ARR campaigns

 

The first campaign : Bassarabia and Odessa
The second campaign : Stalingrad and the Don bend
The third campaign : the Ukraine
The home defense campaign
The last battles : the anti-Axis campaign

The first campaign : from the liberation of Bassarabia to the conquest of Odessa

 

Prelude to the battle

In the late 30's Romania realized that war was imminent and sought to quickly improve its army by purchasing modern equipment from abroad. The ARR was the first branch to benefit from this program, with important orders placed to firms in Germany and Britain. France was also visited by Romanian delegations, but L'Armee de l'air ( the French airforce ) was also in great need and Romanian requests were rejected. One unexpected aid came in September 1939, when the remains of the Polish airforce found shelter in Romania. Of the roughly 300 planes arrived, some 100 PZL fighters and bombers were taken over by the ARR as compensation for its expenditures.

The aircraft production inside Romania was also gaining momentum, although it still needed time to reach its maximum capacity.In the spring of 1940, 160 more aircraft arrived in Romania, according with contracts signed earlier. ARR had grown into the strongest airforce in the South-Eastern Europe ( except for the Soviet Union ). The order of battle known as " Hypothesis 32" stated that in June 1940 the ARR had 556 more or less modern planes in its arsenal : 92 fighters, 113 bombers, 35 long-range reconnaissance aircraft, 214 reconnaissance and army cooperation aircraft, 28 seaplanes. Liaison and transport planes made up the rest. Orders for 558 more aircraft were given to the major Romanian aircraft manufacturers : IAR and SET.
However, all was not well. With so many aircraft types in service, produced in various countries ( Romania Germany, Italy, Poland, France and Britain ! ) its no wonder that spare parts were a problem and maintenance was difficult even in peace time. Records show that only 75% to 80% of all planes were actually ready for action at any given time. One other problem was the fact that ARR was still organized after the French model into mixed groups. These groups contained both fighters and bombers ( or reconnaissance aircraft ) which made coordination difficult and sometimes created confusion about what was the group's real mission. French influence was also present in areas such as pilot training, fighter and bomber tactics and operational doctrine.
In November 1940, after Romania had joined the Axis, Luftwaffe elements arrived in Romania for the first time. Eventually a reinforced air defense division with 2 flak regiments, one fighter group, liaison units as well as engineer units tasked with building air raid shelters and airfields. All of these were placed under the command of Lt. General Wilhelm Speidel and had two main tasks : to protect the Ploiesti oilfields against any possible Soviet or British air attacks and to train ARR personnel accordingly. German instructors set up their base at Pipera airfield and started to train Romanian fighter and bomber pilots. Particular attention was paid to Celulã ( Romanian for Rotte ) and patrol tactics for fighter pilots and bombing techniques for bomber pilots. Once Hitler took the decision to attack the Soviet Union, the Germans decided that more training was necessary to bring ARR personnel up to Luftwaffe standards, since Romania was considered right from the start as an active ally in the coming war. German modern planes were delivered and their crews were sent to Germany for a two-months training course. ARR was reorganized after the Luftwaffe model, creating fighter, bomber and reconnaissance units, each with clear missions. Between October 1940 and June 1941, a total of 1500 airmen and 500 flak troops were fully-trained in Romania or Germany.
 
A document signed by the Undersecretary of Air in August 1941 stated that : " the results of cooperation between Romania and Germany in the area of training show that the Romanian airforce is capable of absorbing the knowledge required to perfectly accomplish all missions that come into its responsibility, knowledge that it already possess in most part. IF supplied with the same means at all levels we can hope to achieve the same results as the German Aeronautics" ( the Luftwaffe ).
  This is one of the first SM-79B"s received by the ARR

