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Frank G. Tinker, Mercenary Ace in the Spanish Civil War
  • ISBN/SKU: 9781612510545
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Era: 20th Century
  • Number of Pages: 384
  • Subject: Biography
  • Date Available: October 2011
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Full Description:
  • Cargill R. Hall, author of Five Down, No Glory is the recipient of the 2012 Air Force Historical Foundation's "Best Book Reviewed in Air Power History Award
  • Cargill R. Hall, author of Five Down, No Glory is the recipient of the 2012 American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics History Manuscript Award

Frank G. Tinker, Jr. was the top American ace flying under contract with the Spanish Republican Air Force in the Spanish Civil War. A U.S. Naval Academy graduate, Class of 1933, he went into combat with Soviet airmen during the war. Through sheer perseverance, he rose from a teenage enlisted seaman, through the U.S. Naval Academy, to the officer's wardroom—then pressed on to claim the wings of a naval aviator and to become a top-flight fighter pilot and a published author.  Tinker possessed extraordinary people skills—skills that allowed him to move with relative ease among common seamen, naval officers, foreign combat pilots, left-wing literati in Madrid and Paris, and the rural folk of Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana, who embraced him as "one of their own." While in Spain, Tinker socialized with Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gellhorn, Robert Hale Merriman, the leader of the American Volunteers of the Lincoln Brigade, and Milton Wolff, Merriman's successor, who led the 15th International Brigade during the Battle of the Ebro. 

This first in-depth biography of Tinker covers his experience in combat, culminating with his commanding a Soviet squadron and terminating his contract with the government of Spain. Tinker would become the top American ace during the Spanish Civil War after downing eight enemy airplanes in combat. On returning to the United States, he wrote a memoir about fighting for Republican Spain and in June 1939 died under mysterious circumstances in Little Rock, Arkansas. The authors, well-known aviation historians, also offer a rare discussion of the aerial tactics introduced in the Spanish Civil War that became standard procedures in World War II and firmly establish Tinker’s aviation feats for the historical record.

Richard K. Smith served as an engineer in the U.S. Merchant Marine before completing his degrees in history at the University of Illinois and University of Chicago. He is the author of The Airships Akron & Macon: Aircraft Carriers of the U.S. Navy and the award-winning?First Across! The U.S. Navy's Transatlantic Flight of 1919.

R. Cargill Hall is Emeritus Chief Historian of the National Reconnaissance Office of the Department of Defense. Previously he served in various history positions for the Air Force History and Museums Program and as historian at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Hall is the recipient of the 2012 American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics History Manuscript Award for Five Down, No Glory. He lives in Arlington, TX.

 Praise for Five Down, No Glory

“…This is a good read that puts a face on aerial combat in what arguably marked the beginning of World War II.”

Air Power History

“A well-written, comprehensive biography of a major aviator in the Spanish Civil War. “

The Northern Mariner/Le marin du nord, October 2012

“…A highly illuminating account of a near-legendary Navy alumnus during a colorful period of military aviation.”

Naval Aviation News, Winter 2012


Military Heritage, February 2012

“A splendid biography.”

Air and Space, February/March 2012

Five Down, No Glory is an intriguing discussion of a mercenary and what brings a man to that status.”

The Midwest Book Review, November 2011

“A true soldier of fortune, Tinker lived wildly and fought hard for the Loyalist cause, and the authors rivet you to each swiftly turning page with incredible detail. The introduction by Richard Hallion and the notes alone are worth the price of this fascinating book.”

—COL. WALTER J. BOYNE, USAF (RET.), National Aviation Hall of Fame member, author of Hypersonic Thunder

“This fascinating and well-paced account of Tinker's experiences in Spain outlines the evolution of military aviation on the eve of World War II, illuminates the complicated and sometimes conflicted role of American expatriate pilots like Tinker, and explores the character of a free-spirited and still somewhat enigmatic figure.”

—CRAIG L. SYMONDS, author of The Battle of Midway

“Smith and Hall deliver a fascinating account of a little-known aviator who combined a deft touch in the cockpit with affable social skills that brought him into contact with some of the most influential people of his day. Written in clear prose, the authors illuminate the life and contributions of a Renaissance man and ace and show his influence on aerial tactics.”

