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The Mystery Of Corrochano: The Unknown Secret Mission Of The First Pilot Wounded In The Civil War

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We barely find the name of Jos Corrochano three or four times in the newspaper library of the National Library of Spain (BNE), cited in the long list of promotions of pilots before the outbreak of the Civil War. They are all found in aviation publications, such as the ‘Official Bulletin of the General Directorate of Civil Aeronautics’ and the ‘Aerea’ magazine. Little is known about this captain who, in March 1939, transferred several Republican emissaries to Burgos for a “top secret” meeting with Francoist commanders to negotiate the surrender and who, later, prevented General Jose Miaja from being captured in a flight “in extremis” to exile in Oran (Algeria).

The two lives of the anarchist who nearly killed Franco four days before the Civil War
Corrochano was born in the Toledo municipality of Talavera de la Reina in 1901, in a wealthy family with a father affiliated with the Liberal Party. In 1923, two years after presenting himself to the oppositions of the Post and Telegraph Corps, he was mobilized to fight in the Rif, that war in which the greatest catastrophe in the history of the Spanish Army had occurred shortly before, Annual, with more than ten thousand soldiers killed. Many of them viciously butchered by Abd El-Krim’s indigenous hordes, about whom the writer Ramon J. Sender recalled how his women went to the rear, torturing and finishing off the wounded.

It was in this infernal scenario that our protagonist was trained as a complement soldier for Engineers and where he requested to join the Military Aeronautics as a volunteer. For this he had to take a course in Los Alcazares (Murcia) as a bomber machine gunner and, in 1925, he was again assigned to Africa. The website ‘War in Madrid’, where a detailed profile of the pilot is offered, speaks of a service record with numerous bombing and strafing operations. A day after the Al Hoceima disembarkation, they say, he had to make an emergency landing at the mouth of the Kert River after his plane received more than twenty bullet wounds. His first combat in the Civil War

After almost three years of participating in military actions as a machine gunner in Morocco, Corrochano wanted to train as a pilot at the Alcala de Henares airfield. After passing his practices in July 1928, he was assigned to the Getafe aerodrome, where he remained until the proclamation of the Second Republic. Immediately afterward, he decided to leave the Army and join civil aviation, but he was not allowed to disengage from Military Aviation until 1934. That year he began to take aerial photographs for the Ministry of Finance, within a project related to the cadastre. A job that he combined with that of a test pilot in Cuatro Vientos until the Civil War broke out, on July 18, 1936, and he joined Getafe’s group 31 on the Republican side. Not a week had passed and he was already fighting the Francoists on the Somosierra front, in the first air confrontations that took place in the conflict.

It is here that its popularity peak occurs, so to speak, before falling back into anonymity until its “top secret” mission in the final months of the Civil War. It was on July 26 as a result of an important fight with three Francoist Breguet XIXe. “A civilian pilot, wounded in the Somosierra action,” read the headline of the newspaper ‘Now’. “At 8 in the morning a fighter flew,” he recounted, “our only plane there at that time was. He entered the Sierra, reappeared, and, after giving the command the report of his observations, he prepared to continue to Guadarrama. Suddenly, four rebel planes appeared, and, catching our plane in the middle, they fired at it furiously. Our aviator, with supreme security and serenity, avoided the attacks and threw shrapnel on the enemy, who fled through the mountains. Half an hour later, the loyal plane landed in a majestic flight without the slightest damage. Instead, Corrochano received a bullet in the right thigh of the one who was treated at the hospital. The wound was superficial and, although it bled heavily, the brave pilot had a leisurely lunch and chatted animatedly with the doctors and officers. The first wounded pilot

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In ‘El Liberal’ more details were given, “Upon reaching the enemy lines, three enemy aircraft met him. Against them he fought a real fight, piercing the wings of two. The third, however, flew under the intrepid Corrochano and, firing heavy machine gun fire at him, wounded him in the leg. Despite this, he looked for a place in the vicinity to land, and, after gliding around Buitrago de Lozoya, he landed in some fields without the plane suffering the slightest damage. This bravery and fearlessness is the comment among the combatants in this sector, who praise the performance of this honorable aviator. Finally, ‘El Sol’ included the statements of our protagonist at the entrance to the hospital, full of “serenity and strength”, in which he greeted other combatants with his fist raised “Courage, comrades. Victory is ours! What a misfortune I have had! But she is not a fairy. For its part, the book “Aviation in the Spanish War” (Ministry of Defense, 2000) assures that Corrochano was the first pilot wounded in combat during the Spanish war.

Shortly after that, he has promoted to lieutenant and from then on it is very difficult to keep track of him. ‘War in Madrid’ assures that he was first transferred to the northern front and, later, he was appointed head of the Transport and Links Squadron of the General Staff of the Republic Air Forces, with the mission of transferring the main commands of the Republican Army on his travels through Spain. Specifically, he became General Miaja’s pilot, with whom he established a very special friendship at the same time that it became known that some of his bodyguards had planned his kidnapping and delivery of Franco.

Top secret mission

A month before the actor Fernando Fernandez de Cordoba read the last part of the Civil War, on April 1, 1939 – “the Red Army captive and disarmed, the national troops have reached their last objectives” – Corrochano was ordered to participate in the aforementioned “top secret” mission. One of the most delicate operations of the conflict, which our pilot would have to carry out with the utmost discretion, not so much because of the danger it could entail but because of its importance.

