The Condor Legion by Hugo Sperrle
- Published: 10 February 2012 10 February 2012
- Last Updated: 07 April 2012 07 April 2012
Partial Translation of Document NOKW-3059, Prosecution Exhibit 1435.
We fought in Spain: Men of the German Condor Legion report their experience in the Spanish Theater of War - German Soldiers in Franco's Armed Forces
The Condor Legion: By Lieutenant General of the Air Force, Sperrle
In the beginning of November 1936, 6500 volunteers arrived in Cadiz who wanted to support General Franco in his fight for the liberation of national Spain from bolshevism. These volunteers, the Condor Legion, were transported to Sevilla, where airplanes antiaircraft batteries, signal equipment, weapons, and motor vehicles stood ready at their disposal. Within a short time the following units were formed:
1 bomber group of 3 Ju[nkers] 52 squadrons; 1 fighter group with 3 He[inkel] 51 squadrons; 1 reconnaissance squadron of 12 He 70 planes; 4 batteries of 8.8 cm. antiaircraft guns; 2 light antiaircraft batteries; 1 signal battalion of: 1 radio company, 1 telephone company, 1 air observation company, 1 flight control company; 1 aircraft maintenance group, with depot and double machine-tool equipment; 1 command staff.
This force was joined by a fighter squadron of Ju-52s which had been fighting in Spain previously for some months, a fighter squadron of He 51s, a naval squadron of He 59s and He 60s, and one 8.8 cm. antiaircraft battery.
Situation at the date of arrival of the Condor Legion: In the summer of 1936, Spanish national parts of the population had risen against the Republican government which was turning more and more radically leftist. The occasion was given by the shooting of the Monarchist Leader Calvo Sotelo in Madrid on 12 July 1937. [sic] The shooting and gaoling of numerous nationally thinking officers and numerous Spaniards who belonged to nationally thinking parties led to a spontaneous uprising in many places in Spain The attempt to centralize the movement geographically, and to time, and to organize it centrally, was frustrated by the tragic death of the leader of the Nationalist movement, General San Jurjo, who crashed during a flight from the Canary Islands to Madrid. While General Mola, then a divisional commander in Pamplona, collected all monarchist and national thinking people in the north, backed by his Navarrese troops around Zaragoz--Pamplona--Valladolid, for the fight against the Red holders of power, General Queipo del Llano Succeeded in securing the geographical starting point for the fight for liberation around Cadiz--Sevilla--Granada, at the head of some battalions and some Falange troops. In the south, however, there was a complete lack of units ready for action on the Nationalist side. General Franco, the closest collaborator of San Jurjo's, stood ready at the head of his mobilized Moroccan army around Tetuan. The fleet, including the bulk of the serving vessels, had declared for the Red government and dominated unchallenged the Spanish-Moroccan waters.
Now it was through German airmen with their equipment of Ju 52 aircraft that 15000 men of the Foreign Legion and Moroccans were transferred to Jerez in a few days, together with their equipment, an achievement which will be left to later historians to appreciate.
Air War: The small Spanish Air Force had, at the beginning of the uprising, decided to join the Nationalist movement and the government in equal proportion. All kinds of aircraft, airliners, and training planes dropped their improvised bombs on friend and foe. This aspect changed already during July 1937 when German and Italian volunteer fighter pilots gained superiority in the air above Madrid, Zaragoza, Vitoria, and Leon by shooting down the Red fliers. Towards the end of October 1937, modern foreign fighter and bomber planes appeared, first over Madrid, later also over other parts of the front on the Red side, especially technically superior Russian fighter planes; our side began to sustain losses which increased, and step by step, Red planes gained superiority in the air.
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Activities of the Condor Legion up to the end of March 1937: This was the situation when, at the end of November 1936, the Condor Legion was ready for action. The commander of the Condor Legion suggested to Generalissimo Franco that he use the group of 30 Ju 52 bombers to interfere seriously with the Russian supply transports to the Mediterranean harbors of Cartagena and Alicante. The fighters and the heavy antiaircraft batteries should be used to keep down the Red air forces in the center of the ground fighting around Madrid. The Generalissimo agreed to these proposals.
The Struggle for Madrid: At the beginning of December 1936, the Generalissimo decided to renew the struggle for Madrid. The available artillery was not sufficient for this struggle, the repelling effect of the numerous machine guns available on the Red side frustrated all of Franco's attacks, although he succeeded in seizing a part of the university city at the cost of considerable casualties. It had become necessary to support the attacks with the Junkers bomber squadron of the Condor Legion. Numerous bombing attacks, with 300 tons of bombs used in each, did not achieve the desired success. The troops could not be induced to attack immediately after the bombing and thus to exploit the effect of the bomber squadrons being concentrated in a very narrow sector. These daylight attacks, felt very unpleasantly by the Reds, had an awkward after effect. The Reds concentrated all their available modern single-seaters around Madrid. The bomber group, flying in close formation, was sometimes even on their way into action, welcomed by 300 "Ratas," which had double the speed of the Junkers and were shooting with 4 machine guns, and it was only due to the defense with all the machine guns of the 30 Junkers that there were no serious losses.
