Biplane fighter aces


Joaquín García Morato y Castaño

4 May 1904 – 4 April 1939

Joaquín García Morato y Castaño was born on 4 May 1904 in Melilla.

He entered the Military Academy at Toledo at a young age and eventually returned to Spanish Morocco to serve as a teniente in the infantry in 1923.

In April 1925, he enrolled in the civil flying school, and on 6 August received his F.A.I. pilot's licence. Subsequently he took a course on the Avro 504 biplane and obtained the corresponding military qualification, on completion of which he was sent to a reconnaissance and bombing unit equipped with the D.H.9A. When the unit was sent to Morocco, he took part in actions against the insurgents loyal to the Muslim leader Abd-El-Krim. He volunteered for the Bristol F.2B Fighter squadron at Nador (Melilla), where in 57 missions he logged over 100 hours' flying, for which he was commended.
During this time his aircraft was frequently hit by ground fire. He had to force land on two occasions, suffering serious wounds.

After that he was posted to the floatplane base at Mar Chica, and later transferred to a reconnaissance group at Getafe.

In 1928 he was transferred to the seaplane base at Melilla Atalayon, but again he sustained terrible injuries when his aircraft crashed into the sea during a mission. Suffering various fractures, Morato was hospitalised for almost a year.

Upon his recovery, he was assigned as instructor to the Escuela de Transformación de Pilotos (Pilot Conversion School) at Alcala de Henares in 1929. He qualified as an observer and in 1930 as a wireless telegraphist. He learned to fly multi-engined aircraft, fighters and floatplanes, and he was an outstanding aerobatic pilot.

In the summer of 1932, Morato qualified for the first course in blind flying and aerobatic flight to be held in Spain. Successfully completing them, he became an instructor in both disciplines. That same year Garcia Morato also obtained the title of aviation mechanic. Continuing his self-taught aerobatic training, the Spaniard was certified as a combat pilot instructor and frequently won aerobatic flying competitions both at home and abroad. Among other aircraft, he flew a Consolidated Fleet 2.

In 1934 Garcia Morato took part in the aerial intervention against the miners' rebellion in Asturia, the latter being suppressed on the ground by African troops led by general Franco. He was promoted to capitán shortly after this and tasked with organising the air arm of the Dirección General of the Cuerpo de Seguridad (Security Corps) in 1935.

With the advent of the Frente Popular in Spain in February 1936, Moratos exemplary military service record as an officer loyal to the Crown, his membership of the Falange Española Tradicionalista (Spanish Traditionalist Falange) and his strong Catholic faith were all viewed with distrust by the new regime. He was duly removed from service in the Aviación Militar and given command of a machine gun section within the 18th Infantry Regiment in Gerona, Catalonia.

When the war started, he had flown 1,860 hours.

When the revolt started, capitán Morato was in London on vacation. He returned across France, to Burgos in a light civil aircraft on 1 August. He immediately joined the Nationalist air force and was transferred to Tablada 24 hours later. Given a Ni-H.52 fighter, Morato flew to Córdoba on 3 August with orders to defend the city.
At Córdoba, he replaced teniente Timoteo Valiente, who had joined the forces at Córdoba only the day before.
Over Córdoba on 3 August, at the controls of a Nieuport Ni.52, he threw an enemy formation of Breguet XIXs escorted by a solitary Ni-H.52 into total confusion and forced it to withdraw.

Until 7 August, Morato operated on his own in Córdoba and then, for the following two days, he joined with capitán Gancedo who was in command of the Nieuports at Seville.

On 12 August, Morato claimed his first victory when he shot down a Vickers Vildebeest bomber which was opposing General Varela's advance on Antequera.
It seems that it was part of a formation of three Vildebeests escorted by Ni-H.52s, which didn’t suffer any losses.

On 14 August, Morato he returned the Nieuport to teniente Valiente and joined the Heinkel He 51 squadron which was being formed in Seville. Valiente was able to make little use of this machine, for on August 15th he was involved in an accident which prevented him from flying in fighter aircraft again.

He flew Nieuport 52s until receipt of the first Heinkel He 51s.

SS Usaramo with the first contingent of German volunteers arrived at the roadstead off Cádiz on 6 August before docking the next day. They were sent by train to Seville. Hannes Trautloft recalled:

“The next morning we found ourselves at Seville airfield [Tablada], a frequent target for “Red” airmen. On 9 August we started the job of rebuilding our six He 51s - a real piece of teamwork involving pilots and ground personnel. The Spanish personnel were quite surprised to witness us work with such energy, but we really were getting quite impatient and wanted to get our machines into the air as soon as possible.”
Conditions at Tablada were rudimentary. Oberleutnant Herwig Knüppel recorded of this initial period:
“Our single-seaters had to be put together rapidly, as we wanted to strike out as soon as possible to the Front. Breaking open crates, raising aircraft fuselages, attaching wings, fixing bracing struts - that was our first occupation. In doing so, we established friendships with the Spanish pilots [Joaquín García] Morato, [Julio] Salvador, [Luis] Rambaud and others, and with the Spanish mechanics. Many beads of sweat flowed.”
On 10 August, the first He 51 was fully assembled and ready for operations.
The German pilots at Tablada were able to put on a display patrol to both test the re-assembled Heinkels and to impress their Spanish comrades with the performance of their aircraft. In accordance with their instructions they were not authorised to enter combat, and so the first few days were spent training five rebel Spaniards selected from the first group of 18 fighter pilots to join the Nationalist side; capitán Luis Rambaud and Morato and teniente Miguel García Pardo, Ramiro Pascual and Julio Salvador.
Eventually, the German pilots requested that they be allowed to engage in combat operations, and this permission was granted by general Alfredo Kindelán y Duany, the commander of what was now viewed as the ’Nationalist’ air forces. Of this time Herwig Knüppel recorded:
“After some seven days of strenuous work, with our toothbrushes and shaving gear stashed in the stowage compartment of our He 51s, we flew via Salamanca and the Sierra de Gredos to our small combat airfield of Escalona del Prado, near Segovia.
There, on the northern perimeter of the Guadarrama hills, we were located together with an Escuadrilla de reconocimiento, with whom we soon established a warm friendship. The aircraft stood in the open, replacement parts, ammunition and fuel and oil laying protected from the sun under tarpaulins at the edge of the forest. We ourselves likewise lay to some extent protected from the full glare of the sun and slept when we were not flying, or else had language tuition with the Spanish crews.”
Wolf-Heinrich von Houwald also recorded his observations of early conditions in Spain:
“We arrived at Salamanca, the second stopping place on our way to Escalona - a small town close to the Madrid Front. Salamanca was the first combat airfield I saw. We took a big chance in actually finding it because everything, including the aircraft, was very well camouflaged. We refuelled and took off for Escalona, an airfield that we heard was incredibly small and hard to find. It lay so close to the front that it was quite probable that we would engage the enemy. Nevertheless, we found it after half-an-hour and landed. The airfield was so poor that we were worried whether our Spanish comrades would be able to fly our aircraft from there.
Next day I had a most annoying experience. Full of enthusiasm and idealism, five Spaniards proudly climbed into our aircraft. They did not want foreigners to fight for them while they had to stay on the ground with nothing to do. But as they returned, my aircraft crashed on landing. Fortunately, the other Heinkels managed to land safely. From now on, without an aircraft, I had to stay on the ground while the others each shot down two or three enemy in short order. I had nothing better to do than to wait for new aircraft to come from home. I kept thinking that they would arrive too late because the “Rojos” would be forced to surrender in front of Franco’s massive offensive.”
The small cadre of Spanish pilots working with the Germans had formed themselves loosely into what they called the Escuadrilla Rambaud. After the losses suffered on 23 August, the Escuadrilla was disbanded in the end of the month.

On 18 August, he claimed a Potez 540 and a Nieuport flying in a Heinkel He 51B.

He shot down another Nieuport on 2 September.

