Frank G. Tinker, Jr., a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, Class of 1933, flew in combat with Soviet airmen during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). Flying with the Spanish Republican Air Force, he was the top American ace during the Spanish Civil War.
This biography deals with his experience in combat, culminating with Tinker commanding a Soviet squadron and terminating his contract with the government of Spain. After returning to the United States, he wrote a memoir about fighting for Republican Spain and later died under mysterious circumstances in Little Rock in June 1939. While there have been other books about the air war during the Spanish Civil War, this book differs from the preceding ones on two counts. First, it is the complete biography of a most colorful and uncommon young man—based not only on his memoir, but on Tinker family papers and his own personal records. 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 become a superlative fighter pilot and a published author. More unusual still, he possessed extraordinary people skills—skills that allowed him to deal and move with relative ease among Navy compatriots, 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, Robert Hale Merriman, the leader of the American Volunteers of the Lincoln Brigade and his successor Milton Wolff, who led the 15th International Brigade during the Battle of the Ebro. All this he managed before his death at age twenty-nine. Second, the book focuses on the aerial tactics introduced in the Spanish Civil War that became standard military practice a few years later in World War II. Included are descriptions of the German introduction of the “Finger Four” fighter formation that replaced the “V of three or four” formation then in vogue; the first use of military airlift to move large numbers of troops and equipment into combat; the greater accuracy and destructiveness of dive bombers vice high altitude bombers; perfection of the “silent approach” used by high altitude bombers before the introduction of radar early warning; and air intelligence reports that asserted daylight high altitude bombers could not “get through” and return from enemy territory successfully without the protection of fighter cover. U.S. Army Air Corps leaders at that time had fashioned a doctrine that the high speed, high altitude, “self-defending” daylight bomber would always get through, and rejected these intelligence reports—at a subsequent cost in lives of hundreds of high altitude bomber aircrews in Europe in World War II.