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51st Fighter Squadron emblem

The 5th Fighter Group was created on 15 September 1939. It was made up of the 10th and 11th Fighter Squadron and was equipped with the new He-112Bs, which had just arrived from Germany. In October the two squadrons were renamed 51st and 52nd.

The pilots finished the training on the new aircraft in the spring of 1940. In June, the 51st Squadron was transferred in Transylvania were it was supposed to intercept the Hungarian recon flights. However, they failed, mainly because of the poor speed of the He-112B. On 27 August, lt. av. (r) Nicolae Polizu intruded in the Hungarian airspace and intercepted a Ca-135 on a training flight and seriously damaged it.

Following the Vienna Diktat, NW Transylvania was given to Hungary. So the 51st Squadron joined the 52nd at Mizil. In October the group was moved on the Pipera airfield, near Bucharest.

On 15 June 1941, the 5th Fighter Group, under the command of lt. cdor. av. Gheorghe Miclescu, was moved to the Focsani-North airfield, as part of the preparations for Operation Barbarossa. It had 24 He-112Bs available for action. These were going to be used primarily as ground attack aircraft and not as fighters in the upcoming offensive. The He-112Bs armament: two 20 mm cannons and two 7.92 mm machine-guns and six small bombs recommended it for this job, but the lack of armor protection and specialized training for the pilots were the cause for many losses, during air support missions.

On 22 June 1941, the group conducted its first mission. 12 He-112Bs took off to escort several Potez 633 B2 bombers that were supposed to attack the Soviet airfields at Bolgrad and Bulgarica. They reached their second target, there were already about 30 I-16s in the air. Slt. av. Teodor Moscu surprised two Ratas that were just taking off and short one down. He then saw another I-16, which was coming directly at him, and fired again. The Soviet was hit and went down in the Danube. But he had several Soviets on his tail and was hit himself. He managed to maneuver and fire on one of the attackers, before he and his wingman head for home. He managed to put his damaged Heinkel down on the first friendly airfield. Slt. av. Moscu had scored two confirmed and one probable kill.

The next day occured also the first loss in combat of an ARR fighter. Twelve He-112Bs of the 5th Fighter Group made a low-level attack on the Bolgrad airfield. They were intercepted by 7 I-153s. The leader of the formation was kap. Piotr Kozachenko (a 15 victory ace of the wars with Japan and Finland). He shot down the He-112B flown by adj. av. Anghel Codrut, who was probably killed. The same day, another 4 He-112s engaged 10 Soviet fighters, but without success.

The ground offensive didn't start in the Romanian sector of the front until the night of 2/3 July. Until then the 5th Fighter Group conducted airfield-strafing missions, just before dawn, followed by attacks on Soviet columns and troops concentrations. The escort missions were rare. On one such mission, on 28 June, one Heinkel was damaged by the Soviet AAA and later crashed, killing the pilot. The same day, another He-112 was shot down and the pilot was wounded.

On 2 July another two airplanes and pilots were lost to ground fire during low-level attacks. However lt. av. Radu Reinek managed to shoot down two Ratas. Three days later, the He-112Bs attacked again the Bulgarica airfield. After dropping the bombs the pilots strafed the lines of camouflaged airplanes. One Soviet I-153 was also shot down, when it was climbing to meet the attackers. The same day, another patrula (Romanian for Schwarm) provided fighter cover for a bomber formation. They were engaged by 12 fighters. In the following dogfight, 4 VVS aircraft were shot down, for the loss of one He-112B.

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

This He-112B, flown by adj. av. Aldea Cerchez, was shot down by Soviet AAA on 2 July 1941

The day 12 July was marked by intense air activity, as the Soviet forces were attacking the Romanian 5th Corps in the Tiganca area. The Romanian bombers repeatedly struck the Soviet positions. The 5th Fighter Group attacked artillery batteries and troop concentrations. The He-112B piloted by lt. av. (r) Ioan Lascu was lost and the pilot killed during one attack against Soviet tanks and artillery in the Hartoapelor Valley. Another He-112 was damaged. Lt. av. Lascu was awarded post-mortem the highest Romanian military order: Mihai Viteazul Order 3rd class. However, during an escort mission that day, slt. av. Ion Zaharia manage to shoot down a I-16, saving a P.37B from the 4th Bomber Group.

On 17 July two He-112Bs of the 5th Fighter Group destroyed a Soviet locomotive. The next day a Heinkel crash-landed in friendly territory after it was damaged during a weather reconnaissance mission.

Because of the severe losses sustained in the first weeks of the campaign, only 14 Heinkels were still available. The 52nd Fighter Squadron transferred its remaining aircraft to the 51st Squadron and then was merged with the 42nd Squadron. Together they formed the 42/52nd Squadron, equipped with IAR-80s.

Picture from "He-112 in action" by Dénes Bernád, Squadron/Signal Publications, 1996

This He-112B of the 52nd Fighter Squadron was among the few which survived the war

The 42/52nd Squadron was assigned on 15 August to the 8th Fighter Group. Until then, the fighters shot down 5 Soviet aircraft. The 5th Fighter Group was based on the Mamaia airfield with the 51st (He-112B) and 59th Fighter Squadron (IAR-80). Ten days later, during a patrol over the Black Sea, adj. av. Valeriu Eremia from the 59th Squadron shot down a I-16 close to the Serpent Island.

At the end of August, the 42/52nd Squadron replaced the 59th Squadron. The 51st Squadron was assigned to home defense and transferred to Ramnicu Sarat airfield. Only the 42/52nd remained on the front at Odessa.

