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.
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were withdrawn from frontline service and used as transport planes instead.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
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 :
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.
A Romanian Bf-109E with five kills prepares to take-off. In its cockpit
is Lieutenant Ion Dicezare, Knight of the "Mihai Viteazul" order.
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.
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