6th Fighter Group

The 6th Fighter Group was formed on 7 June 1940 and was put under the command of lt. cdor. av. Nicolae Radulescu. It was made up of two squadrons: 62nd and 63rd and was equipped with the already obsolete PZL P.24E. The new group was assigned to the 2nd Fighter Flotilla.

In January 1941, eight of the group's pilots, who mastered the P.24E very well were assigned to the German Fighter School at Pipera airfield, near Bucharest. Some of them were later reassigned to the newly created 8th Fighter Group, the first IAR-80 group.

In June 1941, the 6th Fighter Group was part of the 3rd Air Region. During the first month of war they flew missions mainly against VVS bombers attacking Ploesti or Bucharest, enjoying some success.

After the Red Army had been pushed out of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina and the 4th Army had encircled Odessa, the 6th Fighter Group was transferred on the front, as the possibility of Soviet bombers appearing over the oil fields was much slimmer.

During the 1941 campaign the group claimed eleven Soviet aircraft shot down (of which only five were confirmed) and another six destroyed on the ground. Three PZL P.24Es had been lost. Unfortunately not much is available on the activity of the 6th Fighter Group in the first year of war.

The unit returned to its base at Pipera and in January 1942, as more IARs became available, it started the transition from the P.24E to the IAR-81. Thus the group also received the "Bopi" (Bombardament in Picaj=Dive Bombing) title. The entire summer was dedicated to training on the new aircraft, as the 2nd Fighter Flotilla (to which the group was assigned) was preparing for war.

On 31 August the 6th Fighter Group received the order for departure on the front. It was put under the command of lt. cdor. av. Nicolae Radulescu and was made up of two squadrons: the 61st and the 62nd. They left on 3 September in formations of 8 aircraft each on the route Targsor-Galati-Odessa. Thenext day they continued to Melitopol. However an unfortunate incident occured. The IAR no. 153 flown by slt. av. Bujor Botezatu collided with no. 233 flown by lt. av. Vasile Fortu, resulting in the death of the first. Also adj. av. Dumitru Ilie damaged his IAR-81 no. 163 during landing. Things did not go very well the next day either. Adj. av. Constantin Cameni destroyed his aircraft after running out fuel and making an emergency landing on a field. The same thing happened on 6 September to adj. av. Vasile Chiriac.

Despite all these problems the 6th Fighter Group had reached the Tusov airfield, near Stalingrad, on7 September. The first two missions were flown two days later, totalling 8 sorties. But the first victories came on 13 September when slt. av. Olimp Avram and adj. av. Pompiliu Georgescu each shot down one Yak during a free hunt mission (of the three flown that day). Also adj. av. Gheorghe Pisoschi claimed a Soviet bomber, but it remained unconfirmed.

The next day was even more prolific, the pilots of the 61st Fighter Squadron claiming four Yaks, for the loss of one aircraft. On 15 September another four bomber escort missions (with 14 sorties), another three Yaks claimed (of which two confirmed) and another loss: adj. av. Nicolae Solomon. The following day (16 September) the pilots of the 62nd Fighter Squadron clashed with 6 Yak-1s, claiming four of them.

On 17 September the 6th Fighter Group flew four bomber escort missions (16 sorties). During the second one, the four IAR-81s engaged four Yaks and adj. stg. av. Florian Budu shot down one. By 1944 he became the highest scoring IAR ace with 16 victories. The third mission was practically identical and slt. av. Ioan Grama scored his first kill. On the last mission of the day, as they were returning to base, the four IAR-81s stumbled upon a formation of 10-12 Soviet bombers and before their escorts could intervene, slt. av. Mircea Dumitrescu shot down a Pe-2. The group also suffered a loss, when slt. av. Olimpiu Avram crash landed his IAR-81 no. 237 near German forward position. But because the Soviets managed to occupy the area for a short while, the aircraft was lost. During the night, 7 or 8 bombers attacked the airfield, lightly damaging one fighter.

The group suffered two losses the following day, one of the pilots being listed as MIA. The other managed to safely bail out. Two days later, another pilot, slt. av. Mihai Weber, was declared MIA, after a bomber escort mission.

The Romanian pilots took their revenge on 27 September, when two IAR-81s clashed with 15 Yaks over Stalingrad. Slt. av. Olimpiu Avram managed to shoot down one of the Soviet fighters, but adj. av. Anghel Niculescu was wounded. He, however, managed to make an emergency landing. The airplane was repairable. The escort missions continued the next days without problems.

