The War Between the Wars

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

Both sides liked cartoon characters, like the one on this Republican Chato. (NASM (SI 80 12995))
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In the ADAR office's main room, Gregorio Gutiérrez García sits at a large table. Now 91, he was part of  the second expedition to the Soviet Union, going over in late 1937.  At the Spanish airman's school in Kirovabad he was Gutin Gregoriev, or "Guti." He returned to Spain in mid-1938.

Before going to the Soviet Union, he had fought on the Madrid front with the International Brigade. Did that mean he was political?

He shakes his head emphatically. "The first expedition was political. The second was not. I did not take part in communism."

Joaquin Calvo Diago comes in, very thin in a blue suit and sweater, his skull evident beneath the skin. He has a huge grin and his memory is crystal clear. He was in the same expedition as Gutiérrez, but went to Chatos, not Katyushkas. He was called Yokuv Calvin.

Was Calvo political?

He makes a face and shrugs. "I was a kid. I knew nothing." But he liked the training. "Three months at the Soviet school was better than three years in the Spanish one."

Guti and Calvo joined the fight in late summer 1938, and by the end of that year, not a single Russian pilot remained in Spain. "When we were ready, all the Soviet pilots went home," Calvo says. "Italians had complete units, Germans also. But by now the Republican pilots were all Spanish."

With the Republicans still reeling from the disaster at Teruel, Franco launched an offensive aimed at slicing off Catalonia, on the French border, from the rest of the country. All of the Condor Legion's Heinkel He 111s, Dornier Do 17s, and Heinkel He 51s were dedicated to the attack, along with something new: the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive-bomber, in combat for the first time.

Republican forces were driven southward along the Ebro River. A daring counterattack beginning in July 1938, staged with little protection from enemy aircraft, lasted bravely for four months before ending in defeat. It was the government's last major offensive against the fascist rebels.

Calvo, who came to lead the Republican fighter forces, still feels fond of the little biplane that got him through the war: "The Chato is simpático"—nice. "The Mosca," and his hands pretend to haul back on a heavy wheel, "very hard; stronger." The Chato—more hand gestures—"was very maneuverable against the 109 [the Messerschmitt Bf 109]. It climbed well." His Chato hand moves around behind his Messerschmitt hand and takes an imaginary bite. Another big grin.

About Carl A. Posey

Novelist and award-winning science writer Carl A. Posey was the author of seven published novels, a number of non-fiction books, and dozens of magazine articles. He was a licensed pilot and an Air & Space magazine contributor for more than 30 years, beginning with its second issue in 1986. Posey died on February 9, 2018.

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