ARR combat strength at start

In mid June 1941 Gruparea Aerianã de Luptã ( meaning "Aerial Combat Grouping"), abbreviated as GAL, was created for the coming offensive. It incorporated the very best planes and pilots the ARR had to offer : almost all the available bombers ( 4 bomber groups totaling 11 squadrons ) and most of the fighters ( 3 fighter groups totaling 8 squadrons ). The GAL was divided into 4 flotillas and, with its 253 aircraft, represented the main striking force of the ARR throughout the Bassarabian campaign ( although just 205 planes were ready for battle on June the 22nd 1941 ). In order to ensure the air defense of Romanian territory, two Air Regions were created : the 2nd and 3rd Air Regions. Obsolete fighters ( such as the PZL P-11's and P-24E's ) were kept behind the front to cover these Air Region.
The tables below shows the full battle order of ARR at the start of Operation Barbarossa :
1. The Airforce Headquarters
The Heavy Transport Squadron
Lt. Comandor Dumitrescu P.
?
The 111th Liaison Squadron
Captain Serbu G.
?
Medevac Squadron
Captain Panaitescu I.
?

2. Aerial Combat Grouping

1st Bomber Flotilla
4th Bomber Group ( Lt. Cdor. Slãvescu Ioan )
The 76th Bomber Squadron
Captain Stefãnescu A.
PZL P-37B Los
The 77th Bomber Squadron
Captain Danielescu Vladimir
PZL P-37B Los
5th Bomber Group ( Lt. Cdor. Landman Paul )
The 78th Bomber Squadron
Captain Nanu Nic
Heinkel He-111 H3
The 79th Bomber Squadron
Captain Cosîmbescu Mihail
Heinkel He-111 H3
The 80th Bomber Squadron
Captain Stoenescu Gr. C.
Heinkel He-111 H3

 

2nd Bomber Flotilla
1st Bomber Group ( Lt. Cdor. Comsa Liviu )
The 71st Bomber Squadron
Captain St. Constantin Grasu
Savoia-Marchetti SM-79B
The 72nd Bomber Squadron
Captain Perju Constantin
Savoia-Marchetti SM-79B
2nd Bomber Group ( Captain Cdor Cristescu Ion )
The 74th Bomber Squadron
Captain Popescu Gheorghe
Potez 633B
The 75th Bomber Squadron
Captain Bals Nicolae
Potez 633B
The 82nd Bomber Squadron
Captain Popescu G.
Bloch MB-210
The 18th Bomber Squadron
?
IAR-37

 

2nd Observation Flotilla ( Cdor Nitulescu Ivan )
The 11th Observation Squadron
Captain Nastase Temistocle
IAR-37
The 12th Observation Squadron
Lt. Cdor Radu Nicodim
IAR-38
The 13th Observation Squadron
Captain Anca Romeo
IAR-39
The 14th Observation Squadron
Captain Rapeanu Petre
Fleet F-10G

 

1st Fighter Flotilla
5th Fighter Group ( Lt. Cdor Miclescu Gh. )
The 51st Fighter Squadron
Captain Trandafirescu V.
Heinkel He-112B
The 52nd Fighter Squadron
Captain Marin Ghica
Heinkel He-112B
7th Fighter Group ( Lt. Cdor Bordeianu Gh. )
The 56th Fighter Squadron
Captain Gheorghian C.
Messerschmitt Me-109E3
The 57th Fighter Squadron
Captain Manoliu Alex
Messerschmitt Me-109E3
The 58th Fighter Squadron
Captain Vasiliu Gh.
Messerschmitt Me-109E3
The 116th Liaison Squadron
Captain Orban Dumitru
Fleet F-10G
8th Fighter Group ( Lt. Cdor Bordeianu Gh. )
The 41st Fighter Squadron
Captain Prislopeanu I.
IAR-80
The 59th Fighter Squadron
Captain Marazan Valeriu
IAR-80
The 60th Fighter Squadron
Captain Stanescu Octav
IAR-80

