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GATWICK AND THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR

by Keith Palmer

 

When British Airways Ltd bought out the Continental interests of Crilly Airways in early 1936 they included its four Fokker F.XII aircraft. When they tried to sell them later that year, two attempts were made to buy them on behalf of the Nationalist side in the Spanish Civil War.

Crilly Airways was formed by Frederick Leo Crilly and began operating in early 1935, initially from Doncaster , but later from Braunstone Aerodrome, Leicester. It gradually introducing internal services to such places as London (Croydon), Norwich , Bristol , Nottingham, Northampton , Liverpool, Skegness and, on Sundays, Ipswich . Its fleet grew to three Dragons, three Monospar ST.25 Jubilees and a Fox Moth. However, it also had aspirations to operate international services. F Leo Crilly started discussions concerning services to Ireland , his home country, while looking for other routes not already operated by Imperial Airways and British Airways Ltd. He eventually chose the route to Lisbon in Portugal , which had the potential to be extended to North and West Africa and, perhaps, eventually across the South Atlantic to Brazil . A proving flight to Lisbon left Croydon on 3 December 1935 using Dragon G-ACLE following which an airmail contract was signed by F Leo Crilly with the Portuguese Government which would cut the time the mail took from 43 to nine hours. Unable to obtain suitable British aircraft in time for the proposed opening of the Lisbon route, he bought four Fokker F.XII aircraft second-hand from KLM who had replaced them with DC-2s. The four were registered G-ADZH to G-ADZK which were previously PH-AFV “Valk” (Falcon), PH-AFU “Uil” (Owl), PH-AIE “Ekster” (Magpie) and PH-AII “Ibis” respectively. The F.XII originally entered service in March 1931 and was a typical Fokker tri-motor of the period with up to 16 passenger seats. KLM had operated them on the route to the Dutch East Indies with four sleeper seats and on European routes with 14 seats.

Crilly originally announced a trial service departing on 28 December, but this was cancelled with bad weather given as the reason. It eventually left Croydon at 05.15 on 1 February 1936 with Captain G S Jones-Evans, Chief Pilot, flying G-ADZJ routing via Bordeaux and Madrid . They did not arrive until the next day, being forced to spend the night at Madrid where the aerodrome was too waterlogged to allow them to take-off. After being named “Lisboa” by the President's granddaughter, it left Sintra, the nearest suitable aerodrome to Lisbon , on the return journey on the 4 February arriving back at Croydon at 22.00. However, this was also the last service as the Spanish refused permission to fly over their territory. Reasons were not given, but it is believed the Spanish airline LAPE saw it as competition, as well as the deteriorating political situation in Spain playing a part.

Shortly afterwards F Leo Crilly agreed to sell his Portuguese operation to British Airways who formed subsidiary company British Airways (Iberia) Ltd on 3 April 1936 with Crilly as Managing Director. British Airways had a shortage of DH.86s at the time, so the Fokkers were used to supplement them on the Paris and Scandinavian routes from Croydon and, later, Gatwick, pending resolution of the problem with Spain . However, due to the political situation in Spain , the prospect of an early resumption of the route to Lisbon was remote, and with the delivery of the remaining DH.86s on order, the Fokkers became surplus to requirements. They were advertised in the issue of Flight magazine dated 16 July:

“FOUR FOKKER F XII with Wasp type C engines and Hamilton V.P. airscrews. Capacity 14 passengers and 2 crew. Completely equipped with wireless, blind and night flying equipment. All machines carry British and Dutch C's. of A. expiring in six months. Box No. 126, c/o “Flight”, Dorset House, Stamford Street , London , S.E.1.”

Although no price is quoted, it is believed that British Airways, who had paid Crilly £15,000 for the four, valued them at only £2,000 each. However, when the Spanish Civil War broke out two days later, their value rocketed. On 21 July Captain R H McIntosh (“All-Weather Mac”) flew a party of journalists to Burgos in Northern Spain in one of British Airways' Dragon Rapides so that they could report on the Nationalist side of the conflict. While there he was asked by General Mola, Commander of the Nationalist Forces on the Northern Front, whether he was aware of any aircraft for sale and McIntosh told him about the four Fokkers. Each day McIntosh flew the reporter's reports to Biarritz where he would phone them through to the newspapers, so, on his next visit, he telephoned Captain Dudley Taylor, the company's representative in Paris, about the Nationalist interest in the Fokkers so that it could be passed on to British Airways management at Gatwick. As they were talking of £60,000, Taylor suggested that they cut British Airways out of the deal by buying and re-selling them to the Nationalists themselves, but McIntosh would have none of it. Within a couple of days the company's agent in Lisbon , James Rawes and Co, had received an offer for the four aircraft of £38,000 ostensibly from the Marqués de Rivas de Linares . British Airways accepted this offer as it seemed more reliable.

