Spanish Civil War: Republican Air Force (FARE)

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Master Sergeant
Jan 1, 2010
In the years between the world wars, governments and military leaders theorized about the future of aerial warfare. But during this almost two-decade period, there was only one major military conflict--the Spanish Civil War. Although only a few countries officially participated, they found it invaluable preparation for World War II. The Spanish Civil War had its beginnings in Spain's elections of February 1936. The Republicans, consisting of the Communists, Socialists, and Basque and Catalonian separatists, won by a narrow margin. Under the leadership of Jose Calvo Sotelo, the right wing (monarchists, the military, and the Fascist Party) continued to oppose the elected government. In July, the Republicans arrested, then assassinated Sotelo, ostensibly in retaliation for the killing of a policeman by the Fascists. The right wing, now united as Nationalists, used this as their justification for launching a revolution. On July 17, 1936, General Francisco Franco and soldiers loyal to him seized a Spanish Army outpost in Morocco. In Spain, other Nationalist troops quickly seized other garrisons. A junta of generals, led by Franco, declared themselves the legal government, and the war officially began.

The world was forced to take sides. Many countries, including the United States and Great Britain, chose to stay neutral, believing that involvement would lead to war. However, individuals from neutral countries did volunteer with the Republican's International Brigade, feeling the cause was worth fighting for. A group of three Americans pilots formed the Patrolla Americana, which eventually grew into a unit of 20 pilots. The Soviet Union, recognizing a potential Communist nation threatened by fascism, was quick to offer aid, including equipment, soldiers, and senior advisors. Many of their planes, including the Polikarpov I-15 and I-16, formed the backbone of the Republican Air Force. And as a gesture to protect itself from being surrounded on three sides by Fascist nations, France provided some aircraft and artillery.

Because a non-intervention agreement in 1936 forbade sympathetic nations to provide airplanes to the competing sides, it was difficult for the Republican government to develop a solid aviation program. It bought small amounts of aircraft where it could, which meant that its air force was composed of small numbers of a lot of different airplanes, from different companies and countries. The Republican government also accepted civilian aircraft, such as the Lockheed Orion, which it could then adapt to military use. There was also a Boeing P-26 that had been brought over as a demonstration model for the Spanish Air Force before the war and was "inherited" by the Republicans.

The Fascist nations found ways to avoid the rules of the non-intervention agreement. Benito Mussolini in Italy was quick to support Franco and sent Spain more than 700 airplanes and troops during the conflict. But it was Germany that was most instrumental in the war. Only days after the war erupted, Franco had sent a request for help to Adolph Hitler. For Germany, the Spanish Civil War came at an opportune time. The nation was initiating a rearmament program, in violation of the World War I peace treaty. A war in Spain would distract the world's governments from this transgression. Plus, Spain had raw materials that Germany could use. Hitler also liked the idea of threatening France with a Fascist government to its south. But most importantly, Spain would provide an opportunity to test equipment and train troops. Although Hitler was careful not to send enough troops to make the world perceive them as a combatant nation, 19,000 German "volunteers" gained valuable combat experience in Spain. Because the Nationalists already had strong army support, Germany sent over mostly aviators from the Luftwaffe. The Germans were organized into the Condor Legion that was equipped with the most modern airplanes and a specially trained staff. Many of the newest airplanes were tested in real combat situations, among them the Heinkel He.111, and the Messerschmitt Bf.109. The Legion was divided into bomber, fighter, reconnaissance, seaplane, communication, medical, and anti-aircraft battalions, and also included an experimental flight group. The chief of staff was Colonel Wolfram von Richthofen, a cousin of "The Red Baron."

The first challenge the German Condor Legion faced was the 20,000 Nationalist troops stranded at the outpost in Morocco, prevented by a Spanish Navy blockade that was loyal to the Republicans from joining the remainder of the Nationalist Army in Seville. The Condor Legion succeeded in evacuating the troops by air—something that had never been done before. On August 6, twenty Junkers Ju-52 transports arrived in Morocco. Over the next two months, the Condor Legion transported all the Nationalist troops to Seville, with the loss of only one airplane. U.S. General Hap Arnold later described the airlift as the most important air power development of the interwar period. After the evacuation, the Condor Legion settled into other jobs. It flew harassment raids against Republican forces and supported ground forces. And it initiated both strategic and tactical bombings. While military thinkers of the time were debating the validity of aerial bombing, the German troops in Spain were obtaining practical experience.

The Condor Legion used tactical bombing after Soviet airplanes began arriving in October 1936 to strengthen the Republican side. Bombings would weaken the troops for the ground attack. In Bilbao, in the north of Spain, saturation bombing was used to shatter the Republican "Iron Belt"—a 35-kilometer (22-mile)-long line, leaving holes open for advancements; it also prevented Republican reinforcements from reaching the gaps. But it was the strategic bombing attacks that attracted the most attention. In the beginning, methods were crude; Republican bombers were given tourist maps to help find their targets. But soon, the attacks became routine. Yet there were no riots or uprisings as theorists had anticipated. Instead, civilian resistance and resolve on both sides were strengthened. One British observer noted that the Spanish would "blacken every balcony so as to get a good view of bursting shrapnel."