Since the attacks of the bomber group in close cooperation with the troops did not lead to any tangible success, the commander decided to take up systematically the fight against the supply roads into Madrid and to break the resistance of the Red defenders of Madrid. Since Madrid depended for supplies on only three roads leading up from the Mediterranean Coast, this fight seemed to lead to favorable results. Night by night, at dusk and dawn, the strafing attacks were flown, which put a great strain on the crews. Under the constant peril of icing, the Gredos mountains rising to more than 2500 m., had to be crossed at an altitude of at least 3000 m. Through icing and through abnormally high down-currents, several aircraft were lost in the Gredos mountains through crashes or contact with the ground.
Only later, it became known that the defense of Madrid had been in immediate danger of collapse through this cutting-off of supplies. Apart from these attacks on the supply roads, systematic night attacks were carried out on the training center of the International Brigade in Albacete and on the Red airfields around Madrid, which very soon paralyzed the Red air attacks. Photo reconnaissance and intelligence about the fortifications of Madrid showed that even if one succeeded in penetrating into the city, one would have to count on heavy casualties in house-to-house and street fighting. This induced the commander of the Condor Legion to suggest to the Generalissimo to cut off Madrid by a simultaneous attack south of Madrid, first in an easterly direction across the river Jarama, later turning north, and a simultaneous attack from the north, via Siguenza. The Generalissimo agreed to this suggestion. Unfortunately the two attacks, literally, got stuck in the mud because of the bad weather, the rain and snow storms during the rainy season. Because of the unfavorable weather, the air force was unable to give support to the extent which would have been necessary. So it had not been possible between the appearance of the Condor Legion in November 1936, and the end of March 1937, to change the fortunes of war in a way favorable to Franco's troops; on the contrary, the rearmament on the ground and in the air had been effected quicker on the Red side than on the Nationalist side, through the unlimited supplies of arms, guns, aircraft, and volunteers of all nations. The Reds had balanced their defeat at Malaga, which had been taken in February 1937 by Spaniards together with Italian Legionnaries, by their successes in the defense of Madrid. But the four and a half months of combat had been an indispensable, necessary time of apprenticeship for the Condor Legion; everything had been new, everything different from home: the people, the climate were different from home, and the methods of warfare did not resemble those of the last years of WWI, which one had experienced, or which one knew from books. The future had to prove the success of this time of apprenticeship.
The Seizure of the Northern Provinces: The cooperation of General Mola, commander of the Army of the North, the commander of the Navarra Corps, General Solchiaga and his excellent chief of staff, then Colonel Vigon, was secured by complete mutual trust. All suggestions of the Condor Legion were gratefully received and followed up. The close cooperation between the ground troops and the air force, so far lacking, and a necessary condition for the success of the operations against Bilbao, was thus secured.
Two squadrons of light bombers of the Spanish air forces were subordinated to the Condor Legion. The Italian volunteers took part in the attack with one bomber group. One could not count on a surprise attack on the Red lines, since the deployment of the troops of the Corps Navarra could be seen from the Red positions situated higher. The Condor Legion realized that only a plan of attack worked out in every detail would promise success. The plan was worked out in cooperation between the Corps Navarra and the Condor Legion.
As agreed, the order to open operations was given at dawn on 31 March 1937. While the bomber squadrons battered the Red sector reserves and the fortified positions in the rear, south of Ochandiano in cooperation with Spanish and Italian fliers; the artillery concentrated on the left wing directing their fire on the forward positions.
It was found that the enemy had stood his ground where artillery alone had been used, and that he had abandoned his positions almost without resistance only where bombing attacks had taken place. Especially useful proved the action of two 8.8 cm antiaircraft batteries against two hill positions, strongly manned by the enemy, which were outside the range of the Spanish artillery.
On the second day the right wing which had become stuck, could also be brought forward with the support of the bombing squadrons. But in the evening of the second day, it was found that the shock troops of the Corps Navarra were so tired out through insufficient food and lack of quarters that they demanded a day's rest. This created the danger of the enemy reorganizing his defensive powers. Following a protest by the Condor Legion, the order was given that only the morning of 2 April 1937 was to be used to replenish ammunition and food and that the attack was to be resumed at 1400 hours.
The bombing attacks of the Legion were carried out accurately. The assault brigades had not taken the battered down positions because they were overtired.
In the early morning of 3 April 1937, the attack was repeated. The bombers, constantly flying over the positions and constantly attacking with their bombs, brought about the sudden collapse of the originally strong enemy resistance.
