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Both sides liked cartoon characters, like the one on this Republican Chato. (NASM (SI 80 12995))

The War Between the Wars

In the skies over Spain, pilots and airplanes rehearsed for World War II.

José Bravo got another war. When Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Bravo and other Spanish airmen living in Russia served as partisans until a chance encounter with a former Soviet boss put them back in fighters. The last airplane Bravo flew was a Bell P-39 Airacobra, in 1948.

In the mid-1950s, Spanish exiles began returning to their homeland, through a program of repatriation arranged by the International Red Cross. Bravo returned in 1960, and was promptly interrogated about Soviet military facilities (the cold war had made Franco an ally of the West) put under surveillance, and allowed to work only as a language professor and translator.

"When Franco died" in 1975, Gutiérrez says, "the government let us reclaim our rights." He is listed on the Spanish air force rolls as a retired comandante. Calvo and Bravo are retired air force colonels. Largely because of the efforts of these men to win recognition for their accomplishments, Spain now recognizes the ranks and pensions of all Republican veterans.

As for the victors, the German Condor Legion went home in May 1939, followed by the Italians. Germany would invade Poland in September, a month after cutting a non-aggression deal with Stalin. In the war that followed, Luftwaffe pilots would refine the tactics they had introduced in the skies over Spain.

But the "Stuka mentality"—the belief that one could dive-bomb and blitz the enemy into submission—proved a fatal delusion. Germany continued to rely on medium bombers, having used them successfully in Spain. The Germans had no armadas of long-range B-17s and Lancasters in the next world war, so there were no British Dresdens or Hamburgs. Ironically, the Condor Legion's Spanish victories helped sow the seeds of Hitler's ultimate defeat.

Longtime contributor Carl Posey writes from Alexandria, Virginia.

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