Of all the bombing raids, it was the attack on Guernica, a city in the north of Spain, which came to symbolize the horrors of aerial bombing. Guernica was the center of Basque identity and culture, boasting the parliament building and an oak tree under which Basque leaders annually swore to uphold the liberties of the people. For three hours on the afternoon of April 26, 1937, planes from the Condor Legion dropped 100,000 pounds (almost 91 million kilograms) of bombs on the city and strafed citizens in the street by machine guns. Republican sources reported 1,500 dead. The only military target in town, a bridge, remained untouched. Instead, it appeared to many, including a London Times correspondent, that "the object of the bombardment was seemingly the demoralization of the civilian population and the destruction of the cradle of the Basque race." Everyone was shocked by the attack, which raised ethical questions all over the world. For many years, the Nationalists denied involvement and claimed that the Basques had bombed themselves for propaganda. They did not admit their involvement until they released reports in the 1970s, after Franco's death. The Republicans used the tragedy to gain support, displaying Pablo Picasso's painting Guernicain the Spanish Pavilion at the 1938 Paris World's Fair. But in the end, the greatest effect of the bombing was to make some European nations fear they might be the next Guernica and thus, they capitulated to Hitler's demands at Munich in September 1938.

At the Nuremberg trials following World War II, Luftwaffe commandant Hermann Goering said, "Spain gave me an opportunity to try out my young air force." The experience gained in Spain helped Germany in the early months of the war far more than the desktop theories and controlled tests of other nations. Having noted poor results from strategic bombing, Germany focused its funds elsewhere. Many planes were tested in real combat situations. And Germany also learned that even with air superiority, a bomber force still required a fighter escort. But most instrumental were the 19,000 Luftwaffe personnel who rotated through the Condor Legion until the Republicans surrendered in January 1939, leaving the Fascists and Franco in power. Several months later, these veterans of the Spanish Civil War would be flying over Poland, Czechoslovakia, France, and the rest of Europe--an experienced, well-trained air force fighting for Hitler.

Note: This thread is a remake. I am going to add more information and new pictures, but it will basicly contain all the data provided before.


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On July 17th 1936, a radio station in Morocco started broadcasting: "Above all Spain the cloudless sky". This phrase was a signal for the beginning of the fascist mutiny directed against the Spanish government. At the head of the revolt was general Francisco Franco, who had been a threat to the Spanish Republic. In the first few days it became possible to win the nationalists in larger part of the country as most of the population remained true to the government. However the fascist states, Italy and Germany, did not remain aside. They had started delivering Franco the newest arms: instruments, rifles, machine guns, fighters and bombers. Besides regular Italian infantry and aviation divisions participated in fights on the side of the rebels, the newly created "Condor Legion", a German air unit, started fighting as well. All this allowed the fascists to gain a number of victories over the army of the republicans that suffered from a shortage of arms and qualified officers. By November 1936, the nationalists were close to Madrid. Government aircraft were almost helpless against faster and more modern Heinkels, Fiats, Junkers and Savoias. Madrid was left open to a barbarous bombardment. The situation was desperate.

England, France and the USA, being afraid that a victory by the republicans could induce Spain into becoming communist, conducted a policy of non-interference: they did not help the lawful government and influenced other states to do the same. Indignant of this connivance to the rebels, volunteers of many countries (the USA, France, England, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Germany and others) made their way to Spain to help in the fight. However, without modern weapons, their struggle against counterrevolution could not hope to stop the rebels.

The Soviet Union decided to support the Spanish government in its struggle against fascism. To Spain there had gone the Soviet volunteers: pilots, tankmen, cavalrymen. From the end of October, 1936 the Soviet arms began to arrive. On November 4th, I-15 biplane fighters appeared. However because of the quantitative superiority of their opponents, they could not achieve any form of parity. The Soviet government then decided to send their newest fighters, the I-16, to Spain. Among the cargo on the ship, "Kursk", which has arrived on October, 25, there were 16 I-16 type 5 fighters, with another 15 arriving the next day on the "Blagoev" ship. Together with the planes there were pilots from the 1st (Bryansk) air brigade, aviation gasoline, oil, ammunition, as well as some refuelers and autostarters. The pilots assembled in 3 squadrons under Captain Tarhov. In just 4 days after arriving the planes were assembled, tested and prepared for battle.


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On November 9th 1936 the Soviet fighters intercepted 27 Junkers Ju52 bombers on their way to Madrid. The I-16s, wearing republican insignia, dived out of the sun and managed to shoot down 9 Ju52's, the rest dropping their bombs and scattering. The original design concept of the I-16 was showing through in Spain. Polikarpov's little fighter surpassed the enemy machines in speed, by 60 to 80kph (40 to 50mph), in rate of climb by about 200 meters per minute (600fpm) and had a comparable ceiling. Besides, the I-16 was the first fighter capable of fighting in the vertical plane, something Franko's biplanes couldn't equal. Fascist pilots were recommended not to enter combat with the I-16s, unless with a numerical advantage. But even in the latter case, victory was not always for the rebels.

