Thejarama February 1937

Hell Really Exists

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Despite this unwelcome Russian attitude, Republican morale was high. Throughout the winter they had held the Nationalists in the southern and western outskirts of Madrid. The first International Brigade had entered the line, and Russian BT tanks and other material were becoming available. Franco, now overall commander of the Nationalist armies, realised that any frontal attack was unlikely to succeed in the foreseeable future. In an attempt to outflank the main defences he launched an offensive to the south on 6 February, aiming to cut the Madrid-Valencia road east of the city. It was during this campaign, the battle of the Jarama River, that the Republican air elements gained their first clear measure of superiority. Despite bad weather the I-15s - now fitted with 25 lb bombs beneath the wings - and R-5s bombed and strafed the enemy at every opportunity. As the weather improved the Nationalists put up day fighter patrols, and one of these provided LaCalle's escuadrilla with its first victory on 13 February.

The first big clash occurred on the 16th. Twelve Nationalist Ju52/3ms escorted by Italian Fiats were sent to the Argada sector. Eleven 'Chatos' attacked one formation of six Junkers, shooting down Capt. Calderon's bomber in flames. The Fiats, following their new cautious policy, had turned back at the front line - they numbered less than fifteen. The I-15s were able to harry the remaining Ju52/3ms all the way home, damaging several, while I-16s gave them top-cover and dispatched two He51s for good measure. Deeply concerned, the National

Breguet Bre Legion Condor

19. Displaying different camouflage patterns on their fuselages, a pair of Fiat CR 32s of the 18a Squadriglia, 23° Gruppo C.T. 'Asso di Bastoni' are seen in flight from the cockpit of a third such fighter. (M. Carmello via Nicola Malizia)

19. Displaying different camouflage patterns on their fuselages, a pair of Fiat CR 32s of the 18a Squadriglia, 23° Gruppo C.T. 'Asso di Bastoni' are seen in flight from the ists ordered Morato's 'Blue Patrol' back from the south to the main front. On the 18th there was more heavy fighting, as Morato entered the fray; two I-15s were shot down by Legion Condor He5Is, but I-16s appeared and claimed several Heinkels. That afternoon I-15s and I-16s scrambled to intercept Nationalist Ju52/3ms again, three bombers being escorted only by the three CR.32s of the Morato patrol since the Italians once again turned tail at the front line. The bombers, too, turned back as the Red interceptors appeared, and Morato's gallant trio flew into battle alone. The sight was too much for the Italians; they disobeyed orders to turn back over the lines and flew to the aid of their Spanish allies. In the ensuing dogfight Morato claimed one of ten Fiat victories, for the loss of three CR.32s.

Two days later a Republican counter-attack on the Jarama front opened with preliminary strafing by I-15s covered by I-16s. Battle again flared when they met a small force of Junkers with fighter escort; both sides made substantial claims. After another two days, bad weather and the stabilizing of the ground situation led to a drop in air activity.

cockpit of a third such fighter. (M. Carmello via Nicola Malizia)

It was noted, however, that during this series of actions the fast Helll and SM.79 bombers were encountered for the first time, and that the I-15s had the greatest difficulty in intercepting them.

Early in March the newly arrived Italian ground forces launched an offensive which became the

Nicola Malizia
20. February 1937 saw the introduction of the modern Heinkel He 11 IB bomber to Legion Condor to supplement and then replace the obsolescent Ju 52/3m. One of the first such aircraft to arrive with K/88 is seen here after carrying out a crash-landing. (Hans Obert)
Legion Condor 1937

21. Only a small test batch of Henschel Hs 123A dive-bombers were employed by the Legion Condor, being operated in the Schlacht (ground attack) role, rather than for their designed duty. They impressed the Spaniards, who requested more, receiving a larger batch during the later stages of the war. (Franz Selinger)

21. Only a small test batch of Henschel Hs 123A dive-bombers were employed by the Legion Condor, being operated in the Schlacht (ground attack) role, rather than for their designed duty. They impressed the Spaniards, who requested more, receiving a larger batch during the later stages of the war. (Franz Selinger)

battle of Guadalajara; it attracted the greater part of the Aviazione Legionaria in support. Bad weather and poorly placed airfields reduced their effectiveness, and the Russian aircraft flying from Alcacla de Henares and Barajos had an easy task. Constant ground-attack sorties demoralised the inexperienced Italian troops, who were driven back and pursued with great effect by Republican air and ground forces. The town of Brihuega, and much valuable material, fell into Republican hands.


