Dear reader, in this text we will try to remember the fabulous history of Messerschmitt Bf 109s made in Spain, which gave rise to two models of aircraft such as HA-1109 and HA-1112, with its consequent subvariants.
Thanks to the tenacity and the need of the Spanish Government to have combat aircraft, it was possible to maintain on the first line until 1965 an airplane whose origin was 30 years earlier.
It is a recognized fact that the Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter was one of the first modern fighters, in addition to having the honor of being the fighter built in greatest number in all history (reaching almost 35000 units without counting their Spanish derivatives). Its good flight performance gave it the opportunity to fight in the skies of Europe during World War 2 (WW2) being the spearhead of the German fighter for several years (in conjunction with the Focke Wulf Fw 190) thanks to the continuous updates that kept it in production until the end of the war (being one of the aircraft that more air victories accumulated during its operational use getting to be a dangerous rival for the Spitfire and Hurricane during the Battle of Britain in the Bf 109 E version, or the whip of the Soviet skies with the Bf 109 F, or being a worthy rival against aircraft as powerful as the Mustangs and Thunderbolt with the versions Bf 109 G and Bf 109 K) and subsequently continued in service until well into the 50s in countries like Romania (until Moscow decided to avoid the presence of fighters of German origin in the Romanian air force), Switzerland or Finland. Another important fact was the reuse of airframes of the Bf 109 that had been built during WW2 by Germany and that were becoming scrap in countless scrapyards throughout Germany; to this group belong the Czechoslovak Bf 109s (S 99). But three new aircraft based in the Bf 109 were manufactured in Spain that enlarged the Bf 109 life about 20 years. They will be as we can see throughout these pages, the Bf 109 Spaniards who continued in active service until 1965 coexisting with the 2nd and the 3rd jet generation first aircraft.
Beginning the story from the start, it is mandatory to remember that the Bf 109first prototype, the Bf 109 V1 flew in May 1935, powered by a Rolls Royce Krestel engine. Its creator was Willy Messerschmitt in collaboration with Walter Rethel, a design engineer from the Plow factory. Before starting to deep inside our text, it is important to remember that the Bf 109s were originally manufactured by Willy Messerschmitt at the Bayerische Flufzeugwerke, so these superb fighters were officially baptized with the abbreviation Bf until 1938, which began to be called acronyms Me. The change of initials was motivated by the great prestige of the German engineer who had created the aircraft. In this text, we will refer to Bf 109 or Me 109, as Bf 109 since the aircraft arrived in Spain in 1936 when still Willy Messerschmitt was not yet the owner of the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke.
The new German fighter came after the request of the German Air Ministry (RLM) of a high-performance modern fighter to replace the Luftwafe German fighters fleet as the Heinkel He 51 and Arado Ar 68. This design arose after a contest held by the RLM and it did not take time to the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke to start making improved versions of the Bf 109. Among its first versions, the Bf 109B, C and D models stood out, which would soon be used in combat.
The flights of the first prototypes of Bf 109; the V1, V2 and V3, were made between May 1935 and May 1936. Just a couple of months later the Spanish Civil War (SCW) broke out in Spain, and the similar ideology of the rebel side with the German government led to Germany’s decision to try in authentic combat conditions the new Luftwaffe jewel. Thus, at the end of 1936, three of the ten built prototypes were sent to Spain experimentally (among them the model Bf 109 V4, with Jumo 210 A engine of 610 HP, two machine guns Rheinmetall MG-17 in the wings of 7, 9 mm and a 20 mm MG/FFM cannon, which fired through the propeller hub); to those who would join during the first months of the following year the airplanes of the series B (Bf 109 B). The German support to the rebellious side in the Spanish Civil War was very important in all aspects, but with regard to air warfare, materialized in the so-called “Legion Condor”. Specifically, in the “Condor Legion” Jagdgruppe 88 that was where the Bf 109s were deployed, forming the first operational squadrons with the production Bf 109B.
The arrival of new Bf 109 occurred steadily, and not only from the initial B model, but from the more modern models C and D. Obviously the German aid to the National side (insurgents) materialized in the “Legion Condor” was very important , but also the Germans obtained a great information of the behavior of the Bf 109 in combat and therefore of the possible improvements that had to be made to him. The learning of the Luftwaffe in the SCW not only to the development of this particular plane, but to the tactics of air war in general.
Although the Bf 109s were fighting in Spain, even these planes did not do it with the Spanish national badge since they belonged to the Luftwaffe. The interest of the National side in the acquisition of these modern airplanes fructified when from 1938 they began these airplanes to happen at the hands of Spanish pilots flying in the 6 Fighter Group. The Germans did not raise objections to the sale of the airplanes, already that they were already working on the development of the new version of Bf 109, the Bf 109 E (which was the main German fighter at the beginning of WW2).