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It was launched at dawn from March 5 to 6, 1939, when General Manuel Matallana received a call from Colonel Segismundo Casado to inform him that he had risen up against his own president, Juan Negrín, who already only had the support of Soviets and Communists. The conspiracy had been brewing for a month, in the midst of the insurmountable rupture suffered by the Republican side with two well-differentiated factions. One was committed to peace and an armistice with Franco and, headed by Azaña, and another led by Negrín, appointed president that same month, who was in favor of continuing the war.

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Shortly after the call, three planes were leaving for France with Negrin and his team. Casado then took power and continued with his plans to negotiate the end of the war. The population had watched in horror, in recent months, how the Republicans killed each other. The resulting death toll has never been clear. There are historians who speak of 2,000 and others of 20,000. That is why the colonel had been holding conversations with Francoist delegates for a month, although without much success.

Colonel Casado informed the Franco Government on March 12 that he himself and General Matallana wanted to go to Burgos to negotiate the terms of peace, based on the so-called Concessions of the Generalissimo. But the next day Franco’s answer came, in which he said that he was not willing to have the enemy superior commanders go there “, explained two years ago the director of Guadarramistas Historia, Angel Sanchez Crespo, in a report published in the magazine ‘ Clio ‘. He agreed, yes, to hold two meetings between other Republican and Francoist representatives. Corrochano was ordered to fly the plane with these emissaries – Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Garijo and Major Leopoldo Ortega – and three members of the fifth column to the Gamonal airfield in Burgos, where he would be received by the Francoist delegation. Madrileños knew then that secret peace negotiations were taking place, but did not know the details. Two Parisian newspapers, ‘Le Peuple’ and ‘L’ Action Francaise ’, did publish some details, such as that the“ famous pilot Corrochano ”had been in charge of transporting the emissaries of the Republic to Burgos.

The second trip took place two days later, on March 25, and our protagonist was again in charge of piloting the Douglas DC-2 that would take them there in absolute secrecy. «Between 9 am and 12 noon today, the arrival of a red plane with authorized emissaries is expected to come to our area and land at the Gamonal airfield. I am communicating this to you so that you can give the appropriate orders to the Antiaircraft Service so that it is warned and does not fire on said apparatus, “communicated a telegram from the Francoist SIPM, picked up by” Guerra en Madrid.

“None of the meetings that were held obtained from Franco anything other than unconditional surrender, without receiving in return sufficient guarantees that his famous concessions would be fulfilled,” added Sanchez Crespo. Paul Preston gave his opinion in his book ‘The End of the War. The last stab at the Republic ‘(Debate, 2014) that, “in his dealings with Franco, Casado behaved as if he had nothing to negotiate with. He seemed to forget the fact that Franco was obsessed with Madrid, the very symbol of the resistance, where he had failed in 1936, and the following year at Jarama and Brunete ». In the second meeting, in fact, the person in charge of the aerodrome urged Corrochano to start the engines at 5:00 p.m., by order of Franco, to take off immediately. Apparently, he had gotten tired of negotiating.

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The Defense Council understood the situation and accepted the surrender, ordering the civil governors to prepare the evacuation. Four days later, Franco ordered a general offensive on all fronts. He had concluded the negotiations and his troops were advancing through Extremadura without encountering any resistance. They quickly occupied Almadén (Ciudad Real) and other towns in Toledo, until ending the last resistance in the province of Alicante, on whose docks a desperate attempt to escape by more than 150,000 supporters of the Republic had taken place.

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Of the members of the Defense Council, only Besteiro remained in his office, where he was arrested and died on September 27, 1940, in the Carmona prison, Seville. Colonel Casado, along with a dozen members of his Government, had traveled to Valencia four days earlier, in a plane also piloted by Corrochano at the time when the enemy was about to arrive in Madrid. In a last attempt to save the prestige of his “betrayal”, the last Republican president issued a message from Radio Valencia in which he affirmed that “the good faith of the victors cannot be doubted. We have obtained a decent and honorable peace, in the best possible conditions, without bloodshed Miaja’s escape.

From the port of Gandia, Casado fled on a British ship to Marseille. He then left for Great Britain, where he was exiled without being able to reunite with his family until 1951. That same year he left for Venezuela and, a year later, for Colombia, to return to Spain in 1961. Here he was tried and acquitted. But for his part, Captain Corrochano chose to stay in Valencia until the morning of March 28, 1939, just the day the first Francoist troops entered the capital. Our protagonist once again took the controls of a plane, the Airspeed Envoy, in his last secret operation, to transfer Miaja, the hero of the defense of Madrid and one of Franco’s most hated characters, into exile as soon as possible, with the aim of to save his life.

The destination was Oran (Algeria). Miaja’s nephew related in his memoirs that, at 9 am, Corrochano was already in Rabasa, “very nervous”, waiting for the general and his entourage. It was finally the last to take off as a result of the delay of its passengers. From that moment, the pilot has lost track of him, although the website ‘Madrid en Guerra’ assures that the pilot’s direct descendants think that he surrendered to the Francoist authorities in 1940 and that he spent six years in different prisons until he was put in freedom in 1946. He died in Salamanca in 1975.

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