Biplane fighter aces


Capitán Miguel Zambudio Martínez

2 September 1918 – December 1996

Miguel Zambudio Martínez was born on 2 September 1918 at Puente Tocinos, in Murcia.

Zambudio joined the Republican air force in September 1936. He enrolled in the pilot’s course at the Escuela de Vuelo y Combate at Alcalá de Henares, from where he moved to Santiago de la Ribera for elementary and fighter pilot training. By this time Zambudio had already flown the DH 60 Moth Major, Hispano-Suiza E-34, Breguet XIX, Miles Hawk, Caudron C.600 Aiglon, Fleet 10, Morane-Saulnier MS.230, GL.32, Koolhoven FK.51, Avro 626 and Ni-H.52.

In November, Leopoldo Morquillas Rubio enrolled in the Escuela de Pilotos at Santiago de la Ribera, where he trained alongside sargento Manuel Zarauza Clavero, Juan Comas Borrás, Zambudio, Rafael Magriña Vidal and Andrés Rodríguez Panadero.

Sargento Zambudio completed the fighter course on 11 February 1937 and later that month flew Ni-H.52s (he was assigned ‘3-15’) with the patrulla de protección (duty flight) at Reus airfield together with teniente Luis Tuya and Leopoldo Morquillas Rubio.
According to base CO capitan Manuel Gayoso, he quickly damaged three Nieuport fighters and retraining was recommended.

In March, 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, Leopoldo Morquillas Rubio and Zambudio. 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 Leopoldo Morquillas Rubio and sargento Andrés Rodríguez Panadero were attached to the Escuadrilla de Chatos del Norte to fly the I-15s.

Zambudio was initially posted to the escuadrilla equipped with the Š.231, which was found to be unsuitable for combat with modern German fighters. Shortly thereafter he was assigned to fly further obsolete equipment in the shape of French GL.32 parasol fighters, which had arrived in the north without armament. Hastily fitted with two bomb racks on the wing struts, they were pressed into service as light bombers.

On 30 April, Zambudio took off from La Albericia airfield at the controls of one GL.32 to attack the Nationalist battleship Espana, which had hit a mine and was already sinking.

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 Leopoldo Morquillas Rubio 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 Leopoldo Morquillas Rubio 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 Zambudio 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    

Zambudio later joined the Escuadrilla de Caza del Norte and flew Chatos in the Biscay, Santander and Asturias campaigns.

On 18 August Juan Comas Borrás became a teniente, with fellow pilots Ladislao Duarte Espés, Zambudio and Andrés Rodríguez Panadero also being promoted.

In August, he claimed his first success when he was credited with the destruction of a Bf 109.

On 2 September, Zambudio aircraft was set on fire in combat with German fighters after his mixed formation of I-15s and I-16s was attacked while supporting government forces over Llanes. Although he managed to bail out, Zambudio landed in no-man’s-land. Despite having been lightly wounded, he escaped and reached friendly lines.

Zambudio was promoted to teniente before the end of the fighting in the north.

The situation in Gijón was critical when, on 20 October, teniente Zambudio and other pilots and groundcrew from Escuadrilla de Caza del Norte fled for neighbouring France, thus bringing the ill-fated campaign in the north to an end.

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 Leopoldo Morquillas Rubio, Zambudio, 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.

On 10 December and in order to camouflage a planned Nationalist offensive towards Madrid on the Guadalajara, the Republican air forces were to be destroyed on their airfields east of Zaragoza. A Nationalist force of 88 bombers and 56 fighters took part in the operation. The slower bombers (SM.81s and Ju 52/3ms) were to attack the nearby airfields in the Barbastro zone; the faster bombers (SM.79s, Breguet 20s, He 111s and Do 17s) those at Sariñena, Bujaraloz, Candasnos, Puebla de Híjar, Selgua, Pomar, Lérida and Balaguer. The Condor Legion’s bombers, which had to operate from more distant bases, would require refuelling before making their return flight, and facilities were provided at Sanjurjo.
The attacks failed to achieve the desired success, however; the airfields were empty and about 70 fighters were waiting in the air. It must be said that the Republicans were very well prepared to deal with surprise air attacks. They had constructed a large number of airfields and at each was based at most a single squadron, its aircraft widely dispersed around the airfield perimeter. In addition, they had built a number of decoy airfield on with mock-up aircraft.
At least, the VI and XVI Gruppi of the Aviazione Legionaria took part in this combat and Tenente Corrado Santoro of the 31a Squadriglia (VI Gruppo) took part in an escort mission to bombers attacking Sariñena and Sottotenente Mario Visintini of the 25a Squadriglia (XVI Gruppo) took part in his first combat, firing at some enemy aircraft but without claiming anything.
At the end of the battle, the Italians claimed eight I-15s shot down for just one CR.32 lost and its pilot KIA when Sottotenente Vittorio Barberis of the 32a Squadriglia, was killed in action near Alcubierre when his CR.32 collided with I-15 CC-022, flown by Soviet pilot Mikhail Vasilhevich Kotyhov from the 1a/26. The latter pilot also perished.
Group 2-G-3, which was flying below the Italians, climbed to their assistance and claimed seven I-15s without losses.
1.J/88 was airborne, with 15 Bf 109s flying deep into enemy territory. They were attacked by 30 enemy fighters. Oberleutnant Harro Harder recounted:

”Another major action on December 10. The Fiats patrolled the front, we flew deep into enemy territory with fifteen Bf 109s. Fifteen Curtisses and fifteen Ratas climbed up in close formation. There was nothing else to do, we attacked repeatedly, but so many aircraft immediately dove on us that we were happy just to escape in one piece.”
The German fighters didn’t claim anything during the day.
Totally, the Nationalist and the Italian fighters claimed to have together shot down 15 Chatos while losing only one aircraft.
It seems that Republicans lost two I-15s and two I-16s, while 21 other fighters returned with various damages to their bases.
The 2a/26 claimed to have downed five CR.32s, one of them falling to capitán Chindasvinto González García (CO). The remaining four were credited to teniente Nicomedes Calvo Aguilar and sargentos Vicente Castillo Monzó, Jaime Torn Roca and A. Martín García.
During an engagement on the Aragon front, teniente Zambudio and Antonio Britz Martínez of the 3a/26 (I-15) claimed a shared Legion Condor He 111. This seems to have been a He 111 from K/88, which was lost during a mission against the aerodrome of Candasnos when it exploded in flight for reasons unknown. The crew (Leutnant Friedrich-Karl Beucke, Leutnant Heinrich Klein, Feldwebel Anton Bergmann, Unteroffizier Fritz Brühl and Obergefreiter Alois Ehlen) were all KIA.

Now based at El Toro, the 3a Escuadrilla, together with teniente Leopoldo Morquillas Rubio’s 2a Escuadrilla, took part in operations over Teruel. It also helped cover the retreat from Aragon in March 1938, flying from Caspe and Bujaraloz.

On 22 February, teniente Zambudio of 3a/26 probably destroyed a Bf 109 over the Teruel front.

He claimed a CR.32 in April.

When teniente José Redondo Martín (temporary CO 3a/26) was sent on an I-16 Mosca course at the Escuela de Alta Velocidad at El Carmolí, teniente Zambudio was appointed CO of the unit. He led the unit during operations over Levante in May and June and also in the Ebro offensive.

Zambudio (CO 3a/26) was promoted to capitán on 1 October.
Later in the month, Zambudio was replaced as CO by teniente Antonio Nieto Sandoval-Díaz, with teniente Francisco Montagut Ferrer serving as his deputy.
The escuadrilla included José Santander Menéndez, Esteban Corbalán Marín, Sánchez López, José Falcó, Joaquín Tremosa Arnavat, Álvaro Muñoz, José Garre Solano, Alfredo de Albert, Mario Cuesta, Antonio Britz Martínez and Rafael Belda.

On 5 November 1938 and while based at Monjos airfield capitán Juan Comas Borrás (CO of the Grupo No 26) received serious shrapnel wounds in his left leg during a raid by Savoia-Marchetti SM.79s. Comas was taken to hospital at Villafranca de Penedés, where his leg was amputated.
Whilst recuperating he was promoted to mayor de Aviación.
Comas was replaced as CO of the Grupo No 26 by capitán Zambudio.

During the morning on 24 December, 22 CR.32s from XVI Gruppo clashed over the Lérida front with 26 I-15s and eight I-16s. Capitani Giuseppe Majone and Travaglini, leading 24a and 26a Squadriglie, dived headlong at the I-15s, which in turn fled towards the northern bank of the River Segre. The aerial battle continued between Serós and Castelldáns following the intervention of eight CR.32s from Capitano Meille’s 25a Squadriglia just as three I-15s that were hit as the combat commenced abandoned the fight. The I-16s also fled at this time, leaving close to 40 biplane fighters locked in a series of bitter duels from a height of 3500 ft all the way down to the ground between Castelldáns and Borjas Blancas.
The battle lasted more than 30 minutes, and upon returning to base the Italians claimed 14 ‘Curtiss fighters’ destroyed and four more as probables - two victories were awarded to Capitano Majone.
In reality, just five I-15s had actually been shot down by the CR.32s, including the fighter flown by the veteran commander of Grupo No 26, capitán Zambudio, who had been leading the Grupo No 26 on a sortie over the Serós bridgehead. Despite having suffered a serious bullet wound to his right leg including damage to the sciatic nerve, he managed to force land his aircraft in Republican territory and admitted to hospital in Barcelona. The remaining aircraft destroyed came from 1a and 4a Escuadrillas, and four more I-15s returned to base with battle damage.
In return, two CR.32s from 25a Squadriglia were shot down by I-15s between Castelldáns and Borjas Blancas. Sergente Giuseppe Marini was killed, while Sergente Giovanni Accorsi crash-landed in Nationalist territory and emerged from the wreckage of his CR.32 with only a slight wound following the explosion of his fighter’s fuel tank.

In late December, capitán Vicente Castillo Monzó was appointed CO of the Grupo de Chatos No 26, succeeding capitán Zambudio, who had been wounded in combat on 24 December.

Zambudio was subsequently evacuated to Camprodón, from where he escaped to France and internment, in company with capitán Juan Comas Borrás, following the Republican surrender.

Zambudio ended the Spanish Civil War with 10 biplane victories. Most of his victories have been difficult to verify.

Zambudio settled in France post-war and became a businessman. Eventually returning to Spain, he passed away in December 1996.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
1 ??/08/37   1 Bf 109 Destroyed I-15   Northern Front Escuadrilla de Caza del Norte
  10/12/37   1/2 He 111 (a) Shared destroyed I-15   Aragon front 3a/26
  22/02/38   1 Bf 109 Probably destroyed I-15   Teruel front 3a/26
2 ??/04/38   1 CR.32 Destroyed I-15     3a/26

Biplane victories: 10 and 1 shared destroyed, 1 probably destroyed.
TOTAL: 10 and 1 shared destroyed, 1 probably destroyed.
(a) He 111 from K/88, which was lost over Candasnos and the crew (Leutnant Friedrich-Karl Beucke, Leutnant Heinrich Klein, Feldwebel Anton Bergmann, Unteroffizier Fritz Brühl and Obergefreiter Alois Ehlen) were all KIA.

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
Spanish Republican Aces – Rafael A Permuy López, 2012 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84908-668-4

Last modified 16 February 2018