When the Spanish He 51 Squadron was disbanded, he took part in a few bombing raids on Ju 52/3ms with Haya and Morau until transferred to Capitano Vincenzo Dequal’s Fiat Squadron (1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio).
On 6 September, capitán Joaquín García Morato became flight leader of the 1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio and also flew the CR.32 for the first time following brief instructions on the ground from Sottotenente Adriano Mantelli.
Capitán Morato was the first Spanish pilot to try the Fiat CR.32.

On the morning of 9 September capitán Morato led Italian pilots Sergente Raffaele Chianese and Sergente Achille Buffali from Tablada to the airfield at Cáceres, in Extremadura, from where they could support the Nationalist advance towards Madrid.
It is possible that capitán Morato already at this time was serving as a flight leader in the 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio since it is known that he served in this role during September-December 1936.

In the morning on 11 September, capitán Morato and Sergente Raffaele Chianese claimed a Ni-H.52 each. These were flown by French pilots Captain Jean Labitte and Sergeant Abel Guidez, who had enrolled in the Escuadra España from the reserve corps of the Armée de l’Air. Both pilots survived to return to their unit.
This was capitán Morato’s fifth victory, and his first with the CR.32.

On 16 September, capitán Morato and Sergente GianLino Baschirotto claimed a shared Potez 540 near Navalcarnero. The damaged Republican bomber crash-landed behind its own lines and only the wounded pilot survived. Morato claimed an additional Potez 540.

On 20 September, he claimed a Hawker Fury over Santa Olalla, but in fact, no Fury was destroyed in combat.

On 24 September, the CR.32s were transferred to Talavera airfield, which was closer to the operational zone of Toledo and Madrid.

He claimed a Breguet XIX in the Bargas area on 25 September.

At the end of September, nine Heinkel He 51 fighters arrived. This was a second batch He 51s and the Germans then handed over to the Nationalists the three He 51s from the first batch that were still operationally serviceable. These three aircraft were flown for some days by Morato, Ángel Salas and Julio Salvador, being alternated with Fiats.

On 16 October, he claimed a Loire 46 C1 in the Mocejon-Madrid area.

Sergente Brunetto di Montegnacco of the 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio wrote in his diary on 21 October:

“Talavera de la Reína, 21 October 1936. Defensive patrol over the Illescas front - myself, Capitán Morato and Sergente Maggiore Presel.
We attacked three Loires, a SPAD, a Dewoitine 500 and a Fury that were escorting a Potez and five Breguets. Morato was overwhelmed due to his inferior altitude by a Loire, which Presel managed to shake off the Spaniard’s tail and shoot down. I followed the SPAD down over Jetafe airfield and fired my guns at it. The fighter crashed there.
Returning to our lines, I encountered a Potez and fired my guns at it until one of its engines burst into flames. I could not follow it down, as I went to my colleague’s aid. Presel followed the Dewoitine all the way to Madrid but then had to break off contact due to engine trouble. Capitán Morato attacked a Breguet, although he failed to shoot it down despite firing a considerable amount of ammunition in its direction.
The Potez I had previously hit managed to drop its bombs over enemy territory and was later declared destroyed after falling east of Madrid.”
The CO of the Aviación del Terico Colonello Ruggero Bonomi’s diary entry for the same day commented on the ‘SPAD’ claimed by Sergente Montegnacco:
“During the night we were informed that the cannon-armed SPAD was in fact an experimental machine that was actually being flown by a test pilot during a demonstration flight.”
This aircraft has been attributed to have been a Bleriot SPAD 510 C1s but since only 60 were built and all are accounted for in the Armée de l’Air it was probably a Bleriot SPAD 51 or Bleriot SPAD 91 of which one of each type are known to have operated from Getafe at this time.
The D.500 that Presel chased towards Madrid was probably the sole example of its type sent to Spain during October, this aircraft probably being the company’s demonstration prototype of the export version of the monoplane fighter.

On 23 October, capitán Morato shared in the destruction of two airships moored at Casa de Campo (Madrid’s race course), where Sottotenente Giuseppe Cenni had noticed them the day before. Both caught fire, the first being an old unbraced design, while the second was of semi-rigid construction with an internal metal structure.

In the morning on 5 November came the first big aerial battle of the war. Nine Fiats from Torrijones, led by Capitano Carlo Alberto Maccagno (newly appointed CO 1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio) (the pilots included capitán Morato, capitán Ángel Salas and Julio Salvador) was escorting three Ro.37s when they met about 15 Chatos and some Potez aircraft between Leganés and Madrid. Without waiting for the support of five additional Fiats from Talavera, Capitano Maccagno led them in to attack, relying on superior performance to compensate for lack of numbers. Morato shot down a Chato, and then damaged the engine of a Potez, forcing it to land (on the Republican side). Salas shot down a Chato, which crashed in flames, and 5 km south-east of Barajas he scored hits on two more Chatos. He, in turn, came under attack, but put his aircraft into a steep dive and made good his escape at treetop level. Salvador chased a Chato as far as Barajas and attacked two Potez machines without success.
The Nationalist bulletin claimed seven fighters and one Potez destroyed and admitted the loss of one Fiat, that of Captain Maccagno (’Alfredo Pecori’), leader of the escuadrilla. The Government bulletin claimed that one Fiat, number 384 (flown by Maccagno), and four other aircraft had been destroyed. On his first operational mission, the badly wounded Maccagno was captured and hospitalised. Despite receiving medical treatment, he had to have his right leg amputated. Maccagno eventually returned to Italy following a prisoner exchange.
Salas noted in his logbook:

“Fiat number 278, 1 hour 40 minutes, Torrijos-Madrid (surveillance).
Our nine Fiats met about 15 “Curtiss” fighters. I took one by surprise and shot him down, the aircraft falling some five kilometres south-southeast of Barajas and bursting into flames on impact. I then fired at one head on and later fired at another, before being attacked by two. I managed to shake them off by diving vertically.”
In reality, only two I-15s had been destroyed. Leitenant Petr Aleksandrovich Mitrofanov of Escuadrilla Palancar, was shot down over enemy territory in his I-15 and even if he managed to bail out of his burning aircraft he was killed, thus becoming the first Russian pilot killed in Spain. Although the other I-15 was a write-off, its pilot survived his forced landing on the tree-lined avenue of Paseo de la Castellana. Several other I-15s returned to their base at Campo Soto, near Algete, with varying degrees of battle damage.

On 9 November, capitán Morato claimed an I-15 when he attacked five I-15s and eight SB. He noted in his logbook:

“'Fiat Escuadrilla. Bomber escort. “Junker” [Ju 52/3m] and “Romeo” [Ro.37] engaged by five “Curtiss fighters” [I-15s]. I shot one down and then machine gunned eight “Sophias” [SBs], preventing them from dropping their bombs. Anti-aircraft fire also seen.
Total flying time 1 hour 50 minutes.”

