Fuerza Aérea de la República Española - Republican Air Force
As of 1 January 1937 a total of 18 SB’s (of 30 initial) were in service.
After arriving in Spain on 10 January, Aleksandr Osadchiy (using the nome de guerre Boris Kazakov) was promoted to command a Soviet I-15 escuadrilla; Escuadrilla Kazakov.
In January 1937, two Chato flights commanded by Evgeniy Erlykin and Anton Kovalevskii flew south to Malaga. A third Soviet pilot, Emelyan Kondrat, was also a member of one of the flights, but the remaining five pilots were Spanish.
More Soviet I-16 pilots arrived in Spain.
On 17 January, the SS Ciudad de Cádiz sailed for the USSR, where they joined a pilots’ course at Kirovabad. Pilots included on the ship were Vicente Castillo Monzó, Antonio Nieto Sandoval-Díaz, José María Bravo Fernández, Antonio Arias Arias (he had previously been a volunteer in the Batallon Fernando de Rosa militia fighting on the Sierra de Peguerinos front), Francisco Meroño Pellicer and Eduardo Claudín Moncada.
Fifteen days later they landed in Feodosia, in the Crimean peninsula, for the journey to Kirovabad, via Rostov and Tbilisi.
Once in Kirovabad, Nieto flew Polikarpov U-2s, R-5s and I-5s.
Bravo had been holidaying in Santander when the war started and he volunteered for service in the air force at La Albericia airfield. Bravo was able to fly some operational sorties in teniente Hernández Franch’s DH 89 Dragon Rapide and José María Carreras’ Fokker F.VII/3m in August, but he was discharged in September by capitán Manuel Cascón, commander of the Fuerzas Aéreas del Norte, for not being an official recruit. Bravo eventually reached Catalonia via France, whereupon he considered applying to become an observer until his friend José María Carreras suggested that that he should learn to fly instead whereupon he joined the flying course at Los Alcázares before being sent to the USSR.
In January 1937, Chindasvinto González García completed his basic flying training, after which he took the fighter pilots’ course. He logged 11 hours that month, and a further 12 hours on Ni-H.52s in February. The school CO, comandante Félix Sampil, rated González as ‘highly skilled, devoted and particularly suitable for fighter operations’. After completing the course, however, he was posted not to a fighter unit but to the 1a Escuadrilla of the Grupo No 20, equipped with Polikarpov R-Z Natacha light bombers and commanded by capitán Crescendo Ramos. This unit operated from the airfields at Albacete, Tembleque, Linares and Madridejos.
Sargento Manuel Zarauza Clavero graduated from the Escuela de Pilotos at Santiago de la Ribera. According to his personal documentation, the graduation was never gazetted. Zarauza’s records also state that during his training he flew a variety of aircraft types - DH 60 Moth Major, E-34, Breguet XIX, Miles M 2 Hawk, C.600 Aiglon, Fleet 10, GL.32, Avro 626, Morane-Saulnier MS.341, Koolhoven FK.51 and Ni-H.52 - logging 88 hr 12 min flying time.
Alférez Gerardo Gil Sánchez qualified on I-15s.
Ladislao Duarte Espés enrolled in the flying course at the Escuela de Vuelo on 5 January 1937. He logged 16 hours dual elementary instruction and 23 hours solo flying in DH 60s, Farman F.480s and E-34s, followed by 20 hours in Breguet XIXs during his advanced training.
Francisco Viñals Guarro reported to Alcantarilla airfield. There, he flew DH 60 Moth Majors, before moving on to Breguet XIXs.
Fuerza Aérea Nacionales (Arma de Aviación) - Nationalist Air Force
On 9 January, Ángel Salas and Miguel García Pardo moved to the south to join Joaquín García Morato with the aim to establish an independent Spanish squadrons.
Miguel García Pardo went on to join Morato’s Patrulla Azul.
Between November 1936 and January 1937 an additional 60 Fiat CR.32 arrived in Spain (thus so far making the total 120 CR.32). The bulk of these aircraft departed La Spezia aboard the Aniene in late December and arrived in Seville on 1 January 1937.
Among the fighters supplied were 20 examples of the CR.32bis quadriarmi (four-gun). These machines boasted two 12.7 mm guns fitted above the forward fuselage and synchronised to fire through the propeller arc, as well as a pair of 7.7 mm guns housed within the lower wings. The CR.32bis was also fitted with the improved Fiat A 30 RAbis engine.
Accompanying the aircraft aboard the Aniene were eight engine mechanics, six riggers, eight armourers, three airmen of other categories and 33 fighter pilots. Leading the expedition was Tenente Colonnello Alberto Canaveri (’Franco Signorelli’), who had orders to command the Reggimento or Stormo da Caccia of the Aviazione Legionaria. Other pilots included the squadriglia commanders, Capitani Armando François (’Martori’) and Luigi Lodi (’Marcelli’), Tenenti Enrico Degli Incerti (’Tocci’) and Alfiero Mezzetti (’Mariani’) and ten Sottotenenti and 18 Sottufficiali.
Pilots from the 1a Squadriglia of the Aviazione Legionaria, at Torrijos, Spain, January 1936.
From left: Sergente Sirio Salvadori (’Salvo’), Tenente Enrico Degli Incerti (’Tocci ’), Oreste Minuto (’Proietti ’), Sergente Giuseppe Ruzzin (’Grazzi ’)
Front row: Sergente Maggiore Silvio Costigliolo (’Castiglini ’) and Sergente Bruno Castellani (’Ribaudo’).
Image kindly provided by Fulvio Chianese at GORIZIA ed il QUARTO STORMO.
Due to the He 51s technological and tactical shortcomings, the Legion Condor failed to achieve air superiority and the Legion Condor suffered an alarming 20 per cent loss rate during January 1937, due mainly to Republican fighter supremacy. In mid-January 1937, the CO of J/88, Hauptmann Hubertus Merhart von Bernegg, drafted a report to Generalmajor Sperrle in which he protested at the technical shortcomings of the He 51, and advised that he would no longer be sending his men on missions to engage the enemy.
An infuriated Sperrle immediately flew to J/88’s headquarters and was met by Merhart as he disembarked from his aircraft. A tense ‘face-to-face’ showdown ensued in which Merhart defiantly refused to sanction operations against the enemy air force and if that was found not to be acceptable then he would request to be relieved of his command and shipped back to Germany. After a moment in which he composed himself, Sperrle turned on his heel and strode back to his aircraft. Nothing more was heard of the matter, until orders were received changing the entire tactical deployment of the He 51. To his credit, Sperrle had taken up the matter with Sonderstab W, and from Berlin Wilberg directed that with immediate effect the He 51 would fly only ‘low-level attacks against enemy frontlines’.
In reality, the withdrawal of the He 51 as a fighter aircraft and its deployment in the close-support role was not an innovation, nor had there been any premeditated intention on the part of the Germans to carry out battlefield support missions at the outset of operations in Spain.
The change in mission meant that Hauptmann Siegfried Lehmann’s 2.J/88 with ten He 51s was moved to Vitoria, in northern Spain, while another Staffel was sent to León. The other units remained on the Madrid Front at Escalona and Ávila. From Vitoria, the Heinkels engaged in regular ground-attack missions, dropping fragmentation bombs on Basque positions and strafing road transport where enemy forces had launched an attack at Villarreal de Alava.
Oberleutnant Harro Harder commented:
“We were all convinced that it was madness to continue sending the He 51 s on escort missions over Madrid. The Ratas played cat and mouse with us. Even the “Martin” [SB] bombers were at least 50 km/h faster than us. The morale of the pilots was excellent, but all the guts in the world were useless with such technical inferiority. So once again we were to be employed in low-level attacks. Apparently, several more of us would have to be shot down before they became convinced of the stupidity of these orders.”
In January, Oberstleutnant Dr.-Ing. Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen replaced Major Alexander Holle as Chief of Staff of the Legion Condor.
1 January 1937
Sargento Arístides García López was shot down for a second time when his Breguet XIX was hit by Republican anti-aircraft fire near Porcuna, which had been occupied by Nationalist forces that same day.
Crash-landing in enemy territory, García López managed to escape capture by walking back across the battlefield.
3 January 1937
Capitán Joaquín García Morato climbed high on a standing patrol while defending Córdoba in an effort to catch one of the fast, high-flying Tupolev SB bombers, which outperformed the Fiat CR.32 in terms of speed. Two appeared, and diving on these, he shot both down.
“After several days of studying the attacks on Córdoba, I had worked out when the bombers usually appeared, what altitude they were at and the direction from which they typically approached. Making full use of this information, I started flying standing patrols at a height of 16,500 ft over the city. One morning while circling over Cordoba I noticed two aircraft heading for the city at high speed. Heading towards them as fast as I could, I quickly identified the contacts as the two twin-engined bombers that had been regularly attacking Cordoba. I opened fire and hit one of the aircraft's engines. This soon caught alight, leaving a trail of black smoke in its wake.The two SBs belonged to the 3a/12, with the first one being piloted by Spaniard Ananías Sanjuan Alonso. He was the sole survivor from the crash-landing, as observer capitán Álvarez Rueda and gunner González Martos were both killed. In the second aircraft, Bulgarian pilot Nikolay Batov (’Ivanov’) attempted an emergency landing in the mountains but the airplane crashed and all three of the crew (observer Starshii Leitenant Vladimir Zotov and gunner Muñoz Hernández) was killed
The stricken bomber turned around and headed back from whence it came, and I followed, hoping to see it crash. 1 also saw the second bomber turn back in the direction of home too. The damaged bomber did indeed crash some 40 miles from Cordoba near to the communist-held airport of Andujar, the aircraft being engulfed in flames.
As I turned for home, my fighter came under attack from the second “Martin bomber”. The latter had somehow got to within 1200 ft of me and it was firing at me with its two machine guns. This was a dangerous moment for me, as I was more than 20 miles from Nationalist territory. It had never dawned on me that the bomber crew would dare attack me! However, I remained cool, banked away sharply and then fired at the enemy. Luck was with me, as one of my bullets hit the aeroplane in a vital spot and within seconds it had spun away and hit the ground, exploding in flames barely a mile away from my first victim. I then flew back to Córdoba, where I was showered with hearty congratulations from the city’s civilian population.”
Leitenant Sergei Chernykh (Escuadrilla Kolesnikov) claimed a shared SM.81 in the Madrid area in his I-16.
4 January 1937
At 11:10, 2.J/88 went operational for the first time when an Alarm flight from Ávila escorted two formations of Ju 52/3ms over Torrijos, but the mission proved uneventful.
The He 51B-1s of J/88 escorted Ju 52/3ms bombing enemy positions when they were surprised above Torrijos by Republican I-15s. The escorting fighters claimed three enemy fighters over the Bilbao area when Leutnant Wolf-Heinrich von Houwald (2 Staffel) claimed an I-16 and Unteroffizier Erwin Sawallisch (4 Staffel) and Oberleutnant Harro Harder (1 Staffel) claimed an I-15 each. Oberleutnant Harder (flying He 51B-1 2-64) described his first claim for a subsequent propaganda article:
“I hear machine guns behind me. A Red is coming for me sharply from above, his radial engine appearing like a giant eye. I pull “2-64” into a turn and the Red streaks past with two of our fighters already in pursuit. Far below, down in the valley, I see one turning around. Using my superior speed I know I can block him off. I get behind him, fire, he turns, I cut him off, another turn, the smoke twists from my tracer shells disappear into his machine. Now he climbs, black, with a red band in front of the tail, rolls onto his back and plunges almost vertically to the ground. I pull myself together - the intoxication has blinded me to everything else going on. I see a He 51 nearby. Exhausted, I pull up and fly to Vitoria, where I make a low-level loop over the airfield.”One Ju 52/3m from 3.K/88 was lost over Bilbao when they attacked the Campsa fuel depots. Oberfeldwebel Adolf Hermann and Karl Schmidt parachuted but Feldwebel Herbert Barowski, Unteroffizier Paul Ziepek and Gefreiter Hans Schüll were all unable to escape the burning bomber and were all killed. This was the only bomber loss on this day.
6 January 1937
The He 51s of Hauptmann Jürgen Roth’s 3.J/88 found themselves in trouble when, during an aerial battle over Madrid, Leutnant Hans-Peter von Gallera and his wingman, Unteroffizier Kurt Kneiding, were shot down and killed. Unteroffizier Walter Leyerer was forced to land in open countryside where his aircraft turned over, his aircraft having been hit 12 times.
It seems that the German pilots accounted for themselves since teniente Jesús García Herguido of the 2a Patrulla (Escuadrilla Palancar) was shot down and killed in combat with Legion Condor He 51s over the Madrid. Herguido’s friend Andrés García La Calle reported:
“In the other Russian escuadrilla my friend and comrade Jesús García Herguido, who had just joined because I had called him in, was killed when shot down. According to the commissar, Herguido shot down a Heinkel, which practically crashed on Barajas airfield, but his aeroplane was so close to the Heinkel that he did not have time to recover from a steep dive before he too crashed.”
7 January 1937
Leitenant Sergei Chernykh (Escuadrilla Kolesnikov) claimed a Heinkel He 70, as described by Starshii Leitenant Georgiy Zakharov in his memoirs, although he mistook the He 70 for a Bf 109:
“Chernykh intercepted the Messerschmitt over our airfield. Everyone was surprised to see the fascist’s reluctance to fight the lone I-16 - he just accelerated and tried to flee. However, fleeing also requires some skill and knowledge. Instead of remaining in level flight and taking advantage of his Messerschmitt’s higher speed, its pilot showed a poor knowledge of the I-16’s performance characteristics - or perhaps he was just scared stiff - and unexpectedly began to climb. It was his first fatal mistake.This was Chernykh fifth and final victory in Spain, claimed during 90 mission. He returned to the Soviet Union on 6 February (he had arrived in October 1936).
You shouldn’t trifle with the I-16 in the climb. And he shouldn’t have trifled with Chernykh either, for he was well known for his skill in fighting in a vertical plane. The I-16’s powerful engine provided a much higher rate of climb, and Chernykh quickly caught the Messerschmitt. Then the German pilot made his second mistake. Sergey fired once he was in range, and missed. We felt disappointed. The fascist was given another chance to escape but he didn't take it. Instead, he stubbornly started climbing again. From his second approach Sergey fired again, but from closer range. The Messerschmitt disintegrated in mid-air, the debris hitting the ground near Alcala, where we went to take a look at it.”
20 January 1937
Oberleutnant Wilhelm Balthasar of K/88 claimed an unconfirmed I-16 during the day.
23 January 1937
Eleven I-15s escorted by six I-16s raided Getafe. Anti-aircraft fire was intense and Leitenant Nikifor Balanov (I-16) was seriously wounded while flying as no. 2 to Sergey Denisov. A shell fragment tore off his finger on his right hand and struck his throat. Despite this, he managed to bring his damaged aircraft back to the airfield, where he made an emergency landing before losing consciousness.
After treatment in hospital, Balanov was sent home to Russia on 27 May.
29 January 1937
Seven CR.32s of the Aviazione Legionaria escorted some Ro.37bis and five S.81s that were flying to drop supplies to the besieged in the sanctuary of the Virgen de la Cabeza. The CR.32 ran into fog at low level and due to collisions and forced landing six of them were lost. Tenente Giuseppe Cenni, Tenente Elio Pesce, Sergente Mario Bandini and Sergente Bernocchi were taken POWs while Sergente Maggiore Giacomo Trombotto and Sergente Maggiore Luigi Grimoldi were killed.
The Republicans recovered two CR.32s intact (one was MM431/'3-6') and one damaged.
Giuseppe Cenni was later exchanged by the Red Cross and returned to the Regia Aeronautica in Italy. During his time in Spain he had claimed six victories.
The Nationalist offensive ground to a halt southeast of Madrid during the last week of February. The Battle of Jarama had been yet another defensive success for the Republicans.
Fuerza Aérea de la República Española - Republican Air Force
By February 1937, capitán Ramón Puparelli Francia was well enough (he had been wounded in combat on 21 October 1936) to be given command of the first two Spanish I-15 escuadrillas. The short-lived grupo was named Grupo de Caza No 16 but both escuadrillas were to operate virtually independently.
Andrés García La Calle was put in command of the 1a Escuadrilla. Initially it comprised three elements. The 1a Patrulla consisted of La Calle, José Calderón, Ramón Castañeda di Campo and Ben Leider, the 2a Patrulla comprised of Jim Allison, Frank Tinker, Harold Dahl and José 'Chang' Sellés and the 3a Patrulla was made up of Luis Bercial, Esteban Ortiz, José Riverola Grúas and Gerardo Gil Sánchez (who joined the unit on 10 February).
Capitán Roberto Alonso Santamaría took command of the new second Spanish I-15 escuadrilla, the 2a Escuadrilla, which was established at Los Alcázares and San Javier. From there they moved to El Soto airfield, again on the Madrid front. The new escuadrilla comprised tenientes Rafael Robledano Ruiz, Juan Comas Borrás (posted in late February), Antonio Blanch Latorre, Ricardo Rubio Gómez, Mariano Palacios Menéndez, Ángel Álvarez Pacheco, Justo García Esteban and Hipólito Barbeito Ramos, sargentos Manuel García Gascón, Alfonso Calvo Ortiz, Cándido Palomar Agraz and Rafael Magriña Vidal and Uruguayan teniente Luis Tuya.
On 7 February, the 1a Escuadrilla moved to the old Hispano-Suiza aerodrome in Guadalajara. They began operations at El Jarama, where their activities were outstanding, but their losses heavy; José Calderón, Ben Leider and Luis Bercial were killed, while Jim Allison and Harold Dahl were shot down but survived.
According to Frank Tinker, by the time the Jarama battle ended on 27 February, La Calle had been credited with 11 victories. The American ace rated him a good CO, but future ace Francisco Tarazona Torán and veteran fighter leader Juan Sayós Estivill, both of whom later came under his command, did not share this opinion.
Following enemy air raids on the power stations in Catalonia, the Jefatura de Operaciones of the Fuerzas Aereas ordered capitán Alonso Santamaría’s I-15-equipped 2a Escuadrilla to the airfield at Lerida on 20 February. The eight-strong I-15 escuadrilla moved to Lérida the following day, with capitán Ramón Puparelli Francia (CO of the Grupo de Caza No 16, which comprised both Spanish I-15 escuadrillas) leading them. Its mission was a simple one - protect the Tremp and Camarasa power stations.
At the same time García La Calle’s 1a Escuadrilla remained on the Madrid front.
During February, Andrés García La Calle was promoted to capitán.
Albert Baumler qualified on the I-15 on 7 February 1937 and was assigned to Escuadrilla Kazakov, which was equipped with I-15 Chatos.
Starshii Leitenant Pavel Rychagov left Spain on 6 February 1937.
In mid-February, Evgeniy Erlykin and Emelyan Kondrat were recalled from Malaga to the central theatre near Madrid, and the Spanish pilot Emilio Galeta was promoted to detachment commander.
In December 1936 and January 1937 two more shipments of 30 I-15s arrived in Spain from the Soviet Union, making it possible to form a complete combat unit of four I-15 squadrons. It should be noted that a squadron represented the largest tactical unit within the VVS RKKA, and normally comprised 51 aircraft. In Spain, the largest unit was a group, which comprised four squadrons of ten to twelve aircraft. However, due to permanent shortages of aircraft a squadron might well comprise fewer machines, and operate independently from its parent group to meet the requirements of different field commanders. Soviet archives offer the following picture of I-15 availability, distribution and command staff as at 15 February 1937. All four squadrons were commanded by Ivan Kopets:
|Unit Commander||Ready/Under Repair||Airfield||Flight crew|
|Escuadrilla Zotsenko||16/-||Alcazár de San Juan||16 Soviet pilots|
|Escuadrilla Kazakov||18/5||Almeria||12 Soviet pilots and 6 'friendly' pilots|
|Escuadrilla La Calle
|13/4||Guadalajara||8 Spanish pilots and 4 American pilots|
|11/6||San Javier||13 Spanish pilots and 1 Uruguayan|
The Spanish and Soviet governments struck a deal in early 1937 that would see I-15 production commence in Spain, Polikarpov transferring the relevant technical documentation and engineering drawings in February.
The first Polikarpov R-Z Natacha biplane reconnaissance bombers arrived in Spain in late February 1937.
In February capitán Juan José Armario Álvarez was made commander of the night-bombing unit Grupo Mixto No 11. This unit consisted of one escuadrilla equipped with Fokker F.VII/3m, F.XII and F.XVIII tri-motors and another operating twin-engined Potez 54s, Breguet Vulturs and Bloch 210s. It was based initially at Los Alcázares, but later moved to Lérida airfield. While leading this unit Armario flew night bombing sorties on the Huesca and Saragossa fronts, as well as liaison flights to the north.
Leopoldo Morquillas Rubio graduated as a pilot on 3 February 1937, and later that month flew Ni-H.52s (he was assigned ‘3-25’) with the patrulla de protección (duty flight) at Reus airfield together with teniente Luis Tuya and sargento Miguel Zambudio Martínez.
Zambudio had completed the fighter course on 11 February 1937 and was sent to Reus to fly Ni-H.52 ‘3-15’. According to base CO capitan Manuel Gayoso, he quickly damaged three Nieuport fighters and retraining was recommended.
Sargento Manuel Zarauza Clavero completed the fighter pilots’ course on 12 February. Zarauza was rated by comandante Felix Sampil, CO of the Escuela de Caza, as an ‘exceptionally gifted pilot’ - high praise from one who had already seen operational service. After his training Zarauza was posted to the Spanish-manned and I-15-equipped 2a Escuadrilla. Commanded by capitán Roberto Alonso Santamaría, the unit participated in operations at Guadalajara, Cerro de Garabitas (Madrid) and Teruel.
Fuerza Aérea Nacionales (Arma de Aviación) - Nationalist Air Force
On 16 February, capitán Joaquín García Morato led his Patrulla Azul from Andalusia to Talavera-Veladas so that the Spanish fighter pilots could lend their support to the escalating campaign on the Jarama front.
On 17 February, capitán Joaquín García Morato was summoned to Salamanca by chief of the air force, general Alfredo Kindelán, who ordered him to intercept enemy aircraft even when outnumbered. He explained that the Republicans were close to securing air superiority over the frontline because fighter units of the Aviazione Legionaria were employing cautious tactics when outnumbered by Soviet fighters. Having clearly been swayed by capitán Ángel Salas’ vociferous complaints of late 1936, Kindelán believed that Italian CR.32 pilots had been ordered to avoid unnecessary losses by senior officers in the Regia Aeronautica.
In the middle of February, the Cóndor Legion realized they could no longer avoid the obvious fact that the He 51 was completely outclassed by the Government fighters. It was essential that the Bf 109 should replace them. This meant that the 4th Squadron was disbanded, and with the equipment from this squadron, the 2nd Squadron and the He 51s, which had been rebuilt, the Spanish Squadrons were formed, each with seven aircraft. They were led by Manrique Montero, Ángel Salas and Martín Campos, and began to operate during late February in Aragón, Asturias and Pozoblanco. The squadron numbers 1-E-2, 2-E-2 and 3-E-2, were allocated to them, the terminal numeral 2 indicating the type of aircraft (He 51).
In September 1936, the Belgian Rodolphe de Hemricourt volunteered for service with the Nationalist forces in Spain, joining a unit of the Falange formed mainly of Argentinean troops. On 19 November he was wounded in the right leg, and whilst in hospital encountered a wounded pilot who was interested to learn that his neighbor in the ward was a nobleman with a flying license.
In consequence, he attended the Escuela Tablada (Flying School) at Seville in December 1936 and on 1 February 1937 joined 3-G-11 at Saragossa, to fly He 46 reconnaissance aircraft.
Aniene delivered 12 more CR.32s during a voyage from La Spezia that ended on 4 February. With this shipment arrived squadriglia commander Capitano Mario Viola (’Viotti’) and an additional 11 pilots – five Sottotenenti and six Sottufficiali.
With the arrival of these new fighters there were now sufficient aircraft in-theatre to organise the CR.32 stormo into two gruppi of three squadriglie each. These took the form of the already established I Gruppo (formerly Gruppo Caccia di Torrijos) (CO Maggiore Tarcisio Fagnani) and including the reformed:
1a Squadriglia (CO Tenente Enrico Degli Incerti from 15 January)The newly formed II Gruppo (CO Tenente Colonnello Alberto Canaveri) and including:
2a Squadriglia (CO Capitano Guido Nobili)
3a Squadriglia (CO Tenente Corrado Ricci (followed by Capitani Luigi Lodi and Mario Viola)
4a Squadriglia (CO Capitano Vincenzo Dequal)
5a Squadriglia (CO Capitano Armando François from 19 January)
6a Squadriglia (initially remained in reserve, although it was later commanded by Tenente Antonio Larsimont Pergameni)
The CR.32 Squadriglie based at Torrijos were ordered to support a Nationalist offensive on the River Jarama front from mid-February. It was hoped that success in this campaign would allow the encirclement of Madrid from the south.
On 4 February, von Richthofen noted in his diary:
“I became worried that too few fighters would remain in the region around Madrid, especially since the Italians are also committed in the south. To keep everyone happy, the Lehmann Staffel will go there from Zaragoza.”Thus, early February saw the component Staffeln of J/88 dispersed as follows:
Hauptmann Siegfried Lehmann, who had fallen ill from inflammation of the kidneys, handed command of the 2.J/88 to Oberleutnant Otto-Hans Winterer, who oversaw a series of false Alarmstarts while based at Almorox.
Hauptmann Lehmann returned to the unit on 20 February to resume command.
In mid-February more fighter pilots arrived in Spain.
On 24 February von Richthofen noted:
“Inspected Knüppel’s outfit. Three Bf 109s are in assembly - will be ready in three days' time. The plan - give Knüppel all the Bf 109s, also the 12 (or nine) that are coming.”
1 February 1937
During the morning, a patrol from 4a Squadriglia consisting of the recently promoted Tenente Adriano Mantelli and his two wingmen intercepted a pair of Potez 540s from the Escadrille André Malraux, based at Tabernas, near Almeria. Having already bombed Motril, the aircraft were heading east along the coast towards home, their progress being overseen by an escort of five I-15s led by Starshii Leitenant Georgiy Zakharov (and including American pilots Albert Baumler and Koch). The escort fighters were quite some distance away from the bombers, and at a height in excess of 16,000 ft, when the three CR.32s appeared unexpectedly from the south over the sea and intercepted the Potez bombers as they flew below the I-15s.
Tenente Mantelli quickly set a Potez 540 alight with his opening burst, although the French upper gunner, lieutenant René Deverts, returned fire. Two bullets hit the CR.32 in the oil tank, causing the engine to overheat. As Mantelli turned towards Nationalist territory, he was set upon by the I-15s and force-landed in enemy territory close to the frontline east of Motril – the latter had been occupied the night before by Italian troops. The pilot of the Potez shot down by Mantelli, Frenchman Guy Sentés, ditched his bomber just offshore near the village of Castell de Ferro despite being wounded in his right arm. His Indonesian co-pilot (of Dutch nationality), Jan Frederik Stolk, suffered serious chest wounds and died in a coma some hours later, although the remaining four crewmen survived, three with injuries.
