Picture courtesy of cdor. Tanase Mancu (via Bernard Miclescu)
Slt. av. Tanase Mancu is shown here wearing the "Virtutea Aeronautica" Gold Cross class.
The memories were transmitted to us by the benevolence of mr. Bernard Miclescu.
Three days after the beginning of the war [24 June 1941], the Russians installed a heavy artillery unit made up of 12 guns [a battalion] on a hill NW of Reni, at the western limit of the Slobozia Mare village. These guns were constantly shelling Galati, especially the port, the railroad station and the center. The 5th Romanian Corps, to which the 13th Observation Squadron was subordinated, ordered that within 24 hours the Soviet guns must be located and eliminated. The squadron CO gave me this mission. At 1430 hours we were in the air. We entered Bessarabia south of Cahul and went as far as 30-40 km east of the river Prut. Then we turned southwards towards Reni. We looked very carefully in the area around Reni and Brates Lake, but did not see anything. After landing back at the airfield I contacted the Military Command in Galati and found out that between 1455 and 1525 hours the Soviets had stopped the shelling. We took off again at 1740 hours and this time we were in permanent radio contact with Galati, which gave me the present situation. When we were at about 10-15 km east of the village Slobozia Mare, they communicated that the shelling had stopped. From our altitude, about 4,500 m, it was difficult to spot the well camouflaged guns, but west of the village, over a corn field, I discovered some grey smoke, which resulted from the artillery fire. I noted the site on the map and we headed home. Ten minutes later, Galati communicated that the shelling restarted. There were many victims among civilians.
The next day, at 0500 hours, together with the mechanics, I loaded the airplane [an IAR 39] with 24 bombs and I also took about 100 aerial-launched grenades in the cockpit. I considered that once we spotted the enemy artillery position, these munitions were enough to destroy them. I also instructed the pilot to fire for intimidation, before we got over the objective. Then I would launch bombs and grenades, through the hatch in the cockpit. After we passed, the machine-gunner had to keep firing on the entire area, in circular motions, in order to keep the Soviets down and prevent them from firing back at us.
We took off at 0600 hours and flew from Ivesti to Tecuci, SW Galati, Isaccea, Tulcea and then we crossed the Danube into USSR, west of Ismail. From there we headed west, towards Reni. Because our route passed close to the Soviet airfield at Bulgarica, where there were several fighter regiments, we flew at about 50-60 m above the wheat fields. As we were approaching the point on the map where we saw the smoke the other day, the pilot told me: "The guns are firing. They are just in front of us." "Then fire on them!", I ordered him. We climbed to 250 m and I dropped 12 bombs and about 30 grenades over the entire area. After we passed over the area I told the machine-gunner: "Fire, Huluban, for intimidation!" The airplane turned left and then came back over the area. The pilot fired, I dropped 6 bombs and 40 grenades and then the machine-gunner fired, just like before. We then made one last pass over the target, using the same tactic, and I dropped the last 6 bombs and 30 grenades. Their effect was recorded by the gun-camera.
I ordered the pilot to climb to 2,000 m and head for home, in the direction of Oancea, where the AAA protecting the HQ of the 5th Corps was located. After a short while, the machine-gunner cried: "Enemy fighters! Nine of them, coming from Bulgarica!" We were an easy prey for them. I told the pilot to descend. We entered the friendly AAA area, which engaged in a fierce battle with the Soviets. Four were shot down and another two had to make emergency landings. We landed safely at Ivesti. The guns had stopped firing on Galati and never restarted.
This mission led later to the decoration with the "Virtutea Aeronautica" Order Gold Cross class of the entire crew: adj. av. Gheorghe Serbanescu (pilot), serg.av. Gheorghe Huluban (machine-gunner) and slt. av. Tanase Mancu (observer and aircraft commander).
It was beautiful day in July 1941. We were gathered in front of the squadron's CO, cpt. av. Romeo Anca. He said that there were two missions: a reconnaissance in southern Bessarabia and a photo flight in the Cahul-Tiganca-Varzaresti area. "Slt. av. Mancu will execute the photo mission. There will be about 10 fighters in the area for your protection. The airplane must fly level at any cost, while taking photos, so that the lab can be able to build a larger picture out of them."
At 1030 we were in the designated area. I started the camera. The machine-gunner said: "Three enemy fighters behind us, 1000 m higher! They are attacking!" "Then fire also!" I then ordered the pilot to make a tight turn to the left and dive to low altitude. The Soviets passed by us at high-speed and then attacked from below. The pilot was firing, I was firing and so was the machine-gunner and we managed to get away untouched. After we passed over the Prut, the Romanian troops also began to fire on the enemy fighters, which left us and retreated.
The pilot asked me: "Papa, what now? Are we going to the airfield?" "No, we pick up from where we were when they attacked us". We only managed to continue the photographing for three minutes, because the fighters reappeared, just above us. I ordered the machine-gunner to fire in circles, in order to maximize the effect on them. I also told the pilot: "Serbanescu, you know the range of the fighters". After 40 minutes of fighting, they had to retreat and we continued our mission. I started the camera for the third time. The pilot said: "We are being attacked head on by the 3 fighters!". He fired for a few seconds and then dived towards the river Prut. It was their last attack. They left afterwards. We returned to the area and started to take photos. Adj. av. Serbanescu, the pilot, told me that we did not have enough fuel to reach Ivesti, so I decided to land at Barlad, where there was a also a photo laboratory. After we landed there, we gave the camera to the lab and they said that it will take about three hours to process the pictures. Our fuel should have run out 40 minutes ago and our comrades at Ivesti were worried. We refueled and went home, where we were greeted with much enthusiasm. I reported what happened and I told the CO that I had to be back at barlad at 1530 to pick up the photo. In the meantime, the 5th Corps ordered that at 1700 hours, the the crew of the airplane that fulfilled the mission bring the photo to the HQ.