On 13 November, 14 Fiat CR.32s escorted five ”Junkers” and three ”Romeos”. Over the Paseo de Rosales (Madrid) they were surprised by 16 I-15s led by Starshiy Leytenant Pavel Rychagov, which dived on them from above out of the sun. Despite immediately being on the defensive, the Fiat pilots managed to protect the bombers as the air battle broke up into a series of individual combats.
The Soviet pilots claimed six victories (three of them fell in Republican territory) while two I-15s were lost when Karp Kovtun and Petr A. Purtov were shot down by Fiats and killed. Kovtun’s death was witnessed by Starshiy Leytenant Georgiy Zakharov, who also took part in this combat.
On their return flight, the Nationalist pilots encountered five Katiuskas, bombing Getafe and Cuatro Vientos from a height of 5000m. Capitán Ángel Salas damaged one so severely that the crew had to take to their parachutes, and capitán Morato damaged three others.
Totally the CR.32 pilots were credited with ten victories (nine “Curtisses” and one SB). Sergente GianLino Baschirotto (who reported that the I-15 was seen falling out of the sky smoking) and Corrado Ricci were among the Italians to be awarded a “Curtiss” each while Capitano Guido Nobili was credited with a probable. A Soviet fighter, whose pilot escaped by parachute, was shot down by Capitano Goliardo Mosca. The latter was in turn badly wounded in his right thigh and forced to limp back to Talavera, where he crash-landed. Capitano Mariotti force-landed outside the airfield at Getafe, but without damaging his aircraft. Capitán Morato claimed one I-15 (plus three damaged SBs), capitán Salas damaged three I-15s (plus one SB destroyed) and Julio Salvador claimed another I-15.
Capitán Morato recounted:

“Fiat Squadriglia. Bomber escort. “Junkers” and “Romeos” bombing Rosales (Madrid) clashed with 13 “Curtiss fighters”. I shot down one that caught fire in the air, and then machine gunned three “Sophias” till my ammunition ran out. Saw Anti-aircraft fire.
Total flying time 1 hour 30 minutes.”
Capitán Salas recalled:
“Fiat number 128. 1 hour 30 minutes.
Torrijos to Madrid, escorting five Junkers. Fourteen Fiats attacked 13 “Curtiss fighters” – three combats, one frontal, fired on the second while banking, and on the third from behind. Noticed several hits on the fuselage of one aircraft, but could not follow him due to the presence of others. Remained alone throughout, and eventually saw five “Martin bombers” attacking Getafe and Cuatro Vientos from 5000 metres. I fired at them twice until my guns stopped. On landing, Noreña, Celier and Betancour told me that one of the bombers I had attacked lost a wing and fell to the ground, its crew escaping by parachute.”

He then joined Commander Fagnani’s Fiat group.

During the final weeks of 1936, following the appearance of increasing numbers of Soviet fighters on the Madrid front, the Spanish capitanes Morato and Ángel Salas did not consider that the Italian commander, Maggiore Tarcisio Fagnani, was sufficiently aggressive, and as they sought continually to have their own way the situation daily became tenser. The Italian leader had ordered that on a particular occasion they were not to penetrate into enemy territory. Salas, who was leading the patrol, defied the order. Fagnani attempted to have him arrested when he returned to base, but Morato intervened violently and protested that in Spain nobody was arrested for displaying courage. The outcome of ensuing discussions between Morato and Salas was a decision to try to form their own independent squadrons.
On 22 December, Morato flew to Seville. Ángel Salas and Miguel García Pardo remained in the Italian squadrons for a while, but on 9 January, they also moved to the south.

At the end of December 1936, when five CR.32s were handed over to the Nationalist air force, capitán Morato formed and commanded an autonomous Spanish patrol in Córdoba, together with his wingmen teniente Julio Salvador Díaz-Benjumea and capitán Narciso Bermúdes de Castro, and they were joined shortly afterwards by Miguel García Pardo.
The unit was named the Patrulla Azul (“Blue Patrol”).

On the Southern Front on 3 January 1937, capitán Morato climbed high on a standing patrol while defending Córdoba in an effort to catch one of the fast, high-flying Tupolev SB bombers, which outperformed the Fiat CR.32 in terms of speed. Two appeared, and diving on these, he shot both down.
Morato reported:

“After several days of studying the attacks on Córdoba, I had worked out when the bombers usually appeared, what altitude they were at and the direction from which they typically approached. Making full use of this information, I started flying standing patrols at a height of 5,000 m over the city. One morning while circling over Cordoba I noticed two aircraft heading for the city at high speed. Heading towards them as fast as I could, I quickly identified the contacts as the two twin-engined bombers that had been regularly attacking Cordoba. I opened fire and hit one of the aircraft's engines. This soon caught alight, leaving a trail of black smoke in its wake.
The stricken bomber turned around and headed back from whence it came, and I followed, hoping to see it crash. 1 also saw the second bomber turn back in the direction of home too. The damaged bomber did indeed crash some 65 kilometres from Cordoba near to the communist-held airport of Andujar, the aircraft being engulfed in flames.
As I turned for home, my fighter came under attack from the second “Martin bomber”. The latter had somehow got to within 360 meters of me and it was firing at me with its two machine guns. This was a dangerous moment for me, as I was more than 30 kilometres from Nationalist territory. It had never dawned on me that the bomber crew would dare attack me! However, I remained cool, banked away sharply and then fired at the enemy. Luck was with me, as one of my bullets hit the aeroplane in a vital spot and within seconds it had spun away and hit the ground, exploding in flames barely a mile away from my first victim. I then flew back to Córdoba, where I was showered with hearty congratulations from the city’s civilian population.”
The two SBs belonged to the 3a/12, with the first one being piloted by Spaniard Ananías Sanjuan Alonso. He was the sole survivor from the crash-landing with 30 bullet-holes in his SB, as observer capitán Álvarez Rueda and gunner González Martos were both killed. In the second aircraft, Bulgarian pilot Nikolay Batov (’Ivanov’) attempted an emergency landing in the mountains but the airplane crashed and all three of the crew (observer starshiy leitenant Vladimir Zotov and gunner Muñoz Hernández) was killed.
There was no doubt among the bomber pilots about the cause of the incident: ”The main reason for the SBs’ death is their blind underside.”

On 16 February, capitán Morato led his Patrulla Azul from Andalusia to Talavera-Veladas so that the Spanish fighter pilots could lend their support to the escalating campaign on the Jarama front.

The next day, on 17 February, capitán Morato was summoned to Salamanca by chief of the air force, general Alfredo Kindelán, who ordered him to intercept enemy aircraft even when outnumbered. He explained that the Republicans were close to securing air superiority over the frontline because fighter units of the Aviazione Legionaria were employing cautious tactics when outnumbered by Soviet fighters. Having clearly been swayed by capitán Ángel Salas’ vociferous complaints of late 1936, Kindelán believed that Italian CR.32 pilots had been ordered to avoid unnecessary losses by senior officers in the Regia Aeronautica.

In the early morning on 18 February, two Nationalist Ro.37s (flown by Spanish pilots) took off, followed by three Ju 52/3ms escorted by the Spanish Patrulla Azul and the Italian Fiat Group (totally 25 CR.32 including the Spanish). When they arrived over the front at Jarama, the CR.32s turned so that they were patrolling parallel to the front, while a large formation of Polikarpov fighters waited on the other side. When the Ro.37s and Ju 52/3ms were safe and returning, capitán Morato broke formation and, followed by teniente Julio Salvador Díaz-Benjumea and capitán Narciso Bermúdes de Castro, launched himself into Soviet fighters near Arganda. Disregarding recent orders restricting them from engaging superior numbers of enemy aircraft, Italian pilots tenente Corrado Ricci, tenente Enrico Degli Incerti, capitano Guido Nobili and Fiacchino went to the assistance of their Spanish comrades by leading their respective flights against the large Republican formation of Polikarpov fighters. Finally, the entire group took part in the battle, fighting a reportedly 21 I-15s and 18 I-16s, and the Italians claimed for four ”Curtiss fighters” destroyed and four probables, as well as four Ratas destroyed and one probables. One I-16 and two probable I-15s were claimed by tenente Degli Incerti while sergente maggiore Silvio Costigliolo claimed an I-15 in the Arganda area. Sergente maggiore Guido Presel claimed two I-15s and a probable and sergente maggiore Brunetto di Montegnacco claimed two I-16s. Among the Spaniards, capitán Morato, who returned with damage to his fighter, was credited with an I-15 and another as a probable while teniente Salvador was credited with and I-16 and a second fighter as a probable.
The Italians suffered no losses during this action, and only a solitary pilot was forced to make an emergency landing after he was wounded; the damage to his CR.32 was quickly repaired.
Tenente Degli Incerti described the combat:

