Biplane fighter aces


Capitán Manuel Vázquez Sagastizábal

17 October 1910 – 23 January 1939

Manuel Vázquez Sagastizábal was born on 17 October 1910 in Seville.

A recreational pilot with the Andalusian Aero Club prior to the civil war, he had more than 100 flying hours in his logbook when the conflict commenced. Vázquez Sagastizábal was one of only a handful of pilots to have flown a Cierva autogyro.

When military rebels occupied the base of Tablada on 18 July, Vázquez Sagastizábal was one of a number of local Aero Club pilots to offer his services. These men were formed into a special unit flying formerly civilian light aircraft. Enrolled as a cabo (corporal), Vázquez Sagastizábal performed a number of reconnaissance flight over Andalusia, landing several times in Republican territory to garner information.

In October 1936 he was promoted to alférez provisional.

Vázquez Sagastizábal’s small stature earned him the nickname of Patiño (duckling), which stuck even after he had become an ace and been made CO of an escuadrilla.

In early March 1937, Vázquez Sagastizábal was transferred to a He 51-equipped unit serving on the Asturian front, but at the end of the month he was recalled to Seville to join the first Spanish CR.32 escuadrilla, led by capitáno Morato. He became the first auxiliary pilot to join the unit, as all of his squadronmates had been in the military prior to the civil war.

The all-Spanish Fiat Grupo, with the designation 2-G-3, was formed in Cordoba on 4 May 1937 from the escuadrillas led by capitán Joaquín García 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 Vázquez
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 28 December, 16 fighters from Grupo 2-G-3 clashed with nine I-15s and 12 I-16s directly above Teruel. Nationalist pilots were credited with shooting down four ‘Curtiss fighters’ and a Rata for the loss of Antonio López Sert (3-87) of Escuadrilla 1-E-3 (reportedly to small-arms fire). Teniente Carlos Bayo Alessandri (2-E-3) attacked a Chato head-on, scoring some hits. He made a second attack from astern and the enemy fighter began to lose height and crashed behind Republican lines near Villastar. Alférez Javier Allende Isasi (2-E-3) claimed two I-15s while alférez Jorge Muntadas Claramunt (2-E-3) claimed the fourth I-15 and alférez Vázquez (1-E-3) claimed the I-16.
It seems that at least the 3a/26 (I-15) was involved in this combat and they claimed four CR.32s during the day. The CO of the unit, teniente Juan Comas Borrás claimed two CR.32s while sargento Francisco Montagut Ferrer and Rafael Sanromá Daroca claimed one each.
The Republicans admitted the loss of teniente José M.a Campoamor Peláez, who fell with his burning I-15 in the vicinity of La Muela, while two other aircraft returned to base damaged.

In the afternoon on 6 January 1938, teniente Vázquez and teniente Carlos Bayo Alessandri from 2-G-3 went to the defence of a unit of He 111s that was being attacked by enemy fighters. Vázquez attacked the lower group hitting a Chato, which fell in flames to the east of Teruel, while Bayo was successful in destroying a second Chato.

In the afternoon on 12 March, 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 Joaquín García 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 Vázquez (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.

After a short pause, the attack to the north of the River Ebro was resumed on the 22 March. 18 Fiats from 2-G-3 supported the Navarre Army Corps as they entered the Huesca sector.
The next day 2-G-3 carried out five sorties in this sector, two by the entire group, one with two squadrons and two with patrols. At 13:15, Ángel Salas and Vázquez took off to locate a battery, which was firing at the pontoon bridge in Quinto. During the course of this patrol, they spotted twelve Chatos flying above them and immediately climbed to attack. Salas and Vázquez both made a number of passes at the enemy without registering any vital hits, and just before the Chatos withdrew Vázquez’s machine-guns jammed. Salas returned to base and Vázquez continued on a reconnaissance of his own. He spotted a battery of three guns, which were being dismantled and loaded on to lorries. When he returned to the airfield the group had already taken off, under Miguel García Pardo's leadership, which meant that only Salas, Julio Salvador and Vázquez were available to mount an attack against the enemy battery. Only minutes elapsed before all three were in the air, and so fast had been their action that the battery was still in the same position. Low-level attacks soon had five lorries in flames, one of which carried the battery's ammunition, and which exploded spectacularly.