New tactics were later developed by the I-16 pilots. "Falcon Impact" was initiated by one of the pilots, S.I. Gritsevets (later twice decorated as Hero of Soviet Union). It was simple enough, diving on the foe, shooting, then climbing again to retain the advantage (sometimes called 'boom and zoom' in western sources). Gritsevets new tactic was put to the test on August 14th 1938. A group of I-16s, under Gritsevets command, executed "falcon impact" in an attack so unexpected for the enemy, that the enemy group lost management and lost a number of machines. There were no I-16s lost. One more tactical method used by I-16s' pilots was of sneaking up to the enemy from below and using the "Ishachoks" (I-16) climbing ability to attack from below, ussually with complete surprise! At about this time the I-16 received the enemy nickname, "Rata" (from Spanish "Rat") as it seemed Soviet fighters were jumping out from the ground.

The I-16 was good but there was a growing list of 'defects' in its design. First was the armament. The first I-16 type 5's to arrive in Spain were armed with 2 x ShKAS machineguns of rifle caliber. So too did the Heinkel He 51. Although the Soviet guns had a higher rate of fire, "Ishachok" lagged behind from one of it's main opponents, the Fiat CR.32, equipped with two large-caliber (half inch) machine guns. The old theories based on the Great War's aircraft armament were quickly being laid to rest in this new fast paced air war. There were other problems. The self sealing fuel tank wasn't effective enough, the pilot armour couldn't withstand the heavy machine gun bullets, the visor was often smeared with oil and it's hood flopped around so it was often left open and the M-25 radial engine quickly failed due to heat, dust and intensive operations.

On May 7th 1937, 31 more I-16 type 5's arrived in Spain and a further 17 on May 21st, including 4 tandem seat UTI-4 trainers. By this time new Soviet and Spanish fighter pilots came to Republican forces (the Spaniards had passed retraining on the I-16 at a flight school in Kirovobad earlier). Early I-16s had structural problems with the wings, which caused a few pilot deaths. Aileron flutter being the most probable cause. On August, 10th 1937 there arrived a consignment of 62 I-16 type 5 fighters, in which this problem was cured, and during the same year, 30 I-16 type 6 with the supercharged M-25A engine and an open cockpit.

Since the winter of 1936/37 the situation in the air slightly changed. The fascist units had received the newest German fighter, the Messershmitt Bf.109. This plane had been sent to Spain almost at once after initial Luftwaffe acceptance, replacing the biplane Heinkel He.51. The first to arrive had been ex-prototypes, Bf.109V and the first serial aircraft, the Bf.109B. Surpassing the I-16 in speed (10-20 km/h, depending on height) and having equally effective armament as on I-16 type 5, the Messershmitt essentially conceded to the Soviet monoplane in rate of climb and maneuverability. Nevertheless, it was a strong enemy (due to the quantitative superiority of the enemy and skill of German pilots piloting the Bf.109). Answering the Messershmitt threat, the USSR started delivery of the new type 10 in March 1938. The I-16 type 10 had 4 x ShKAS machine guns and the up-rated M-25V engine, earning itself the new nickname, 'Super Mosca'. This was a much better fighter but faster improvements and development of the Messershmitt negated the Polikarpov's pride. There were 4 x Bf 109v's, 39 x Bf 109B's, 5 x Bf 109C's, 36 x Bf 109D's and 44 x Bf 109E's sent to Spain. It was this last variant, the 'E', which appeared with the Frankists in the spring of 1939, that essentially surpassed the Polikarpov's fighter. Combat with the Bf 109 became possible only with very competent use of the I-16 advantages.


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One important advantage of "Ishachok" which helped in the struggle with the Messershmitts, was its radial engine. If a Bf 109 engine was hit, for example, in the cooling system then it would soon seize if the pilot couldn't land in time. The radial M-25 would keep running even with two or three cylinders out of action. It's wide area also provided protection during a frontal attack. The commander of the fourth I-16 squadron, Antonio Arias, wrote in his memoirs:

The Teruel front had large numbers of enemy aircraft. Armadas of Ju 52 bombers with heavy Italian and German fighter escort were hitting the seaports often....Before the start of our next sortie, I had requested from Sarausa, the use of two flights from the 1st squadron. He agreed without hesitation. Our 4th squadron and the six aircraft under Armando Velilla and Pedro Reuda, have risen into the sky in our "mosca's. Enemy fighters had appeared on course, earlier than we expected them. This time they made a frontal attack, something they didn't do often, we believe, because of their exposed engines and cooling systems. The 109's started turning to make deflection shots at us, exposing themselves in the process and allowing some of our pilots easy targets. The two formations broke into little 'dogfights', myself getting onto the tail of two 109's, after they had turned to the right in the initial attack, by using full left rudder, I lined up on the leader and hit him, causing a brief tail wagging before it dived out of control and crashed near Cubla".