In the late afternoon the enemy brought up strong reinforcements towards the breach. All the German, Italian, and Spanish bomber squadrons were thrown against these reinforcements. Approximately 80 tons of bombs were dropped on these reinforcements. As a later reconnaissance of the battlefield showed, the result had been devastating for the Reds. Even when the first aircraft appeared, the Red infantry began to move back in flight, and their bulk was caught on the move by the exploding bombs The hills attacked were occupied without a fight when night fell. Through statements of prisoners and through statements of the Red leaders, it became known later that the result of the bombing had had a catastrophic effect on the Red side.
In four more days of combat the Nationalist infantry succeeded in taking the hill positions north of Ochandiano with the help of the Condor Legion and with few casualties.
Now followed the regrouping of the attacking forces in front of the positions near Vergara. A prolonged period of bad weather, however, postponed the attack. Only on 25 April 1937, the White Infantry succeeded after a week's continued bombing attacks against the dominating positions in breaking through on both sides of Elgneta and to open the way for the attack on the, "Iron Belt". The Red positions southeast of Bilbao, which had been built in many months, were now ripped open on a 25 km. front. The soldiers of the Corps Navarra were driven forward by any means in a northwesterly direction. Continuous bombing attacks by the bomber groups on the crossroads and bridges slowed down the enemy's retreat so much that considerable parts could still be reached by the pursuers. In a few days, the enemy had been forced back for about 20 km., up to Guernica. The view was free up to the enemy main line of Bilbao, the "Iron Belt". Photo reconnaissance, carried out by the Condor Legion, confirmed that there were several lines of positions, wired and concreted, running in a 16 km. radius around the capital, which had been finished on both sides of all the roads leading into Bilbao, whereas the work on them was still in full swing on the northeast front. On these results of the reconnaissance the plan was based to drive a wedge against the position from the east and to break through it in one swift stroke.
The Rata and Curtiss fighter aircraft which appeared in the fighting around Bilbao were, by and by, destroyed by the two fighter squadrons of Bf 109s and one Italian fighter squadron. The attempt to feed the Red northern front with new bomber and fighter forces from the central front via France, did not succeed. The bulk of the Red air forces which were brought up did not succeed in reaching Bilbao; the rest was shot down before they could reach the northern territory of the Reds.
Breaking through the "Iron Belt": The attack against the main positions went according to schedule. Under the strict concentration of all German, Italian, and Spanish bomber squadrons, the resistance of the Red infantry collapsed. The enemy's heavy machine guns were put out of action by the German 2 cm. antiaircraft guns firing into the embrasures of the concrete pillboxes. Red counterattacks at night, which came up to within 20 m. of our lines, were shot to pieces by 2 cm guns. The effect of the 2 cm. guns was so disheartening that wherever the Red counterattacks ran into 2 cm. guns, they were immediately discontinued.
On the second day, we had succeeded in breaking through the dreaded "Iron Belt," surprisingly quickly and nearly without any losses of infantry. In the first place, this success was due to the cooperation between air force, artillery, and infantry, which had been tried out in long weeks. The attempt to destroy the enemy signal system by bomber attacks had so completely succeeded that the Red command in Bilbao obtained a clear picture of their own situation only four days after the break-through. In the course of the next four days, the resistance of Red rear guards in the immediate neighborhood of Bilbao was completely broken. Bilbao had been taken. It is true, the fight for Bilbao had taken nearly 3 months instead of a fortnight as planned. The assumption that the morale of the Basques would be low and that they would get no support from the Asturian battalions, proved false. The Basque soldiers and the Asturians had been fighting fanatically for their Marxist ideology.
The Battle of Brunete: Within 48 hours, the Condor Legion was transferred from the Vitoria-Burgos region to Madrid. The Condor Legion was reinforced by the Spanish Ju 52 squadron, 2 light bomber squadrons, and two Italian fighter groups which had been stationed due north of Toledo. The Red attack was stopped after it had been carried forward for 18 km. in the direction of Navalcarnero by continuous attacks of the bomber squadrons. A further advance would have made the whole of the Madrid front collapse. After the Red attack had been stopped, the Red air forces had to be destroyed in combat. The Reds had concentrated about 30 modern bombers (Russian--2-engined Kaliuskas, usually known as Martin bombers) and about 60 modern fighter planes (Rata and Curtis single-seaters) on the aerodromes around Madrid, which attacked continuously with a very unpleasant effect the national troops and their supply lines behind the breach. Only with the strong fighter support given by the Italian fighter groups and the two German Bf 109 squadrons was it possible to carry out the attack with the technically inferior Ju 62 squadrons. After the Red advance had been stopped, the Red air activities were paralyzed by systematic night attacks against the Red aerodromes. After a great number had been shot down over the battlefield by fighter aircraft and antiaircraft guns, no Red airman showed up over the battlefield of Brunete..
