Biplane fighter aces

Spain

Fernando Villins León

– 24 March 1938

In February 1938, Fernando Villins León served in the 2a Escuadrilla of the Grupo de Caza No 26, which was equipped with Polikarpov I-15s.

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 Aleksei Aleksandrovich 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 pilkots was Andrei Ivanovich Belov was wounded. 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 Leopoldo Morquillas Rubio (CO) (1 probable), J. Mora Fauria, sargento Francisco Viñals Guarro, 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.

Around midday on 24 March, 18 Fiats from all six Spanish CR.32 escuadrillas led by capitán Ángel Salas provided escort for the He 51s and SM.79s attacking Quinto. Between Quinto and Farlete they encountered eleven Ratas and 30 Chatos. In the ensuing combats four Chatos were claimed; capitán Salas, alférez Arístides García López Rengel (1-E-3), brigada Ramón Senra Àlvarez (1-E-3) and Rúiz Jiménez each claiming one. Teniente José Jurado González (3-E-3), flying Fiat No 3-104, was killed in action when Republican fighters shot him down between Caspe and Quinto.
Legion Condor Bf 109s also joined the fray, while He 51s flown by Spanish pilots performed ground attack missions below the swirling dogfight and one of the He 51s were destroyed, although its pilot survived.
At the end of this air battle, Salas almost succeeded in capturing a Chato. He had attacked one of the enemies and, although unable to destroy the machine, he so clearly held the upper hand that the Chato pilot descended to a low altitude and was making for Nationalist lines, with Salas in close attendance. Just as the Chato was about to land, it was attacked by a Bf 109B (No 51) flown by Oberleutnant Wolfgang Schellmann, staffelkapitän of 1.J/88, and destroyed, prompting Salas to lodge a formal complaint with the Legion Condor.
The German Bf 109s from 1.J/88 claimed two more I-15s in this combat when Leutnant Fritz Awe and Unteroffizier Alfred Stark claimed one I-15 each.
Totally the CR.32 pilots claimed four I-15s and five probable and the Bf 109s were credited with three I-15s.
In this battle Government aircraft Nos. CA-006, CA-032, CA-037 and CA-052, piloted respectively by Antonio Sánchez, Benigno Domingo Hueso, Jesús Pérez Pérez and Villins, were destroyed and the pilots KIA; teniente Francisco Viñals Guarro and Elías Hernández flying machines Nos. CC-030 and CC-027 collided; and Alfredo Dealbert, aircraft No. CA-038 force-landed outside the airfield.
Teniente Viñals of the 2a/26 had sortied from Pomar de Cinca airfield and he bailed out and landed between Pina and Osera.
The Government Air Force had not previously lost so many aircraft in a single battle. The Escuadra de Caza No 11 claimed four CR.32s and one Bf 109 with one CR.32 and one He 51 as probably destroyed.

At the time of his death, Villins was credited with 1 probable biplane victory.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1938                
  21/02/38 11:04- 1 CR.32 Probable I-15   Teruel front 2a/26

Biplane victories: 1 probably destroyed.
TOTAL: 1 probably destroyed.

Sources:
Fiat CR.32 Aces of the Spanish Civil War - Alfredo Logoluso, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-983-6
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 06 December 2016