the Nationalists failed attempt to take Madrid.
Fuerza Aérea de la República Española - Republican Air Force
On 3 November 11 assembled and flight-tested I-15s were ferried to Madrid. The last to leave were those flown by Zverev and Kondratyev, and they lost their bearings in the evening twilight and, having crossed the Sierra Guadarrama, landed at an enemy airfield near Segovia. Both pilots were taken prisoner, but they were later exchanged for two captured Nationalist pilots. The remaining nine fighters reached their initial destination - the airfield at Alcalá de Henares, near Madrid, which was the main Republican air base at the time. With the arrival of the I-16s later that same month, the I-15 group was relocated to Soto.
By 20 November there were only 15 operational I-15s left. Seven aircraft had been lost in air combat, one was undergoing repair and two had force-landed in enemy territory.
The first batch of 31 I-16 Type 5s was shipped from the USSR as part of a consignment of military aid supplied to the Spanish Republic. Accompanying the aircraft were 31 Soviet pilots, who arrived on 3 and 4 November aboard the transports Kursk and Blagoev. Led by Kapitan Sergey Tarkhov, they had been withdrawn from 83 IAB of the Byelorussian Military District. After assembly and flight-testing, some 16 I-16s left Alcantarilla on 8 November under Tarkhov's leadership and headed for Madrid. The unit, dubbed the Grupo de Caza by the Republicans, included escuadrillas headed by Vladimir Bocharov and Sergey Denisov.
On 10 November, the I-16s arrived safely at Alkalá de Henares airfield. The fighters were sent on their first patrol shortly after their arrival, flying sorties over the capital in support of Republican forces charged with clearing enemy troops out of the Casa de Campo Park area to the west of the city centre.
On 14 November, Andrey Morozov led 12 I-16s to Guadalajara airfield, near Madrid - two more fighters joined them a few days later, at which point Konstantin Kolesnikov assumed command of the group. The three units under his supervision were in turn led by Aleksander Negoreev, Sergey Denisov and Andrey Morozov.
A relative lull in the action in the third week of November 1936 furnished Grupo de Caza with the opportunity to take stock after giving the I-16 its combat debut in Spain. The unit had lost four fighters to date, with one undergoing repair. Such attrition led to the Republican air force reluctantly acknowledging that the monoplane’s higher speed might not necessarily lead to dominance of the enemy’s biplane fighters in the skies over Spain. Success in combat situations required pilots to develop flying skills that were tempered with caution and enhanced by guile. Overconfidence and hasty actions could be harmful, if not fatal.
According to the report of military advisor Brigade Commander Pavel Alekseyev, Grupo No 12 lost a total of eight SBs within the first 15 days (two were lost in combat and the other six due to crashes and accidents). The SBs were primarily flown by Soviet pilots during that period. The following are some notes on events up to the end of 1936 offered by Soviet crews. Among other things they give (frequently unflattering) assessments of the SB's combat capabilities. Lieutenant Sharov’s reported (he flew both the Potez 540 and the SB):
“In combat the enemy fighters would attack our bombers from behind and below and open fire at a range of 200 m (660 ft) or less. The Fiat fighters would open fire at a range of 70-100 m or even closer [this refers to the Potez 540]. The speed of the SB did not allow the enemy to attack the airplane from behind, therefore the fighters attacked from head-on or from the sides. They could only attack once, as they could not keep up with the bomber.
Enemy fighters were deployed near the front line and usually waited for our aircraft to pass on their return leg. If they could, they tried to attack us on the way to the target. In most cases we flew to and from the target along the same route. At the present time this procedure has been changed. I think that the enemy set ambushes 10-15 km from the front line, and the number of aircraft varied from five to 20 fighters.
... During our first sorties we often lost our bearings and wandered around, as in the alpine terrain even landmarks such as railroads are poorly visible from an altitude of 2,000 m. We navigated using the compass and simultaneously checked the terrain. My Spanish co-pilot on the Potez was a good flier. The Spanish flight observer carried out his duties well, but it was difficult to communicate with him since I did not speak Spanish. The Potez undoubtedly had a better field of fire than the SB, the Degtyarev machine guns of which could not fire in the forward and lateral directions at high flying speeds. The Potez was easier to control than the SB, but its major disadvantage was its low speed.
The enemy preferred to bomb us at night. A Spanish pilot, who had defected to the Republicans in a Junkers airplane, said that the fascists flew night sorties as they were afraid of our I-15 fighters. All of the Heinkel bombers were flown by Germans, while the Junkers’' were manned by German pilots and Spanish co-pilots. Most of the enemy gunners were Spaniards.
I once had an unlucky landing at Albacete. I was ordered to fly to San Clemente but did not find the airfield at night and was forced to return. As all the lights were off at the base airfield I landed on the dummy airfield and the port wing hit a telegraph pole at the end of the landing run. My SB was repaired and handed over to a Spanish crew, while I was transferred to fly the Potez.
Later, I was once again given an SB. One night I was returning from a bombing mission. The red and green control lights were off and the landing gear did not extend [ the lights confirming that the landing gear was in its extended position]. I tried to tell the Spaniards to check the condition of the landing gear. They responded that it operated well. I made a landing approach and the moment I stepped on the brakes the landing gear collapsed and the airplane fell on its belly. The accident resulted in damage to the portside engine and the bomb bay doors.”
Hero of the Soviet Union V.S. Goranov, eskadrilya CO of Tambov Flight School of the GVF reported:
“On 24 October I was ordered to fly the heavy French Potez-54 bomber. The crew consisted of seven men, including three Russians (myself, gunner/radio operator Desnitskiy, and navigator Demenchuk) and four Spaniards. We had never flown this bomber before.
The Potez-54 is a good airplane, but it has insufficient speed. At an altitude of 4,000 m it only attains a speed of 219 km/h.
After the Soviet airplanes had been assembled I was transferred to fly the SB. For 15 days I had to fly with another navigator as Demenchuk continued to fly the Potez.
At first our new crew did not operate well. The navigator did not know the terrain and found the bearings poorly. After one or two sorties he became familiar with the terrain.
Initially the anti-aircraft artillery of the rebels was inaccurate and the shells would explode behind our airplane's tail. But they soon started to fire with higher accuracy and their number also increased.
I flew my last sortie on 12 November. I was also ordered to fly in the afternoon, but I reported that the engine did not reach full rpms. The squadron commander said that though the engine did not function properly the SB still had a faster speed than the Potez. I took off, but the engine died and I had to make a forced landing, which was well executed.
At first we did not know the results of our raids. Then one fascist pilot defected to our side [on 10 November 1936 in a Ju 52/3m] and said that our bombers had operated very successfully. Despite the fact that the Germans were eager to catch up with our SBs they did not manage to. We flew combat missions without fighter cover, as there were no fighters available at that time, and we avoided the enemy by flying away at high speeds.
When fighters arrived it became easier to fly combat sorties. The I-15 performed especially well. According to the same defector, the fascists were very afraid of the I-15 as the airplane was very manoeuvrable and had four machine guns. For some time we enjoyed air superiority, but then the number of available aircraft decreased and one squadron had to be disbanded.
One third of the airplanes were usually grounded for routine repairs. The SB’s engines were of poor quality and the cylinder walls were too thin... The airplane itself was very good and had sufficient speed. The fascists did not have any aircraft that could match its speed, therefore they tried to employ the tactic of placing fighters in echelons along the length of our route and waiting for our bombers.
The drawbacks of the SB included the following: the compass was placed inconveniently and the pilot could not use it in flight, the pilot's cabin was not fitted with a bomb release lever which he could use in case the navigator was killed...
The SB’s engines cooled down too quickly, but they also heated up fast, therefore we did not close the radiator shutters.
The pilot's field of view was obscured by the engines, wings, and fuselage. The pilot could look forward and upward and he could not see the ground.
On the whole the SB is a good airplane which is easy to control in the air.
The personnel fight well. All pilots fly combat missions in high spirits and with great desire. The Spaniards, especially the technicians, operate our aircraft well.
We employed the following tactics for bombing: carry out a covert approach at high speed, drop the bombs and quickly fly away, manoeuvring so as not to be shot down by enemy anti-aircraft or fighters.
A number of negative facts should also be mentioned here. Our fighter pilots immediately entered combat without becoming familiarized with the terrain. However, there was then no time for familiarization as the ground forces complained of a lack of fighter support.
Mission details were issued five minutes before take-off, rather than in advance. Therefore, the navigator had to do his calculations while already in the air. There were also cases where the pilot was prepared to attack one target, but then the destination was altered.
The SBs were not used for what they were intended. They fought over Madrid when they should have been used to strike the enemy’s rear, airfields, railroads, etc.
Our pilots performed better than German or Italian pilots and the results of air combats testified to this fact. The Spaniards were delighted with our pilots. There was also a French group comprised of nine or ten men, but it had recently shown poor performance and had been disbanded almost completely. Three of the French pilots transferred to fly fighters and they fought well.
