Biplane fighter aces


Mayor Manuel Aguirre López

22 March 1907 –

Manuel Aguirre López was born in Madrid on 22 March 1907.

He enrolled at the Escuela de Mecánicos at Cuatro Vientos in September 1926.

As a soldado mecánico, he took a flying course and was awarded his wings in November 1929.

Aguirre’s first posting as a cabo piloto was to the Servicios del Material (Equipment Command) and later, as a sargento, he joined the Escuadra No 3 of the Grupo de Reconocimiento No 23 at Logrono, equipped with Breguet XIXs.

He later graduated as a fighter pilot and flew Ni-H.52s with the Grupo No 13 at Barcelona.

In July 1936, sargento piloto Aguirre was posted to the 2a Escuadrilla of the Grupo de Caza No 12. Commanded by capitan Jose Méndez Iriarte, the unit was transferred to Getafe, and after the outbreak of war Aguirre took part in aerial combat over the Sierra and Talavera fronts.

On 2 September, sargento Aguirre of 2a/12 (Ni-H.52) claimed a CR.32 shot down.
Aguirre was rewarded for his success with promotion to alférez a little over three weeks later.

In September, Aguirre was transferred with his Ni-H.52 ‘3-74’ to Andújar and the 1a Escuadrilla of the re-established Grupo No 21. This was a mixed unit, equipped with Breguet XIX bombers and Nieuport fighters.

During battles over the Cordoba front Aguirre claimed another CR.32.

In late October/early November, the Soviet command in Spain eventually permitted the best Spanish fighter pilots to join the two escuadrillas that had been established upon the I-15s’ arrival. Aviators such as Andrés García La Calle, Fernando Roig Villalta and Augusto Martín Campos soon began flying the biplanes, and although the latter pilot was quickly dismissed because the Soviet command did not trust him, further Spanish pilots joined the escuadrillas. They included José Cuartero, Emilio Galera, Jesús García Herguido, Alfonso Jiménez Bruguet, Aguirre, Roberto Alonso Santamaría and Rafael Robledano Ruiz.

In November, the Soviet I-15 escuadrilla (1a/Gr.26) led by kapitan Pavel Rychagov at Alcalá de Henares, in Madrid, included tenientes Andrés García La Calle (he was promoted to teniente during November), Roberto Alonso Santamaría, López Trinidad, Galera Macías, Cuartero Pozo, Guaza Marín, Roig Villalta, Jesús García Herguido, Alfonso Jiménez Bruguet, Aguirre and Robledano Ruiz. The escuadrilla fought on the Madrid front.
La Calle had continued flying the last remaining fighters available in Madrid until 28 October, when he left for Barcelona on leave. Posted to the Soviet I-15 Escuadrilla, he flew combat missions from 4 November over Madrid initially as a wingman in the patrulla led by Soviet pilot kapitan Ivan Kopets. Later, La Calle became patrulla CO after Kopets assumed command of the Escuadrilla Rychagov when Rychagov was removed from frontline duties. Soviet sources credit La Calle with an aerial victory during this period.
Teniente Aguirre also began flying I-15 Chatos of the 1a Escuadrilla during November (he was promoted to teniente during the month). Aguirre flew as a member of the patrulla led by Soviet pilot Kosakov, and when the latter established his own escuadrilla, Aguirre was appointed patrulla CO. The new squadron initially flew from El Soto airfield, after which it moved to Málaga and then on to Almería. Aguirre subsequently fought in the battle of Guadalajara.

On 1 April 1937, teniente Aguirre was posted to the short-lived Grupo de Caza Chatos No 16, flying over the Aragon front as a member of Escuadrilla Kazakov.

On 17 April, 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 Aguirre of Escuadrilla Kazakov also took part in this combat but without claiming anything.

On 11 June, after a month’s sick leave, teniente Aguirre 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.

Teniente Aguirre 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 Starshiy Leytenant Boris Smirnov and Nikolai Ivanov.

