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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Another pilot, Francisco Tarazona, wrote a vivid account of what followed: "From the wreck of the downed Messerschmitt…the German pilot staggers away…. Wisps of smoke issue from his flying suit…. 'Kill me!' he cries…. Arias [another Mosca pilot] gets his pistol out.

" 'What are you going to do?' roars Bravo.

" 'Kill him! To put an end to his suffering,' " Arias replies, cocking his pistol.

" 'No! Let the bastard rot.' "

As they move away, Arias suddenly turns back. "He points the barrel of his pistol at the poor man's eyes, then fires one shot between them."

With no airplanes to fly, Bravo and his companions crossed the Pyrenees on foot. They were captured and interned in a camp at Gurs, just over the border in France. "The French tried to enlist some of the hundred or so pilots into their colonial army," recalled Bravo, who refused. "Better to be the last of the Republicans."

When the Soviet Union offered the pilots a Russian future, however, most were quick to accept. But Fernando Medina was among those who escaped and returned to Spain to await his fate. The crews were told that their aircraft were to be handed over to the Nationalist victors at Barajas, Madrid's major airport. On March 29, nine Katyushkas took off from the Republican base at San Clemente, along with six more from Tarazona, 12 Chatos, and a score of Natashas  (Polikarpov R-5s).

"We landed in Barajas in the early hours of the morning," Medina would recall. "We were ordered to form up and remove our flying gear, including our leather jackets. All our equipment was shared out among their soldiers."

The next day, the aircrews were taken to the prison at Porlier. "I was tried and sentenced to death in Valencia on August 25, 1939," said Medina. "For seven months I waited for the sentence to be carried out. Seven months of watching comrades and friends pass on their way to their execution."

In the offices at ADAR, Calvo crosses his wrists in pantomime. "At 20, I am in handcuffs." He nods playfully at Guti, who is slightly stouter. "The reason he is healthy is he was eating," Calvo says, hands moving over an imaginary bowl, "while I…" He imitates working a pick at hard labor.

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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