During world war II, Britain contemplated joining the ranks of the Air Force (RAF) Spanish pilots with Republicans interned in French camps
Article written by Carlos Lázaro Ávila
At the end of the campaign of Catalonia (February of 1939), some 400.000 civilian and military Spanish refugees crossed the Pyrenees, They are confined mainly in Argelès sur mer and other French internment camps. Months later, separated military personnel civilian; most aviators, Basque gudaris and International Brigades who had fought in Spain were transferred to Gurs camp (Pyrenees Atlantiques). Due to the expansionism of Japan on Indochina, Paris considered the possibility of creating with the Spaniards of Gurs a Foreign Legion Aviation to defend their colonies in Asia. For it, Lieutenant Colonel was informed. Urzáiz Guzmán, official maximum range of Gurs, that would be visited by General M. Gamelin, Commander in Chief of the French Army, but when the offer was disclosed or was roundly rejected by the Spanish, They are claiming that only fight against German and Italian.
Before the Spanish refusal, Paris pressed them: or they not enlist in the foreign legion, or entered in the Companies of Foreign Workers fortify the northern border to the German ... advancing or returning to Spain. From May 1939, there were airmen who accepted the offer of asylum in the USSR, mechanics and aviation specialists entered the French aeronautical factories (Breguet, Dewoitine, Bloch, etc.,…) others were hired by farmers in the region as farm laborers and lumberjacks and the rest, thanks to its mastery of French, He worked in administrative services Gurs. The subsequent German occupation of France made the military Republicans were subjected to a triple fence: the collaborationist Vichy government, the Gestapo, and Franco government that collaborated with the previous two to locate and extradite the exiled Spain most significant. Faced with this dilemma, the military or were mobilized to work on the Atlantic Wall and factories in Germany, or they integrated into the Resistance.
Spanish Republicans in military custody by French colonial troops Argelés
The British offer: Egypt!
French military supply Republicans military is a well known by historiography topic. Now we know that Britain wanted to recruit the Spanish military for use in the defense of his empire. In spring 1939, Gurs internees and other French camps were visited by British politicians and prominent nobles. K. Marjory Stewart-Murray, Duchess of Atholl and Member of Parliament for the Conservative Party was one of the most prominent members The National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief (NJCSR) who supported the Republic during the war. Gurs British nobleman visited and offered the pilots join the Royal Air Force (RAF) with which would move to Egypt under the leadership of former chief of the FAR at the end of the war, Colonel A. Camacho Benitez.
Shortly after, British interest in aviators expanded to the rest of the Republican military. Members of the British High Command received a proposal P. Rodd (another member of NJCSR) It is indicating that among 270.000 Spanish soldiers interned in France could select a division first class, trustworthy, of veteran troops. A document received later in the Foreign Office the 6 May 1939 It contained a report by Major General Sir John Kennedy of the British Red Cross. Kennedy claimed that another British official had contacted the general E. Jurado Neighborhood and Major M. Pérez owner, former heads of the Special Defense Against Aircraft (DECA) Catalonia and head of the DECA in Barcelona, respectively.
He 12 of May, the British Admiralty sent a secret letter to General Kennedy to consider the possibility of bringing the Spanish military to Egypt as refugees and use them as a reserve for the race. But in another document that how to organize flyers explained the problems of the proposal also it indicated: the RAF could not cover one Spanish Air Legion whose volunteers had no British parents and London could not form a Spanish air unit that did not have a Foreign Legion. Those were the arguments in the British Parliament, It is rejected the proposal.
The question arises: Were these the real reasons for not prosper Air Legion? ¿Valued Britain the possibility of not altering the precarious neutrality Franco? The historian N. Cerda said that London did not make a good assessment of military experience in Spain (especially the importance of air defense) and he paid during the Blitz 1940. At that dramatic moment, the British, need of seasoned aviators, They did not question the origin of the parents of Polish airmen and Czechoslovaks fled occupied Europe.
Lord Palmerston said “Nations have no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests, therefore London also remembered the Republican military for use in a hypothetical invasion of the Canary Islands ...”
About the Author: Carlos Lazaro Avila is Doctor in Geography and History and aviation historian. Author of eleven books and numerous articles, (Spanish aeronautical period 1896-1945). Member of the Association of Aviators of the Republic (MARCH), Fellow of the Historical and Cultural Service of the Air Force (SHYCEA), partner Infante de Orleans Foundation and patron of the Foundation Indalecio Prieto.
Article Source: excerpt from the article "A Spanish Air Legion in Egypt?"Published in History of War No. 7. March 2018.
Source photography: Archive Association of Aviators of the Republic, MARCH