Mantelli’s wingmen attacked the other bomber before the distant fighter escort could intervene, forcing it down into Republican territory near Dallas. The Potez 540 was damaged beyond repair and five of its seven-man crew were wounded.
The Republicans credited Starshii Leitenant Zakharov with the destruction of Mantelli’s CR.32, which had overturned along the banks of the River Guadalpece not far from Motril.
Having escaped unhurt, Mantelli managed to evade enemy militia that were roaming the area and reach Nationalist territory thanks to guidance from a local farmer. The pilot rewarded the latter with 100 pesetas for his assistance and soon met up with the vanguard of the Corpo Truppe Volontarie, returning to his unit five hours later.
Once the front east of Motril had been secured, his fighter was also recovered.
Over Malaga at 12:00, Starshii Leitenant Anton Kovalevskii (Escuadrilla Rychagov) got on the tail of a S.81 and started to fire. Smoke and flames erupted from the bomber but as he started to pass over the top of the bomber, one of its gunners were able to fire into the belly of his I-15. The fighter started to smoke and crashed into the ground killing the pilot.
The S.81 was also reported as lost.
3 February 1937
The detachment of the Escuadrilla Rychagov (I-15) at Malaga fought with three He 51s and claimed all three shot down. It seems that Leitenant Nikolay Artemyev claimed one of them while Leitenant Emelyan Kondrat and Viktor Matyunin claimed a shared. The third was claimed by a Spanish pilot.
7 February 1937
Tenente Enrico Degli Incerti, the CO of the 1a Squadriglia, XXIII Gruppo, flew his first sortie but didn’t encounter any enemy aircraft.
9 February 1937
Two He 51s were downed in flames during combat with Republican fighters. Both pilots seem to have survived.
10 February 1937
Andrés García La Calle claimed a CR.32 over Araganda in the Getafe area.
Starshii Leitenant Georgiy Zakharov of the Escuadrilla Palancar claimed a Fiat CR.32 over the Madrid area.
A SB flown by Soviet volunteers was badly shot up and had to make an emergency landing at Motril. The crew included radio/gunner Leitenant Nikolai V. Arakcheev (uninjured).
11 February 1937
Oberleutnant Paul Rehahn, a member of the second cadre of pilots to come to Spain, was killed at Caceres flying one of the early Bf 109s (6-2) on a ferry flight to the north. His parachute bag, which had been stowed into a compartment behind his seat and stuffed with dirty laundry, pushed him forward onto the control column when he came in to land.
José Calderón Sánchez of the 1a/16 (I-15) was killed in the Jarama area (accident?).
12 February 1937
The Kapitän of 1.J/88, Hauptmann Werner Palm (He 51B-1), and Unteroffizier Hans-Jürgen Hepe (He 51B-1) were both shot down in flames by I-16s over the Jarama area after that Hepe had claimed an I-16 (claimed as a ‘Boeing’). Although both men were wounded, they were able to use their parachutes to jump to safety, landing in Nationalist territory.
13 February 1937
Teniente Andrés García La Calle of Escuadrilla de La Calle claimed a He 51.
Ben Leider claimed one Heinkel over Jarama.
16 CR.32s escorted five Ju 52/3ms and three Ro.37bis on a bombing mission over Arganda de Duero and Morata del Tajuña. On way home, three Spanish pilots (Joaquín García Morato, Narciso Bermúdes de Castro and Miguel García Pardo) suddenly left the formation and made a tight 180-degree turn to face about 40 Republican fighters, which they had spotted, and which were following the Nationalist formation at six-o'-clock. Soon all the Fiats entered in the dogfight. Sergente Giuseppe Ruzzin of the 1a Squadriglia followed a ’Rata’ in a dive but his machine guns jammed. Meanwhile another ’Rata’ targeted him from behind. Trying to escape, he started to take violently evasive action. This probably un-jammed the four guns (he was flying a CR.32bis) because they went off by themselves just when another ’Rata’ passed in front of him. The ’Rata’ was hit in the fuel tank and exploded. Shortly after this Ruzzin’s aircraft was hit by many shots and with oil tank leaking, he made an emergency landing at Getafe. Ruzzin reported that 138 (alternatively 158) bullet holes were counted on his plane, the same number of the construction number on the tail fin.
Maggiore Tarcisio Fagnani and Sergente Maggiore Brunetto di Montegnacco were also credited with an I-16 apiece.
During the same aerial battle, an I-16 shot down the commander of the 3a Squadriglia, Capitano Luigi Lodi, who became a PoW. Flying his first operational mission, Lodi was at the controls of a CR.32bis four-gun fighter. As this loss clearly proved, the performance of the new variant was clearly not up to that achieved by the earlier twin-gun version. The main problem was that the weight associated with the two extra guns, and their ammunition, in the lower wings adversely affected the flight characteristics of the CR.32. They also weakened the overall wing structure. Such drawbacks had already been noticed during combat in Andalusia the previous month. Yet despite negative reports from other more seasoned Italian pilots on the Madrid front, Capitano Lodi had unwisely opted for a four-gun CR.32. Following his loss all CR.32bis in Spain had their wing armament removed.
Returning from an escort mission in the Arganda area, Tenente Enrico Degli Incerti's formation was jumped by enemy fighters. In the ensuing combat, Degli Incerti damaged two I-16s, and then suddenly found himself surrounded by three hostile fighters, which hit his CR.32. One I-16 got behind him and every effort from Degli Incerti to shake him off failed. He managed to dodge the bullets until he saw a chance to escape. Suddenly he pulled the stick back into his stomach and the Fiat shot upward. Out of imminent danger, he looked around and noticed a damaged Fiat limping homeward. He flew alongside until the crippled fighter landed on the airfield, then he returned to the combat area but the sky was empty.
14 February 1937
Bozidar Petrovich and Sreten Dudich suffered a flying accident in which Dudich, as observer in the Breguet XIX, was killed and Petrovich, who was the pilot, wounded in the knee.
During the afternoon, the appearance of 40 Soviet fighters on the Jarama front was enough to deter the Spanish crews of six Ju 52/3ms from completing their bombing mission on Arganda to bomb enemy troop concentrations in spite of the tri-motors being escorted by 15 CR.32s and 18 He 51s of the Legion Condor. Capitano Guido Nobili and his squadron mates fired at I-15s and I-16s as they attempted to attack the bombers, and crewmen from the latter reported seeing one of the Republican fighters falling to the ground.
15 February 1937
Sergente Giuseppe Ruzzin of the 1a Squadriglia shot down a Rata in flames over Villaconejos and damaged a second.
16 February 1937
In the afternoon, 24 CR.32s flew close escort to Ju 52/3ms out to bomb Arganda del Rey. Polikarpov I-15s intercepted them from behind and above. The Republican fighters didn’t attack the Nationalist aircraft but over the target three I-15s broke formation and raced towards the bombers. Before the escort could intervene, one Ju 52/3m bomber flown by a Spanish crew was shot down. Banking sharply to the port, Tenente Enrico Degli Incerti intercepted the leader of the I-15s and opened fire. This prompt action caused the enemy pilot to discontinue the attack, but as he tried to evade Degli Incerti, he presented an excellent target. Degli Incerti saw his bullets disappearing in the I-15s fuselage and he remained behind it, sending burst after burst into it until it began to burn. He then followed it down until it hit the ground. The shot down I-15 was also as confirmed by observers from the tri-motor formation.
It seems that Sergente Maggiore Silvio Costigliolo claimed a I-16 during the same mission since he claimed one of Russian monoplanes (reported as a ‘Boeing’) south of Arganda, during an escort mission of Junkers Ju 52/3ms and IMAM Ro.37 bombers.
I-16s from Escuadrilla Tarkhov also took part in this interception when Leitenant Andrei Morozov and Leitenant Petr Khara claimed a CR.32 each and Leitenant Sergei Denisov claimed a Ju 52 3/m.
It seems that Frank Tinker of the Escuadrilla La Calle was shot down during this combat.
One Nationalist Ju 52 3/m was lost with its Spanish crew; capitán Jose Calderon Katseli, tenente Francisco Taillefer and sargento Felipe Rojas Gomez were killed while the other two crew members were captured.
Francisco Bofill Dedofeu was killed when his He 51 suffered a mid-air collision with the He 51 flown by Johann Krug (a German volunteer in the Nationalist Air Force) over Saragossa.
18 February 1937
In the early morning, two Nationalist Ro.37s (flown by Spanish pilots) took off, followed by three Ju 52/3ms escorted by the Spanish Patrulla Azul and the Italian Fiat Group (totally 25 CR.32 including the Spanish). When they arrived over the front at Jarama, the CR.32s turned so that they were patrolling parallel to the front, while a large formation of Polikarpov fighters waited on the other side. When the Ro.37s and Ju 52/3ms were safe and returning, capitán Joaquín García Morato broke formation and, followed by teniente Julio Salvador Díaz-Benjumea and capitán Narciso Bermúdes de Castro, launched himself into Soviet fighters near Arganda. Disregarding recent orders restricting them from engaging superior numbers of enemy aircraft, Italian pilots Tenente Corrado Ricci, Tenente Enrico Degli Incerti, Capitano Guido Nobili and Fiacchino went to the assistance of their Spanish comrades by leading their respective flights against the large Republican formation of Polikarpov fighters. Finally, the entire group took part in the battle, fighting a reportedly 21 I-15s and 18 I-16s, and the Italians claimed for four 'Curtiss fighters' destroyed and five probables, as well as six Ratas destroyed and two probables. One I-16 and two probable I-15s were claimed by Tenente Enrico Degli Incerti while Sergente Maggiore Silvio Costigliolo claimed an I-15 in the Arganda area. Sergente Maggiore Guido Presel claimed two I-15s and a probable and Sergente Maggiore Brunetto di Montegnacco claimed two I-16s. Among the Spaniards, Capitán Morato, who returned with damage to his fighter, was credited with an I-15 and another as a probable while teniente Salvador was credited with and I-16 and a second fighter as a probable.
The Italians suffered no losses during this action, and only a solitary pilot was forced to make an emergency landing after he was wounded; the damage to his CR.32 was quickly repaired.
Tenente Degli Incerti described the combat:
“We were on the return leg of an escort mission, and having made sure that our bombers were safe, we had the airfield in sight and prepared to land. It was at that very moment that the three Spanish CR.32 pilots following us, but still flying over enemy territory, decided to take on a large Soviet formation. Although the enemy aircraft were still some distance away, we performed a hasty 180-degree turn at full throttle and joined the fray. All the Italian fighter flights following suit, despite us having orders only to intervene following provocation – our duty was to fight as courageously as possible to the end.This battle was fought against at least the I-15s of the Escuadrilla La Calle and Escuadrilla José (the Escuadrilla led by Ivan Kopets) and the I-16s from Escuadrilla Kolesnikov. The Republican pilots reported being engaged by 85 (!) Heinkel He 51s over the front. Immediately the Escuadrilla went into a tight horizontal circle (”Lufbery circle”). The first enemy aircraft fired randomly at the I-15s as they dived past the Escuadrilla’s defensive pattern. Unwillingly to challenge the Republican fighters, the remainder of the Nationalist pilots followed suit, executing a single strafing pass, and then flying lazily below the I-15s in hopes of enticing a few green Republican pilots away of the defensive protection. Ben Leider took the bait and started down after one of the easy-looking targets, only to attract three enemy fighters on his tail. As Frank Tinker peered over his shoulder during the swirling melee of aircraft, he saw Leider’s I-15 to shudder as the CR.32s flashed past. Tinker’s heart sank as he noticed Leider veer toward friendly territory in a shallow dive. Twice, Leider tried to land his fighter in a small field before slamming into the side of a hill, killing him.
Once we had engaged the enemy, both sides formed a long line of aircraft, and this was turning, banking and circling. The fighters alternated in this single file trail, with two or three “Reds” for every Nationalist. It was as if this formation had been planned. Many tracer rounds flashed through the sky from the aircraft, turning the dogfight into an infernal ballet. Smoke trails of death suddenly appeared, and the long line broke into smaller rows.
The battle threw up numerous small skirmishes that ended inconclusively. Despite being outnumbered, we legionnaires stood together, compact, protecting each other. All of a sudden in the centre of the melee an aircraft caught fire and a parachute opened. The former fell away and crashed to the ground, while the latter floated away to safety. A “Red” had been shot down. Four of his comrades, fearing that we'd shoot at the pilot, circled him for his protection. Two CR.32s engaged them. This turn of events split the battle into two groups, within which fierce fighting continued.
The “Curtiss fighter” section then broke off their attack, unable to defeat our concentrated gunfire. They tried to escape, but this move failed and two of the stubby fighters fell in flames.
Thirty minutes into the battle, thousands of bullets had crossed the sky over Villaconejos. By now the revolving aircraft and chatter of the guns had diminished. The fighting faded slowly away, and within a short time we remained as the sole masters of the sky over the Jarama front.”
In the evening, two I-16s were shot down. Capitano Guido Nobili and Sergente Maggiore Vittorino Daffara shared one between them and teniente Julio Salvador was credited with the second.
20 February 1937
During the morning, Capitano Guido Nobili shot down an I-15 near Morata del Tajuna, his victim almost certainly being teniente Luis Bercial Rubero, the leader of the 3a patrulla from Escuadrilla La Calle, who was killed in the Guadalajara area during the day.
Between 14:20 and 15:40, Sergente Maggiore Silvio Costigliolo claimed an I-16 over Morata de Tajuna during an escort mission of Ju 52/3m bombers. Tenente Corrado Ricci of the 3a Squadriglia claimed a shared victory (Curtiss?) together with eight other Italian pilots during the same mission,
25 February 1937
Oberleutnant Otto-Hans Winterer of 2.J/88 was shot down by flak over Navalmorales and captured by Republican forces.
8 March 1937
The Corpo Truppe Volontarie, supported by Aviazione Legionaria units, occupied Malaga.
The Corpo Truppe Volontarie was then transferred to central Spain where new offensive was to be launched shortly after its arrival as the Nationalists focused on advancing north towards the principal city of Castilla Nueva province, Guadalajara. Its capture would be part of an encircling manoeuvre aimed at surrounding Madrid, Nationalist forces moving north from their positions to the west of the capital, as well as from newly won territory at Jarama. This pincer movement was also intended to cut off the capital from reinforcements brought in from northeast Spain. This plan did not succeed, however, with Italian forces being defeated mainly because of an erroneous estimate of the size of the opposing Republican force at the start of the offensive.
31 March 1937
Nationalist general Mola starts a new offensive in the north with 50,000 troops. After failing in the capture of Madrid, the Nationalist army is concentrating in a campaign against the Basques and their capital, Bilbao.
Slow but steady progress was made over the next two months, with the newly formed XVI Gruppo Caccia being part of the aerial cover. The Legion Condor also took part in the operation.
Fuerza Aérea de la República Española - Republican Air Force
According to a report by Soviet representative Sveshnikov, 18 SBs were in service with Grupo No 12 as of 3 March. Other sources reported 15 airplanes were serviceable and four were under repair.
Between 14 and 28 March there were 17 combat-ready I-16s in the central front and seven under repair. Six had been lost in combat and one destroyed in an accident.
After a short time in hospital following his accident on 18 February, in March 1937, Bozidar Petrovich was assigned to the 2a Escuadrilla of Grupo No 12, equipped with modern soviet bombers SB, where he performed several sorties as a bomber pilot. Anyway, he wanted to serve in a fighter unit, asking this to the Commander of Republican Air Force Hidalgo de Cisneros, who authorized him to be sent to Cartagena - El Carmoli’ flying school, where he was trained on the Soviet biplane fighter I-15 until end May 1937.
Capitán Ramón Puparelli Francia moved to Alcalá de Henares airfield, where he led Grupo de Caza No 16 during operations around Guadalajara.
Capitán Andrés García La Calle’s 1a Escuadrilla participated in the battle of Guadalajara in March, during which “Escuadrilla La Calle” suffered the loss of teniente piloto Antonio Blanch Latorre of the Aeronautica Naval. Guatemalan pilot Manuel García Granados was also shot down on 20 March.
Following the conclusion of the battle on 23 March, La Calle was succeeded by capitán Jiménez Bruguet for a short period.
Capitán Roberto Alonso Santamaría (CO of the Spanish 2a Escuadrilla) moved to Alcalá de Henares airfield with two I-15 patrols, the third remaining on the Aragon front, to participate in Guadalajara operations.
Jim Allison left for home in March. He had arrived in Spain on 9 December 1936.
Capitán Luis Alonso Vega was posted as an instructor to the Escuela Elemental at La Ribera on 8 March 1937. This order was cancelled four days later, however.
Towards the end of the month capitán Alonso Vega was posted to the 1a Escuadrilla of Grupo No 20, which was equipped with the Polikarpov R-Z. He subsequently participated in the battle of Guadalajara in an R-Z in March.
In March further fighters arrived by sea to the Northern Front when eight Czech Letov Š.231 s were delivered to aboard the SS Sarkani. After a call for volunteers to fly them, a group of pilots were flown in to Santander aboard a DC-2 on 23 March. The new arrivals included teniente Tomás Baquedano Moreno, teniente Julián Barbero López, Lambás Bernal, José González Feo, Sánchez de las Matas, sargento Andrés Rodríguez Panadero, sargento José Rodríguez de la Cueva, Olmos Genovés, García Borrajo, Leopoldo Morquillas Rubio and Miguel Zambudio Martínez. The Letovs, however, proved a disappointment. Several turned over on landing before they were even operational, one was shot down on its first sortie (and sargento piloto Juan Olmos captured) and several others were set on fire during an air raid.
Tenientes Tomás Baquedano Moreno, Julián Barbero López and Leopoldo Morquillas Rubio and sargento Andrés Rodríguez Panadero were attached to the Escuadrilla de Chatos del Norte to fly the I-15s.
Leopoldo Morquillas Rubio was promoted to teniente on 22 March while serving on the Northern Front where he flew Š.231s and GL.32s, as well as I-15s attached to the Soviet escuadrilla that was commanded by the Soviet pilot Konstantin Baranchuk.
Miguel Zambudio Martínez was initially posted to the escuadrilla equipped with the Š.231, which was found to be unsuitable for combat with modern German fighters. Shortly thereafter he was assigned to fly further obsolete equipment in the shape of French GL.32 parasol fighters, which had arrived in the north without armament. Hastily fitted with two bomb racks on the wing struts, they were pressed into service as light bombers.
Zambudio later joined the Escuadrilla de Caza del Norte and flew Chatos in the Biscay, Santander and Asturias campaigns.
On 22 March was Felipe del Río Crespo, CO of the Escuadrilla de Chatos del Norte, promoted to teniente.
In March, Chindasvinto González García (1a/20) was promoted to teniente piloto, the alférez and brigada ranks having by then been abolished.
Gerardo Gil Sánchez (1a Escuadrilla) was promoted to teniente.
Walter Katz was promoted to teniente after the alférez and brigada ranks were abolished.
Katz was subsequently posted to the R-Z Natacha Grupo No 25.
José Falcó Sanmartín served in the Spanish navy when war broke out, he passed the necessary entrance examination and was able to join the air force as a student pilot in March.
Fuerza Aérea Nacionales (Arma de Aviación) - Nationalist Air Force
On 5 March, the day before the beginning of the Nationalist offensive on Pozoblanco, the 2nd squadron of He 51s (2-E-2), led by Ángel Salas, was transferred to León since it was felt that they would be of more value there. In fact, when they reached León there was little need for them and at the end of the month they moved to Navia aerodrome, the home base of the He 46s, and remained there until 10 April.
In March, Rodolphe de Hemricourt moved to 1-G-2 on He 51 fighters, seeing action over the Aragon Front.
The first all-Spanish CR.32 escuadrilla, 1-E-3, was formed on 30 March with capitán Joaquín García Morato as CO.
Following the occupation of Malaga on 8 February, the aerial defence of the area then became the responsibility of CR.32s from 4 and 5 Squadriglie, based further inland at Granada. These units saw plenty of action as SB and Potez 540 bombers were being employed by the Republicans to attack advancing columns of Nationalist troops in a bid to halt their march eastwards beyond Malaga.
Support for the Corpo Truppe Volontarie advance towards Guadalajara by Aviazione Legionaria units based at Soria, Almazán and El Burgo de Osma was hampered by bad weather that often blighted operations from Nationalist airfields in the north-central region of the country. The latter were all located north of a mountain range that was often blanketed in cloud cover, thus rendering their crossing difficult – if not impossible – especially for fighters flying in formations.
During the offensive on Guadalajara, the CR.32s of the 1a and 3a Squadriglie moved from Torrijos to Soria, where the S.81s of the Gruppo Marelli and the Ro.37bis were already concentrated. The first to come in to land on 14 March was Tenente Enrico Degli Incerti in CR.32 “3-1”. During the landing, he turned over the aircraft due to the muddy airfield. Degli Incerti was unharmed and the aircraft was later recovered.
Due to uselessness of Soria airfield, the fighters moved to Burgo de Osma and three weeks later to Sevilla.
When the Nationalist attack on the Basque Country began in the end of March 1937, I Gruppo was moved north and 3a Squadriglia was stationed at Vitoria.
The 3a Squadriglia was commanded by Capitano Mario Viola (”Viotti”) who led the 1st Flight of five aircraft (with reserve pilots) usually including Tenente Luigi Mariotti, Ottorinio Cappellini, Giannoti (”Vitullo”), Curilli, Sartori and Romagnoli.
The 2nd Flight was led by Tenente Corrado Ricci and usually included (with reserve pilots) Tenente Giuseppe Mollo, Sergente Maggiore Guido Presel, Sergente Maggiore Brunetto di Montegnacco, Eugenio Salvi, Galadini, Bernardino Serafini and Virgilio Pongiluppi.
On 2 March, the Chief of Staff, Oberstleutnant Dr.-Ing. von Richthofen’s plans for reorganisation and rotation began to start when four of the original pilots, Oberleutnant Hannes Trautloft, Leutnant Wolf-Heinrich von Houwald, Unteroffizier Erwin Sawallisch and Oberleutnant Alfons Klein, were sent back to Germany.
On 6 March, the Kette of He 51s of 2.J/88, which had been based at Talavera for a week, moved back to Villa del Prado, 12.5 km southeast of San Martin de Valdeiglesias.
Four days later the Staffel was moved again to more permanent facilities at Almorox.
The first three Bf 109B-1s were taken on by J/88 on 14 March and, as per von Richthofen’s plans in February, assigned to Oberleutnant Herwig Knüppel, Unteroffizier Willi Gödecke and Oberleutnant Urban Schlaffer. Soon after, the Jagdgruppe moved to Vitoria, and as early as the 17 March, von Richthofen noted that ”Seidemann is delighted with the assaults by the Jagdgruppe on ground targets.”
On 19 March, as part of another reorganisation, Oberleutnant Günther ‘Franzl’ Lützow assumed command of 2.J/88 at the new north-eastern airfield at Vitoria. The Staffel was to operate the Bf 109 exclusively, with an initial strength of seven machines, while 1.J/88 under Oberleutnant Harro Harder and 3.J/88 under Douglas Pitcairn retained the He 51, with a nominal strength of ten aircraft each. They operated from the new and old north-western airfields, respectively.
In the early morning of 25 March, von Richthofen made an inspection of the airfields, and noted:
“The old airfield is small and very soggy. It is perhaps usable for the He 51s. The newer airfield has a superb concrete runway. It is 900 m long and is good for the Bf 109s and the Italians.”As per von Richthofen's earlier intentions, 4.J/88 was disbanded at this point.
12 March 1937
Republican pilot José Cuartero Pozo was killed (accident?).
Starshii Leitenant Aleksandr Osadchiy, CO Escuadrilla Kazakov (I-15) was wounded in combat.
13 March 1937
Capitán Andrés García La Calle of Escuadrilla de La Calle claimed a damaged S.81.
Republican pilot Antono Blanch was killed in the Guadalajara area (accident?).
14 March 1937
Frank Tinker took off in an I-15 (CA-056) from Guadalajara. During the two-hour mission he claimed one CR.32 before landing at Valencia.
16 March 1937
At 11:30, Albert Baumler's (CA-023) patrol flew a sortie from Soto Madrid. In the Brihuega-Valdesor-Pajares sector the patrol met a formation of Fiat CR.32s. In the ensuing combat Baumler shared a CR.32 with A. N. Zeitsoff. It seems that totally two CR.32s were claimed in this combat for no losses.
20 March 1937
The 1a Escuadrilla (”Escuadrilla La Calle”) took part in the last aerial combat during the battle of Guadaljara. They took off in four patrols, led by Andrés García La Calle, Harold Dahl, Frank Tinker (CA-056) and the Guatemalan pilot Miguel García Granados, and were soon involved with three bombers and 20 Fiats. Granados patrol was jumped by the Fiats, which had been patrolling in a higher altitude, and in the first hail of bullets Granados was shot down. Tinker gained his second victory (M. Scala KIA?), and from the two squadrons of fighters taking part five Fiats were destroyed.
The Italians reported that a patrol of four Fiat fighters under the command of Capitano Mario Viola had taken off from El Burgo de Osma in the afternoon and subsequently bounced two I-15s flying at low altitude in the vicinity of Almadrones. Sergente Maggiore Brunetto di Montegnacco shot one of the aircraft down in flames in spite of his opponent’s violent evasive action, the pilot taking to his parachute and being captured. Montegnacco’s victim was Miguel Garcia Granados, who suffered burns to his face and one hand and he was captured (he later returned in a prison exchange).
Granados (1896-1968) was a former Colonel in the Guatemalan Air Force who had done a famous goodwill flight in 1929 from Washington DC to Guatemala. He had previously commanded the Guatemalan air force, with the rank of colonel, between 1930 and 1933. He had also served with the Paraguayan Air Force in the Gran Chaco War.
Albert Baumler (CA-022) attacked a group of three Italian S.81 bombers escorted by five Fiat CR.32s. Baumler claimed a Fiat 10 kilometres south-east of Brihuega.
25 March 1937
Unteroffizier Konrad Rückert of J/88 was lost when his He 51 was shot down while making a low-level attack at Aravaca.
31 March 1937
The ‘Biscay’ or ’Vizcaya’ offensive in the north commenced, and immediately during the morning all three Staffeln of J/88 went into action with their He 51s, supporting the Nationalist infantry of the 4th Navarre Brigade with bombing and strafing attacks when it became halted by the enemy lobbing hand-grenades at close quarters. Von Richthofen noted: ”J/88 appeared and pinned the enemy down”.
Fuerza Aérea de la República Española - Republican Air Force
Capitán Andrés García La Calle’s 1a Escuadrilla fought on the Teruel front from early April through to 24 May.