On 1 October, the 6th Fighter Group had 25 IAR-81s in its inventory.

Two days later 10 IAR-81s (six in the first mission and four in the second) hit targets in Stalingrad, while other two flew a free hunting mission. In the morning of 4 October seven IAR-81s struck Soviet positions north of the city. Three hours later another six dive-bombers attacked the same area, with good results. One aircraft was damaged by Soviet AAA. The next day, at 0700, four IAR-81s took off with the mission to bomb the Stalingrad Tractor Factory. The AA defence was very strong and two of the airplanes were damaged, but they all scored direct hits.

The group moved to Morozovskaya airfield for winter. But during the following days they also used the Bakovskaya and Pereleasovsky airfields, in order to be able to execute all the escort missions they were required to.

After the Red Army broke the front in November 1942, the group was employed in ground attack and recon missions, when the weather permitted. Thus was lost adj. sef av. Vasile Truica, who was shot down by AAA north of Chernicherskaya.

They started December with two bomber escort missions on 1 and one escort mission the second day. On 6 December, the 8th Fighter Group started to prepare to return home, leaving some of its pilots to the 6th Fighter Group.

A very odd event occurred on 7 December, when, during an escort mission, adj. av. Gheorghe Pisoschi got lost in the myst and stumbled upon three Yaks. He attacked them by surprise, hit one which collided with a second one, both exploding and going down in flames. The same day another dogfight took place between two IAR-81s escorting some He-111s and two Yaks, the Soviets being forced to disengage.

Because of the fact that the number of serviceable aircraft had declined drastically, the 6th Fighter Group was reorganized with material transferred from the 8th Fighter Group, which left on 9 December. The 61st Fighter Squadron received IAR-80A & Bs, while all the IAR-81s were amassed in the 62nd.

The IARs continued to escort Romanian He-111s and German Stukas the next days. Fighting peaked on 12 December when were flown also five dive-bomber missions by the 62nd Squadron. The village Nis - Kalinovsky was set on fire, while the village Zhubovsky was attacked four times. A Yak was claimed by the IARs escorting their colleagues. The next day the group executed 14 missions (45 sorties), of which four in direct support of Romanian ground forces struggling on the river Chir (the 2nd Corps). Four tanks were destroyed and effects on another armored column could not be onserved. The rest were bomber escort missions. Only two were free hunts. During the last one 3 UAR-80s clashed with Yaks, claiming three (but only one was confirmed later).

On 20 December, the group enjoyed some considerable success. At 0830 8 IAR-80s took off on an escort mission for Romanian JRS-79Bs which were supposed to attack Bukovsky. At 0900 the formation was attacked by 5 Yaks. Two minutes later another four Yaks joined the dogfight. However, two Soviet fighters were shot down by slt. av. Baciu and by adj. av. Cocebas. At 0915 another 3 Yaks attacked and adj. av. Cocebas bagged his second victory that day. But they spotted two Il-4s, unescorted and slt. Baciu attacked, claiming one of them. However, it was not confirmed and it remained only a probable kill. Later that day, during another escort mission, 7 IAR-80Bs clashed with 7 Yak-1s, each side losing one aircraft.

The intense activity of the 6th Fighter Group drawed the attention of the VVS, which the following day replied by bombing the Morozovskaya airfield. The returning IARs chased the bombers away, adj. Gheorghe Cocebas scoring his fifth kill. It was also the last kill of the 6th Fighter Group in the 1942 campaign.

On 23 December the unit moved to the Tatchinskaya airfield, where it remained until the end of the year. On 2 January the group moved once again, this time to Rostov.

The first missions in 1943 were flown on 6 January, all escorting He-111s. But the low temperatures proved too much for the IAR 14KIVc32 engines, which experienced a lot of problems. It was decided to retreat the unit to Melitopol, where on 23 January it entered an official refitting period. It had spent 138 days on the front, of which 81 of fighting. 255 missions were flown (718 sorties) of which 30 missions were dive-bombing missions. 22.6 tons of bombs were dropped and 26 victories were confirmed. Another two remained probable. 11 IARs were lost in combat (8 in dogfights and 3 were shot down by the AAA).

In February 1943 the group started the trip to the Targsor airbase in Romania, where it was supposed to re-enter in the air defence system of the Prahova Valley. In May, the 59th Fighter Squadron joined the 6th Fighter Group.

