Chapter 3 - The Spanish Civil War – The Testing Ground.

The Spanish Civil War began on the 17th July 1936. A revolt against the newly elected Socialist Government in Madrid broke out in many of the military garrisons in Spanish Morocco.  The revolt was led by Generals Jose Sanjurjo and Emilio Mola, who staged a military coup against the Socialist Government. At the same time, General Francisco Franco Bahamonde who had been the governor of the Canary Islands until his dismissal from his post by the Popular Front Government seized the colony of Spanish Morocco in the name of the coup leaders. Unfortunately, Franco could not move his troops onto the mainland quickly enough to prevent a government backlash.

An early model Heinkel He 111 of Kampfgruppe 88 drops its bombs over a Republican target in Spain, 1937.

The revolt spread rapidly throughout Spain, resulting in serious fighting between government troops and anti-government forces. Within days Spain was split, with the rebels, known as Nationalists, holding most of the north as well as Seville and Cadiz, while the government, the Republicans, retained power in Madrid, the south and east, and the Basque region in the north. The scene was set for a bloody confrontation.

Both sides sought aid from abroad. The Republicans from fellow Socialists the Soviet Union, the Nationalists from the Fascist powers of Italy and Germany. For several years’ Spanish generals and other Nationalists agents had been in contact with, and successfully seeking support from, both Hitler and Mussolini.  Hitler, who was wholly committed to oppose what he saw as the Communist threat in western Europe, made the decision within a few days of the Nationalist rebellion to stand by General Franco and actively to support him in his ‘Fight against Bolshevism’.

At first, Hitler was wary of seeming too enthusiastic, for fear of an Anglo-French reaction, but when a Lufthansa Ju 52 was seized by the rebels to carry General Luis Orgtaz from the Canaries to Tetuen on the 20th July, the die was cast. With General Jose Sanjurjo already dead, he was killed in an air crash, General Emilio Mola was desperate for reinforcements; Franco promised to send troops by air but had only six aircraft at his disposal. On the 24th July a Nationalist emissary flew to Berlin to plead for help from Hitler, stressing the need to counter growing Soviet influence in Spain. Two days later, Hitler agreed to provide Junkers Ju 52s, with fighter escort, to carry troops across the Straits of Gibraltar, avoiding Republican naval vessels in the vicinity. Milch was to organise the airlift under the codename Feuerzauben, “Magic Fire”.

Nationalist troops, loyal to General Franco, wait at an airfield in Spanish Morocco before boarding the two Junkers Ju 52s close by. These are probably the two aircraft provided initially by Hitler to carry Franco’s men to the war zone in late July 1936 – the beginning of German involvement.

The first German airlift

The airlift began on the 28th July with two hastily converted Junkers Ju 52s, each carrying 35 men per trip, flying from Morocco to Seville. In the first week, these aircraft alone delivered 1207 men to the Nationalist army, to be followed by a further 1282 in the second week.

On 31st July 1936 the first detachment of 85 German air and ground crew volunteers drawn from ‘Sonderstab W’ and travelling as a party of tourists left Hamburg for Cadiz in the Woermann liner Usamoro.  They took with them 9 Junkers Ju 52s, 6 Heinkel He 51 fighters, 20 Flak30 20m anti-aircraft guns.  Simultaneously 20 Junkers Ju 52s transport planes piloted by German airmen were flown from Berlin to Morocco. It had been recognised that the most valuable service Germany could render General Franco at this stage was to help him ferry his Moorish troops into Spain.

Under the command of Hauptmann Henke, 42 Luftwaffe pilots began to ferry Franco’s Moroccan troops of the Spanish Foreign Legion from Tetuan to the aerodrome of Tablada at Seville.  The first flight was made with 22 soldiers and their equipment on board each plane.  On subsequent flights the number of passengers carried on each plane was increased to 30.  Untiring, sometimes four or five times a day; Henke and his pilots flew to and fro.  By the beginning of September this small unit had transported from Africa to the mainland the astonishing number, for its time, of 8899 soldiers, 44 field guns, 90 machine guns and 137 tons of ammunition and equipment. The airlift, one of the first in history, was to continue until the 11th October 1936, by which time over 13,900 men and 274 tonnes (270 tons) of equipment had been delivered in total of 868 aircraft sorties. Without this commitment, it is doubtful if Franco could have intervened on the mainland, leaving General Emilio Mola isolated and vulnerable to defeat.

A Heinkel He 111 B serving with Kamfgruppe 88 in Spain shows its nose-art. This particular symbol – a stylised “E”, presumably for Espanna, formed by means of a “flying bomb” – denoted the 3rd Staffel. The small triangle to the right gives the octane rating of the fuel on board.