The Spanish I-15 equipped 2a Escuadrilla returned to the Aragon front, where capitán Roberto Alonso Santamaría and his escuadrilla were involved in the various aerial clashes that took place in this area during April. Sargento Alfonso Calvo Ortiz and Uruguayan teniente Luis Tuya were shot down, but the Republican pilots in turn claimed to have destroyed seven He 51s, although the enemy only admitted the loss of two aircraft.
On 1 April, teniente Manuel Aguirre López was posted to the short-lived Grupo de Caza Chatos No 16, flying over the Aragon front as a member of Kosakov’s escuadrilla.
During the Biscay campaign the pilots of the Escuadrilla de Chatos del Norte, led by teniente Felipe del Río Crespo, distinguished themselves in combat over Bilbao on 13 and 18 April 1937, claiming three victories.
del Río Crespo was promoted to capitán after his success on 13 April.
Teniente Tomás Baquedano took command of the Escuadrilla de Chatos del Norte after the death of capitán Felipe del Río Crespo on 22 April.
Ladislao Duarte Espés enlisted in the air force as a pilot sargento in April 1937 and undertook the fighter pilots’ course. His instructor, teniente Emilio Galera Macías, rated him as ‘highly skilled, highly devoted and highly spirited’.
Upon completion of the course Duarte converted onto the I-15 at Madrid and was then posted to the Northern front, where he joined the 3a Patrulla of the Escuadrilla de Caza del Norte.
Antonio Nieto Sandoval-Díaz returned to Spain from Kirovabad where he had learned to fly and enlisted in the air force in April. Given the rank of sargento, Nieto was posted to the I-15-equipped 2a Escuadrilla at Archena, but he rarely flew with the unit due to a lack of aircraft.
Francisco Viñals Guarro graduated from flying training and joined the air force as a pilot sargento, being posted to El Prat de Llobregat to fly Ni-H.52s with the Patrulla de Protección de Costas (Coastal Patrol Flight).
Upon his return from flying school in France to Spain in April, José Redondo Martín took a further course at La Ribera on Breguet XIXs and graduated as a sargento the following month.
Fuerza Aérea Nacionales (Arma de Aviación) - Nationalist Air Force
In April, all three He 51 squadrons moved to Saragossa.
One occasion during the operations at Carrascal and Santa Quiteria, Ángel Salas after completing a reconnaissance sortie reported one of their own positions was surrounded by a large number of the enemy. He immediately took off again leading Squadron 2-E-2 and eight He 46s to attack the enemy troops. They remained in the air above their hard-pressed infantry, providing machine-gun fire against enemy positions for 2 hrs 8 min, by which time their ammunition was exhausted. Salas then handed over to Squadrons 1-E-2 and 3-E-2 the task of maintaining the attack. By the time that another 1 hr 45 min had elapsed the enemy forces were in retreat.
In due course Government bulletins acknowledged four hundred casualties, and complained that their own aircraft did not take a part in driving of the Nationalist squadrons.
2-E-2 flew actively until 20 April and by this date they only had four aircraft left flying. On 21 April these where handed over to 1-E-2. The 2-E-2 pilots were flown to Seville on 22 April in Haya’s old DC-2, piloted by Navarro.
In Seville, on 26 April, aerobatic classes for fighter pilots began, Bücker Jungmeisters being used for training, and on the 30th more Fiat machines arrived, and were used to form the 2nd squadron of this type, which was given the designation 2-E-3.
The second all-Spanish CR.32 escuadrilla, 2-E-3, as formed on 30 April with capitán Ángel Salas as CO.
The II Gruppo didn’t stay long at Sevilla. Salamanca was their next stop then, almost immediately, Alfamen emergency airstrip in the Zaragoza-Terual sector.
The escort sorties continued, sometimes three missions a day, but no aerial opposition was encountered.
Soon they were on the move again. From Torrijos they flew patrols over the Madrid-Toledo front without meeting the enemy in the air.
In April 1937, the Aviazione Legionaria CR.32 units were reorganised and increased in size. I and II Gruppi were disbanded, re-designated and replaced by two Gruppi that each controlled three Squadriglie as before. A third new gruppo the VI, was also formed.
The XVI Gruppo Caccia under the command of Maggiore Giuseppe Casero (’Casetti’) included:
24a Squadriglia (formerly 4a Squadriglia, CO Capitano Bruno Brambilla)The unit adopted the name Gruppo Cucaracha, which it inherited from the first Tercio CR.32 squadriglia in Spain. Its insignia was a winged Moroccan cockroach (synonymous with a popular song of the period), which was applied to the fuselage sides of the gruppo’s aircraft.
25a Squadriglia (formerly 5a Squadriglia, CO Capitano Armando François)
26a Squadriglia (formerly 3a Squadriglia, CO Capitano Mario Viola)
18a Squadriglia (formerly 2a Squadriglia, CO Capitano Guido Nobili)The gruppo was named Asso di Bastoni (ace of clubs) and its CR.32s were adorned with a marking adapted from Neapolitan playing cards showing a weapon used by the squadre d’azione fasciste (fascist action squads).
19a Squadriglia (formerly 1a Squadriglia, CO Tenente Enrico Degli Incerti)
20a Squadriglia (formerly 6a Squadriglia, CO Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni)
Tenente Duilio Fanali arrived in Spain in April 1937 as a member of the 65a Squadriglia Autonoma di Assalto, was under the command of Capitano Vittorio Desiderio. The unit was equipped with the Breda Ba65 K-14 and based at Cadiz. Fanali's personal aircraft at this time was “65-23”.
Oberleutnant Harro Harder was appointed Staffelkapitän of the 1.J/88 on 6 April.
Oberleutnant Douglas Pitcairn became CO of the 3.J/88.
On 12 April, 1.J/88 reported ten He 51s on strength, with two unserviceable, 2.J/88 had six Bf 109s, of which five were in Seville and two were unserviceable, and 3.J/88 had ten He 51s and four recently arrived Hs 123 ground-attack biplanes.
1 April 1937
Leutnant August Wilhelm von Blankenagel of 1.J/88 was lost when his He 51 was shot down while making a low-level attack at Vitoria. Blankenagel had been hit in the head and his aircraft crashed into a mountainside, where the wreckage eventually burned up. Another pilot bailed out but landed in friendly territory.
2 April 1937
4 April 1937
6 April 1937
13 April 1937
15 April 1937
16 April 1937
Over the Teruel front, alférez Arístides García López of 2-E-2 downed an SB bomber from Grupo No 12 near the Nationalist airfield of Calamocha.
17 April 1937
Teniente Leopoldo Morquillas Rubio of the Escuadrilla Baranchuk claimed a He 51 on the Northern Front.
18 April 1937
20 April 1937
Teniente Chindasvinto González García’s (1a/20) R-Z was damaged during a battle with CR.32s on the Andalusian front, his gunner/bombardier, sargento Florentino Jiménez de la Fuente, being killed by enemy fire.
22 April 1937
Ezio Viglione Borghese claimed a Tupolev SB-2 between Ibiza and the Spanish coast.
The Nationalists were driving on Mount Monchetegui, von Richthofen noting:
“I ordered new attacks by the Ju 52s, VJ/88 and the Italians on this mountain stronghold. I was lucky in the timing, as the air formations struck simultaneously at the targets. The stronghold turned into a gruesome spectacle of flames and smoke from about 60 tonnes of bombs that fell within two minutes. With the first bombs, the Reds again began to run in thick droves into a forest situated towards their rear, where most of the bombs fell, effecting a horrible slaughter.”
The Bf 109 made its first combat claim when Oberleutnant Günther Lützow, leading a Kette from 2.J/88 comprising Hauptmann Lothar von Janson and Feldwebel Franz Heilmayer, shot down one of four I-15s encountered at 17:15 northwest of Ochandiano for his own first victory. The enemy pilot bailed out and landed in Nationalist territory. Lützow noted that he was ”an 18-year-old raw beginner on an overland ferry flight”. Indeed, by now the Republican fighter force in the area had suffered such devastating losses in aircraft, many of which were caused by bombing and strafing attacks on their airfields that replacement machines had to be flown in.
Nevertheless, there were no I-15 losses on this day neither from Russian nor from Republican archives. However, it seems that this victory was a young Spanish pilot (Juan Olmos?), who was bounced by a Bf 109 trio and forced to bail out from his damaged plane (Letov S. 231?).
The Escuadrilla de Chatos del Norte took part in combat over Bilbao. One German Do 17 was claimed by teniente Felipe del Río Crespo (CO).
Sergente Maggiore Brunetto di Montegnacco of the 26a Squadriglia claimed an I-15 near Ochandiano, Vizcaya. Sergente Maggiore Montegnacco noted in his diary:
“Defensive patrol over the Ochandiano front. Flight made up of Capitano Viola, Costantini, Comelli and myself. Above Villareal, a “Curtiss fighter” managed to escape the commander’s attack, despite the latter getting very close to him. My attack took him by surprise as he came out of cloud, setting him on fire. The pilot, who was hit in the head and various other parts of his body, could not escape by parachute and he fell with his aircraft close to Villareal.”
The I-15 pilot who perished was eighteen-year-old sargento José Rodríguez de la Cueva. He was part of the only a handful of I-15s flown by Spanish pilots of the single Escuadrilla de Chatos del Norte opposing the Fiat fighters in the Basque region. This was the second Spanish fighter pilot lost on this Front.
This was the only CR.32 claim on the Bilbao front in April.
At Teruel, capitán Ángel Salas' and Montero’s escuadrillas (2-E-2 and 3-E-2) attempted to bring to combat a twin-engined low-wing monoplane, but were unable to get within range as it was flying at a much higher altitude.
Later, when Salas was returning to Saragossa aerodrome in company with two other He 51s, they spotted seven Chatos overhead and climbed to attack them. One went into a dive and was followed down by Salas until it was near the ground, where it crashed and burst into flames. The combat ended after ten minutes when more Government aircraft arrived and the Nationalist aircraft escaped by diving away.
The Government aircraft were from the 2a/16, which lost Uruguayan teniente Luis Tuya while claiming one Heinkel.
This was the one and only time that a pilot flying a He 51 managed to bring down a SB, as the latter was considerably faster than the German biplane fighter.
The three Nationalist He 51 escuadrillas operated over the Teruel front with a total of 17 fighters.
2-E-2, with five He 51s, saw an enemy bomber but was unable to close with it. Shortly after they were joined by another He 51, flown by teniente Jaime Palmero Palmeta, and caught sight of ten I-15s patrolling well above their own altitude of 4,000m. They climbed to attack, determined to break off at the moment of interception, but teniente Palmero was unable to evade one I-15 that was coming down very fast in a dive, and the two machines collided. The ensuing combat ranged all over the sky, and ten more I-15s and a third fighter squadron soon joined the battle against the five remaining aircraft of 2-E-2. Capitán Ángel Salas Larrazábal made attacks on four aircraft but didn’t claim anything and arrived at Calamocha with his petrol tanks almost dry and with 18 bullet holes in the fuselage and wings. He had remained in the combat area until all the Republican fighters had disappeared. Alferéz Jorge Muntadas Claramunt, alferéz Rafael Mazarredo Trenor and alferéz Joaquín Ansaldo Vejarano had already landed at Calamocha, and only Ansaldo’s aircraft was free from damage. The fifth pilot, alférez Javier Allende Isasi was shot down by alferéz Juan Comas Borrás of 2a/16. Allende’s fighter was seriously damaged and chivalrously escorted by Comas it until Allende was able to make a forced-landing in Nationalist-held territory.
2-E-2 had alone been involved in this combat, the other two He 51 escuadrillas were unaware of the action and were patrolling peacefully over their own lines.
Nationalist observers on the ground saw seven aircraft fall, and if one discounts the two He 51s flown by Palmero and Allende, this gives the destruction of five I-15s, but the Nationalist communiqué claimed a total of seven aircraft destroyed.
It seems that 18-21 I-15s were involved since it’s known that three escuadrillas took part in the combat; 1a/16 (Escuadrilla La Calle), 2a/16 and Escuadrilla Kazakov (the two last escuadrillas operated from the same airfield near Sarrion) and five claims are known. The 2a/16 was first to engage, followed by Escuadrilla Kazakov and finally by the 1a/16.
Additional to Comas’ claim of Allende, Albert Baumler (Escuadrilla Kazakov) reported that on his second mission of the day, his group intercepted a formation of Heinkel He 51 pursuits. Giving chase to the enemy, Baumler crippled a Heinkel; as he did not see it crash, he was awarded with only a probable victory. He did, however, obtain credit for a subsequent "kill" in this same combat. Aleksandr Osadchiy, CO of Escuadrilla Kazakov claimed two He 51 while Frank Tinker from the 1a/16 claimed a He 51while flying in I-15 CA-058.
The I-15 that collided with teniente Palmero was flown by Alfonso Calvo Ortíz of the 2a/16, who also was killed.
It seems that Manuel Aguirre Lopez of Escuadrilla Kazakov also took part in this combat but without claiming anything.
The Escuadrilla de Chatos del Norte took part in combat over Bilbao. The unit claimed one of the new Dornier Do 17s of the Legion Condor, which crashed in government territory. Its demise was credited to capitán Felipe del Río Crespo (CO).
Another Do 17 was claimed as a shared by sargento Andrés Rodríguez Panadero (same aircraft?).
Capitán Felipe del Río Crespo and his Escuadrilla de Chatos del Norte accounted for the Breguet XIX flown by capitán José Antonio del Val Núñez, who was seriously wounded and forced to land near Azpeitia (credited to del Río Crespo).
Leutnant Günther Radusch and Feldwebel Franz Heilmayer of 2.J/88 (Bf 109B) each claimed an I-15 while Hauptmann Lothar von Janson claimed one unconfirmed. One of these was flown by seven-victory Republican ace capitán Felipe del Río Crespo (CO of the Escuadrilla de Chatos del Norte), who was killed.
The three pilots flying with Felipe del Río Crespo, tenientes Julián Barbero López, José González Feo and Leopoldo Morquillas Rubio, stated their commander had fallen victim to Bf 109s while Barbero avoided being shot down by the German fighters by tricking his opponents into thinking that his aircraft had been terminally damaged, although he was able to land at Lamiaco.
“At 1600 hrs a flight patrolling near the airfield sighted nine twin-engined bombers and several fighters heading for Bilbao. The government aircraft forced them into combat lasting 20 minutes and shot down two enemy fighters. One was a Heinkel and the other was unknown. In this combat one aircraft was lost.”
The lost I-15 was the one flown by capitán del Río Crespo. His posthumous promotion to mayor was dated 22 April 1937.
4 April 1937
6 April 1937
13 April 1937
15 April 1937
16 April 1937
Over the Teruel front, alférez Arístides García López of 2-E-2 downed an SB bomber from Grupo No 12 near the Nationalist airfield of Calamocha.
17 April 1937
Teniente Leopoldo Morquillas Rubio of the Escuadrilla Baranchuk claimed a He 51 on the Northern Front.
18 April 1937
20 April 1937
Teniente Chindasvinto González García’s (1a/20) R-Z was damaged during a battle with CR.32s on the Andalusian front, his gunner/bombardier, sargento Florentino Jiménez de la Fuente, being killed by enemy fire.
22 April 1937
26 April 1937
The Basque town of Guernica was bombed by units from the Condor Legion and Aviazione Legionaria.
The Nationalists had identified Guernica as a choke point, with retreating Republican forces needing to pass through its road intersection in order to reach safer territory. In doing so, they would cross a bridge at Rentaria, but first they would have to pass through Guerricaiz, nine kilometres away. It was here that von Richthofen realised his bombers could annihilate the Republicans.
By destroying the Rentaria Bridge the defenders would be contained on the wrong side of the Oca River. But that morning reconnaissance aircraft from A/88 erroneously reported large enemy forces around Guernica. In fact they were civilians on their way to their usual market. Von Richthofen saw a tactical opportunity to use air power to isolate and destroy these ‘reserves’, and he obtained permission from Mola’s Chief-of-Staff, coronel Juan Vigón, to strike this new target.
Together with the Italians, the Legion's bombers were to attack what were assumed to be 23 battalions of Basque troops on the roads immediately east of Guernica and on its outskirts. They were to also target the Rentaria Bridge, while J/88 with A/88 would strafe the roads east of the river to force the defenders into Guerricaiz.
However, communications between von Richthofen’s command post and the Nationalist HQ at Burgos seem to have failed, ending in confusion, and an attack was ordered on Guernica itself. K/88 and VB/88 duly despatched 26 bombers, escorted by 16 fighters from 1. and 2.J/88. German bombs struck the bridge, the town centre and an area south of Guernica. A burning olive oil plant caused dense clouds of smoke that only served to confuse later waves of aircraft. As many as 1500 people were reported as having been killed or wounded during the bombing attacks - the true number will never be known, and some victims were strafed by Bf 109s of 2.J/88 as they tried to escape the carnage.
The bridge remained largely unscathed and the bombs missed the assigned targets except for the railway station. A small-arms factory remained untouched, as did the town’s two hospitals. But the damage inflicted on Guernica was enough to appal international opinion, and the town held the ignoble distinction of being the first to suffer from a modern ‘terror raid’. It became an embarrassment for the Nationalists.
During the attack at least the 2nd Flight and possibly also the 1st Flight of the 26a Squadriglia provided escort to the German bombers when they left the target area in the afternoon and evening.
27 April 1937
Von Richthofen gave J/88 ’a free rein to attack the roads around Guernica’. The He 51s flew high sortie numbers during the battle for the heights near Amorebieta and the 200 metre-high Bizcargui, which dominated the surrounding area. Oberleutnant Harro Harder’s 1. Staffel went to work, and Harder recalled:
“April 27 - bad weather again. The clouds hang low over the mountains. I manage to make it past Udala with my Kette and find good targets on the Durango-Bilbao road. The Reds had apparently not bargained on the famous “motor-vehicle hunters” coming out in this awful weather. They have assembled their vehicles without camouflage. Flying low, we shoot up about 20 motor vehicles. Again and again, we dive beneath the low clouds. The next day we’re back at it again. Oberfeldwebel [Karl] Wilfert finds three trucks towing guns. Once again we come across a vehicle column. Bombs on target. A few bursts at the church tower in Durango, where there are reported to be machine gun posts, then I roll over the town at low-level as usual and then head back home over Udala.”
30 April 1937
Oberleutnant Harro Harder flew another six sorties, during which his Kette from 1.J/88 (He 51) shot up nearly 40 more vehicles.
Miguel Zambudio Martínez took off from La Albericia airfield at the controls of one GL.32 to attack the Nationalist battleship Espana, which had hit a mine and was already sinking.
1 May 1937
Bilbao was encircled, the so-called ‘Ring of Iron’ (Cinturón de Hierro) around the city being reached six days later.
Fuerza Aérea de la República Española - Republican Air Force
Teniente Gerardo Gil Sánchez was appointed CO of the 3a Patrulla of the Escuadrilla La Calle (1a Escuadrilla).
In early May the unit moved to Reus following the revolutionary uprising against the Republicans in Barcelona.
In May significant fighter reinforcements had to be sent to the threatened Northern front. Two Spanish I-15 Chato units were moved via France, one led by capitán Alfonso Jiménez Bruguet and the second commanded by capitán Javier Jover Rovira. In both cases the aircraft were stopped by the French authorities at Pau and Toulouse.
One of the units was 2a/16, which made a first attempt to fly north on 8 May. This effort wasn’t successful and included sargento Manuel Zarauza Clavero in I-15 ‘54’, who landed in Toulouse.
On 17 May the unit again attempted to fly north via France, with mayor Antonio Martín Luna-Lersundi leading in a DC-2. The formation crossed the Pyrenees in a snowstorm, but despite poor visibility alferéz Juan Comas Borrás stuck to the DC-2’s tail, followed by the other I-15 fighter pilots. However, the patrulla comprising teniente Angel Cristiá and sargentos Manuel Zarauza Clavero (returned due to engine problems) and José Marín had to return to Lerida. The remaining I-15 pilots, meanwhile, landed safely at Pont-Long airfield, in Pau (including teniente Gerardo Gil Sánchez flying I-15 ‘31’), and two days later they were allowed to return to Spain.
Finally, two forces, commanded by teniente Gerardo Gil Sánchez (six I-15s arriving on 22 May) and teniente José Riverola Grúas (ten I-15s arriving 24 May), managed to reach Santander and Bilbao from Madrid.
The two forces was the former Grupo No 16 and was led by teniente Riverola. One of the pilots flying with Riverola´s patrulla was sargento Rafael Magriña Vidal in I-15 ‘62’. The only patrulla that managed to land at La Albericia airfield was comprised of Comas, Alarcón and Palomar. Sargento Zarauza turned back with engine trouble just after crossing the Sierra in Madrid, while teniente José Bastida ditched off San Sebastian and was captured. The other aircraft, led by Riverola, landed at Sondica.
On arrival Riverola became CO of the Escuadrilla de Caza del Norte.
A second batch of 31 SBs was delivered on 1 May 1937. These aircraft, featuring more advanced equipment and fitted with ShKAS machine guns, were powered by M-100 engines with an extended service life. However, the engine cooling system still remained inadequate and the engines overheated in summer.
These new aircraft together the remaining aircraft allowed Grupo No 12 to equip four Escuadrillas. A. Senatorov was appointed the general commander of the Grupo and leader of one of the Escuadrillas, while I. Proskurov became leader of the 1a Escuadrilla. The other two Escuadrillas were manned with Spanish crews and leaders. In addition, the Spaniards started a new unit, Grupo No 24.
On 3 May, Frank Tinker was transferred to the 1a Escuadrilla de Moscas led by the Russian Ivan Lakeev and equipped with Polikarpov I-16s.
Juan Lario Sanchez was despatched to the Soviet Union for training at Kirovabad.
In early May, teniente Chindasvinto González García was posted to the 1a Escuadrilla of the Natacha Grupo No 25, which was operating from the airfields at Lérida and Balaguer on the Aragon front. The Grupo had been reduced to one squadron, the Escuadrilla Independiente No 40, and González was appointed patrulla CO. This unit operated from the airfields at Tembleque, Camporreal and Madridejos, flying sorties over the Córdoba, Guadalajara, Huesca and Saragossa fronts.
In May, Soviet pilots of the 1a Escuadrilla were returning to Soviet Union after a service period in Spain, so this unit was re-equipped with a group of Soviet I-16 pilots recently arrived in Spain, who were given the I-15 of the escuadrilla, completed by pilots of different origin; three Spanish, two Austrian, two Americans (one of them was Harold Dahl) and Bozidar Petrovich, under the command of the Soviet Captain Ivan Yeremenko.
During the spring of 1937, the second group of Soviet volunteers was sent to Spain. The group was led by Kapitan Ivan Yeremenko and consisted of Leitenant Mikhail Yakushin ('Carlos Castejón'), Leonid Rybkin, I. Trophimov, M. Petrov, S. Shelyganovand and I. Karpov.
They travelled through France with Dutch passports - they didn't speak either foreign language fluently! Not without adventures the Soviet fliers arrived at their destination in May 1937.
Arriving with them where Spanish Republican pilots who had been undergoing fighter training at the Soviet flight school near Kirovabad.
At the same time as this second group of Soviet volunteers arrived, another batch of 31 Chatos arrived from the Soviet Union, taking the total number supplied to the Republicans to 116. These new fighters greatly enhanced the strength of the I-15 Grupo.
Initially, these new aircraft were used to fly patrols over the Mediterranean coastal zone from Cartagena and Elche to Alicante, protecting Republican warships and cargo vessels. This mission had initially been performed by the I-16s, but following the redeployment of the latter type to the north, and the poor quality of the latest batch of Polikarpov fighters to reach Spain, the I-15 Grupo was given the task of coastal patrolling. The pilots assigned this role formed the backbone of the 1a Escuadrilla, which had been placed under Kapitan Ivan Yeremenko’s command while Andrés García La Calle was to undergo further training in the Soviet Union.
After arrival, an escuadrilla of I-16 fighters, designated 1a Escuadrilla of Grupo de Caza No 21 (1a/21), was organized under the command of Kapitan Ivan Yeremenko. Initially this unit performed defensive duties over Cartagena and Alicante covering ship and transports from insurgent air raids. During a period of forced inaction in June 1937, half of the group was sent to Los Alcazares airfield, where it was re-equipped with I-15s. The new escuadrilla was later designated 1a/26.
Mikhail Yakushin served in this escuadrilla as a Leitenant.
The escuadrilla had already become operational two days after the Brunete campaign began and where aviation played considerable role. The insurgents increased their presence in the air battles by using German and Italian units armed with the newest aircraft. Nevertheless, Soviet fliers gained considerable success there, claiming numerous enemy aircraft shot down.
59 more I-16 pilots arrived from the USSR, accompanied by 60 Spanish graduates from the Soviet flying school at Kirovabad (including José María Bravo Fernández).
At the same time 62 new I-16 Type 5s (and four UTI-4s) were delivered from the USSR to bolster the Republican air force, but these new fighters quickly proved to be far from combat-ready. Their M-25A engines demonstrated poor quality control and their wings lacked proper strengthening. A series of fatal accidents ensued, causing a loss of confidence in the aircraft. Soviet representatives in Spain even went as far as to label the new batch of fighters the ‘sabotaged aircraft’ in the reports they sent back to Moscow. Their investigations into the crashes indicated that pilots Dmitry Lesnikov (KIFA 19/06/37), Anton Moseyko (KIFA 14/06/37), Petr Burov (KIFA 14/06/37) and Vasiliy Orzhanov (KIFA 19/06/37) had been killed when their fighters suffered wing failure in flight.
All remaining I-16s from this batch were subjected to improvements in the field, including the strengthening and replacement of the fabric skin on the outer wing panels.
Escuadrilla Kazakov converted to Polikarpov I-16 Moscas in the end of May and Albert Baumler qualified on the I-16 on 1 June 1937.
Towards the end of May additional I-15s were flown up to the Bilbao front in an effort to reinforce the North Air Zone, these machines re-equipping the local escuadrilla that was led by teniente Baquedano. The unit was based at San Juan de Somorrostro, which was located on the coast west of Bilbao. It also had fighters detached at Sondica.
After returning from the USSR, José María Bravo Fernández was initially posted in error to a Chato escuadrilla, but after a few sorties he was sent to Belchite to join the 1a Escuadrilla de Moscas of the Grupo No 21. Bravo soon became a patrulla commander, but also flew with grupo CO Valentin Ukhov.
Fuerza Aérea Nacionales (Arma de Aviación) - Nationalist Air Force
The all-Spanish Fiat Grupo, with the designation 2-G-3, was formed in Cordoba on 4 May from the escuadrillas led by capitán Joaquín García Morato and capitán Ángel Salas (2-E-3). Morato assumed command of the Grupo, and Julio Salvador took over leadership of Morato’s old escuadrilla (1-E-3).
This had been made possible after a further consignment of eight CR.32s had been passed on to the Nationalist air force in April 1937, and they joined the five previously handed over four months earlier to form the basis of the first Spanish grupo equipped with Fiat fighters. Grupo 2-G-3 consisted of 13 aircraft and 15 pilots, which were divided into two escuadrillas of six fighters each. The final CR.32 was Morato’s personal (3-51).