“We were on the return leg of an escort mission, and having made sure that our bombers were safe, we had the airfield in sight and prepared to land. It was at that very moment that the three Spanish CR.32 pilots following us, but still flying over enemy territory, decided to take on a large Soviet formation. Although the enemy aircraft were still some distance away, we performed a hasty 180-degree turn at full throttle and joined the fray. All the Italian fighter flights following suit, despite us having orders only to intervene following provocation – our duty was to fight as courageously as possible to the end.
Once we had engaged the enemy, both sides formed a long line of aircraft, and this was turning, banking and circling. The fighters alternated in this single file trail, with two or three “Reds” for every Nationalist. It was as if this formation had been planned. Many tracer rounds flashed through the sky from the aircraft, turning the dogfight into an infernal ballet. Smoke trails of death suddenly appeared, and the long line broke into smaller rows.
The battle threw up numerous small skirmishes that ended inconclusively. Despite being outnumbered, we legionnaires stood together, compact, protecting each other. All of a sudden in the centre of the melee an aircraft caught fire and a parachute opened. The former fell away and crashed to the ground, while the latter floated away to safety. A “Red” had been shot down. Four of his comrades, fearing that we'd shoot at the pilot, circled him for his protection. Two CR.32s engaged them. This turn of events split the battle into two groups, within which fierce fighting continued.
The “Curtiss fighter” section then broke off their attack, unable to defeat our concentrated gunfire. They tried to escape, but this move failed and two of the stubby fighters fell in flames.
Thirty minutes into the battle, thousands of bullets had crossed the sky over Villaconejos. By now the revolving aircraft and chatter of the guns had diminished. The fighting faded slowly away, and within a short time we remained as the sole masters of the sky over the Jarama front.”
Reportedly this battle was fought at 11:00 against at least the I-15s of the Escuadrilla La Calle and Escuadrilla José (the Escuadrilla led by Ivan Kopets) and the I-16s from Escuadrilla Kolesnikov (1a/21). The Republican pilots reported meeting six ”Junkers” and 50 fighters (other sources states 85 (!) Heinkel He 51s) over the front. Immediately the Escuadrilla went into a tight horizontal circle (”Lufbery circle”). The first enemy aircraft fired randomly at the I-15s as they dived past the Escuadrilla’s defensive pattern. Unwillingly to challenge the Republican fighters, the remainder of the Nationalist pilots followed suit, executing a single strafing pass, and then flying lazily below the I-15s in hopes of enticing a few green Republican pilots away of the defensive protection. Ben Leider took the bait and started down after one of the easy-looking targets, only to attract three enemy fighters on his tail. As Frank Tinker peered over his shoulder during the swirling melee of aircraft, he saw Leider’s I-15 to shudder as the CR.32s flashed past. Tinker’s heart sank as he noticed Leider veer toward friendly territory in a shallow dive. Twice, Leider tried to land his fighter in a small field before slamming into the side of a hill, killing him.
The Escuadrilla leader Andrés García La Calle’s version of Leider’s end differed markedly from Tinker’s perspective. As Leider dived, breaking away from the ”Lufbery circle” to attack a “Heinkel” below, an enemy fighter locked on his tail. La Calle pulled behind Leider’s pursuer and frightened him away with his machineguns. Repeatedly La Calle then tried to herd Leider’s intended victim back away from Nationalist lines so that the American could down the enemy fighter. La Calle wanted Leider to destroy the enemy fighter as a morale boost for the Escuadrilla and to appease Leider’s Communist backers. When the Nationalist pilot made a third attempt to cross his lines, La Calle shot him down. Irritated by the turn of events and Leider’s seeming inability to shoot down his adversary, the Spanish Commander signalled Leider to head for home. During the flight back to base, Leider flew just behind the Escuadrille leader’s wing. Halfway home, La Calle glanced around only to discover that Leider was gone. Having landed he learned that no one knew of the American’s whereabouts: his comrades saw him re-join their homebound group and never again. There was no other news until Leider’s ”Chato” was located.
Evidence from the crash site gave Leider’s fellow pilots a clue as to his final seconds on earth. During the dogfight, three rounds penetrated his cockpit, one passing through his leg. Instinctively he loosened his seat belt and harness. As Leider prepared to bale out, he had second thoughts about giving up his I-15, so he decided to attempt to set down his aircraft. His loss of blood caused him to faint at the controls.
Jim Allison and Harold Dahl followed Leider down after the Nationalist fighters. Allison shot down his intended victim before three enemy fighters reached him. Allison’s I-15 gave a jerk, then it executed a perfect Immelmann and headed back to base but he was forced to make an emergency landing. Allison had received a serious leg wound during the combat. Dahl prepared to trip his guns on a careless adversary when he noticed the same three enemy fighters flash past. Almost simultaneously, he became aware that his machine was not answering the controls. A glance back revealed that the entire tail of his fighter had been shot away.
The remaining I-15s of the Escuadrilla La Calle maintained the ”Lufbery circle” when another Escuadrilla of I-15s appeared piloted by Russian volunteers (probably from Escuadrilla José). Fighting their way through the curtain of enemy fighters, the Soviets joined La Calle’s men in the wheel formation until the two Escuadrillas were rescued by a third Escuadrilla of I-16s (probably Escuadrilla Kolesnikov).
Totally, the Republican pilots claimed eight enemy fighters for the loss of six aircraft - three from Escuadrilla La Calle, two from Escuadrilla José and one from Escuadrilla Kolesnikov. Leytenant Petr Ugrovatov from Escuadrilla José parachuted to safety over friendly territory from his stricken I-15 although he was badly burned while leytenant Filipp Zamashanskii, patrol leader of the I-16-equipped Escuadrilla Kolesnikov, was killed trying to crash-land his fighter after it had been shot up. Soviet volunteers claimed six victories, these being claimed by leytenant Ivan Lakeev, Konstantin Dubkov, starshiy leytenant Aleksandr Tarasov, Nikolai Nikitin, leytenant Petr Kuznetsov and one shared between starshiy leytenant Aleksii Minaev and leytenant Petr Khara (all I-16s from Escuadrilla Kolesnikov).
Both Allison and Dahl re-joined their unit the next day.
Allison’s leg wound was serious, and he went to the American Hospital in Neuilly, where the doctors saved his leg.
After the battle, Morato thanked tenente Ricci for coming to his aid, as he knew that he owed him his life following the Italian pilots’ timely intervention. General Kindelán recommended that Morato be awarded the Cruz Laureada de San Fernando; Spain’s highest military honour for bravery while Salvador was proposed for the Military Medal. The Nationalist Government also exploited the success of this fight against the odds to lobby Italy for additional CR.32s.

The first all-Spanish CR.32 escuadrilla, 1-E-3, was formed on 30 March with capitán Morato as CO.

The all-Spanish Fiat Grupo, with the designation 2-G-3, was formed in Cordoba on 4 May from the escuadrillas led by capitán Morato and capitán Ángel Salas (2-E-3). Morato assumed command of the Grupo, and Julio Salvador took over leadership of Morato’s old escuadrilla (1-E-3).
This had been made possible after a further consignment of eight CR.32s had been passed on to the Nationalist air force in April 1937, and they joined the five previously handed over four months earlier to form the basis of the first Spanish grupo equipped with Fiat fighters. Grupo 2-G-3 consisted of 13 aircraft and 15 pilots, which were divided into two escuadrillas of six fighters each. The final CR.32 was Morato’s personal (3-51).
Of the pilots assigned to its escuadrillas, two of them had previously served as wingmen in the Patrulla Azul, while the remaining 12 were chosen according to their experience in fighters.

Escuadrilla 1-E-3
Teniente Julio Salvador (CO)
Teniente Miguel Guerrero García
Alférez Manuel Vázquez Sagastizábal
Alférez Arístides García López Rengel
Alférez Rafael Mazarredo Trenor
Alférez Jesús Rubio Paz
Brigada Ramón Senra Àlvarez

Escuadrilla 2-E-3
Capitán Ángel Salas
Capitán Narciso Bermúdes de Castro
Capitán Javier Murcia Rubio
Teniente Miguel García Pardo
Alférez Javier Allende Isasi
Alférez Joaquín Ansaldo Vejarano
Alférez Jorge Muntadas Claramunt

On 17 May 1937, he was decorated with the Cruz Laureada de San Fernando for his actions up until 18 February 1937. Until the latter date, he had made 150 sorties and participated in 46 combats, achieving 18 victories.

