Pilot officer Rodolphe de Grunne- A nationalist pilot in SCW.

Discussion in 'The War In The Air' started by Waddell, Mar 18, 2023.

  1. Waddell

    Waddell Well-Known Member

    I am reading Norman Frank's older book 'Sky Tiger- The Story of Sailor Malan'. There is a section where it talks about the loss of Pilot Officer Rodolphe de Grunne of 609 Squadron RAF and mentions that he had 'previously flown with the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War, flying Fiat CR32s and later Messerschmitt 109s, destroying 14 Republican aircraft'.

    Some information about him here-


    So he was a Belgian national and fought on the fascist side in the Spanish Civil War. He returned to Belgian after the war and when WW2 started he was flying Hurricanes with the Belgian Air Force. Soon afterwards he made his way to England to serve in the RAF. By that stage he was a very skilled and experienced fighter pilot.

    My question is, bearing in mind that his homeland was now under threat of the Germans, some of whom he would likely have fought alongside in Spain, would at any stage his allegiance be questioned? Would other RAF pilots have questioned him? It seems a bit at odds- fighting for a fascist cause overseas, yet against a fascist cause when his own homeland was under threat.

    Not questioning his bravery. Just how it may have appeared at the time. There seem to be a few grey areas.

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  2. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron


    In my research here I have come across several examples of British nationals serving in the Nationalist cause in the Spanish Civil War, who it appears had no difficulties in joining up once war was declared.

    1) Lieutenant Gilbert William Nangle. A short summary: He had served in an Indian Army infantry battalion, after leaving he served in the Spanish Regiment of Foreigners (also known in Spain as the Foreign Legion) during the Spanish Civil War and by 1940 was serving in the Palestine Police before having an emergency commission and had served in Iraq on secret missions. He left the ILRS for the Gurkhas in early 1942 and died at Monte Cassino in 1944. From: http://www.cookstownwardead.co.uk/persondepth.asp?cas_id=437

    2) Peter Kemp:
    From: Major Peter Kemp, SOE: The man just liked fighting — a true war lover

    I have also encountered references to Nationalist veterans, including some of British origin, being recruited into service, as trainers for SOE. There could be a thread on this theme here.

    The UK's official stance in the Spanish Civil War was 'non-interference' and the ideologies involved were far from clear. In the nationalist side there were anarchists and communists who fought their war against each other. Many saw the conflict as between communism and nationalism. Not sure when Franco and his supporters became fascists, indeed were they?
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  3. Waddell

    Waddell Well-Known Member

    Thanks David,

    Those two examples are very interesting. I take your point in the last sentence about individual's ideologies being far from clear. Reading around it seems that even George Orwell came to that conclusion. Probably a conflict I need to read more about.

    I read a book many years ago about Australian involvement and recall three veterans later serving in the RAF. They were from the Republican side, which confused me regarding de Grunne.

  4. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

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  5. Waddell

    Waddell Well-Known Member


    From the last link-

    "My father, Tom Taylorson, was a glider pilot and he told me that he was a reserve pilot for Freshman. He told me that Strathdee had flown for the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War and as such he was probably the only Briton who had flown the 109 when the WW11 broke out. He told me that the RAF grilled him about the 109 but wouldn't let him into the RAF which would explain why he came to the GPR from the Royal Armoured Corps.
    Does anyone have any idea about how to find out about Brits who fought for Franco, presumably as part of the Condor Legion?"

    Hard to see how de Grunne didn't fall into the same category, apart from being a Belgian national. Pehaps he never told them:)

    You would think experience of the BF109 would be invaluable for RAF Intelligence.

  6. alieneyes

    alieneyes Senior Member

    Franco's International Brigades:Foreign Volunteers and Fascist Dictators in the Spanish Civil War: Foreign Volunteers and Fascist Dictators in the Spanish Cival War : Christopher Othen: Amazon.co.uk: Books

    It's an expensive book which I'm glad I grabbed when it was published.


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  7. Waddell

    Waddell Well-Known Member

    Thanks. That does look interesting. So excluding the 15,000 Germans and 70,000 Italians, who were a different type of volunteer that leaves 15,000 foreign volunteers that made their own way to Spain to fight with the Nationalists. That is a fair number of individuals.


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