Of the pilots assigned to its escuadrillas, two of them had previously served as wingmen in the Patrulla Azul, while the remaining 12 were chosen according to their experience in fighters.
Teniente Julio Salvador (CO)
Teniente Miguel Guerrero García
Alférez Manuel Vázquez Sagastizábal
Alférez Arístides García López Rengel
Alférez Rafael Mazarredo Trenor
Alférez Jesús Rubio Paz
Brigada Ramón Senra Àlvarez
Capitán Ángel Salas
Capitán Narciso Bermúdes de Castro
Capitán Javier Murcia Rubio
Teniente Miguel García Pardo
Alférez Javier Allende Isasi
Alférez Joaquín Ansaldo Vejarano
Alférez Jorge Muntadas Claramunt
On 17 May, Joaquín García Morato was decorated with the Cruz Laureada de San Fernando for his actions up until 18 February 1937. Until the latter date, he had made 150 sorties and participated in 46 combats, claiming 18 victories.
The VI Gruppo Caccia was formed on 3 May and was commanded by Maggiore Eugenio Leotta (’Leonello’). The Gruppo consisted of:
31a Squadriglia commanded by Capitano Luigi Borgogno (’Benigni’)This unit was originally named Gruppo Leonello, but it later became known as Diavoli Neri (Black Devils). The gruppo was brought to its full strength of three squadriglie with the addition of the 33a Squadriglia on 1 October of that same year.
32a Squadriglia commanded by Capitano Ernesto Botto (’Cantini’)
The three Italian CR.32 gruppi in Spain were brought together under the control of 3o Stormo Caccia dell’Aviazione Legionaria, which was led by Tenente Colonnello Alberto Canaveri. The unit’s designation was derived from the code number ‘3’ which had been assigned as the aircraft identifier for the CR.32 in Nationalist service, for it was the third type of fighter to have been used by the air force following the Ni-H.52 and He 51.
Other CR.32s assigned to the Aviazione Legionaria were placed into three Sezioni Allarme (Alarm Sections) that were assigned point defence duty for key airfields, these aircraft operating independently from the gruppi.
In May 1937, the Squadriglia Mussolini officially became the 101a Squadriglia.
At the end of May, the 19a Squadriglia was rushed to Olmedo, were a Republican offensive was in progress. Joined by another Squadriglia, several escort and strafing missions were flown between 30 May and 15 June.
Adolf Galland arrived at Ferrol on 8 May.
On 10 May, Leutnant Henning Strümpell of J/88 left Spain.
8 May 1937
Capitano Ernesto Botto flew his first operational sortie when they escorted a section of Nationalist Ro.37bis.
Tenente Duilio Fanali flew the 65a Squadriglia's first mission, a reconnaissance over Castuera, together with the ace Tenente Adriano Mantelli, who was temporarily assigned to the 65a Squadriglia.
Capitán Luis Alonso Vega led an unsuccessful attempt to move the 1a Escuadrilla of Grupo Na 20 (Polikarpov R-Z) to the north via France, but the unit ended up being stopped by French authorities at Toulouse airfield.
They were kept in France until June.
12 May 1937
Konstantin Kolesnikov of the 1a Escuadrilla was killed when the wings of his I-16 folded up in mid-air.
At the time of his death it seems that Kolesnikov was credited with 4 and 3 shared victories.
22 May 1937
Flying a Bf 109B as escort to bombers, Oberleutnant Günther Lützow from 2.J/88 claimed an I-15.
26 May 1937
Airspeed Envoy F-APPQ (c/n 69) from Air Pyreenes was lost. It was piloted by Leopold Galy and was shot down by Nationalist fighters near Bermea and force-landed near Sopelana at around 11:00. The pilot was wounded in the head and one of the passengers; Mrs. Antonia Larranago, suffered a broken clavicle while the remaining four passengers stayed unhurt.
Dutch newspapers reported that the piloted stated that the Envoy was followed by three Nationalist aircraft, later by five aircraft. Because of own engine noise pilot wasn't aware at first that he was being shot at. Newspapers also mention that ”according to experts the attacking machines were Heinkels”. Reports on the ground even mention the presence of seven Heinkels.
28 May 1937
Oberleutnant Günther Lützow from 2.J/88 (Bf 109B) claimed an I-15 as did Feldwebel Heinz Braunschweiger of 1.J/88.
One of the I-15s was probably teniente Tomás Baquedano Moreno, CO of the Escuadrilla de Chatos del Norte, who was shot down by Bf 109s while defending Santander. He bailed out but was fired on while in his parachute and died in Santander’s Valdecilla hospital.
29 May 1937
The Nationalist navy operated two cruisers – Canarias and Baleares and in the end of May, they were deployed on the island of Mallorca.
On 29 May, near the island of Ibiza, a pair of SBs spotted a military ship that resembled one of the cruisers. One of the SBs, flown by N. Ostryakov, attacked the vessel, which turned out to be the German battleship Deutschland. One of the bombs hit the wardroom, killing 31 and wounding another 83 of the ship’s crew.
The Germans responded by letting the heavy cruiser Admiral Scheer fire on the coastal city of Almeria the next day. There were numerous civilian casualties.
31 May 1937
At dawn, a lone Potez 540, flown by the Czechoslovak pilot Jan Ferak, bombed Palma de Mallorca, causing about ten dead and about thirty wounded. On the return flight it was intercepted at 4000 m over the sea by Capitano Giuseppe D’Agostinis (‘4’), Sottotenente Ippolito Lalatta and Sottotenente Aurelio Vedovi, whom hit it with several bursts and set the left engine on fire. The bomber turned towards Mallorca and crashed near Andraitx.
19 June 1937
Nationalist troops entered Bilbao.
The Basque has already started to retreat towards Santander.
Fuerza Aérea de la República Española - Republican Air Force
In June-July 1937 new I-16 fighter units designated as escuadrillas were formed.
As a Starshii Leitenant and commander of a Zveno in the 1a Escuadrilla under the command of Kapitan Ivan Yeremenko, Anatoly Serov was transferred to Campo Soto on 30 June 1937 to take part in the battle of Brunete. The 1a Escuadrilla was at this time equipped with Polikarpov I-15s and operating from Los Alcazares airfield.
Posing as Soviet tourists going to an international cultural exhibition in Paris; Leitenant Yevgenii Stepanov together with other pilots took a steamer from Leningrad to Le Havre and, with the assistance of a Spanish support group, flew from there to Valencia arriving in June (or 20 August) 1937 to fly I-15s in 1a Escuadrilla led by Anatoly Serov ('Carlos Castejón') and based at Los Alcazares airfield.
On 11 June, after a month’s sick leave, teniente Manuel Aguirre López led a patrulla of four I-15s, flown by teniente Fernández de Velasco and sargentos Manuel Zarauza Clavero and Francisco Montagut Ferrer. Whilst attempting to deliver reinforcements to government fighter units operating in the Biscay area, all four pilots were forced to land at the French airfield at Parme, in Biarritz. The aircraft were seized but their pilots were allowed to return to Spain.
On 20 June, capitán Andrés García La Calle went to the Soviet Union as an accompanying instructor for the second pilots’ course. The party crossed into France at Port Bou and sailed for the USSR aboard the French ship SS Téophile Gautier.
Following hospital treatment for a minor heart ailment once in the Soviet Union, La Calle was sent to No 20 Pilots’ School, which had been established to train Spanish aviators at Kirovabad (now Ganja) in the northern Caucasus. He commanded it jointly with a Soviet officer.
On 21 June, Ivan Kopets was decorated with the Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union and the Order of Lenin for his performances in Spain.
On 30 June, José Riverola Grúas was promoted to capitán.
He joined the Escuela de Caza and was subsequently ordered to form the 3a Escuadrilla of Grupo No 26 at Manises airfield in Valencia. The unit was later transferred to Rosas (Gerona) and Sabadell.
Pilots returned to Spain from a pilots’ course at Kirovabad in the USSR. The return entailed a sea journey from Leningrad to Le Havre and a railway trip through France. Pilots included in this trip were Vicente Castillo Monzó, Francisco Tarazona Torán, Francisco Meroño Pellicer and Eduardo Claudín Moncada.
Upon return, Castillo, Meroño and Tarazona received their pilot’s badge and the rank of sargento.
Claudín, Meroño and Tarazona attended the Escuela de Alta Velocidad at El Carmolí for conversion training to the I-16. Claudín had a brief spell in an I-15 unit before being posted to the 1a Escuadrilla de Moscas, led successively by Soviet pilots Ivan Devotchenko, Boris Smirnov and Nikolai Ivanov and Spanish ace Manuel Aguirre López.
Tarazona became a member of the 2a Patrulla of the 1a Escuadrilla de Moscas.
José Falcó Sanmartín started the elementary phase of his flying course at Alcantarilla airfield, flying DH 60 Moth Majors, before moving first to La Ribera and then to Los Alcázares.
Until 5 June, the 32a Squadriglia was employed for interdiction and escort duties.
On 6 June the 65a Squadriglia was transferred to Soria. Here they started to fly reconnaissance, light bombing and strafing missions against Republican troops. They also started to fly a patrol service to try to intercept the much feared and fast "Martin Bombers" (i.e. Tupolev SBs).
On 12 June, the VI Gruppo was transferred to Soria.
Hauptmann Gotthardt Handrick of J/88 remembered the period after the capture of Bilbao:
“Bilbao had just fallen when I arrived. I had believed I would be coming into a war-torn region, especially as the Santander offensive was imminent, but it was not so. In Vitoria, Spanish life pulsated just the way it had presumably done even before the war had started. The youth of the town sauntered on the Paseo, and only the large numbers of those in uniform made one aware of the unusual circumstances in which the country found itself. After two days we moved, so as to become operationally ready for the offensive. The Gruppe left its airfield Staffel by Staffel. Our new base of operations was to be Herrera de Pisuerga.
The maps which were available to us volunteers in Spain at that time were rather poor. The scale was as a rule, 1:1,500,000, and on top of that, the maps were highly unreliable. It was therefore no wonder that on my first flights I never found my way! But one gets used to everything, even inadequate maps. In the end, the whole thing proved to be not so dangerous, for they had significant landmarks which one could easily memorise, and which assisted with orientation. In addition to that, Spain was blessed with marvellous clear vision which - apart from certain exceptions - exists throughout the country.
In terms of countryside, Herrera de Pisuerga was not exactly exciting. It lies in a plain. Santander was situated a mere 100 km away (in a straight line by air) from Herrera, due north. What gave the countryside its distinction was dust - in unimaginable quantities! The trucks left behind enormous dust clouds, and on the airfield it didn't look any different.
Life in our Gruppe was thoroughly comradely and pleasant. Very often in the evenings we sat together at a simple supper, talked about the war, and naturally about Germany, about the imminent offensive, and no discord disturbed our cameraderie. In terms of flying, Herrera initially offered very little. We were not able to do anything else other than wait, and we had to restrict our flying operations to the bare minimum in order not to betray our airfield. Every take-off stirred up such a great cloud of dust that it could be seen kilometres away.”
2 June 1937
Bozidar Petrovich made his first claim when he claimed a CR.32 (mistakenly identified as a He 51) in the Sierra de Guadarrama area.
Albert Baumler (CM-065) claimed a CR.32 in flames over the San Ildefonso-Segovia area.
Frank Tinker (CM-070) claimed a CR.32 while flying bomber escort over Segovia.
Giuseppe Mottet of the 20a Squadriglia claimed an I-15 over Segovia.
Vasiliy Orzanov was killed when his I-16 suffered a critical wing failure during flight.
4 June 1937
Capitán Joaquín García Morato (3-51) claimed an I-16.
During the afternoon, ten CR.32s from 26a Squadriglia, led by Capitano Mario Viola, clashed with 16 I-15s between the Republican Escuadrilla Baquedano’s two bases (San Juan de Somorrostro and Sondica). Italian pilots claimed to have shot down seven “Curtiss fighters” without loss, Capitano Viola being credited with two individual victories and Sergente Maggiore Guido Presel one.
Although both sides drastically overestimated their claims, Spanish I-15 pilot Marcelino Alonso Romero from from Escuadrilla Baquedano did indeed lose his life during this encounter.
5 June 1937
During a patrol by the 26a Squadriglia they strafed Somorrostro airfield. They destroyed six I-15s of Escuadrilla Baquedano on the ground, three which were claimed by Tenente Corrado Ricci while Sergente Maggiore Guido Presel (CR.32 NC 208/3-2) claimed two (it seems that one of them in fact had just taken off when Presel shot it down) and Sergente Maggiore Brunetto di Montegnacco one. The latter also shot down another I-15 in the vicinity of Castro Urdiales.
Twenty minutes after the attack on the airfield had commenced, teniente Rafael Magriña Vidal, patrulla CO of the Escuadrilla de Chatos del Norte, appeared over the base after returning from Santander in a repaired I-15. Diving on the CR.32s out of the sun, teniente Magriña immediately latched onto the tail of the patrol leader Tenente Ricci, taking him by surprise. The latter pilot, who had been concentrating on strafing Republican fighters at low level and low speed, now found himself in grave danger. Sergente Maggiore Presel quickly came to his aid, but without opening fire, as he had either used up all his ammunition or his guns had jammed after his long strafing attacks.
Presel’s timely intervention allowed Ricci to shake off his opponent, who made a sharp turn to the left and went after Presel’s CR.32 instead. The Italian, flying at 1,500 ft, was in a banking turn to the right at the time. Making the most of the I-15’s manoeuvrability, and the Fiat fighter’s limited speed following Presel’s low-level strafing attack, Magriña succeeded in getting in behind the CR.32 and shooting it down into the sea just offshore. Presel was killed before the aircraft hit the water, having been shot through his right side and his neck. His body and his wrecked aeroplane were retrieved a short while later and briefly displayed on the sandy beach. Magriña himself arranged for Presel’s burial in a cemetery near to the town of San Juan.
Leutnant Rolf Pingel from 2.J/88 (Bf 109B) claimed an unconfirmed I-15.
6 June 1937
Giuseppe Mottet of the 20a Squadriglia claimed a shared Tupolev SB-2 bomber over Escorial.
11 June 1937
Capitán Narciso Bermúdes de Castro of Grupo 2-G-3 claimed an I-16.
12 June 1937
Joaquín García Morato (3-51) claimed a R-5.
Starshii Leitenant Anton Mikhailovich Moseiko (I-16) claimed a Fiat CR.32 in the Valencia area.
14 June 1937
Joaquín García Morato (3-51) claimed an I-15.
Operating from Castejon on 14 June, Albert Baumler (CM-069) claimed a CR.32 over Huesca.
Starshii Leitenant Anton Moseiko and one of his wingmen, Petr Ivanovich Burov, were both killed when their I-16s possibly suffered critical wing failures during combat with CR.32s near Valencia.
16 June 1937
Frank Tinker (CM-023) claimed a CR.32 over the Huesca area.
19 June 1937
Dmitriy Lesnikov was killed when his I-16 suffered a critical wing failure during flight. At the time of his death, Lesnikov had claimed 3 shared victories.
6 July 1937
Two Republican army corps numbering 50,000 men under the command of general Miaja, supported by 150 aircraft, 128 tanks and 136 pieces of artillery, launched an offensive towards the Estremadura region. The success of the attack hinged on the seizing of the village of Brunete, some 25 km west of Madrid. The purpose of the attack is to lift the siege of Madrid and to draw some pressure off of the Basque army in the north.
General Miaja struck from the north of the El Escorial-Madrid road so as to cut off Nationalist forces from the west and block Franco’s reinforcement lines.
Brunete was taken by the Republicans on the same day.
26 July 1937
End of battle of Brunete. Republican forces are thrown back to a position only 5 km from where they started the offensive.
Fuerza Aérea de la República Española - Republican Air Force
On 4 July, Petr Pumpur (he left Spain 11/05/37) and Konstantin Kolesnikov (posthumously – KIFA 12/05/37) was decorated with the Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union and the Order of Lenin for their performances in Spain.
At the start of the Brunete offensive, the Republicans had 50+ combat- ready I-15s and I-16s at their disposal.
Only one Spanish fighter unit was committed to the campaign - the 2a Escuadrilla of the Grupo No 26 (I-15), commanded by the in July newly appointed CO teniente Chindasvinto González García. The unit successively moved to the airfields at Azuqueca de Henares, Caspe, Alcañiz and El Toro.
Sargento José Redondo Martín was posted to the unit in July. Sargento Vicente Castillo Monzó joined the unit on 8 July when he joined the unit at Archena airfield, in Murcia. As a member of this unit he moved to Chozas de la Sierra and took part in air combat over Brunete.
In July 1937 capitán Ramón Puparelli Francia was ordered to take his ten I-15s to Santander to reinforce the northern fighter force, which had lost most of their aircraft in frequent air raids on Somorrostro airfield.
Four more I-15s under the command of teniente Juan Comas Borrás joined soon afterwards, so that 45 Chatos were now available for operations on the Northern front. They were reinforced by eight Soviet-flown I-16 Moscas led by Valentin Ukhov, which arrived on 2 July.
Capitán Ramón Puparelli Francia assumed command of both the I-15s and I-16s.
Following teniente José Riverola Grúas’ departure for the Central front, teniente Leopoldo Morquillas Rubio was appointed CO of the Escuadrilla de Chatos del Norte. The Escuadrilla de Chatos del Norte was comprised of the following pilots and aircraft during operations on the Santander front in July 1937:
|Unit||Pilot||Aircraft type||Aircraft code|
|1a Patrulla||Teniente Leopoldo Morquillas Rubio||I-15||’CA-57’|
|Teniente Jaime Buyé Berni||I-15||’35’|
|Teniente Nicomedes Calvo Aguilar||I-15||’29’|
|Sargento Rafael Magriña Vidal||I-15||’13’|
|2a Patrulla||Teniente Esteban Nazario Ortiz Bueno||I-15||’12’|
|Teniente Miguel San José Andrade||I-15||’50’|
|Sargento Miguel Galindo Saura||I-15||’28’|
|Sargento Andrés Rodríguez Panadero||I-15||’20’|
|3a Patrulla||Teniente Juan Comas Borrás||I-15||59
||Teniente José González Feo
||Sargento Miguel Zambudio Martínez
||Sargento Ladislao Duarte Espés
||Teniente Julián Barbero López
||Sargento Antonio Rodríguez Jordán
||Sargento Antonio Miró Vidal
||Sargento Román Llorente Castro
At this time, teniente Morquillas was flying Chato ‘CA-57’ from La Albericia and Penilla de Cayón airfields, in Santander.
Later that month newly promoted teniente Rafael Magriña Vidal was one of three Spanish pilots selected by the Soviet command to fly the I-16 on the Northern Front.
In early July 1937, the first Spanish I-16 escuadrilla was started to form, initially under the command of Starshii Leitenant Boris Smirnov.
On 7 July, the Soviet representative Stoklitskiy reported: ”Status of the SB airplanes as of today: 45 operational aircraft, five airplanes under factory repair, eleven SBs lost, and a total of 61 aircraft were delivered.”
In July Bozidar Petrovich's squadron operated from Campo Soto airfield near Algete over the Madrid-Brunete front.
Albert Baumler returned to the US in the end of July after having claimed 2 biplane victories and a total of 4.
In Spain he flew for the Spanish government from 27 December 1936 to 15 July 1937. Totally during his time in Spain he flew 174 hours and 35 minutes.
While flying for the Spanish government he earned $1,500 a month plus $1,000 for each aircraft shot down.
Frank Tinker flew his last missions on 29 July.
Between 7 January and 29 July, he flew a total of 191 hours and 20 minutes.
The Republican squadrons were effective in defending the airspace above Madrid by day, but the enemy exploited the night to bomb the city. Faced with this situation Starshii Leitenant Anatoly Serov and Leitenant Mikhail Yakushin of the 1a Escuadrilla, both experienced night pilots in their own country, having obtained authorization from the high command, set about organizing a night fighter group comprising of Viktor Kuznetsov (CO), Serov, Leonid Rybkin, Yakushin and Vladimir Sorokin. The unit was known as the Patrulla de Noche.
It was no easy task, given that the airfields did not have the necessary infrastructure for night operations (beacons, searchlights, etc). They set up some car headlights and lit bonfires along the runway, which the ground personnel covered over at the first sign of enemy presence, and training began at Alcalá de Henares, whose airfield was the most suitable.
After his night victory on 27 July, Starshii Leitenant Anatoly Serov of the 1a Escuadrilla was awarded the Order of the Red Banner on 31 July.
The basic task of the Soviet 1a Escaudrilla, at this stage of the operations was cover of the capital, for which they were based at Campo Soto airfield.
In the end of July, the number of operational I-16s in the central sector of the front had fallen to 30. The number of I-16 lost in air combat since autumn 1936 had reached 25.
Capitán Isidoro Jiménez García returned to Spain from the USSR and he participated in the battle of Brunete that same month. He commanded the R-Z Natacha-equipped 50a Escuadrilla, which operated from airfields at Talamanca del Jarama and Santa Cruz de la Zarza.
Teniente Walter Katz was posted to this unit as CO of one of the flights after the disbandment of the R-Z Natacha Grupo Na 25 during the month.
Álvaro Muñoz López returned to Spain on 25 July after elementary flying training in Boissy-le-Châtel, France and he continued advanced training on Breguet XIXs at La Ribera.
Sargento Francisco Meroño Pellicer was posted to a Soviet I-16 escuadrilla for operations over the Madrid front.
José Sarrió Calatayud enlisted the air force as a sargento pilot. He was born at Navarret, in Valencia, on 11 January 1919 and had previously worked as a carpenter.
Fuerza Aérea Nacionales (Arma de Aviación) - Nationalist Air Force
Between 11 and 16 July, Julio Salvador Díaz-Benjumea claimed two R-5s, one I-16, one A-101 and one additional enemy aircraft.
The Nationalist advance through northern Spain continued. Its primary aim was to capture the region’s principal town and port, Santander, and both the Corpo Truppe Volontarie and the Aviazione Legionaria played a key part in achieving this. Fighter units initially assigned to this operation were 31a and 32a Squadriglie of VI Gruppo, as neither was involved in operations on the Madrid front. By early July they had been transferred to the advanced base of Villarcayo. CO of the 32a Squadriglia was Capitano Ernesto Botto (’Cantini’).
On 1 July, Enrico Degli Incerti was promoted to Capitano.
The VI Gruppo moved on to Villarcayo on 5 July.
On 10 July, the Aviazione Legionaria delle Baleari, which was providing local defence for the island of Majorca, was reorganised into autonomous unit X Gruppo Autonomo Caccia, commanded by Capitano Rolando Pratelli (’Piccione’), incorporating the 101a Squadriglia commanded by Capitano Di Bernardo (’Di Benedetto’) and the 102a Squadriglia commanded by Capitano Pietro Scapinelli (’Salvini’).
When the Republican offensive towards Brunete started, the defence of the central front was supported by just the two CR.32 squadriglie present in this area at Torrijos-Barcience; the 19a and 20a Squadriglie from XXIII Gruppo, commanded by Maggiore Andrea Zotti, with squadriglia commanders Capitani Enrico Degli Incerti and Antonio Larsimont Pergameni.
Capitano Guido Nobili’s 18a Squadriglia was transferred in from Soria to reinforce these units, thus completing the makeup of the gruppo. The XXIII Gruppo now had 29 CR.32s available, but only 17 of these remained serviceable following a series of actions on 6-7 July.
Maggiore Giuseppe Casero’s XVI Gruppo (24a, 25a and 26a Squadriglie, led by Capitani Bruno Brambilla, Armando François and Mario Viola, respectively, although the latter was recalled to Italy and replaced by Tenente Corrado Ricci on 11 July) arrived at Torrijos-Barcience from Ávila three days later, as did six CR.32s from capitan Morato’s Grupo 2-G-3.
After the end of the battle of Brunete, the XXIII Gruppo Caccia was awarded the Medalla Militar Colectiva (Collective Military Medal) by general Franco following its performance during the first few days of the Republican offensive. Two pilots from the unit had lost their lives in combat and three had been wounded, yet the gruppo continued to engage a numerically superior enemy until reinforcements were brought in.
In July 1937 the Nationalists moved the Ju 52/3m night bomber detachment of the Legion Condor closer to Madrid.
The Gruppenstab of J/88, together with 3.J/88 had moved, temporarily, to Escalona by 18:00 on 8 July, before transferring to Villa del Prado. That day Hauptmann Hauptmann Hubertus Merhart von Bernegg relinquished command of the Jagdgruppe to Hauptmann Gotthardt Handrick, who recalled the local operating conditions:
“I was able to accommodate my Gruppenstab in a nice Castello, which lay in a canyon, in the grounds of which a river invited one to bathe. During the period of little rainfall, it was only some 30 m wide and at the most 15 to 30 cm deep, but during the rainy season it swelled enormously. The Castello then became cut off from its surroundings. A comrade of mine, Oberleutnant von Gilsa, in trying to swim across at one time, almost came to grief. The Stabsquartier and the airfield were situated on the vast edge of the high plateau of Madrid, in Castille. Whoever thinks that the Castillian countryside consists of something especially romantic would be very disappointed in Escalona. It is brown, barren, the soil is arid and in terms of dust, the region could easily compete with Herrera de Pisuerga.
At the airfields, an insane heat raged - between 40-45o C in the shade, so that the work of the groundcrews was not exactly easy. The mechanics worked exclusively in their swimming trunks and protected their heads from the scorching heat of the sun with wide-brimmed sombreros. During flight our aircraft just could not be kept cool at all. The coolant was at 120o C and the oil clocked up 110o C.
The Staffeln of the Gruppe were located some 50 km away from each other. This made communication between the units quite difficult. In this summer of 1937, our activity was made even more difficult by the scorching heat. We normally woke at 0600 hrs, and our nightly sleep was never especially refreshing. During the night, the temperature was “only” around 30o C, and flies and mosquitoes buzzed. We isolated ourselves with mosquito nets and often took to sleeping out in the open, but the nights were never refreshing in and around Escalona.
On the other hand, the evenings were a little more pleasant. We refreshed ourselves as far as it was possible, by bathing in the river, but unfortunately the water was almost constantly 25-30o C. We ate, but in a careful way, we drank wine, or sometimes the expensive local and highly-regarded beer, when we would plant ourselves in deckchairs in the tolerably cool courtyard of our “castle”. Oberleutnant Harder squeezed appealingly at his accordion. In the distance lay burning villages, and clearly recognisable were the contours of the Sierra de Gredos and the Sierra de Guadarrama on the horizon. We were able to make out the defensive searchlights of the Madrid Front, and now and again our night bombers flew over us on their way to the enemy to carry out their attacks.”