The biggest problem with the I-16 in comparison with the Bf 109 was not so much the lower top speed but the slower rate of climb and lower ceiling. Because of this, German fighters at the higher altitudes have been practically inaccessible. To increase the altitude performance of the I-16, the Spaniards made a few modifications to the type 10. The Spanish government had received 24 "illicit" engines, "Wright - Cyclone" SGR 1820 F-54, equipped with superchargers, more powerful at altitude than the M-25 (the M-25 is a license copy of Wright's SGR 1820 F-3). In August of 1938, twelve engines have been fitted on "donkeys" of the 4th squadron, with a noticeable increase in rate of climb and ceiling. On these machines, oxygen devices were fitted, the mouth piece being a simple rubber tube (since then, 4th squadron were known as "a squadron of suckers", as they sucked the rubber tubes). After carrying out flight tests at heights of up to 8000 meters, it was discovered that the guns wouldn't work, caused by the gun grease freezing. Ground crew (engineer Lopez Smith) solved the problem by ducting hot air from the supercharger to the guns.

On September 18th, 1938, the 4th squadron, with twelve modified planes, attacked sixteen Bf 109's from altitude, shooting down four of them. The encounter included I-15s and other I-16s and the Germans lost eleven Bf 109's of the original sixteen in that dogfight. This caused a bit of a shock amongst the Germans, their height advantage now was lost. The modified I-16s were few in number but the Bf 109 pilots weren't to know this and 'Condor Legion' morale suffered as a result.

Besides the Bf 109's, the 'frankists' had recieved other modern monoplanes, the Heinkel He 112, the plane that lost in the Luftwaffe fighter contest but were now being sent to Spain. In November 1936, the pre-production aircraft, He 112 V-6 was sent and started flying operationally during ground attack sorties up until July 19th 1937 when it was written-off during a landing accident. It had been seen on the Northern and Central fronts and was good at its appointed task, with it's heavier armament, although wasn't involved in aerial combat. Another prototype had been used as well, He 112 V-9, between April and August of 1937 and again, only on ground attack.

Between November 1938 and January 1939, the nationalists had been assembling a new fighter group, 5-G-5, receiving 19 Heinkel He 112 B-1's and B-2's. Pilot training was complete by January 17th 1939. As the Republican airforce was by now only a shadow of it's former self, the He 112's were engaged in ground attack although at least one He 112 was brought down by I-16's during January 1939 with Luciano Tabernero Jerrero. One I-16 was shot by He.112 (the winner was Garcia Pardo). The Franco fighter that must be also noticed in the article is Fiat G 50. This was a little bit late and a "novelty" plane that appeared in Spain in the beginning of 1939 with an Italian experimental group. Created actually as an opponent to the I-16, "Fiat" didn't have time to meet it in the Spanish sky as the Air Forces of the Spanish republic had lived their last days.


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Efficiency of the I-16 against bombers was at first rather high. The slow Ju.52, initially designed as transport, were an easy target for the Soviet monoplanes. I-16s, patroling at low-level would easily see the "Junkers" on a background of the sky, attacking them from below and behind from the dead zone, not leaving the frankist any chances. Therefore the "Junkers" had gradually been transferred to night bombing. A more worthy opponent, the Dornier Do.17, appeared in the spring of 1937 (20 x Do.17E-1 and 15 x Do.17F-1 were received). The Dorniers could fly at 350 kph meaning only the I-16 could counter this threat, attacks ussually from the rear as the Dornier was poorly defended in this area.

In 1937 the Condor Legion started using the Heinkel He111 (intially 30 B1's, increasing with 95 B2's and 35 other marks) The Heinkels had good speed, an effective defensive arc with their guns and better protection for the fuel tanks and engines. Besides, while the He 111's were flying, the Spanish republic air force was beginning to loose air superiority so attacking the Heinkels on the level plane was abandoned. One method that had some success was an attack, "in the forehead" after a dive from height. With only one forward gun, this was the weakest point in the He 111's armour and a good chance to hit the crew in the nose. However, it did require a good eye and nerves of steel as the high approach speed only allowed for about 3 seconds of fire from the I-16 type 10's 4 machine guns. In that 3 seconds, those 4 ShKAS guns could only fire about 140 shots so the aim had to be spot on. The exit after attack was also hazardous as the rear gunners would often have a clear shot, even if for just a second and with a lot of deflection. On August 13th 1938, a He 111 was forced to land with the help of a few 'Ishaks', was captured and subsequently delivered to the USSR and thoroughly studied.