—JOHN F. WUKOVITS, author of Black Sheep: The Life of Pappy Boyington

“Frank Tinker’s improbable career reads like an adventure novel about a sailor, Annapolis graduate, naval pilot, and fighter ace in Spain; he rubbed elbows with a veritable Who’s Who of the 1930s. Every page of this fast-paced tale of a daredevil who lived on the edge brings fascinating revelations, ranging from trivia like Ernest Hemingway’s favorite drink to deadly calculations of the best tactics to shoot down a Messerschmitt Bf 109.”

—EDWARD J. DREA, author of Japan's Imperial Army: Its Rise and Fall, 1853–1945

“Frank Tinker was a complex, energetic young man who felt most at home in the cockpit of a fighter plane. Drawing upon his private diary, family records, and other primary sources, this first full account of Tinker's life reads like an adventure story. Better yet . . . it has the added advantage of being an accurate account of an air war that presaged the great aerial battles over Europe during World War II.”

—CAPT. GEORGE W. CULLY, USAF (RET.), former director of the Office of History, Air University

“A 1933 Naval Academy graduate, Frank Tinker went on to become an ace for the Spanish Republic. Richard Smith and R. Cargill Hall relate Tinker’s colorful—some would say bizarre—story with panache, illuminating the Spanish Civil War and war in the air during a period of portentous change. This is aviation history at its best, packed with informed technical commentary.”

—John F. Guilmartin Jr., author of A Very Short War: The Mayaguez and the Battle of Koh Tang

Customer Reviews
1 Review
Average Customer Reviews
5.00 Stars
A Naval Academy mercenary pilot in the Spanish Civil War
Monday, October 17, 2011
By: Max Bennett

I highly recommend this very well written book that tells the fascinating story of a young man from Arkansas, a graduate of the Naval Academy, who fought as a mercenary pilot for the Spanish government during the tragic Spanish civil war of 1936 - 1939. The book is replete with photos of the men and their planes, charts, maps and illustrations. Frank Tinker's great ambition was to attend the Naval Academy and become a Navy officer and pilot and he accomplished both with great difficulty in the small peace-time depression-era U. S. Navy. And then, because of his love of flying, pulled some not so funny pranks in flight and on shore that gave him the option of a court martial or a resignation of his commission. He opted for the latter, took a job as a third officer on a civilian tanker ship and then learned of the Spanish Civil War and Spain's need for contract pilots. He jumped at the chance, signed a lucrative contract at the Spanish Embassy in Mexico City (the U. S. was officially neutral), received a Spanish name, cover story and passport, and reported for duty defending the war-torn Republic of Spain in January of 1937. He joined several American, Spanish, and a larger number of Soviet pilots in a unit that flew combat missions in planes built and supplied by the Soviets. He was under the command of a Soviet pilot and squad leader much of the time. He flew against planes and crews supplied by Germany and Italy who were both openly supporting Franco and his Nationalists. The authors describe in detail the air battles. Tinker became an acclaimed ace during those battles. (A half million Spaniards perished in the war. Franco's forces prevailed and he became the leader or de-facto leader of Spain until his death in 1975) Between the frequent and demanding missions, however, life was often grand for Tinker in Spain. Billeted in conscripted and staffed Spanish mansions the pilots enjoyed their off-cuty hours playing table games and listening to Verdi's Rigolleto on Frank' victrola. They enjoyed their frequent leaves in Madrid's nightclubs and hotels. Ernest Hemingway hosted and befriended Tinker and the other pilots when they were in town at his well-stocked-with-Scotch-whisky apartment in Madrid's Florida Hotel. When Madrid was under attack the basement of the nearby Prado served as a bomb shelter. Experiencing the wear and tear of many missions and several very close calls Tinker terminated his contract on good terms after severn months, eight kills and one probable, and returned to Arkansas, wrote a book, purchased and rebuilt an old plane, joined a fraternity, took a two month canoe trip down the Mississippi, made a number of public appearances and then died under suspicious circumstances in a Little Rock hotel room on June 13, 1939, at the age of 29. The author's epilogue on what happened to the pilots and the Madrid landmarks after the war completes the book. The Soviet pilots, for example, did not all fare well upon their return to Stalin's paranoia.



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