Gravely worried by the sudden ‘bulge’ which appeared in a key part of the frontline around Madrid when the Republicans captured Brunete on 6 July, the Nationalist response to the Republican threat was swift and decisive, and forces were rushed to the area. Franco telegrammed Generalmajor Sperrle at Vitoria:
“It is urgent that the Bf 109 fighter is put into action tomorrow at the front from Ávila. I request that you order the transfer from the said airfield.”Sperrle replied to the Nationalist headquarters at Salamanca that a transfer of individual or specific units of the Legion would not be possible - rather he would transfer larger elements of his force to Ávila. Thus, following Franco’s request, the Bf 109 ‘Verfolgungsjäger’ of J/88, A/88 and the He 70s of VB/88 were moved to the Brunete sector. In clear blue skies at 07:00, 1. and 2.J/88 hurriedly relocated from Burgos to Escalona del Prado and Ávila, respectively, although one aircraft was forced to return to Burgos with technical problems.
On 9 July, the Staffeln of J/88 were located at Villa del Prado, Almorox and Escalona. A Vorkommando (advance detachment) was placed on readiness to move immediately if necessary.
Oberleutnant Günther Lützow recalled J/88’s time at Ávila for a German magazine:
“We had already been stationed some 14 days on the large airfield west of Madrid at Ávila, an old, very high-lying town which was surrounded by a well-preserved thick stone wall. Its shape and silhouette reminded one of a town from the Middle Ages. The focal point of the war was the front at Brunete, which was under pressure from the Reds. All available forces of the Legion were gathered together in this sector. Other than ourselves on the airfield, there were also the Italians with a Gruppe of Fiats and a German Aufklärungsstaffel. I had my old, proven Staffel gathered together, but could never have more than eight aircraft Startklar at one time, since the modern single-seat fighters are very sensitive and naturally require special maintenance and checks.
Over the last 14 days we had experienced all sorts of things. It was real war, which we had looked forward to for a long time. We had on average, except for the Alarmstarts, sortied three times a day. Each sortie lasted about 90 minutes and always went up to an altitude of 6000-7000 metres. At that time we flew without oxygen, which after a short while we soon bitterly regretted, as flying at high altitude without oxygen makes one extremely tired. We had become somewhat unnerved, for in addition to the purely physical strain of several sorties and Alarmstarts, there was the anxiety about the rare opportunities of being able to achieve confirmed kills.
We constantly had to fight against a three- or four-fold enemy superiority. That meant that one never had the time to “hang on” to an opponent in the air for a long period of time. One had to see to it that, during the time that our own bombers or reconnaissance aircraft were operating, one kept the enemy at bay and at a distance.
The worst were the continual Alarmstarts. From the break of dawn until dusk, two pilots had to always sit strapped in to their aircraft. When the air raid warning service or the forward flak batteries reported enemy aircraft, the Alarmrotte had to take off immediately, for otherwise, with our proximity to the front, the enemy could not be prevented from reaching the bombing zone. Everywhere, the extremely bitter fighting carried out by both sides naturally resulted in a certain amount of wariness, and it thus often happened that the warning service reported our own aircraft as those of the enemy, so that our Alarmrotte took off in vain. Such fruitless take-offs didn’t do anything to comfort the state of our nerves. A state of over-excited nervousness very soon set in. Everyone grumbled at the slightest excuse and even took it out on his comrades when something didn't go right. Mostly, a brief glance or a word of reprimand from me was sufficient to calm the men down.”
Some operations demanded of the German fighters in July during the battle of Brunete were bordering on suicidal, as Hauptmann Gotthardt Handrick, CO of J/88, described:
“One day an enquiry came in from the Führungsstab as to whether we would be able to divert fire from the heavy enemy flak onto ourselves at a particular sector of the Front for a period of 10 to 1 5 minutes. In this sector, heavy bombers - Ju 52s - were to be deployed in order to plaster particular enemy positions with bombs. The positions were very difficult to make out from the air; hence the bombers had to fly as low as possible, and in addition had to remain undetected by the anti-aircraft defences in order to be able to carry out their task.
I held a Kommandeur’s meeting. My Staffeln made themselves Startklar. The positions of the enemy flak were known to us; hence our approach flights presented no problems. We took off. Above us flew the heavy bombers. The flak naturally fired away - it consisted of two or three batteries - initially at us, and we did our best to silence them. The gun emplacements, however, were embedded well, and it was not at all easy to hit them. I saw for myself that my bombs impacted directly next to the flak guns, but they continued to fire uninterruptedly.
In accordance with instructions, we held the enemy flak at bay for the predetermined length of time and then returned home. Even though we had not achieved any visible success by our attack, we had nevertheless carried out our task, as the bombers had returned without having suffered a single hit. It would appear that the guns were unable to divert themselves from us and take on the bombers as their targets, although we were only able to work with 10 kg bombs and machine guns.”
On 26 July (same day as the Battle for Brunete ended), von Richthofen noted in his diary:
“My proposal is accepted. The Legion Condor will operate here for another three days before relocating to the north. It will then have one week’s rest. From 7 August, we will again be ready to conduct operations. Preparatory orders issued. Tomorrow, the Verband leaders will be notified. I shall soon go to the north to Vigón and others.”Three days later, von Richthofen recorded gruffly:
“Packed my things. Was at the airfield, where disobedience reigns. Half of J/88 have already relocated themselves against orders. The rest have already installed reserve fuel tanks and are only half-ready for operations (without bombs).”
Oberleutnant Adolf Galland became Kapitän (CO) of 3.J/88 on 27 July.
1 July 1937
The 1a Escuadrilla was ordered to conduct reconnaissance flights over all of the enemy highway roads coming to Madrid from the west. In the morning, they started the planned flights; however, no results were gained at first.
As the day was tending to the evening, the command decided to conduct the last flight of the day by the whole escuadrilla.
Twelve aircraft took off along a road to Avila. Some 30-40 kilometres from the front line, over the region of Toledo, they met and engaged an equal number of CR.32s.
Leitenant Mikhail Yakushin described the combat:
“I cannot describe the battle in full as this is impossible. 24 aircraft fought over the small space in the sky. All around, grey biplanes with black crosses and green ones with Republican insignia. Burning aircraft and parachutes appeared, but whose? Gradually, ours became all more numerous and only our I-15s remained in the air by the end of this battle. One of them reformed the escuadrilla with signals; this was aircraft of Kapitan Yeremenko which came from the east,...”In all, the escuadrilla claimed six victories without losses, but none of the Soviet pilots could put a claim for four of the shot-down Fiats because of the confusion of the dogfight. In this combat Kapitan Ivan Yeremenko claimed one CR.32 together with Leitenant Viktor Kuznetsov (some sources credits them with three shared). Leitenant Yakushin claimed a second, which was confirmed by Yeremenko and Kuznetsov.
6 July 1937
In the morning, a German Do 17 was claimed shot down near Madrid by the escuadrilla leader Kapitan Ivan Yeremenko together with his wingman Bozidar Petrovich of the 1a Escuadrilla.
The Nationalists side does not admit this loss.
The 19a and 20a Squadriglie participated in four separate aerial battles near Brunete, engaging Republican formations twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon.
Three light bombers, one ‘Martin bomber’, seven ‘Curtiss fighters’ and five ’Ratas’ were claimed, but Sottotenente Vercellio from the 19a Squadriglia was killed during the third encounter. Sergente Giuseppe Mottet (20a Squadriglia) claimed one of the I-15s. One of the I-16s destroyed was credited to Maggiore Andrea Zotti (CO XXIII Gruppo) as his first victory, its pilot taking to his parachute over the battlefield at Villanueva de la Cañada. Another ’Rata’ downed minutes later was credited to Capitano Enrico Degli Incerti (CO 19a Squadriglia), who subsequently recalled:
“Each one of us chose his quarry and the melee began. Our guns splendidly spat out a barrage, and our adversaries replied in kind. It was a matter of life or death. I pounced on a Rata and shot at it. It appeared that I had scored a direct hit. I kept following him until I thought that he was clearly falling away. However, as I broke off my chase he zigzagged, dropped a little further and then climbed. He attempted to turn onto my tail, so I quickly hit him again. He pulled up abruptly after diving down a few hundred feet, so I fired at him once more. It looked to me as if the bullets had found their mark – the tracers clearly indicated that I was aiming correctly – but the Rata pilot continued to defend himself.The pilot that had been shot down by Capitano Degli Incerti was almost certainly Leitenant Aleksey Sergeyevich Trusov, who had been in Spain for just a matter of weeks.
I persevered with my foe, despite now feeling that I was possibly coming under attack. I looked over my shoulder and spotted three enemy aeroplanes, still at a distance, heading in my direction with their guns blazing. Moments later my prey finally fell headlong into a thickly wooded area. Staying with him had made me lose precious height, and as I looked up I could see that the fighting was still continuing above me.
I climbed back up into the battle at full throttle, and saw a “Red” aeroplane chasing a Fiat. Turning tightly, I managed to get in behind the pursuing fighter. He then tried to disengage, but I made the most of my superior position and fired several long bursts at him. I succeeded in forcing him to take flight. Other enemy survivors duly abandoned the fight, and we reformed on our leader after he waggled his wings. We all landed with visible scars of battle on our aircraft.”
No sooner had 2. Staffel of J/88 reached Ávila after relocating during the morning from Burgos than all nine of its Bf 109s were refuelled and sent off again at 12:20 as escort for bombers attacking ‘designated targets’.
In the evening, Bozidar Petrovich claimed a CR.32 in the Madrid-Brunete area.
Starshii Leitenant Anatoly Serov and Leitenant Mikhail Yakushin of the 1a Escuadrilla claimed a shared Fiat CR.32.
7 July 1937
In the early morning, Kapitan Ivan Yeremenko was ordered to take his escuadrilla and fly towards Madrid to join with Lakeyev's Escuadrilla in the air. Meanwhile the escuadrilla of Aleksandr Minayev was flying over the front line. The antiaircraft defence opened fire upon the Republican fighters over the Delicias railroad station. Fiat CR.32s appeared from the Princess Bridge side. Dogfights began over the Delicias railroad station, Andalusia Bridge, and Tobacco Manufacture. A group of Ju 52/3ms and Do 17s appeared from the western side and Minayev's escuadrilla flew to intercept the bombers but Fiats attacked the I-15s and dispersed them.
Sargento José Redondo Martín, the Spanish pilot of one of the I-15s, was wounded and Leonid Rybkin shielded him, but both were forced to fight nine Fiats. One Fiat collided with another and was set on fire. Rybkin and Redondo joined with M. Petrov and I. Karpov whom had flown to help. At that moment Leitenant Mikhail Yakushin, Kapitan Yeremenko, and Starshii Leitenant Anatoly Serov of the 1a Escuadrilla attacked the leading group of Fiats from above. One Fiat was shot down and the pilot bailed out (claimed as a shared between Yakushin, Yeremenko, and Serov). Pilots of I-15s and I-16s had seen four Bf 109s in the area, but they did not attack the Republican fighter.
The I-15 of the Austrian Walter Koraus was attacked by a Fiat and was shot down. Immediately Yakushin attacked this Fiat and destroyed it in the air.
Starshii Leitenant Serov claimed two CR.32 during this day.
It seems that three I-15s from the 1a Escuadrilla were lost, with Karpov killed, Shalhiganov wounded and Austrian Walter Koraus surviving unscathed. Flight leader Serov and his wingman Yakushin managed to nurse their badly damaged biplanes back to base. Dhyakonov, who was leading an I-16 flight, suffered serious wounds in combat possibly from Capitano Degli Incerti’s gunfire, and he died later that day after landing in Republican territory.
The Aviazione Legionaria reported that during the morning between Madrid and Brunete, 14 CR.32s of 19a and 20a Squadriglie, led by Maggiore Andrea Zotti (CO XXIII Gruppo), encountered nine I-15s and eight I-16s that were escorting nine R-Zs. The Republican aircraft were joined by other flights from a formation of 20 I-16s as they flew over Madrid. Italian pilots were credited with shooting down seven ‘Curtiss fighters’ during the clash, one of which was claimed by Maggiore Zotti. Three ’Ratas’ were also destroyed, one of which was credited to Capitano Enrico Degli Incerti (CO 19a Squadriglia), while Sergente Maggiore Alfonso Mattei downed an R-Z but was then forced to take to his parachute after his CR.32 was hit by return fire from the R-Z. He landed in Nationalist territory near Pozuelo de Alarcón.
After claiming his I-15, Zotti shared the destruction of a second I-15 with his two wingmen. Ten minutes later, however, his CR.32 was shot up by an I-16, the Italian being wounded in the thigh. His engine was also hit, and as it began to overheat Zotti was forced to land at nearby Griñon airfield. Sergente Maggiore Gino Passeri (19a Squadriglia) protected his CO until he was safely down, only to then be bounced by another I-16 upon re-joining the battle and killed. Sergente Giuseppe Ruzzin (19a Squadriglia) (CR.32 “3-12” no. 435) claimed an I-15 (”Curtiss”) but was then attacked by an I-16. He was saved by his leader Capitano Degli Incerti, who damaged the Rata, which quickly broke off. Sergente Giuseppe Mottet (20a Squadriglia) claimed an I-15.
Totally after this confusing and slightly contradicting battle it seems that the Republican pilots at least claimed five CR.32s while losing three I-15s and getting several damaged. The Aviazione Legionaria claimed seven I-15s, three I-16s and one R-Z for the loss of two CR.32s.
Bozidar Petrovich claimed a CR.32 in the Madrid-Brunete area.
Oberleutnant Günther Lützow of J/88 recalled the events of the day at Ávila:
“We were sitting cheerfully beneath our awning directly next to our fighters when we heard the noise of aircraft to the south of the airfield. It must have been several. In any case, there was a real drone. And then we caught sight of them. They flew past, south of the airfield. They looked like Italian Savoias that were on their way home. Suddenly, they turned towards the airfield and flew directly at us. I raised my binoculars, but immediately put them down again. They were, in fact, Savoias - we could make out the national insignia with the naked eye. They were flying together in formation, not very high, about 1500 m over the airfield. We counted ten aircraft.
I had already turned myself away when someone shouted, “They're dropping bombs!” I turned around and thought, “But that’s impossible”. Then I soon saw how dark specks detached themselves and at ever faster speed came at us. I was just able to shout, “Everyone in the trenches!”, when the first bombs impacted. I saw my mechanics run to the trenches. Some of them didn’t get that far and laid themselves flat out half-way. I also threw myself flat to the ground. I was filled with unconscious rage. I clenched my fists.
Their bombs were well placed, in the middle of the airfield. But our aircraft were parked at the edge of the field, and thus we got away with it, once more, unharmed. My two take-off-ready pilots had kept their nerve. Their loyal mechanics had also stayed with their aircraft, and with furious strength had gotten the engines going. But what use was that? Although they took off between the bomb craters right after the bombing, they were unable to catch up on the enemy’s lead. The attack had come as such a surprise. Nobody had thought it possible that the Reds would adopt such a mean trick. They were French Potez bombers which, in reality, resembled the Italian Savoias with their markings. They were taken to be Nationalist aircraft.
The consequence was that from that day on, the air raid warning service and the other reporting people did an about-turn once and for all, and for every aircraft that carried Nationalist insignia they assumed it to be a camouflaged Red bomber. I must say that after this incident we were no longer sure of our aircraft recognition anymore. Things had suddenly become more complicated.”
Sergente Giuseppe Ruzzin’s Fiat CR.32 (3-12, no. 435) camouflaged on the ground, at Torrijos in summer 1937. Barely visible on the rudder are three small patches, covering the bullet holes caught in the combat on 7 July.
8 July 1937
2.J/88 was deployed as escort for bombers of K/88 and reconnaissance aircraft of A/88 in the Brunete-Villanueva de la Cañada-Escorial areas of the Republican advance.
At 11:00, 2.J/88 made an Alarmstart with two Bf 109s.
At 11:10, 2.J/88 made an Alarmstart with three Bf 109s.
At 12:17, six Bf 109s from 2.J/88 took off to escort aircraft from VB/88 that were attacking targets around Brunete, Valdemorillo and on the road from El Escorial to Brunete.
At 14:18, 2.J/88 made an Alarmstart with a Kette of three Bf 109s.
At 16:45, Albert Baumler (CM-022) was part of a group out of Chozas Madrid to escort ten Rasante light bombers to Quejormas, when his group engaged an enemy force of bombers and fighter escorts. In the ensuing combat he claimed a probable Fiat CR.32.
At 18:05, 2.J/88 made an Alarmstart with a Kette of three Bf 109s. Close to Aranjuez, three Republican bombers were engaged, and they hastily released their bombs and veered away in a south-easterly direction. A Kette from 2.J/88 led by Leutnant Rolf Pingel, and comprising Feldwebel Peter Boddem and Unteroffizier Guido Höness, pursued the enemy for 40 km over the front. Leutnant Pingel reported:
“As we approached the Front close to Madrid, Feldwebel Boddem observed clouds of flak around Aranjuez. I immediately turned in that direction and spotted five machines flying at 3500 m towards Ávila. Because I was blinded by the evening sun, I couldn’t make out if they were Nationalist machines, and I did not order an attack. Then I saw all the aircraft drop their bombs, turn around and make off in a south-easterly direction. Höness got himself into a favourable position to make an attack. I hung back and observed him. After about three minutes the left engine on one machine stopped turning. It then veered to port. Immediately after Höness’ last attack I came in and gave the bomber a last burst of fire. The machine plunged vertically, flames spiralling behind both engines. Parachutes were not observed. The pursuit of other bombers had to be given up as the Kette was already 40-50 km over the Front.”At the end of the day's operations, Pingel and Höness would each be credited with the destruction of an SB each (even if it from the account above actually seems that it was only one shared SB).
At 18:25, J/88 made an Alarmstart.
At 20:25, five Bf 109s from 2.J/88 were ordered into the air again, this time as escort to a reconnaissance flight by A/88.
During the day, one Bf 109 was credited to Bozidar Petrovich as a shared with the Soviet fighter’s senior commander Evgeniy Ptukhin flying one I-16, in the Madrid-Brunete area.
This claim can’t be verified with Nationalist records.
Leitenant Mikhail Yakushin of the 1a Escaudrilla claimed a CR.32.
Konstantin Dmitrievich Belyakov of the 1a/21 (I-16) was wounded when his fighter was hit by AA fire over Madrid.
9 July 1937
At 08:35, Kapitan Ivan Yeremenko of the 1a Escuadrilla claimed a CR.32.
Bozidar Petrovich claimed a CR.32 in the Madrid-Brunete area.
J/88 despatched six aircraft at 11:28 on escort for operations by A/88 and VB/88.
At 11:55, an Alarmstart saw one aircraft from J/88 take off.
J/88 despatched nine aircraft at 19:35 on escort for operations by A/88 and VB/88.
Totally, J/88 expended 2217 rounds of ammunition during the day.
10 July 1937
Grupo 2-G-3 lost its first CR.32 in combat near Brunete when alférez Jesús Rubio Paz’s (1-E-3) aircraft (3-56) was attacked by an I-16, although the pilot survived by parachuting into Nationalist territory.
12 July 1937
In the morning, Bozidar Petrovich claimed a shared He 111 with Leonid Rybkin and Sardina.
A huge dogfight took place near El Escorial when 29 I-16s from the escuadrillas commanded by Ivan Lakeev, Nikolay Vinogradov and Petr Shevtsov, together with eight I-15s of Kapitan Ivan Yeremenko’s unit, attacked a group of 40 He 51s and CR.32s. Both sides initially claimed nine victories each, although both only admitted losing one fighter.
A few hours later an escuadrilla of Polikarpov R-Z reconnaissance bombers was attacked by what the surviving crews described as ‘high-speed monoplanes’ (probably Bf 109Bs, although they were not yet identified as such) in the Villaverde area. Escorting I-16s attempted to engage the aircraft in what was probably the first engagement between the I-16 and the Bf 109. The I-16s suffered no losses, but the Bf 109B of Unteroffizier Guido Höness was shot down from 2500m near Villaverde. The victory was attributed to a number of Soviet pilots, but it is possible that it was achieved by Petr Butrym. It seems that Unteroffizier Höness was credited with two R-Zs before he was killed.
Around 17:00, there was a big air combat west of Madrid. During this combat Bozidar Petrovich of the 1a Escaudrilla saved his leader Kapitan Ivan Yeremenko from the dangerous attack of a CR.32, probably piloted by capitán Joaquín García Morato, but the I-15 of the Serbian pilot was seen to crash, maybe out of control or shot down by a CR.32 flown by teniente Miguel García Pardo (2-E-3) (CR.32 NC 596/3-60). Petrovich lost his life in the crash.
Both Yeremenko and Petrovich are credited with one CR.32 each in this combat.
Leitenant Viktor Kuznetsov claimed a shared Do 17 together with Leonid Rybkin.
Capitán Narciso Bermúdes de Castro (2-E-3) (CR.32 NC 589/3-62) was shot down by an I-15 in the Brunete area and he became the first Spaniard to be killed flying a CR.32.
The Bf 109Bs of 2.J/88 were heavily involved in combat during the day and Leutnant Rolf Pingel claimed a SB and an escorting I-16, while Feldwebel Peter Boddem claimed another I-16. Feldwebel Adolf Buhl claimed an unconfirmed I-16.
The only lost SB on this date included 24-years-old radio/gunner Aleksei Fedorovich Cherkasov, who was captured. Cherkasov, who was native of Kursk, was tried and condemned to death along with Harold Dahl. The sentence was commuted and later he was exchanged for a German flyer. Upon capture he gave his name as Alexis Theodore Cherkaroff. Cherkasov left Spain on 7 February 1939 (he had arrived on 15 June 1937).
13 July 1937
Frank Tinker (CM-023) became the first American to destroy a Bf 109 when he claimed one in the Madrid area.
Feldwebel Peter Boddem of 2.J/88 (Bf 109B) claimed an I-16 in the course of an hour-long air battle which also saw Feldwebel Braunschweiger (6-13) and Oberfeldwebel Fritz Hillman claim an unconfirmed I-16 each.
It is possible that one of these claims (possibly Boddem) was Harold Dahl, who was shot down and taken prisoner during the day.
Dahl was tried and sentenced to death together with radio/gunner Aleksei Fedorovich Cherkasov, who had been shot down in an SB the day before. The sentence was commuted and he remained in a Spanish prison until 1940, when he was allowed to return to the US.
14 July 1937
On the night of 14 July one Ju 52/3m bombed the airfield. Starshii Leitenant Anatoly Serov’s fighter of the 1a Escuadrilla was damaged while landing and he was slightly wounded in the head.
Capitán Joaquín García Morato (2-G-3) claimed two R-Zs.
15 July 1937
Capitán Joaquín García Morato (2-G-3) claimed two I-16s.
16 July 1937
During a patrol north-west of Monte Maza, on the Santander front, Capitano Ernesto Botto's patrol of five CR.32s from the 32a Squadriglia (including Sottotenente Vittorio Barberis) was bounced from above by 13 I-16s. Seeing the diving enemy aircraft just in time to climb up at them, the Italian pilots duly fought a series of individual clashes that lasted for more than 20 minutes. Despite facing two or three opponents at a time, the CR.32 pilots managed to down two I-16s without losses - both kills were confirmed by Nationalist observers at Monte Maza. They were collectively credited to all five pilots, as none of them had had the time to notice that the enemy fighters had in fact been downed during the course of this exhausting combat. This was the Squadriglia’s first battle with Republican fighters.
This combat had been fought against the first I-16 Escuadrilla of the Fuerzas Aéreas del Norte.
Leutnant Rolf Pingel of 2.J/88 (Bf 109B) claimed an I-16 near Fuenlabrada.
While the Bf 109s were in action, their base at Ávila was again attacked by SBs.
17 July 1937
At dawn, eight Bf 109s of 2.J/88 escorted VB/88 when it attacked enemy positions at Alcalá. Oberleutnant Günther Lützow and Leutnant Heinrich Brücker misjudged their positions in the air and lost a chance to shoot down a pair of I-16s. However, Oberfeldwebel Fritz Hillman claimed an unconfirmed I-16 during the day.
Frank Tinker (CM-023) claimed a Bf 109 during an escort mission in the Madrid area.
Sergente GianLino Baschirotto claimed a Polikarpov I-16 over the outskirts of Madrid.
18 July 1937
The Nationalists counter-attacked during the day, supported by He 111s and Bf 109Bs of the Legion Condor, which undertook ground-strafing missions in the wake of the bombers. Hauptmann Gotthard Handrick, CO of J/88, made a grim observation:
“The success of our low-level attacks was quite considerable. Spanish observers reported that on one occasion following our low-level attacks on a 150 m-long stretch of foxholes, 100 Red Spaniards had been taken care of by our machine guns. It was possible to make this determination because immediately after our attack the foxholes were taken by Nationalist Spanish infantry.”Oberfeldwebel Fritz Hillman of 2.J/88 (Bf 109B) claimed an I-16 during the day while Unteroffizier Harbach from the same unit was shot down in the Brunete area during the day in Bf 109B-1 6-10. Harbach was able to bail out and land in friendly territory.
23 CR.32s from XVI Gruppo and four from 2-G-3 intercepted a formation of 12 light bombers, escorted by 32 I-15s and I-16s, between Valdemorillo and Navalcarnero. Italian pilots were credited with 14 victories - eight light bombers (R-Zs from Grupo No 30), five ’Ratas’ and a ‘Curtiss fighter’ - for the loss of Tenente Giuseppe Mollo from 26a Squadriglia. One of the R-Zs was claimed by capitán Joaquín García Morato. Six R-Zs and at least three of the fighters claimed by the CR.32 pilots were actually lost, both Capitano Armando François (25a Squadriglia) and Sottotenente Giuseppe Aurili (24a Squadriglia) downing light bombers to give them their fifth individual victories. Tenente Corrado Ricci (26a Squadriglia) claimed a “Papagayo” (R-Z or Aero 101) over Brunete. Two of the Ratas were credited to Sergente Maggiore Brunetto di Montegnacco (26a Squadriglia), whose tally now stood at 15 individual victories. Of this action he wrote:
“Fighter escort for bombing raid over the Brunete-Valdemorillo front. Gruppo formation. Collective attack on enemy “Praga” [Aero A-101 light bomber] aircraft. I spotted three Ratas diving down at us from above, and I tried to disrupt their attack by throwing myself straight at them. I shot one down and forced another to break away from us. The third fighter, rolling onto its back, caught up with Tenente Ricci and hit him with a round that, fortunately, only perforated his parachute. Seeing more Ratas, I quickly despatched a second Republican fighter but couldn’t follow it all the way to the ground as I was attacked by two “Curtiss fighters”. My first Rata fell east of Valdemorillo and the second crashed a short distance away from it.”
On the Brunete Front, Sargento Vicente Castillo Monzó of the 2a/26 (I-15) fought in his first aerial battle and claimed a He 51 destroyed.
Frank Tinker (CM-023) claimed his last victory when he claimed a CR.32 while escorting a squadron of R-5 bombers in the Madrid area.
On the night of 18 July, Leitenant Mikhail Yakushin of the 1a Escaudrilla intercepted a Ju 52/3m. The Junkers opened fire and slightly damaged the I-15, which, however, landed successfully.
19 July 1937
He 112 V 5-1 crashed at Escalona. Although Unteroffizier Max Schulz managed to belly-land the aircraft, the fuselage broke on impact and it was written off. Schulz escaped alive, but bit through his tongue on landing.