On 27 August 1941, during a patrol mission, a IAR-80 patrula from the 42/52nd Squadron encountered 9 Soviet bombers and their escorts. They attacked and shot down 4 of the bombers. The fighters intevened and serg. TR Nicolae Sculi Logotheti shot down one of them. Two days later, the 5th Fighter Group's pilots claimed 5 I-16s during fighter sweeps, but only 4 were confirmed.

On 5 September, one patrula flew a free-hunting mission near Odessa. Several I-16s were attacking the ground troops and the IAR-80s intervened. Soon 3 Ratas were shot down. On 13 September, 8 IAR-80s from the 42/52nd Squadron, joined 4 Bf-109Es from the 7th Fighter Group in an attack of a bomber formation escorted by 14 I-16s. They downed 3 DB-3s and a I-16 was credited as a probable kill. Two days later, a similar Romanian formation engaged 12 Ratas. Of. echip. cls. III Ioan Maga shot down two of them, thus obtaining the ace status with five kills. By the end of the 1941 campaign he would reach the score of seven victories, one of them being obtained the next day, during a bomber escort mission, when the fighters of the 42/52nd Squadron claimed three I-16s.

The Soviet fighters tried to attack the Salz airfield on 23 September, but several IAR-80s and Bf-109Es took off and dispersed them. The pilots of the 42/52nd Squadron shot down 2 of them. The next day, during a patrol, another 2 I-16s were claimed. Another one was credited as a probable, raising the total number of kills attributed to the 42/52nd Fighter Squadron to 26 confirmed and 4 probable, during one month of activity in the 5th Fighter Group.

On 26 September, the squadron was disbanded. All the materials were taken over by the 52nd Fighter Squadron. At the beginning of October, the 51st also joined the 5th Fighter Group near Odessa. Until 16 October 1941, when the Battle of Odessa ended, the group obtained only one more victory. The 1941 campaign was over for ARR.

On 21 October, the 52nd Squadron moved back to the Pipera airfield near Bucharest, while the 51st remained at Odessa to provide fighter cover for Axis naval convoys.

In January 1942, the 51st Squadron was temporarily assigned to the 3rd Fighter Group and in April the 52nd was given to the 9th Fighter Group. The 5th Fighter Group exercised control over the 53rd Fighter Squadron, which was on the Mamaia airfield on the Black Sea coast. In July, the 51st, which was still equipped with the He-112B, returned to the group and was based on the Pipera airfield.

On 19 July, one of the fighters took off to intercept the Soviet night bombers that were heading for Bucharest. This was the first night flight of a Romanian fighter. In 1943, the 51st Squadron was equipped with Bf-110Cs and renamed the 51st Night Fighter Squadron and later the 1st Night Fighter Squadron and was assigned to IV./NJG 6.

In August 1942, the 52nd Fighter Squadron returned to the group and took over from the 53rd the coastal defense and convoy fighter cover duties. The 53rd, which had been equipped with the Hawker Hurricane Mk. I, started converting to the IAR-80. Later it converted again to Bf-109Es. Thus in 1943 it was the first Romanian unit to receive Bf-109Gs. The squadron left the 5th Fighter Group and was assigned to the joint German-Romanian unit I./JG 4.

The 52nd Squadron at Mamaia, under the command of cpt. av. Gheorghe Iliescu, had a quiet and pleasant life, compared to the Romanian units on the front. However, the flights over the Black Sea were dangerous for the single-engine fighters. Even a small malfunction of the engine could lead to a loss at sea. In the summer of 1943, the squadron started to receive some of the remaining Bf-109Es. At the end of the year it had 11 Bf-109s and 7 IAR-80s.

On 15 February, the 51st Squadron, commanded by cpt. av. Valentin Stanescu, was moved to the Cocargeaua airfield and started the process of reequipping with Bf-109E7s, but it also received 9 IAR-80s. Until April, it had only 4 Bf-109Es operational.

The first USAAF air raid over Romania in 1944, took place on 4 April. The next day the Americans returned. This time the 5th Fighter Group participated in the air battle. The 51st Squadron scrambled 4 Bf-109Es and 8 IAR-80s, which intercepted the last waves of Liberators and claimed one confirmed and one probable victory. The 52nd sent 7 Emils that scored 4 kills. The squadron commander, cpt. av. Iliescu, was hit in the engine and wings and had to crash land his aircraft.

The 51st Squadron also took off to intercept the bombers on 21 April, but didn't obtain any results. The same thing three days later, when one of the airplanes was damaged. The 52nd participated in the air battle that day, but without results.

On 18 May, the 5th Fighter Group scrambled its airplanes and attacked the bomber formations. The 51st Squadron didn't achieve anything and returned to base with one aircraft damaged. The 52nd engaged the B-24s and managed to scatter one American formation and damage several bombers, before the P-38s intervened and forced them to disengage. They had to return to base, because they didn't have enough fuel to continue the battle. On their way back, lt. av. Ioan Galea and his wingman spotted 3 Lightnings, attacked them and shot down one. They landed at the airfield with the last drop of fuel. The same day, lt. av. Horia Pop, who was on a patrol mission over the Danube Delta, encountered a lone P-38 and also shot it down.

Because the Soviet forces were already on Romanian soil and their air bases were closer, the raids against Constanta intensified, so the 52nd Squadron didn't participate in the following engagements with the 15th Air Force. This squadron did not have too much success against the Americans, mostly because of the age of the aircraft, which had already seen one or two campaigns in Russia in extreme conditions. Another factor would be the fact that it was based on the seaside, 200-250 km away from the target area, and had only a limited time for battle, before they ran out of fuel.

After 23 August 1944, the 52nd Squadron joined the 51st on Cocargeaua airfield. The group didn't participate in the following aerial battles with the Axis and so the story ends here.

Autor: Victor Nitu
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