On 28 July the Fokkers departed Gatwick at midday flown by Captains Pugh, Robinson, Marsh and King with a couple of radio officers and an engineer. Officially they were on delivery to the company's agent in Lisbon and the British Government had not objected as it was considered to be a commercial transaction. Two aircraft with smaller tanks refuelled at Jersey, while another staged via Paris to drop off Major J D MacCrindle, British Airway's Managing Director. Despite McIntosh's advice to avoid landing in France , MacCrindle had ordered that they land at Bordeaux to await confirmation that the money had been paid. However, Captain Taylor in Paris is believed to have let it slip that they were being delivered to the Nationalists and this got to the ear of the French Air Minister, Pierre Cot. The Minister, who was a Republican sympathizer, had them detained by the local Préfect just as they were about to depart the next day. After negotiations between the British and French governments agreement was reached on 1 August allowing them to return to Gatwick on the understanding they would not be sold to Spain . They departed Bordeaux at 09.30 the next day with an escort of French fighters to see that they headed in the right direction. They landed at Portsmouth at 13.30 where they refuelled before returning to Gatwick.

British Airways did not have to try hard to find new purchasers as offers came flooding in, due no doubt to the publicity. Almost before the aircraft had arrived back at Gatwick they received an offer from a French concern, Office Général de l'Air, the selling arm of the Potez Aeroplane company in which Pierre Cot had a financial interest, for 1,000,000 French francs per aircraft. This valued the four aircraft at around £52,500, but, as the likelihood was that they would end up with the Spanish Republicans, the offer was rejected. On 10 August they received an offer from Stefan Czarnecki, a Polish arms dealer, acting on behalf of West Export GmbH of Danzig Free City (now Gdansk in Poland ) who, in turn, claimed to be acting on behalf of a Katowice mining concern in southern Poland who wanted to set up a local airline. They agreed to a price of £33,000 which included four spare Pratt & Whitney Wasp engines and approximately £450 worth of spares. The money was paid by Stefan Czarnecki before departure. The British Government had been kept informed of the details of the proposed sale and had agreed to it as it had all the appearances of a genuine deal.

On 13 August four Polish pilots turned up at Gatwick to collect the aircraft and, after some conversion training, departed on the 15 August with their flight planning identifying Katowice as the destination. It was later claimed that they were fighter pilots with little experience of handling large multi-engined aircraft. The aircraft had been fitted with ferry tanks to increase their range. According to a message to the Air Ministry from Customs at Gatwick, when they left G-ADZH was flown by a pilot named Szarek; G-ADZI by Lasocki; G-ADZJ by Ziembinski, and G-ADZK by Czarkowski. They were carrying £411 worth of spares and a passenger named Morawski, while each were filled with 460 gallons of petrol (no mention of the spare engines – perhaps they were shipped). “Szarek” was Adam Szareck, winner of a light aeroplane contest in Poland in 1935, Lasocki was Count Kazimiercz Lasocki, while C Morawski was a representative of West Export.

When they were seen passing over the Channel Islands it was clear that they were not heading for Poland and a few hours later, as they were approaching the Pyrenees , they encountered severe thunderstorms. G-ADZH made it across the mountains and landed in the grounds of a sanatorium at Barañan near Vitoria in Spain . Szareck refused to fly it any further and it was ferried to Burgos a few days later by Captain Ángel Salas Larrazábal, a Nationalist fighter pilot, who had experience flying the Fokker F.VIIb/3m. G-ADZI turned back and tried to land at the small Parme aerodrome at Biarritz . Accounts differ as to what happened next – most say that, after the first, second or third attempt to land it stalled on the climb out, crashed and was destroyed by fire, but one says that it was struck by lightning, crashed and burned. Two were killed – the pilot, Lasocki, and, presumably, the passenger Morawski. G-ADZJ also turned back and landed successfully at Bordeaux where it was promptly impounded for a second time. However, the local council were pro-Nationalist and the aircraft was quietly released on 6 September and flown to Burgos . G-ADZK also turned back and was damaged beyond repair while attempting to land in fog at Lagord military airfield near La Rochelle . The undercarriage collapsed, causing damage to the engine nacelles and port wing.

