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 second campaign : to Stalingrad and beyond

 

 

Prelude to the battle

As far as most Romanians were concerned, war had ended in October 1941, when the Romanian 4th Army had conquered Odessa. Indeed, many units were disbanded whilst the men were demobilized and sent home. But Hitler had other plans : the Russian winter counteroffensive had coasted the Wehrmacht so much in terms of men of equipment that strategic superiority could only be achieved by asking Germany's allies contribute with larger forces. Romania was the most important ally Germany had in the east, so it's no wonder that Hitler's messengers spent much of early 1942 trying to obtain assurances that more Romanian forces would be dispatched to the Russian front, including the bulk of ARR's squadrons.

 

 
Finally, Marshal Antonescu ( he was the head of state ), reluctantly agreed, but only after receiving firm assurances that Germany would deliver increased amounts of modern weapons and equipment. This was one promise the Germans were not going to keep, a fact which contributed significantly to the disaster of Stalingrad. As planned, the Romanian 3rd and 4th Armies participated together with the German Army Group South at the great summer offensive of 1942. The ARR had spent the first part of 1942 flying only reconnaissance, transport and liaison missions, and saw little action. After the Romanian units pushed further east, the ARR advanced with them, and in September 1942, the second campaign began : the Stalingrad campaign.
A row of IAR-80 fighters on the east front. Winter 1941
In early 1942, a period a major reorganization had started. Some help had arrived from Germany : 15 Messerschmitt Bf-109E7's , some Fiesler Fi-156's, Junkers Ju-52's transport aircraft, and Heinkel He-114 seaplanes.By any standards, it was far below what the Germans had promised. The major source of modern planes in this period was Romania's own aircraft industry : the 3rd group turned in their old PZL P-11f's for new IAR-80A fighters in July 1942, followed by the 4th in August and by the 52nd and 53rd squadrons. A new fighter group, the 9th, was created in April 1942 using the new pilots of the 1941 promotion, and was also equiped with IAR-80A's. The 6th Fighter Group got the brand new IAR-81 fighter-bombers instead of the obsolete P-24E's and was renamed "bopi" ( Romanian acronym for "dive bomber"), whilst the IAR-38's of the 2nd Reconnaissance Flotilla were also replaced by new IAR-39's. The Bloch MB-210 bombers, who were by this stage totally obsolete, were withdrawn from frontline service and used as transport planes instead.

ARR combat straight at start

In 1942, ARR's main force had remained the Aerial Combat Grouping. Upon arriving in the Stalingrad area, it was further reorganized, creating the Combat Aviation Command ( "Comandamentul Aviatiei de Lupta" or CAL in Romanian ). The Aerial Combat Grouping had 29 squadrons, totaling some 272 planes. 18 of these squadrons made up the Combat Aviation Command, which amassed the best units available at that time.
The tables below shows ARR's full battle order as it was in September, 1942 :

1. The Aerial Combat Grouping

The Aerial Combat Grouping HQ
The 105th Transport Squadron
Junkers Ju-52
The 108th Transport Squadron
RWD-13

 

2nd Bomber Flotilla
1st Bomber Group
The 71st Bomber Squadron
JRS-79B
The 72nd Bomber Squadron
JRS-79B
3rd Bomber Group
The 73rd Bomber Squadron
PZL P-23B
The 74th Bomber Squadron
Potez Po-633B
The 81st Bomber Squadron
IAR-37
5th Bomber Group
The 79th Bomber Squadron
Heinkel He-111H3
The 80th Bomber Squadron
Heinkel He-111H3

 

2nd Fighter Flotilla
6th Fighter-Bomber Group
The 61st Fighter Squadron
IAR-81
The 62nd Fighter Squadron
IAR-81
7th Fighter Group
The 56th Fighter Squadron
Messerchmitt Bf-109E
The 57th Fighter Squadron
Messerchmitt Bf-109E
The 58th Fighter Squadron
Messerchmitt Bf-109E
8th Fighter Group
The 41st Fighter Squadron
IAR-80A
The 42nd Fighter Squadron
IAR-80A
The 60th Fighter Squadron
IAR-80A

 

1st Long Range Reconnaissance Group
The 1st Long Range Recon Squadron
Bristol Blenheim I
The 2nd Long Range Recon Squadron
Dornier Do-17M
The 3rd Long Range Recon Squadron
Potez Po-633

2. Air units attached to the Romanian 3rd Army

The 11th Observation Squadron
IAR-39
The 12th Observation Squadron
IAR-39
The 13th Observation Squadron
IAR-39

3. Air units attached to the Romanian 4th Army

The 14th Observation Squadron
IAR-39
The 15th Observation Squadron
IAR-39
The 16th Observation Squadron
IAR-39