There, the general [probably lt. gen. Aurelian Son] and a staff officer were waiting for us. After we landed they toured the aircraft, looking for bullet holes. I saluted and presented myself. Then I presented the pilot, mentioning his great merit in our success and safe return home. The general shook his hand and kissed him. The same with the machine-gunner, saying: "Truly courageous men!". We went in the command center and there the general and his staff started to examine the map, on which the Soviet positions were quite clear. The general ordered one of his staff officers to put us on thel ist of proposals for decoration with the "Virtutea Aeronautica" Order.
On the night of 19/20 November 1942, in the Don Bend area, a very thick fog came down, reducing the visibility to 2 or 3 meters. It was then when the Soviets launched their counter-offensive.
Our aircraft were not equipped with low visibility flight instruments. With great difficulty and courage we managed to take off and brake through the clouds at about 500-600 m. We arrived at Morozovskaya by using the compass and calculating the time we spent in the air. We couldn't see anything.
During the days of 20-24 November, the Soviets managed to encircle and capture thousands of Romanian soldiers. Because of the fog, the air force could not help them. On 25 November, the 1st Armored Division, which was located on the Chir Valley, requested the help of the 3rd Army Command. The general [Petre Dumitrescu] ordered that an officer from the 13th Squadron, who knew the Chir Valley well, accompany the transport airplanes, which had to resupply the Armored Division. I was assigned with this mission. I made a recon flight first with adj. av. Adrian Tugulea as pilot and serg. Huluban as machine-gunner. As we arrived in the area, we found the tanks scattered along 4-5 km. We dropped them a note announcing that we will be back in an hour and a half with fuel, ammo and food. They had to organize a runaway and indicate the direction from which the wind was blowing.
At Morozovskaya, the Ju-52 no. 182 was waiting for me, fully loaded. With it we landed on the improvised runaway and unloaded the supplies. After two hours we returned with another transport. I had with me a large envelope with 200 award decrees.
As the weather got better, the air force could help the embattled ground forces. One of these days I was on a recon mission in the Donetsk area, some 15 km east of the bridge. I spotted our troops, retreating, disorganized and fighting on a 2-3 km front with Soviet forces that were trying to surround them. I announced the situation to the 2nd Flotilla command and they asked for assistance from the German assault unit on Morozovskaya airfield. At 1000 hours, 45 German and all available Romanian airplanes attacked the Soviets in that area. At 1230 they returned and hit them once again. The infantry managed to escape and even took prisoners.>
On 1 September 1944 I was with the 13th Squadron on the Lancram airfield. For tactical reasons, the following day we received the order to move to the Drimbari airfield, near Alba Iulia. Those days, the Germans were confiscating the locomotives in the CFR [Romanian Railroad Company] stations, they confiscated entire trains loaded with fuel, military equipment, food etc. These were all heading West. In the same time they were advancing in Romanian-held Transylvania.
The CO of the 1st Army, gen. Nicolae Macici, had established his headquarters at Deva. He ordered recon and light bombing missions to be flown in the area of the advancing enemy troops, to determine its strength and also to prevent those trains from escaping West.
Cpt. av. Silaghi, the CO of the 13th Squadron, after receiving the orders, organized 18 crews, of which 3 had to make a long range recon all the way to Jimbolia, Curtici, Salonta, Episcopia Bihor, Valea lui Mihai and Carei. The other 15 airplanes were divided into 5 patrule of three airplanes. The mission was to stop the trains, but had to do it without damaging the locomotives, the cities or the railroad stations. Their target was the first and second car from the locomotive and had to attack them when they were located outside any city or village. Also the damage to the railroad was had to be minimal. The first patrula had the mission to attack the freight trains on the Copsa Mica-Blaj-Coslariu-Teius railroad, the 2nd had the Teius-Razboieni-Campia Turzii-Apahida-Cluj railroad, the 3rd had the Cluj-Huedin-Oradea-Episcopia Bihor railroad, the 4th had the Alba Iulia-Deva-Ilia-Radna-Arad-Curtici railroad and the 5th the Alba Iulia-Ilia-Lugos-Timisoara-Jimbolia railroad. I was part of the 2nd patrula.
On 3 September, at 0500 hours, we took off on our first bombing mission. We entered action between Apahida and Cluj, where there were 3 trains. I was in the leading airplane at 2,150 m, where the German light AAA mounted on the trains was ineffective. We dropped 6 bombs, 2 at a time. Of these 3 hit the target. I announced the other aircraft in my formation of the result and told them we were heading towards the other two trains, which were only 30 minutes away from Cluj, 10 km one from the other. We used the same method of bombing. The bombs fell 1 or 2 meters away from the cars, damaging them and the railroad and causing the trains to derail. Having fulfilled our mission, we returned home following the railroad and searching for other targets. In the Razboieni-Apahida sector we uncovered 5 trains, which we successfully bombed. We landed and reported the results. We received another two similar missions that day, which we could carry out without problems due to the lack of enemy AAA and fighters.
On 4 September, at 1000 hours, the squadron's CO called me in his office and announced me that I had been transferred to the Air Command of the 1st Army, in Deva. At 1830 the same day I presented myself at the army's general staff. They assigned me to the staff of the Cavalry Corps, commanded by gen. Cialik, which had its HQ at Gura Hont.
On 5 September, at 0800 hours I was already in the office of the Corps' commander, analyzing the tasks I had to fulfill. I was responsible for all the aerial missions flown in the support of the Cavalry Corps. I remained there until 22 December 1944, when I rejoined the 13th Squadron, at Szolnok.
[comments are mine - Victor Nitu]
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