cpt. av. (r) Constantin "Bāzu" Cantacuzino


Fighter Pilot

Born: 11 November 1905, Bucharest


Combat missions: 608

Victories: 56 confirmed + 13 probable


Died: 26 May 1958, Spain


Constantin Cantacuzino was born on 11 November 1905 in Bucharest. His father was Mihai Cantacuzino and his mother Maria Rosetti. They were both from old ROmanian noble families and very, very rich. For example, after 1921, when many lands were expropriated and given to the peasants, his estate in Jilavele, still had 1,172 ha, a huge surface of high quality agricultural land. After his father died, Maria Rosetti married for a second time with George Enescu (Romania's best composer and a world class violinist). Constantin went to high-school in Bucharest. He loved motor sports and he could afford to practice them all the time. He was an excellent biker, winning several races, and driver. He set a new record on the Paris-Bucharest race. He also played tennis and was the captain of the Romanian ice hockey team at the World Championship in 1933.

Picture courtesy of cdor. Ion Morariu

Constantin Cantacuzino after a motorcycle race in the '30s.

That year he attended the "Mircea Cantacuzino" Flight School and obtained the pilot's license quickly. Bāzu, as he was nick-named, flew a lot around Europe until the beginning of the war, sometimes in very difficult weather conditions. He was the pilot of prince G. V. Bibescu, the president of the International Aviation Federation, and accumulated over 2000 flight hours all across Europe. In 1939 he won the national aerial aerobatics contest with his Bücker Bü-133 Jungmeister.

In 1941 was named chief-pilot of the Romanian national air transport company LARES. Even though this was a comfortable and cozy job, he managed to get in the front line as a fighter pilot in the 53rd Fighter Squadron (equipped with Hurricane Mk. I). From 5 July, when he started flying war missions, until 31 October 1941, when he was demobilized, he claimed 4 kills (3 DB-3 and 1 I-16) and 2 probable (1 DB-3 and 1 I-16). After the capture of Odessa, the Romanian armed forces reduced the number of front line troops. Bāzu was one of the reservists who were sent home. He retook his position at LARES.

However he pulled some strings and managed to return to active duty in 1943. On 26 April 1943 he was remobilized and assigned to the 7th Fighter Group, which was equipped with the new Bf-109G. On 5 May he arrived on the front line and was named commander of the 58th Fighter Squadron. On 29 June, he and his wingman engaged 4 Yaks, 2 La-5s and 4 Spitfires (probably misidentified Yaks), while trying to protect 3 Romanian Ju-88A-4s. His wingman was badly hit and forced to return to base. He continued the fight on his own and shot down 2 "Spitfires". He was also damaged, but managed to escape and make a belly landing. Unfortunately, two of the bombers were destroyed. In July he flew both day and night missions, even though his Gustav was not equipped for low-visibility flying. Bāzu tried to stop the Soviet night bombings of his airfield. The Germans protested, considered him a little mad, so he eventually gave up the night missions.

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

Cpt. av. (r) Constantin Cantacuzino is in the extreme left of this photo.

On 27 July 1943, his celula (Romanian for Rotte) was supposed to escort a German recon plane. But because of technical problems, only Bāzu's airplane could be fueled in time. When he reached the rendezvous point, the German plane was already under attack by a Yak-1 with a red engine hood, clearly an ace. There were another two Yaks which were protecting the other one. He fired from distance and the Soviets turned on him. After 2 minutes he managed to get behind the Soviet ace and shot him down, before the wingmen could intervene. The VVS pilot was Sn Lt Nikolay F. Khimushkin (11 kills). On his way back to the airfield Bāzu also sent a Pe-2 to the ground.

Between 2 and 5 August he shot down 9 airplanes (4 Yaks and 5 Il-2s), raising his score to 27. On 5 August he was alone on patrol and he encountered a Soviet formation about 40-50 planes strong (Il-2s and Yaks). He realized that he couldn't have obtained outstanding results, but he could try to create them some problems. He dove into the Il-2 formation and shot down 2 of them before he was attacked by the Soviet fighters. He managed to shake them off, with the exception of one of them, which soon joined Cantacuzino's kill collection.

The day of 16 August was an excellent day for the pilots of the 7th Fighter Group. They scored 22 confirmed kills and 5 probable. First was of. echip. cl. III Ioan Milu with 5, then came cpt. av. (r) Cantacuzino with 3 (2 La-5s and 1 Il-2) and cpt. av. Alexandru Serbanescu (2 Il-2s and 1 Il-2 probable). On 28 August he also received the Iron Cross, 1st class.