When the Republican offensive towards Brunete started on 6 July 1937, the defence of the central front was supported by just the two CR.32 squadriglie present in this area at Torrijos-Barcience; the 19a and 20a Squadriglie from XXIII Gruppo, commanded by Maggiore Andrea Zotti, with squadriglia commanders Capitani Enrico Degli Incerti and Antonio Larsimont Pergameni.
Capitano Guido Nobili’s 18a Squadriglia was transferred in from Soria to reinforce these units, thus completing the makeup of the gruppo. The XXIII Gruppo now had 29 CR.32s available, but only 17 of these remained serviceable following a series of actions on 6-7 July.
Maggiore Giuseppe Casero’s XVI Gruppo (24a, 25a and 26a Squadriglie, led by Capitani Bruno Brambilla, Armando François and Mario Viola, respectively, although the latter was recalled to Italy and replaced by Tenente Corrado Ricci on 11 July) arrived at Torrijos-Barcience from Ávila three days later, as did six CR.32s from capitan Morato’s Grupo 2-G-3.

Around 17:00 on 12 July, there was a big air combat west of Madrid. During this combat Bozidar Petrovich of the 1a Escaudrilla saved his leader Kapitan Ivan Yeremenko from the dangerous attack of a CR.32, probably piloted by capitán Morato, but the I-15 of the Serbian pilot was seen to crash, maybe out of control or shot down by a CR.32 flown by teniente Miguel García Pardo (2-E-3) (CR.32 NC 596/3-60). Petrovich lost his life in the crash.
Both Yeremenko and Petrovich are credited with one CR.32 each in this combat.

At 16:30 on 15 July in the Navalcarnero area, four I-16s led by starshiy leitenant Aleksandr Minayev CO 3a/21 and including leitenant Boris Smirnov was engaged in battle with 18 Fiats from 2-G-3 led by capitán Morato.
Morato claimed two shot down I-16s in this combat but in fact only one was lost when the starshiy leitenant Minayev was shot down and killed. At this time, the I-16s did not yet have armoured seats and Minayev’s chest was pierced by three bullets. His I-16 crashed in Republican territory.

On 18 July, 23 CR.32s from XVI Gruppo and four from 2-G-3 intercepted a formation of 12 light bombers, escorted by 32 I-15s and I-16s, between Valdemorillo and Navalcarnero. Italian pilots were credited with 14 victories - eight light bombers (R-Zs from Grupo No 30), five ’Ratas’ and a ‘Curtiss fighter’ - for the loss of Tenente Giuseppe Mollo from 26a Squadriglia. One of the R-Zs was claimed by capitán Morato. Six R-Zs and at least three of the fighters claimed by the CR.32 pilots were actually lost, both Capitano Armando François (25a Squadriglia) and Sottotenente Giuseppe Aurili (24a Squadriglia) downing light bombers to give them their fifth individual victories while Bruno Alessandrini (24a Squadriglia) claimed another R-Z over Brunete as his first victory. Tenente Corrado Ricci (26a Squadriglia) claimed a “Papagayo” (R-Z or Aero 101) over Brunete. Two of the Ratas were credited to Sergente Maggiore Brunetto di Montegnacco (26a Squadriglia), whose tally now stood at 15 individual victories. Of this action he wrote:

“Fighter escort for bombing raid over the Brunete-Valdemorillo front. Gruppo formation. Collective attack on enemy “Praga” [Aero A-101 light bomber] aircraft. I spotted three Ratas diving down at us from above, and I tried to disrupt their attack by throwing myself straight at them. I shot one down and forced another to break away from us. The third fighter, rolling onto its back, caught up with Tenente Ricci and hit him with a round that, fortunately, only perforated his parachute. Seeing more Ratas, I quickly despatched a second Republican fighter but couldn’t follow it all the way to the ground as I was attacked by two “Curtiss fighters”. My first Rata fell east of Valdemorillo and the second crashed a short distance away from it.”

After the Republican offensive in the Aragon started on 24 August, the Nationalists immediately bolstered the aerial defence of the Aragon front by sending XXIII Gruppo Caccia to Saragossa-Sanjurjo. Led by Maggiore Andrea Zotti, the gruppo was comprised of 18a, 19a and 20a Squadriglie, led by Capitani Guido Nobili, Enrico Degli Incerti and Antonio Larsimont Pergameni, respectively.
On 25 August these units were joined by the CR.32s of capitán Morato’s Grupo 2-G-3 and Maggiore Giuseppe Casero’s XVI Gruppo, consisting of 24a, 25a and 26a Squadriglie, led by Capitani Bruno Brambilla and Armando François and Tenente Alfiero Mezzetti (CO from 3 August), respectively.
Finally, Maggiore Eugenio Leotta’s VI Gruppo was also transferred from Villarcayo to Alfamèn on 28 August with its 31a and 32a Squadriglie, led by Capitani Luigi Borgogno and Ernesto Botto.
This was virtually all the CR.32s on mainland Spain with both the Spanish CR.32 Grupo and the whole 3o Stormo Caccia dell’Aviazione Legionaria.

On 2 September, 2-G-3 surprised a formation of about 15 ’Chatos’ in the Belchite area, of which they destroyed seven. These victories were scored by capitán Ángel Salas Larrazábal (CO 2-E-3) and teniente Julio Salvador Díaz-Benjumea (CO 1-E-3) (two each) and by capitán Morato (CO 2-G-3), alférez Javier Allende Isasi (2-E-3) and José Careaga Urigüen.
The only known Government loss in this area during the day is Emilio Herrera Aguilera, who was killed in combat during the day.

Capitán Morato continued to lead Grupo 2-G-3 until September, when he was sent on an eight-week-long technical mission to Italy at the end of the month. Capitán Ángel Salas took over the command of Grupo 2-G-3 and capitán Miguel García Pardo took over after Salas as leader of 2-E-3.
On his return, capitán Morato was named as chief of operations for the 1st Air Brigade, an appointment which he held until the end of June 1938, and Salas replaced him officially as Commander of Grupo 2-G-3.

In the afternoon on 12 March 1938, 2-G-3 encountered enemy aircraft attempting to stop the sweeping advance in the Aragon offensive. During the afternoon 18 Fiats, led by capitán Ángel Salas (CO) and capitán Morato, escorted Ju 52/3ms on a raid, and having completed this task made a sweep of the front as far as Híjar, where they encountered 19 Chatos that were escorting 11 SBs. In the ensuing dogfights, capitán Salas claimed one probable I-15, capitán Morato claimed two I-15s while teniente Miguel García Pardo (2-E-3) destroyed one I-15, which fell near Híjar. Teniente Miguel Guerrero García (1-E-3) set fire to another I-15, whose pilot took to his parachute from a very low height. Teniente Julio Salvador (CO 1-E-3) attacked another machine, which began to trail smoke, but he was unable to continue his attack as his Fiat was almost out of fuel; unable to return to his base at Tauste, he had to land at Saragossa. Teniente Carlos Serra Pablo-Romero, teniente Carlos Bayo (2-E-3) and teniente Rodolphe de Hemricourt (2-E-3) each were successful in shooting down an I-15. Teniente Manuel Vázquez Sagastizábal (1-E-3) attacked three SBs claiming one of them that crashed while attempting to land near Escatrón. No CR.32s were lost in this combat.
The I-15 shot down by teniente García Pardo was from 1a/26 and was flown by Soviet pilot starshiy leitenant Bela Arady, who bailed out badly burned and landed in Republican lines. The wreckage of this machine (I-15 CA-057) was recovered subsequently, and a piece of it was retained, on which ensuing victories of 2-G-3 were recorded, as well as the names of all those in the group who were killed.