There was chaos at take-offs and it was only by luck that we did not collide in mid-air. It was especially dangerous to take off at night without knowing the positions of the other aircraft, which were scattered all over the airfield. There were no orders pertaining to taxiing procedures or take-off directions. At first there were also no weather reports, a major drawback that resulted in the crash of two SBs. At the moment the weather service operates well and there are no flights without weather reports. We flew combat sorties into the enemy’s rear positions to a range of about 80 km.
Under enemy anti-aircraft fire we constantly maneuverer sidewise and varied our altitude. This was easy to do with the high speed of the SB. All you had to do was side-slip for two minutes to throw off the gunner’s aim and you were out of range.
At first the enemy fighters tried to catch up with the SB. They would chase the SBs at full power for about ten minutes and then drop behind and give up. Later the fighters started to attack us from ambushes on the way to the target. They usually patrolled below our aircraft, taking advantage of the poor field of view from the SB, and then delivered a surprise attack. I once saw a pair of our SBs pass the threat successfully. The enemy fighters missed them and were too late to attack. They were then waiting for us, but the navigator saw them and dropped the bombs on an alternate target that was along our route and we altered our course to the right. The enemy fighters fell behind and could not catch up to us.
The SB was said to have been able to reach 5,000 m on a single operating engine. This was not true, as a loaded SB could not gain altitude. Once, at an altitude of 300 m with a load of 1,600 kg [i.e. fuel, the crew, and bombs], one of the engines of our aircraft failed. The navigator dropped the bombs, after which we barely managed to reach the nearest air-field.
The SBs were not equipped for night flying and the pilots were not trained for night missions.
We would always take off at the same time: at 07:00 and 15:00 hours.
We were supplied with very inaccurate maps. When moving from one airfield to another, fighters waited for the leader to arrive and escorted the aircraft to their new airbase.
Our airfields were well camouflaged. We used only natural camouflage: trees and other vegetation. The San Clemente airfield was camouflaged so well that I had to circle over it for three to four minutes before we spotted it. The 1a Escuadrilla also operated from a very well camouflaged airfield. Once the enemy bombed the airfield at Albacete [probably Los Llanos], where Potez airplanes were stationed, but the results of the raid were very poor. Generally, the enemy did not achieve good results at night. We observed a failed bombing attack on Cartagena. The bombs hit the town and, to some extent, the Arsenal. The enemy has recently been bombing with higher accuracy. For instance, the enemy achieved better results when bombing Alicante.
The lack of debriefings was one mistake by our command. The aircrew would return from their missions, have lunch, and that was it. Information was shared only informally and there were no organized discussions of our experiences.
The Spaniards were satisfied with our operation and learned a lot from us. They were sometimes surprised that we did not have lunch until we had finished our work. As was customary, none of them worked during the lunch hour and after lunch they had a nap.
We took along eight ammunition magazines for each machine gun [the DA machine gun], but we did not get a chance to fire them as enemy fighters could not catch up with us. We usually carried six 50-kg bombs, while 100-kg bombs were only used to bomb railroad stations. In our squadron it was customary to fill the fuel tanks to the top, while the 1a Escuadrilla filled their tanks depending upon the mission’s duration.
As for our flying time, we carried out three to four combat sorties a week in Potez aircraft, each of about three hours duration. The SBs flew four to five sorties, with a total flying time of six hours a week. There were also pilots who flew 13-14 sorties a week. It was easily noticeable that one such pilot from our squadron became very exhausted.
The living conditions were good, but our rest was insufficient and poorly organized. Dinner was served at 23:00 hours, and as it was at first customary to wait for the squadron leader, his being late always resulted in extra waiting. Thus, much time that could have been used for sleeping was lost. Commanders were seldom allowed to visit the town of San Clemente, while the rest of the personnel enjoyed more freedom.
We were paid 1,600 pesetas a month, but had nowhere to spend them as there was nothing to buy. The French were paid 15,000 pesetas a month, according to their contract. Initially they got up to 30,000 pesetas irrespective of the number of combat sorties flown. One Frenchman was granted a leave of absence with permission to visit his homeland, then conducted one combat sortie, got 30,000 pesetas, left for France and never returned. In the French group there was also an American, a very old and brave pilot, who flew by day and night.
When I flew the last Potez combat sortie our crew shot down three out of five Heinkels that attacked us. One of them went into a spin and crashed, while the other two were forced to land.”
Goranov’s naviagator Kuz’ma Demenchuk reported:
“We had very bad maps which featured only the main paved roads and highways. There were a lot of paved roads, which looked the same as highways when observed from high altitude. Sometimes we flew by road maps, which showed only large towns and roads but featured no topography. At first it was difficult to find our bearings, but we soon got used to it.
The Degtyarev machine gun, mounted in the navigator’s cabin, could not fire in the air because the head-on air stream created a resistance for the sear spring, the breech-block did not operate and did not strike the primer. I also heard, but did not personally confirm, that the Degtyarev machine guns mounted on the SB could not fire when positioned at an angle of 90o to the flight direction.
It was difficult to fly without goggles. We did not need goggles when flying the Potez, while in the SB the navigator could manage to fly without goggles but could not fire the machine gun as it was drafty in the cockpit.
There were also no flight suits and we had to fly in the clothing we arrived in even though we flew at high altitudes. The Spaniards did not supply us with any uniforms.
I believe that the SB is not good as a bomber. It can outpace the enemy fighters very well and cross the front line very fast, but it carries few bombs and its bomb racks are not designed to carry bombs of various sizes. It is necessary to arm the SB not only with high-explosive, but also with fragmentation bombs which would give a greater effect when bombing airfields.
The number of bombs carried by the SB should be increased. Small bombs could be placed into the vertical bomb rack used for the 250-kg bomb.
The intercom equipment is often out of order, especially when the airplane is flying at a high speed. While communications between the gunner and the pilot is good, there is no communications between the navigator and the pilot, or the navigator and the gunner. The Potez airplane features better equipment in this respect. The crew of this aircraft can walk inside the cabin and the airplane is fitted with the same intercom as the R-5.
Our flight observer's snap-on-type parachute is not suitable for operation in the SB. The French parachute, used on the Potez, is better and more convenient because it is carried on the back over the shoulders. During a long flight in the SB the back aches as there is nothing to lean against, while a parachute carried behind the back could serve as a rest. Secondly, the French parachute does not have to be fastened in the air. Sometimes you forget to attach our parachute and remember that you forgot to put it on only on the way back. Although it might be more difficult to bail out with the French parachute I don't think it will be much of a problem.
Pyrocartridges [used to release a bomb from the bomb rack] are not usually used, while the emergency release units are often employed. This fact is explained partially because this is the method we used in the past and partially by the non-availability of electricians.
Oxygen equipment has never been used. The compass operates well and does not need to be replaced. Bombs cannot be dropped during banks and turns. There was an incident when a bomb, released during a bank, got stuck in the bomb bay. The bomb’s arming vane also broke and it was dangerous to get the bomb out.”
Four SBs were lost within a month and a half (from mid-November), including three lost in accidents and one, manned by a Spanish crew, shot down in air combat on 7 December.
In November, the Soviet I-15 escuadrilla (1a/Gr.26) led by kapitan Pavel Rychagov at Alcalá de Henares, in Madrid, included tenientes Andrés García La Calle (he was promoted to teniente during November), Roberto Alonso Santamaría, López Trinidad, Galera Macías, Cuartero Pozo, Guaza Marín, Roig Villalta, Jesús García Herguido, Alfonso Jiménez Bruguet, Manuel Aguirre López and Robledano Ruiz. The escuadrilla fought on the Madrid front.
La Calle had continued flying the last remaining fighters available in Madrid until 28 October, when he left for Barcelona on leave. Posted to the Soviet I-15 Escuadrilla, he flew combat missions from 4 November over Madrid initially as a wingman in the patrulla led by Soviet pilot kapitan Ivan Kopets. Later, La Calle became patrulla CO after Kopets assumed command of the Escuadrilla Rychagov when Rychagov was removed from frontline duties. Soviet sources credit La Calle with an aerial victory during this period.
Teniente Manuel Aguirre López also began flying I-15 Chatos of the 1a Escuadrilla during November (he was promoted to teniente during the month). Aguirre flew as a member of the patrulla led by Soviet pilot Kosakov, and when the latter established his own escuadrilla, Aguirre was appointed patrulla CO. The new squadron initially flew from El Soto airfield, after which it moved to Málaga and then on to Almería. Aguirre subsequently fought in the battle of Guadalajara.
The first fighters to arrive on the Northern front were two Ni-H.52s flown from Barcelona by sargento Emilio Villaceballos and teniente Amador Silverio Jiménez. These aircraft were not reinforced until November 1936, when 15 I-15s were shipped to Santander aboard the SS A Andreyev, together with their Soviet pilots and groundcrew. These fighters subsequently flew from Carreño airfield (Gijón) on the Asturias front and were led by Boris Turzhanskii and Konstantin Baranchuk.