Initially, the Luftwaffe was not permitted to carry out combat sorties, but pilots quickly got caught up in the fighting. As early as the 13th August, 2 Junkers Ju 52s, converted to bombers, attacked the Republican battleship Jaime I; 11 days later German-piloted Heinkel He 51s escorted Spanish-manned Junkers Ju 52s as they carried out a raid against an airbase at Getafe. Indeed, the first fighter air-to-air victories were claimed by German pilots on the 25th August, leaving Hitler little choice but to accept the inevitable. Three days later he authorised the use of German personnel in combat missions, allowing Franco to make full use of air support as his forces swept out of Seville to secure parts of Andalusia and threaten Madrid. Toledo fell to the Nationalists on the 27th September 1936.

A Dornier Do 17 F-1 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft, in Spanish Nationalist colours, prepares for take-off.

Junkers Ju 87 B Stuka dive-bombers prepare to attack a Republican stronghold in Spain, 1938. The Stuka proved to be a particularly effective weapon in Spain, demoralising enemy soldiers as it screamed down to attack them.

By the autumn of 1936, the Germans had deployed 146 aircraft to Spain and were organising their formations, soon to be known as Gruppe Eberhardt, comprising 14 Heinkel He 51s and Gruppe Moreau with 20 Junkers Ju 52s and two Heinkel He 70Fs, the latter was for reconnaissance. They tended to be deployed as a “Fire Brigade” rushing from one part of the front to another as the need arose, and by October they were seeing hard service. Hitler reacted by placing the force on a more regular footing, to be known eventually as the Legion Condor, the Condor Legion. In late 1936, this comprised a Kammpfgruppe, bomber group and a Jagdgruppe fighter group, backed by reconnaissance and close support aircraft as well as a flak formation. Commanded by General Hugo Sperrle, the Legion at this stage comprised 120 aircraft and about 5000 men. It was a significant commitment.

With the realisation that the Civil War was likely to last a long time, the German government decided in November 1936 to increase their economic and military commitment. With the introduction of the Legion Condor, the Condor Legion a new and larger naval contingent arrived in Spain under the code name Gruppe “Nordsee”. The Group staff shared the facilities of the German naval attaché while the instructors were billeted in Cadiz and Palma de Mallorca. It was under the command of Korvetten-Kapitän Hans Schottky and its mission was to train the Spaniards in ship and coastal gunnery; mine warfare; in communications; and in torpedo boat warfare. There was also in Vigo a Sea Transport Group of the Navy assigned to the delivery and portioning out of supplies to the Legion.

Despite the setting up of a European non-intervention committee, of which Germany was a member, intended to prevent the possibility of international participation in the Spanish Civil War, Germany very swiftly, and secretly, set about organising a powerful, semi-autonomous air component for collaboration with General Franco.

Bombs are laid out beneath the wing of a Junkers Ju 87B Stuka. They will be attached to the shackles that can just be discerned in-board of the under wing insignia. The aircraft carried on the outside of their landing gear cowling, a reddish-brown stylised pig in a white oval as its unit insignia , nicknamed “Jolanthe”, after a favourite cartoon character of the time Jolantha the pig.

An example of the lengths to which the German government was prepared to go in order to deny to the world the existence of the Legion and their commitment of arms and men to Franco can be seen from the decree published in Germany on the 20th February 1937.  This forbade German nationals to enter Spain or Spanish possessions including Spanish Morocco in order to take part in the Civil War.  The decree further empowered the Minister of the Interior, Dr. Frick, to take the necessary measures to prevent the departure or transit through Germany of volunteers, German or foreign.  It should be noted that this decree was promulgated over three months after the formation of the Legion Condor.

But the Legion did not enjoy immediate success. Early bombing raids failed to smash Republican defences around Madrid and, on one occasion, hit Nationalist units waiting to attack. At the same time, the Republicans began to enjoy a measure of air superiority, gained for them by Soviet-supplied and piloted fighters such as the Polikarpov 1-15 Chato and 1-16 Mosca, escorting Tupolev ANT-40 SB Katyushka bomber. The He 51s soon showed themselves to be vulnerable, and without guaranteed fighter escort, the Junkers Ju 52s switched from daylight to night bombing, with inevitable effects on accuracy and impact. By February 1937, the Legion was looking distinctly battered.