In September, Aguirre was promoted to capitán and given command of the 1a/21 (I-16).

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 Aguirre. 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.

On 12 October, capitán Aguirre, 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.

On 15 October, 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 Yevgeniy Antonov (Starshii Leitenant Yevgeniy 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 Aguirre
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 (and including Ivan Devotchenko)
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.

On 8 November, just before the battle of Teruel, capitán Aguirre 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.

On 10 April 1938 the I-16-equipped 3a Escuadrilla, which had been disbanded by the Soviet command, was officially re-established under teniente José María Bravo Fernández, who was another first year graduate from the USSR. Bravo appointed two course mates from the USSR, Francisco Tarazona Torán and Restituto Toquero (both Northern front veterans), and José Alarcón from Murcia as patrulla commanders. The other members of the escuadrilla were Vicente Yuste and Andrés Fierro, both from Madrid, Francisco Paredes and Vicente Beltrán from Valencia and Pedro Utrilla and Luis Sirvent from Aragon.
Sargento Francisco Tarazona Torán was appointed patrulla CO in the 3a/21 on 10 April. He duly participated in the campaign in Levante while based at Sagunto and Camporrobles.
By this time, capitán Aguirre, whose I-16 was coded ‘CM-137’, was leading three escuadrillas - 1a, 3a and 4a.
Shortly thereafter the Soviet-led 6a Escuadrilla was also disbanded, only to be reactivated under teniente Francisco Meroño Pellicer’s command during the battle of the Ebro.

Capitán Aguirre relinquished command of Grupo No 21 on 18 June.
Aguirre was succeeded as CO of Grupo No 21 by capitán Eduardo Claudín Moncada, who was killed in action on 5 July. The latter was then replaced by Manuel Zarauza.

On 21 July, capitán Aguirre was posted to the Jefatura de la Sección de Parque y Experimentación (Test Branch Command and Depot) at Manlleu airfield.

On 11 September, capitán Aguirre was appointed deputy commander of the Escuadra de Caza No 11.

In October, capitán Andrés García La Calle handed over command of the Grupo No 28 (Grumman GE-23 Delfin) to mayor Antonio Saluela Lucientes, having been appointed deputy CO of the Escuadra de Caza No 11, replacing mayor Aguirre.

In January 1939, mayor Aguirre returned to Catalonia, but after its fall to the Nationalists he escaped across the Pyrenees into France.

Aguirre ended the Spanish Civil War with 7 biplane victories and a total of 10.

Following the German occupation of Vichy-controlled southern France, Aguirre was returned to Spain on 3 April 1944. Court-martialled, he was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment, although he was released on parole in 1945. Aguirre then settled in Madrid, where he died some years later.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
1 02/09/36   1 CR.32 Destroyed Ni-H.52     2a/12
2 ??/??/36   1 CR.32 Destroyed Ni-H.52   Cordoba area 1a/21
3 ??/??/3?   1 Ju 52/3m Destroyed I-15      
4 ??/??/3?   1 He 51 Destroyed I-15      
5 ??/??/3?   1 He 51 Destroyed I-15      
6 ??/??/3?   1 He 51 Destroyed I-15      
7 ??/??/3?   1 CR.32 Destroyed I-15      
8 12/10/37   1 CR.32 Destroyed I-16   Aragon front 1a/21
9 ??/??/3?   1 Bf 109 Destroyed I-16      
10 ??/??/3?   1 He 111 Destroyed I-16      

Biplane victories: 7 destroyed.
TOTAL: 10 destroyed.

Fiat CR.32 Aces of the Spanish Civil War - Alfredo Logoluso, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-983-6
Fighter Pilots Of The Spanish Republic (Vol. 1) - Rafael A. Permuy López, Historica 36/39 no. 1, ISBN 84-87314-89-9
Spanish Republican Aces – Rafael A Permuy López, 2012 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84908-668-4
Additional information kindly provided by Miguel Ansede Fernández.

Last modified 22 May 2019