Into battle

At the start of September 1942, Romanian squadrons begun to arrive in the Stalingrad area. Once again, they were subordinated to the German Luftflotte IV, engaged in supporting Axis forces. First on the scene was the 6th and 8th Fighter groups, which arrived at Tusov airfield, near Stalingrad on the 7th of September. The following day, 37 Bf-109E's of the 7th Fighter Group landed at Tusov. ARR's bombers followed shortly afterwards : on the 2nd of October, the 1st Bomber Group landed with its JRS-79B's and Tacinskaia airfield, whilst the 3rd Light Bombing group arrived at Morzovskaia airfield two weeks later. Other units followed shortly afterwards, including the 5th Bomber Group and a number of reconnaissance squadrons. During the battle for Stalingrad, ARR performed mainly tactical missions in direct support of ground troops. Bombers were tasked with disrupting Soviet supply lines, attacking suspected assembly areas and artillery positions, destroying tank groups and fortifications, and so on. Fighters had to suppress enemy air activity, strafe enemy forces at any opportunity and provide close escort for the Romanian and German bombers. This last task was apparently very well accomplished, since German Stuka pilots specified in their reports that "the Romanian Me-109's protected us very well." The 6th Fighter Group also performed some dive-bombing missions, including an attack on the infamous Stalingrad Tractor Factory, but its IAR-81's were used mostly as fighter-bombers. Over 100 sorties were flown each day, if the weather was good. Air engagements were sporadic, because Russian planes rarely crossed the river Volga. This period lasted from the 6th of September 1942 to the 19th of November, when the Red Army launched its massive counteroffensive, aimed at encircling the German 6th Army.

Picture taken from the TOP GUN magazine

A Romanian Bf-109E with five kills prepares to take-off. In its cockpit is Lieutenant Ion Dicezare, Knight of the "Mihai Viteazul" order. Autumn 1942

The main Soviet blow came in those sections of the front held by the Romanian 3rd and 4th Armies. Both of them were exhausted, since after having fought hard in the Crimea, were forced to head north and assume new positions without any kind of rest. Even worse, they were dangerously overstreched, a fact which the Romanian Supreme HQ had pointed out repeatedly, but the OKW, obsessed with capturing Stalingrad, ignored the warnings. The ARR and Luftflotte IV were supposed to ensure air support, but unfortunately, bad weather grounded their planes for days. When they could finally intervene, it was too little too late. Many squadrons found themselves forced to abandon their bases, when the Russian tanks threatened to overrun them. Because of this, many planes and men had to abandoned because there was simply no time or no space for everybody. The 7th Fighter Group's airfield at Karpovka was completely encircled, and, after repulsing Soviet attacks for two days, the group had to take-off and make a run for it under heavy fire. Other units ( like the 6th Fighter Group ) were were sent immediately to attack advancing Soviet forces, and managed to inflict heavy losses on the Russian cavalry units. Transport squadrons flew night and day, inspite of all the dangers, trying to supply Romanian or German units encircled by the Russians. The 105th Transport Squadron, with its Ju-52's excelled at such missions, managing to re-suppply the Romanian 1st Armored Division, which had been encircled behind the enemy lines. Thanks to the relentless efforts of the Ju-52 pilots in face of heavy Soviet AA fire and appalling weather, the division was capable of fighting its way out of the trap and reach the Axis lines.

Romanian SM-79B's fly over Stalingrad. Late 1942

In early December, the situation was somehow stabilized, allowing for some badly needed reorganization. The 8th Fighter Group was sent home and its IAR-80A's and B's were given to the 6th. The 6th group remained in action until the 23rd of January 1943 when all squadrons equipped with planes that couldn't be maintained or repaired by the Luftwaffe ( such as the IAR-80, IAR-81 and JRS-79B ) were sent home. Remaining Bf-109E's and He-111's were used to create a mixed group, which stayed on the front until February 1943, when it too returned home. That was the end of the unfortunate Stalingrad campaign. Still, some Romanian fighter units still remained in Russia, like the 43rd Fighter Squadron of the 3rd group, which had been sent south into the Crimeea to provide cover for Axis forces covering the Kerch strait. The squadron took part in the savage battles fought on over the Kuban bridgehead from February to April 1943, but converted eventually to the Bf-109G before becoming part of the 9th Fighter Group in the summer of 1943.

Aftermath

Until arriving at Stalingrad, ARR had seen very little combat in 1942. Only 10 VVS aircraft were destroyed ( 7 shot down and 3 destroyed on the ground ), whilst over 110 more were brought down by the AA artillery.
Throughout the Stalingrad campaign, the ARR flew over 4000 sorties. 61 Soviet planes were claimed ( 31 shot down in aerial combat and 30 destroyed on the ground ) for the loss of 79 Romanian airplanes. Only 26 of these were shot down, whilst the rest were either lost in accidents or abandoned after the disaster of Stalingrad. The Romanian 4th AA Artillery Division shot down 90 more Soviet aircraft. Altogether, more than 270 VVS planes were destroyed in 1942. ARR's human losses stood at 538 pilots and crews killed, wounded or missing in action.
Little more can be said about this campaign. It started well, but the Soviet counteroffensive was in the end a major defeat not only for the army, but for the airforce as well. Clearly, better planes and a rest period was absolutely necessary for the ARR to get back in top shape.

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