During their first sortie, the I-15 pilots claimed to have shot down an enemy Fokker F.XII tri-motor and a Heinkel He 46, although both aircraft - which had indeed suffered battle damage - managed to land at Navia airfield.
In November, Leopoldo Morquillas Rubio enrolled in the Escuela de Pilotos at Santiago de la Ribera, where he trained alongside sargento Manuel Zarauza Clavero, Juan Comas Borrás, Miguel Zambudio Martínez, Rafael Magriña Vidal and Andrés Rodríguez Panadero.
After the refreshment course and after requesting reinstatement in his original service, Juan Comas Borrás was subsequently accepted as a maestre of the Aeronáutica Naval in November.
Known Soviet aviators arriving in Spain in November 1936
|Arrival||Name||Nom de guerre||Rank||Role||Born||Comment||Departure|
|1936-11-01||Goncharov, Pavel Artemovich||Fighter pilot||1937-05-27|
|1936-11-01||Ketov, Aleksandr||Fighter pilot||1937-05-27|
|1936-11-01||Sakhranov, Vasilii Titovich||Leitenant||Fighter pilot||1906-03-10||1941-07-31 KIFA||1937-05-08|
|1936-11-01||Semenov, Pavel Timoteevich||Fighter pilot||1937-01-30|
|1936-11-02||Pletyukhin, Aleksandr Vladimirovich||Fighter pilot||1937-05-27|
|1936-11-??||Akulenko, Vasiliy Sidorovich||Leitenant||SSS Gunner/Navigator||1909||1936-12-02 KIA
1937-01-02 Order of the Red Banner (posthumous)
|1936-11-??||Balanov, Nikifor Fedotovich||’Luis’||Leitenant||Fighter pilot||1909-07-10||1937-06-27 HSU
1937-06-27 Order of Lenin
|1936-11-??||Barannikov, Nikolay P.||Leitenant||SSS pilot||1911||1937-01-02 Order of the Red Banner||1937-05-08|
|1936-11-??||Chervotkin, Nikola Matveevich||Leitenant||Fighter pilot||1905||1937-04-07|
|1936-11-??||Denisov, Sergei Prokof’evich||’Ramon’||Starshiy Leitenant||Fighter pilot||1909-12-25||1971-06-16 +||1937-04-07|
|1936-11-??||Dubkov, Konstantin Stepanovich||I-16 pilot||1908||1937-01-02 Order of the Red Banner
1937-07-04 Order of the Red Banner (2nd)
|1936-11-??||Fedoseev, Nikolai Ivanovich||Fighter pilot||1901||1937-05-16 KIFA|
|1936-11-??||Khara, Petr Ivanovich||Leitenant||Fighter pilot||1908||1937-07-26|
|1936-11-??||Kravchenko, Ivan Ivanovich||Fighter pilot||1937-07-26|
|1936-11-??||Kuznetsov, Petr Fedorovich||I-16 pilot||1911||Arrived on Kursk
1937-01-02 Order of the Red Banner
1937-07-04 Order of the Red Banner (2nd)
1944-11-03 Medal ”For Combat Merit”
1947-04-30 Order of the Red Star
1951-12-27 Order of the Red Banner
|1936-11-??||Lakeev, Ivan Alekseevich||Fighter pilot||Arrived in Spain on 3 or 4 November.||1937-08-13|
|1936-11-??||Lesnikov, Dmitrii Artamonovich||Fighter pilot||1937-06-19 KIFA|
|1936-11-??||Minaev, Aleksii Vasil’evich||Fighter pilot||1937-03-27|
|1936-11-??||Negoreev, Aleksandr Yakolevich||Fighter pilot||1937-01-23|
|1936-11-??||Nikitin, Nikolai Pavlovich||Fighter pilot||1937-07-26|
|1936-11-??||Okolelov, Yakov Kharlampievich||I-16 pilot||1937-03-27|
|1936-11-??||Pavlov, Dmitrii Fedorovich||Fighter pilot||1936-11-17 KIA|
|1936-11-??||Polyakov, Pavel Vasil'evich||Fighter pilot||1937-07-26|
|1936-11-??||Prutskov, Fedor Maksimovich||Fighter pilot||1937-07-26|
|1936-11-??||Sokolov, Aleksandr Dmitrievich||Fighter pilot||1937-03-27|
|1936-11-??||Zamashanskii, Filipp Karpovich||Fighter pilot||1937-02-18 KIFA|
|1936-11-??||Zhedanov, Dmitrii Ignat'evich||Fighter pilot||1936-11-19 KIA|
Aviación del Tercio
By 3 November, a total of 60 CR.32s had arrived in Spain, as had 57 He 51s. Germany and Italy also sent 150 other military aircraft types between them too, including 34 transport and bomber Ju 52/3ms and 18 S.81 bombers.
In response to the appearance of the new Soviet aircraft types over Madrid, the Nationalist air force officially formed the first Fiat fighter group on 11 November. Designated Gruppo Caccia di Torrijos or Primo Gruppo Caccia Fiat (First Fiat Fighter Group), its CO was Maggiore Tarcisio Fagnani (’Faroni’). The group included 2a and 3a Squadriglie on the Madrid front, these units being led by Capitani Guido Nobili and Goliardo Mosca, respectively, while Capitano Vincenzo Dequal’s 1a Squadriglia remained at Seville, in Andalusia.
On 7 November, it was decided to form a ‘legion’ with which to fight the threat of internationalised Bolshevism. To the world, this legion would be seen as embarking on a crusade against the dark forces of oppression. Hence was born the Legion Condor.
Hitler’s support however had conditions. The expanded German force in Spain was to be placed under a German commander who would advise Franco. Those units already in Spain were to be integrated into the new Legion. German air bases in Spain would be given satisfactory protection, and operations were to be better coordinated, more regular and aimed at those ports through which Soviet aid was being routed. Franco needed the support and he agreed to the Führer’s terms.
Assisting Wilberg in assembling and shipping out the new Legion were a number of capable administrative officers, including, Major Hermann Plocher of the organisational department of the Luftwaffe General Staff. When he took up his post, Plocher knew virtually nothing of the German intervention in Spain, but he was to be instrumental in setting up the infrastructure of the embryonic Legion. Still governed by extreme secrecy, Wilberg, Plocher and their team created a fictitious winter manoeuvre in the Baltic to be known as ’Winterübung Rügen’, which included flying, flak, signals and communications elements drawn from existing Luftwaffe units.
As the men and equipment began assembling at the port of Stettin, on the Baltic, Wilberg’s team assigned the code name ’Eiserne Rationen’ to the air contingent bound for Spain, but this was later changed to ’Eiserne Legion’. Then Plocher was instructed by Göring to change this once more to Legion Condor, and to use the names of birds for all of its components. However, Plocher found that attempting to create a ‘menagerie’ of avian nomenclature was highly confusing and quietly decided upon a simple numbering system whereby each unit would carry the designation ‘88’, but all operating under the ‘umbrella’ of the Legion Condor, which would enjoy the equivalent status of a Luftwaffe Fliegerkorps.
Plocher drew up an order of battle which saw the establishment of a Jagdgruppe to be known as J/88, which was to form up with three Staffeln each with nine He 51s per Staffel. Additionally, there was to be a Kampfgruppe, to be known as K/88, Aufklärungs and Aufklärungs See groups to be known as A/88 and AS/88, respectively, a Flak detachment as F/88 and a signals/communications group (a Lufinachrichtenabteilung) to be known as Ln/88. Adding to this force would be maintenance, hospital, supply, salvage, testing and experimental, meteorological and liaison elements. By 29 November 1936, thousands of men, hundreds of tanks, guns, aircraft, weapons and many tons of equipment had been shipped out of Stettin on 25 freighters, all bound for Cadiz.
Göring had chosen Generalmajor Hugo Sperrle, the commander of Luftkreis-Kommando V, to lead the Legion. Sperrle left Berlin for Spain in a Ju 52/3m on 31 October, travelling via Rome, together with his Chief of Staff, Major Alexander Holle.
After the death of Oberleutnant Kraft Eberhardt on 13 November, Hauptmann Herwig Knüppel became the new Staffelkapitän. He recorded:
“I now had to take over the leadership of the Jagdstaffel Eberhardt. In the period that followed [winter 1936/37] we were pitched into all the battlefronts and thereby got to know the whole of Spain. León, Burgos, Vitoria, San Sebastian, Logrono, Zaragoza, Teruel, Barahona, Ávila, Escalona, Cordoba, Almorox - these were our combat airfields. The entire Staffel consisted of only 35 men, but we stuck together like Pech und Schwefel [pitch and sulphur].
The groundcrews worked untiringly under the leadership of Unteroffiziere Spitzhüttl and Kempe. Once, in a low-level attack by enemy fighters, Staffel armourer Unteroffizier Eick, standing completely unprotected, shot down freehandedly one of the attackers with a rifle. This all goes to show how excellent the fighting spirit of our comrades was. We employed a White Russian by the name of Martschenko in the Staffel, who flew as the pilot of a three-engined Fokker transport aircraft. This man was quite tireless and a splendid comrade. He later fell as a bomber pilot for Nationalist Spain.”