In the autumn of 1943 Bāzu got sick and was interned to a hospital and then had to stay a while away from the front to rest.

Profile courtesy of Bogdan Patrascu

Cpt. av. (r) Constantin Cantacuzino flew this Bf-109G4 in the summer of 1944, as part of the 9th Fighter Group. Note the 40 victory marks on the fin.

On 10 February 1944 he returned to active duty in the 7th Fighter Group, which was sent to the front with the Soviets in Moldavia. On 15 April, there was a USAAF raid and cpt. av. (r) Cantacuzino and his wingmen attacked the bomber formations and shot down 6 Liberators (the prince got one himself). He continued flying missions against the VVS and had a few victories.

On 31 May the 7th Fighter Group was pulled out of the first line and assigned to home defense. Cantacuzino remained in the 9th Fighter Group. He had victories kills.

Bāzu was the first Romanian pilot to send a Mustang to the ground on 6 June. He shot down another one on 15 July and started August with 2 P-38s. After the death of cpt. av. Alexandru Serbanescu, he was named commander of the 9th Fighter Group, which he led during the last confrontation with the VVS on 20 and 21 August 1944, when he shot down 3 Yaks.

After 23 August 1944, when Romania quit the Axis, the Luftwaffe started bombing Bucharest, from airfields close to the capital, which were still in German hands. The remains of the 7th and 9th Fighter Groups were brought in to protect the capital. Bāzu shot down 3 He-111H on this occasion.

He was then given a special mission: to transport lt. col. James Gunn III, the highest ranking American POW in Romania, to the airbase at Foggia and then to lead back the USAAF airplanes that were coming to take the POWs home.

He flew on the Bf-109G no. 31, which was in the best condition, because it had only 7.5 hours of use. The American was put in the place of the radio and an extra fuel tank was added. He landed after two hours and 5 minutes of flight. He returned with a Mustang, because the Gustav couldn't be fueled. He needed only a flight to get used to it and dazzled the Americans with his aerobatics, which he couldn't help himself not to execute. Until 25 September he made another flight to Italy. Then he returned to his Group, which was engaged in the fights with the Germans and Hungarians in Transylvania.

Even though the ARR was facing many supplying difficulties, the 9th Fighter Group did its best to carry out the orders. The bad weather and the feeble Luftwaffe presence in teh area, brought no kills in late 1944.

On 25 February 1945, during one of the last major Romanian air offensives, cpt. av. (r) Cantacuzino and his wingman adj. Av. Traian Dārjan (11 kills), engaged a formation of 8 Fw-190Fs, which were attacking the allied infantry on the ground. In the dogfight that followed, Bāzu got one of the Germans. While they were looking for the crash site in order to validate the victory claim, they failed to see the two German Bf-109Gs approaching. These jumped the careless Romanian pilots and shot them down very quickly. Adj. av. Dārjan died.

After the war ended, cpt. av. (r) Cantacuzino was demobilized and returned to LARES. He had 56 confirmed victories (47 kills) and was the highest ranking Romanian ace. He is probably one of the few pilots, that shot down Soviet, US and German airplanes, ranging from the I-16 to the P-51 and the Fw-190F.

Times changed in Romania. The USSR imposed a communist regime that started confiscating private properties and imprisoning the old elite and all those who dared not to think like them. Bāzu lost all his land and soon his wife left him. He managed to escape to Italy in 1947 and then he settled down in Spain. There he was helped by the Romanian community to buy himself an airplane, in order to earn his living at air shows. He died on 26 May 1958. There are two versions of how he died: one is after an unsuccessful surgical operation and the second when his twin engine aircraft caught fire from the smoke candles attached to teh wings and crashed.

Bibliography: Vasile Tudor, "Constantin "Bāzu" Cantacuzino - Printul asilor", Editura MODELISM, 2000; Dénes Bernįd, "Rumanian Air Force, the prime decade 1938-1947", Squadron/Signal Publications, 1999

Picture courtesy of mr. Paul A. Sihvonen-Binder

Cpt. av. (r) Constantin Cantacuzino is shaking hands with lt. col. James Gunn

Picture courtesy of mr. Paul A. Sihvonen-Binder

The Bf-109G6 no. 31 in Italy

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