Following the history of the Bf 109 in Spain, in April 1938, five Bf-109 C (equipped with an injection engine and armed with four machine guns) arrived at the Tablada airfield in Sevilla (Seville in English) and in August the most modern ones began to arrive. Bf-109 D (equipped with carburetion engine and armed with four machine guns). The Tablada aerodrome together with its neighbour El Copero aerodrome, will witness for almost 30 years the flights of the iconic fighter designed by Willy Messerschmitt, from the time of the biplanes to the first supersonic flights.
Spanish aviation after the Spanish Civil War
After the bloody Spanish Civil War that took place between 1936 and 1939, Spain had been exhausted and destroyed after declaring the end of the war on April 1. But due to the war years, it had accumulated a large amount of very heterogeneous war material. Regarding the Air Force (known as National Aviation during the Civil War), we can assure that according to the report sent on February 9, 1940 by the Spanish Air Force general director, it had 1148 aircraft of 95 different models that turned the Spanish Air Force (by number of airplanes) into one of the most numerous in Europe after Germany, Great Britain, France or Italy. The aircraft heterogeneity and the lack of resources led to a high accident rate reaching 105 crew members in the period 1939-1945. At that time, there were more plans than pilots.
The National Aviation (this was the denomination of the Spanish Air Force of the side of the insurgents) received approximately 39 Bf 109 B, five Bf 109 C and 36 Bf 109 D. At the end of the SCW in 1939, the state of conservation in which they were Bf 109 Spaniards was terrible due to the constant use they had. Of the planes received, 9 had been shot down during the war, 26 were retired for various reasons and about 15 were sent to Germany for various repairs. Despite this, from the “Legion Condor” were transferred to Spain 27 Bf 109 in their models A, B, E-1 and E3 (note the modern Bf 109 E in its first versions E-1 and E-3 ) that were finally deployed within the National Aviation, which shortly after (in October 1939) would be renamed Air Force (Ejército del Aire or EdA or Spanish Air Force), going to 25 Group in Logroño, and fighter schools in Reus and Morón de la Frontera (some Bf 109 of which fought during the SCW remained in flight until 1954). In the Spanish Air Force, the 3 Bf 109 Squadrons coexisted with their old rivals of Soviet manufacture I-15 or I-16, being at the end of 1939 the most modern and powerful fighters that flew in Europe. But in September 1939 the WW2 began and with it the developments and advances in armament technology evolved with such speed, that in just a few months the Spanish Bf 109s had become obsolete before the mass appearance of more modern German fighter models.
But we have to start from the beginning, so on August 8, 1939, the Air Ministry was created, with General Juan Yagüe, a Legion veteran and Germanophile, elected as minister (this election was surprising, since the initial candidate was General Kindelán who had directed the National Aviation during the Civil War, which created some discomfort among the Spanish pilots to feel discriminated). On October 7, 1939 by State´s Headquarters law, the Air Force (EdA) was born. Its assignments included “the fundamental one to develop all its offensive power by means of its air units”. On November 9, the Aviation Weapon was created, as the main element and axis of the EdA. On December 15, the Aeronautical Engineers Corps was created within the EdA.
Before his appointment, Yagüe had traveled to Germany as part of the Spanish mission that accompanied the return of the Legion Condor. There, he took the opportunity to learn many details of the Luftwaffe structure and organization, which was the example to be followed by military aviation in Spain. During the 10 months that General Yagüe led the ministry (he was ceased in June 1940 and replaced by Juan Vigón who was not an aviator either), he drew the operational and organizational lines to be followed by the EdA, which was none other than the one of the German Luftwaffe. Although many of Yagüe’s ideas were finally fulfilled (his plan marked the development of the EdA in the following years after WW2), one of the illusions that was evidently never fulfilled was getting 5,000 aircraft in the EdA in a time of only 5 years since his arrival at the ministry.
Spain during World War 2
The Spanish situation that was decreed at the beginning of the world conflict in September 1939 was neutrality despite the fact that a good part of the Germanophile population existed in Spain; in that decree we can read that “knowing officially the state of war that unfortunately exists between England, France and Poland on one side, and Germany, on the other, is hereby ordered, the strictest neutrality to the Spanish citizen”.
After the important Allies defeats against the German Army, on June 12, 1940 Spain went to “non-belligerency” situation, in a similar way to how Italy did before joining the world conflict. Despite the first step that Spain took towards Germany, the negotiations for the entry into the war carried out with Von Ribbentrop did not culminate in the union of Spain with the Axis due to lack of understanding (voluntary or not) on both sides.
The events were developing at great speed in Europe and on June 25, 1940 the armistice came in France. In October 1940 Hitler and Franco met in the French town of Hendaye with the intention that Spain would join Germany in the war (as happened with Mussolini in Bordighera in February 1941), but the Spanish demands prevented the pact. For this reason, the situation in which Spain was facing Germany was quite complex.