A Heinkel He 112 B single-seat fighter, one of a number shipped to Spain for evaluation purposes in 1938. Despite their creditable performance, the He 112 was not adopted by the Luftwaffe, which preferred the Messerschmitt Bf 109. Only one squadron of He 112s was operational in Spain, but it did not arrive until January 1939. A total of seventeen He 112B-Os were in service in the Nationalist Air Force during the last months of the war. The type code was “5” and the colouring was an overall pale grey. Initially, in December 1936, the He 112 v4 was sent to Spain by the Heinkel concern for operational evaluation. Later, a contract of He 112 B – 0 fighters was cancelled by the Japanese and the aircraft were promptly offered to the Spanish Nationalist Government. In November 1938 seventeen of them reached Spain and were issued to Grupo 5-G-5 which used them for the first operational sortie over the Balaguer Front on the 19th January 1939. Fifteen of the He 112 B-0s survived the Spanish Civil War.

New aircraft in Spain.

An overriding need was for more modern aircraft. By early 1937, early versions of the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and the Junkers Ju 87 were being field tested in Spain, but it would be some time before production models would be available in any significant numbers. Meanwhile, however, better bomber designs were coming out of the factories in Germany, enabling the Legion to be re-equipped with Dornier Do 17Es, Heinkel He 111Bs and the first of the Junkers Ju 86Ds. They carried out their first attack in Spain on the 9th March; within weeks 16 hastily assembled Messerschmitt Bf 109Bs had also arrived, together with Dornier Do 17Ps for long-range reconnaissance. It was enough to stave off disaster.

This new commitment was reflected in improvements to Nationalist military efforts, not least in the Basque region in the north. The offensive began on the 21st March 1937, when advances were made towards Bilbao, but the main blow fell 10 days later around Republican positions at Orchandiano, in the process of which Legion bombers hit Durango, killing an estimated 250 civilians and injuring probably twice that number. It was a portent of things to come, for as Republican troops gradually fell back towards a “Ring of Iron” protecting Bilbao, their lines converged on the village of Guernica, where road and rail links crossed the River Oca. On the 25th April, Legion reconnaissance aircraft reported heavy military traffic in and around Guernica and the German commander, Generalmajor Wolfram Frhr von Richthofen, the cousin of the First World War air ace known as the “Red Baron”, was given permission to carry out a bombing raid. Late in the afternoon of the 26th bombers, mostly Ju 52s, escorted by 16 fighters, dropped 46 tonnes (45 tons) of bombs on the village, causing widespread damage and up to 1000, predominantly civilian, deaths.

Pilots of AS-88 wearing Spanish uniforms and insignia, including the rather incongruous pilot’s wings, 1938 style, with royal crown above, these members of the Condor Legion are involved in training their allies to fly German aircraft. The adoption of Nationalist uniforms was a cover for Germany’s involvement in the war.

The effects of Guernica.

Once news of the raid broke, there was an international outcry against “barbaric” methods of war. A haunting mural by the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso ensured that the memory of Guernica remained alive, and the raid was widely regarded as typical of what airpower could and would do. It was a portent of the future to come. Despite Generalmajor Wolfram Frhr von Richthofen’s claim that the attack was against a legitimate target; enemy force concentrations, the reputation of the Luftwaffe as a devastating effective force was undoubtedly enhanced. Other European powers noted the impact of Guernica and their fear of German power increased. Hitler was to exploit this fear in 1938 when he sent troops to enforce an Anschluss, the political union with Austria and the occupation of parts of Czechoslovakia: neither Britain nor France felt strong enough to risk confrontation with Germany if it was likely to invoke aerial bombardment in retaliation on vulnerable cities.

Heinkel He 59 B-2 torpedo-bomber and reconnaissance seaplanes of See-Aufklarungsstaffel 88, decked out in Nationalist colours, returning from a mission over the seas around southern Spain, 1937. They began their operations in support of Franco’s forces in November 1936.

New aerial tactics.

Meanwhile in Spain, the Legion continued to support Nationalists, evolving more effective aerial tactics as experience grew. As the Basques fell back into the “Ring of Iron”, for example, Heinkel He 51 pilots perfected ground-attack techniques known as the canenas or chain. Switched from fighter duties now that the Messerschmitt Bf 109 was arriving in greater numbers, Heinkel He 51s were each fitted with four 10 kg (22 lb.) bombs, plus a droppable fuel tank which would ignite when it hit the ground. Operating in groups of up to nine aircraft, the pilots flew low-level in search of ground targets, dropping their ordnance at a signal from the flight leader and then taking turns to strafe the enemy until their ammunition ran out. It was techniques such as these that enabled the Nationalists to seize Bilbao on the 19th June 1937.

Members of the Condor Legion sing as they march through a Spanish town. The man in the foreground is a radio operator. This Legionär wears the 1936-38 style radio-operator wing on his right-hand pocket.

Typical of the fairly rudimentary conditions under which the Condor Legion often operated in Spain, this airstrip is exposed both to the elements and to enemy air attack, implying a time of Nationalist air superiority. The aircraft, an early Heinkel He 111, is waiting to be bombed up.

