This post originally appeared a few years back in Romanian. Figured that since it circulated on a few foreign aviation forums, an English version is long overdue.
5. Got a light?
Some airmen of the Royal Romanian Airforce would tape onto the plane’s dashboard a picture of their sweetheart, or would paint her name on the fuselage, or take with them on a mission other lucky charms. Second lieutenant Razvan Goilav from Fighter Group 1 had a different source of affection: his pipe, which he smoked all the time. Even on missions.
the WTF!? moment
During a US bombing mission on May 5th 1944, Goilav got stranded after an attack in his IAR 80 in the middle of a B-17 formation. Dude was literally flying in tight formation with the American bombers, calmly smoking his pipe and smirking at the gunners who could only throw invisible punches at him. It was the maximum aggression they could resort too. If they’d open fire in such close quarters, Goilav’s plane wouldn’t have been the only thing turned into swiss cheese.
Eventually, Razvan Goilav’s wingman, Dumitru Chera, dived to his aide. „From his mumbling in the radio, because of the pipe, I understood that he wouldn’t disengage until he shoots one down.” Chera’s plan was to draw some attention (and fire) from the B-17 machine guns unto him, thus allowing Goilav to dive to safety. Now that’s a friend in need!
The plan was successful and both airmen landed safely, despite their planes resembling now Van Gogh’s Starry Night.
4. Party like it’s 1944
When Romanian fighter pilots didn’t take off, often in obsolete aircraft, to engage hundreds of American bombers and fighters in what specialists now call „bat shit crazy courage”, they would try to make the most out of those long hours on the ground. Like developing new tactics or simply partying like it’s their last party ever. Often it was for some of them.
the WTF!? moment
The airmen of Fighter Group 6 greeted the summer of 1944 with polished planes, brushed uniforms and musical instruments all tuned up, because it’s not every day that the staff of the Carabus Theatre comes to your first summer party. This gist was that this time the actors were the spectators and the aviators the entertainers.
Costica Dimache and Lulu Ionescu of the 59th Squadron charmed the ladies with their mandoline and violin skills (wink), while warrent officer Romica Cerneschi dazzled the audience with his acting abilities.
A few more shows and drinks later, Carabus’ manager, Constantin Tanase, offered Dimache a full-time deal at his theatre, effective immediately after the war would end.
All that partying made for some heavy heads the next morning, on June 10th, 1944. Everyone believed they’d have enough time to sober up before the Americans began their usual 10 AM bomb run, but the Yanks had a change of plans.
At 8 AM, the alarm at Popesti-Leordeni airfield woke up everyone from sweet slumber. The Americans are coming!
All 26 fighter pilots geared up and took off in their IAR 81s, and got up to about 2500 meters when the tower radioed that the Americans are strafing the airfield at tree top level.
„Paris to Paris 1, 2 and 3, follow me!” . [chuckles, I’m in danger]
Commander Dan Vizanty led Group 6’s dive to save the day, the 26 Romanian aircraft and 39 P-38s engaging in dog fight that lasted around four or twelve minutes (relativity at its dangerous) at an altitude that never got higher than 200 meters.
The 24 bottles of French champagne and tree bottles of whiskey the Romanian fighter pilots received after the battle (equivalent to the believed number of P-38’s downed) meant that after the mission’s debrief another party was already being mapped out.
P.S. Costica Dimache never got his chance on the big stage, being shot down later in the summer of 1944. Constantin Tanase payed his respects by having Gica Petrescu do a studio recording of Dimache’s favorite song: „Costica, Costica”
3. The age at which „let’s see what happens” outweighs the consequences
Horia Agarici was, undoubtedly, the first superstar of the Royal Romanian Air Force. Just two days into the war and Agarici was dominating the radio airtime with a song that went like this: „Agarici went hunting to shoot down some bolsheviks”.
He just turned 30 two months earlier and piloting a Hawker Hurricane with eight machine guns nestled in its wings kept him safe from any pre-midlife crisis. The only crisis to fear was that he might run out of bolsheviks to shoot down.
the WTF!? moment
While the rest of the pilots of 53rd Squadron were out at sea escorting some bombers, Horia Agarici returned to Mamaia base because of some problems with one of the fuel tanks.
As the mechanics were doing their thing under the gentle breeze of the Black Sea, the alarm went off. Soviet bombers closing in on Constanta harbor!
For Agarici, only one thing seemed reasonable enough: take off with a busted a plane and do his best in defending the harbor. But the big bosses told him to stay put, it’s too dangerous.
After the first bombs hit the harbor, Horia Agarici was already up in the sky, because he wasn’t the sort of guy to hide behind alibis like not having a wingman and flying on just one functional fuel tank.
The Soviet planes that bombed the harbor escaped, but the next formation of Pe-2 bombers that were closing in for a second strike were in for a really bad day. „And then I came over them from the sun”. I could just stop right here, because nothing that starts with „and then I came over them from the sun” has a happy ending for those wondering „what’s that thing that’s coming over us from the sun?”.