Franco now determined to stabilise the Madrid front and to move the greater part of his forces northwards to gain control of the industrial and mining areas of Vizcaya and Asturias. The Legion Condor and most of the Italian and Spanish air forces would accompany them. The offensive opened on 31 March 1937, initially aimed at the Bilbao region. A limited attack at Teruel towards Barcelona was designed to prevent any major Republican reinforcement of the Basques, and was indeed successful in drawing Republican air units into this region in April. Apart from the severe practical difficulties of sending aid to the Basque area, there was a residual hostility among the Republican leaders due to the Basque separatist ambitions. Main Republican air strength in the north comprised a few I-15s, and about 27 Koolhoven FK-51s - though the performance of these biplanes, which were little more than trainers, left much to be desired. During April about 52 Avia A-101 biplane recce-bombers -rejects from the Czech air force - had been released to the Republic. On 15 April one of the freighters carrying them from Gdynia to Santander was intercepted by the Nationalist cruiser Almirante Cervera and in due course her 22 Avias were put into Nationalist service instead. The remaining 30 reached Santander and joined a composite grupo with the other available types.

Meanwhile, important developments were afoot in the Nationalist camp. It will be recalled that in December 1936 Morato's patrol had been sent south to support the Malaga offensive. On 3 January he succeeded in shooting down two of the SB-2s which were currently bombing Nationalist shipping and the city of Cordoba. Despite temporary reinforcement by Italian CR.32s the interception of the 'Katiuskas' was always chancy, and when both Italian and Nationalist Fiats were drawn north by the Jarama fighting the Nationalist Southern Army was left with two Breguet grupos only.

Early in the year Capt. Angel Salas briefly commanded an escuadrilla of unsatisfactory Polish PWS-lOs. In March he was given command of one of three new escuadrillas of He51s, made available by the arrival of Messerschmitts for J/88. l-E-2, 2-E-2 and 3-E-2 each had seven Heinkels, and the new units went into action at once. In April they fought over the Teruel front against I-15s and I-16s drawn there from the Jarama. Also active from the beginning of April was a full escuadrilla of Nationalist CR.32s, l-E-3. At the end of the month Salas's 2-E-2 converted onto CR.32s as 2-E-3. The He51s were divided among the other two escuadrillas, and subsequently a full grupo of each type was formed - l-G-2 (comprising l-E-2 and 2-E-2) with He51s, and 2-G-3 (comprising l-E-3 and 2-E-3) with the Fiats.

This expansion was made possible by the increased numbers of Fiats available, due to the arrival of heavy Italian reinforcements. In April 6° Gruppo 'Gamba di Ferro' (31a, 32° and 33a Sq.) arrived; this unit took its name from the false leg which failed to deter Capt. Ernesto Botto from returning to combat flying in Spain. Simultaneously 23° Gruppo 'Asso di Bastoni' (18a, 19a and 20° Sq.) came on the scene. A brand new ground-attack monoplane, the Breda 65, appeared in Spanish skies

Katiuska Bomber

with the 65° Sq. Autonomo d'Assalto.

Nationalist bomber forces were re-organised that spring and summer. The 1st Junkers grupo disbanded and its personnel began converting onto the first SM.79s handed to the Nationalists; when they entered the line they were designated 3-G-28. The 2nd and 3rd Junkers grupos took the numbers l-G-22 and 2-G-22, one of them concentrating on night operations. The first Breguet grupos were completely re-organised. l-G-10 became 6-G-15 with ex-German He45s; 2-G-10 became 5-G-17, with captured Avia A-lOls; and 3-, 4-, and 5-G-10 shared the remaining Br.XIXs as l-G-10 and 2-G-10. Simultaneously 1- and 2-G-ll were combined into a single unit, 3-G-ll, with the remaining He46s; and to complete the numerical sequence of light bomber units l-G-12, with the Ro.37bis, became 4-G-12.

