Biplane fighter aces


Capitán José Falcó Sanmartín

27 September 1916 – 10 May 2014

A mechanic by trade, José Falcó Sanmartín was born in Barcelona on 27 September 1916. Serving 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 1937.

In June, he 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.

Falcó 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.

In March 1938, he found himself a member of the short-lived 5a Escuadrilla de Chatos.

In April 1938, the 5a Escuadrilla de Chatos was disbanded.
One pilot serving in this unit was Falcó, who was posted to the 3a/26, led by capitán Juan Comas Borrás. It was during his service with this unit that Falcó logged a total of 366 flying hours and fought in 20 aerial combats. During the month, he claimed eight victories, of which five were confirmed - three CR.32s, a Bf 109 and a He 59.

On 19 June, sargento Falcó claimed a CR.32 on the Levante front.

During the night of 10 July, sargento Falcó claimed a He 59 over Valencia.

During the night between 1 and 2 August, sargento Falcó claimed an unconfirmed He 59 over Vinaroz.
It is possible that this was a He 59 (WNr. 532) of of AS/88 piloted by Unteroffizier Herbert Euen, which was on a mission in the Paitrosos sector on 2 August when it was reportedly hit by Republican ground fire. Unteroffizier Euen was forced to make a violent forced landing in the sea near Vinaroz. Fortunately for the crew, they were rescued by a Nationalist armed trawler and only Euen was slightly injured.

During the night of 21 August, sargento Falcó claimed an unconfirmed He 59.

Falcó was promoted to teniente in September.

Between 13:15 and 14:40 on 23 September, teniente Falcó claimed a Bf 109 over Ebro.

Next day, 24 September, he claimed an unconfirmed SM.79

The 3a/26 (I-15) claimed seven CR.32s on 1 November. These were claimed by teniente Falcó, Álvaro Muñoz López, Esteban Corbalán Marín, José Garre Solano, Francisco Sánchez Matos, José Santander Menéndez and J. Tremosa Arnavat.

On 2 November, teniente Falcó of the 3a/26 (I-15) claimed a CR.32 over Ebro.

In late 1938 the Patrulla de Caza Nocturna was established, equipped with the versatile I-15 Chato. The unit’s Polikarpov biplane fighters were progressively modified over coming weeks through the fitment of landing lights and special exhaust pipe collector rings. The squadron, who’s first CO was teniente Walter Katz, was given the task of defending the Catalan coastline from bases at Canudas (El Prat de Llobregat) and Sabadell airfields.
After teniente Katz’ death on 11 November, command of the nightfighter patrulla passed to teniente Falcó.

Teniente Falcó claimed a He 59 during the night of 18 November.

Teniente Falcó claimed an unconfirmed He 59 during the night of 17 December.

During the night of 31 December, teniente Falcó, CO Patrulla de Vuelo Nocturno (I-15), claimed a He 59.

During the night of 17 January 1939, teniente Falcó, CO Patrulla de Vuelo Nocturno (I-15), claimed an unconfirmed He 59.

On 6 February, the Bf 109s of Legion Condor made a number of claims when the Geschwaderkommoder of J/88, Hauptmann Siebelt Reents claimed an I-15, as did Unteroffizier Gerhard Halupczek (1.J/88) while Unteroffizier Hans Nirminger (1.J/88) claimed a Ge-23. Unteroffizier Heinrich Windemuth also claimed a Ge-23 while Oberleutnant Alfred von Lojewski claimed an enemy aircraft; these two last claims is somewhat uncertain on the date. J/88 suffered its last operational loss when Unteroffizier Windemuth was killed when his Bf 109E-1 was shot down in flames during a low-level attack on Vilajuiga airfield. In the same attack was also Unteroffizier Nirminger shot down but he survived this.
The Republican pilots at Vilajuiga airfield (in Gerona) reported that at 06:00 in the morning, there was a group of planes at the horizon and they thought that these were reinforcements. They, however soon realised that this was a mistake: ”No, they are Germans, Messers!” (it seems that it was six Bf 109s attacking).
Four Republican pilots managed to scramble. The first to take off was Mayor Andrés García La Calle CO of the Escuadra de Caza No 11 in his last I-16 fighter. He was followed by another pilot (Batista), and they took the direction toward France. Behind them teniente Falcó, CO Patrulla de Vuelo Nocturno (I-15), was faced with two Bf 109s. There was an intense exchange of shots, and Falcó was sure that he had hit one Bf 109. When he had already taken the course toward the French border, he saw that other German fighter was pursuing a Republican Grumman Ge-23 “Delfin”.

