Frank Tinker American Pilot in Spain
Frank Tinker, American pilot in Spain
By Christopher L. Eger
One of the handfuls of American volunteer pilots that flew for the Republican forces during the Spanish Civil War, Frank Tinker is a forgotten ace.
American pilots have always had a reputation as being something of adventurers. It is hard to find a single war or conflict that American flyers of fortune did not participate in. Volunteer US pilots flew for Pancho Villa. Enough volunteer Americans of all backgrounds flew for the French Air Force in the early stages of World War 1 to form their own squadron, the Lafayette Escadrille. Later, Americans formed the Flying Tigers under the Nationalist Chinese Flag and the Eagle Squadron under the British Jack to fight Japan and Nazi Germany before the US entry into World War 2. A tale often overlooked in history is that of the handful of US pilots who flew for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. One of these men, Frank Tinker, became an ace.
Frank Glasgow Tinker was born July 14, 1909 in the tiny Cajun town of Kaplan, deep in the swamps of Louisiana. At age 25, he joined the US Navy and after a few years won an appointment to the Naval Academy at Annapolis. He graduated from that school as an ensign in 1933 during the height of the Great Depression. Tinker became a floatplane pilot and flew scout missions from cruisers for a few years before being cashiered from the service in 1935. The next year the unemployed pilot presented himself to the Republican forces in Spain and was soon flying bombers for $1500 per month.
Tinker, who had only ever flown scout planes and bombers, was reassigned to the 1st Escadrille de Chatos and given a Soviet built Polikarpov I-15 biplane. Alternating between No. 56 and No. 58 planes in the squadron, he shot down four German and Italian aircraft in a three-month period. This brought about his transfer to the Mosca Squadron and reassignment to an I-16 monoplane fighter. In the next three months flying over the lines, he downed another four aircraft. Remarkably these included the first ever victory over a German Condor Legion Messerschmidt BF109. When compared to Tinker’s dumpy I-16 (which Soviet pilots nicknamed “Ishak” –donkey), which had a top speed of 326mph, the Messerschmidt was more than 20% faster.
Death in exile
Tinker soon returned to America after hanging out with Hemingway and published a book, “Some Still Live,” about his flying in Spain in 1938. This brought him some notoriety but also blacklisted him from being able to rejoin the US military. Even though he had shot down eight planes in 6 months of combat (he claimed 11) in Spain, both the Army and Navy refused to allow him to reenlist. While waiting for a position with the Flying Tigers, he died of a self-inflected gunshot wound in a hotel room in Arkansas a month before his 30th birthday.
The inscription on his grave simply says, “Who knows?” in Spanish.
Edwards, John Carver. Airmen Without Portfolio: U.S. Mercenaries in Civil War Spain University of Georgia Press
Flyers of Fortune, Radio documentary by the University of Georgia available at http://www.libs.uga.edu/flyers/
The Frank Tinker Memorial page http://imansolas.freeservers.com/Aces/Frank_Tinker.html accessed 5/28/2012
Tinker, FG. Some Still Live. Funk and Wagnall’s, New York, 1938