Biplane fighter aces


Mayor Leopoldo Morquillas Rubio

1915 –

Leopoldo Morquillas Rubio was born in 1915 into a family with a military background.

In early 1933, at the age of 18, he joined the air force as a private and was posted to the Escuadra No 3, based at El Prat de Llobregat airfield.
Promoted to cabo, he was subsequently transferred to Logroño airfield.

At the outbreak of hostilities cabo Morquillas was on leave in Madrid, but he volunteered for duty at Getafe airfield.
The shortage of flying personnel prompted him to apply for a commission as an air gunner-bombardier, and he duly flew sorties in Breguet XIXs and Potez 540s over the sierra and to the outskirts of Madrid. During this period Morquillas flew with pilots Arcega, Areán, Cremades, Cascón, Jiménez, Hortelano, Lurueñba, Peña, Ramos, Ricote, Salvoch and sargento Vicente Valls Bort.
He was shot down three times (once on 28 October 1936), twice while flying Breguet XIXs and once in a Potez 540.

On 28 October 1936, sargento piloto Vicente Valls Bort and his observer cabo Morquillas fell victim to CR.32s, but they managed to force land in a field. Both men were unhurt.

In November, Morquillas 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, Rafael Magriña Vidal and Andrés Rodríguez Panadero.

Morquillas graduated as a pilot on 3 February 1937, and later that month flew Ni-H.52s (he was assigned ‘3-25’) with the patrulla de protección (duty flight) at Reus airfield together with teniente Luis Tuya and sargento Miguel Zambudio Martínez.

In March 1937 further fighters arrived by sea to the Northern Front when eight Czech Letov Š.231 s were delivered to aboard the SS Sarkani. After a call for volunteers to fly them, a group of pilots were flown in to Santander aboard a DC-2 on 23 March. The new arrivals included teniente Tomás Baquedano Moreno, teniente Julián Barbero López, Lambás Bernal, José González Feo, Sánchez de las Matas, sargento Andrés Rodríguez Panadero, sargento José Rodríguez de la Cueva, Olmos Genovés, García Borrajo, Morquillas and Miguel Zambudio Martínez. The Letovs, however, proved a disappointment. Several turned over on landing before they were even operational, one was shot down on its first sortie (and sargento piloto Juan Olmos captured) and several others were set on fire during an air raid.
Tenientes Tomás Baquedano Moreno, Julián Barbero López and Morquillas and sargento Andrés Rodríguez Panadero were attached to the Escuadrilla de Chatos del Norte to fly the I-15s.

Morquillas was promoted to teniente on 22 March while serving on the Northern Front where he flew Š.231s and GL.32s, as well as I-15s attached to the Soviet escuadrilla that was commanded by the Soviet pilot Konstantin Baranchuk.

On 17 April, teniente Morquillas of the Baranchuk escuadrilla claimed a He 51 on the Northern Front.

Morquillas subsequently served under teniente Felipe del Río Crespo and then teniente Baquedano Moreno in the Escuadrilla de Chatos del Norte on the Biscay and Santander fronts. When these two pilots were shot down, teniente José Riverola Grúas assumed command.

On 22 April, Leutnant Günther Radusch and Feldwebel Franz Heilmayer of 2.J/88 (Bf 109B) each claimed an I-15 while Hauptmann Lothar von Janson claimed one unconfirmed. One of these was flown by seven-victory Republican ace capitán Felipe del Río Crespo (CO of the Escuadrilla de Chatos del Norte), who was killed.
The three pilots flying with Felipe del Río Crespo, tenientes Julián Barbero López, José González Feo and Morquillas, stated their commander had fallen victim to Bf 109s while Barbero avoided being shot down by the German fighters by tricking his opponents into thinking that his aircraft had been terminally damaged, although he was able to land at Lamiaco.

