Spanish Republican Aces
The latest in Osprey’s Aircraft of the Aces series focuses on the Republican pilots who author Rafael A Permuy López believes achieved ace status during the Spanish Civil War. In this book the author draws upon the limited documentation available today to tell the story of those who he determined actually qualified to be ranked as an Ace during that conflict.
Much was written about the Spanish Civil War and unfortunately a lot of it was myth. In spite of western journalists and reporters who were “embedded” with the Nationalists and the Republicans during the conflict, passion on both sides (remember For Whom the Bell Tolls?), along with a good dose of politics, affected the reporting of day-to-day events, and many well-known pilots were credited with more kills than they deserved. Incomplete records, kept by a variety of people who lacked the structure of uniform recording processes, contributed to the problem…and many of those records were not preserved. In the Author’s Introduction, López acknowledges that many previously published lists of Aces were unofficial, created by various authors and proved to be contradictory. He then offers an explanation of how he selected his list of Aces among the Spanish government fighter pilots and adds that he hopes readers will “forgive him for any particular gaps.”
In spite of the lack of exhaustive records of individual victory claims and subsequent confirmations, López has sought out sufficient documentation to make reasonable assumptions as to which pilots deserved to be classified as an ace.
The author divides the book into six chapters that cover:
- Republican Fighter Force in 1936-37
- Republican Escuadra De Caza No 11 21
- Republican Fighter Force in the North
- I-15 Chato Goupo No 26 46
- Mosca Grupo No 21 67
- Republican Nightfighter Force 83
In each of these chapters, López provides a brief historical narrative about the chapter subject, followed by the bios and personal accounts of those pilots who achieved ace status within that period. Thirty-five pilots are described along with mention of unit commanders.
Since most young pilots joined the rebel (Nationalist) forces at the beginning of the war, the majority of the Republican pilots were high-ranking offices, group commanders, NCOs, sergeants, and corporals who were loyal to the government. Most found themselves fighting at a numerical disadvantage against the Nationalists (and Legion Condor) airmen they battled. But, for a time, with support from the Russians, they enjoyed a short-lived advantage. During that period, a surprisingly a good number managed to achieve ace status by downing not only non-armed or lightly armed observation aircraft and numerous Ju 52/3 and He 111 bombers, but also agile He 51 and CR 32 fighters…and a few early Bf 109s!
The text is a translation from a Spanish manuscript and the sentence structure sometimes reflects that. However, it does not hinder understanding the text and, in fact, adds a bit of character to the story. The chapters are enhanced by a total of 96 period photos (all b&w) of aircraft, pilots and crews, and 24 full color profiles (by artist Julio López Caeiro) of nine fighter types. Included among the profiles are: Nieuport Ni H.52, Hawker Spanish Fury, Dewoitine D.372, Loire 46, Dewoitine D.510, Boeing 281 (export version of the P-26), Polikarpov I-15, Polikarpov I-15 Bis, and Polikarpov I-16. In addition, four of the a/c profiles are complimented by front and top view color renderings…something model builders will appreciate.
The book includes an appendix constructed from surviving official records that document the actual confirmed kills of 18 of the Spanish Republican aces, a Bibliography of 12 books (all in Spanish), and a listing of the archives that were consulted in researching the subject. This is an interesting read and should provide those interested in the subject with considerable information about the more recognized pilots and the ups and downs they experienced while supporting the Republican side of the conflict. It is a great compliment to Osprey Aircraft of the Aces #99 – Aces of the Legion Condor.
The book is highly recommended to anyone with an interest in this unique period in aviation history. My thanks to Osprey Publishing and IPMS/USA for the opportunity to read and review it.