On 18 March 1938, in a ceremony held at Castejón airfield, Navarra, Morato was presented with the Cruz Laureada de San Fernando by general Alfredo Kindelán Duany, commander of the Aviación Nacional. Morato’s exploits in air combat over the Jarama front in February 1937 drew particular praise from general Kindelán.

Comandante Morato surprised a formation of nine R-Zs from 3a Escuadrilla of Grupo No 30 near La Puebla de Valverde on 25 June. Although the light bombers were being escorted by three higher-flying I-15s, both the Republican fighter pilots and the R-Z crews were distracted long enough by an increasing flak barrage for the lone CR.32 to sneak in undetected beneath them.
Ignoring the ‘friendly’ Nationalist ground fire, Morato quickly sent two R-Zs down in flames - the first in Nationalist territory as the formation began banking around towards home. The second fell a few moments later near the frontline, its crew taking to their parachutes and landing in the Republican zone. Morato subsequently recalled:

“This was one of the actions that I will remember most enthusiastically for the rest of my life. I was flying my faithful “3-51” alone on a reconnaissance sortie over the front when suddenly I saw enemy aircraft heading in my direction towards our lines. Although it was clearly an unequal fight in the enemy’s favour, I didn’t want to quit and let them attack our forces without trying to stop them. In fact I should have abandoned my attack as I was flying at a lower altitude than the Republican formation. Nevertheless, I managed to take the bombers by surprise, as their escorts were some way above them. Within a short time two bombers fell shrouded in flames, while the others beat a hasty retreat.
I left the scene without the fighters having noticed either their invisible enemy’s arrival nor his withdrawal.”
Morato and the 4th Anti-aircraft Battery, operating from La Puebla, were both credited with shooting down two aeroplanes. In actual fact their victims were the same pair of R-Zs lost on this occasion. The bombers had probably been hit in rapid succession by both anti-aircraft fire and gunfire from Morato’s CR.32.

In the end of June 1938, Morato assumed command of the second Fiat group (3-G-3).
Pilots in Escuadrilla 3-E-3 (later 5-E-3) were:
Capitán Javier Murcia Rubio (CO)
Ignacio Alfaro Arregui
G. Queipo de Llano Martí
Andrés Robles Cebrián
Joaquín Chapaprieta Inglada
Alfonso Rubial
García de Juan

Pilots in Escuadrilla 4-E-3 (later 7-E-3) were:
Capitán Heraclio Gautier Larrainzar (CO)
Teniente Joaquín Velasco Fernández Nespral
Teniente Emelio O’Connor Valdivielso
Fernando Arrechea Belzunce
Enrique Munaiz de Brea
Alférez Alonso Fariña

Pilots in the Escuadrilla 6-E-3 were:
Capitán Jose Barranco del Egido (CO)
Teniente José Larios y Fernández Villavicencio
José Andrés Lacour Macia
R. Bartolomé Chávarri
Carracido P. Téllez Rivas

During the period 10 to 18 July the two Spanish Fiat groups operated jointly under Morato’s command, as Ángel Salas took advantage of the arrival of his old friend and leader to make a short break from operations.

On 18 July, the fighter Grupos 2-G-3 (Ángel Salas) and 3-G-3 (Morato) moved to Mérida and remained there, in oppressive heat, until the 28 July when they returned to Escatrón.

The six Spanish CR.32 escuadrillas consisting of Grupos 2-G-3 (led by capitán Ángel Salas) and 3-G-3 (led by comandante Morato) were at the Ebro front in the beginning of August.

On 1 August, near Fayón, a group of Spanish pilots led by comandante Morato (3-G-3) engaged a formation of I-15s. Although CR.32 (3-100) pilot Enrique Munaiz de Brea (4-E-3) lost his life during the action, the Spaniards claimed seven ‘Curtiss fighters’ destroyed. Two of these aircraft were the first successes for alférez Antonio Manrique Garrido (1-E-3) - one I-15 was seen to fall in flames near Mequinenza, while the pilot of the second machine escaped by parachute. The other kills were individually credited to comandante Morato, capitán Julio Salvador (1-E-3), teniente Manuel Vázquez Sagastizábal (1-E-3), teniente Joaquín Velasco Fernández Nespral (7-E-3) and teniente Emelio O’Connor Valdivielso (4-E-3).

In the morning on 14 August, Grupos 2-G-3 and 3-G-3 attacked a formation of Ratas, which were pursuing some He 111s over Gandesa. Other Chatos and Ratas later joined in the battle. Totally the Spanish pilots reported 52 I-16s and 28 I-15s (!).This massive formation of Polikarpovs was also targeted by ten Bf 109s.
Group 2-G-3 claimed three Ratas (teniente Miguel García Pardo (2-E-3), teniente Carlos Bayo (2-E-3) and teniente de Hemricourt (2-E-3)) and 3-G-3 claimed two more (comandante Morato and teniente Emelio O’Connor Valdivielso (4-E-3)). 2-G-3s record of operations described the combat:

García Pardo attacked some Ratas which were pursuing an He 111, shooting down one of the which fell near to Mora de Ebro … Teniente Bayo attacked three Ratas and succeeded in destroying one which fell on the edge of the Blanerías mountains. Later he attacked a Chato, but was unable to ascertain whether it was destroyed as damage to his engine forced him to land at Horta…
Teniente de Hemricourt fired at one Rata without any result; and then attacked some Ratas engaged with other Fiats, hitting one which fell in a wood to the north of Reus.”
The Bf 109s of J/88 claimed seven I-16s. Unteroffizier Willibald Hein (3.J/88) and Unteroffizier Willhelm Szuggar (1.J/88) claimed two each while Leutnant Otto Bertram (1.J/88), Hauptmann Wolfgang Schellmann ((1.J/88) and Leutnant Wolfgang Lippert (3.J/88) claimed one each.
The Republican side reported that 1a, 3a and 4a Escuadrillas fought against 90 enemy aircraft, which included seven Bf 109s and 27 He 111s, and claimed the destruction of three Fiats and one He 111. They lost one Rata from 4a Escuadrilla and two more pilots were injured. Republican pilot Francisco Meroño also managed to get a Rata back to base with half of the elevator shot away. According to Nationalist records no bomb fell on this day, and the only Fiat to be lost was that of alférez José Mesía Lesseps (2-E-3) (3-75) which did not return to base. Teniente Bayo (3-127) had to make a forced landing at Horta de San Juan and alférez Alonso Fariña (3-139) was wounded and landed at Puig Moreno. Alférez Antonio Manrique Garrido’s Fiat was hit 30 times, but he managed to get back to base at Escatrón. Johann Krug’s He 51 was also badly mauled by enemy fire, but he too got back to base at Mas de las Matas.

On 25 August, to contain the Government counter-offensive in the bend of the Zújar, fighter Grupos 2-G-3 and 3-G-3 returned to Mérida, where they remained until 18 September.