There were 422 I-16 aircrafts sent from USSR (129 x type 5, 157 x type 6, 136 x type 10 and 4 x UTI-4 trainers). These aircraft were shipped out but in 1938, frankist warships made this hazardous so French ports were accepting the Soviet cargos which then went via road or rail to the Spanish border. The French government periodically closed its borders to arms shipments and planes were lost in transit. Spanish ports received 276 I-16s, more coming through France but many stayed in that country, caught up on border issues. One estimation of the numbers of I-16's that actually arrived in Spain is at about 350 but it's broadly accepted that only about 293 made it. (I-16s in Spain were serialled randomly). The Spanish government tried to organize the manufacture of I-16s, at a factory, SAF-15, in Alicante. Up to the end of 1938, only 4 planes had been made. These were type 10 copies but with only 2 machine guns. 10 more were made up until the end of the war but none of these machines saw combat.


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Survivors and Replicas:

In the early 1990s, New Zealand pilot and entrepreneur Tim (later Sir Tim) Wallis' Alpine Fighter Collection organised the restoration of six I-16s and three I-153s to an airworthy condition, this project being completed in 1999 as the third and final I-153 arrived in New Zealand. After a spectacular international debut at the Warbirds Over Wanaka airshow in 1998 (for the I-16s) and 2000 (for the I-153s), some of the aircraft were sold off around the world, to the Commemorative Air Force in the U.S. (as pictured above), to Jerry Yagen of Virginia, and an I-16 to Spain, where it is held in the collection of the Fundación Infante de Orleans at Cuatro Vientos airport, Madrid, and is occasionally flown for the public. The Cuatro Vientos museum has a replica painted with the colours of both sides.


The simulator "Il2 forgotten battles" offers a spectacular short video with the spanish civil war as background. However it has serious mistakes since you can see a I-153 and a Tupolev TB-3 in republican markings, and neither of these planes took part in the SCW.


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The Polikarpov I-15 was a biplane fighter aircraft designed and produced by the Soviet Union during the inter-war years. She saw extensive combat experience during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and partook in the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) between China and Japan. The I-15 was still featured by the Soviet Air Force in the early 1940s and spent some time on the offensive as a ground attack aircraft during the Russo-Finnish Winter War. By the middle of World War 2, the I-15 had officially met her match against the modern monoplanes of the world and was on her way out. The I-15 series took on the nickname of "Chaika" which, when translated, became "Lapwing" or "Gull" in reference to her "gulled" upper wing assemblies.

Nikolai N. Polikarpov designed and produced a single-seat biplane fighter in 1927 known under the designation of "I-3". Its success was such that Polikarpov continued his design efforts in the field of aviation to ultimately deliver the similar, yet highly-improved, "DI-2" two-seat fighter of 1929. The DI-2 sported machine guns for an offensive and defensive sting - one mounted as a fixed, forward-firing emplacement for the pilot and a pair fitted to a flexible mounting for the rear gunner - very reminiscent of World War 1 scout aircraft design. Polikarpov was then assigned with other engineers to the "I-6" fighter project, an ambitious program to deliver a modern - mostly wooden - fighter platform by the middle of 1930. In true Soviet fashion, when the group failed to deliver on the project's goals, some 450 engineers were arrested - among them Polikarpov. Polikarpov received a death sentence and languished in Soviet prisons for a duration. Two months before this scheduled execution, he was relocated and had his sentence "lightened" to ten years of hard labor. He was assigned to develop the I-5 fighter with "Design Bureau 39".

What followed next was the melding of two design minds. Polikarpov joined forces with Dmitri Grigorovitch and ultimately devised the I-5 single-seat biplane fighter. The new aircraft exhibited excellent handling and flight characteristics, giving her naturally excellent maneuverability. Four PV-1 series 7.7mm machine guns were affixed to the design for maximum potency (two in the upper fuselage and two in the lower fuselage sides). The prototype was made airborne in April of 1930 and some 800 examples were ultimately produced. Such was the success of the I-5 that Polikarpov's sentence was further lightened to be conditional in nature. Subsequently, he was granted complete amnesty from his previous sentences and, more-or-less, became a "free" man in August of 1932.

Soviet engineer Andrei Tupolev began developing a modern monoplane fighter - the I-14 - all his own to fulfill a direct Soviet Air Force need. Requiring insurance against his design (fearing it could be delayed), he contracted for the development and construction of two biplanes - the "I-14A" and the "I-14B" - as stopgap safety measures. As fate would have it, Polikarpov himself received the task to work on the I-14A, relying primarily on his experiences with the successful I-5 airframe as his guide. The resulting I-14A design was an excellent, speedy fighter with great handling characteristics just as the I-5 before it. The I-14A prototype (also known as the TsKB-3bis) achieved first flight in October of 1933 was quickly one of the better fighter platforms around. Power was supplied from a Wright R-1820 Cyclone radial engine imported from America. In the end, both the I-14 and the I-14A were approved for quantitative production and Polikarpov's future in Soviet aviation lore was sealed.


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Polikarpov's aircraft was designated as the "I-15" and full-scale production ramped up in 1934. The powerplant of choice for production models became the Shvetsov M-22, a license-produced version of the British Bristol Jupiter radial piston engine - an engine not as powerful as the imported Wright radial but suitable for the little fighter airframe nonetheless. Production, however, spanned just a short four years.