That same day a Bf 109 was destroyed when Unteroffizier Norbert Flegel was forced to crash-land following an engine failure.
21 July 1937
During an Alarmstart from Ávila, Feldwebel Peter Boddem of 2.J/88 (Bf 109B) claimed a SB. The bombers from this formation had also been engaged by Oberleutnant Günther Lützow who wrote:
“The battles on the Brunete Front had reached their zenith. Despite our air superiority, the Red bombers attacked again and again. I was on my way home one day after a long cruise along the Front over Talavera, Aranjuez, Madrid and Escorial when I saw clouds of flak over the airfield. My eyes were popping out in front of my head as I strained to see, but I could not make out any enemy aircraft. I looked at the clock and determined that I had already been flying for 70 minutes. I therefore couldn’t engage in a long search.Following the end of the first mission, Oberleutnant Lützow reported that in 2.J/88, ”6-9 has to go to Burgos, the transmitter in 6-15 has been shot, 6-13 has had it, 6-9 is unserviceable and 6-10 is on patrol. I have only three aircraft ready for the second mission at 1600 hrs.”
Suddenly, to port and somewhat lower appeared four Martin bombers which - “tails up” - were heading in the direction of Madrid. So these must have been the ones which our flak had been firing at. I thought for just a moment, “Should I attack, or is there no point?” My fuel gauge showed only a few litres left. “But why let such a ‘tasty roast’ get away?” I slewed the aircraft round, activated my gun sight and weapons and began my pursuit. At full power, I chased after the Martin bombers. From a great range I opened fire, so that in the short time I had available I could make full use of my ammunition. The stupid thing was the bombers flew directly into the sun, so that I only had them as weak silhouettes in front of me. Much to my bad luck, the bulb of my Reflexvisier had also burned through, which left me without any target-aiming device. I was only able to take a bead over the engine cowling, and had to leave it to fate as to whether 1 hit something or not.
As I figured, I hit nothing! Of course I fired like a madman, uninterruptedly, but before I could get close to the last of the four bombers, the barrels of my machine guns ran so hot that simultaneously all three of them jammed. I cursed and hung on to the enemy’s rear at a range of 30 m, frantically recharging my weapons. The enemy air gunner took advantage of the opportunity and fired like mad at me, but fortunately he was so excited that he didn’t hit anything. I now had to decide. Either I broke off the fight - and this I had to do if I were to return in good time to my airfield - or else I could try to clear the jam in my machine guns and attempt to shoot him down. I then had to reckon with having to make an emergency landing due to a lack of fuel. In this mountainous terrain that would be a hairy thing to do.
As at that time we had only relatively few aircraft available, I decided to break off the encounter and return to the airfield. With heavy heart I departed from my victim. I didn’t want to be a hero, but as a Staffelführer I naturally bore responsibility for the aircraft under my care. Over my own homeland I would perhaps have acted differently, for the destruction of the enemy is to be placed before the safety of one’s own aircraft. In this case, however, I would have had to reckon with immediate dismissal for having smashed up my own machine. Here, the circumstances were different. A small group of volunteer fighters with limited means against a tremendous superiority in personnel and materiel.
What made us different from our opponent was the quality of our pilots and our aircraft. With our trust in this superiority, we went into every battle, and this trust caused us to also think more of victory than of death.
When I landed at Ávila, I noticed that the Alarm aircraft had taken off. They had taken up the chase of the Red bombers that I had just encountered. One of them soon returned after he had lost contact with them, but the other, Leutnant[sic] Boddem, had chased them far into Red territory and had in fact shot one of them down shortly before it landed. When he reported his victory to me, I felt a stab of regret. This man’s actions had been proved right by his success, but I knew that I too had also been right, despite my lack of success.”
24 July 1937
Starshii Leitenant Anatoly Serov of the 1a Escuadrilla claimed a Do 17 over Brunete while flying an I-15. It seems that this was Do 17E 27-5 from VB/88, which was lost during the day with the crew of pilot George Kool, navigator Hans Schmidt and radio-operator Keller Schmidt captured.
Leutnant Ernst-Friedrich von Reuter of 1.J/88 was lost in a He 51 during one of three ground-attack missions against enemy flak positions near Brunete. Leutnant Adolf Galland (3.J/88) made his combat debut during one of these flights. Oberleutnant Harro Harder (1.J/88) recalled:
“We were greeted by a real display of fireworks. Shells burst beside, above and below us, sometimes almost right in our machines. We went over to a low-level attack and were met by intense 20 mm fire from every direction. Everywhere one looked there were He 51s dancing and attacking through the flak. The battle lasted about eight minutes, until we had dropped all our bombs. Although we had almost no ammunition or bombs, we so shook the Red infantry that they left their positions and ran in headlong flight.”Leutnant Galland (He 51 2-10) recorded:
“We flew in close formation very low up the valleys, approaching the enemy position from the rear. At a sign, the bombs were simultaneously released and our load went down in a cluster. We called this “the little man's bomb-carpet”.”
25 July 1937
Kapitan Ivan Yeremenko of the 1a Escuadrilla claimed a He 111.
The night interception experiment was put into practice on 25 July. Leitenant Mikhail Yakushin took off first to patrol at 3000 meters altitude, followed by Starshii Leitenant Anatoly Serov of the 1a Escuadrilla, at 2600 meters.
Leitenant Yakushin sighted an enemy three-engined aircraft heading for Madrid. Closing in from astern he opened fire with his four machine guns almost at point blank range - about 40 meters - and exhausted his ammunition. The rounds hit home but the aircraft did not go down, and it altered course and sped off toward its own lines.
Back on the ground a disappointed Yakushin discussed the unsatisfactory result with Starshii Leitenant Serov. They decided that if they were to set the Junkers alight they would have to concentrate their fire on the fuel tank, which was located at the union of the right wing with the fuselage.
Sergente GianLino Baschirotto claimed a Polikarpov I-15.
Feldwebel Peter Boddem of 2.J/88 (Bf 109B) claimed an I-16.
26 July 1937
During the night of 25-26 July, informed that enemy aircraft were bombing the Republican lines in the area around the Escorial, Starshii Leitenant Anatoly Serov and Leitenant Mikhail Yakushin of the 1a Escuadrilla headed for the front, flying over it by night for the first time. Aided by the glow from the fires, they found the patrol zone.
At 01:42, Leitenant Yakushin spotted an enemy bomber. Turning through 180 degrees he closed in from astern, at the same height and to the enemy’s right. Closing in as near as he could he opened fire, and instantly flames appeared along the Junker’s fuselage. The enemy gunner tried to fight off the attack but Leitenant Yakushin carried on firing, following the aircraft down until it hit the ground beside the El Escorial - Robledo de Chavela highway. Yakushin later described his first night victory:
"At midnight we received a telephone report of an enemy bombing raid on Republican troops near El Escorial. It was the first time that we had approached the front after dark. The search area was outlined by the fire started by the bombing. Serov remained at our initial altitude of 6500 ft, while I climbed 3250 ft higher. My luck was in, for ten minutes later I spotted an enemy bomber heading towards me. He would not get away.The enemy aircraft was Ju 52/3m “22+76” from 3.K/88 of Berndt. The enemy aircraft crashed near Valdemorillo and Colmenar. The crew of the German aircraft consisted of Leutnant Leo Falk, Feldwebel George Übelhack, Unteroffizier Fritz Berndt and Unteroffizier Walter Brötzmann, which all were killed. The navigator Unteroffizier Heinz Bottcher survived and was captured. The Germans erected a commemorative tablet there, in memory of their dead comrades.
Having let him pass, I turned and began to approach him at the same height from his right and behind. We had learned by then that the Junker's fuel tank was positioned near the right wing root. Having approached the target and slowed down, I fired at that area. Flame appeared along the right side of the bomber’s fuselage. Almost at once the enemy gunner responded, but he was too late. His bomber was already going down in flames. I followed him down almost to the ground. After that we left our patrol area a few minutes early and rushed home to spread the news of our victory. Once out of my cockpit and back on the ground I was immediately grabbed by Serov. He looked as triumphant as I was because our vertical split formation was his idea!"
Soviet volunteer Sergei Fedorovich Astakhov (born 1913) was killed when the I-16 he was testing went into a spin, which couldn’t be recovered and crashed on the airfield.
Corrado Ricci of the 26a Squadriglia claimed a shared Martin bomber (SB) together with other pilots from XVI Gruppo and a second as a probable by himself over Valdemorillo.
This was his last claim in Spain before returning to Italy.
Tenente Corrado Ricci in Spain with his Fiat CR.32 ‘3-5’.
27 July 1937
During the night, Starshii Leitenant Anatoly Serov of the 1a Escuadrilla shot down a Ju 52/3m from 1.K/88 of Pirner with one killed (Unteroffizier August Heyer) and four captured (Johannes Remling, Rolf Pirner, Walter Schellhorn and Bruno Thielebein). The enemy aircraft was claimed near Manzanares.
For the success in the night patrol flights flown the last two nights, the Spanish Prime Minister Juan Negrin personally congratulated Leitenant Mikhail Yakushin and Starshii Leitenant Anatoly Serov and presented them each with a gold watch and a personal car as tokens of his gratitude.
During an armed reconnaissance over the enemy lines at S. Maria Maria de Cayou – Torrelavega, the Bredas were attacked by I-16 Ratas and Tenente Duilio Fanali's aircraft was damaged.
Giuseppe Mottet of the 20a Squadriglia claimed a shared I-16 over Madrid.
Nationalist bombers attacked Campo Real airfield and a Soviet volunteer was killed (aircraft engineer Grigorii Alekseevich Aplesnin 1909-27 July 1937).
8 August 1937
The Nationalist advance on Santander began.
24 August 1937
In an attempt to slow down Nationalist advances in the north and seize the military initiative in this area, the Republicans launched an offensive between Quinto and Belchite in Aragon during the night of 24 August.
26 August 1937
Santander fell to the Nationalists.
Fuerza Aérea de la República Española - Republican Air Force
Anatoly Serov was promoted to Kapitan and commander of the 1a Escuadrilla in August and took take part in the Brunete offensive. He was to remain here until replaced by Antonov and transferred to the Plana Mayor of Grupo de Caza No 26 (I-15s).
At the end of August, the 1a Escaudrilla of the Grupo de Caza No 26 moved to Bajaralos.
On 20 August, Serzhant Vyacheslav Dmitrievich Popov arrived in Spain. He used the the nom du guerre ”Fernando Montanelli” and served in the 1a Escaudrilla of the Grupo de Caza No 26.
2a/26 was transferred to Azuqueca de Henares and, on 23 August, to Alcañiz, in Saragossa.
The first five Spanish-built I-15s were completed in August 1937 at the SAF-3 factory at Reus.
In August, 62 I-16s were delivered to Spain.
On 17 August, a nine-strong I-16 escuadrilla (1a/21) led by future ace, and Hero of the Soviet Union, Starshii Leitenant Boris Smirnov arrived at La Albericia airfield, in Santander, from Alcalá de Henares. The unit was comprised of the following pilots:
Starshii Leitenant Boris Smirnov (Escuadrilla CO)
Sargento Eloy Gonzalo Obarro (KIA on 19 September 1937)
Sargento Luis de Frutos González (KIA in January 1938 on the Teruel front)
Sargento Tomás Saladrigas Guardia (later wounded in action)
Sargento Eduardo Fernández Prada (later wounded in action)
Sargento Francisco Tarazona Torán (later wounded in action)
Sargento Juan Huertas García
Sargento Daniel Ranz Díaz de Artacoz (later killed in action)
Sargento Restituto Félix Toquero Burillo
This was the last effort to strengthen the Northern Front since at the time the enemy offensive in the Northern Province had already started.
Directing operations on the Biscay, Asturias and Santander fronts in July and August, capitán Ramón Puparelli Francia was promoted to mayor de Artilleria during this period. Just prior to the fall of Santander on 25 August, he returned to the central area in a Douglas DC-2.
The Polikarpov-equipped fighter units operating on the Central front remained under Soviet command during the operations at La Granja (Segovia), Huesca, Brunete and Belchite during the summer and autumn of 1937.
Following the disbandment of Grupo No 20 and Luis Alonso Vega’s promotion to mayor in August 1937, Alonso Vega was appointed to command Grupo de Natachas No 30 on 6 August.
In August capitán Isidoro Jiménez García moved with the 50a Escuadrilla (R-Z) to Villar del Arzobispo and then to Barcelona.
Andrés Rodríguez Panadero of the Escuadrilla de Chatos del Norte was promoted to teniente on 18 August and then posted to the Escuadrilla I-16 Mosca del Norte.
Panadero’s proven flying ability allowed him to convert onto the monoplane without any need for formal instruction on the type. He subsequently took command of the unit when Soviet pilots left the Northern front and he subsequently led the escuadrilla during the bitter fighting of the Asturias campaign
In early August Juan Comas Borrás left the Northern Front for Valencia by DC-2 for a spell of leave, returning to the north on 17 August with three Chatos.
On 18 August he became a teniente, with fellow pilots Ladislao Duarte Espés, Miguel Zambudio Martínez and Andrés Rodríguez Panadero also being promoted.
A few days before the fall of Santander, an exhausted teniente Leopoldo Morquillas Rubio, CO of the Escuadrilla de Chatos del Norte, was flown out by DC-2 to Barcelona, where he assumed command of the unit defending the city from El Prat de Llobregat airfield.
Teniente Gerardo Gil Sánchez reported to El Carmolí, where he transitioned to the I-16 Mosca, but he did not join the first Spanish I-16 unit because of the arrival of Soviet-trained Spanish pilots from the USSR. He was consequently attached to the Escuela de Pilotos at San Javier as an aerobatic flying instructor.
Sargento Francisco Viñals Guarro joined the Escuela de Alta Velocidad at El Carmolí for familiarisation training on the I-16 Mosca, although he was soon posted as an instructor to the Escuela Elemental de Pilotos at Alcantarilla, flying F.480, DH 60 Moth Majors and E-34s.
Teniente Manuel Aguirre López became one of the first Spanish pilots to fly an I-16 when he joined the first conversion course at El Carmolí in August 1937 (ending on 31 August) with, among others, sargento Manuel Zarauza Clavero.
Later that same month, during the battle of Belchite, he was appointed patrulla CO in the 1a Escuadrilla of Grupo No 21, which was led successively by Soviet pilots Starshii Leitenant Boris Smirnov and Nikolai Ivanov.
Sargento Antonio Arias Arias joined Ivan Devotchenko’s Soviet escuadrilla (1a/21) in August. Here, he served alongside Eduardo Claudín Moncada, Ramón Gandía, Joaquín Velasco, José María Bravo Fernández, Antonio Pérez, José Alarcón, Fernández Alberdi, José Ruiz and Jiménez Marañón.
Arias was assigned Mosca ‘CM-093’, which he flew over Aragon during the summer and autumn of 1937.
Sargento Francisco Meroño Pellicer was posted to the 1a/21 (I-16). The unit was based at Caspe airfield. From here he served on the Aragon front, flying mainly reconnaissance and frontline patrol sorties.
After the battle of Brunete, an Escuadrilla de Bombardeo Nocturno (night bombing squadron) was established to harass the Nationalists by operating single-aircraft sorties behind enemy lines at 15 to 20-minute intervals. Equipped with 12 R-5 Rasantes, the unit was led by teniente Walter Katz from Bujaraloz airfield, in Aragon.
During the course of operations on the northern front in July and August 1937, Italian pilots claimed 15 verified kills without suffering a single loss in return.
After the Republican offensive in the Aragon started on 24 August, the Nationalists immediately bolstered the aerial defence of the Aragon front by sending XXIII Gruppo Caccia to Saragossa-Sanjurjo. Led by Maggiore Andrea Zotti, the gruppo was comprised of 18a, 19a and 20a Squadriglie, led by Capitani Guido Nobili, Enrico Degli Incerti and Antonio Larsimont Pergameni, respectively.
On 25 August these units were joined by the CR.32s of capitán Joaquín García Morato’s Grupo 2-G-3 and Maggiore Giuseppe Casero’s XVI Gruppo, consisting of 24a, 25a and 26a Squadriglie, led by Capitani Bruno Brambilla and Armando François and Tenente Alfiero Mezzetti (CO from 3 August), respectively.
Finally, Maggiore Eugenio Leotta’s VI Gruppo was also transferred from Villarcayo to Alfamèn on 28 August with its 31a and 32a Squadriglie, led by Capitani Luigi Borgogno and Ernesto Botto.
This was virtually all the CR.32s on mainland Spain with both the Spanish CR.32 Grupo and the whole 3o Stormo Caccia dell’Aviazione Legionaria.
Between 25 and 29 August, XXIII Gruppo clashed with enemy aircraft on six occasions over the Aragon Front, claiming seven light bombers (R-Zs), ten ‘Martin bombers’ (SBs), seven ’Ratas’ and eight ‘Curtiss fighters’ (I-15s) destroyed and two probables for the loss of three CR.32s and two pilots killed.
At least ten of the 32 aerial victories that were claimed as confirmed can be matched to Republican losses.
In August, with the resumption of operations in the north, the three Staffeln of J/88 moved to Herrera and Alar del Rey, which was declared ‘Arbeitsfähig’ (ready for work) for Bf 109s during the first few days of the month.
At this time, Oberleutnant Harro Harder’s 1 .J/88 and 3.J/88, now under the command of recently-promoted Oberleutnant Adolf Galland, possessed a total of nine Bf 109s and 18 He 51s, respectively.
1. Staffel moved to the forward airfield at Orzalez on 18 August. Four days earlier, 2.J/88, operating refurbished Bf 109s from Calahorra, stood at Startbereit. After flying an escort mission for K/88, it later operated together with the He 51s in attacking troop positions on roads in the area south of Reinosa. Hauptmann Gotthard Handrick, CO of J/88, recalled:
“Around the middle of August the Nationalist Spaniards pushed ahead in three columns with a considerable amount of artillery, munitions and armoured cars west of Santander to the coast of the Bay of Biscay. The Rojos defended themselves desperately, and in this hilly and occasionally mountainous region, there resulted continuous and fierce fighting for roads and high-lying features. For us “low-flyers”, an extensive field of activity offered itself. We were deployed to attack the enemy positions, which commanded the heights and the roads, and naturally the roads themselves, which ran along beneath these heights. The mountain positions were strongly and very well laid out, making them very difficult to attack with machine guns and bombs. It was at times, therefore, impossible for us to ease the work of the ground troops in the way we would have wished. Nevertheless, we were successful, even if in the end only slow progress was made.
The Nationalist advance had to deal not only with the natural hindrances of the terrain, but also the fact that many of the roads passed over numerous bridges. The Rojos had not neglected to blow up every bridge that they were unable to hold. We therefore often received the special task of hindering the blowing up of some bridge or other, forcing the Reds to call a halt to proceedings until the Nationalist infantry had been brought up. We would loiter over these previously selected bridges and allow nobody to approach them. Our bombs and machine guns could, when the defences were not too strong, mostly isolate them.
From the air, we could then observe how our infantry worked their way towards them. When we saw the forward infantry patrols advance and take possession of the bridges during the course of the day, we knew we had thus fulfilled our task. If, however, nightfall came before Nationalist troops arrived, the bridge usually had to be given up as it then became impossible for us to recognise enemy demolition patrols from the air and attack them.”
After the Republican attack in the Aragon, the He 51s from 3.J/88 were rushed to the area on 26 August and heavily committed. Oberleutnant Adolf Galland recalled that the frequent relocations endured by J/88 at this time seemed ”quite without plan or purpose”.
On 26 August, elements of J/88 moved into Pontejos, due west of Santander.
In the end of August, 1.J/88 began to convert to the Bf 109B.
The Bf 109s of J/88 moved to airfields at Gijón from where they covered the operations of A/88 east and west of Santander.
6 August 1937
A group of ’Chatos’ and ’Ratas’ attacked two Ro.37bis at 2000 meters over Torrelavega.
They were surprised by VI Gruppo, which was escorting the Ro.37bis between Salaya and Torrelavega and flying at 4000 meters. Sergente Gaetano Bortolini claimed an I-16, which was pursuing another Fiat. Meanwhile, Capitano Ernesto Botto (CO 32a Squadriglia) claimed two I-16s. Tenenete Edoardo Molinari (32a Squadriglia) claimed a Republican fighter over Selaya.
VI Gruppo claimed eight ’Ratas’ and a single ’Chato’ without any losses.
French pilot Abel Guides was killed in action.
Guides was reputedly credited with 10 victories at the time of his death but a conservative estimate these were more probably only 4 victories.
8 August 1937
The advance on Santander began with air operations focused on attacking the Reinosa sector to the southwest. In a well-used pattern, Nationalist artillery and Navarrese troops, backed up by low-level attacks from the air, struck the enemy line, while German bombers, escorted by Bf 109s, flew deep into Republican territory. He 51s again flew continuous attacks on road and rail targets, as well as against the Santandaristas and their disillusioned Basque allies, who were now homeless.
9 August 1937
Leitenant Ivan Fomin and Leitenant Nikolai Goryainov (both from 5a/21) collided while taxing, damaging the wing on one of the I-16; neither pilots were injured.
13 August 1937
Feldwebel Peter Boddem of 2.J/88 (Bf 109B) claimed an I-16.
14 August 1937
During the Santander offensive, VI Gruppo performed many escort missions. Capitano Ernesto Botto flew up to five missions per day.
Leitenant Mikhail Yakushin of the 1a Escuadrilla 26 Gruppo de Caza claimed a Ju 52/3m.
15 August 1937
Leutnant Edgar Rempel of 2.J/88 (Bf 109B) claimed an I-16 escort that was seen to go down in flames during an attack on enemy bombers - the first such mission since the commencement of operations against Santander.
17 August 1937
Feldwebel Peter Boddem of 2.J/88 claimed an I-15 at Puerto del Escudo and an I-16 near El Carreño airfield while Felwebel Norbert Flegel of the same unit claimed an unconfirmed I-16. The I-16 claimed by Feldwebel Boddem was probably teniente Rafael Magriña Vidal, who was killed in combat with a Bf 109 whilst flying an I-16 at Ciriego, near Santander. Around his neck when he died was the scarf originally worn by Sergente Maggiore Guido Presel. The I-15 was probably flown by Juan Caballé Puignous, who also was killed.
That same day He 51s attacked entrenched Republican positions east of Caneda, to the north of Reinosa.
Sargento Francisco Tarazona Torán of the 1a/21 (I-16) claimed a CR.32 on the Northern Front. This was his first victory.
18 August 1937
Feldwebel Peter Boddem of 2.J/88 (Bf 109B) claimed an I-15 over Santander. Oberleutnant Günter Lützow from the same unit also claimed an I-15 during the day while Feldwebel Norbert Flegel claimed an unconfirmed I-15.
20 August 1937
At around noon, Paolo Arcangeletti of the 31a Squadriglia claimed a ’Curtiss’ (I-15) over Selaya on the Santander front.
21 August 1937
Capitano Ernesto Botto claimed 6 I-16 and 1 I-15 as shared destroyed plus two additional I-16 as shared unconfirmed over Santander.
22 August 1937
11 CR.32s from the 32a Squadriglia clashed with 12 I-15s from Escuadrilla de Caza del Norte during an escort mission over Ontaneda on the Santander front. Italian pilots claimed four destroyed and five probables. Capitano Ernesto Botto claimed two of the I-15s.
Teniente Miguel Galindo Saura, CO of the Republican unit, was injured when he bailed out near Puerto del Escudo and was captured, while squadron mate Angel Martín González died when he crashed trying to force-land his battle-damaged I-15 near Suances.
Teniente Ladislao Duarte Espés replaced Galindo as CO of the Escuadrilla de Caza del Norte.
Sargento Antonio Pardo Iglesias was killed in combat.
Kapitan Ivan Yeremenko of the 1a/26 claimed two Meridionali Ro.37s while flying an I-16.
Kapitan Anatoly Serov of the 1a Escuadrilla claimed three shared Ro.37s over Huerva while flying an I-15.
2.J/88 (Bf 109B) made three claims during the day when Oberleutnant Günter Lützow, Feldwebel Norbert Flegel and Leutnant Rolf Pingel claimed an I-16 each. All three pilots had been escorting bombers.
23 August 1937
Ten CR.32s from the 32a Squadriglia (one of which was flown by VI Gruppo CO Maggiore Eugenio Leotta and another by the CO of the 32a Squadriglia Capitano Ernesto Botto) fought I-15s near Ontaneda as the latter tried to defend Santander from being attacked. Italian pilots claimed three “Curtiss fighters” destroyed and three probables, and their demise was again collectively attributed to all participants from the 32a Squadriglia.
The only loss admitted by the Republicans, however, was the I-15 of Francisco De Antonio Sanz, who was shot down near Ontaneda but managed to return to Republican lines.
24 August 1937
Giuseppe Mottet of the 20a Squadriglia claimed a shared Tupolev SB-2 bomber over Escorial.
Leitenant Yevgenii Stepanov of the 1a Escuadrilla claimed a Bf 109B over Baharalos. This claim can’t be verified since it seems that no Bf 109s were lost on this date.
Starshii Leitenant Nikita Syusyukalov of the 1a Escuadrilla claimed a shared Ju 52 with Walter Korouzom over Baharalos while Leitenant Mikhail Yakushin claimed a second.
Teniente José Riverola Grúas of the 3a/26 shot down an SM.81 tri-motor over the Gulf of Rosas.
While flying from Alcañiz, sargento Vicente Castillo Monzó of the 2a/26 (I-15) claimed two CR.32 over Leciñena and Perdiguera.
A SB from Ostryakov’s Detachment flown by Zobov with Simonyan as navigator and Aleksei Vasil’evich Brovkin as radio/gunner were making a sweep over the sea watching for He 59s coming from Mallorca. They discovered three He 59s heading for the Port of Rosas and after some time were able to divert them. Then a lone Spanish-flown I-15 approached and believing them to be enemy, attacked the SB, killing Brovkin.
25 August 1937
In the late afternoon, 20 CR.32s from XXIII Gruppo escorted Ju 52/3ms, which were bombing enemy troops around Belchite. The fighter pilots suddenly spotted eleven Martin bombers flying bellow them at 500 meters above Fuente del Ebro. They attacked them and ten were claimed shot down. Two of them were claimed as shared between Sergente Giuseppe Ruzzin of the 19a Squadriglia and Maggiore Andrea Zotti.
He 51 Ketten of J/88 undertook ground-attack operations against fortified ‘Red’ positions north and northwest of Torrelavega, while the Bf 109s escorted K/88.
26 August 1937
The CR.32s escorted 19 bombers to Villamajor. Close to the bombers was the 20a Squadriglia, while the 18a and 19a Squadriglie stayed above them. The weather was far from ideal and soon a layer of cloud separated the two higher flying Squadriglie from the rest. The minutes slowly ticked away as the formation moved toward the target area. Suddenly the clouds broke and Capitano Enrico Degli Incerti noticed a swarm of enemy aircraft below. Followed by his wingmen, he dived through the tattered clouds and found himself in perfect position behind an I-15. Five short bursts and the fighter began to fall. Degli Incerti followed his victim and saw it crashing into the Ebro River.
