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 third campaign : over the steppes of Ukraine

 

Prelude to the battle

Following the Stalingrad campaign, all Romanian squadrons left the front a period of rest of relaxation. Meanwhile, ARR leaders tackled with the huge task of rebuilding their fighting force up to modern standards.
For start it was decided send all Polish, Italian French and British planes back home, because they were by this stage hopelessly obsolete, and maintenance was all but impossible due to lack of spare parts. Most of the Romanian aircraft were redeployed inside Romania and tasked with the air defense. Only the most modern planes ( the IAR-80C, IAR-81C and JRS-79B ) remained on the east front.

 

 
In 1943, it was clear the VVS had improved significantly since the start of the war. The ARR needed modern planes to face the new generation of Russian, British and American aircraft thrown against them. German help was solicited once again, and this time, it arrived in time. The German industry could still produce more than the Luftwaffe needed, and the ARR had enough pilots, so, by mid 1943, a new Romanian aviation unit, the Romanian 1st Air Corps was returning to the east front.
Most squadrons of the 1st Air Corps had modern German planes. The 8th Fighter Group was transformed into the 8th Asalt ( Assault ) Group, by receiving Henschel Hs-129B ground-attack airplanes, whilst the 7th Fighter Group exchanged their Bf-109E ('Emils') for new Bf-109G ('Gustavs'). Bomber groups were also reorganized : the 5th Bomber Group's Heinkel He-111H's were replaced by Junkers Ju-88A4's ; the 3rd Bomber Group was refitted with Junkers Ju-87D's and converted into the 3rd Dive Bomber Group. Last, but not least, the 2nd Long Range Recon Squadron got some Junkers Ju-88D1's. The aircraft were delivered by the Luftwaffe in June 1943, when 132 planes were handed over to the ARR straight onto the Tiraspol airfield. All German planes were not sold, but rather loaned to Romania, in exchange for raw materials and oil. Because of this fact, all the maintenance and repairs were executed by the services of Luftflotte IV.
For the air defense of Romania's territory, the 4th and 9th Fighter groups ( IAR-80C and IAR-81C ) were sent home, and two more fighter groups, the 1st and 2nd, were created and equipped with IAR-81C's. Eventually, the 9th would convert to the Bf-109G as well. Also, a night fighter unit, the 51st Night Fighter Squadron, equipped with Messerschmitt Bf-110C3 and Bf-110F4 night fighters, was created and tasked with protecting the refineries around Ploiesti, together with the German 6th Night Fighter Squadron. The IAR company built 36 more JRS-79B1 bombers, which were used to create the 2nd Bomber Group.

Ground crews working on the engine of an IAR-80C. Summer 1943

In June 1943, the 1st Air Corps started to arrive on the front. Its commanding officer was General Ghiorghiu Emil, who established its headquarters at Mariupol. On the 16th of June 1943, the ARR flew its first combat mission of what was to become one if its most successful campaigns : the Ukrainian campaign.

ARR combat strength at start

Once again, the 1st Air Corps was included into the Luftflotte IV. It had 22 squadrons, all of them in good condition and over 200 planes. Except for the IAR-81C and some Fleet F-10G's, all the others were modern German aircraft.
The tables below show the full battle order of the Romanian 1st Air Corps at the start of hostilities :

1. The 1st Air Corps

The 2nd Long Range Recon Squadron
Junkers Ju-88D1
The 105th Transport Squadron
Junkers Ju-52
The 115th Liaison Squadron
Fleet F-10G
The 116th Liaison Squadron
Fleet F-10G

 

3rd Bomber Flotilla
3rd Dive Bomber Group
The 73rd Bomber Squadron
Junkers Ju-87D 'Stuka'
The 81st Bomber Squadron
Junkers Ju-87D 'Stuka'
The 85th Bomber Squadron
Junkers Ju-87D 'Stuka'
5th Bomber Group
The 77th Bomber Squadron
Junkers Ju-88A4
The 78th Bomber Squadron
Junkers Ju-88A4
The 80th Bomber Squadron
Junkers Ju-88A4
6th Bomber Group
The 74th Bomber Squadron
Junkers Ju-88A4
The 86th Bomber Squadron
Junkers Ju-88A4
The 87th Bomber Squadron
Junkers Ju-88A4

 