Polikarpov's firm was eventually dismantled and closed in 1940, this said to be the work of Soviet politics. Polikarpov himself went on to become a professor at the Moscow Aviation Institute in 1943 before succumbing to cancer on July 30th, 1944. To his name, he would leave behind the I-15 and I-16 fighter designs - both playing crucial roles in the survivability of several nations. The I-15 prototypes became the TsKB-3bis and the TsKB-3ter. The former utilized an imported Wright engine while the latter was fitted with a more powerful Shvetsov M-25V radial piston engine. Initial production examples were noted by the basic designation of I-15.

The improved I-15bis followed the base I-15 with testing in 1934. The type was delivered in production form in 1937 with a new more powerful Shvetsov M-25V engine that boosted the airframe's maximum speed. I-15bis was noted for her longer engine cowling and contoured spats on the main landing gear legs as well as a straight upper wing assembly (as opposed to the "gulled" appearance of the former production model). Armament was centered around 4 x 7.62mm PV-1 or ShKAS series machine guns and there was provision for up to 330lbs of external underwing ordnance when in the fighter-bomber role. Some 2,408 examples of this refined machine were produced in all.

The I-15 was modernized to an extent in the 1938 proposed "I-152". However, this model was not selected for quantitative production and existed in a single prototype form. The I-152GK was similar though fitted with an enclosed pressurized cabin for improved higher altitude sorties. Once again, only a single example was ever produced. Another "one-off" system became the I-152TK, this fitting two turbochargers for improved engine output. The I-15ter (also I-153) was a developmental model of the I-15 featuring a retractable undercarriage. The UTI-1 was a limit-quantity, two-seat trainer conversion model of which twenty aircraft were produced - each with redundant student/teacher controls in separate tandem cockpits. None of these were used by the Soviet Air Force. Production of all I-15s ended in early 1939 to which some 3,313 examples were reportedly delivered, most made up of the I-15bis production models.


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The I-15 saw operation combat in the Spanish Civil War - to which the Soviet Union soon became involved in - and took on the nickname of "Chato" ("snub-nose"). The I-15 was fielded by the Republicans throughout the 1936-1939 conflict that also featured several key Nazi Germany war machines including the excellent Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter. Inexperienced pilots could learn to fly the Polikarpov I-15 very quickly and it was easy to take off and land. This new found excitement for the plane forced the Soviet Air Force to renew their manufacturing contract for more Polikarpov I-15's with a few modifications from Nicolay. The top wing was no longer gull-shaped, the M-25 750-hp engine was installed, and a new exhaust system added, to make up this new I-15bis

Initial I-15s deliveries began in October of 1936 and the type quickly established itself as a stout, reliable and heady performer. Combat garnered her a respectable reputation to the point that production facilities were set up on Spanish soil for license production of the nimble Soviet fighter - yielding a further 287 examples; the CASA Getafe factory was relocated to Alicante and then opened another in Sabadell (at the end of the war CASA production returned to Getafe). Even after the Nationalist victory in March of 1939, I-15s were still kept in service, utilized primarily as trainer. The improved I-15bis eventually made it to Spanish inventories and were nicknamed "Super Chatos" by their recipients.


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The Polikarpov R-Z was a Soviet reconnaissance bomber aircraft of the 1930s. It was a revised version of the Polikarpov R-5 which was built in large numbers between 1935 and 1937. It was used in combat during the Spanish Civil War as well as the Winter War and Battle of Khalkhin Gol. The R-Z or R-Zet was developed at the aircraft factory GAZ No 1 (State Aircraft Factory No 1) at Moscow as a development of, and a replacement for the Polikarpov R-5, the standard light reconnaissance bomber of the Soviet Air Force. Based on the R-5SSS, the most advanced variant of the R-5, the R-Z had a new, deeper, monocoque fuselage, with a sliding canopy for the pilot and fixed glazed fairing for the observer. The 544 kW (730 hp) M-17F engine (a licenced built copy of the BMW VI was replaced with the 611 kW (820 hp) M-34 engine. The R-Z first flew in January 1935 and was accepted for the Soviet Air Force in preference to the competing Kochyerigin LR, also an R-5 derivative. By the time production finished in spring 1937, 1,031 R-Zs had been built.

Like its predecessor the R-5, the R-Z was used in large numbers by both the Soviet Air Force and Aeroflot. Its first use in combat was during the Spanish Civil War, where 61 R-Zs were delivered to the Spanish Republicans from 1937, where they were nicknamed Rasante. These were heavily used, flying in tight formations and using co-ordinated defensive fire to defend against fighter attack, while returning individually at low levels. Although many R-Zs were damaged by ground fire, complete losses were relatively low with 36 surviving to be captured by the Nationalists at the end of the war in April 1939.


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The Tupolev ANT-40, also known by its service name Tupolev SB (Russian: Скоростной бомбардировщик - Skorostnoi Bombardirovschik - "high speed bomber"), and development co-name TsAGI-40, was a high speed twin-engined three-seat monoplane bomber, first flown in 1934. The design was very advanced, but lacked refinement, much to the dismay of crews and maintenance personnel - and of Stalin, who pointed out that "there are no trivialities in aviation".