Eight CR.32s from 2-G-3 and six from 3-G-3 took off in the morning on 31 May. Their task was to escort a number of Ju 52/3ms and Ro.37s over the La Puebla de Valverde sector.
On arrival, they encountered 22 Chatos and 22 Ratas. A 90-minute clash began immediately but the Nationalist crews were successful in protecting the bombers, which, their task completed, made good their escape.
Eight I-15s and two I-16s were claimed shot down without losses. The successful pilots were teniente de Hemricourt (2-E-3) (I-15), teniente Julio Salvador (CO 1-E-3) (three I-15s and one I-16), teniente Rafael Simón García (2-G-3) (I-15), teniente Vázquez (1-E-3) (I-15), capitán Javier Murcia Rubio (3-E-3) (two I-15s) and Muerza (I-16).
Teniente Salvador’s first I-15 was seen falling close to La Puebla, the pilot of the second escaped by parachute into Republican territory and the third, flown by teniente Juan Sayós Estivill of 1a Escuadrilla, made an emergency landing at the Republican airfield of Sarrión with a damaged engine. Estivill quickly abandoned his fighter, which was strafed by Salvador until it caught fire and burnt out. A few minutes later the Spanish ace destroyed an I-16. Teniente de Hemricourt shot down another I-15 near La Puebla, the Belgian watching his opponent take to his parachute and land in the Republican zone.
During this combat, capitán Ángel Salas was attacking a Chato when three enemy fighters in turn attacked him. His Fiat was hit several times before he managed to break away from the attack, but his machine was vibrating so badly that he had to return to base.
Bf 109s escorting Legion Condor bombers also engaged some of the I-16s.
The Republican bulletin issued the following day acknowledged the loss of five aeroplanes that crashed within its own lines, with four wounded pilots and one uninjured. The Polikarpov units had claimed the destruction of 12 Italian and German aircraft in return, although not a single Nationalist aircraft had actually been lost in combat. The Escuadra de Caza No 11 claimed ten CR.32s and it seems that Vladimir Bobrov of the 1a/21 (I-16) claimed one of the CR.32s.

On 1 August, near Fayón, a group of Spanish pilots led by comandante Joaquín García 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 Vázquez (1-E-3), teniente Joaquín Velasco Fernández Nespral (7-E-3) and teniente Emelio O’Connor Valdivielso (4-E-3).

In the morning on 2 September, a formation of nine R-Zs, escorted by a similar number of I-15s, were attacked by 18 Spanish-flown CR.32s near Monterrubio de la Serena as they returned from a bombing mission. Minutes later nine SBs from 4a Escuadrilla of Grupo No 24, escorted at a distance by 11 I-16s Type 10, hove into view too. The CR.32s concentrated on the Tupolev bombers and their monoplane fighter escorts. In a single attack, capitán Ángel Salas (2-G-3) destroyed three Katiuskas, and then capped this by damaging the I-16 Type 10 flown by the leader of the 1a Escuadrilla Grupo de Moscas No 21 that was escorting them. This pilot, teniente José Redondo Martín (the son of the former mayor of Madrid, Cayetano Redondo Aceña), took to his parachute and was guarded by Salas until he had almost reached the ground. Salas, before flying away, raised an arm in the Fascist salute, and Redondo (I-16 ‘CM-214’) responded in a similar manner with a clenched fist.
Salas noted in his logbook:

“After 50 minutes on patrol I spotted nine “Martin bombers” that were a little higher than us heading in the direction of our lines. I gained height as I flew towards them, cutting off their escape route. As they returned after bombing Monterrubio, I attacked the bomber on the left in the first section, setting his left engine on fire. I then hit the left engine of the leader’s aircraft, setting it on fire too, and the third bomber suffered the same fate. Then I fired straight up at the leader of the second flight, and his aircraft started trailing white smoke. It was then that I noticed some Ratas, so I attacked one. After a long fight it also started to trail smoke, and the pilot took to his parachute. He landed close to his aircraft, north of Belalcázar. During his descent I saluted him and he saluted me back.”
Salas had shot down four aircraft in five minutes. A number of the crewmen from the downed bombers took to their parachutes, only to be killed as they floated down, or immediately after landing, by groundfire from Moroccan troops fighting in this area. Ricote, commander of 4a/24 and flying the SB damaged by Salas, force-landed his bomber on Almodóvar airfield after having one of his engines shot out. This event must have been well known in the Government zone, as it was reported from several sources.
In this combat 2-G-3 also claimed four more Ratas (teniente Vázquez (1-E-3), teniente Luis Alcocer, teniente Carlos Bayo (2-E-3) and teniente Esteban Ibarreche) and one more Katiuska (teniente Salvador Serra Alorda (1-E-3)).
The Katiuskas flown by Blas, Monzónis and Pavía were shot down. These were all from the 4a Escuadrilla of Grupo No 24 led by Ricote.
Teniente José Redondo Martín landed in Republican territory and Redondo returned to lead his unit (he had previously been CO of the I-15s in the 3a/26).
When Salas landed at Mérida he received news that his brother, Ignacio, had just been killed in the Ebro sector where he was serving as an army officer, during an attack on Bot (near Gandesa) by Katiuska escuadrilla 2a/24.
The coronel in Charge of the Primera Brigada Aérea (1st Air Brigade) sent the following congratulations to Salas:
“The part played by the group under your command in today's operation has filled me with pride and it gives me great satisfaction to have people under my command who know how to make the best use of prevailing circumstances. It gives me great pleasure to congratulate you personally, and the whole of your unit, to whom I hope you will convey this message.”