“At 1600 hrs a flight patrolling near the airfield sighted nine twin-engined bombers and several fighters heading for Bilbao. The government aircraft forced them into combat lasting 20 minutes and shot down two enemy fighters. One was a Heinkel and the other was unknown. In this combat one aircraft was lost.”
The lost I-15 was the one flown by capitán del Río Crespo. His posthumous promotion to mayor was dated 22 April 1937.

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 Morquillas 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 Morquillas 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 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    

At this time, teniente Morquillas was flying Chato ‘CA-57’ from La Albericia and Penilla de Cayón airfields, in Santander.

A few days before the fall of Santander (26 August 1937), an exhausted teniente Morquillas, CO of the Escuadrilla de Chatos del Norte, was flown out by DC-2 to Barcelona, where he assumed command of the unit defending the city from El Prat de Llobregat airfield.

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 Juan Comas Borrás, which initially flew defensive patrols over the Catalan coast. The unit’s initial cadre of pilots consisted of Morquillas, 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.

Subsequently promoted to deputy CO of the 3a/26, teniente Morquillas was given command of the 2a/26, based at Villar airfield, in Valencia, on 11 January, replacing capitán Chindasvinto González García. There, he operated over the Teruel front and made a number of claims.

During the day on 17 January 1938, there were three clashes between Republic and Nationalist aircraft. In the last combat two groups of I-15s (32 fighters) were out to strafe in the Teruel area, escorted by eight I-16s. Over the target they clashed with a formation of 15 He 111s and 40 Fiat CR.32s. Two I-15s were quickly shot down when Leitenant Aleksandr Osipov (patrulla CO 1a/26 in I-15 CA 007) was shot down by fighters but managed to parachute and land in friendly territory. The second was Kapitan Yevgeniy Stepanov of the Grupo No 26, who was shot down by AA fire over the town of Ojos Negros but managed to bale out. He was taken prisoner and spent the next six months in various prisons (Zaragoza, Salamanca and San Sebastian). One I-16 was shot down and the pilot killed. A third I-15 made a “taran” and the pilot, Romulo Negrin Mijoilar (the son of the prime minister of the Republic of Spain), who served in the 4a/26, was wounded. He had attacked some Fiats, which were attacking Stepanov hanging in his parachute, bringing one of the CR.32 down together with his own fighter; the Italian pilot was killed. Two more I-15s were damaged in forced landing due to lack of fuel and five more returned with battle damage.
Teniente Morquillas, CO 2a/26 claimed a CR.32 shot down during the day in the Teruel area as did J. Vela Díaz and C. Zuazo Garre from the same unit.
The Republican side claimed four Fiat CR.32s and one bomber. Two more CR.32s were claimed as damaged or probably destroyed.
The Italians from VI Gruppo claimed 11 ‘Curtiss fighters’ but lost two pilots when Maresciallo Bruno Cesna, (33a Squadriglia) and Sergente Maggiore Angelo Boetti (Staff of VI Gruppo) were killed while Sergente Benassi was wounded. One Spanish pilot was also shot down when Pedro Gil Escosin was shot down in his Fiat CR.32 and parachuted. In one of the He 111, one of the crew members, T. Martner, was so badly wounded that he died the next day in hospital.
While as prisoner Stepanov was taken out to be shot on three occasions. The Republican government eventually managed to exchange him via the International Red Cross for some German PoWs.

On 18 January, teniente Morquillas, CO 2a/26, claimed a Bf 109 shot down during the day in the Teruel area.

On 20 January, XVI Gruppo went into action between Teruel and Aldehuela. Italian pilots were credited with shooting down five ‘Curtiss fighters’ and two Ratas. One of the I-15s were claimed by Sergente Ennio Tarantola. Sottotenente Renato Andreani of 25a Squadriglia lost his life and two CR.32s returned to base with severe battle damage.
Grupo No 26 lost three I-15s during this clash, one from the 3a Escuadrilla crashing near Torrente after its pilot, Puig Bastons, parachuted safely into Republican territory. A machine from 1a Escuadrilla broke up in the air after being hit, its Soviet pilot, leitenant Ivan Gorshkov, being forced to bail out. Debris from Gorshkov’s I-15 (#9963) in turn hit the Polikarpov of the 2a Escuadrilla commander teniente Morquillas, who also parachuted into Republican territory (Morquillas claimed a damaged CR.32 during the day – same combat?). No I-16s were lost, however.