1st Fighter Flotilla
7th Fighter Group
The 56th Fighter Squadron
Messerschmitt Bf-109G
The 57th Fighter Squadron
Messerschmitt Bf-109G
The 58th Fighter Squadron
Messerschmitt Bf-109G
9th Fighter Group
The 43rd Fighter Squadron
IAR-81C ( converted to Bf-109G in October )
The 47th Fighter Squadron
IAR-81C ( converted to Bf-109G in October )
The 48th Fighter Squadron
IAR-81C ( converted to Bf-109G in October )
8th Assault Group
The 41st Assault Squadron
Henschel Hs-129B2
The 42nd Assault Squadron
Henschel Hs-129B2
The 60th Assault Squadron
Henschel Hs-129B2

Into battle

By mid 1943, Axis forces were forced into defensive all along the east front. Once it arrived in southern Ukraine, the 1st Air Corps was put as always under the command of Luftflotte IV. Actually, one unit ( the 7th Fighter Group ) was already fighting the Soviets since the 29th of March 1943, after it had finished converting to the Bf-109G, having been incorporated in the German 3rd Fighter Group "Udet" ( JG3 "Udet" ) since the 10th of March. They had already scored 28 confirmed kills by the start of June, when they left JG3 and joined the Romanian 1st Air Corps. After settling in on airfields based roughly around the city of Mariupol, where the headquarters of the Romanian unit were placed, ARR squadrons entered combat once again, with the main task of supporting German troops in southern Ukraine, between the Sea of Azov and the rivers Don and Mius.

A Romanian Ju-87D on the east front

Initially, the 7th Fighter Group was the only Romanian fighter unit present, because the 9th Group was still training with their new Bf-109G's. However, this did not stopped them from becoming the most successful ARR fighter group : between June and September 1943, over 150 VVS planes were shot down for the loss of just 13 Bf-109G 'Gustavs'. On the 15th of June, the new 3rd Dive Bombing Group took its new Ju-87D's to battle for the first time. By the 9th of August 1943, they had flown more than 1000 sorties and dropped close to 500 tons of bombs. Next came the 8th Assault Group, who also entered combat on the 12th of August 1943. Its exploits quickly achieved legend status, as they destroyed dozens of Russian tanks, as well as hundreds of vehicles and guns. This group remained in action virtually non-stop until the end of the war, putting their Hs-129B's to excellent use. In September 1943, the 9th Fighter Group arrived on the front to replace the exhausted 7th Group, which had been fighting for over an year. However, the aces of the 7th remained with the 9th Group. The 5th Bomber Group arrived in August to take over the duties of the 6th Bomber Group, who was sent back home to prepare for converting to Junkers Ju-87D's. All Romanian squadrons performed very well during this campaign, proving that when supplied with modern equipment, Romanian pilots and crews were just as good as the German ones. A tip of the hat must also be given to the Luftwaffe, who performed repairs and maintenance, and promptly replaced lost aircraft
Another unit who fought on the east front during this period was the 4th Fighter Group. It was moved in mid 1943 on bases near Saki in Crimea and near Odessa. The group's IAR-80C's and IAR-81C's flew patrols over the Black Sea, covering convoys bound for the ports of Crimea, where the combined German-Romanian 17th Army was encircled from October 1943. Occasionally, the 4th was also used in ground support duties, as it was a dive-bomber unit. In December 1943, the 5th Fighter Group joined in with its Bf-109E's and IAR-80's, and thanks to the efforts of these groups, no convoy was seriously hit until May 1944, when Axis forces were finally evacuated.
But Soviet reserves seemed to be endless. The Romanian 1st Air Corps was forced to withdraw further and further westwards, until June 1944, when it arrived inside the borders of pre-war Romania. By this stage, casualties and accidents had reduced the number of aircraft ready for action to as low as 60 in some days. Survivors were constantly thrown into battle, flying as many as 3 or 4 sorties per day. The Soviet airforce, who had enjoyed a 3 to 1 numerical advantage in mid 1943, now had an 5 to 1 advantage and continued with its relentless attacks.

Aftermath

The Ukrainian campaign was one of the most successful ones in ARR's history. A total of over 300 Russian aircraft were either shot down or destroyed on the ground, whilst the AA artillery claimed 84 more, raising the figure to almost 400 planes. Also in 1943 came the first major Allied raid against Romania : operation "Tidal Wave", which saw an attack by 178 American B-24's against the refineries around Ploiesti. American casualties where very heavy, with 10 bombers shot down by ARR fighters and 17 more by Romanian flak ( from a total of 53 bombers lost by the 15th USAF ). This operation will be further covered in the "home defense" section. After one year on the east front, the 1st Air Corps had flown 18072 sorties, during which 7312 tones of bombs were dropped and 401 VVS planes were destroyed.

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