In order to gain altitude he pulled the stick back – only to discover five I-15s at 3,000 feet, coming straight for him. His wingmen were nowhere in sight. The Republican leader, as he soon found out, was a very able pilot. He attacked the Italian at once, and while he engaged his adversary, the four other I-15s flew around them and sent bursts toward the CR.32 at close range. Bullets smashed the windscreen, tore into the parachute pack and holed the fuselage, but Degli Incerti's luck held. He threw the Fiat into a steep dive, but his foe clung to him. Bullets broke instruments on the panel and one bullet tore the belt off his waist without wounding him. Degli Incerti didn’t even try to aim anymore. He just shot wildly in the direction where a winged shadow appeared. Only three minutes went by, yet they seemed an eternity. Using all the tricks he had ever learned or heard of, he somehow managed to evade the fire of his adversaries. Then suddenly, the Republican leader’s tail came into sight. His fighter instinct made him aim and fire, but at the same second, another I-15 sent a burst into the Fiat. There was no pain, but the warmth of blood rolling down his leg made him realize that he was wounded. In desperation, he opened the throttle full, but the crippled machine didn’t respond. Glancing back, he saw a thin streak of smoke trailing him. The engine’s revolutions dropped from 2900 to 1000 and it seemed a miracle that the CR.32 was still airborne. The I-15s attacked with renewed fury and the Fiat descended more rapidly while the Republican leader closed in for the coup de grace. A hail of bullets hit the aircraft but it continued to fly. Degli Incerti noted with some relief that he had just crossed into Nationalist territory. But the attacks of his pursuers became more determined as they tried to finish him off. The I-15s opened up again and he put the Fiat’s nose down. Somehow he managed to pull the machine out and found himself alone. He smelled smoke then felt the rapidly increasing heat of the burning fuselage. To add to his troubles, the engine suddenly stopped. Luckily, however, the ground was only a few meters below, so he switched the fuel off and landed the fighter. The burning Fiat’s tail rose into the air and then luckily fell back to the ground. Paralyzing pain knifed into his wounded leg as he tried to get out of the cockpit. However, the will for survival made his muscles move and set his body into motion out of the burning aircraft.
It seems that at least some of the bombers escorted by the 20a Squadriglia were He 46s from 3-G-11 led by the unit’s CO commandante José Pérez Pardo, who was shot down and killed together with his observer Salvador Blanco. They had possibly been intercepted by I-15s from 1a/26 led by Kapitan Anatoly Serov and it sems that they claimed three destroyed He 46s, one of them claimed by Kapitan Evgeni Antonov.
The Legion Condor commenced operations against Asturias when bombers (escorted by Bf 109s from 1. and 2.J/88) attacked ships in Gijón harbour. Three freighters were set on fire, and in an air battle over the town Oberfeldwebel Reinhard Seiler of 2.J/88 claimed an I-15 (a ’Curtiss’).
The Aufklärungsstaffel also attacked the harbour with bombs.
During the Belchite offensive and while flying from Alcañiz, sargento Vicente Castillo Monzó of the 2a/26 (I-15) claimed one CR.32 over Fuentes de Ebro and a Ro.37 over Caspe.
The CO of the unit, teniente Chindasvinto González García claimed two CR.32s shot down.
Sargento José Redondo Martín was mentioned in dispatches as follows:
“A major air battle over the Aragon front near Saragossa this morning ended in complete success for the Republican air force, which managed to shoot down five enemy aeroplanes - four Fiats and a Romeo - without loss to our escuadrillas. Worthy of mention in this combat is the conduct of a recently graduated sargento, José Redondo, son of the former mayor of Madrid, Cayetano Redondo. In combat with a Fiat, Redondo shot it down, despite numerous machine gun hits to his own aircraft, several of which damaged its port wing. After shooting down the Fiat Redondo flew his aircraft the considerable distance back to his airfield. The groundcrew found it hard to understand how Redondo had managed to make it to their airfield with such damage to his fighter aircraft and a serious leg wound.
The Minister of National Defence congratulated the heroic pilot, and in the presence of all the personnel of the fighter escuadrillas at the airfield, promoted him to teniente. Several captured enemy airmen stated that our offensive in Aragon had occupied a great deal of the aviation forces operating on the Santander fronts. One of the captured airmen, comandante Pérez Pardo, has a serious stomach wound and is in hospital.”
Sargento Antonio Arias Arias, 1a/21 (I-16), claimed a shared He 111.
27 August 1937
Sargento Francisco Tarazona Torán of the 1a/21 (I-16) claimed a Bf 109 on the Northern Front.
Oberleutnant Harro Harder of 1.J/88 (Bf 109B) made his first claim in the Bf 109B when he claimed a SB. Unteroffizier Max Schulz of 2.J/88 (Bf 109B) claimed an I-15.
28 August 1937
The XVI Gruppo encountered the enemy near Fuentes de Ebro. Its pilots claimed two ’Ratas’ and five ‘Curtiss fighters’ destroyed and three as probables, for the loss of three CR.32s and three pilots taken prisoner.
The Republicans appear to have lost only one I-15, however.
29 August 1937
Capitano Ernesto Botto flew three escort missions.
Sergente Giuseppe Ruzzin of the 19a Squadriglia attacked three Martin bombers over Zaragoza-Belchite-Zuera and claimed a shared together with another pilot.
9 September 1937
By this date the Republican drive to Zaragoza had petered out.
Fuerza Aérea de la República Española - Republican Air Force
In early September the so-called Agrupación de Caza (Fighter Force) was officially established under mayor Ramón Puparelli Francia, who’s Plana Mayor (Staff) was based at Caspe airfield.
The R-Z-equipped 50a Escuadrilla (CO capitán Isidoro Jiménez García) based at Barcelona was disbanded.
Capitán José Riverola Grúas was interim commander of the Grupo No 26, but on 26 September, Riverola was appointed CO of the fighter units assigned to the Escuadra Mixta No 7 de protección de costas (Mixed Coastal Wing No 7), equipped with Dewoitine D.371/372s, Dewoitine D.510s, captured CR.32s and Gourdou Leseurre GL.32s.
It seems that involved pilots in this unit were at least sargentos Antonio Nieto Sandoval-Díaz, Elías Hernández Camisón and Emilio Ramírez Bravo, which reported to Los Alcazares. The coastal patrulla operated from La Ribera, Alicante, Valencia, Reus and, finally, Figueras.
Chindasvinto González García, CO of the 2a/26 (I-15), was promoted to capitán and confirmed as escuadrilla commander.
Teniente Gerardo Gil Sánchez was posted to Alcañiz airfield as a deputy commander of the 2a Escuadrilla.
The 2a/26 operated from Sariñena during the battles that took place in the early days of September.
Sargento Manuel Zarauza Clavero was posted to the the 1a/21 (I-16) on 25 September.
Manuel Aguirre López was promoted to capitán and given command of the 1a/21 (I-16).
One of the pilots in the escuadrilla was sargento Antonio Arias Arias, who usually flew I-16 ‘CM-158’.
Álvaro Muñoz López joined the air force as a pilot sargento.
José Redondo Martín's promotion to teniente was confirmed on 13 September.
Due to the imminent collapse of Gijón, all Soviet were evacuated between 2-7 September from the North.
Fuerza Aérea Nacionales (Arma de Aviación) - Nationalist Air Force
Capitán Joaquín García Morato continued to lead Grupo 2-G-3 until September, when he was sent on an eight-week-long technical mission to Italy at the end of the month. Capitán Ángel Salas took over the command of Grupo 2-G-3 and capitán Miguel García Pardo took over after Salas as leader of 2-E-3.
On his return, capitán Morato was named as chief of operations for the 1st Air Brigade, an appointment which he held until the end of June 1938, and Salas replaced him officially as Commander of Grupo 2-G-3.
The Grupo 2-G-3 moved to Leon aerodrome on 10 September to support the offensive, which General Aranda had begun on the 9th.
After twelve days in hospital, Capitano Enrico Degli Incerti returned to the 19a Squadriglia, which, in the meantime, had transferred to Torrijos.
Then it was once more sent back to the Zaragoza sector.
On 28 September, XXIII Gruppo transferred to Almaluèz, near Belchite.
By early September, the whole of J/88 had assembled at Pontejos. From here, the Bf 109s escorted bombers striking at Gijón, while 3.J/88 flew more freelance patrols, operating directly in front of the advancing ground troops, as well as engaging in the art of ’Kochenjagd’ ('hunting to eat') - a nickname given to vehicle-hunting missions, often at dusk, of which a leading exponent was Oberfeldwebel Ignaz ‘Igel’ Prestele. Oberleutnant Adolf Galland remembered that during such intensive operations in the He 51, on ’reloading the machine guns you usually cut your knuckles open on one of the many obstacles in the unbelievably confined space of the overheated cockpit. On hot days we flew in bathing trunks, and on returning from a sortie looked more like coalminers, dripping with sweat, smeared with oil and blackened by gunpowder smoke’.
On 15 September, J/88 reported seven Bf 109s and 14 He 51s on strength.
On 21 September, 3.J/88 moved to the airfield at Llanes, on the Asturian coast, which had only recently been captured. From here it harried the Republican troops as they retreated west. Oberleutnant Adolf Galland recalled:
“Llanes was funniest aerodrome I have ever taken off from. Situated on a plateau whose northern side fell sheer into the sea, with the three remaining sides almost as steep, it was like taking off from the roof of a skyscraper situated on the seashore.”
Hauptmann Gotthardt Handrick recalled the combats over Gijón:
“Our raids on Gijón did not always go quite so smoothly and without problems. The Rojos also put up enormous resistance against us in the air, and their Ratas and Curtisses were by no means easy prey. During the course of one air battle, I was engaged intensively with a Curtiss, and since it was one of my first air battles, I was naturally convinced that I would be able to take care of the enemy crate in an instant. Far from it! Apart from the fact that my machine guns were not firing well for some reason or other, I must admit that I had not handled my position too well. I attacked the Curtiss from behind - it did an about-turn. Instead of pulling my nose up and then repeating the attack, I immediately attacked again, and at each attack managed to fire only ten rounds, whilst the Curtiss, which, of course, was slower than my aircraft, was able to compensate for that by being very manoeuvrable. It also had an excellent rate of climb and the pilot shot well.
Gradually, we distanced ourselves ever more from the coast, and in the end we were a good five kilometres out over the sea, directly facing Gijón, the Front being about 50 to 60 km away. Hence it was high time to call it a day! I drew closer to the Curtiss, ever closer, so close that in the end there was a weighty thud - I had collided with it.
On my aircraft, the wing had been hit directly at the fuselage root. In addition to that, the controls jammed. I made three or four involuntary rolls, one after the other, until I was finally able to flatten out the crate and with much effort fly in a straight line. Should I bail out, over the sea? No thank you! The water was too cold in October! I flew inwards towards the land. If someone were to catch hold of me now - I dared not to bring this thought to a conclusion. At last I arrived over the Front, and then over Llanes. Here, over the airfield, I would be able to fling down the aircraft, but the airfield commander will berate me. “Where in the world do you think we can obtain spare parts when you fling the crate down? How are we to transport it away from here? All the bridges in the hinterland have been blown up, and it can take weeks before you'll have a new aircraft”.
Under similar comforting thoughts, and with a choking aircraft, I reach Santander. Thank goodness! I’m at a height of only 150 metres. Very cautiously I let the undercarriage down. In doing so, out of my aircraft a piece of the wing of the enemy Curtiss flies away - a souvenir of one of my first air battles which I keep even today. After landing, I took a look at my bird. It had been badly damaged. The right wing was a mess, the fuselage was dented in, at the back were a few hits and the empennage needed to be repaired. However, I was very happy that I had been able to hold out, for after two days the damage had been more or less taken care of - and the bird continues to fly.”
Hauptmann Gotthardt Handrick left the command of J/88 in September.
1 September 1937
Twelve (?) CR.32s from the VI Gruppo chased a mixed squadron of Polikarpovs and claimed one Chatos and two Ratas as shared destroyed plus two I-15s as unconfirmed over Belchite. The pilots included Capitano Ernesto Botto of the 32a Squadriglia.
Republicans admitted only one Chato lost.
Leitenant Yevgenii Stepanov of the 1a Escuadrilla claimed a CR.32 near Belchite.
2 September 1937
2-G-3 surprised a formation of about 15 ’Chatos’ in the Belchite area, of which they destroyed seven. These victories were scored by capitán Ángel Salas Larrazábal (CO 2-E-3) and teniente Julio Salvador Díaz-Benjumea (CO 1-E-3) (two each) and by capitán Joaquín García Morato (CO 2-G-3), alférez Javier Allende Isasi (2-E-3) and Careaga.
The only known Government loss in this area during the day is Emilio Herrera Aguilera, who was killed in combat during the day.
While flying from Sariñena, sargento Vicente Castillo Monzó of the 2a/26 (I-15) claimed two CR.32 over Escatrón.
Miguel Zambudio Martínez’s (Escuadrilla de de Caza del Norte) aircraft was set on fire in combat with German fighters after his mixed formation of I-15s and I-16s was attacked while supporting government forces over Llanes. Although he managed to bail out, Zambudio landed in no-man's-land. Despite having been lightly wounded, he escaped and reached friendly lines.
Sargento Antonio Arias Arias, 1a/21 (I-16), claimed a CR.32 as his first victory.
4 September 1937
Oberfeldwebel Reinhard Seiler of 2.J/88 claimed his second kill - and the first by a German fighter over Asturias - when he downed an I-16, while a new arrival, Leutnant Eduard Neumann, who had joined 3. Staffel from I./JG 232, shot down a Rata for his first kill. He recalled:
“During my first operational flight over Asturias, on 4 September 1937, I was flying behind Galland when I sighted a Polikarpov I-15, and I shot it down. It was very hard to do that with a He 51.”
5 September 1937
Sargento Antonio Arias Arias, 1a/21 (I-16), claimed an enemy aircraft shot down.
6 September 1937
Leutnant Peter Boddem of 2.J/88 (Bf 109B) claimed an I-16.
7 September 1937
Oberleutnant Harro Harder of 1.J/88 (Bf 109B) claimed a French dual engine aircraft.
This was Airspeed A.S.6J Envoy III F-AQCS of Air Pyrénées (it had joined the airline only three days before) flown by Abel Guidez (late of the Malraux squadron) flying to Gijón to rescue some Russian airmen before they fell prisoner to the Advancing Nationalists. The Envoy was shot down by Bf 109s and Guidez was killed.
9 September 1937
J/88 (Bf 109) made five claims during the day when Oberleutnant Harro Harder (1.J/88) claimed a Ni-H.52 and an I-15 and Leutnant Heinrich Brücker (2.J/88) claimed an I-16 while Leutnant Peter Boddem (2.J/88) claimed an unconfirmed I-15 and Hauptmann Gotthardt Handrick, CO of J/88 claimed an unconfirmed I-15.
11 September 1937
A He 51 from J/88 was lost when a pilot named Leske (?) was shot down.
12 September 1937
Three I-16s flown by Ivan Evsev’ev (CO of the Escuadrilla), Nestor Demidov and Leitenant Sergei Kuznetsov claimed a shared Bf 109 over Gijon.
This claim isn’t verified with Legion Condor losses.
15 September 1937
During the night of 14-15 September, over the region of Sarihena, Kapitan Ivan Yeremenko of the 1a Escaudrilla Grupo de Caza No 26 was flying an I-15 when he shot down a Ju 52/3m bomber from 2.G/22. This Ju 52/3m was coded “22+61” with a Spanish crew consisting of Jose Muntadas Prim (some sources say Captain Carlos Muntadas Salvado-Prim), Carazo Calleja, engineer Sergeant Romero, radio operator Corporal Apricio Velasco, and gunner Jose Ramon Blasco Lavfn. The 2nd pilot was a Russian, Lieutenant Vsevolod Marchenko. Only Blasco survived to reach his lines after bailing out; Marchenko also parachuted safely, but was executed by Republicans. It was a unique occasion; thousands of kilometres from their mother country a Russian had shot down another Russian!
Vsevolod Marchenko was a Ukrainian who graduated from the Russian Naval College in 1911 and during the First World War, he transferred to aviation. During the Russian Civil War he served with the White Russian Army of Admiral Kolchak and was awarded the St. George Cross. He left Russia after the October Revolution in 1917, going first to Yugoslavia and then joining the Spanish Legion serving in Los Aicazares as a Captain. He became a pilot with the Madrid-Paris airline, and then during the Spanish Civil War he was a pilot on Ju 52/3m bombers for Nationalist forces.
Oberleutnant Harro Harder of 1.J/88 (Bf 109B) claimed an I-15.
19 September 1937
Republican fighter pilot Sargento Eloy Gonzalo Obarro was killed in combat in the Asturias area.
22 September 1937
A German He 51 (Leutnant Hans Kemper KIFA?) was lost in a mid-air collision with a He 70 over Santander.
23 September 1937
Oberleutnant Joachim Schlichting of 2.J/88 (Bf 109B) claimed an I-16.
26 September 1937
Sargento José María Bravo Fernández of 1a/21 (I-16) claimed a shared CR.32.
27 September 1937
Five Bf 109Bs were engaged in an air battle with five I-16s over the rooftops of Gijón. Oberleutnant Harro Harder (1.J/88) accounted for one of the Russian fighters shot down, and he forced down another, strafing it several times as it landed. Leutnant Erich Woitke (1.J/88) also shot down a Rata.
28 September 1937
Five Bf 109Bs were engaged in an air battle with five I-16s over Gijón. Oberleutnant Harro Harder of 1.J/88 (Bf 109B) claimed an I-16 shot down in flames.
This was teniente Andrés Rodríguez Panadero, CO of the Escuadrilla Mosca del Norte, who was shot down and killed. The entry in the 6a Región Aérea Operations Record Book noted:
“At 1100 hrs enemy aircraft were detected heading towards Gijón. Four monoplanes and four biplanes were scrambled, which prevented the bombers from reaching Gijón. A combat ensued with the enemy escort monoplanes, several of which were driven off but others arrived, which our aircraft continued to repel. This combat lasted for an hour. The monoplane flown by the teniente Jefe of the Escuadrilla, Andrés Rodríguez Panadero, was shot down in flames. The pilot was killed and the aircraft completely wrecked.”Rodríguez Panadero was posthumously promoted to the rank of capitán on 26 January 1938.
30 September 1937
Leutnant Erich Woitke of 1.J/88 (Bf 109B) took on eight enemy fighters over Gijón. He claimed an I-16, while Feldwebel Norbert Flegel (2.J/88) claimed an unconfirmed Chato.
It seems that the German fighters had been involved in combat with the fighters from Escuadrilla de Caza del Norte where teniente Ladislao Duarte Espés (CO) distinguished himself in combat over Gijón with five Bf 109s, the operations record book entry for the day noting:
“At 1330 hrs three biplanes and three monoplanes were scrambled when seven enemy twin-engined aircraft and ten fighters were reported over Gijón. A combat ensued, and one of our monoplane fighters was shot down. It was flown by sargento Daniel Ranz [Daniel Ranz y Diez de Artazcoz], who was killed. His aircraft was a write-off. The bombers attacked the airfields at Carreño and Vega without result. The escuadrilla CO, teniente piloto Ladislao Duarte, and sargento Castillo engaged five monoplanes and deserve praise for their remarkable feat. Their aircraft landed safely although sargento Castillo’s was severely damaged.”Ladislao was personally congratulated by the Minister of Defence, Indalecio Prieto, who sent a telegram to the commander of the 6a Región Aérea congratulating him on downing a He 111 and a Bf 109.
10 October 1937
International Brigades and Republican army launched new attacks in the south Ebro region aimed at seizing Zaragoza.
21 October 1937
The Nationalists entered Gijón, Asturia.
This completed the occupation of formerly Republican territories in northern Spain. With the seizure of this region, Nationalist troops, naval vessels and aircraft now could be transferred to other operational areas.
30 October 1937
The Republican government abandoned Valencia for Barcelona.
Fuerza Aérea de la República Española - Republican Air Force
The autumn of 1937 saw the establishment of the Grupo No 26 (I-15) and on 9 October 1937, capitán Juan José Armario Álvarez was appointed CO of the Grupo, which initially comprised three escuadrillas with 15 aircraft each.
The Soviet 1a Escuadrilla was led by Kapitan Evgeni Antonov and operated from Sagunto and Sabadel airfields, while teniente Gerardo Gil Sánchez headed up the Spanish 2a Escuadrilla (capitán Chindasvinto González García had handed over command to his deputy, Gil, to act as an interim CO). Both operated on the Aragon front. The Spanish 3a Escuadrilla was formed at Figueras under the command of teniente Juan Comas Borrás, which initially flew defensive patrols over the Catalan coast. The unit’s initial cadre of pilots consisted of Leopoldo Morquillas Rubio, Miguel Zambudio Martínez, Juan Olmos, José Redondo Martín, Antonio Britz Martínez, Rafael Sanromá Daroca and Antonio Nieto Sandoval-Díaz. Later, they were joined by José María Campoamor Peláez, Elías Hernández Camisón, Francisco Montagut Ferrer, Jesús Pérez Pérez, Alfredo de Albert Porcar and José Puig. Many of them were surviving pilots from the Northern front and later in the month the unit operated from Reus airfield.
Capitán Armario initially flew with the Soviet patrulla of the staff flight of the Grupo No 26, often accompanying Starshii Leitenant Stepanov.
On 21 October Kapitan Anatoly Serov was appointed commanding officer of a Grupo de Caza (Fighter Group).
The next day, Kapitan Serov was awarded a second Order of the Red Banner
Leitenant Mikhail Yakushin return to Russian from his “official business trip” in October 1937 after having been awarded the Order of the Red Banner and went on to service in the VVS.
Later in October the 1a/26 operated from Zaragoza.
The 2a/26 moved to the airfield at Candasnos to take part in operations over Fuentes de Ebro.
On 28 October 1937, Kapitan Ivan Yeremenko was decorated with the Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union and the Order of Lenin.
In October, the first two Spanish I-16 units, the 1a and 4a Escuadrillas of Grupo No 21, were finally established.
The 1a Escuadrilla was commanded by El Carmolí graduate capitán Manuel Aguirre López. It was soon followed by the 4a Escuadrilla, led by recently promoted teniente Manuel Zarauza. When Aguirre was appointed to command the Grupo No 21, he was succeeded by the Soviet-trained teniente Eduardo Claudín.
The four Soviet-manned escuadrillas were 2a, 3a, 5a and 6a, and tactical deployment of the whole grupo was controlled by the Soviets. The Grupo No 21, however, gradually became a wholly Spanish unit.
The Agrupación de Caza duly became the Escuadra de Caza No 11, and it remained under mayor Ramón Puparelli Francia’s formal command despite actual command being with the Soviets. It should be noted that four escuadrillas of Grupo No 21 and one of Grupo No 26 still had Soviet personnel and remained under direct Soviet control.
Capitán Isidoro Jiménez García became an instructor at the Escuela de Vuelo and succeeded mayor Félix Sampil as CO of the Escuela de Caza (Escuela de Alta Velocidad?) at El Carmolí, in Murcia. There, he was a member of the first I-16 course.
During the campaigns in Santander and Asturias many pilots were killed, wounded or reported missing. The government airmen had to fight under conditions of clear inferiority, mainly due to the lack of strength in depth and also because their airfields were systematically bombed, with heavy losses both in men and materiel. After the Republican defeat on the Asturias front, the Chatos flown by teniente Ladislao Duarte Espés and sargento Román Llorente Castor, as well as sargento Luis de Frutos González’s Mosca, were the only fighters that managed to escape to France on 20 October 1937.
In total, 43 I-15s and 16 I-16s had been lost during the campaign.
The situation in Gijón was critical when, on 20 October, teniente Miguel Zambudio Martínez and other pilots and groundcrew from Escuadrilla de Caza del Norte fled for neighbouring France, thus bringing the ill-fated campaign in the north to an end.
José Falcó Sanmartín graduated as a pilot on 31 October at Los Alcázares. He was posted to the Cuadro Eventual de Pilotos (pilot’s pool) at Celrá, flying I-15 Chatos.
Shipments of CR.32s to Spain continued, allowing 33a Squadriglia to be formed on 1 October. Led by Capitano Vizzotto, it was assigned to VI Gruppo to bring the unit up to full strength of three squadriglie.
On 1 October, Colonnello Guglielmo Cassinelli (’Castello’) took command of the 3o Stormo Caccia.
Capitano Duilio Fanali took command of the 65a Squadriglia on 13 October.
In the six-week campaign in Asturias, 3.J/88 fired 25,000 rounds of ammunition daily.
After the end of the campaign the Staffeln of J/88 relocated to León.
On 30 October 1937, Generalmajor Hugo Sperrle relinquished command of the Legion Condor to Generalmajor Hellmuth Volkmann, the erstwhile head of the Administration Office in the RLM and who was a very experienced World War I aviator. Initially he was supported by Oberstleutnant Dr.-Ing. Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen, who was his Chief-of-Staff at the Legion’s new base at Burgos.
7 October 1937
Sergente Leonardo Ferrulli shot down a Tupolev SB after a long chase in his CR.32. The Republican aircraft crashed into the sea off Palma di Majorca.
For this victory he was awarded the Medaglia d'argento al valor militare.
Republican fighter pilot Primitivo Oreja Moreno was shot down and killed in combat in the Asturias.
12 October 1937
The Republican Air Force intervened heavily to support International battalions and tanks in an attempt to break through the enemy lines at Fuentes del Ebro.
At 07:30, nine CR.32s of the 31a Squadriglia (Capitano Luigi Borgogno) and nine of the 32a Squadriglia (Capitano Ernesto Botto), VI Gruppo, took off from Alfàmen to patrol the area over Fuentes del Ebro. Each Squadriglia was split in two, so the four patrols were led respectively by Borgogno, Tenente Alessio Neri (31a Squadriglia) at 3,500 meters while Botto (“white 3” NC 623) and Tenente Edoardo Molinari (32a Squadriglia) flew at 5,000 meters.
Over Mediana at 07:55, they spotted Republican fighters escorting R-Z light bombers that were seen to retire without bombing because of CR.32s presence. The Republican escort consisted of 13 I-15s from the 1a Escuadrilla of Grupo No 26 (commanded by Kapitan Antonov) and 19 I-16s from 2a and 6a Escuadrillas of Grupo No 21 (led by Starshii Leitenants Pleshchenko and Gusev). Borgogno waved the wings to warn his pilots and then climbed to 4,000 meters to gain an advantage. The Republicans were to pass unaware below them, but over Lerida, before Borgogno could order the attack, a pilot (Sergente Rigolli, “first wingman” of Neri’s patrol) suddenly dived on them, followed by the three of his patrol. Soon the I-15s turned into them. Borgogno had no other choice than to intervene to help his pilots. In the fray, two CR.32s flown by Sottotenente Francis Leoncini (31a Squadriglia) and Sergente Maggiore Ugo Corsi (32a Squadriglia) collided, and both pilots parachuted. Sottotenente Roberto Boschetto (“Boscarelli”) was hit and made an emergency landing with his damaged fighter. A “Curtiss” was destroyed and another was damaged. Then, Tenente Neri also was shot down and parachuted.