During the morning on 3 October, comandante Morato led 24 CR.32s from Grupos 2-G-3 and 3-G-3 on an escort mission for Ro.37s on the Ebro front. They encountered 28 I-16s escorting 24 I-15s that had been undertaking strafing attacks, comandante Morato and 12 fighters from 3-G-3 attacking the biplane fighters at low level, two of which were claimed shot down by Tenientes Medizabal and Emelio O’Connor Valdivielso (4-E-3). Twelve other fighters from 2-G-3 tackled the I-16s at a higher altitude, but they soon found themselves badly outnumbered.
As the I-15 escuadrillas withdrew towards Republican lines, Morato and his pilots broke off their attacks and gained height in order to aid their compatriots in the struggle against the I-16s. Morato attacked a Rata from the rear, quickly setting it on fire, but at the same time another CR.32 pilot targeted the same I-16 from an acute angle. A 12.7 mm bullet fired by the second Fiat hit the engine of Morato’s fighter, knocking it out. Still some 12 miles behind enemy lines, but at medium altitude, he used all his skills to glide the engineless CR.32 to within sight of the frontline, before he was forced to perform a dead-stick landing in a vineyard. His aircraft suffered no further damage when he landed. This was the only time that Morato was shot down in combat, albeit not through enemy action but accidentally by his wingman during the heat of battle (according to other sources, Morato was shot down by teniente Sirvent Cerrillo).
The fighter shot down by Morato (although not credited to him) was an I-16 Type 10 from 3a Escuadrilla, and it was seen to explode in mid-air. Another I-16 (CM-061), this time from 7a Escuadrilla was destroyed over Corbera by teniente de Hemricourt (2-E-3), de Hemricourt seeing its pilot bail out over Republican territory. A third I-16 Type 10 was hit in the propeller and main-wheel doors by bullets from a CR.32 and its pilot crash-landed near Reus, from where it was recovered.
Republican pilots, in return, claimed nine CR.32s shot down, although in actual fact only one had been lost. However, the pilot downed was none other than the commander of Escuadrilla 1-E-3, capitán Julio Salvador (CR.32ter NC 753/3-69), who was shot down after claiming two enemy aircraft. According to Republican witnesses, his CR.32 had been hit near Fayón early on in the engagement with the I-16s. Salvador’s opponent was the second-in-command of Grupo No 21, José Maria Bravo Fernández (according to other sources, Salvador was shot down by teniente Francisco Meroño Pellicer, CO 6a/21, who claimed a CR.32 during the day). The nationalist pilot was taken prisoner by soldiers of the 46th Division of the Popular Army, commanded by the famous communist leader Valentin Gonzalez.
Salvador was eventually set free in France along with other pilot detainees held by the Republicans after four months in prison.
The I-15s of Grupo No 26 claimed four CR.32s (three by 1a/26 and one by 3a/26) during the day while the I-16s of Grupo No 21 claimed nine CR.32s (three by 4a/21, two by 7a/21, three by 1a/21 and one by 6a/21).
I-16s CM-261 and CM-263 (both from 3a/21) were destroyed during the day.

In November, he was named the leader of the Fighter Squadron.

To support the campaign to capture Barcelona in December 1938, virtually all the CR.32 units in Spain were committed. This included the 7a Escuadra de Caza, commanded by comandante Morato and comprising Grupos 2-G-3 and 3-G-3, based at Escatron. The 3o Stormo Caccia of the Aviazione Legionaria, led by Colonnello Venceslao D’Aurelio, was transferred from Caspe to Sariñena at the beginning of the offensive. XVI Gruppo, led by Arrigo Tessari, and including 24a, 25a and 26a Squadriglie led by Capitani Giuseppe Majone, Meille and Travaglini, respectively, remained at Caspe, however. XXIII Gruppo, commanded by Maggiore Aldo Remondino, and including 18a, 19a and 20a Squadriglie led by Capitani Mario Bonzano, Giulio Crosara and Andrea Favini, respectively, was also based at Sariñena. Finally, the Squadriglia Autonoma Caccia Mitragliamento, led by Capitano Giorgio Iannicelli, flew from Caspe too.

At 24 December and 20 km north of Balaguer, 18 CR.32s from comandante Morato’s Spanish units intercepted a formation of nine R-Z light bombers from 2a Escuadrilla of Grupo No 30, escorted at a distance by 19 I-16s from the 6a and 7a Escuadrillas of No Grupo 21, near Fontllonga. Initially diving head-on at the bombers, the CR.32s then made a second attacking pass from the rear before the escort fighters could intervene. The Spaniards claimed nine R-Zs destroyed, three of which (plus a probable) were attributed to Morato, two to teniente Joaquín Velasco (7-E-3) and one each to teniente José Larios y Fernández (6-E-3), José Andrés Lacour Macia, Alfonso Rubial and José Recasens.
Of the nine R-Z, three returned to their own side's airfields (two to La Garriga and one to Vic). Six were shot down, of which three were lost, while the remainder managed to land with varying damaged inside their own lines. Overall, the R-Z escuadrilla suffered three dead, eight wounded and two taken prisoner. I-16s from 6a Capitán Amézaga took to his parachute and landed near Camarasa, where he was soon captured. Following six weeks in captivity, Amézaga was executed. Another Fiat had to land because of damage at Almenar.

At midday on 19 January 1939, six CR.32s of Grupo 3-G-3, led by comandante Morato, and six from 2-G-3, headed by comandante Ángel Salas, flew a surveillance patrol near Igualada, on the Lérida-Barcelona road. The biplane fighters were accompanied by five He 112s of Grupo 5-G-5, led by capitán Miguel García Pardo.
During the course of their patrol the Nationalist fighters intercepted 16 I-15s and 13 I-16s, and comandante Morato shot down an I-15 from 4a Escuadrilla (Morato’s 40th and last victory). García Pardo also claimed a Rata destroyed for his 13th, and last, aerial success. It was also the only victory credited to the He 112 in Spain.

At the end of the war, he was Chief of Operations of the Nationalist fighter force.

Comandante Morato was killed in a flying accident at Griñon airfield on 4 April 1939 in front of newsreel cameras. He died at the controls of his faithful CR.32’'3-51’, in which he had claimed most of his victories. The fighter was reported as having been destroyed when it hit the ground near-horizontally while performing a dangerous landing manoeuvre following an aerobatic display and mock combat with an I-16.
According to some of Morato’s closest friends and colleagues, he seemed to have a death wish as the conflict drew to an end. This was possibly brought on by the tension accumulated over 30 months of war, as Morato had spent most of this time flying and fighting. He had seen numerous friends killed fighting fellow Spaniards, and this had a great effect on him.
The death of Spain’s leading fighter pilot provoked widespread distress among his subordinates, who revered Morato for his qualities as both a leader and an ace. A crowd some 20,000 strong attended his funeral in Madrid. Amongst the mourners were the new Head of State, general Franco, and the Jefe del Aire, general Alfredo Kindelán Duany, who placed the posthumous Medalla Militar (Individual Military Medal) on his body, in addition to the Cruz Laureada de San Fernando that had already been awarded to him during the war.
Following the transfer of his coffin to Malaga, which was his adopted hometown, the local population of 100,000 attended the burial ceremony.
Morato was honoured by the Italians too, receiving the nation's highest honour for military valour, the Medaglia d’oro al valor militaire. The citation accompanying the award noted that the Spanish ace was a ‘legendary courageous aviator, and a brother to all Italian pilots’.

At the time of his death, Morato had been credited with 40 individual and two shared victories, as well as 13 probables. Morato had also possibly destroyed two aeroplanes on the ground and shared in the destruction of 12 others (plus two moored airships).
During the Spanish Civil War, he flew 1,012 hours, carried out 511 operational sorties and was involved in 56 combats (133 aircraft directly engaged in air combat). He had undertaken 122 strafing missions. He flew 784 hours in Fiat CR.32s, 34 in Nieuports, 27 in He 51s, 6 in Bf 109s and 5 in He 112s. During the course of the war, he flew more than 30 different types of aircraft of which 16 were military types.