Another shipment of 60 crated Heinkel He 51s, disguised as agricultural machinery, arrived in Seville on 18 November for assembly at Tablada.
The arrival of these fighters heralded the adoption of Plocher’s new unit designation for the fighter group as Jagdgruppe 88. The Gruppe was to be led initially by Major Baier, who fell ill and was replaced by Hauptmann Hubertus Merhart von Bernegg.
The three Staffeln were established as 1.J/88 under Hauptmann Werner Palm, 2.J/88 under Hauptmann Siegfried Lehmann and 3.J/88 (intended to undertake ground-attack sorties) under Hauptmann Jürgen Roth, who led a new batch of pilots that had recently arrived via Cadiz. These included Feldwebel Peter Boddem, Oberleutnant Harro Harder, Erwin Kley, Oberleutnant Günther Lützow, Douglas Pitcairn and Leutnant Rolf Pingel. The original cadre of Heinkel pilots already in Spain were mustered into 4.J/88 under Hauptmann Herwig Knüppel.
Oberstleutnant Dr.-Ing. Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen, the erstwhile Leiter der Abteilung Prüfwesen (Head of Testing and Development) in the RLM, flew into Seville from Rome on 29 November. In Spain he took over command of Versuchs-Kommandos 88, an embryonic testing and evaluation staff intended to formally assess the performance of the Legion Condor's aircraft in combat. His first impressions were not good:
“My accommodation is a very bad room in the Hotel Andalucia. From the Versuchsgruppe there is as yet nobody, but just some materiel, a part of which is already lying around at the harbour and in an area of Tablada airport. Transport and distribution, information on the arrivals of the steamers and loading lists are all completely unknown. Whatever arrives will be unloaded, and we will have to search for its “master” and purpose. The unloaded materiel is often unusable since many of the important items are often missing. Am greeted by the Chief of Staff, Holle, who is worn out and wants to be left in peace. I report to General Sander [code name for Generalmajor Sperrle], who complains about the complete lack of knowledge in Berlin of local conditions here.”On 30 November, von Richthofen attempted to ‘to compile an overall picture’. He noted in his diary that, ”Red air attacks appear to be gradually setting in. In the last 14 days, they have increased from two to three, and they have now made six bombing raids on Seville and Cadiz. These are only frivolous and without any effect. Red fighters have only been seen up to now in the Madrid area. Our own operations there, without fighter protection, by day, are considered impossible. At other locations, no Red fighters have been observed. However, if we conduct daylight raids, their surprise appearance is feared as a probability. Our own Kampf- and Jagdgruppen are to go, whenever possible, into the Salamanca-Ávila area and southwards in order to, initially, conduct combined sorties and to give the Morros a breathing space. The Versushsgruppe shall, according to local and time conditions, be attached in appropriate form to the Jagdgruppe in order to be effective from Ávila.”
The Kette of machines forming Hauptmann Werner Palm’s 1.J/88, which comprised 11 pilots, was just about operational by the end of November, and was moved north to Burgos.
During November, the first He 112 prototypes arrived in Spain.
1 November 1936
SB bombers attacked Nationalist airfields near Talavera.
During this attack or during one made on 30 October, they managed to destroy or severely damage up to six Fiat CR.32 fighters belonging to the Italians.
2 November 1936
During the afternoon near Talavera, flight leader Sottotenente Adriano Mantelli and his wingman Maresciallo Felice Sozzi of the 1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio managed to bring down an SB between them, this being the first time that the actual destruction of a Tupolev bomber could be proven. Mantelli later recounted:
“The combat experience that I remember best, and the one I'm most proud of, was when I faced one of the newly-arrived Red Air Force aircraft that were causing us great concern. Dubbed the “Martin bomber”, its appearance came as a rather nasty surprise to us. Thanks to its twin engines and retractable undercarriage, the bomber’s level speed was some 30 mph faster than that of our fighters, which meant that interceptions were impossible. Needless to say, scrambling once these bombers had appeared was useless. A series of surprise raids by the aircraft, where no opposition could be offered, threw all of us into a feeling of helplessness. Our commanders encouraged us, but it appeared that the facts were too clear to be dismissed – top speed, in particular, was definitely against us.Wingman Maresciallo Sozzi also contributed to the destruction of the SB, having positioned himself behind and below the bomber after the fighters’ fast dive. He duly fired at the aircraft from below while Mantelli shot at it from above. The SB’s crew, engaged in a reconnaissance sortie to reconnoitre enemy airfields, came from 2a/12, which was based at San Clemente, in Murcia. Pilot P. P. Petrov, navigator A. F. Vlasov, and gunner/radio operator N. P. Tsigulev became the first Soviet airmen to fall in action in Spain. Following this action, Mantelli concluded:
However, an interception did happen a few days later. I scrambled, accompanied by Sozzi, into the sky above Talavera de la Reína. We already knew that one of these famous monoplanes had been sighted over Avila, some 60 miles away, but I decided not to wander too far from Talavera. Below me were two airfields, and by circling over the town I could keep an eye on both of them. It was well known that these airfields were targeted by the raiders as they attempted to “ground us”" (and we had already suffered quite a lot of damage). I thought to myself that if it comes this way I could intercept it, but if it heads for a different target I could just about forget it!
We continued to climb, knowing that the higher we went the faster we could dive down on the enemy bomber. I continued to scan the sky by sector out of habit. First sector, empty. Second sector, empty. Third sector, there, a thin line in the distance against the horizon in a yellowish sky – I will never forget that. It was “him”. I wouldn't let him out of my sight, and I continued to gain height. It was not coming towards Talavera, however. According to my reckoning, it would pass us some six miles away. There would be no chance of getting at him if I didn't change course.
Then suddenly the “Martin bomber” turned almost 90 degrees and set course for Talavera. The monoplane was well below us, and hadn’t seen us. I waited, checked my speed and distance and then at the right moment I pushed the nose of my fighter down and dove at the bomber. The slipstream whistled past and the engine roared, but I heard nothing. My eyes were fixed on the aeroplane that rapidly grew larger as we closed in at a tremendous speed. Range seemed just right so I fired-the machine guns hummed.
“With the first burst I could clearly see the incendiary rounds hitting the wing, sending white sparks flying. The right wing caught fire almost immediately, then a tail of flames from the left wing engulfed both the fuselage and the right wing. The “Martin bomber” began to fall, but my frenetic dive continued. One wing broke off, at which point three men took to their parachutes. I saw three envelopes open, but the speed was too high and they were torn away – the three men fell like dead bodies. My CR.32 was faster and I flew past them. I was terribly excited by the victory and nearly forgot my controls, only to suddenly remember that I had to stop the aeroplane from diving. The sound of the slipstream became calmer as I pulled out, and down below me the monoplane exploded as it hit the ground.”
“The excitement that spread throughout both the flying units and the Nationalist troops following this victory was enormous. A bandera [infantry unit of the Tercio] ventured into enemy territory so that the “dragon’s” demise could be confirmed. They brought back ailerons, which we shipped off to Italy. The “Martin bomber’s” myth of invincibility came to an end that day.”
4 November 1936
During the day, the I-15s were put in their first air-battles. There were four missions during the day.
Commanded by Petr Pumpur and starshiy leitenant Pavel Rychagov, I-15 fighters in squadron strength engaged the enemy planes over Carrabanchel during the day’s first mission. The Soviet pilots claimed four victories in the clash that lasted barely 10 minutes.
It seems that Yevgeniy Yerlykin and Nikolay Mirosnichenko took part in this mission since it’s known that they made claims in the Madrid area in the morning when Yerlykin claimed a Ro.37 destroyed and Miroshnichenko claimed a shared CR.32 together with another pilot.
The aim of the second mission was to intercept six Ju 52/3ms escorted by fighters. Commanded by starshiy leitenant Rychagov the squadron shot down one Ju 52/3m.
During the third mission a squadron led by starshiy leitenant Georgiy Zakharov (in his first mission) fought against two flights of bombers, which were escorted by ten fighters. I-15s claimed one enemy fighter. There were no losses of I-15s even if it seems that Zakharov's I-15 was badly damaged. Of this combat, Zakharov recalled:
"Here I am above Madrid. I look around and there's no one there, neither friend nor foe. Then I scrutinize the horizon in the direction of the glaring sun. With flickering eyes I finally detect the remote shapes of friendly biplanes. Stressing my vision, I manage to count them 12! So Pavel must have decided to ensure the most favorable conditions for our attack, thus heading north of Madrid so as to lead the flight into the attack from down-sun, That’s where I should have looked for them right from the start.It seems that Zakharov is credited with one victory in this combat.