The intention of the Generalissimo was to restore the position on the ground around Brunete and to throw the enemy back into their old positions. The attacks against the Reds turned out to be very difficult and costly. Experience in cooperation of air force, artillery, and infantry, as had been gained in the fighting around Bilbao, was lacking, and thus the attack was not successful. On 24 July 1937, the Generalissimo himself took over the supreme command. All available ground and air forces were thrown into the very strong Red positions. The infantry gained only a few hundred meters. The Red command even succeeded in throwing back the White infantry by counterattacks. On 25 July 1937, the attack was repeated with the strictest concentration of all German, Italian, and Spanish air forces. Three times the great masses of Red tanks and infantry, standing by in the narrow valleys were attacked. Simultaneously, the total firing power of the artillery, including that of the five German heavy antiaircraft batteries was trained on the masses of the Reds assembled for the attack. After the second attack, mainly with 250 kg. bombs, which had a devastating effect on the Red masses, the morale of the Red shock troops collapsed suddenly. The Red troops were streaming back in flight. Red cavalry and Red tanks tried in vain to get their own men to stand by, shooting at them with live ammunition. The German He 51 squadrons pounced five times upon the hordes as they ebbed back, with their machine guns and with 10 kg. bombs, and prevented any sitting down of the retreating, demoralized enemy. The Reds themselves had given their losses through the attacks by the Nationalist air forces on 24-25 July 1937, as approximately 30000 men. The Reds' intention to attack had collapsed; the situation at Brunete had been restored, the attack in the north could continue. The Nationalist airmen had suffered considerable losses in this fight around Brunete; for the first time several had been shot down by Red night fighters.
The taking of Santander and Asturia: On 14 August 1937, Italian Legionnaries deployed for attack on both sides of the road Burgos-Santander, supported by the Italian Air Legion, and the Corps Navarra, with 4 divisions, supported by the Condor Legion and the available Spanish squadrons, deployed on both sides of the road Palencia-Reinosa-Torrelavega. On 14-15 August 1937, the two attacking columns had broken through the enemy positions after strong air and artillery preparations, and had penetrated on 21 August 1937, as far as the line San Vivente de Toranza-Toledo. The enemy was thrown back by incessant air attacks against the enemy positions and the roads in the rear.
By request of the Generalissimo parts of the Condor Legion which were already fighting in Asturia, were employed against Belchite. The Generalissimo had first intended to give up the fight in Asturia and to employ the total of his available forces around Zaragoza. At last the Generalissimo agreed to the arguments of the commander of the Condor Legion, first to clean up the position in the north completely, and thus the attack on the Asturian coast could continue.
Daily operations (up to four times a day) of the air squadrons of the Condor Legion broke the resistance of the hardy Asturians. Strictest concentration of the air forces on strong points, which were to be taken, served to keep the fighting fluid. The fire of 4 heavy antiaircraft batteries directed against any recognized troop movement, against hills and roads, and continuous bombing attacks slowly undermined the will to resist of the Asturian fighting men.
After we had succeeded in the middle of October 1937 in sinking nearly all the ships in the harbor of Gijon, among them 2 destroyers and several submarines, and setting the great fuel tanks in Gijon on fire, so that the Reds had no more fuel at their disposal, the Red leaders fled during the night of 20-21 October 1937 from Gijon, to be taken to French ships outside the 3 mile limit by Red boats and lighters.
How fierce the resistance of the Reds was, is proved by the following incident: When white flags were already indicating the break-down in Gijon and in Aviles, when Nationalist prisoners from Gijon already reached the Nationalist lines, marching on foot, two of our own bomber aircraft were still shot down by Red rifle fire. The rest of the Red air forces still in Gijon, about 30 modern fighter planes, led a heroic struggle up to the last day Although Red fighter aircraft was destroyed daily, the tough Red fighter pilots still attacked the German fighter planes, sometimes successfully. Gijon was taken on 21 October 1937.
During 6 weeks alone, the Condor Legion dropped 2500 tons of bombs and fired 1.13 million rounds of machine gun ammunition, 22500 rounds of 8.8 cm. shells and 31480 rounds of 2 cm. shells.
Asturia was taken, the northern front wiped out. Strong forces were free to be disposed of otherwise. The Generalissimo had great quantities of war material at his disposal for the formation of new units.
The armament base for a successful prolongation of the struggle had been prepared.
It was only a question of time until the troops of the Generalissimo would successfully conclude the war.
Generalissimo Franco to [the periodical] "Die Wehrmacht". [Letterhead] (Coat of Arms) [printed] [Printed] The Chief of State [Printed] Generalissimo of the National Armies.
The Spanish Army renders homage to the bravery and discipline of the
German comrades, embodied in the glorious dead fallen on Spanish soil.
[Signed] Franco, Burgos, 2 May 1939 The Year of Victory.