Picture from "Vanatorul IAR-80, istoria unui erou necunoscut" by Dan Antoniu & George Cicos, MODELISM, 2000

Pipera airfield, 1 August 1943

The quiet period they enjoyed during the spring and summer of 1943 ended on 1 August, when the 9th Air Force conducted the famous "Tidal Wave" Operation. The group had 15 IARs available, but only 12 pilots. they took off at 1320 and made contact with the enemy at 1350 in the area Crivina-Peris-Buftea. They attacked and prevented them to fly over Bucharest and forced them to change direction. Adj. av. Aurel Vlădăreanu shot down one enemy plane near Ploesti and adj. sef av. Dumitru Ilie had two probable kills. The B-24s were both in flames, but continued to fly and crossed the frontier. They probably fell in Bulgaria or in the Mediterranean. Lt. av. Carol Anastasescu was the high scorer of the day with 2 B-24s destroyed. He however was wounded abd had to make an emergency landing. The same for adj. av. Gheorghe Cocebas, whose engine was hit. But his airplane was repairable. The conclusion was that the IAR-80Bs with their two HMGs were not a very powerful adversary for the American bombers. They needed more firepower.

In November the 6th Fighter Group moved to the Popesti-Leordeni airfield, near Bucharest. They operated from this base during the USAAF bombing campaign of 1944. The unit's CO was cpt. av. Dan Vizanti.

Picture from "Vanatorul IAR-80, istoria unui erou necunoscut" by Dan Antoniu & George Cicos, MODELISM, 2000

The 59th Fighter Squadron in January 1944

In April, when the first American raids started, the group had 33 IAR-81Cs. These were all employed on 4 April, when wave after wave of B-24s attacked Bucharest. Eight B-24s were claimed, but only four were confirmed. Three IARs were damaged in combat and had to make forced landings. The next day, the bombers returned and this time they hit the Ploesti area. The 6th Fighter Group flew 40 sorties, claiming five kills of which three were confirmed. The first two days of fighting proved to be very fruitful for the 6th Fighter Group.

However, on 16 April they failed to intercept the B-24s that attacked Brasov and destroyed parts of the IAR factory. The next raid was five days later. The 6th Fighter Group scrambled 30 fighters. Because of the low visibility the formation split up before it made contact with the American bomber formations. To make things worse, the B-24s were escorted this time. The consequences were disastrous: 4 pilots were killed and another four aircraft were damaged (but repairable). The conclusion was that the IAR-81Cs had practically no chance in a battle with the much faster P-51s and P-38s, but could perform well against unescorted bombers.

On 24 April the group scrambled 29 IARs. They intercepted the enemy formation at about 7000-7500 m, before it reached Ploesti. But they attacked only in the moment when friendly AAA started to fire and the American escorts left the bombers alone. Six kills were claimed, but only three were confirmed. It was a pretty dangerous maneuver, as the AAA fired at everything that was flying. When the fighters returned, the IARs disengaged.

The next raid was on 5 May, when the 6th Fighter Group raised 27 aircraft in the air to meet the 15th Air Force. They met the enemy formations at Ploesti at about 7000 m. Cpt. av. Dan Vizanti gave the order to attack only the unescorted bombers. After two passes one B-24 fell down in flames. One IAR-81C was damaged and had to make an emergency landing. The following day none of the 27 airplanes the group put in the air met the Americans.

On 7 May, the 29 IAR-81Cs available engaged the bomber formations around Bucharest and obtained two confirmed kills and one probable, without suffering any loss. The tactic of avoiding the contact with the superior American fighters yielded good results.

The 15th Air Force attacked again on 18 May. At 10:32 am the group took off with 26 fighters and intercepted the bombers before they reached Ploesti. Eight were shot down, but lt. av. Gheorghe Lupescu was killed when his IAR-81C no. 301 fell near Uiesti. Also, slt. av. Iatan's aircraft was damaged by two P-38s, but he managed to land in good conditions. He had a very big hole in the fuel tank, but luckily the airplane did not catch fire.

The number of available airplanes increased and on 31 May the 6th Fighter Group was able to put 32 IAR-81Cs in the air. These engaged the Americans near Bucharest at an altitude of 7000-8000 m, beyond the possibilities of the old, underpowered IAR. However, five kills were scored and another one was listed as probable. But this day fell adj. av. Florian Budu, the highest scoring IAR-80 ace.