They approach the city in a wide arc and I am inside that arc, so I can quickly catch up, flying headlong towards them. I want to make my way towards the leading aircraft and take up my position on Rychagov's left. Well, I’ve been too hasty and popped up in front of the leader. Now I need to he spotted by my comrades, so I reduce speed and rock my wings. I believe they will see me and soon catch up. What happens next I still regard as being beyond my comprehension. I will forever remember that feeling, which is hard to explain in mere words, when the burst of enemy gunfire narrowly missed cutting off my wing. However, it was instinct that saved me, rather than training or rational thinking. Before I realized where I was and what was happening I had already swerved away into a steep turn to spoil the enemy’s aim. Yet I still felt I was a target, and I felt it with my entire physical being.
Today I see that the only reason I survived was that there were too many hunters after me. The entire swarm was engaged in pursuing me and they got in each other’s way. Otherwise, the first one to approach me from behind would easily have split my aircraft in two with his first burst. Instead, they all began to shoot erratically. My fighter was hit but I was alive! I was spinning between them while trying to draw them towards Madrid where, I felt, I could save myself. My comrades-in-arms would soon come to my rescue, I thought. The g-forces were almost blinding but I knew I couldn't give up and fly straight and level for more than a second! The aircraft had to withstand the punishment. I prayed that it wouldn't fall apart.
Three times Heinkels popped up into my gunsight and I pushed the firing buttons. And here I was, finally, approaching my airfield. Well, I could do better than reveal its location to the enemy, but I had no choice. My aeroplane’s bracing wires had been shot away and the wing curved upwards to the verge of collapse. I looked back, just in time to meet another blast of gunfire. My instrument panel was smashed and my upper machine guns were out of order. A Heinkel kept close behind me to finish me off, but I made it and landed from a hedgehopping approach.
The mechanics promptly pulled me out of the cockpit and we escaped to shelter under the nearest trees. I pressed my back against a tree-trunk and suddenly felt that my lips were being wetted - oh, it was just some water from a friend’s flask."
5 November 1936
During the morning came the first big aerial battle of the war. Nine Fiats from Torrijones, led by Capitano Carlo Alberto Maccagno (newly appointed CO 1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio) (the pilots included capitán Joaquín García Morato, capitán Ángel Salas and Julio Salvador) was escorting three Ro.37s when they met about 15 Chatos and some Potez aircraft between Leganés and Madrid. Without waiting for the support of five additional Fiats from Talavera, Capitano Maccagno led them in to attack, relying on superior performance to compensate for lack of numbers. Morato shot down a Chato, and then damaged the engine of a Potez, forcing it to land (on the Republican side). Salas shot down a Chato, which crashed in flames, and 5 km south-east of Barajas he scored hits on two more Chatos. He, in turn, came under attack, but put his aircraft into a steep dive and made good his escape at treetop level. Salvador chased a Chato as far as Barajas and attacked two Potez machines without success.
The Nationalist bulletin claimed seven fighters and one Potez destroyed and admitted the loss of one Fiat, that of Captain Maccagno (’Alfredo Pecori’), leader of the escuadrilla. The Government bulletin claimed that one Fiat, number 384 (flown by Maccagno), and four other aircraft had been destroyed. On his first operational mission, the badly wounded Maccagno was captured and hospitalised. Despite receiving medical treatment, he had to have his right leg amputated. Maccagno eventually returned to Italy following a prisoner exchange.
Salas noted in his logbook:
“Fiat number 278, 1 hour 40 minutes, Torrijos-Madrid (surveillance).In reality, only two I-15s had been destroyed. Leitenant Petr Aleksandrovich Mitrofanov of Escuadrilla Palancar, was shot down over enemy territory in his I-15 and even if he managed to bail out of his burning aircraft he was killed, thus becoming the first Russian pilot killed in Spain. Although the other I-15 was a write-off, its pilot survived his forced landing on the tree-lined avenue of Paseo de la Castellana. Several other I-15s returned to their base at Campo Soto, near Algete, with varying degrees of battle damage.
Our nine Fiats met about 15 “Curtiss” fighters. I took one by surprise and shot him down, the aircraft falling some five kilometres south-southeast of Barajas and bursting into flames on impact. I then fired at one head on and later fired at another, before being attacked by two. I managed to shake them off by diving vertically.”
6 November 1936
Two air battles took place, at 10:00 and 14:00. In the latter, five Fiats led by capitán Ángel Salas attacked seven ”Chatos” and claimed four victories even if only two claims could be confirmed by ground observers. Salas was thought to have destroyed one machine from a patrol of three, this aircraft trailing smoke as it veered into a cloud and disappeared from sight. Sottotenente Giuseppe Cenni, Tenente Vittor Ugo Ceccherelli and Sottotenente Bernardino Serafini claimed an I-15 each over the Madrid area.
One of the aircraft destroyed was the I-15 flown by leitenant Voronov, who died two days later in hospital from injuries suffered when he crash-landed upon his return to base.
The Nationalist bulletin claimed two aircraft destroyed, while the Government bulletin, which referred only to the earlier engagement, claimed the destruction of two Heinkels, these two most probably claimed by starshiy leitenant Pavel Rychagov, who claimed two enemy aircraft during the day, but it also possible that one of them was claimed by Karp Kovtun (3a Escuadrilla) who seem to have claimed a victory during the day (according to some sources this was claimed by ramming and thus probably on 13 November when he was killed).
Bonomi confirmed that the Fiats had shot down two fighters, and this was also confirmed by the Air Force communiqué, which admitted the loss of a Fiat and a Junkers. This latter machine was probably flown by Captain Larrauri, who managed to reach Talavera with one engine out of action, the other developing only restricted power, and his aircraft riddled with bullet holes. Von Morau, leader of the Pablos y Pedros squadron, also had to force-land near Madrid at this time.
Two of Oberleutnant Kraft Eberhardt’s He 51s were damaged during an enemy air attack on Ávila by the SB bombers.
7 November 1936
The air-battles for air superiority over Madrid were extremely heavy. During this day only, the Soviet fighters flew more than 100 missions altogether.
Leitenant Petr Kuznetsov from 1a/21 (I-16) claimed one shared I-16 together with another pilot.
9 November 1936
Capitán Joaquín García Morato claimed an I-15 when he attacked five I-15s and eight SB. He noted in his logbook:
“'Fiat Escuadrilla. Bomber escort. “Junker” [Ju 52/3m] and “Romeo” [Ro.37] engaged by five “Curtiss fighters” [I-15s]. I shot one down and then machine gunned eight “Sophias” [SBs], preventing them from dropping their bombs. Anti-aircraft fire also seen.
Total flying time 1 hour 50 minutes.”
Starshiy leitenant Georgiy Zakharov of the Escuadrilla Palancar claimed an enemy aircraft, which he identified as a two-seater bomber Arado. This was actually an Italian Romeo Ro.37 reconnaissance biplane heading for Madrid. He recalled:
"On my fourth mission in Spain I brought down my first prey. That's not to say it was a great victory, just an obsolete two-seat Arado bomber also on its way to Madrid. We met above the clouds. Having noticed me, the Arado pilot swerved down to hide in a cloud but I was too quick. Avoiding the enemy's fire, I followed him and also dived into the clouds. Having emerged at an altitude of about 500 m, I started circling around and waiting for the Arado to appear. Indeed, seconds later, the bomber fell from the cloud bit by bit - a wing came first, then the fin. Whether it had been overstressed or whether it was the result of my fire, the unfortunate Arado was in pieces before it reached the ground."
10 November 1936
One Nationalist pilot defected to the Republican side with a Ju 52/3m.
I-16s made their first appearance over the Madrid front during the day when they joined I-15s in the strafing of Moroccan troops and cavalry that had occupied the Casa de Campo on the outskirts of western Madrid. For the Nationalist troops on the receiving end of these low-level strafing incursions (three attacks that afternoon alone), the Soviet fighters appeared without warning literally from within the abandoned buildings of Madrid’s frontline, hugging the ground like rats. The I-16s were duly nicknamed Ratas (Rats), and this name stuck with the type throughout its frontline career.
11 November 1936
Republican SB bombers targeted Ávila, dropping 18 50 kg bombs that destroyed or damaged several German aircraft, including He 51s and some He 46s and Ju 52/3ms.
12 November 1936
Sergente Maggiore Silvio Costigliolo scrambled from Torrijos and claimed a shared SB (identified as a ‘Martin bomber’) over the base.
Two SBs from 1a/12 the flown by pilots starshiy leitenant Grigorii Mikhailovich Fedorov and leitenant Valeriy Bazhenov collided in mid-air due to poor visibility conditions after an attack on the airfield at Avila.
Also killed were the two navigators Ivan Vasil’evich Roshchin and Yakov Petrovich Serov plus both unnamed gunners.
13 November 1936
14 Fiat CR.32s escorted five ”Junkers” and three ”Romeos”. Over the Paseo de Rosales (Madrid) they were surprised by 16 I-15s led by starshiy leitenant Pavel Rychagov, which dived on them from above out of the sun. Despite immediately being on the defensive, the Fiat pilots managed to protect the bombers as the air battle broke up into a series of individual combats.