Botto, meanwhile, kept cool enough to stay above and watch the “Ratas”. As the CR.32s were overwhelming the I-15s, the I-16s dived to intervene, but at this point Botto jumped them from 5,000 meters. Botto destroyed a “Rata” over Mediana and dispersed the others, before being hit at his right thighbone by an explosive bullet. He nevertheless managed to reach Saragossa-Sanjurjo and land but the limb had to be amputated. In the combat, Paolo Arcangeletti claimed two additional I-16s while Sergente Maggiore Giuseppe Rigolli was shot down and killed. Two more CR.32s returned to base badly damaged. Overclaiming was heavy and the pilots from 31a and 32a Squadriglie claimed four I-15s and nine I-16s.
It seems that two I-16s of 6a/21 were lost (both flown by Russian pilots), one was shot down with the loss of the pilot while the other crash-landed. One I-15 of 1a/26 piloted by a Spanish pilot, crash-landed in friendly territory. Two I-16s and one I-15 returned damaged.
Boschetto, Leoncini and Corsi were captured and returned home after the war. Neri, who tried to defend himself by shooting at his captors with his handgun, was captured, prosecuted and executed on 16 October 1937. Botto, Neri and Rigolli were decorated with the Medaglia d'oro al valor militare (Italy's highest military award) after this combat, the last two of them posthumously.
After the combat on 12 October 1937, when Capitano Ernesto Botto lost his leg, Sergente Maggiore Bruno Benassi created the famous ‘Gamba di Ferro’ badge, which was adopted by the whole VI Gruppo depicting an iron leg over an axe.
During the day, the VI Gruppo lost a good part of numerical, considering that part of the 31a Squadriglia had previously been detached to Córdoba. Therefore, immediately the same morning, the Comando dell’Aviazione Legionaria ordered the XXIII Gruppo to transfer to Sanjurio (Zaragoza).
At 10.30, 29 CR.32s led by Maggiore Andrea Zotti, took off from Almaluèz and arrived over Sanjurio around noon. However, before landing, Maggiore Zotti decided to lead his pilots to explore the area between Villafranca and Fuentes del Ebro. Here they spotted four Polikarpov RZ “Natachas” escorted by nine I-16s “Ratas” (above them) and 15 I-15 “Curtiss” (below them). The Italian fighters attacked the Republican aircraft and at the end of the dogfight, that lasted about fifteen minutes, the Italians claimed seven (eleven according to other sources) fighters destroyed for no losses, although several CR.32s were hit and damaged. Combat was very hard for the Italians because their fighters were weighted by pilots’ personal luggage. Pilots that scored, either individually or jointly, were Maggiore Zotti (1 I-15), Sergente Giuseppe Mottet (20a Squadriglia) (1 I-16), Sottotenente Giampiero Del Prete, Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni (CO of the 20a Squadriglia), Sergente Francesco Penna, Sottotenente Aldo Felici, Capitano Enrico Degli Incerti (CO of the 19a Squadriglia) (1 I-16), Sottotenente Pio Tomaselli (19a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Franco Lucchini (19a Squadriglia), Capitano Guido Nobili (CO of the 18a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Giovanni Carmello, Sergente Carlo Dentis, Sottotenente Giuseppe Enrico Zuffi, Sergente Federico Tassinari (19a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Alfonso Mattei and Sottotenente Bruno Trevisan (19a Squadriglia). It seems that Lucchini’s, Tassinari’s and Mattei’s claims was a shared between these three pilots.
In the afternoon, Capitano Enrico Degli Incerti claimed an additional I-16.
Sergente Giuseppe Ruzzin of the 19a Squadriglia claimed “several” damaged enemy aircraft during combat with I-15s and I-16s over Belchite-Fuentes del Ebro.
Il’ya Finn (1a/26) claimed a shared Ju 52/3m or Ju 86 over Huesca together with Kapitan Anatoly Serov (1a/26) and Starshii Leitenant Yevgenii Stepanov.
Nationalist records do not confirm this loss.
Capitán Manuel Aguirre López, CO 1a/21 (I-16), claimed a CR.32 shot down while sargentos José María Bravo Fernández and Antonio Arias Arias claimed a CR.32s each as an unconfirmed over the Aragon front as did R. Gandía.
The 2a/26 (I-15) claimed two CR.32 during the day. These being claimed by García and M. Lamas Quevedo.
Leitenant Platon Smolyakov of the 6a/21 (I-16) claimed a shared Fiat in the Zaragoza area during the day. Whether this was claimed in the morning or afternoon combat is not known.
13 October 1937
Starshii Leitenant Nikita Syusyukalov of the 1a Escuadrilla claimed a shared Ju 86 over Baharalos.
14 October 1937
Kapitan Evgeni Antonov, 1a/26 (I-15), claimed two shared CR.32s during the day.
15 October 1937
Capitán Juan José Armario Álvarez, CO of Grupo No 26 led a strafing attack on Garrapinillos airfield, in Saragossa. To ensure the success of this raid, the armourers worked through the night loading the aircrafts’ machine guns with incendiary ammunition.
Capitán Armario himself led the I-15s of the 1a and 2a Escuadrillas, which carried out the attack on the parked aircraft.
The 1a Escuadrilla took off from Bujaraloz with twelve I-15s under the command of Kapitan Evgeni Antonov (Starshii Leitenant Yevgenii Stepanov took part in this attack and Kapitan Anatoly Serov flew in the ‘Plana Mayor’).
The 2a Escuadrilla took off with nine I-15s from Sariñena under the command of Aleksandr (?) Smirnov. Two of the pilots taking part in the attack was teniente Gerardo Gil Sánchez (CO 2a/26) and sargento Vicente Castillo Monzó.
The I-15s were covered by the I-16 from Grupo No 21 that flew top cover:
1a/21 - six I-16s from Caspe under the command of Manuel Aguirre López
2a/21 - ten I-16s from Caspe under the command of Pleshchenko
3a/21 - nine I-16s from Hijar under the command of (Boris) Smirnov
5a/21 - seven I-16s from Escatrón under the command of Ivanov
6a/21 - eleven I-16s from Puig Moreño under the command of Gusev
About 60 planes were claimed destroyed and damaged by the I-15s but the real total losses were only three Ju 52s, six CR.32s and three He 46s. Other aircraft were damaged by fire. The Republican aircraft only suffered one damaged I-15. This aircraft was from the 1a Escuadrilla and it was unserviceable that afternoon.
During the attack Kapitan Serov claimed some aircraft destroyed on the ground. Kapitan Ivan Yeremenko also took part in this attack and according to some sources he led the whole attack.
Kapitan Evgeni Antonov, CO 1a/26 (I-15), claimed a Bf 109 destroyed during the day but whether this was claimed in the combat above or in another sortie is not known.
However J/88 didn’t report any combat on this date and thus no losses either.
18 October 1937
Teniente Ladislao Duarte Espés, CO of the Escuadrilla de Caza del Norte, led his fighters on patrol over Gijón. The government fighters engaged Bf 109s and He 111s in a battle that lasted 1 hr 20 min. The I-15 of sargento Miguel Castillo Puerta was shot down into the sea near the port, but the aircraft had enough buoyancy to enable the pilot to escape from his cockpit and sit on the tail until he was rescued.
The pilots led by Duarte claimed to have shot down two Bf 109s and a He 111.
This was Duarte’s last combat over the north and he left the front two days later and, travelling via Biarritz and Toulouse, was held in France for several days.
19 October 1937
During a night flight the Soviet patrulla of the staff flight of Grupo No 26 downed a SIAI SM.81 tri-motor over Barcelona, the bomber crashing in flames in Republican territory near Sabadell.
Pilots included in this patrulla was Starshii Leitenant Yevgenii Stepanov (CO of the 1a Escuadrilla) and capitán Juan José Armario Álvarez (CO of Grupo No 26).
22 October 1937
Sargento José María Bravo Fernández of 1a/21 (I-16) claimed a floatplane.
25 October 1937
At 03:00 on the night of 24-25 October three S.81s of the 251a Squadriglia, XXV Gruppo B.N. took off from Alcudia to bomb the airport of Sabadell. The plan was that the formation leader Capitano Nicola Ruggeri should drop his war-load first, so that the fires caused by his incendiary bombs should allow the other two crews, with aircraft carrying 15kg high explosive bombs, to choose the best targets. Reaching their target at a level of 700 meters, the tri-motors were met by the fire of machine-guns placed on the hills south-west of the airfield, and then they were attacked by an I-15 flown by Starshii Leitenant Yevgenii Stepanov (1a/26). Stepanov had taken of together with another I-15 flown by Il’ya Finn. Stepanov shot down the second aircraft, flown by Tenente Ezio Maccani, which crashed in flames near Montcada, setting fire to a large wooded area and killing the whole crew of five. He then tried to ram the third S.81 with the left leg of his I-15s undercarriage. The S.81, which was badly hit, manage however to keep contact with his leader. The two diverted to the secondary target, the explosive factory of Badalona, which they bombed at 04:35.
Stepanov returned claiming two victories. According to some sources Finn is credited with the second S.81.
Maccani was posthumously decorated with the Medaglia d’oro al valor militare.
Stepanov was decorated with the Order of the Red Banner for this combat and promoted to Kapitan.
Fuerza Aérea de la República Española - Republican Air Force
In autumn 1937, after heavy summer fighting and considerable attrition, Grupo No 12 was disbanded and some of its airplanes were transferred to the Escuadrillas of Grupo No 24. In November 1937 Spanish pilot Leocadio Mendiola became commander of Grupo No 24 and remained in this post until the end of the war.
On 8 November, just before the battle of Teruel, capitán Manuel Aguirre López was appointed to lead both Spanish escuadrillas of Grupo de Moscas No 21 - 1a and 4a, commanded by tenientes Eduardo Claudín and Manuel Zarauza, respectively. The grupo had a further four escuadrillas - 2a, 3a, 5a and 6a, - all of them led by Soviet kapitan Ivan Yeremenko.
By late November the core of the 4a Escuadrilla of Grupo No 26, commanded by teniente Ladislao Duarte Espés, had been gathered together from pilots and groundcrew evacuated from the north. This four escuadrillas structure was subsequently maintained by the Grupo No 26 for the rest of the war, as plans to create a 5a Escuadrilla did not materialise.
The 4a/26 patrolled the Barcelona area until being sent to Sagunto airfield to swap its aircraft for those of the 1a Escuadrilla de Chatos that had been flown by Soviet pilots. The latter then returned to the USSR.
On 7 November, capitán Chindasvinto González García resumed command of the 2a/26 at Figueras airfield, reliving his deputy teniente Gerardo Gil Sánchez and moved with it to Celra that same day.
On 23 November, the unit left the airfield when two patrols were sent to Bujaraloz and the remaining two headed for Candasnos airfield, where all the I-15s were concentrated the following day.
In November, 3a/26 (CO Juan Comas Borrás) moved to Barracas, in Valencia, in preparation for the battle of Teruel.
Sargento Álvaro Muñoz López graduated as a fighter pilot after two months of training at La Ribera.
Juan Lario Sanchez was promoted to sargento on 20 November 1937.
On 30 November 1937, Andrés García La Calle was promoted on merit to the rank of mayor.
Eduardo Claudín Moncada of the 1a/21 was promoted to teniente, making him the first pilot of his year to achieve such rank. Claudín was popular with his comrades, and he also attracted the favourable attention of his superiors.
Manuel Zarauza Clavero of the 1a/21 (I-16) was promoted to teniente.
Thanks to his exceptional piloting skills, Zarauza was made CO of the 4a/21 when the unit formed in November, whith sargento Antonio Arias Arias as the deputy CO. A number of new pilots joined the unit at this time, including Marciano Díaz, Julio Pereiro, Sabino Cortizo, José Puig and Ortega Velilla. Initially, they operated in the Central area, flying from the airfields at Alcalá de Henares and Santa Cruz de la Zarza. In late November its pilots found themselves up against Bf 109s.
Fuerza Aérea Nacionales (Arma de Aviación) - Nationalist Air Force
Carlos Bayo Alessandri joined 2-G-3.
On 1 November, Rodolphe de Hemricourt was moved to 4-G-12 on Meridionali Ro.37 army co-operation aircraft.
In late November 1937, 30 newly built CR.32ter were shipped from La Spezia to Seville aboard the steamer Aniene. They were delivered to the Aviación Nacional, who in turn passed 25 examples on to the newly formed Grupo de Caza 3-G-3’s Escuadrillas 3-E-3 and 4-E-3 in December. The remaining five fighters were given to the 3o Stormo Caccia of the Aviazione Legionaria.
By 8 November, Sottotenente Mario Visintini was posted to the 25a Squadriglia of the XVI Gruppo ”La Cucaracha”.
On 15 November, Capitano Enrico Degli Incerti left as CO of the 19a Squadriglia, which he had commanded since January.
For his service in Spain, he was decorated with the Medaglia d’argento al valor militare three times.
He was replaced by Tenente Ettore Foschini.
On 26 November, the 65a Squadriglia was transferred to Tudela airfield.
In November, the bulk of the Jagdgruppe was relocated to La Torresaviñán, in the province of Guadalajara.
One of Generalmajor Hellmuth Volkmann’s first measures as commander of the Legion Condor was to restructure J/88 by enlarging it into four Staffeln. Thus, under the command of Hauptmann Gotthardt Handrick, the Gruppe was formed as follows:
1. Staffel with Bf 109s under Oberleutnant Harro Harder
2. Staffel with Bf 109s under the newly-arrived Oberleutnant Joachim Schlichting
3. Staffel with He 51s under Oberleutnant Adolf Galland
4. Staffel with He 51s under Oberleutnant Eberhard d’Elsa (known as the ‘Pik As’ Staffel)
The men and aircraft to form the latter unit had arrived at Vigo by sea in early November 1937 and had formed up at León. The pilots had been drawn from a variety of Jagdgruppen in Germany, but the groundcrews all came from l./JG 136.
4 November 1937
Starshii Leitenant Nikita Syusyukalov of the 1a Escuadrilla claimed a shared an Italian SM 79 off the coast near Amposta together with Serzhant Vyacheslav Dmitrievich Popov. However, Syusyukalov was hit by return fire from the doomed bomber and his fighter caught fire (according to some sources the engine on his I-15 caught fire due to technical problems). He was forced to bale out and landed in the sea. He was picked up by fishermen and returned to duty.
The 2a/26 (I-15) claimed a twin-engined seaplane during the day according to the war diary of the Escuadra de Caza No 11.
29 November 1937
2.J/88 (Bf 109B) claimed three I-16s. These where claimed by Unteroffizier Kurt Rochel, Oberleutnant Joachim Schlichting and Oberfeldwebel Reinhard Seiler.
30 November 1937
The 4a/21 (I-16) claimed two He 111 during the day according to the war diary of the Escuadra de Caza No 11.
2.J/88 (Bf 109B) claimed three I-16s. These where claimed by Leutnant Karl-Heinz Greisert, Unteroffizier Hermann Stange and Unteroffizier Wilhelm Staege.
15 December 1937
The Republicans launched the Teruel offensive.
Fuerza Aérea de la República Española - Republican Air Force
By year-end five I-16 escuadrillas had been established under the command of Ivan Lakeev, Anton Moseyko, Valentin Ukhov, Aleksander Minayev and Grigoriy Pleshchenko.
In the end of 1937 Kapitan Yevgenii Stepanov took command over the Grupo de Caza No 26 when Serov returned to the Soviet Union.
During December the Grupo was based at Bajaralos during the Teruel offensive.
On 1 December capitán José Riverola Grúas (CO of the fighter units assigned to the Escuadra Mixta No 7 de protección de costas) was also appointed aviation liaison officer on the staff of the auxiliary Base Naval at Rosas.
In early December, sargento Francisco Viñals Guarro was ordered to Barracas airfield, which was home of the I-15-equipped 1a/26, led by Soviet pilot Nikita Syusyukalov.
On the 13th, however, he was transferred to 2a/26.
After a 25-day leave teniente Gerardo Gil Sánchez turned over command as deputy of the 2a/26 to teniente Nicomedes Calvo Aguilar, and by early December Gil was once again undertaking aerobatic instruction at La Ribera airfield.
On 26 December, the 2a/26 was transferred to El Toro airfield in the 4a Región Aérea to participate in operations over Teruel.
Teniente Eduardo Claudín Moncada commanded the 1a/21 during the battle of Teruel (which commenced in December). The unit included a few survivors of the fighting on the Northern front like sargento Luis de Frutos González, who would be killed during the unit's operations from Sarrión airfield.
The squadron later moved to Liria, in Valencia.
In December, in recognition of his outstanding flying skills and leadership qualities, sargento José María Bravo Fernández was appointed deputy escuadrilla CO under Claudín.
In mid-December the 4a/21 moved to Villar airfield, in Valencia, and fought in the battle of Teruel. Later they moved to Sarrión.
Fuerza Aérea Nacionales (Arma de Aviación) - Nationalist Air Force
Grupo 3-G-3 was established in the end of December, with comandante José Ibarra Montis as its CO. The unit was comprised of Escuadrillas 3-E-3 and 4-E-3, led by Capitánes Javier Murcia Rubio and Manrique Montero Mera, respectively.
On 8 December, Rodolphe de Hemricourt was moved to the forming 3-G-3 on Fiat CR.32 fighters.
On 15th he moved to the similarly equipped 2-G-3 and he saw much action over the Teruel Front.
On 19 December, the Grupo 2-G-3 moved to Alfamén.
In December, the 65a Squadriglia took part in the battles for Teruel.
Capitano Guido Nobili was replaced as CO of the 18a Squadriglia by Capitano Marco Larcher (’Lenzi’) on 3 December.
Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni left as CO of the 20a Squadriglia during December.
Oberleutnant Harro Harder left the command of the 1.J/88 on 23 December when he was replaced by Oberleutnant Wolfgang Schellmann.
On 23 December, in an effort to support Franco’s forces against the Republican Teruel offensive, J/88 relocated to Calamocha so as to be closer to the action.
Leutnant Eckehart Priebe was the Technical Officer with the new 4.J/88, and he recalled:
“At León we received Spanish uniforms, put our Heinkels together and off we went to the Guadalajara Mountains for another of those “final assaults on Madrid” which never took place. Instead, on Christmas Eve 1937, we had to hurry to a field called Calamocha, south of Zaragoza, to help the beleaguered garrison at the city of Teruel which the Reds had surrounded in a surprise offensive. For more than two months we were engaged in a most bitter battle in ice-cold Aragon. We flew three to four ground-support missions a day at very low level, strafing trenches or dropping our six 10 kg bombs on gun positions or military transport. Aerial combat was left to the Bf 109s, as the Heinkels were no match for the Soviet-made Ratas.”
Hauptmann Gotthardt Handrick, CO of J/88 recalled:
“The struggle for Teruel - a projecting tongue of the Front that lay far to the east in enemy territory - was particularly difficult for us.
At the beginning of this battle, I was located in Calamocha, a tiny “nest” that was about 80 km away from Teruel. Whereas in the summer just passed we had enjoyed much more of the well-known Spanish sun than was good for us, we thus came to know in dreary Calamocha that there was indeed a Spanish winter which also spoke for itself.
None of us had believed it to be possible that in Spain it could become really cold. The scorching heat of the summer had, in fact, helped to give us the notion that we would also experience a warm and pleasant winter. Shockingly, when I made my first reconnaissance flight to the Teruel Front on Christmas Eve, the thermometer showed -18o C. It was especially difficult for our groundcrews at Calamocha. Night after night and hour after hour, a special Kommando had to rev up the aircraft in order to keep them warm.”
4 December 1937
Joaquín García Morato (3-51) claimed an I-15.
Five I-16s led by Aleksander Gusev encountered some 30 Nationalist bombers (including He 111s) escorted by 11 Bf 109s of 1.J/88 out to bomb Bujaraloz. A Bf 109B (6-15) was claimed shot down in Nationalist-held territory, and a second one was forced to land behind Republican lines at Corta Azaila- Escatron, on the Aragon front, with a damaged fuel system. Gusev and his wingman escorted it down and then circled overhead until friendly troops arrived to take possession of the Messerschmitt, and pilot Feldwebel Otto Polenz. The aircraft was captured in almost serviceable condition and subsequently evaluated by a team from the Armée de l’Air, prior to being shipped to the USSR.
Gusev recalled the desperate combats of late 1937 that saw I-16 pilots struggling to survive in the air against both German and Italian fighters:
“We fought the Fiats at the limit of our abilities throughout 1937. On one occasion in the autumn I saw three Fiats attacking my squadronmate Platon Smolyakov in the distance. Having dropped out of the dogfight, he risked becoming easy prey, and although I was too far from him to come to his rescue, Ivan Devotchenko’s squadron went to his aid. I later discovered that the pilot who saved Smolyakov was future high-scoring ace Lev Shestakov. Having seen that one of the Fiats was going to open fire on Smolyakov, Lev drove his aircraft in between them and took a lot of the fire himself. He was lucky to avoid being hurt, but his I-16 was holed in a dozen places. Two bullets hit the armoured backplate and another ripped open the leather pants he was so proud of! Having covered Smolyakov, Devotchenko’s unit downed one of the Fiats.”
10 December 1937
In order to camouflage a planned Nationalist offensive towards Madrid on the Guadalajara, the Republican air forces were to be destroyed on their airfields east of Zaragoza. A Nationalist force of 88 bombers and 56 fighters took part in the operation. The slower bombers (SM.81s and Ju 52/3ms) were to attack the nearby airfields in the Barbastro zone; the faster bombers (SM.79s, Breguet 20s, He 111s and Do 17s) those at Sariñena, Bujaraloz, Candasnos, Puebla de Híjar, Selgua, Pomar, Lérida and Balaguer. The Condor Legion’s bombers, which had to operate from more distant bases, would require refuelling before making their return flight, and facilities were provided at Sanjurjo.
The attacks failed to achieve the desired success, however; the airfields were empty and about 70 fighters were waiting in the air. It must be said that the Republicans were very well prepared to deal with surprise air attacks. They had constructed a large number of airfields and at each was based at most a single squadron, its aircraft widely dispersed around the airfield perimeter. In addition they had built a number of decoy airfield on with mock-up aircraft.
At least, the VI and XVI Gruppi of the Aviazione Legionaria took part in this combat and Tenente Corrado Santoro of the 31a Squadriglia (VI Gruppo) took part in an escort mission to bombers attacking Sariñena and Sottotenente Mario Visintini of the 25a Squadriglia (XVI Gruppo) took part in his first combat, firing at some enemy aircraft but without claiming anything.
At the end of the battle, the Italians claimed eight I-15s shot down for just one CR.32 lost and its pilot KIA when Sottotenente Vittorio Barberis of the 32a Squadriglia, was killed in action near Alcubierre when his CR.32 collided with I-15 CC-022, flown by Soviet pilot Mikhail Vasilhevich Kotyhov from the 1a/26. The latter pilot also perished.
Group 2-G-3, which was flying below the Italians, climbed to their assistance and claimed seven I-15s without losses.
1.J/88 was airborne, with 15 Bf 109s flying deep into enemy territory. They were attacked by 30 enemy fighters. Oberleutnant Harro Harder recounted:
”Another major action on December 10. The Fiats patrolled the front, we flew deep into enemy territory with fifteen Bf 109s. Fifteen Curtisses and fifteen Ratas climbed up in close formation. There was nothing else to do, we attacked repeatedly, but so many aircraft immediately dove on us that we were happy just to escape in one piece.”The German fighters didn’t claim anything during the day.
15 December 1937
Kapitan Ivan Yeremenko claimed a Bf 109B near Teruel. At this time he was flying the Polikarpov I-16.
Republican fighter pilot Enrique Jornet was killed when his fighter caught fire and crashed at Teruel.
21 December 1937
Rafael Mazarredo Trenor (CR.32 3-79) of 2-E-3 was killed when he collided with R. Giménez Garrido (3-80) of 3-E-3 at Tablada. Both CR.32 were destroyed in the collision.
22 December 1937
Leitenant Platon Smolyakov of the 6a/21 (I-16) claimed a Fiat over Teruel.
23 December 1937
Unteroffizier Anton Kurz was lost when his Bf 109 crashed in the Teruel area.
28 December 1937
16 fighters from Grupo 2-G-3 clashed with nine I-15s and 12 I-16s directly above Teruel. Nationalist pilots were credited with shooting down four ‘Curtiss fighters’ and a Rata for the loss of Antonio López Sert (3-87) of Escuadrilla 1-E-3 (reportedly to small-arms fire). Teniente Carlos Bayo Alessandri (2-E-3) attacked a Chato head-on, scoring some hits. He made a second attack from astern and the enemy fighter began to lose height and crashed behind Republican lines near Villastar. Alférez Javier Allende Isasi (2-E-3) claimed two I-15s while alférez Jorge Muntadas Claramunt (2-E-3) claimed the fourth I-15 and alférez Manuel Vázquez Sagastizábal (1-E-3) claimed the I-16.
It seems that at least the 3a/26 (I-15) was involved in this combat and they claimed four CR.32s during the day. The CO of the unit, teniente Juan Comas Borrás claimed two CR.32s while sargento Francisco Montagut Ferrer and Rafael Sanromá Daroca claimed one each.
The Republicans admitted the loss of teniente José M.a Campoamor Peláez, who fell with his burning I-15 in the vicinity of La Muela, while two other aircraft returned to base damaged.
30 December 1937
During the morning, 15 CR.32s from Grupo 2-G-3 and three from Escuadrilla 3-E-3 (the latter undertaking its first combat mission) took off from Alfamén and intercepted 17 I-16s from Escuadrillas 5a and 6a of Grupo No 21. Two Ratas were credited to capitán Javier Murcia Rubio (3-E-3) and alférez Arístides García López (1-E-3), the latter also subsequently claiming a ‘Martin bomber’ destroyed. Leitenant Aleksandr Mikhailovich Sumarev of 6a/21 was indeed killed in action, and two of his comrades returned to base wounded. All seven surviving I-16s from 6a/21 had suffered combat damage.
The 3a/26 (I-15) claimed two Bf 109s over the Teruel area, one by teniente Juan Comas Borrás (CO) and one by J. Baldero Escudero.
No Bf 109s were lost this day but the Legion Condor was involved in combat during the day when the Bf 109s from 1.J/88 claimed two I-15s (Leutnant Walter Adolph and Unteroffizier Ernst Terry) and one I-16 (Oberfeldwebel Ignaz Prestele).
Sottotenente Ranieri Piccolomini of the 65a Squadriglia Assalto flew his first mission, this on the Teruel front. During the mission he attacked Republican tanks and troops with bombs and machine-guns. In return his aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft gunfire.