Heinkel He 111 B bombers are lined up for inspection, possibly before leaving Germany for service in Spain 1938. The “Eagle and Shield” symbol on the fuselage of the aircraft in the foreground denotes the 4th Staffel of Kampfgruppe 88. Each He 111 B was capable of carrying over 1363kg (3000lb) of bombs.

The Legion shifted immediately to the Madrid front, where a Republican offensive was developing. Air opposition proved to be more robust than in the north. The first Messerschmitt Bf 109 was lost to air combat on the 12th July, but the new tactics gradually gave the Nationalists the upper hand. They claimed air superiority on the 18th July for the loss of 8 of their own aircraft. By then, the Legion was in desperate need of rest and recuperation, but Franco insisted on exploiting the initiative, shifting back to the north to take Santander in late August. This became the norm: successive offensive in widely dispersed locations, making the most of the Legions bombers, fighters and ground-attack machines to disrupt and demoralise the enemy. The Germans continued to enjoy notable victories: on the 7th February 1938, Legion fighters attacked a formation of 12 Katyushkas and destroyed 10 of them for no loss to themselves, but the pressures were beginning to tell. Some Condor crews were flying up to 7 missions a day, often in appalling conditions; the only consolation was that the Nationalist pilots, trained in many cases by the Luftwaffe, were now beginning to appear in greater numbers to ease some of the strain.

Ground crew work to prepare a Heinkel He 111 B for a raid on Republican positions in 1938. The first He 111s arrived in Spain in early 1937.

Photographed from a neighbouring bomber, a Heinkel He 111 B of the 2nd Staffel of Kampfgruppe 88, denoted by the tail markings, flies towards its target, 1937.

Such developing self-sufficiency by the Nationalists allowed the Legion to be gradually reduced in size, although not before some hard fighting had taken place. By June 1938, as Franco advanced into Aragon, the Legion’s fighter force was looking rather battered, only 16 of its 30 Messerschmitt Bf 109s were serviceable, the Heinkel He 51s were becoming dangerously obsolete even in the ground-attack role and the flak guns were all but worn out. Hitler did continue to send replacements, although the onset of the Austrian and Czech crises diverted his attention, thus that of the Luftwaffe, elsewhere. Between July and October 1938, the Legion could field only 70 aircraft to support operations along the River Ebro, losing 10 of them to enemy action. The opportunity was taken to field-test more modern designs such as the Messerschmitt Bf 109E, Heinkel He 111J and Henschel Hs 126A, while the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka carried out dive-bombing attacks as early as February 1938, but it was obvious that the Legion was declining in importance. The last Legion missions were flown on the 6th February 1939 as Franco thrust into Catalonia; on the 26th March the Republicans accepted defeat and surrendered Madrid.

Werner Mölders, at the age of 23 he volunteered for service in the Legion Condor to fight in the Spanish Civil War. While leading Jagdgruppe 88 in Spain, he perfected the “finger four” tactical formation. At the war’s end he was recognised as the most successful fighter pilot, downing a total of 14 aircraft. He was awarded the Spanish Cross in Gold with Diamonds.

“Kill” Markings, the rudder bar of Werner Mölder’s Nationalist painted Messerschmitt Bf 109B.  Although he is credited with 14 kills his rudder shows a total of 15 victory bars, each one denoting an enemy aircraft shot down in combat.

The crew of a reconnaissance Dornier Do 17 F discuss a forthcoming mission with the officer on the right. Although reconnaissance missions rarely met hard opposition, any warlike mission was a strain, as shown on the pilots face in the centre.

The end of the Spanish Civil War was officially announced in the last Nationalist military communiqué‚ issued in Madrid at midnight on the 2nd April 1939.  It stated:

Today the Red Army is captive and disarmed and the Nationalist troops have achieved their final military objective.  The war is over.

Barajas Field some 8 miles from Madrid served on the 12th May, as the venue for Generalissimo Franco to bestow 15 German and 8 Italian flyers with Spain’s second highest military decoration, the Military Medal.  A Spanish aviation staff officer pronounced, as each man was decorated: “In the name of Spain this is given in recognition of your technical service and bravery in the anti - Bolshevist crusade.”

Generalmajor Wolfram Frhr von Richthofen awards the Breast Star to the War Cross at the Leon airfield.

Throughout the years of German participation in the Spanish Civil War the Legion never carried a distinctive flag or standard in the field. With the Legion assembled this afforded Generalissimo Franco the opportunity to confer another honour which he did by presenting them with an “Honour Standard” as recognition of their service to Spain. It was totally unique in design and encompassed a mixture of Spanish and German emblems and colours.

