Biplane fighter aces


Teniente Rafael Magriña Vidal

22 November 1914 – 17 August 1937

Rafael Magriña Vidal was born at Marlloréns on 22 November 1914.

He graduated from the flying school of the Dirección General de Aeronáutica.
He gained his wings in January 1933, and as a pilot was conscripted into the Arma de Aviación in February 1936. Posted to the Fuerzas Aéreas de África at Tetuán.

Magriña was on leave when the military uprising started. He therefore reported for duty at Canudas airfield, in Barcelona, on 30 July, and that same day flew a DH 87 Hornet Moth light aircraft for the government.

Although only an Aviación private, the Generalitat de Catalunya mobilised him as an alférez piloto on 1 August 1936 according to an order dated 1 November.

Magriña was sent to the Escuela de Pilotos at La Ribera, where he graduated as a sargento Piloto Militar in November 1936 after completing the fighter pilots’ course under comandante Felix Sampil.

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

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 Magriña 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.

Later, Magriña was attached to Andrés García La Calle’s escuadrilla during the battle of Guadalajara.

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 Magriña 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 June 1937, teniente Magriña served in the Escuadrilla Baquedano, equipped with Polikarpov I-15s.

During a patrol by the 26a Squadriglia on 5 June, 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 Magriña, 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.

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 Magriña 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 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    

Later that month newly promoted teniente Magriña was one of three Spanish pilots selected by the Soviet command to fly the I-16 on the Northern Front.

He was a patrulla CO in the Escuadrilla de Chatos del Norte, operating over the Biscay front.

On 17 August, 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 Magriña, 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.

At the time of his death, Magriña was credited with at least 1 biplane victory and a total of 6.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
1 05/06/37   1 CR.32 (a) Destroyed I-15   San Juan de Somorrostro airfield Escuadrilla Baquedano

Biplane victories: 1 destroyed.
TOTAL: 6 destroyed.
(a) Sergente Maggiore Guido Presel of the 26a Squadriglia KIA.

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
Polikarpov I-15, I-16 and I-153 Aces - Mikhail Maslov, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-981-2
Spanish Republican Aces – Rafael A Permuy López, 2012 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84908-668-4
Wings Over Spain - Emiliani Ghergo, 1997 Giorgio Apostolo Editore, Milano
Additional information kindly provided by Alfredo Logoluso and Ondrej Repka.

Last modified 22 May 2019