Picture courtesy of Mrs. Balta
Constantin Balta and his IAR-81C's tail. Note the two kill markings.
Born: 19 August 1920
Combat missions: 40
Victories: 6 + 3 unconfirmed
Died: 16 January 2001, Bucharest
Constantin Balta was born on 19 August 1920 in the Bivol village, in Suceava county. The father, Gheorghe, was a gendarme, and the mother, Ortansa, was a housewife. He went to the elementary school in Girov and then at Razboieni, between 1927-1931. Then he was admitted into the high school in Piatra Neamt, where he remained until 1933, when due to the family's financial difficulties he had to transfer to the Military High School in Iasi.
He graduated in 1940 and was admitted into the Air Force Officer School in Cotroceni (Bucharest). He flew for the first time on 7 May 1941, aboard the Fleet F 10G no. 226. His flight instructor was adj. sef av. Ioan Popovici. In August he started flying on the IAR-27 and by October he had amassed over 60 hours.
On 10 May 1942, he was promoted to the rank of sublocotenent (2nd lt.). The school then moved to from Turnu Severin to Calarasi. In June they started flying on the Nardi FN-305. Slt. av. Constantin Balta was selected for the fighter arm. His training began the following month and in August 1942, the young 2nd lieutenants met their first real fighter: the P.11. On 3 October 1942 Constantin Balta graduated from the Air Force Officer School, 8th out of 112.
He was then assigned to the Military Flight Center at Zilistea, where he learned to fly the He-112B and the IAR-80, the airplane on which he would see a lot of action in 1944. In April 1943, he joined the Fighter School at Galati, which had German instructors. There he carried out his first war mission as part of a patrula (Romanian for Schwarm) that tried to intercept a Pe-2. By July, when he graduated he had flown another five missions.
On 6 May 1944, slt. av. Balta took off together with the rest of the squadron and a German Bf-109G Schwarm to intercept the USAAF bombers heading towards Brasov. The Germans attacked first, but were jumped by the Mustangs and engaged in a dogfight. This made things easier for the Romanians and their IAR-81Cs. During the first pass, slt. av. Balta shot off the tail stabilizers of a Liberator which started to go down. They regained height and attacked again. This time Balta fired at the engines on the right wing of another B-24. One of them caught fire and soon the whole wing followed. This one too started to fall. But during this second pass, he was wounded by a shell that exploded in the cockpit and he started to bleed. To make things worse, the throttle stick was cut off by a bullet. However, slt. av. Constantin Balta managed to come back to the airfield and land his damaged IAR-81C, despite the obvious difficulties. The claims were later confirmed.
Profile courtesy of Bogdan Patrascu
Slt. av. Constantin Balta flew this IAR-81C on 6 May 1944, when he claimed two B-24s shot down. Note the two lines on the fin.
On 18 and 31 May the 44th Fighter Squadron again participated in the defence against the 15th Air Force's raids, but there were no engagements as they encountered very large formations. The same on 31 May.
On 6 June he managed to get close to two Liberators at around 5,500 m and fired on one of them. Slt. av. Balta was immediately attacked from behind by the American escort and badly damaged. With serious efforts he made a crash landing near Predeal, without being followed by the Mustangs.
The only US pilot that claimed a kill over that area, near Brasov, on 6 June 1944 was 1st lt. Robert C. Curtis from the 2nd Fighter Squadron/52nd Fighter Group. He was one of the highest scoring aces of the Mediteranean Theatre of Operations (the fifth), with a total of 14 kills. Here is a fragment from his logbook:
While flying at 22,000 feet, at 8 o'clock relative to the lead aircraft of the bomber formation, which had just passed over the target area, I saw a lone enemy fighter climbing in a turn, from 12 o'clock to 3 o'clock relative to the bombers. I turned right and started to pursue it. I was closing in on it, when a Fw-190 flew in front of me, from 3 o'clock to 9 o'clock, heading towards the bombers. I made a 90 degree turn to the left and then fired a long burst from 300-350 yards, but did not notice any hits. I closed in fast to about 150 yards and fired a long burst that hit it in the left side, in the aileron, wing, cockpit and fuselage. It went down in a spin, with white and black smoke trailing behind it. My wingman (Robinett) saw it crash.
However Robert Curtis wasn't convinced that the Fw-190 (an obvious error of identification of the IAR-80, common among US pilots) really crashed. The one that insisted was his wingman. He decided that it was better to stay with the bombers than to follow the damaged IAR-80 of Constantin Balta. No German Fw-190 was declared lost on 6 June in that area.
Slt. av. Constantin Balta had to renounce at the IAR-80C no. 372, which was in need of repairs, until 15 July. He flew another three missions in the meanwhile on no. 371 and no. 312. Again on his trusty no. 372, on the before mentioned date, he was engaged in a dogfight with eight Mustangs. His wingman, adj. av. Gheorghe Popescu was shot down on this occasion. Strangely, that day, US fighter pilots claimed only 5 Bf-109 downed over Romanian territory, near Turnu Severin and Ploesti. Not a single fighter with radial engine.
Until 23 August 1944, he took part in another 7 missions against American formations, flying a Bf-109G on two of them, but without results. The US 15th Air Force had already won the battle with the German and Romanian fighters.
After the armistice with the Allies was announced, the situation evolved towards open hostilities with the Axis forces. The Romanian troops in Southern Transylvania needed air cover, until the bulk of the Allied forces could deploy in the area. Thus, the 44th Squadron of the Fighter School was used for combat missions. On 29 August, slt. av. Balta made two reconnaissance flights in the Lupsa - Turda and Intorsura Buzaului - Sf. Gheorghe areas. The following day he flew over the area between Sf. Gheorghe and Miercurea Ciuc. On 8 September he tried to intercept several Luftwaffe He-111s that probably wanted to attack the airfield, but they disappeared before he could catch up with them. His last war mission was on 10 September, when on board the IAR-81C nr. 432 he patrolled over the Blaj - Aiud area. After that date, the instructors of the Fighter School did not take part in any combat flights, because the Romanian 1st Air Corps had arrived in the area, as did some Soviet units.
Picture courtesy of Mrs. Balta
Constantin Balta in the cockpit of his IAR-81C
Constantin Balta continued the activity in this unit and then in Military Flight Center and Aviation Officer and NCO School at Buzau. On 1 September 1947 he was moved to Brasov as instructor for the transition of bomber pilots to fighters or assault aircraft. In August 1948 he was admitted into the Military Academy, which he finished two years later. He was assigned to the Military Air Force Command as officer in charge with the training of the fighter force and then as chief of the Combat Training Section of the command.
On 15 April 1952 he was thrown out of the army and retired from active duty. A short, but difficult period followed, but he managed to make a new way in life for himself. The same year he was admitted into the Electronics and Telecommunications Faculty and in the same time he got a job at the Telecommunications Design Institute, first as sketcher, then as designer and design engineer, after graduating in 1957.
In 1964 he could finally return to his first love, managing to obtain a transfer to the Civil Aviation General Authority, as chief of the navigation and aeronautical information service.
He retired in 1977. After 19990 he was promoted to the rank of major general. He passed away on 16 January 2001, at Bucharest.
Note: Special thanks to mr. Robert C. Curtis for his cooperation.
gen. Constantin Balta (left) and gen. Ioan Dobran (right)