The Vizcaya offensive which had begun at the end of March saw the debut of the re-equipped Legion Condor, spearheaded by the Messerschmitts of 2.3/88 and the Heinkels and Dorniers of K/88. The He51s of the other fighter Staffeln now concentrated more on ground-attack. As the ground forces advanced towards Bilbao in April, a number of fortified towns stood between them and the main defences - the 'Iron Ring'. One was Guernica, a

22. At about the same time as the He 11 IB reached Spain, so too did the fast trimotor Savoia SM 79 from Italy, these aircraft joining the Aviacione Legionaria on the mainland and on the island of Majorca. Several such bombers from the Spain-based 111° Stormo B.V. are seen in flight. These aircraft were also purchased in large numbers by the Nationalists for their own bomber Grupos. (Nicola Malizia)

communications centre and provincial market town with an important river bridge.

On 26 April 1937 a wave of Heinkels, followed by a wave of Ju52/3ms, bombed the crowded town and practically destroyed its centre. The Republican propaganda machine naturally presented the

23. Widely used by the Republicans for light bombing, reconnaissance and ground attack were the Polikarpov-built R-5 and R-Z biplanes. Some of the latter were heavily-armed as 'shturmovik' aircraft, which were at times used for attacks on Nationalist airfields. An R-Z is seen here at a Republican base. (Jean Alexander)

Breda Destroyed
24. Destroyed on the ground by Republican air attack big Republican air attack on Gerapinilias airfield, were these four CR 32s of the 20l Squadriglia, 23° Gruppo Saragosa, on 15 October, 1937. (M. Carmello via Nicola C.T. 'Asso di Bastoni'. These were some of the victims of the Malizia)

raid to the horrified world as a totally unnecessary exercise in terror-bombing of a civilian target, bringing great odium on Franco and his German allies. Despite repeated investigations, the truth will probably never be known. Did Mola, the Spanish army commander in the north, request K/88 to make the raid, or was it a purely German experiment? Was it terror-bombing, or was Guernica a valid military target? Was the raid intended to strike only the bridge - surely a justifiable target - and were the civilian losses due to poor bomb-aiming? Whatever the motive, Mola's troops certainly occupied Guernica almost without a fight immediately afterwards.

If it was a case of Germans acting without Spanish endorsement, then the Nationalists certainly had no monopoly of poorly-controlled allies, for the following month came another incident which caused international concern. Following League of Nations decisions, a number of navies had undertaken 'quarantine' patrols off the coast to turn back ships carrying military equipment to either side. With fine hypocrisy the Germans and Italians participated, and a number of their warships lay off the Balearics. When the arrival of 31 more SB-2s on 1 May 1937 allowed the formation of Grupo num 24, the unit's first task was to bomb shipping in these waters. On 24 May, apparently without the agreement of Republican High Command, the SB-2s bombed British, German and Italian ships in Palma harbour, Majorca, later proclaiming that as this was Nationalist territory they had been mistaken for Nationalist warships. Repeat attacks on the 26th and 29th caused damage and deaths, and in retaliation five German warships shelled Almeira on the 31st, causing 19 deaths.

The Nationalist advance in Vizcaya was sweeping all before it, and the Republic badly needed to ease the pressure. The few Russian fighters in the region had soon been neutralised, and on 22 May ten I-15s were sent on the long flight to Bilbao to replace them - seven arrived safely. Within ten days the Messerschmitts of J/88 had disposed of most of them. On 31 May an attack by the International Brigades from Guadalajara, through the Guadarama mountains towards Segovia breached the Nationalist line; this promising success instantly distracted attention from the Basque front, and - with the mobility which was becoming marked among the important elements of both air forces - major units of the Nationalist air forces were transferred to the area to help seal the breach. The fighters and ground-attack machines swept the air of Republican fighters and hurled themselves on the advancing

Insignia Asso Bastoni
25. A Fiat CR 32 of 23 Gruppo C.T. 'Asso di Bastoni', with its pilot, Sergente Giovanni Carmello. (M. Carmello via Nicola Malizia)

columns, swinging the battle in favour of Franco's hard-pressed troops. These battles saw the first clash between Bfl09B's and SB-2s, two of the bombers being claimed by 2.J/88 on 8 June. By this date the Republic's offensive was spent, and the International Brigades were falling back through the mountains to their start line. Bilbao was doomed; it fell on 19 June, a victory that Franco owed not least to the Italian troops, who fought much better than they had at Guadalajara.