The victory parade celebrating the Nationalists triumph in the Civil War was held in Madrid on the 19th May 1939.  Over 42000 troops representing all units of the Nationalist forces marched past General Franco who took the salute.  The parade was headed by 10000 Italians under the command of General Gambara, leader of the Italian Legionaries; 3500 men of the German Legion Condor under Generalmajor Frhr Wolfram von Richthofen brought up the rear of the parade marching behind the newly presented “Honour Standard”.  Apart from Spanish, Moorish, Italian and German infantry units, there was a prominent display of artillery, tanks and Anti-aircraft guns while 880 aircraft flew past overhead.  The parade, which lasted several hours, concluded with a short speech by General Franco.

A final farewell parade was held for the Legion at Leon in northwest Spain on the 23rd May 1939 and this was the last time the “Honour Standard” was trooped on Spanish soil.  On the aerodrome of ‘Our Lady of Travellers’ Generalmajor Frhr Wolfram von Richthofen presented his troops with Spanish decorations of varying grades in the name of Generalissimo Franco. Franco then addressed the men of the Legion Condor drawn up for their final inspection.  In his speech to the Legion he stated that it was with the feeling of great pride that he had under his orders German leaders, officers and men.  He asked them to take back with them to Germany ‘the imperishable gratitude of Spain’.

The Spanish Civil War lasted not quite 3 years.  It was the massive aid provided Franco by Germany and Italy that largely accounted for his ultimate victory over the communists.  At the conclusion of the war, the German Army, Navy and Air Force volunteers of the “Legion Condor” were to returned to Germany, and on the 25th May the German troops began to embark on 6 ‘Strength through Joy’ ships that had arrived at Vigo and shortly afterwards 5136 officers and men sailed for Germany, where they were to be greeted with parades and ceremonies.

They took with them over 711 tonnes (700 tons) of equipment and most of their remaining aircraft. Before leaving Spain the German and the Italian Legionaries handed over remainder of their arms and war materials to the Spanish government. They could feel proud of their achievements since July 1936. During the time they claimed to have destroyed 386 enemy aircraft of which 313 of them were in aerial combat, for the loss of 232 of their own, of that number only 72 were destroyed by enemy action. In addition, over 21,337 tonnes (21,000 tons) of bombs had been dropped by Legion aircraft, contributing in no small way to the eventual Nationalists victory. More sadly, 226 members of the Legion had lost their lives.

On the 14th April 1939, Hitler instituted an award to recognise the bravery of the men, and also to serve as a campaign distinction. Hitler introduced the award by stating, “To show my appreciation and thanks for the service of German volunteers during the destruction of Bolshevism in the Spanish Freedom Fight, I establish the Spanish Cross in three classes.” The resultant Spanish Cross was awarded under conditions of pomp and ceremony over the next few months.

Elements of the Condor Legion, freshly returned from Spain and dressed in new uniforms, march in front of Hermann Göring during a Victory Parade in Hamburg in June 1936.

The Legion Condor landed at Hamburg on the 30th May 1939. At the official reception at Hamburg, the “Honour Standard” was once again unfurled and carried at the head of the disembarking, sun-tanned Legionnaires, where they received an official welcome from Generalfeldmarschall Göring.  Göring announced that Hitler had instituted a new decoration, The Spanish Cross, in three classes of Bronze, Silver, Gold and a special degree Gold with Brilliants.  All volunteers from the Civil War were to receive one of the three classes.  It was further announced that the Legion Condor was to be officially dissolved within a few days and that in proud memory of the Legion the name ‘Condor’ had been bestowed by Hitler on a Luftwaffe Wing, an anti-aircraft regiment and a signals battalion.  A few days after their arrival in Hamburg the troops of the Legion proceeded to Döbertiz, the military centre near Berlin.  Here on the 4th June Grand Admiral Raeder, the Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy, visited them. The Grand Admiral distributed decorations to the naval contingent and Generalfeldmarschall Göring presented decorations to his Air force members of the Legion.

Generalfeldmarschall Göring presenting Spanish Cross decorations to his Air force members of the Legion Condor on the field at Döbertiz.

Who received which grade was dependent upon the highest Spanish Decoration a German volunteer received.

The Spanish Crosses were awarded accordingly:

1.  The recipient of the Campaign Medal was awarded the Spanish Cross in Bronze with Swords. Civilians and non-combatants were awarded the Spanish Cross in Bronze without Swords. Volunteers, who had been in Spain for less than three months, were also awarded the Spanish Cross in Bronze without Swords.

2.  Recipients of the Red Military Service Cross received the Spanish Cross in Silver with Swords. The same regulations as listed above apply to those receiving the Spanish Cross in Silver without Swords.

3.  Recipients of the Military Medal of the Breast Star to the War Cross were awarded the Spanish Cross in Gold with Swords.

