Biplane fighter aces


Mayor Juan José Armario Álvarez

20 November 1906 – 8 February 1990

Juan José Armario Álvarez was born at Jerez de la Frontera, in Cádiz, on 20 November 1906.

He joined the flying course at the Escuela de Aeronáutica Naval in Barcelona in 1923.
At El Prat de Llobregat airfield he flew Avro 504K biplanes under the guidance of his British instructor, Harry Brown. Graduating as a land-based pilot, Armario undertook the flying boat course on Macchi M.18s at the Contradique base, in Barcelona. During his training he also flew Martinsyde F 4 Buzzard fighters and Savoia S.62 flying boats.

When the Cuerpo Auxiliar de Aeronáutica Naval was established by the new Republic, Armario became one of its first officers. After success in a demanding examination he was appointed oficial segundo (sub-lieutenant) and posted to the Escuela de Aeronáutica in Barcelona. Here he flew CASA E-30s, Dornier Wals and Vickers Vildebeests, as well as L.A.P.E. Fokker F.VIl/3m tri-motors in order to gain a commercial pilot’s licence.

At the time of the military uprising in July 1936, Armario was a flying instructor at the Escuadrilla Escuela de la Aeronáutica Naval in Barcelona.

On 20 July, Armario flew his first operational sortie when he bombed the Atarazanas barracks while flying an S.62.

Armario also logged reconnaissance missions over the River Ebro up to Saragossa.

Continuing to fly the S.62, he participated in the August landing operations on Majorca that were led by capitán Alberto Bayo of the Aviación Militar. Armario returned to Barcelona after a large number of government seaplanes were lost to Italian-flown Savoia S.55s, Macchi M.41s and land-based CR.32s.

On 1 December a decision was taken to move the Escuela de Hidros from Barcelona to the Base Aeronaval at San Javier. Capitán Armario was appointed CO of the new base, arriving on 21 December.

In February 1937, capitán Armario 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.

The autumn of 1937 saw the establishment of the Grupo No 26 (I-15) and on 9 October 1937, capitán Armario was appointed CO of the Grupo, which initially comprised three escuadrillas with 15 aircraft each.
The Soviet 1a Escuadrilla was led by Kapitan Yevgeniy 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 15 October 1937, capitán Armario, 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 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 (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.

During a night flight on 19 October, 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 Yevgeniy Stepanov (CO of the 1a Escuadrilla) and capitán Armario (CO of Grupo No 26).

On 9 February 1938, at the height of the battle of Teruel, Armario was promoted to mayor de Aviación Naval on the basis of his war record and confirmed as CO of the Grupo de Chatos No 26 on 25 February. Mayor Armario continued to command the unit through the various campaigns in Aragon, Levante and the Ebro, often leading his escuadrillas personally.

On 24 September, during the battle of the Ebro, mayor Armario departed as CO of the Grupo No 26 to join the Jefe de Estado Mayor de Fuerzas Aéreas in Barcelona.
For a time Armario was attached to the headquarters of the Ejército del Ebro as an aviation adviser to the commander of the army, coronel Modesto.
Armario’s replacement as CO of the Grupo No 26 was capitán Juan Comas Borrás, who now was fully recovered from his accident on 15 May 1938 when he took command of the unit on 22 September. On that same day, whilst flying Chato ‘CA-190’ of the grupo staff, he was forced to land at Reus.

On 28 October mayor Armario was appointed Jefe de la 3a Sección (Operations) of the Estado Mayor de las Fuerzas Aéreas de la Zona Norte (Barcelona).

Armario fled to France after the fall of Catalonia and was interned there.

Armario ended the Spanish Civil War with 1 shared biplane victory.

He subsequently moved to Mexico and died in Mexico City on 8 February 1990.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  19/10/37 night 1/? S.81 Shared destroyed I-15   Barcelona area Grupo No 26

Biplane victories: 1 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 1 shared destroyed.

Air War over Spain - Jesus Salas Larrazabal, 1974 Ian Allan Ltd, Shepperton, Surrey, ISBN 0-7110-0521-4
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

Last modified 26 March 2019