It is true, according to Neulen, that Spain was possibly the only country in which a large part of the population saw Germany’s attack on the USSR with satisfaction. The Spanish Civil War (SCW) was very recent (it ended on April 1, 1939) and the USSR had helped the defeated side. The winning side (the Nationalists) under Francisco Franco command was clearly opposed to communism and of course to the country that was the communism symbol: the USSR.
The invasion of the Soviet Union decreased the pressure that Adolf Hitler performed on Francisco Franco, by means of the shipment of an expeditionary force to Russia. This step was considered by the Germans at the beginning as a first step for the gradual entry of Spain into the war. Also this troops shipment to integrate in the German Army, would allow them to “pay” indirectly part of the debt contracted by Spain with Germany in concept for the help of Germany in the SCW to the Nationalist band.
It is a known fact, although most of the Spanish population is not familiar with it, the existence of the Spanish Volunteers Division, (popularly known as the Blue Division or División Azul) that emerged as a response to popular clamor on part of the Spanish population that after the German army attack to the USSR in June 1941, showed the desire to fight the Soviets
Due to the great popular enthusiasm that was generated, little effort was necessary to recruit its members among the military and thousands of volunteers who prepared to sign their names in the recruitment offices that were created for that purpose. Among these volunteers, there were some soldiers who had not fought in the Spanish Civil War and wanted to prove to themselves and their comrades that they were capable of going to the front. It is said that some young officers fresh out of the Academy, faced with the war in the world, did not agree to let this opportunity that was presented to them pass by. Also in young university students with a desire for adventure, or with the romantic ideal of defending convictions such as God and Homeland, they strongly grasped the idea of enlisting in the Spanish Volunteers Division that was integrated within the German army with the denomination of Infanterie Division 250 (Infantry Division 250).
As an element of support to the Spanish ground forces, it was decided to also create an air unit to accompany them on the battle front. For this reason, an air component corresponding to a Fighter Squadron was created; officially called the Expeditionary Squadron in Russia and popularly known as the Blue Squadron (Escuadrilla Azul). We will see later how the Spanish infantry never received the support of their compatriots from the Blue Squadron, even though that was the intention of the Spanish Government.
We have already commented the political situation of Spain during the years of the WW2, so in this chapter, without further delay, we will narrate the participation of Spanish pilots in the world conflict. The winning side in the SCW commanded by General Franco, was evidently close to the German (after the aid of both Germany and Italy in the Spanish conflict) so after the German invasion of the USSR in 1941, as well as the organization of The Blue Division, the Blue Squadron was also created to provide air support to its Blue Division compatriots who fought in the north of the USSR (a fact that would never come to true since the Spanish air unit remained in central Russia, despite the requests of the Spanish Government to be added to the Blue Division). This decision was made at the last moment as Blue Division initial location was also the Central sector, which caused some upset among the volunteers. The Expeditionary Squadron should be the equivalent of a Luftwaffe Staffel, although it was not like a Staffel in reality.
During the SCW, the National Aviation had learned a lot from its Italian comrades and especially from the Germans. One of the aspects that were assimilated by the newly created EdA to impose them on their Blue Squadron was the rotation of the pilots. The pilots of the Legion Condor were rotated every time period with the intention that the maximum number of pilots could take part in the SCW and therefore accelerate their learning and handling of modern aircraft. In the same way, the Spanish Expeditionary Squadron acted during its participation in WW2 within the Luftwaffe. For this reason we should not really talk about the Blue Squadron, but about the Blue Squadrons, since there were 5 Spanish squadrons that fought in the Russian skies throughout their stay on the Eastern front between September 1941 and March 1944 approximately, every six months a Squadron was relieved with the following one.
The 5 Squadrons operated in the USSR without having any relationship with their comrades in the Blue Division, since their actions were developed in the Army Group Center sector during such important moments as the German offensive on Moscow or the battles of Kharkov, Smolensko and Kursk.
The Spanish Expeditionary Squadrons or Blue Squadrons had the opportunity to fly different aircraft models while fighting in the skies of Russia.
There were six main aircraft models: Messerschmitt Bf 109 E7, Messerschmitt Bf 109 F2, Messerschmitt Bf 109 F4, Focke Wulf Fw 190 A2, Focke Wulf Fw 190 A3 and Messerschmitt Bf 109 G6. All the planes were the same as those used by other units of the Luftwaffe, although it is true that when the Spaniards used the E model, some Luftwaffe units already used the F; or when the Spanish used the F, and some German units used the Fw 190. Only the 1st Squadron, the 2nd Squadron and the 5th Squadron flew the Bf 109s, scoring more than 27 destroyed Soviet planes during their combat period.
The main Bf 109s that were flew by the Spanish pilots were:
Messerschmitt Bf 109 E7: the Spanish pilots of the 1st Squadron managed to adapt more easily to this Bf 109 model since during the SCW it was already used in Spain. In addition the EdA had several Bf 109 E1 and E3, so there were several pilot officers who already knew about the use of the plane.
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