In 1950, he was posthumously given the noble title of Count of the Jarama.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
1 12/08/36   1 Vildebeest (a) Destroyed Ni-H.52   Antequera  
2 18/08/36   1 Ni-H.52 Destroyed He 51B      
3 18/08/36   1 Potez 540 Destroyed He 51B      
4 02/09/36   1 Ni-H.52 Destroyed He 51B      
5 11/09/36 morning 1 Ni-H.52 (b) Destroyed CR.32   Talavera area 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio
  16/09/36   1/2 Potez 540 Shared destroyed CR.32   Navalcarnero area 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio
6 16/09/36   1 Potez 540 Destroyed CR.32   Navalcarnero area 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio
7 20/09/36   1 Fury (c) Destroyed CR.32   Santa Olalla 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio
8 25/09/36   1 Breguet XIX Destroyed CR.32   Bargas area 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio
9 16/10/36   1 Loire 46 C1 Destroyed CR.32   Mocejon-Madrid area 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio
10 18/10/36   1 Breguet XIX Destroyed CR.32     2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio
11 18/10/36   1 Breguet XIX Destroyed CR.32     2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio
12 05/11/36 morning 1 Potez 540 (d) Destroyed CR.32   Leganés-Madrid 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio
13 05/11/36 morning 1 I-15 (d) Destroyed CR.32   Leganés-Madrid 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio
14 09/11/36   1 I-15 Destroyed CR.32   Madrid area 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio
15 13/11/36   1 I-15 (e) Destroyed CR.32   Paseo de Rosales 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio
  13/11/36   1 SB (e) Damaged CR.32   Getafe-Cuatro Vientos 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio
  13/11/36   1 SB (e) Damaged CR.32   Getafe-Cuatro Vientos 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio
  13/11/36   1 SB (e) Damaged CR.32   Getafe-Cuatro Vientos 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio
16 03/01/37   1 SB (f) Destroyed CR.32   Córdoba area Patrulla Azul
17 03/01/37   1 SB (f) Destroyed CR.32   Córdoba area Patrulla Azul
18 18/02/37 11:00 1 I-15 (g) Destroyed CR.32 NC 262/3-51 Jarama area Patrulla Azul
  18/02/37 11:00 1 I-15 (g) Probably destroyed CR.32 NC 262/3-51 Jarama area Patrulla Azul
19 04/06/37   1 I-16 Destroyed CR.32 NC 262/3-51   2-G-3
20 12/06/37   1 R-5 Destroyed CR.32 NC 262/3-51   2-G-3
21 14/06/37   1 I-15 Destroyed CR.32 NC 262/3-51   2-G-3
22 14/07/37   1 R-Z Destroyed CR.32 NC 601/3-57   2-G-3
23 14/07/37   1 R-Z Destroyed CR.32 NC 601/3-57   2-G-3
24 15/07/37 16:30 1 I-16 (h) Destroyed CR.32 NC 601/3-57 Navalcarnero area 2-G-3
25 15/07/37 16:30 1 I-16 (h) Destroyed CR.32 NC 601/3-57 Navalcarnero area 2-G-3
26 18/07/37   1 R-Z (i) Destroyed CR.32 NC 601/3-57 Brunete area 2-G-3
27 02/09/37   1 I-15 (j) Destroyed CR.32 NC 262/3-51 Belchite area 2-G-3
28 04/12/37   1 I-15 Destroyed CR.32 NC 262/3-51    
29 12/03/38 afternoon 1 I-15 (k) Destroyed CR.32   Híjar att. 2-G-3
30 12/03/38 afternoon 1 I-15 (k) Destroyed CR.32   Híjar att. 2-G-3
31 25/06/38   1 R-Z (l) Destroyed CR.32 NC 601/3-57 nr La Puebla de Valverde  
32 25/06/38   1 R-Z (l) Destroyed CR.32 NC 601/3-57 nr La Puebla de Valverde  
33 01/08/38   1 I-15 Destroyed CR.32 NC 262/3-51 nr Fayón 3-G-3
34 14/08/38 morning 1 I-16 (m) Destroyed CR.32 NC 262/3-51 Gandesa area 3-G-3
35 ??/09-10/38   1 I-16 (n) Destroyed CR.32 NC 262/3-51   3-G-3
36 22/09/38   1 I-15 Destroyed CR.32 NC 262/3-51   3-G-3
37 24/12/38   1 R-Z (o) Destroyed CR.32 NC 262/3-51 nr Fontllonga  
38 24/12/38   1 R-Z (o) Destroyed CR.32 NC 262/3-51 nr Fontllonga  
39 24/12/38   1 R-Z (o) Destroyed CR.32 NC 262/3-51 nr Fontllonga  
  24/12/38   1 R-Z (o) Probably destroyed CR.32 NC 262/3-51 nr Fontllonga  
40 19/01/39 midday 1 I-15 (p) Destroyed CR.32 NC 262/3-51 nr Igualada 3-G-3

Biplane victories: 40 and 1 shared destroyed, 1 probably destroyed, 3 damaged.
TOTAL: 40 and 1 shared destroyed, 1 probably destroyed, 3 damaged.
(a) This claim isn’t verified with Republican losses.
(b) The 1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio shot down 2 Ni-H.52s flown by French pilots Captain Jean Labitte and Sergeant Abel Guidez, who had enrolled in the Escuadra España from the reserve corps of the Armée de l’Air. Both pilots survived to return to their unit.
(c) No Fury was destroyed in combat.
(d) Republican fighters claimed five CR.32 for the loss of two I-15 and several other damaged. Nationalist CR.32s claimed seven fighters and one bomber for the loss of one CR.32.
(e) Nationalist forces claimed nine I-15s and 1 SB while losing 1 CR.32 and 1 force-landed. Republican forces claimed 6 CR.42 while losing 2 I-15s (Karp Kovtun and Petr A. Purov) and 1 SB (reportedly to AA fire).
(f) 2 SBs from the 3a/12 shot down.
(g) The CR.32s claimed 4 and 4 probable I-15s and 4 and 1 probable I-16s shot down with 2 CR.32s damaged. Republican pilots claimed 8 enemy aircraft for the loss of 6 aircraft.
(h) Morato claimed two I-16s but only starshiy leitenant Aleksandr Minayev CO 3a/21 was shot down and killed.
(i) The CR.32s claimed 8 light bombers, 5 I-16s and 1 I-15 for the loss of 1 CR.32. It seems that 6 R-Zs and 3 fighters are verified with Republican records.
(j) 2-G-3 claimed 7 I-15s. Only known Republican loss is Emilio Herrera Aguilera KIA.
(k) 2-G-3 claimed 7 I-15s, 1 probable and 1 damaged and 1 SB destroyed without losses. Republican losses is not known.
(l) 2 R-Zs from 3a/30 shot down. Also claimed by AA.
(m) Claimed in combat with I-16 from 1a, 3a and 4a Escuadrillas which lost at least one I-16 and got three more damaged while claiming 3 CR.32s and 1 He 111. 2-G-3 claimed three I-16s and 3-G-3 claimed two more while losing one CR.32 and getting 3 more damaged.
(n) Claimed between 20 September and 3 October.
(o) Claimed in combat with R-Zs from 2a/30, which lost 6 R-Z against Nationalist claims for 9.
(p) I-15 from 4a Escuadrilla shot down.

Aces of the Legion Condor – Robert Forsyth, 2011 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84908-347-8
Aerial War in Spain: Chronicle of air battle 1936-1939 – Sergey Abrosov, 2008
Air Aces - Christopher Shores, 1983 Presidio Press, Greenwich, ISBN 0-89141-166-6
Air Aces Home Page - Jan Safarik
Airmen without a portfolio: U.S. mercenaries in civil war Spain - John Carver Edwards, 2003 Global Book Publisher, ISBN 1-59457-175-9
Air War over Spain - Jesus Salas Larrazabal, 1974 Ian Allan Ltd, Shepperton, Surrey, ISBN 0-7110-0521-4
Crickets against Rats. Regia Aeronautica in the Spanish Civil War 1936-1937. Vol. 1 - Marek Sobski, 2014 Kagero, Lublin, ISBN 978-83-64596-16-2
Fiat CR.32 Aces of the Spanish Civil War - Alfredo Logoluso, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-983-6
Joaquin Garcia-Morato - Best Ace of Spanish Civil War (WWII Ace Stories) - Mihail Zhirohov, 2003
Några leva än - F. G. Tinker, 1939 T. V. Scheutz Bokförlag AB, Stockholm
Legionaire Ace – Julius R. Gaal, 1972, Aero Album Volume 5 Number 1 Spring 1972
Några leva än - F. G. Tinker, 1939 T. V. Scheutz Bokförlag AB, Stockholm
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 Eugenio Costigliolo, Stefano Lazzaro and Ondrej Repka.

Last modified 12 October 2023