Picture from "Vanatorul IAR-80, istoria unui erou necunoscut" by Dan Antoniu & George Cicos, MODELISM, 2000

An IAR-81C is being refueled on the airfield

Only one victory on 6 June, but the next raid, on 10 June, proved to be the last glory day of the IAR-80 and of the 6th Fighter Group. The 15th Air Force decided to make another low-level attack on the refineries, similar to the one on 1 August 1943, this time with the 82nd Fighter Group and the 1st Fighter Group providing the escort. The 6th Fighter Group raised 23 IAR-81Cs in the air, at 12:30 am. At about 2500 m ground station signalled that "two feathered Indians" (the code name for P-38s) are attacking the airfield. Cpt. av. Dan Vizanti then gave the order: "Paris to Paris 1,2,3. We attack! Follow me!" The entire group dived on the unsuspecting pilots of the 71st Fighter Squadron (1st Fighter Group). The dogfight took place at an altitude of a few hundred meters and it lasted four minutes. The nimbler IAR-81C proved to be more than a match for the Lightning at that altitude. Within this short time span, 14 P-38s were shot down. The Romanian pilots claimed 23, but this is easily explainable due to the confusing circumstances. The 6th Fighter Group lost four men, two because of a mid-air collision.

On 11 June they did not manage to engage the American formations. Two days later, the group sent a several aircraft to fly over Bucharest to honour those who died on 10 June.

Things got worse on 23 June, when there only 18 aircraft available. However, these took off and met the 15th Air Force's bombers at 7000 m near Bucharest. Four B-17s were shot down, but the Mustangs jumped the IARs and in the following dogfight two pilots were killed (adj. av. Constantin Dimache and slt. av. Victor Petric) and another two were wounded (adj. av. Dumitru Ilie and adj. av. Gheorghe Cocebas, a 12 and a 10 victory aces). The next day, the 16 IAR-81Cs put in the air were again intercepted before they could attack the bombers, so they disengaged, without suffering any losses. The same thing happened on 28 June.

Their last air battle with the USAAF was on 3 July, when cpt.av. Dan Vizanti led 20 IAR-81Cs against the American formations, but they only met Lightnings and Mustangs. One IAR was damaged by the P-51s, but managed to make it back to the airfield.

On 20 July the IAR-80 gorups were forbidden to engage the American formations, because the lives of the pilots were needlessly sacrificed. The 6th Fighter Group started to receive replacements from the 1st Fighter Group.

Picture from "Vanatorul IAR-80, istoria unui erou necunoscut" by Dan Antoniu & George Cicos, MODELISM, 2000

Pilots from the 6th Fighter Group in the summer of 1944

After the events on 23 August, the 6th Fighter Group was moved to the Turnisor airfield in Transylvania at the beginning of September. The first missions in the new theatre were flown on 15 September, when the group executed 6 missions (36 sorties). Until 18 September the group made another 132 sorties, flying in support of the ground troops, which were engaged in some ferocious fighting.

The group's only kills in this campaign came on 23 September, when the 8 IAR-81Cs, that were escorting Romanian Hs-129B2s, clashed with 8 Fw-190Fs over Turda. Some Bf-109Gs from JG 52 joined the dogfight and so did other IAR-80s. The pilots of the 6th Fighter Group claimed four Luftwaffe airplanes, of which only two were confirmed. It lost two aircraft and one pilot. The other managed to bail out in time.

Despite this success, the IARs were no longer fit for fighter missions and were suffering heavy casualties from the more experienced and faster German pilots. So the decision was taken to convert the 6th Fighter Group into a Bf-109 group. On 8 October it moved to the Targsor airfield, outside the area of operations and began its training. A part of its pilots, including the CO cpt. av. Dan Vizanti would eventually return on the front with the 1st Fighter Group.

Thus ends the story of the most prolific IAR-80 fighter group...

Author: Victor Nitu
Antoniu D., Cicos G. Vanatorul IAR-80, istoria unui erou necunoscut, Editura MODELISM, 2000 BernĂ¡d D. Rumanian Air Force, the prime decade 1938-1947, Squadron/Signal Publications, 1999
User Comments Add Comment
Filip  (10 January 2010)
Am si eu poza a doua acasa cea cu pilotii si unul dintre ei este cred unchiul meu Cazut in aprilie '44 Dumitru Gheorghe Calciu.

Dan Antoniu  (21 January 2006)
In acest articol s-a strcurat o eroare, prima foto Airfild Popesti Leordeni, in cartea IAR-80 Istiria......... la pagina 146 scrie Aerodrom Pipera, denumirea corecta, iar pentru informare precizez ca cele 4 hangare ce apar in fundalul fotografiei respective exista si astazi si foarte important vor fi noua locatie a Muzeului Aviatiei.