On 21 February, all the serviceable Polikarpovs took off to try to oppose Nationalist bombers during the Battle of Alfambra.
At 10:20, Miguel García Pardo and Javier Allende Isasi of 2-G-3 took off on a routine reconnaissance flight over the Teruel front. There they discovered 20 I-15s and a similar number of I-16s in combat with a few Bf 109Bs. When García Pardo and Allende Isasi went to the assistance of the Messerschmitts, the German pilots failed to recognize them as allies and opened fire on them. They beat a hasty retreat, calling into battle another formation of Fiat CR.32s before continuing with their reconnaissance.
The new formation compromised 24 CR.32s of the XXIII Gruppo ”Asso di Bastoni” led by Maggiore Andrea Zotti. The pilots included the Spanish capitán Carlos Haya González who, after attending his mother’s funeral, arrived by car in Bilbao just as the group was about to take off. Despite Commander Zotti’s opposition, he insisted on taking his place in the formation.
At 11:04 over Teruel when they spotted about 40 Republican fighters split in three formations with I-15 “Chatos” at 3,500 and 4,000 meters, and I-16 “Moscas” at 5000 meters. The Republican fighters were already in combat with 17 Bf 109s. Zotti immediately chased them, and sent part of the Gruppo to attack the “Chatos”, which tried to evade as they were over Republican lines. At Puebla de Valverde, the “Moscas” intervened, but they were faced by the rest of the XXIII Gruppo, which at the end claimed two “Chatos” and a “Mosca” destroyed. One of the I-15s was claimed by Franco Lucchini of the 19a Squadriglia. In attempting to destroy an I-15 that was attacking another aircraft of his squadron, Carlos Haya González approached too close and collided with the I-15, falling to his death. It seems that this was sargento Francisco Viñals Guarro (I-15 CA-013) of the 2a/26, who managed to return despite the almost total destruction of the rudder (according the Republic bulletin, it was teniente Manuel Orozoco Ovira, of the 4a/26, who collided with Haya). Viñals’ I-15 was found to have a shattered aileron, badly damaged upper port wing and missing cockpit door and gunsight. Viñals’ promotion, recommended by the coronel Jefe de Fuerzas Aéreas and the Minister of National Defence, Indalecio Prieto, was effective from 22 February. The order was gazetted in the Diario Oficial issue No 47, which noted, ’For his heroic conduct in yesterday’s combats near Teruel, sargento del arma de aviación Francisco Viñals Guarro is promoted to teniente.’
Juan Lario Sanchez witnessed this combat. Haya fell near Puerto de Escadiòn, and was posthumously awarded with a Medaglia d’oro al valor militare.
The German pilots of J/88 claimed seven I-16s when 1 staffel claimed three near La Pueblé (Leutnants Fritz Awe, Hans-Karl Mayer and Erich Woitke) and 2 staffel claimed four near Sarrion and Teruel (Unteroffizier Herbert Ihlefeld, Leutnant Edgar Rempel, Unteroffizier Kurt Rochel and Staffelführer Oberleutnant Joachim Schlichting).
It seems that the Bf 109s had been in combat with twelve I-16s from 2a/21, which suffered three wounded pilots and one killed in combat with Messerschmitts and Fiats over Teruel in the morning while reporting 18 enemy aircraft downed (daily total?). Leitenant Aleksey Denisov (I-16 CM-034) claimed one Bf 109 before being shot down and had to bail out wounded. Leitenant Boris Adil’gireevich Takhtarov was wounded and badly burned when his aircraft (CM-123 or CM-239) caught fire after being hit by Bf 109s and he had to take to his parachute. When he jumped his parachute opened early, and on the way down the Germans tried to strafe him, but his comrades prevented them (he spent 35 days in the hospital and then returned home). The third wounded pilot was Andrey Belov. Leitenant Viktor Sergeevich Troshkin was killed while flying CM-032.
General Rojo advised Prieto, the Minister of Defence, that the Air Force had carried out three operations during the day, and that during the last of these they had been involved in a large-scale combat with the Nationalist Air Force. He later advised Prieto that according to information from Jerica (the Air Force’s command centre) five German aircraft – later stated to be five Bf 109s, seven Fiats CR.32s and one twin-engined aircraft had been destroyed. This message included the information that the ace pilot, Carlos Haya, who was reputed to have carried out the night attack on the War Ministry in Madrid, had been killed in this engagement. Their own losses were quoted as two I-16, which failed to return to base and two others, which were damaged and whose pilots were injured. Sergeant Manuel Orozco Ovira, who managed to fly his aircraft back to base after its tail had been destroyed, was recommended an award for outstanding bravery and skill.
The I-15s from the 2a/26 claimed three and two probable CR.32; these were claimed by Teniente Morquillas (CO) (1 probable), J. Mora Fauria, sargento Francisco Viñals Guarro, Fernando Villins León (1 probable) and C. Zuazo Garre. Francisco Montagut Ferrer from the 3a/26 claimed a Bf 109 while an unknown pilot from the 4a/26 claimed a CR.32. An unknown I-16 pilot from 1a/21 claimed a CR.32.