4.  Recipients of the Military Medal with Brilliants were awarded the Spanish Cross in Gold with Brilliants. If the regulations had been adhered to only three Spanish Crosses in Gold with Brilliants would have been awarded as only the three commanders of the Legion were awarded the special class of the Military Medal with Brilliants. Hitler, however, considered this as his personal award and obviously retained the prerogative of presenting it to those combatants he felt deserving.

The Spanish Cross with Swords – Gold.

THE SPANISH CROSS WITH SWORDS - Bronze - Silver – Gold

Numbers Awarded:  Bronze 8462, Silver 8304, and Gold 1126.

The basic design was the same for each version and took the form of a Maltese cross.  The arms of the Cross have a rim, while in the centre is a circle which is pebbled, as is the arms of the Cross.  This circle has an inner circle, which has a Swastika with the arms touching the circle.  The high parts of the medal are polished, while the pebbled areas are matt.  Between the arms of the Cross are flying Luftwaffe eagles clutching Swastikas in their talons.  Beneath the eagles runs two crossed swords with their hilts at the bottom of the Cross.  The Cross is convex and on the reverse is a massive pin.  The Cross is made in either silver which comes in varying grades and is then bronzed, left silver or gilded.  Otherwise it is made of bronze and then silver plated or gilded.

THE CRITERIA FOR THE AWARD were;

1.  To have been a volunteer in the Condor Legion and to have fought in Spain.

2.  To have taken part in the naval actions:

a] The air attack on the 29th May 1937 on the German battleship “DEUTSCHLAND” in the waters off Ibiza in which 32 Germans were killed and 73 wounded, the dead and wounded being attended to by the British at Gibraltar. This lead to a number of awards to British medical personnel of the German Red Cross Decoration 1937-1939 in varying grades, and not the Spanish Cross of any grade.

b] The bombing on the 31st May of Almerica in reprisal for the attack of the Deutschland.

c] For serving continuously for 3 months in Spanish waters.

d] For special acts of valour or merit, appertaining to a combat oriented situation.

Spanish Cross without Swords –Silver.

SPANISH CROSS WITHOUT SWORDS – Bronze - Silver.

Numbers Awarded:  Bronze 7869, Silver 327.

It comprised a Maltese Cross as before with the Luftwaffe eagles in the quadrants, clutching a segmented Swastika in its talons as before.  The Cross was concave with a massive pin on the reverse.  It was made in either silver that was bronzed, or bronze that was silvered.  There was no Spanish Cross in gold without swords.  This award was rendered to the military personnel serving in Spain or Spanish Morocco and could also be awarded to civilians and technicians who had taken part in assisting the forces in Spain from July 1936 to March 1939.  This was to include members of Lufthansa that ferried materials and aeroplanes to Spain.  This probably gives rise to the relative rarity of the bronze and silver crosses.

THE CRITERIA FOR THE AWARD were;

1.  Three months service in Spain.

2.  An act that substantially assisted the war effort but not in a combat oriented field.

The Spanish cross was to be worn on the right breast and came in four grades. Who received which grade was dependent on the highest Spanish decoration a German volunteer received.

Spanish Cross in Gold with Brilliants.

SPANISH CROSS IN GOLD WITH BRILLIANTS.

Numbers Awarded:  27 (28?)

This badge again was instigated on the 14th April 1939. The precise nature of the criteria for the award of this badge is not known.  But Hitler took it upon himself to award personally this decoration to all the recipients on their return from Spain of which there were 27.  However David Littlejohn states in his book as does Dr. Klietman in his, that there were 28. This cross took the form of the preceding decorations, but the overall size of the piece is larger than the other pieces. In this case the cross is more convex than in the former and was produced with the pebbled parts matt, and the raised portion highly polished.  The centre, however, was quite different in the fact that it was a separately constructed plate, which was fixed to the body of the cross independently.  The Swastika’s arms were broader and the circle that surrounded it was also broader in the same dimension.  Next to this circle were set fourteen rose cut diamonds.  There was no outer circle to the border of the diamonds, so that the actual cutting and claw setting of the diamonds formed the outer edge of the circle.  The reverse was plain and has a large pin and hinge, with a disc at the centre which is slightly convex, on this plate is, hand engraved in flowing script, “J. Godet & Sohn. K, G.” and underneath, “Unter dem Linden”, beneath this in the centre, in larger Arabic numerals, “53”.

THE KNOWN RECIPIENTS are;

Oberleutnant Wilhelm Balthesarm   J-88.

Oberleutnant Otto Bertram   J-88.

Leutnant Wilhelm Boddem   J-88.

Oberleutnant Kraft Eberhard   J-88.

Oberleutnant Wilhelm Ensslen   J-88.