The Soviet pilots claimed six victories (three of them fell in Republican territory) while two I-15s were lost when Karp Kovtun and Petr A. Purtov were shot down by Fiats and killed. Kovtun’s death was witnessed by starshiy leitenant Georgiy Zakharov, who also took part in this combat.
On their return flight, the Nationalist pilots encountered five Katiuskas, bombing Getafe and Cuatro Vientos from a height of 5000m. Capitán Ángel Salas damaged one so severely that the crew had to take to their parachutes, and capitán Joaquín García Morato damaged three others.
Totally the CR.32 pilots were credited with ten victories (nine “Curtisses” and one SB). Sergente GianLino Baschirotto (who reported that the I-15 was seen falling out of the sky smoking) and Corrado Ricci were among the Italians to be awarded a “Curtiss” each while Capitano Guido Nobili was credited with a probable. A Soviet fighter, whose pilot escaped by parachute, was shot down by Capitano Goliardo Mosca. The latter was in turn badly wounded in his right thigh and forced to limp back to Talavera, where he crash-landed. Capitano Mariotti force-landed outside the airfield at Getafe, but without damaging his aircraft. Capitán Morato claimed one I-15 (plus three damaged SBs), capitán Salas damaged three I-15s (plus one SB destroyed) and Julio Salvador claimed another I-15.
Capitán Morato recounted:
“Fiat Squadriglia. Bomber escort. “Junkers” and “Romeos” bombing Rosales (Madrid) clashed with 13 “Curtiss fighters”. I shot down one that caught fire in the air, and then machine gunned three “Sophias” till my ammunition ran out. Saw Anti-aircraft fire.Capitán Salas recalled:
Total flying time 1 hour 30 minutes.”
“Fiat number 128. 1 hour 30 minutes.
Torrijos to Madrid, escorting five Junkers. Fourteen Fiats attacked 13 “Curtiss fighters” – three combats, one frontal, fired on the second while banking, and on the third from behind. Noticed several hits on the fuselage of one aircraft, but could not follow him due to the presence of others. Remained alone throughout, and eventually saw five “Martin bombers” attacking Getafe and Cuatro Vientos from 5000 metres. I fired at them twice until my guns stopped. On landing, Noreña, Celier and Betancour told me that one of the bombers I had attacked lost a wing and fell to the ground, its crew escaping by parachute.”
In the afternoon, 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 starshiy 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 Erwin 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 Sergey 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 starshiy 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).
“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.
Yevgeniy Yerlykin (Escuadrilla Rychagov) claimed a shared He 46 over Toledo with another pilot while flying an I-15.
An SB, flown by leitenant Sergei Petrovich Romanov, was shot down by anti-air- craft artillery when three SBs from the 2a/12 attacked Talavera.
The navigator, leitenant Ivan Galaktionovich Nechiporenko was also killed.
Command of the 3a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio was subsequently given to Tenente Antonio Larsimont Pergameni, although Goliardo Mosca eventually recovered, only to perish in a flying accident at Seville on 19 December.
15 November 1936
On the morning, 15 CR.32s provided the fighter escort for bombers attacking targets in Madrid. As they neared the city, four I-16s led by leitenant Sergey Chernykh (Escuadrilla Kolesnikov) attacked the Italian section consisting of Sottotenenti Bernardino Serafini and Giuseppe Cenni and Sergente Berretta. All three pilots ably defended themselves and collectively shot down an I-16 piloted by Vladimir N. Vzorov (’Jose Zoro’), who destroyed his fighter when he crash-landed into an olive grove.
The Russian pilots reported nine I-16s took off to intercept Ju 52/3m bombers, escorted by fighters, heading for Madrid. Leitenant Sergei Denisov (’Ramon’) and leitenant Chernykh (’Garcia’) each reported downing an enemy fighter.
It is possible that one CR.32 was lost since it was reported that the body of a Nationalist pilot was found at the outskirts of Madrid.
In the afternoon, starshiy leitenant Pavel Rychagov claimed a Junkers Ju 52/3m in the Madrid area. He was then shot down and baled out of his I-15, landing on to the Castellana.
No losses of Ju 52/3ms are known on this date.
16 November 1936
In the afternoon, there was an air battle between CR.32s providing escort for bombers and four I-16s escorting nine I-15s over Madrid. Starshiy leitenant Pavel Rychagov’s (CO Escuadrilla Palancar) I-15 was initially hit by return fire from a Ju 52/3m, before being finished off by Sergente Maggiore Brunetto di Montegnacco. Although Rychagov was forced to abandon the aircraft on altitude of only 150 meters, he managed to parachute and survive. He landed in the Paseo de la Castellana, near the War Ministry.
During the same engagement, Sergente Maggiore Vittorino Daffara recorded his very first individual kill when he shot down an SB.
The Nationalists claimed two fighters while one Italian pilot was wounded but managed to reach his base. The Republicans claimed five victories, two of them by starshiy leitenant Rychagov, and one loss (Rychagov).
Rychagov was slightly wounded and during his recovery, the Escuadrilla Palancar was commanded by Petr Pumpur. The two detachments were in turn led by Yevgeniy Yerlykin and starshiy leitenant Georgiy Zakharov.
17 November 1936
In the morning, capitán Ángel Salas led seven Fiats into an attack against two I-16s that tried to intercepted a flight of Ju 52/3ms over the northern Madrid suburb of Fuencarral. Both I-16s were shot down. One of them was credited to Sergente Maggiore Brunetto di Montegnacco while the second was claimed as a shared between Sergente Guido Presel, Baccara and Sergente Maggiore Eugenio Salvi.
Soviet I-16 pilot leitenant Pavlov was killed.
Leitenant Ivan Lakeev (I-16) claimed a shared He 51 in the Madrid area together with another pilot.
19 November 1936
In the afternoon, four S.81s, 12 Ro.37s and 18 Ju 52/3ms dropped about 40 tons of bombs on Madrid. Escorting nine He 51s and 16 Fiats fought against a large number of ’Ratas’ and ’Chatos’ (reportedly 33 Republican fighters were counted).
One Ju 52/3m was lost although its Spanish crew survived. Seven Soviet fighters were claimed as destroyed. Capitán Ángel Salas fired off practically all his ammunition against one I-16, which was last seen in a dive behind its own lines (credited as a damaged). Tenente Corrado Ricci of the 3a Escuadrilla claimed an I-16. Capitano Guido Nobili and Sergente Maggiore Vittorino Daffara claimed two I-15s each.
The Republicans claimed four aircraft destroyed (three fighters and one Ju 52/3m) with two more damaged Ju 52/3ms for the loss of two fighters. Sargento Fernando Roig Vilalta was shot down and killed in an I-15s as was Kapitan Dimitriy I. Zedanov, who crashed to his death in his heavily damaged I-16 two kilometres short of his airfield.
Zedanov, who was leading a section of I-16s, was probably shot down between Madrid and Barajas by Tenente Ricci.
22 November 1936
I-16s flown by Soviet volunteers from 1a/21 claimed three Ju 52/3ms over Madrid.
Leitenant Nikifor Balanov (Luis), leitenant Petr Kuznetsov, Ivan Kravchenko and Pavel Polyakov all claimed one as shared with another pilots (i.e. two in total) while starshiy leitenant Aleksandr Tarasov claimed one ”in group”.
These claims can’t be verified with Nationalist records.
Balanov is also credited with a second shared victory (He 51) during November.
25 November 1936
K/88 flew their first mission when Ju 52/3ms from 2 and 3 Staffeln bombed the port of Cartagena where the unloading of cargo boats bringing Soviet war materiel was in full swing. The attack was made from 2,500 meters altitude without losses despite heavy but inaccurate flak.
30 November 1936
Sergente Raffaele Chianese of the 2 a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio took part in a strafing attack when his CR.32 burst into flames and he was forced to take to his parachute over Republican territory. He was soon captured, and remained a PoW until being freed in a prisoner exchange in July 1937.
Fuerza Aérea de la República Española - Republican Air Force
By early December, the Nationalist offensive towards Madrid had slowed and small Republican fighter groups were being re-deployed to other theatres of operation. Among the first was that led by Ivan Kopets, which was moved east to the Aragon front in an effort to neutralize a group of He 51s flown by a mixed contingent of German and Spanish Nationalist pilots operating in the Teruel area. Assisted by six I-16s led by Morozov, the three Chato pilots performed their task to perfection. Indeed, by the end of the year they had been credited with destroying five of the six He 51s operating in the area. One had been shot down in combat and the remaining four had been destroyed on their airfield by the I-15s. However, the Nationalists also lodged equally optimistic claims against the Republican fighters in this area.
After beginning of the Spanish Civil War in Spain, Bozidar Petrovich decided to join the Republican Air Force as a volunteer, and supported by a Communist organization which gave him a fake passport under the Spanish name of "Fernandez Garcia", he arrived in Republican Spain with his Serbian friend Sreten Dudich on 25 December 1936.