The two that made it to Spain joined the Dragon-Fokker Group at Burgos which was led by Major Juan Antonio Ansaldo and were allocated the serials 20-5 and 20-6. The Dragon-Fokker Group was initially equipped with a number of Spanish Air Force Fokker F.VIIb/3ms and a single DH.89M which had come over to the Nationalist side. They were joined by additional Fokkers and Dragon Rapides hurriedly acquired abroad and flown to Spain . Indeed two ex-KLM Fokker F.VIIb/3ms, PH-AGR and PH-AFS, staged through Croydon a couple of days before the four from British Airways left Gatwick for the second time and successfully reached Burgos . Initially the Dragon-Fokker Group operated from Olmendo aerodrome near Burgos , but in late-August was hurriedly moved to Zaragoza to help in the defence of Huesca. On 3 September the Group moved to Logroño where the two Fokker F.XIIs were fitted with bomb racks and dorsal gun positions by the Larrauri brothers. In late September it moved again to León. On 11 October, while dropping supplies to besieged troops at Oviedo , the two Fokkers were attacked in a “friendly fire” incident by Heinkel He 51 fighters and Rodríguez Carmona, the pilot of one of them, subsequently had one of his arms amputated as a result of his injuries. During another sortie to Oviedo on 17 October, Captain Guillermo Casares, who was a gunner/bomb aimer in one of the Fokkers, was injured by anti-aircraft fire as they flew over Peña Ubiña mountain and he died in hospital two days later. In his honour Fokker 20-5 was named after him. On 30 November Fokker 20-6, flown by Julián del Val, and accompanied by three Breguet 19s and a Dragon Rapide, succeeded in blocking a narrow pass and trapping several thousand Republican troops and 40 lorries on the southern side of the Arbalán mountain. Fokker 20-6 was attacked over its home base of León on 16 December and was shot down while being flown by a pilot named Montesinos, while another Fokker was damaged by shrapnel, but both were repaired.

At the end of 1936 the Mixed Bomber Group (as the Dragon-Fokker Group was now known) was disbanded following arrival of modern German equipment with the result that the two Fokker F.XIIs were relegated to transport duties. Sometime in 1937 they were transferred again, this time to training duties at Tetuán in Spanish Morocco. Fokker 20-6 had an accident at Tetuán airfield in 1937 and was still stored there on 1 November 1939, inside a hangar of the Maestranza Aérea de Marruecos (Morocco Maintenance Unit), but it never served with the post-war Spanish Air Force. Fokker 20-5 was given the new serial 45-5 in 1937 and it survived the Civil War and was allocated to 11 Escuadrilla at Cabo Juby, Spanish Sahara , still wearing the name “ Capitán Casares ” . On 15 September 1941 a Bf 108, also from 11 Escuadrilla, crashed and burned at Cabo Juby airfield due to a leading edge slat detaching in flight. Some of the burning debris impacted Fokker 45-5 and it was damaged beyond repair.

At the outbreak of the war many governments, including the British and French, had adopted a non-intervention policy and a ban on delivering armaments. However, the first attempt to delivery the Fokkers to Spain , along with other more successful attempts to ferry aircraft in the early weeks of the Spanish Civil War, made the British Government realise that a wide variety of civil aircraft had a military value. Because of Gibraltar the Foreign Office particularly wanted a policy that was not seen to favour either side, though the French government, being of the socialist persuasion, tended to turn a blind eye to deliveries to the Republican side and crack down hard on deliveries to the Nationalists. Eventually, the British government issued a detailed list of the banned items on 19 August 1936 which included a prohibition on the delivery of “Aircraft, assembled or disassembled, and aero engines” with no distinction between civil and military aircraft. This had little effect on entrepreneurs who were trying to make their fortunes by attempting to meet the demands from both sides generated by the war. The Civil Aviation side of the Air Ministry, in an effort to give teeth to the regulations, decided to exempt aircraft suspected of being destined for Spain from the provisions of the Open General Export Licence No. G.L.110. This normally allowed British aircraft to leave and re-enter the country without being subject to the full export and import regulations every time. Once exempted the identified aircraft had to get special authority to leave the country and then comply with the strict conditions entered on the exemption. Two aircraft with Gatwick connections got caught up in this procedure, namely DH.89 G-ADWZ and Tomtit G-AEVO.

