Romanian Armed Forces
in the Second World War
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Fighter Units
1st Figher Group
2nd Fighter Group
5th Fighter Group
6th Fighter Group
7th Fighter Group
8th Fighter Group
9th Fighter Group
1st Figher Group

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

The emblem of the 1st Fighter Group on the cowling of an IAR-80

On 25 October 1939 the 2nd Fighter Flotilla was created. It consisted of the 1st and 4th Fighter Group.

The 1st Fighter Group was commanded by lt. cdor. av. Govela and was equipped with 20 P.11fs, divided between the 41st and 42nd Squadron. On 18 December 1940 it moved on the Floresti airfield.

In January 1941, 7 of the group's pilots were designated to start training on the IAR-80 and in June, the 1st Fighter Group became the 1st Training Group and moved to Turda in Transylvania. This unit was suppose to prepare the future IAR-80 pilots. The PZL fighters were assigned to the 3rd Fighter Flotilla.

On 1 July, the 41st Fighter Squadron, completely equipped with IAR-80s, joined the 8th Fighter Group on the front. In August, the 42nd Squadron was joined with the badly hit 52nd and formed the IAR equipped 42/52nd Fighter Squadron, which was also assigned to the 8th Fighter Group.

In September 1943 the 1st Fighter Group was reactivated. It now had 3 squadrons: 55th, 63rd and 64th and was based on Targsorul Nou airfield, in Romania. In November it was moved on the Rosiorii de Vede airfield, as part of the air defense of Bucharest and of the Ploesti area. Also, the 43rd Squadron replaced the 55th. The group was put under the command of cpt. cdor. av. Ioan Sandu.

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

Cpt. cdor. av. Ioan Sandu with two of his squadron commanders: lt. av. Gulan and cpt. av. Stefanescu

On 4 April 1944, took place the first raid of the US 15th Air Force over Romania. 24 IAR-80Cs of the 1st Fighter Group took off to intercept the bombers. As a result, the group claimed 10 B-24s shot down, of which only 8 were confirmed. One of them belonged to the unit's commander, cpt. cdor. av. Ioan Sandu. The group lost 1 airplane and another two crash landed. Three pilots were wounded. One of them however managed to come back with his airplane to base and make a safe landing.

The following day the Americans returned. The group scrambled 23 fighters. The 63rd and 64th Squadrons encountered only a lone B-24, which escaped in the clouds. Only the 43rd manage to find a formation of about 30 B-24 and attacked them and shot down 3. During this mission the American fighters also made their presence felt. Adj. av. Raghiga Dumitrescu was engaged by four P-38s. He managed to fire on one of them and smoke started to come out of the Lightning. He was attacked by the others and went down in flames. He was the first pilot lost by the group. Another two airplanes crash landed and two pilots were wounded.

The next raid was 15 April. From the 1st Fighter Group 24 IAR-80Cs took off, but only a celulă (Romanian for Rotte) from the 63rd Squadron stumbled upon an enemy formation. The result was one B-24 shot down and one IAR-80 damaged. On 16 April there was another raid, but the 25 of the group's fighters, which were scrambled, didn't encounter the enemy.

On 21 April, the bombers of the 15th Air Force returned this time with a powerful fighter cover. From the 1st Fighter Group, 26 airplanes took off at 11:20. A patrulă (Romanian for Schwarm) from the 43rd Squadron encountered about 30 unescorted B-24s, attacked and shot down 2. Another patrulă, however, was surprised by Mustangs from the 31st Fighter Group as they were coming out of the clouds and all four were shot down. A third patrulă attacked a B-24 which was separated from the bomber formation and probably shot it down. The 63rd Squadron attacked also a bomber formation, but lost it in the clouds. The airplanes got separated during their attempt to follow the B-24s and soon were attacked by P-38s. The day was a regular carnage for the 1st Fighter Group: 5 pilots killed, 2 wounded and 6 airplanes destroyed and another 4 damaged.

Profile courtesy of Bogdan Patrascu

This IAR-80B was later equipped with two Mauser 20 mm cannons and assigned to the 1st Fighter Group in 1944

Three days later, another raid took place. 16 IARs from the 1st Fighter Group were sent to meet the bombers. A patrulă from the 43rd Squadron encountered about 150 B-24s and attempted to attack them, but were themselves attacked by P-51s and had to flee. Adj. av. Constantin Popescu remained behind his comrades and stumbled upon a formation 40 B-24s. He surprised them and downed three. A formation from the 63rd Squadron spotted a lone P-38, which they probably shot down. Only one of the group's IAR-80C was damaged.