Both were sent to the air school of Albacete in Murcia where they had a new training course of 26 days. After this they were assigned to the Grupo Andre Malraux equipped with Breguet XIXs operating in the coastal defence from the base of Valencia-Manises
The I-16 detachment suffered no losses in December. By the end of the year the newly arrived fighter pilots had achieved 15 aerial victories in just two months.
The Chatos of the Escuadrilla de Chatos del Norte also participated in the offensive at Villareal de Álava in December 1936, and by year-end the Soviet pilots had been joined by Spanish aviators teniente Juan Roldán Maldonado and brigada Felipe del Río Crespo (they converted to the I-15 in late November).
After that Kapitan Georgii Tupikov was shot down (on 2, 4 or 6 December depending on source), command of the 3rd R-5 SSS Escuadrilla was taken over by leitenant Yefim Chervyakov. Chervyakov returned to the Soviet Union in July 1937.
In late December 1936, capitán Isidoro Jiménez García was selected to go to the USSR together with comandante Manuel Cascón and capitanes Aurelio Villimar, José González Montero, Gumersindo Areán and 200 other pilots.
On 31 December, seven Soviet pilots were decorated with the Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union and the Order of Lenin for their performances in Spain; Vladimir Bocharov (posthumously – KIA on 13 November 1936), Sergey Chernykh, Karp Kovtun (posthumously – KIA on 13 November 1936), Pavel Rychagov, Nikolay Shmelkov, Sergey Tarkhov (posthumously – KIA on 13 November 1936), and Boris Turzhanskii.
Luis Alonso Vega was promoted to capitán.
On 1 December a decision was taken to move the Escuela de Hidros from Barcelona to the Base Aeronaval at San Javier. Capitán Juan José Armario Álvarez was appointed CO of the new base, arriving on 21 December.
Vicente Castillo Monzó joined the Arma de Aviación, enrolling in the elementary flying course at La Ribera airfield.
In early December, Chindasvinto González García joined the Escuela de Vuelos pilots’ course at San Javier as a brigada mecánico. At the school he logged only four hours of dual training on DH 60 Moth Majors, but flew 14 hours solo and 17 hours on Breguet XIXs.
On 22 December Álvaro Muñoz López volunteered for service as a pilot at La Ribera airfield, undertaking elementary flying training alongside 45 other candidates at Boissy-le-Châtel, in France, between February and July 1937. Here, Muñoz flew Potez 60, MS.341 and C.600 Aiglon aircraft, logging 47 flying hours.
José Redondo Martín applied for pilot training and, in December, was one of 50 Spaniards posted to a civilian flying school in France as part of an agreement between the two nations. Redondo enrolled at the Hanriot School at Bourges, where he flew Potez Po.25s and Hanriot H.172s, H.182s and H.437s in order to gain a French pilot’s licence.
Francisco Meroño Pellicer volunteered for service in the government militias in Albacete and suffered a leg wound in the subsequent fighting. After convalescence, he moved to Madrid, and in December 1936 he went to Los Alcázares as a student pilot.
When war broke out there were no fighter units on either side specifically formed for night operations. From late 1936 Republican bomber units were equipped with R-5 Rasantes for nocturnal bombing missions, with the Escuela de Vuelo Noctumo (Night Flying School) being established at El Carmolí to train Spanish crews in the operation of these machines. Koolhoven FK.51s, Hanriot H.431s and Breguet XIXs were the unit’s primary equipment.
Apart from their use as trainers, the Koolhoven FK.51s of the Escuela de Vuelo Nocturno were also used for night coastal defence patrols.
Known Soviet aviators arriving in Spain in December 1936
|Arrival||Name||Nom de guerre||Rank||Role||Born||Comment||Departure|
|1936-12-??||Agureyev, Vasiliy A.||SB Gunner||1911||1937-01-02 Order of the Red Banner
1937-11-11 Order of the Red Banner (2nd)
Known Soviet aviators leaving Spain in December 1936
|1936-12-12||Demenchuk, Kuz’ma Terent’evich||1936-09-??|
Fuerza Aérea Nacionales (Arma de Aviación) - Nationalist Air Force
During the final weeks of 1936, following the appearance of increasing numbers of Soviet fighters on the Madrid front, the Spanish capitanes Joaquín García Morato and Ángel Salas did not consider that the Italian commander, Maggiore Tarcisio Fagnani, was sufficiently aggressive, and as they sought continually to have their own way the situation daily became tenser. The Italian leader had ordered that on a particular occasion they were not to penetrate into enemy territory. Salas, who was leading the patrol, defied the order. Fagnani attempted to have him arrested when he returned to base, but Morato intervened violently and protested that in Spain nobody was arrested for displaying courage. The outcome of ensuing discussions between Morato and Salas was a decision to try to form their own independent squadrons.
On 22 December, Morato flew to Seville. Ángel Salas and Miguel García Pardo remained in the Italian squadrons for a while, but on 9 January, they also moved to the south.
At the end of December 1936, when five CR.32s were handed over to the Nationalist air force, capitán Morato formed and commanded an autonomous Spanish patrol in Córdoba, together with his wingmen teniente Julio Salvador Díaz-Benjumea and capitán Narciso Bermúdes de Castro, and they were joined shortly afterwards by Miguel García Pardo.
The unit was named the Patrulla Azul (“Blue Patrol”).
Aviación del Tercio/Aviazione Legionaria
Reflecting the escalation in the conflict, the Aviación del Tercio Extranjero was dissolved on 28 December 1936 and replaced by the Italian Aviazione Legionaria. The latter combined the majority of the aircraft that had been sent to Spain from Italy together with all Italian airmen participating in the mission, as well as some Spanish aviators and soldiers. A minor air component was formed as an autonomous entity, the Aviazione Legionaria delle Baleari being equipped with bombers intended for anti-maritime or coastal operations, as well as a few CR.32s for local defence. Some of the new aircraft supplied by Italy, including S.81s, Ro.37s, CR.32s and CANT Z.501 flying boats, were handed over to the Aviación National for operation by Spanish crews and, occasionally, foreign volunteers.
Italy also organised the Corpo Truppe Volontarie (Volunteer Troop Corps) made up of infantry divisions, arms and vehicles, and it also mobilised the merchant fleet and provided escorts from the Regia Marina.
During December, three more CR.32s joined the Squadriglia Mussolini at Palma.
By the end of 1936, CR.32 pilots of the Aviación del Tercio had been credited with 131 aerial victories (plus 14 probables). Some 110 of these (and the 14 probables) had been claimed by Italian pilots, while 16 were credited to Spanish pilots. The destruction of two Potez twin-engined bombers, two airships and a balloon had been shared between pilots from Spain and Italy. Of the 145 aerial successes claimed by CR.32 pilots, around 80 have been verified by historical research as representing actual losses suffered by the Republican air force.
By early December the J/88 was ready for operations at Ávila and Escalona, and the pilots of 2. Staffel decided to create an identity for themselves, as Herwig Knüppel remembered:
“At this time, we painted Zylinderhut on the aircraft, and we soon became known to the Spaniards as “la escadrilla con los sombreros” (the Zylinderhutstaffel). The meaning of this emblem was not clear to many people. We saw it as the Angströhre, or the “13th cylinder”, since the other 12 cylinders of the He 51s’ BMW engines were inadequate. It was incorrectly viewed by many as being a form of civilian flying club emblem. Those in the unit knew otherwise, however. But we had not given much thought to it. We merely wanted an amusing Staffel emblem, and came upon it through the words of the song “Shön ist ein Zylinderhut”.”Like their predecessors, the new German pilots viewed operating conditions in Spain with some shock and disdain. Harro Harder lamented that Tablada was a ”jackass station where the situation was awful. We would welcome an opportunity to sort things out. The fighters sit here and don’t go anywhere. The entire operation appears increasingly like some great escapade controlled by incompetent staff officers. Are our operations justified by results? Why can't we have better aircraft?”
Hauptmann Werner Palm’s 1.J/88 moved from Burgos to Vitoria on 4 December.
The He 51s of 2.J/88 commenced air superiority sorties over Madrid in late December after the Staffel had moved to Villa del Prado on 22 December.
The pilots of J/88 evaluated various tactical methods to both attack enemy aircraft and to defend friendly bombers, and they also had complete freedom in devising such tactics. The only condition, in accordance with orders from Generalmajor Sperrle, was that in the Madrid area, daylight escort operations by J/88 for the Ju 52/3ms of K/88 bombing vehicle columns were restricted to dawn and dusk.
In December, the VJ/88 (Versuchsjagdstaffel - Experimental Fighter Squadron) arrived at Tablada. With them were a small number of Bf 109 prototypes, namely the V3 (Wk. Nr. 760 D-IOQY, fitted with an engine-mounted 20 mm Oerlikon cannon), V4 (the first pre-series production Bf 109 completed as B-01 Wk. Nr. 878 D-IALY, fitted with three 7.92 mm MG 17 machine guns), V5 (B-02 Wk. Nr. 879 D-IEKS, featuring a variable-pitch VDM metal propeller as opposed to the fixed-pitch Schwartz wooden propellers of the other machines) and V6 (B-03 Wk. Nr. 880 D-IHHB, as per the V5).