In early September 1936 Captain E D Cummings applied to export two DH.89 Dragon Rapides to France , identified as G-ACTU and G-ADWZ. As it was known that he had already flown one aircraft to Spain , the two aircraft were promptly placed on the exemption list to prevent their export. G-ADWZ was owned by Personal Airways of Croydon, while G-ACTU belonged to Viscount Forbes who was a Director of Personal Airways and his aircraft was in their care. Cummings contacted the Air Ministry to find out how he could deliver the aircraft to his buyer in France . He said he had bought an option to purchase G-ADWZ, but not yet one for G-ACTU as he was still awaiting the money from France . He was told that the best way to complete the sale would be that, before departure, they be registered in France , have their British Certificates of Airworthiness validated by the French authorities and, on departure, be flown by pilots with French licences or ones validated by the French authorities. The registration F-APES was issued to G-ADWZ on 15 September in the name of Marc Cayre of Paris and the aircraft, which was at Gatwick at the time, was re-painted that night. The work, no doubt, being carried out by Air Travel Ltd who were a Gatwick-based aircraft maintenance company and who are known to have overhauled a number of aircraft and engines before delivery to Spain . However, the French appear to have been as suspicious as the British over its final destination as the French registration was cancelled on 26 January 1937 and it reverted to its British registration. Neither aircraft reached Spain , though the export ban was not revoked with the result that Viscount Forbes and Personal Airways had to apply for special permission to fly their aircraft abroad, which was only valid for three months at a time.

In December 1937 Leslie Charles Percy Stanynought applied to the Air Ministry to register Hawker Tomtit G-AEVO, then at Gatwick, in his name. This immediately raised alarm bells as Stanynought, when using the alias Leslie Charles Lewis, had previously been involved in the purchase and delivery to Spain of a number of aircraft. The Tomtit was immediately placed on the exemption list. Stanynought sold it to Alfred Daniel Jaffe, who it was known had also been involved in the delivery of aircraft to Spain , on 1 February 1938. The aircraft never got closer to Spain than Redhill where it was burnt in 1947.

A number of other British Airways Ltd aircraft ended up in Spain and details follow, though most were sold by British Airways before it moved into Gatwick:

DH.84 Dragon I G-ACEV joined British Airways Ltd upon the amalgamation with Hillman Airways in late 1935, but was immediately sold on to Airwork Ltd of Heston. It was delivered to the Republican forces initially departing Croydon on 13 August 1936, but was turned back by the French authorities and returned to Croydon. It departed again on 15 August with four other Dragons after being fitted with long range tanks enabling a non-stop flight to Barcelona . One returned due to engine trouble, but four made it including G-ACEV. On 18 August it was transferred with the three other Dragons to Sariñena to join the Alas Rojas (Red Wings) Squadron which operated a variety of types fitted with rudimentary armament. Surviving Dragons were relegated by the Republicans to a training role in 1937. Note: Its sister-ship Dragon I G-ACEU also joined British Airways Ltd upon the amalgamation with Hillman Airways in December 1935 and was promptly sold to Airwork Ltd. It was eventually cancelled in March 1937 as “sold abroad”, but its later history is unknown, though there is no evidence that it went to Spain .

DH.89 Dragon Rapide G-ACPN joined British Airways Ltd upon the amalgamation with Hillman Airways in late 1935 and was also immediately sold on to Airwork Ltd. It was leased to Highland Airways, Inverness , from April to August 1936. It was then sold to Juan La Cierva and Louis Bolin and delivered to the Nationalist forces departing Croydon on 13 August 1936 flown by Tom Campbell-Black. This and three other Dragon Rapides joined the Dragon-Fokker Group. In early 1937 surviving aircraft were relegated by the Nationalists to transport duties.

DH.89 Dragon Rapide G-ADDF joined British Airways Ltd upon the amalgamation with Hillman Airways in December 1935 but continued to operate from Stapleford. In June 1936 it was transferred to the associated company Northern & Scottish Airways Ltd who operated it from Renfrew until sold to Airwork Ltd in August 1937. It was delivered to the Republican side in early September. Note: Due to the large number of Dragons and Dragon Rapides (both known as the “Dragón” by the Spanish) operated by both sides it is difficult to trace the histories of individual aircraft during and after the conflict.

British Airways Ltd attempted to restart the Lisbon route upon receiving their Lockheed 14 Super Electras in September 1938. Between October and December they operated a number of proving flights to Lisbon and beyond, the last one reaching Bathurst (now Banjul ) in the Gambia from their base which by then was at Heston. A scheduled non-stop service was announced to start on 2 January 1939, but General Franco refused British Airways permission to fly over Spanish territory held by his forces, so the route was abandoned for the second time. A service from London to Lisbon finally commenced on 25 July 1940 flown by the Douglas DC-2 and DC-3 aircraft and crews from KLM, which had escaped to England in the face of the German advance across the low-countries, under contract to BOAC. The UK terminus for these flights was initially Heston, but was changed to Whitchurch near Bristol in September because of the Blitz on London . The aircraft used a route which took them across the Bay of Biscay and out into the Atlantic to avoid German-held French territory and Spain . Even so a couple were attacked, one being shot down resulting in the deaths of all on board. The route was later extended to Gibraltar.