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Old 5th December 2014, 16:29
GuerraCivil GuerraCivil is offline
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True air combat records of Spanish Civil War?

Spanish Civil War in many ways a interesting chapter of airwar. Various types of planes were put in combat and tested - the war represented the last classical dogfights between biplanes and introduced new fast monoplanes and bomber types. New tactics like "finger four" were developed. Also bombing technics like carpet and dive bombing were developed.

But how exact information we actually have? It would be interesting to know the real results of air combats of Spanish Civil War because on some total claims on certain type we know that they are "impossible".

For example I have checked some of the claims of Legion Condor (LC) + Italian Aviazione Legionaria (AL) made on I-16´s. The usual pattern of combat report of Legion Condor + Italian Aviazione Legionaria is that they fought almost always again numerical superiority but claimed often something like 4:1 to their advantage. It seems that enemy had almost unlimited supply of planes and pilots up to late 1938! Taking in account only the claims of Bf 109 pilots + Italian claims we end up with figure of 324 downed "Ratas", which is simply impossible because from Soviet/Republican sources we find out that Soviet delivered a total of 276 I-16 to Spain during the Civil War. (Maslov and others)

The Republican overclaiming seems to be even more grossly exaggerated. Only in the book Spanish Republican Aces (Permuy Lopez) we can find more than 70 claims of downed enemy Bf 109´s. However the LC losses of Bf 109 due to all causes were 40 (Laureau 2000), and of these less than 20 were combat losses. Accidents destroyed more Messerschmitts than enemy.

The Italian claims of 903 destroyed Republican planes have been considered exaggerated by various historians. One Italian historian has suggested 500 to be the correct figure, but even that may be too much. At the same their own losses were quite minimal compared to claims - only 78 losses in air combat during the whole Civil War (based on Pedriali 1992).

Also the numbers of combat strength of combatant air forces differ greatly depending on source. Forsyth (Aces of the Legion Condor) claims that by 1938 there were air armadas of more than thousand planes availabe by both sides. Forsyth also claims that Republicans had numerical superiority still in 1938 while some other sources indicate that this was not true. However Spanish historian Alcofar Nassaes ends up with much smaller quantities of combat aircrafts at both sides.

Has the scale of airwar and air combats been exaggerated in many sources which reflect somewhat propagandistic views of wartime? eeading some of the literature I have the feeling that it is still difficult to have really neutral and balanced views. Although first hand accounts are interesting, I have found that too often such "first-hand" accounts like German 1939 propaganda book Das Buch der Spanienflieger is cited without criticism or trying to analyze seriously the claims made by Legion Condor pilots.

The same goes regarding Republican pilots - we find exaggerations and controversial claims like that some captured Republican pilot were chopped in pieces, boxed and returned in that condition by airdrop to Republican air units! But letting that aside, I went through the Bf 109 claims of 18 Republican aces and of all of their numerous Bf 109 "kills" only one and half-share victory appears to be verified by Legion Condor records.

The true scale and true number of planes destroyed in air combats are very likely much lower than those claimed in past and cited without criticism in some sources.

When it comes to overclaiming, it is a general problem and its reasons are well known and discussed elsewhere, so I will not go here to it. The right methods and difficulties of analyzing available sources are quite the same as those of any history research trying to reach correct statistic info and details.

Thus my suggestion to go this problem, would be limiting the analysis in some subject like the air victory records of certain units of both sides and comparing them to available info of enemy loss records. Of course it is not as simple as that, but is a start. Another perhaps better possiblity would be to limit the search on some limited campaign like Brunete offensive during certain days.

My own data on this is only limited literature sources not containing information in perfect condition. It would be interesting to know if this subject has been touched in some articles or books.

Other threads related to this topic: - a complete list of confirmed and unconfirmed LC claims - rather controversial revision of LC history - a case study of Hannes Trautloft´s (LC) claims - a case study of José Maria Bravo´s (Rep.) claims

An example of controversial discussion. Republican ace José Falco and his two claims:

Other interesting stuff. Probably the best website on Republican Air Force:

And of course it may be good to check regularly the possible updates of Håkan´s Aviation page:

Last edited by GuerraCivil; 5th December 2014 at 22:02.
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