3. Air Command attached to the Romanian 3rd Army

The 4th Reconnaissance Squadron
Lt. Cdor Fota Constantin
Bristol Blenheim I
The 19th Observation Squadron
Lt. Cdor Ciocarlan T.
IAR-38 and IAR-39
The 20th Observation Squadron
Lt. Cdor Protopopescu Victor
IAR-39
The 21st Observation Squadron
Captain Paraschiv G.
IAR-39
The 115th Liaison Squadron
Captain Andreescu G.
Fleet F-10G

4. Air Command attached to the Romanian 4th Army

The 3rd Reconnaissance Squadron
Lt. Cdor Firescu G.
Bristol Blenheim I
The 17th Observation Squadron
Captain Lan Gheorghe
IAR-39
The 22nd Observation Squadron
Lt. Cdor Ionescu C.
IAR-39
The 114th Liaison Squadron
Captain Trandafirescu Ion
Fleet F-10G

5. "Dobrogea" Air Command

The 101st Seaplane Squadron
Captain Teodorescu D.
Cant Z.501
The 102nd Seaplane Squadron
Captain Chiriac M.
Savoia-Marchetti S-62bis
The 16th Observation Squadron
Lt. Cdor Cristescu I.
IAR-39
The 53rd Fighter Squadron
Captain Georgrescu Emil
Hawker Hurricane I

6. The 2nd Air Region

3rd Fighter Flotilla
3rd Fighter Group ( Lt. Cdor Munteanu Teodor )
The 43rd Fighter Squadron
Captain Dan Vizanti
PZL P-11f
The 44th Fighter Squadron
Captain Becu F.
PZL P-11f
The 45th Fighter Squadron
Captain Georgescu C.
PZL P-11f
4th Fighter Group ( Lt. Cdor Niculescu D. )
The 46th Fighter Squadron
Captain Rata Racoveanu D.
PZL P-11f
The 49th Fighter Squadron
Captain Chiru Nicolae
PZL P-11f
The 50th Fighter Squadron
Captain Tifescu Gheorghe
PZL P-11f
The 112th Liaison Squadron
Captain Diceanu Ioan
Fleet F-10G

7. The 3rd Air Region

2nd Fighter Flotilla
6th Fighter Group ( Lt. Cdor Radulescu Nicolae )
The 61st Fighter Squadron
Captain Cara Iona
PZL P-24E
The 62nd Fighter Squadron
Captain Ivancenco Ioan
PZL P-24E
The 113th Liaison Squadron
Captain Truia P.
Fleet F-10G

* One more squadron, the 15th Observation, equipped with IAR-39's, was permanently attached to the 1st Romanian Armored Division.

Into battle

The "Aerial Combat Grouping" was incorporated into Luftflotte IV ( the German 4th Air Flotilla ) and on June the 22nd it entered combat alongside the rest of ARR's forces. Luftflotte IV had some 400 planes and the ARR about 672. On the other side, the VVS ( the Soviet airforce ) had concentrated forces which, at least on paper appeared to be far superior. The 67th, 69th and 82nd Bomber Regiments were based in southern Bassarabia, on airfields near the cities of Bolgrad and Bulgarica. Further to the north were situated the bases of the 55th Fighter Regiment, the 45th Bomber Regiment ( around Tiraspol and Balti ) as well as the 87th, 187th,149th Fighter and the 86th and 224th Bomber regiments. Altogether, the VVS could call upon some 1300 fighters, bombers, reconnaissance planes and various other types of aircraft.

At midnight ( zero hours ) on Sunday the 22nd of June, 1941, a message came to GAL's headquarters : " The actions of our airforce on the east front will begin as agreed with the German command, on the dawn of June the 22nd 1941. Directive number 34 will be executed. Operations will be organized so that the ( temporary ) border will be crossed simultaneously by all bomber and reconnaissance formations at 4 o'clock in the morning, under the codename "Ardealul". The fighters will be on alert starting from dawn, flying defensive patrols. I shall await your report tomorrow, that being today in the morning, after the first sorties have been flown...". GAL's commanding officer, General Constantin Celareanu, responded immediately : " GAL is ready and able to execute Directive number 34 ".