The next Nationalist objective was Santander; its capture, and the clearing of the north, would release' important forces for the central front. To draw Franco's troops off from Santander the Republic prepared a major offensive at Brúñete, where the line curved westwards to the north of Madrid and south of the Guadaramas. Some 200 aircraft were gathered at Madrid, Barajos, Alcala, Guadalajara, and other bases. The Republican air force was now at its peak strength. Fifty Spanish and foreign pilots had been trained on the 1-16 and were on the point of being fed into the escuadrillas of Grupo num 21. The first batch of 200 Republican pilots sent to the USSR for training in December 1936 were now returning and dispersing among front-line units. This was essential, as only some 50 Russian pilots were available at any one time. The leading Republican ace, LaCalle, had gone to instruct in Russia after the Jarama battles, and at the end of May 1937 some of the better 1-15 pilots were moved into Grupo num 21 to fly I-16s. These later included the Americans Frank Tinker and Albert Baumler, who joined Capt. I. A. Lakeiev's la Escuadrilla de Moscas. Some Russians now converted onto I-15s and flew with the seven escua-drillas of Grupo num 26 (of which four were Spanish-led). The two fighter grupos were now tactically joined into the 11th Fighter Escuadra. Also available were the SB-2s of Grupos num 12 and 24; the R-5s of Grupos num 20, 25, and 30; a Russian-manned R-Zgrupo; and the night-bombers of the mixed Grupo num 22.

Further aid had finally been sent to the north; on 17 June eight I-16s flew to Santander, claiming three SM.81s and two CR.32s in their first combat. A full two escuadrillas of 'Moscas' and some additional 'Chatos' eventually operated in this area, their loss from the central front being made up by the arrival during July from Russia of 49 more I-16s. A fifth 1-16 escuadrilla was formed on the main front, and subsequently a sixth (all Russian) escuadrilla.


The initial Republican attack of 6 July drove a dangerous salient into Franco's lines, and the air forces were at once recalled from the north, some 150 machines concentrating for operations over the new front. The Nationalist He70 and the Italian SM.79 and SM.81 gruppi (weakened by the return home of the 12° Gruppo) went to Burgos. The German Bfl09s and Dol7s went to Avila, together with Morato's Fiats. The Legion Condor He 11 Is and Ju52/3ms went to Salamanca, and the Nationalist Ro.37bis and He51s to Grinon. (The 'Romeos' and He51s, now permanently on ground-attack duties, were known as 'Cadenas' - 'Chains' - from their tactic of attacking in a single nose-to-tail chain of aircraft; their characteristic insignia may be seen in the painting of the He51 of l-G-2 on p. 26.) The Nationalist Junkers and He45s were at Casavieja, and the Italian fighters of the 'Asso di Bastoni' group were sent to Torrijos. Only older types such as the Avias stayed in the north, and

Huck Polikarpov
26. During 1938 examples began arriving of the more powerful Polikarpov 1-16 Type 10 fighter, which featured an increased armament of four machine guns. One of these aircraft is seen connected to a Hucks starter truck, (via W. B. Klepacki)

below: Teniente, Nationalist Air Force, 1938, in flying dress with service dress sidecap in the Air Force uniform colours of blue, piped with grass green. The two gold six-pointed stars on breast patch and cap indicate the rank. Pile-collared wind-cheater and trousers in khaki fabric are issue flying clothing; note boots have oblique zip from top to outside of instep, and wind-cheater has knitted waist and cuffs. The red chest patch bears the Nationalist pilot's wings above the ranking: these are silver with a red central disc charged with a silver four-blade propeller.

Muscles Anatomyof Person


Potez 540 Republican

POTEZ 540 of Republican Potez Group, September 1936


Bf109e Lg2

HEINKEL He51 of Nationalist Grupo l-G-2, spring 1938

Uniformen Der Legion Condor
DORNIER Dol7F-l of Aufklärungsgruppe A.88, Legion Condor, October 1937

opposite, top: Potez 540 of Government Potez Group, September 1936, in original French vert emaillite finish with natural metalcowlings. This well-known machine, flown by Capitan Mellado and Teniente Moreno, bombed the warship Canarias on 23 September; it was shot down two days later by the Nationalist ace-to-be, Capitan Angel Salas Larrazabal, flying Fiat CR.32 No. 103 - his second victory. The slogan, on the starboard side only, translates loosely as 'I'll be waiting for you here!'