Leutnant Paul Fehihaber   Ln-88.

Oberleutnant Adolf Galland   J-88.

Hauptmann Harro Harder   J-88.

Major Martin Harlinghausen   AS-88.

Leutnant Oskar Henrici   J-88.

Oberleutnant Max Graf Hoyos   K-88.

Oberleutnant Hans-Detlef von Kassel   A-88.

Hauptmann Gunther Lützow   J-88.

Oberleutnant Karl Mehnert   K-88.

Hauptmann Werner Mölders J-88.

Hauptmann Rudolf Frhr von Moreau   K-88.

Hauptmann Wolfgang Neudörffer   K-88.

Oberleutnant Walter Oesau   J-88.

Generalleutnant Wolfram Frhr von Richthofen   S-88.

Leutnant Heinz Runze   A-88.

Hauptmann Wolfgang Schellmann   J-88.

Hauptmann Joachim Schlichting J-88.

Oberleutnant Reinhard Seiler   J-88.

Gen.d.fl Hugo Sperrle   S-88.

Oberleutnant Berhard Stärcke   K-88.

Gen.d.fl Helmut Volkmann   S-88.

Major Karl Heinz Wolff   AS-88.

Cross of Honour for the Relatives of the Dead in Spain.

Number Awarded:  315

On the 14th April 1939 this medal was announced, to honour those volunteers who had fallen in combat, or died as a consequence of wounds received in that combat, who had died as a result of illness or disease directly apportionable to those wounds or had died due to that illness or accident sustained while serving in Spain or Spanish Morocco.  Lastly by being listed missing in action in that conflict.

The Cross was constructed of bronzed and took the same form as the breast cross but was smaller.  The reverse was plain and concave. At the top was a suspension ring for the ribbon, which was 30 mm wide and consisted of the German and Spanish national colours, with thin outer vertical stripes of red, yellow, red, yellow, red, white and a wide central stripe of black to represent mourning.  The award was to be worn at all times and in the case of men, it was fixed over the left breast pocket and usually it is found on a court mounted ribbon.  In the case of women, the ribbon was formed into a bow.

THE CRITERIA FOR THE AWARD were;

1] If the fallen was married,

a] The wife of the fallen, 

b] The eldest son of the fallen

c] Daughter of the fallen

2] In the case of the fallen not being married,

a] Father of the fallen

b] Mother of the fallen

c] Brother of the fallen

d] Sister of the fallen

Should the recipient die, then the award was rendered to the next of kin in line of succession.

On the 6th June 1939 at a special military parade held in the Reich capital the Legion Condor undertook their last public appearance.  The “Day of Victory” began at 10 a.m. with the Legion’s parade along the Via Triumphalis in Berlin, which was still decorated with the eagle-bearing pillars and pylons standing there since Hitler’s 50th birthday on the 20th April, but now decorated with German and Spanish flags.

Crowds of specially invited guests gather for the rather elaborately staged Victory Parade in Berlin to honour returning warriors of the Condor Legion on the 6th June 1939.

The “Honour Standard” was carried officially for one more time at the head of over 14000 marching Spanish war combatants from the Legion, which included 3000 sailors and 1000 men from the Army, who marched past Hitler in review order. Behind Hitler stood Generalfeldmarschall Göring, Generals von Brauchitsch and Keitel, and Grand Admiral Raeder. Flanking him were Generalmajor Frhr Wolfram von Richthofen and the Spanish generals, Miguel Aranda, Emilio Solchaga, Gonzalo Queipo de Llano, and Juan Yagüe. In the grandstand opposite them were Hitler’s special guests of honour, the dark-clad relatives of those 330 fallen Legionnaires who did not return.

Members of the Hitler Youth hold up oval placards, each bearing the name of a service man killed while serving in the Condor Legion, in the Victory Parade in Berlin on the 6th June 1939.

The hot summer sun beat down from a cloudless sky, and combined with numerous Spanish flags on display, gave the event a Spanish flavour. It was so hot, in fact, that a number of Legionnaires were overcome and had to be carried from their ranks. After passing the reviewing stand, the Legion continued onward through the Brandenburg Gate to the Lustgarten, where a formal state ceremony was held at which Hitler and Generalfeldmarschall Göring were to speak. The palace of the former Kaiser was behind the Legion as it stood in formation while the grandstand for the Führer and his Spanish guests was on the steps of the museum facing the palace. Flanking both sides of the podium were 330 Hitler Youth members. Each carried a silver-coloured placard framed with a golden wreath, upon which was the name of one of the Legion’s dead. This was the first public revelation of casualties, the total of which, including wounded, was estimated at 1000.

Generaloberst Wolfran von Richthofen, wearing the Spanish Cross in Gold with Diamonds, views the troops that are preparing to pass the reviewing rostrum.

