Biplane fighter aces


Mayor Juan Comas Borrás

31 January 1913 – 2 May 1992

Juan Comas Borrás was born at Lloret de Mar, in Gerona, on 31 January 1913.

He was just 15 when he enrolled in the Escuela de Aeronáutica Naval in Barcelona.
On completing the courses there he moved to the Escuela Civil de Pilotos in Albacete. Comas flew the school’s Avro 504K and Bristol F 2B biplane trainers, and subsequently graduated as a Piloto Aviador.

He then returned to the Escuela de Hidros in Barcelona to take a seaplane course at the Contradique quay, after which he flew Macchi M.18s.

In 1932 Comas applied for a discharge from the Aeronáutica Naval on family grounds.

At the start of the civil war Comas joined the Aeronáutica Naval in Barcelona.

In September, he was sent to the Escuela de Pilotos at San Javier for a refresher course.

In November, Leopoldo Morquillas Rubio enrolled in the Escuela de Pilotos at Santiago de la Ribera, where he trained alongside sargento Manuel Zarauza Clavero, Comas, Miguel Zambudio Martínez, Rafael Magriña Vidal and Andrés Rodríguez Panadero.

After the refreshment course and after requesting reinstatement in his original service, Comas was subsequently accepted as a maestre of the Aeronáutica Naval in November.

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, Comas (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.

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.

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 Comas 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.

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 Comas 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.

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 Comas 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 Comas I-15 59
  Teniente José González Feo I-15 ’30’
  Sargento Miguel Zambudio Martínez I-15 ’62’
  Sargento Ladislao Duarte Espés I-15 ’23’
Reserve pilots Teniente Julián Barbero López    
Reserve pilots Sargento Antonio Rodríguez Jordán    
Reserve pilots Sargento Antonio Miró Vidal    
Reserve pilots Sargento Román Llorente Castro    

In early August, Comas 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.

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 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 Comas, 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.

In November, 3a/26 (CO Comas) moved to Barracas, in Valencia, in preparation for the battle of Teruel.

On 28 December, 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 Comas 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.

The 3a/26 (I-15) claimed two Bf 109s over the Teruel area on 30 December, one by teniente Comas (CO) and one by José 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).

On 20 January 1938, teniente Comas, CO of 3a/26, claimed a Bf 109 over the Teruel area.

In March 1938, Comas (CO of 3a/26) was promoted to capitán for his conduct during the battle of Teruel.
During the same month, he claimed a CR.32 over the Teruel area.

After further leave, capitán Comas (CO 3a/26) was injured in a landing accident at El Toro airfield on 15 May when the undercarriage of his Chato collapsed, resulting in him spending several months in hospital at Torrente, in Valencia.

On 24 September, during the battle of the Ebro, mayor Juan José Armario Álvarez 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 Comas, 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.

In October, capitán Comas moved with the staff flight of the Grupo No 26 to airfields at Sabadell and Monjos, in Barcelona, from where he flew sorties over the Ebro front in October in Chato ‘CA-166’.

On 5 November and while based at Monjos airfield capitán Comas (CO of the Grupo No 26) received serious shrapnel wounds in his left leg during a raid by Savoia-Marchetti SM.79s. Comas was taken to hospital at Villafranca de Penedés, where his leg was amputated.
Whilst recuperating he was promoted to mayor de Aviación.
Comas was replaced as CO of the Grupo No 26 by capitán Miguel Zambudio Martínez.

On 7 February 1939, at the end of the campaign in Catalonia, mayor Comas escaped from the Clínica Platón in Barcelona to France by ambulance. He remained hospitalised for a further six months, and was subsequently interned at Gurs.

Comas ended the Spanish Civil War with 7 biplane victories and several probables.
During the Spanish Civil War, he had distinguished himself as one of the most experienced I-15 pilots, logging more than 500 sorties with the Chato.

After the German occupation of France he was handed over to the Spanish authorities and court-martialled.
Upon his release from prison, Comas settled at Tordera, in Barcelona, and he became its mayor during the 1980s.

Comas died on 2 May 1992.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
1 17/04/37   1 He 51 (a) Damaged I-15   Teruel area 2a/16
2 28/12/37   1 CR.32 (b) Destroyed I-15   Teruel area 3a/26
3 28/12/37   1 CR.32 (b) Destroyed I-15   Teruel area 3a/26
4 30/12/37   1 Bf 109 (c) Destroyed I-15   Teruel area 3a/26
5 20/01/38   1 Bf 109 Destroyed I-15   Teruel area 3a/26
6 ??/??/3?   1 Enemy aircraft Destroyed I-15      
7 ??/03/38   1 CR.32 Destroyed I-15   Teruel area 3a/26

Biplane victories: 7 destroyed.
TOTAL: 7 destroyed.
(a) He 51 flown by alférez Javier Allende Isasi.
(b) Probably claimed in combat with Grupo 2-G-3, which claimed 4 I-15s and 1 I-16 for the loss of 1 CR.32. The Republicans claimed at least 2 CR.32 while losing 1 I-15 and 2 damaged.
(c) No Bf 109s were lost this day.

Air War over Spain - Jesus Salas Larrazabal, 1974 Ian Allan Ltd, Shepperton, Surrey, ISBN 0-7110-0521-4
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
The Legion Condor - Karl Ries and Hans Ring, 1992 Schiffer Publishing, ISBN 0-88740-339-5
Additional information kindly provided by Miguel Ansede Fernández.

Last modified 22 May 2019