Five Down, No Glory: Frank G. Tinker, Mercenary Ace in the Spanish Civil War
Air Power History59.3 (Fall 2012): 59-60.
In 1938, Tinker published his account of fighting for the Republican forces and also wrote a number of articles for aviation journals after his return from Spain. Having previously received his papers as a mate, Tinker spent much of the next year serving on Standard Oil Company tankers.
Five Down, No Glory: Frank G. Tinker, Mercenary Ace in the Spanish Civil War. By Richard K. Smith and R. Cargill Hall. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2011. Maps. Photographs. Notes. Appendices. Index. Pp xiii, 377. $36.95 ISBN: 978-1-61251-054-5
R. Cargill Hall, a former U.S.Air Force historian, left government service in 2009. Fortunately for students of the Spanish Civil War, he continued to practice his craft. Hall began editing the efforts of his good friend, the late Richard K. Smith, a noted historian of aeronautical engineering. Hall estimates Smith started researching Tinker’s life in the early 1960s. By about 1983, Smith had completed a draft that he set aside for the next 20 years. Before he died in 2003, Smith asked Hall to review it. Hall decided the best course was to expand on Smith’s work.
Fortunately for his biographers, Tinker left a detailed account of his life. Smith and Hall had access to letters to family members and diaries. In 1938, Tinker published his account of fighting for the Republican forces and also wrote a number of articles for aviation journals after his return from Spain. The authors thoughtfully list Tinker’s published works in one of the four appendices.
Aside from the first chapter that briefly introduces Tinker, the book proceeds in a straightforward, chronological manner. After high school, Tinker bounced in and out of the US Navy and Army. He served as a seaman, graduated from Annapolis in 1933 but didn’t receive his commission until 18 months later, and nearly completed flight school at Randolph Field with the Air Corps before receiving his wings at Pensacola in January 1935. His frying time with the fleet lasted only six months before he resigned his commission rather than face court-martial proceedings. Having previously received his papers as a mate, Tinker spent much of the next year serving on Standard Oil Company tankers. His heart, however, remained with flying.
In the summer of 1936, civil war erupted in Spain as nationalist rebels, led by Francisco Franco, challenged the government. Nazi Germany and fascist Italy backed the rebels. The government, with substantial assistance from the Soviet Union, began recruiting foreigners.
Tinker arrived in Spain in early 1937. Flying Russian-built Polikarpov 1-15 and 1-16 fighters for the next eight months, he received credit for eight victories, including two Bf 109s. Hall and Smith provide a detailed account of Tinker’s experience and insight into Republican Air Force operations. Most revealing is the inability of the Republican fighters to successfully intercept the relatively fast German- and Italian-built bombers. By comparison, the successes of the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain and Claire Chennault in China against the Japanese seem all the more remarkable.
In the epilogue, Hall and Smith include more than two dozen biographical sketches on Tinker’s compatriots, most of whom were Spaniards or Russians. While the notes are extensive, a bibliography would have been appreciated. Nevertheless, this is a good read that puts a face on aerial combat in what arguably marked the beginning of World War II.
Lt. Col. Steve Ellis, USAFR (Ret), docent, Museum of Flight, Seattle, Washington.
Word count: 520
Copyright Air Force Historical Foundation Fall 2012