The population of Berlin gave them a reception worthy of a victorious Army. Berlin school children had their third holiday in one week to take part in the triumphant return. The first two had been for the visit of Prince Paul of Yugoslavia: but this one was to watch and cheer the men of the Legion Condor.

The parade passes down the Unter den Linden Strasser and through the Brandenburg Gate, led by the Naval music Corps. The Schellenbaum or “Jingling Johnnie” can be clearly seen. The navy contingent was finally permitted to wear its own uniform for the victory parade. Berlin school children had their third holiday in one week to take part in the triumphant return and can be seen trotting alone side the phalanx of sun-tanned Legionnaires. The first two had been for the visit of Prince Paul of Yugoslavia: but this one was to watch and cheer the men of the Legion Condor.

The Legion marches through the Brandenburg Gate. The Spanish Cross can be seen on the right breast of the Legionnaires in the front row.

The Legion Condor standard-bearer carries the “Honour Standard” flanked on either side by a single Legionnaire as the Legion marches through the Brandenburg Gate into the Pariserplatz.

After Hitler’s twelve minute address, a special ceremony was held in the Marble Gallery of the new Reich Chancellery. Here Hitler, accompanied by Göring, presented the Spanish Cross in Gold to Air force officers of the Legion Condor and Naval officers from the pocket battleship Deutschland. He held a tea reception for his Spanish guests as well as 50 to 60 holders of the Spanish Cross in Gold with Swords and a dozen holders of the Spanish Cross in Gold with Brilliants. Hitler personally shook hands with his warriors and conversed in small talk with them.

With the conclusion of the parade, the eventful day came to a close for the legionnaires back at Döberitz amidst an impressive firework display. the Legion was dissolved; and the next day all Legion uniforms were taken off and stored, never to be officially worn again and replaced by those of the Luftwaffe, Army or Navy and the “Honour Standard” was placed in the Ehrenmal on the Unter den Linden in Berlin in honour of those who had fallen in Spain. On the 8th June 1939, the “Honour Standard” was carried by an Honour Guard to the German Air Ministry where it was placed in the “Standards Hall”.

The “Honour Standard”, the obverse was robust red on which was centred a silver edged black Iron Cross which was superimposed on a golden-yellow, diagonal cross. The arms of the cross were edged with a thin black cording and a thin gold cording, laid side by side. Surmounting the centre of the Iron Cross was a silver wire Luftwaffe eagle. In each extreme corner of the golden-yellow diagonal cross a different emblem was centrally positioned: a silver wire Luftwaffe eagle in the upper left corner; the Spanish coat of arms in the upper right corner; “LC” in silver wire with thin, black edging in the lower right corner; the Yoke and Arrows logo of the Falange in robust red silk thread in the lower left corner. The reverse was identical to a Spanish regimental flag, a red/yellow/red horizontal tricolour with the Spanish coat of arms superimposed on the central yellow bar. It was trimmed on three sides with a 35mm long, gold fringe.

Inevitably, valuable lessons were learnt. The most striking was the superiority of German aircraft once second-generation designs had been deployed: the Messerschmitt Bf 109 had proved to be superior to nearly all Republican fighters, the Junkers Ju 87 had gained a formidable reputation for demoralisation, particularly once sirens and whistles had been added to the aircraft and bombs to increase noise levels, and existing arguments in favour of interdiction bombers had been powerfully reinforced. One result was that Luftwaffe planners placed much more emphasis on bomber production, boosting the development of the Schnellbomber, eventually the Junkers Ju 88, and long range escort fighters, already deployed in the shape of the Messerschmitt Bf 110. Some doubts were expressed about the ability of bombers to destroy ground targets, accuracy was often a problem and bombers were not particularly powerful, and it was apparent that fighters such as the Messerschmitt Bf 109 needed up-gunning, but taken overall, the lessons seemed to be positive ones.

At the same time, tactics had been refined, ranging from the canenas for ground-attack to the “finger four” fighter technique, whereby pairs of wingmen provided flexible and mutual support in aerial combat. The latter was perfected by Werner Mölders when he commanded elements of Jagdgruppe 88 in Spain, and this highlights another, equally powerful advantage of the campaign: the existence by 1939 of a cadre of highly skilled and experienced Luftwaffe personnel. They were about to be tested in even more trying campaigns. Spain was no more than a “dress rehearsal” for a war that was to see the Luftwaffe rise to a peak of effectiveness and then decline under enemy pressure. It is a dramatic story.



With engine racing, air-brakes open and siren blaring, a Junkers Ju 87 Stuka releases its centre-line and under wing bombs onto its target during the Polish campaign, September 1939.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!