On 5 May, the 1st Fighter Group scrambled 19 airplanes to meet the attackers. They encountered a large formation of B-24s, escorted by 80-90 fighters, and engaged them. Nine Liberators were claimed shot down, but eight were later confirmed. The group suffered no casualties. The next day, the 15 IAR-80Cs, which took off to intercept the American formations, claimed 7 aircraft, 5 bombers and two P-38s. One Romanian pilot was wounded. Their luck changed on 7 May. Only one B-24 was shot down by adj. av. Dumitru Chera. The group had one wounded pilot and 3 damaged aircraft.

The next raid was 18 May, when 19 IARs from the 1st Fighter Group took off to engage the bombers of the 15th Air Force. The entire group attacked a formation of B-17s and shot down two of them. The patrulă under the command of lt. av. Ioan Micu (one of the aces of the 1941 campaign) was attacked by 12 Lightnings and, in the following dogfight, the Romanian ace downed one P-38. The same day, slt. av. Gheorghe Cristea was lost.

On 31 May, the group sent his dwindling forces to engage the incoming bombers. Two were shot down, but two pilots were killed in action. Only 16 airplanes remained available. These took off on 6 June and intercepted an American formation and shot one B-24 and one B-17. The latter, however, remained unconfirmed. Two Romanian fighters were damaged, but were repairable. Four days later, the 15 IARs of the 1st Fighter Group didn't encounter the enemy. The next day the group only scored one victory (a B-17), but suffered no losses.

Until 23 June, the date of the next American raid, the number of available aircraft in the 1st Fighter Group increased. So 19 fighters were scrambled against the B-17 formations. Two were shot down, but the Mustangs took a heavy toll among the Romanian pilots. Two were killed and another three crash landed. Among those killed was the group's commander, cpt. cdor. av. Ioan Sandu. The next day, the remaining 17 IAR-80Cs attacked once again the B-17s, but without results.

On 28 June, the 1st Fighter Group scrambled its 17 IARs and intercepted a bomber formation and attacked it, while trying to avoid the Mustangs. Three B-17s were shot down. Also, adj. av. Zisu Sava claimed a P-51, which remained probable. This is the only case when a IAR-80 pilot claimed a Mustang. The group lost cpt. av. Stefanescu and adj. av. Prasinopol was wounded.

This was the last battle with USAAF. A part of the 1st Fighter Group's pilots and airplanes were assigned to the 6th Fighter Group. At the end of July, the group started to train in order to convert to the Bf-109G.

During the winter of 1944/45 the group was reorganized. It had only two squadrons: the 61st and 64th. It was put under the command of cpt. av. Dan Vizanti, the former commander of the 6th Fighter Group. This new group was sent to the front in Slovakia in early 1945, where it was suppose to help the exhausted 9th Fighter Group. The first missions were flown on 20 February. The lack of experience on the Bf-109G among most of the group's members was obvious and soon they were diverted to air support missions. Anyway, after 25, Luftwaffe didn't appear in the area, except for several reconnaissance flights. The only "casualties" suffered by the 1st Fighter Group during this last campaign were two pilots that defected on 26 March to a German air base.

Picture from "Rumanian Air Force, the prime decade 1938-1947" by Dénes Bernád, Squadron/Signal Publications, 1999

Pilots from the 1st Fighter Group on the front in Czechoslovakia

After the war, several Romanian pilots reportedly took part in a large Allied-organized air show at Wiener-Neustadt on 1 June 1945. These airmen were asked to represent the German techniques and equipment, including the Bf-109G6, and provide a comparison to the latest US and Soviet aircraft types. On the way back to Miskolc, two pilots from the 1st Fighter Group, of. echip. cls. III Ion Milu and lt. av. Dumitru Baciu met several P-51Ds over Hungary and waggled their wings as a recognition sign. The Mustangs waved back when the aircraft passed each other. A Soviet Il-2 formation, escorted by Yak-3s, came along a few minutes later. The Romanians again waggled their wings, however, the Soviets did not wave back and flew on in the opposite direction. The last two Yaks suddenly broke formation and jumped on the two "Gustavs". Milu had enough of the war (five years and 45 confirmed victories) and decided not to engage the aggressors. So he dived to safety. Lt. av. Baciu apparently managed to shoot down one Soviet and returned home with 16 holes in his aircraft. This is probably the last victory achieved by a Romanian fighter pilot.

Author: Victor Nitu
Antoniu D., Cicos G., [i]Vanatorul IAR-80, istoria unui erou necunoscut[/i], Modelism International, 200
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