For start, the ARR had to win air supremacy over Bassarabia and Bucovina, as well as to attack Soviet airfields, troop concentrations and supply depots. Between the 22nd of June and the 4th of July, wrestling control of the skies was ARR's primary concern. This was achieved thanks to the efforts of Romanian Bf-109E's, IAR-80's and Hurricanes, which quickly proved to be far superior to VVS's main fighter, the I-16 Rata ( the Russian plane was nicknamed"the rat" ). After this, emphasis was switched to flying close air support missions in support of ground forces. This phase ended by the 19th of July, when the ARR started to concentrate on attacking retreating Soviet troops.

A Romanian Heinkel He-111H3 undergoing repairs after the first day of war

A short pause followed after the 27th of July, by which time all of Bassarabia had been liberated and the Romanian 4th Army was already heading for its next objective : the major city ( and port ) of Odessa. Some reorganization was carried out during this short restbite : all surviving He-112B's were grouped with the 51st Fighter Squadron, whilst the 52nd and 42nd were merged into the 52/42nd squadron, equipped with brand-new IAR-80A's. The 4th and 5th Fighter groups were brought to the assist the 4th Army in the siege of Odessa, where their P-11f's and P-24E's were likely to meet Soviet planes just as obsolete as they were. Some IAR-81 fighter-bombers were assigned to the 59th Fighter Squadron and flew a couple of sorties against Soviet shipping near Odessa. Altogether, 35 squadrons totaling 349 planes took part in siege of Odessa.

 

Soviet bomber shot down near the Constantza harbor. July 1941

There was fierce combat behind the frontline as well. In the first days of the war, the VVS tried to launch numerous raids ( although each one was carried out only by a handful of planes ) deep into Romanian territory. The main targets were the Constantza harbor, the strategically vital bridge over the Danube at Cernavoda, the capital, Bucharest, and, last but not least, the all-important oilfields and refineries around Ploiesti. However, since the raids had adopted a predictable pattern ( almost always coming from the Black Sea, in daytime ) and were carried out by obsolete planes, flying at very limit of their combat range, little or no damage has been done to any target. The Romanian and German pilots tasked with air defense also took advantage of this situation and managed to score an impressive number of kills.
On the 16th of October, the Romanian army marched into Odessa, and ARR's first campaign could be considered over on all fronts.

Aftermath

In the 118 days of this first campaign, the ARR had flown more than 17000 sorties, many of which faced bad weather. 217 air battles took place during this period over the skies of Bassarabia and Romania, and 82 Soviet planes were sent down in flames. Romanian fighters and bombers also destroyed 108 VVS aircraft on the ground, whilst the AA artillery shot down 52 more, bringing the total to 242 planes destroyed. Romanian pilots actually claimed 332 victories in the air and more than 150 planes destroyed on the ground ( more than 600 airplanes if we count those claimed by flak ) , but this seems to be exaggerated. ARR lost 43 planes ( 7 shot down by enemy fighters, 4 by AA artillery, 18 missing and 13 destroyed on accidents ). Human losses stood at 35 airmen killed in action and 82 missing in action, which was 6.8% of total.
During the siege of Odessa, Romanian pilots claimed to have shot down a total of 215 Soviet planes and destroyed 51 more on the ground. Bomber pilots managed to sink one Russian warship and crippled two more. 40 ARR aircraft were lost for various reasons.
However, combat experience showed ARR leaders they still had some problems to work out. One major issue was the lack of dedicated ground-attack aircraft, which hampered efforts to support ground troops. Also, the variety of aircraft types in service led to a lot of maintenance problems. Because most airfields were not very close to the frontline, ARR's performance, although good, wasn't as good as it could have been.
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