Image: Tinker's Chato Over the Teruel
Tinker's Chato Over the Teruel
(by Allan Herr)

Flyers of Fortune:
American Airmen in the Spanish Civil War

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This 60 minute radio documentary, based on the book Airmen Without Portfolio : U.S. Mercenaries in Civil War Spain, examines the flying careers of American aviators who flew for the Republic during Spain’s civil war. This program was first broadcasted November 27, 1998 on Peach State Public Radio (now Georgia Public Radio).

Frank Tinker's Military Tour in Spain

Albert Baumler's Military Tour in Spain

Ben Leider's Tragically Brief Tour in Spain

The Computation of Aerial Victories

Reorganization of the Republican Air Force

The Most Successful Republican Fighter Pilots

More Photographs and Illustrations

Suggested Reading

Related Links

Image: Frank Tinker and company

Frank Tinker and company

During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), over 2,800 U.S. volunteers went to Spain to defend the democratically-elected Spanish Republic against a military uprising headed by General Francisco Franco. In a period which witnessed the ascent to power of Hitler in Germany and Mussolini in Italy, these young Americans believed their defense of the Spanish Republic (January 1937 to October 1938) to be the last chance at stemming the tide of international fascism.

Well-documented is the record of those Americans who served with the Abraham Lincoln and George Washington battalions, volunteers who fought alongside the British, Irish, Canadian, and other nationals comprising the Fifteenth International Brigade. Historical notice, too, has been made of the courageous U.S. men and women who worked with the American Medical Bureau as nurses, doctors, ambulance drivers, and medical technicians.

Less well known, however, are the exploits of those American airmen who flew combat for the Spanish Republican Air Force against the best that Franco, Mussolini, and Hitler could send. Perhaps this oversight is due to their limited numbers, or perhaps the fact that these aviators accepted mercenary wages for their services ($1,500 per month salary and a $1,000 bounty on every Axis plane downed). It is regrettably true that a few of these pilots were unprepared for duty or acted unprofessionally while overseas, but the majority of these men acquitted themselves with distinction, and a select few outclassed their fascist adversaries in fighter aircraft over Spain.

Based on the book Airmen Without Portfolio: U.S. Mercenaries in Civil War Spain by John Carver Edwards, Special Projects Archivist for the University of Georgia Libraries, this 60-minute Peach State Public Radio documentary examines the flying careers of those handful of Americans who flew for the Republic during Spain’s civil war. Forerunners of General Claire Chennault’s famous "Flying Tigers" in China, the motives of these airmen ranged from the altruism of a dedicated young Communist and reporter for the New York Post, Benjamin David Leider, to the wheeler-dealer Harold (Whitey) Dahl, by profession a soldier-of-fortune, to the adventurer Frank Glasgow Tinker, a graduate of the Naval Academy (’33). Tinker emerged from his tour in Spain as America’s sole "ace" with 8 confirmed victories.

Writer Ernest Hemingway’s friendships with Arkansan Tinker and his sidekick Whitey Dahl are explored (Hemingway immortalized the pair in his short story Night Before Battle), and the U.S. press showed no reluctance to cover their exploits. Dahl’s downing and imprisonment by Franco’s forces and eventual release through the intercession of the flyer’s showgirl spouse and the State Department are integral parts of the story. The American government’s ultimate treatment of Tinker, Dahl and the rest of the U.S. airmen presaged the cool reception extended to our Vietnam veterans, with the resultant disillusionment of a substantial portion of these aviators. Some would serve again in China as "Flying Tigers", and in other theaters of war across the globe, but alcoholism and suicide claimed others. Brief profiles of the post-war lives and careers of each of these flyers offer an appropriate denouement to this documentary.

Prominent U.S. flyers featured in this documentary include:

  James William Marion "Tex" Allison October 1, 1905 - March 27, 1946 (1 confirmed victory)

Albert John "Ajax" Baumler April 17, 1914 - August 2, 1973 (4.5 confirmed victories)

Harold Evans "Whitey" Dahl June 29, 1909 – February 14, 1956 (5 unconfirmed victories)

Charles August "Tiny" Koch November 24, 1894 – September 5, 1983 (2 confirmed victories)

Benjamin David Leider October 18, 1901 – February 19, 1937 (1 confirmed victory)

Frank Glasgow Tinker July 14, 1909 – June 13, 1939 (8 confirmed victories)

This radio documentary is co-sponored by the Center for Humanities and Arts, the University of Georgia Research Foundation and the University of Georgia Libraries. Flyers of Fortune was co-produced by Susanna Capelouto and Cyd Hoskinson for Peach State Public Radio in 1998.

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