Numerically the most important bomber in the world in the late 1930s, the SB was the first modern stressed-skin aircraft produced in quantity in the Soviet Union and probably the most formidable bomber of the mid-1930s. Many versions saw extensive action in Spain, the Republic of China, Mongolia, Finland and at the beginning of the War against Germany in 1941. It was also used in various duties in civil variants, as trainers and in many secondary roles. Successful in the Spanish Civil War because it outpaced most fighters, the aircraft was obsolete by 1941. By June 1941, 94% of bombers in the Red Army air force (VVS RKKA) were SBs.

The SB was an all-metal monoplane powered by two Klimov M-100 12-cylinder water-cooled engines (license production version of Hispano-Suiza 12-Yrds engine) which drove fixed-pitch two-bladed metal propellers. The engines were provided with honeycomb-type frontal radiators enclosed by vertical thermostat-controlled cooling shutters. At an early production stage, the M-100 engine gave place to an improved M-100A engine, driving ground-adjustable three-pitch propellers, with speed being boosted to 423 km/h (263 mph) at 4,000 m (13,000 ft).


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While only 54 SBs had been delivered to the Soviet Air Forces by 1 July 1936, this did not stop the new Tupolev bomber being amongst the first shipments of military equipment sent by the Soviet Union to support the Spanish Republicans when the Spanish Civil War broke out on 17 July 1936. An initial batch of 31 SBs arrived in Cartagena aboard the Soviet Freighter Komsomol in October 1936, flying their first mission, a bombing raid by four SBs against Tablada airfield, Seville on 28 October. The SBs were used to equip Groupo 12 of the Spanish Republican air force, which at first was mainly manned by Soviet volunteers and under Soviet control.

The SB could outpace the Fiat CR.32 and Heinkel He 51 biplane fighters of the nationalist forces, and was therefore difficult to intercept, with dives from high altitude being the only way to intercept the SB. On 29 May 1937 two SBs attacked the German pocket battleship Deutschland, mistaking it for the Nationalist cruiser Canarias, killing 31 and injuring a further 83 German sailors. In June–July, a second consignment of 31 SBs were received, allowing Groupo 12 to return to full strength, and a new unit, Groupo 24, to be established. The delivery of Messerschmitt Bf 109s to re-equip the German Condor Legion meant that the SB could no longer evade Nationalist fighters by sheer speed, and losses rose.

A third and final batch of 31 SBs arrived in June 1938, allowing operations to continue, although losses continued to be high. By the time the Civil War ended in March 1939, 73 SBs had been lost, 40 of them to enemy action. Nineteen SBs were taken over by the Nationalists, and used to form a bomber squadron. Although some were re-engined with French Hispano-Suiza 12Ybrs engines to aid maintenance, they were still subject to spares shortages, and in April 1943 only three were airworthy. When Junkers Ju 88s were received in December 1943, the remaining SBs were used for occasional training flights until withdrawn and scrapped in 1948.


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The Bréguet XIX was two-seater light bomber and as a reconnaissance aircraft, first rolled out in 1923. A very successful metal biplane, it stayed in operational service for fifteeen years. More than 2,000 Breguet 19's were manufactured in France, and about 700 license-built in Spain, Belgium, and Yugoslavia. In addition to those countries, it served in the air forces of Poland, Romania, Greece and China (seventy by a Manchurian warlord). In the Spanish civil war the Bréguet XIX was employed on both sides. In other foreign air forces it was still employed until the forties.

The design of the Breguet 19 followed on the successful Breguet 14, a World War One bomber. M. Vuillerme led the design team, working in Velizy-Villacoublay. The prototype appeared in the 7th Salon d'Aeronautique in November 1921, impressing all with it duralumin structure. It was a bit of hybrid aircraft: metal frame and spars, which likewise covered the front half of the fuselage, while the large upper wing and rear section the fuselage were covered with fabric. With a huge upper wing and smaller lower, the Breguert 19 was of a style sesquiplane, i.e. a plane with "one-and-a-half" wings. In prototype, a single Breguet-Bugatti 450 HP, 16-cylinder, V-engine powered a four-bladed propeller. When that engine vibrated excessively in test flight, the designers replaced it with a Renault 12-cylinder.

Duraluminum fuselage frame and wing spars made the two-seater Bréguet XIX lightweight and very fast, faster than most contemporary fighters. The open cockpit had with two seats, one behind the other and was located immediately under a cutaway in the trailing edge of the upper wing. These first two variants (Br. 19 A2 reconnaissance plane and Br. 19 B2 bomber) were the most numerous, and were practically identical. They used a variety of engines, the most popular being the 400 hp Lorraine-Dietrich 12Db inline V12. It attained top speeds of 133 MPH and an operational range of 500 miles. It could take up to 900 kg of bombs; and the machine guns served for attack as well as for defence purposes.