However, it remains unclear as to whether three or four aircraft were actually shipped out at this time. It is more likely to have been three, and it is possible that the V4 has been mistaken for a Messerschmitt when in fact it was actually the He 112 V4, which is also believed to have been sent to Spain. Certainly, on 30 November, von Richthofen had observed crates with disassembled Bf 109s ”lying around” a harbour, probably Cadiz. Three days later, he bemoaned that ”transport roads from the harbour to the airfield are so blocked up that the crates with the Bf 109, locked inside the wagons for three days now, cannot be brought to the airfield. Everyone has now been notified. Any success likely?”
On 5 December, Hauptmann Merhart requested that two pilots from J/88 be made available for testing the first Messerschmitts, which were expected to be ready within three or four days for local operations over Seville. The pilots selected were Leutnant Hannes Trautloft and Unteroffizier Erwin Kley.
Events of 9 December irritated von Richthofen. According to his diary, following a stall, ’Gefreiter Koch’ crashed and wrote off a Bf 109. Von Richthofen commented ”It was a mistake to select Koch, an unknown man, and not to have previously demonstrated the aircraft to him”. In reality, this is probably a reference to Unteroffizier Kley, who is recorded as having destroyed a Bf 109 in a crash on take-off at Tablada.
Furthermore, three more Bf 109s that were due to arrive by steamship were found not to have been loaded in Germany.
On 14 December, Oberleutnant Trautloft test flew Bf 109 6-1 for the first time and applied his personal marking of a large green heart below the cockpit.
On 17 December the last of the three Bf 109s at Tablada (V3, V5 and V6) was finally unpacked from its shipping crates.
In December, Leutnant Günther Radusch was assigned especially from J/88 to VJ/88 to test the new He 112 (coded 5-1) at Almorox before handing it over to Unteroffizier Max Schulz of 1.J/88. The latter unit employed 5-1 primarily against Republican armour during the offensive against Bilabo in the spring of 1937, with some effect, earning the fighter the nickname ‘Dosenöffner’ (Can Opener) for its destruction of three enemy tanks during the advance on Bilbao.
2 December 1936
A formation of 18 Polikarpov R-5 SSSs attacked Talavera-Velada airfield and destroyed one S.81 and damaged two more on the ground. One of the R-5 SSSs crashed, hit by splinters from its own bombs. The pilot, leitenant Ivan Volkov, was taken POW while his gunner/navigator, Vasiliy Akulenko, was killed. Three others were also similarly damaged, after which they were attacked by Sottotenente Giuseppe Cenni, who was over the airfield when the attack started after having scrambled to pursue SBs at high altitude together with a wingman. Cenni chased the R-5 SSSs down as they attempted to reach Republican territory, and he succeeded in shooting all three aircraft down. The two crewmen from the first biplane that he destroyed were taken prisoner, while the others managed to crash-land in the Republican zone.
Leitenant Volkov (born 1911) was decorated with the Order of the Red Banner on 2 January 1937 (Akulenko received a posthumous Order of the Red Banner on the same day) and was released from prison on 11 May 1937
3 December 1936
Corrado Ricci and Bernardino Serafini (both of the 3a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio) claimed a shared Martin bomber (SB) over Madrid.
This claim can’t be verified with certainty by either Republican and Nationalist records.
4 December 1936
Polikarpov R-5 SSSs attacked Torrijos airfield. They were however intercepted by patrolling CR.32s and two of them were shot down. One R-5 SSS was claimed by Sergente GianLino Baschirotto.
6 December 1936
On 6 December two Ratas were claimed shot down over Madrid by Corrado Ricci of the 3a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio and ten other Italian and three Spanish pilots.
7 December 1936
During a patrol at 3000 meters over Torrijos, Sergente Giuseppe Ruzzin of the 1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio together with Baccara spotted seven Papagajos flying at a low level. After a steep dive Baccara shot down one, while Sergente Ruzzin first damaged one and then shot down one.
Narciso Bermúdes de Castro (CR.32) claimed a SB bomber.
This was an SB with Spanish crew that was lost during the day.
8 December 1936
Six Ro.37bis flew an armed reconnaissance against enemy troops at Villaviciosa escorted by twelve CR.32s. On the way home they met two Chatos and in the following combat Sergente Giuseppe Ruzzin of the 1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio damaged one.
Starshiy leitenant Georgiy Zakharov and leitenant Nikolay Shmelkov from the Escuadrilla Rychagov claimed a shared Potez 54. It seems that this was a civilian aircraft from the French Embassy (F-A000) shot down by mistake.
Leutnant Paul Rehahn of 4. J/88 (He 51B-1) claimed a Breguet XIX. In fact, it seems that it was a Casa-Vickers Vildebeest, which force-landed near Yurre.
Oberleutnant Hannes Trautloft and Leutnant Dietrich von Bothmer both also from 4. J/88 claimed an I-16 each.
Around 16:00, leitenant Nikolay Miroshnichenko and starshiy leitenant Yevgeniy Yerlykin (Escuadrilla Rychagov) claimed a shared Ju 52/3m over Alcala de Henares (20 km east of Madrid) while flying I-15s.
This was a Ju 52/3m from K/88 which was lost together with Unteroffizier Wilhelm Harjes and his crew.
K/88 lost a second Ju 52/3m bombers during the day. This was from 1.K/88 and flown by Oberleutnant Heinz von Lignitz (pilot), Leutnant Werner Hornschuh (observer), Unteroffizier Josef Ullmann (wireless operator) and Obergefreiter Johann Seitz (flight engineer). The aircraft crashed at Arenas de San Padro.
12 December 1936
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 Erwin Sawallisch, Unteroffizier Willi Gödecke and Oberleutnant Herwig Knüppel (unconfirmed).
None of these claims can’t be verified by Republican records.
13 December 1936
Leitenant Sergey Chernykh (I-16) claimed his second victory during a joint sortie with I-15s when he destroyed one of 18 newly deployed Heinkel He 70 monoplanes that were being used by the Legion Condor in the reconnaissance role.
16 December 1936
At 13:30, fighters clashed over Madrid when 22 I-16s and 14 I-15s were scrambled against approaching Ju 52/3m bombers escorted by a reported 25 fighters. In this combat, Hauptmann Werner Palm of 1.J/88 (He 51B) claimed a ‘Boeing’ (in fact an I-16).
Republican I-16 pilots claimed one Ju 52/3m and four He 51s without losses and reported that two Heinkels fell in the neutral zone near Madrid, and the rest - as stated in the documents – “near Madrid”. The Ju 52 3/m was claimed as a shared between leitenant Sergei Denisov and leitenant Sergey Chernykh (both Escuadrilla Kolesnikov). Denisov also claimed a He 51 while Konstantin Kolesnikov (Escuadrilla Tarkhov) claimed two of them. The fourth He 51 was claimed by Konstantin Dubkov.
It also reported that the I-15s pilots claimed two more fighters (including a CR.32).
The Ju 52/3m was flown by mayor Juan Antonio Ansaldo, who managed to return his damaged bomber to his airfield.
Four S.81s operating from Majorca attacked the only railway line connecting Catalonia with France in the morning. Eight 250-kg and eight 100-kg bombs were dropped on Cap Culera railway viaduct and the railway station in Port Bou. Similar actions took place regularly, virtually without opposition from enemy fighters.
17 December 1936
While attached to the Soviet 2a Patrulla of the I-15 escuadrilla under Soviet capitán Pavel Rychagov (Escuadrilla Palancar), teniente Jesús García Herguido suffered a knee wound in a combat over the Madrid front. He managed to land his Chato behind friendly lines and was admitted to hospital in Barcelona, where he remained for some days.
19 December 1936
Capitano Goliardo Mosca perished in a flying accident at Seville.
20 December 1936
Corrado Ricci of the 3a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio claimed two shared Ratas together with five other pilots over Las Rozas.
1.J/88 accidentally shot down an Italian aircraft which did little to harmonise relations with the pilots of the Regia Aeronautica.
22 December 1936
Corrado Ricci of the 3a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio claimed a shared Potez 54 together with four other pilots over Madrid.
28 December 1936
Over the Northern Front, alférez Felipe del Río Crespo of the Escuadrilla de Chatos del Norte made his first claim when he attacked a DH 89 Dragon Rapide, scoring 200 hits on the enemy aircraft and wounding the observer.
Despite the damage, the pilot (Ansaldo) managed to limp back the crippled aircraft to Lasarte airfield, in San Sebastián.
29 December 1936
Teniente Fernando Romero Tejero of the Escuadrilla de Transportes was involved in a flying accident.
31 December 1936
Starshiy leitenant Pavel Rychagov was decorated with the Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union and the Order of Lenin. At this time he was credited with six victories (totally he claimed six and 14 shared victories in Spain).