Morquillas (CO 2a/26) was promoted to capitán on 7 March 1938.

In June capitán Morquillas was selected to head up a group of four I-15 pilots, one I-16 pilot and two SB pilots that were to be sent to the USSR for training at the Tactical High School in Lipetsk. The aviators sailed for the USSR on 23 August, and while there Morquillas was promoted to mayor. Because of the length of the course the group was still in the Soviet Union when the Spanish conflict ended in late March 1939.

Morquillas ended the Spanish Civil War with 21 biplane victories. Most of his victories have been difficult to verify.

Remaining in the USSR, the Spanish pilots became flying and combat instructors at Soviet schools in 1941, but subsequently flew as ground attack and fighter unit commanders on the Eastern Front.
Morquillas, who led an assault eskadrilya and was subsequently made inspector of an air division, served in the Soviet air force for ten years and was awarded numerous decorations during that time.

Retiring in 1948, he became a factory manager at Tula, where he married and settled down.

Morquillas died in the USSR some years ago.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
1 17/04/37   1 He 51 Destroyed I-15   Northern Front Baranchuk escuadrilla
2 17/01/38   1 CR.32 (a) Destroyed I-15   Teruel area 2a/26
3 18/01/38   1 Bf 109 Destroyed I-15   Teruel area 2a/26
  20/01/38   1 CR.32 Damaged I-15   Teruel area 2a/26
  21/02/38 11:04- 1 CR.32 Probable I-15   Teruel front 2a/26

Biplane victories: 21 destroyed, 1 probably destroyed, 1 damaged.
TOTAL: 21 destroyed, 1 probably destroyed, 1 damaged.
(a) Republican pilots totally claimed 4 and 2 damaged CR.32s and 1 bomber while losing 2 I-15s, 1 I-16 and getting 2 I-15s damaged. VI Gruppo claimed 11 I-15s while losing 3 CR.32s (2 pilots KIA). 1 He 111 was damaged.

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
Soviet airmen in the Spanish civil war 1936-1939 - Paul Whelan, 2014 Schiffer Publishing Ltd, ISBN 978-0-7643-0
Spanish Republican Aces – Rafael A Permuy López, 2012 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84908-668-4

Last modified 15 October 2020