When the French introduced the Breguet 19, they knew that a large market for military aircraft was opening up. A Yugoslav general looked them over even while in pre-production. Spain quickly negotiated a license to build their own models. When production started, demand was so great that Breguet sub-contracted out production with another French firm. Deliveries to the French Aviation Militaire started in mid 1924; within three years equipping 46 squadrons of light bombers and reconnaissance planes. Foreign orders poured in: Yugoslavia wanted 100, Romania 50, the central Chinese government 4, but in Manchuria, Marshal Chang Tso-lin took 70. Poland's airforce in the mid Twenties, consisted primarily of 250 Bre. 19s; these also set a number of long-distance records.


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Spain bought a prototype and a license already in 1923, and started production in CASA works, in A2 and B2 variants. First 19 aircraft were imported, then 26 completed from French parts, then 177 manufactured (50 of them had Hispano-Suiza engine, the rest 127 - license-built Elizalde - Lorraine-Dietrich 12Eb engine). Breguet 19s were basic equipment of Spanish bomber and reconnaissance units until the initial period of the Spanish Civil War. In July 1936 there were 135 in service. They were actively used as bombers during the war, especially on the government (Republican) side. In 1936, the Nationalists bought additional 20 Br.19 from Poland. With an advent of more modern fighters, Br.19 suffered big losses, and around 1937 were withdrawn from frontline service. Republican side lost 28 aircraft, and Nationalists lost 10 (including 2 Republican and 1 Nationalist aircraft, that deserted). Remaining aircraft were used for training until 1940.


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In 1924 Nieuport produced a design for a single seat sesquiplane fighter, the Nieuport-Delage N-42, which was ordered in small numbers for the French air force, entering service in 1927. Nieuport produced two refined versions in 1927, the mixed construction (wood and steel tube) N-52 and the Nieuport-Delage N-62, which had a similar all-wooden structure to the NiD 42. While France preferred the N-62, and purchased it in large numbers, the N-52 won a competition for a new fighter for Spain in 1928.

In the 30s Nieuport tried to keep pace with the evolution of the same biplane design but faced a number of financial setbacks. After having tried some unsuccessful versions, around 1931, introduced the N-52 as the fastest fighter of these days. Actually the only revolutionary element was the significant reduction of the lower wing surface and the change from the rotary engines (cylinders placed around the shaft) to the line engines (cylinders placed parallel to the shaft). This later feature could reduce the frontal air resistance and allow engines with more cylinders. However, it was doing only some 150 kn which although considered satisfactory before 1930 were largely exceeded by the both biplane and monoplane fighters in 1935. Besides, pilots who flew with it in combat were not happy with its maneuvering abilities

France did equip some of its air fighter units with the N-52 in the beginning of the 1931 but moved to other types after 1935. The only important export success for the N-52 were 125 planes sold to the Spanish government just before the Spanish Civil War. These planes took part in the first air fighting in the summer of 1936 in Spain and stayed active with the colors of both sides practically until the end of 1937. In Barcelona one squadron of N-52 was active until 1938, defending the city from Italian raids from their bases on the Baleares. The N-52 developed to the N-62 version to correct some maneuvering characteristics of the previous version and the company tried even some other ones but none has flown during WWII as biplanes were considered outdated. Then the factory was merged and the Nieuport fighter versions production was terminated


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One of the most famous military aircraft of the inter-war period, the Potez 25 was developed from the Potez 24 A.2-category prototype, which had been designed by Louis Coroller and flown in 1924. The refined Potez 25 prototype was built at the new Potez factory at Meaulte and flew for the first time in early 1925. An unequal-span biplane, the Potez 25 had an engine mounting capable of taking a wide variety of powerplants in the 298kW to 447kW range. The carefully contoured fuselage accommodated pilot and observer/gunner close together in tandem cockpits beneath a cut-out in the trailing edge of the upper wing centre section. The new cross-axle landing gear had specially designed Potez shock absorbers.

In all, 87 variants of the type were developed for military and civil use, and over 3,500 examples were built in France, most at the Potez factory, but others under licence by A.N.F. Les Mureaux and Hanriot. Abroad, 300 Potez 25s were licence-built in Poland, 200 in Yugoslavia, 70 in Romania and 27 in Portugal. Other countries which used French-built aircraft included China, where the type was used against the Japanese; Paraguay, where it operated against the Bolivian air arm; Uruguay; Greece; Ethiopia, which flew a small number against the invading Italian troops in 1935; Switzerland, which retained the type in service until 1940; and Estonia. In addition test examples were sold to the Soviet Union and some dozen other countries. Many of the exported and licence-built Potez 25s were of the B.2 two-seat light bomber version.

About 20 Potez 25 Salmson, and maybe some Lorraine engined Potez 25 were directly delivered from French stocks to the Spanish, serving mainly in Northern Spain, and some Potez 25 Jupiter were acquired from Estonia. All were already badly worn out. At least one Potez25TOE was brought by a French defector to the Nationalist rebels inTetuan and sported thereafter the Nationalist crosses and black disks.


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