above: Dornier Dol7F-l of Aufklärungsgruppe A.88, Legion Condor, based at Llanes in October 1937. Tricolour splinter scheme of RLM shades 61, 62, and 63 -brown, green and grey, with added Nationalist markings including white upper wingtips. '27' was the Dornier 17 type number in Spain.

opposite, bottom: Heinkel He51 of Nationalist Air Force Grupo l-G-2, Aragón front, spring 1938; at this time the unit was led by Capitan Jose Muñoz Jimenez. The original German grey factory finish is retained, with Nationalist markings. The '2' is the type number of the He51 in Nationalist and interventionist service: the '12' is the individual aircraft number, within its type series rather than within its unit - no particular sequence governed which numbered aircraft served together in any unit. The type was also indicated in the group designation, thus l-G-2 was the 1st He51 Group. On the black fuselage disc - the Nationalist marking - appears the badge of this ground-attack group.

Asso Bastoni
Fiat CR.32, No. 854, of XXIIIo Gruppo C.T. 'Asso di Bastoni', August 1938
Asso Bastoni

pages 28-29: Fiat CR.32 No. 854, flown by Maggiore Aldo Remondino, commanding 23° Gruppo C.T. 'Asso di Bastoni' at Escatron on the Teruel front in August 1938. Standard Italian 'sand and spinach' camouflage with Nationalist tail and wing markings. The Group's 'Ace of Clubs' badge is carried below the cockpit; the white flash on the fuselage disc, and the oblique white band, are command markings. '3' is the type number carried by the Fiat CR.32, and '4' the individual aircraft number.

opposite, top: Selection of unit insignia: (1) Falangist yoke and arrows motif painted on fuselage disc of many Nationalist aircraft. (2) Badge of Garcia Morato's 'Blue Patrol', carried as unit insignia on fin of Fiat CR.32s of Morato's 2-G-3 from May 1937, and 3-G-3 from spring 1938. (3) 4 Staffel, Jagdgruppe J.88, Legion Condor, carried on fuselage disc of He51. (4) Kampfgruppe K.88, Legion Condor, carried on fuselage disc of Heinkel Helll. (5) 56° Squadriglia Assalto, carried on fin of Breda 65. (6) 8° Stormo Bombardamento Veloce, 'Falchi delle Baleari', carried on fuselage disc of SM.79. (7) 3a Mosca Escadrilla, carried on fin of Polikarpov 1-16. (8) 4a Mosca Escadrilla, carried on fin of Polikarpov 1-16.

below: Polikarpov 1-15, No. 58, flown by Teniente Frank G. Tinker Jr. of Andres Garcia LaCalle's Chato Escadrilla, Grupo 26, Republican Air Force. The American ace gained his third victory (an He51 of 2-E-2, over Teruel on 17 April 1937) while flying this machine. Soviet forest green and pale blue-grey finish with red Republican bands on wings and fuselage, and Republican tricolour rudder stripes; the white '58' is the individual aircraft number. Note that the small plan view is a split upper/lower surface presentation.

Henschel 123 Bauplan
POLIKARPOV 1-15, No. 58, of Republican Grupo 26, April 1937
Fiat Legion Condor Legion Condor Blade

above: Alferez, Republican Air Force, in issue leather flying clothing, carrying holstered Astra service automatic. Note zip fastener up whole outside seam of trousers. Blue chest patch carries ranking - the gold kinked stripe, which underlines the fact that Republican Air Force uniform was very naval in character - beneath pilot's wings. These are gold with a central red disc, charged with a pale blue eagle with a gold four-blade propeller superimposed. 'Alferez' is the junior commissioned rank, approximating 'ensign'.

below: Oberleutnant pilot. Legion Condor, 1939, in that organisation's khaki service dress. The silver-piped turn-up of the sidecap indicates officer rank; the three six-pointed silver stars identify this rank, and their thin yellow edging, the flying branch. (Normally one would expect two stars for this rank, but in the Legion Condor senior warrant officers wore a single star, and Leutnante, two.) Nationalist pilot wings are worn on the right breast, and ranking on the left. On the right pocket is the Spanish Cross, a silver decoration instituted in April 1939.

Spanish Legion Dress Uniform

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  • regolo
    Where did the name katiuska?
    9 years ago

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