On 15 October 1938, four squadrons of Fiats made a combined sortie, three from 2-G-3, and one from 3-G-3. They succeeded in destroying two Ratas (Carlos Bayo and González Guzmán), one for each group. Capitán Ángel Salas, Vázquez and Bayo each damaged another.

At the start of the Valsequillo Offensive on 5 January 1939, the only CR.32 unit in Andalusia at the time was Escuadrilla 8-E-3 (led by capitán Arístides García López) at Posadas, near Cordoba. One week later it was joined by 1-E-3 and 3-E-3 Escuadrillas (led by capitán Vázquez and capitán Miguel Guerrero García, respectively), which were transferred in from Aragon.

On 23 January 1939, capitanes Miguel Guerrero García and Vázquez (CR.32 NC 931/3-118) and Maggiore Guido Nobili (detached from the Nationalist Escuela de Caza) were leading seven CR.32s of Grupo 2-G-3 on a bomber escort mission when enemy fighters were engaged. Capitán Vázquez, together with his wingmen teniente Antonio Manrique Garrido (1-E-3) (CR.32 NC 939/3-123) and Vigueras, chased after the aircraft while the remaining seven CR.32s stayed with the bombers. The three Fiat fighters then ran into a much larger formation of I-15s belonging to Escuadrillas 2a and 3a of Grupo No26 near Hinojosa del Dunque. Manrique was credited with shooting down a ‘Curtiss fighter’ and Vigueras scored a probable before returning to base in his battle-damaged fighter.
Vázquez, however, was badly wounded in the stomach by an I-15 and forced to bail out of his stricken CR.32. He was quickly captured by Republican troops and taken to a hospital in Pozoblanco, where he passed away before he was able to identify himself to his captors. Vázquez was carrying a cigarette case given to him by Joaquín García Morato, which was inscribed with his commander’s initials. Moreover, Vázquez bore a resemblance to Morato, and the Republicans duly announced the death of the ‘Separatist air force’s “ace of aces”’.

At the time of his death, Vázquez was credited with 21 biplane victories.

During the civil war, Vázquez had flown a total of 1035 hours and completed more than 400 combat sorties - 324 sorties (totalling 657 hours) had been made in the CR.32. He had been involved in 40 air combats with the Fiat fighter, and all 21 of his individual victories, seven probable and two shared kills had been claimed with the type. Amongst his victories, Vázquez had claimed ten I-16s and two SBs destroyed, plus two SBs shared destroyed. These totals made him the leading Nationalist ace against modern Soviet-built aircraft in Spain. The only pilot to come close to Vázquez’s record was German staffel commander Werner Mölders, who was credited with 11 I-16s and one SB shot down. However, the latter pilot was flying the fastest fighter in Spain, namely the Bf 109.

The remains of the third ranking Nationalist fighter ace, Vázquez were recovered at the end of the war and buried in Seville on 2 April 1939 in a moving ceremony attended by comandante Joaquín García Morato and his Escuadra de Caza companions.
Vázquez was posthumously awarded the Medalla Militar (Individual Military Medal). Four weeks later, general Kindelán officially proposed that Vázquez should posthumously receive the Cruz Laureada de San Fernando, which was Spain’s highest honour for military valour. However, thanks to bureaucratic delays, this award was not promulgated until 1947.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
? 28/12/37   1 I-15 (a) Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Teruel 1-E-3
? 06/01/38 p.m. 1 I-15 Destroyed Fiat CR.32   E Teruel 1-E-3
? 12/03/38 afternoon 1 SB (b) Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Híjar 1-E-3
? 31/05/38 morning 1 I-15 (c) Destroyed Fiat CR.32   N La Pueblo de Valverde 1-E-3
? 01/08/38   1 I-15 Destroyed Fiat CR.32   near Fayón 1-E-3
? 02/09/38 morning 1 I-16 Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Zújar area 1-E-3
  15/10/38   1 I-16 Damaged Fiat CR.32     1-E-3

Biplane victories: 21 destroyed, 1 damaged.
TOTAL: 21 destroyed, 1 damaged.
(a) Grupo 2-G-3 claimed 4 I-15s and 1 I-16 for the loss of 1 CR.32. The Republicans claimed 4 CR.32s while losing 1 I-15 and 2 damaged.
(b) 2-G-3 claimed 7 I-15s, 1 probable and 1 damaged and 1 SB destroyed without losses. Republican losses is not known.
(c) 2-G-3 and 3-G-3 claimed 8 I-15s and 2 I-16 without losses. The Legion Condor didn’t claim nor lost anything. The Republicans claimed 12 Italian and German aircraft for the loss of 5 aircraft (4 wounded pilots).

Air Aces - Christopher Shores, 1983 Presidio Press, Greenwich, ISBN 0-89141-166-6
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
Joaquin Garcia-Morato - Best Ace of Spanish Civil War (WWII Ace Stories) - Mihail Zhirohov, 2003
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 02 May 2022