“I managed to put myself after the tail of the Messer and I did not stop shooting him until I had him, although I had to do very strong manoeuvre for not to collide with him and that stopped the fuel to coming to engine. I had to land in a vineyard”
Falcó returned to the airfield, which by now was deserted and he saw only the smoking wreckage of burned planes. These victories were made against Unteroffizier Nirminger (6-96) and Unteroffizier Windemuth (6-98).
For the feat Falcó was promoted to capitan. However, this was his last sortie and he fled to France four days later.
Mayor García La Calle flew to France (Toulouse-Francazal). He stayed in a refugee camp in the area of Argeles-sur-mer in Perpignan, France.
After questioning by Armée de l’Air officers, he sailed for the Dominican Republic.

Falcó ended the Spanish Civil War with 13 biplane victories.
During the Spanish Civil War, he completed 366 hours of flight and participated in 20 air combats.

In France, he was interned in Boulou, Argelès-sur-Mer and, finally, Gurs, near Oloron-Sainte-Marie until September 1939.

Falcó had a relative living in Algeria, so he was eventually allowed to settle there. Rejected for service in the Armee de l’Air, Falcó received French citizenship in 1953 and, following Algeria’s colonial war, he moved to Toulouse to work as a mechanic for the gendarmerie until retirement in 1976.

The death of Franco and the end of the dictatorship in Spain saw Falcó’s rights restored, and he became a coronel de la reserva in 1980.

He remained an active member of the ADAR veterans’ association until his passing.

Falcó passed away in Toulouse, France, on 10 May 2014.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
1 ??/04/38   1 CR.32 Destroyed I-15     3a/26
2 ??/04/38   1 CR.32 Destroyed I-15     3a/26
3 ??/04/38   1 CR.32 Destroyed I-15     3a/26
4 ??/04/38   1 He 59 Destroyed I-15     3a/26
5 ??/04/38   1 Bf 109 Destroyed I-15     3a/26
  ??/04/38   1 Enemy aircraft Unconfirmed I-15     3a/26
  ??/04/38   1 Enemy aircraft Unconfirmed I-15     3a/26
  ??/04/38   1 Enemy aircraft Unconfirmed I-15     3a/26
6 19/06/38   1 CR.32 Destroyed I-15   Levante front 3a/26
7 10/07/38 night 1 He 59 Destroyed I-15   Valencia 3a/26
  01/08/38 night 1 He 59 (a) Unconfirmed I-15   Vinaroz 3a/26
  21/08/38 night 1 He 59 Unconfirmed I-15     3a/26
8 23/09/38 13:15-14:30 1 Bf 109 Destroyed I-15   Ebro 3a/26
  24/09/38   1 SM.79 Unconfirmed I-15     3a/26
9 01/11/38   1 CR.32 Destroyed I-15     3a/26
10 02/11/38   1 CR.32 Destroyed I-15   Ebro 3a/26
11 18/11/38 night 1 He 59 Destroyed I-15     Patrulla de Vuelo Nocturno
  17/12/38 night 1 He 59 Unconfirmed I-15     Patrulla de Vuelo Nocturno
12 31/12/38 night 1 He 59 Destroyed I-15     Patrulla de Vuelo Nocturno
  17/01/39 night 1 He 59 Unconfirmed I-15     Patrulla de Vuelo Nocturno
13 06/02/39   1 Bf 109 (b) Destroyed I-15   Vilajuiga airfield Patrulla de Vuelo Nocturno
  06/02/39   1 Bf 109 (b) Unconfirmed I-15   Vilajuiga airfield Patrulla de Vuelo Nocturno

Biplane victories: 13 destroyed, 9 unconfirmed.
TOTAL: 13 destroyed, 9 unconfirmed.
(a) Possibly He 59 (WNr. 532) of of AS/88.
(b) Unteroffizier Hans Nirminger (6-96) and Unteroffizier Heinrich Windemuth (6-98) of J/88 shot down.

Aces of the Legion Condor – Robert Forsyth, 2011 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84908-347-8
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 03 June 2022