Biplane fighter aces


Capitán José Riverola Grúas

27 August 1905 –

José Riverola Grúas was born in Grau, Huesca, on 27 August 1905.

He joined the Servicio de Aviación, at the Escuela de Mecánicos, at Cuatro Vientos on 20 August 1925.
He graduated in March 1927 and was promoted to cabo mecanico in September 1929.

When the civil war broke out cabo Riverola was posted to the Wal-equipped Grupo de Hidros No 6 at Los Alcázares airfield, in Murcia. Having logged many flying hours, he was promoted to sargento mecánico and took a pilot’s course at La Ribera.

He graduated from a pilot’s course in October 1936 and soon afterwards trained as a fighter pilot.

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, Riverola and Gerardo Gil.
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 Rafael Magriña Vidal and Uruguayan teniente Luis Tuya.

On 7 February, the 1a Escuadrilla moved to the old Hispano-Suiza aerodrome in Guadalajara. They began operations at El Jarama, where their activities were outstanding, but their losses heavy; José Calderón, Ben Leider and Luis Bercial were killed, while Jim Allison and Harold Dahl were shot down but survived.

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 Riverola (ten I-15s arriving 24 May), managed to reach Santander and Bilbao from Madrid.
The two forces was the former Grupo No 16 and was led by teniente Riverola. One of the pilots flying with Riverola´s patrulla was sargento Rafael Magriña Vidal in I-15 ‘62’. The only patrulla that managed to land at La Albericia airfield was comprised of Comas, Alarcón and Palomar. Sargento Zarauza turned back with engine trouble just after crossing the Sierra in Madrid, while teniente José Bastida ditched off San Sebastian and was captured. The other aircraft, led by Riverola, landed at Sondica.
On arrival Riverola became CO of the Escuadrilla de Caza del Norte.

Following teniente Riverola departure for the Central front, teniente Leopoldo Morquillas Rubio was appointed CO of the Escuadrilla de Chatos del Norte.

On 30 June, Riverola was promoted to capitán.
He joined the Escuela de Caza and was subsequently ordered to form the 3a Escuadrilla of Grupo No 26 at Manises airfield in Valencia. The unit was later transferred to Rosas (Gerona) and Sabadell.

Teniente Riverola of the 3a/26 claimed an S.81 tri-motor over the Gulf of Rosas on 24 August. According to some sources the Savoia was from 251a Squadriglia but it is also possible that Riverola in fact shot at a SB (s/n 153).

Capitán Riverola was interim commander of the Grupo No 26, but on 26 September Riverola was appointed CO of the fighter units assigned to the Escuadra Mixta No 7 de protección de costas (Mixed Coastal Wing No 7), equipped with Dewoitine D.371/372s, Dewoitine D.510s, captured CR.32s and Gourdou Leseurre GL.32s.
It seems that involved pilots in this unit were at least sargentos Antonio Nieto Sandoval-Díaz, Elías Hernández Camisón and Emilio Ramírez Bravo, which reported to Los Alcazares. The coastal patrulla operated from La Ribera, Alicante, Valencia, Reus and, finally, Figueras.

On 1 December 1937, capitán Riverola (CO of the fighter units assigned to the Escuadra Mixta No 7 de protección de costas) was also appointed aviation liaison officer on the staff of the auxiliary Base Naval at Rosas.

In May 1938, capitán Andrés García La Calle was ordered to form the Grupo No 28, which was equipped with Canadian Car & Foundry-built Grumman GE-23 Delfin biplanes that were to be used for ground attack and coastal patrol duties.
As CO, capitán García La Calle participated in the early stages of the battle of the Ebro, although in reality he did little flying as he was attached to the command post of general Rojo and coronel Modesto as Aviación liaison officer.
On 5 May, capitán Riverola became deputy CO of the new Grupo de Asalto No 28, which was based at Cardedeu airfield.
During the month, Juan Lario Sanchez was posted to the Grupo and he remained at this unit until the end of the war.

On 30 June 1938, capitán Riverola was transferred to Valencia with the 1a Escuadrilla of the Grupo No 28 to fly defensive patrols over the port.
The unit also operated from Alcantarilla, El Carmolí, Los Alcázares and La Aparecida airfields in Murcia.
During the summer of 1938 Riverola’s Grummans were briefly committed to the Extremadura fronts, based at Saceruela and Almodóvar del Campo airfields.

From October 1938 capitán Riverola assumed command of Grupo No 71 of the Zona Aérea Centro-Sur. This unit, consisting of two squadrons (namely the mixed 4a Escuadrilla and the 5a Escuadrilla operating bombers only), took part in the defence of the Cartagena area.

With the end of the war, Riverola flew into exile in Algeria, leading a mixed Chato and Delfin formation to Oran. No further information is available on him.

Riverola ended the Spanish Civil War with 1 biplane victory.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
1 24/08/37   1 SM.81 Destroyed I-15   Gulf of Rosas 3a/26

Biplane victories: 1 destroyed.
TOTAL: 1 destroyed.

Air War over Spain - Jesus Salas Larrazabal, 1974 Ian Allan Ltd, Shepperton, Surrey, ISBN 0-7110-0521-4
Fighter Pilots Of The Spanish Republic (Vol. 1) - Rafael A. Permuy López, Historica 36/39 no. 1, ISBN 84-87314-89-9
Spanish Republican Aces – Rafael A Permuy López, 2012 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84908-668-4

Last modified 04 April 2022