Two bombers were shoot down by Horia Agarici, one was shared with the coastal AA, and the rest dropped their load into the sea and went to find a place where there’s no sun. Ever.
His actions that day inspired Gherase Dendrino and Pastorel Teodoreanu to create the song that would take hostage the national Radio for the entire summer.
P.S. Agarici’s „let’s see what happens” list also includes a low cross under the Cernavoda Bridge, to escape two Soviet fighters, and the sparring of a Soviet airmen that ran out of ammo and was a sitting duck.
2. Airmen die with their engines running
About 48 kilometers West of Stalingrad, all hell broke lose in mid-November 1942. Karpovka airfield, where Fighter Group 7 was stationed, was becoming more and more surrounded by Soviet troops.
Operation Uranus just started.
the WTF!? moment
Abandoned by the air bosses with a simple „there’s nothing we can do for you, may God help you”, and with a herd of T-34 tanks accompanied by infantry closing in on the airfield, some pilots, like ace Tiberiu Vinca, who was a school teacher before the War, were discovering their motivational speaking skills: „If we are to die, then let us die like airmen, with our engines running!” drops mic
Alexandru Serbanescu used his experience as a former officer in the Vanatori de Munte (Mountain Huntsmen) and, alongside flight lieutenant Petre Protopopescu, organized the defenses around the airfield and the escape plan.
The plan was more or less something like this: every air worthy Me-109 to be stripped of non-essentials such as oxygen tank, radio, compass, and seat armor, so it can carry at least one more passenger out of that hell. Because flying in zero visibility and under intense enemy fire would be too easy. That’s Romanian ingenuity for you!
In order to aid the airfield’s AA defenses turned anti-tank, which at 9 PM pushed back a first Soviet assault, Serbanescu had all Me-109’s placed with their tails on empty oil barrels. With a pilot in each plane sending prayers to whoever was listening, they opened fire at 10 PM, when the Soviets launched a second assault. The 20mm guns of 30 Me-109 E’s colored in white tracers the night of the only terrestrial battle in history fought between fighter planes, AA guns and tanks. Michael Bay likes this
On the dark and cold morning of November 23rd, 1942, the fourteen Me-109’s still operational began their emergency take off at around 4 AM. Hearing the engines roaring, the Soviet tanks pushed again.
The first aircraft received a direct hit, with the next two colliding because of the intense enemy fire. However, that left a trail of fire that offered minimal guidance to the other eleven pilots.
Once in the air, they unloaded their machine guns on the Soviet troops and disappeared into the grey clouds and smoke. Using only a map, a pen and a piece of paper, each pilot did their own math and all of them managed to reach reserve airfields safely through zero visibility.
The chief of the German technical corps was nearing dementia once he saw not one but two people exiting the Me-109, which was previously thought unsuited for such a feat. Tiberiu Vinca is to this day the record holder, as he flew out of Karpovka in his Bf-109 E7 two of his mechanics.
P.S. when the fighter pilots that evaded the encirclement saw that their superiors were more keen on reports rather than organizing rescue missions for the men still fighting at Karpovka, the airmen put together their own plans and returned in the inferno with transport planes to save as many as possible.
1. A dog’s world
Remember at the beginning when I said most airmen had their lucky charms during missions? Well, please say hi to Gil Black Head, the basset griffon of lieutenant Ioan Galea from the 52 Fighter Squadron.
As far as we know, Gil is the only dog in World War 2 aviation history with his very own pilot logbook, the 142 flying hours he amassed making him a veteran of the Eastern and Western fronts.
the WTF!? moment
One mission in particular was close to a tragic ending for both the pup and his owner, when three Soviet LaGG-3 fighter planes jumped this unlikely duo in the summer of 1943. Feeling the odds stacked against them, Ioan Galea opted for a 5000 meters dive.
While the objective of evading a fiery death is achieved, the radio at the base receives Galea’s worried voice asking for immediate ambulance assistance. Gil Black Head was bleeding.
The paramedics concluded that the diving maneuver was too much to take for Gil and his eardrums burst, deafening the pooch. They also observed that Gil wasn’t too bothered by his injuries, as he was eager to get back into the Messerschmitt as soon as possible. One time he even blasted through the window of the room in which Galea locked him in.
The Galea – Gil team totaled 47 missions between august 1942 and may 1945 and it’s a good chance that at least one of Ioan Galea’s five combat victories had Gill as a eyewitness, ready to confirm with a firm growl in front of a skeptic bureaucrat his master’s success.
Alexandru Dudu Frim owned King Michael’s blue Jaguar SS 100, won the 1934 bobsleigh World Championships, was the lead engineer of the team that assembled into flight shape a downed B-24 Liberator, and is the only civilian in history to shoot down a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber. Ladies, please, contain yourselves.
the WTF!? moment
Upon returning to the IAR Factory airfield from an inspection, Alexandru Dudu Frim noticed the alarm and people on the ground scrambling to safety. That’s never a good sign.
Since all the other IAR 80 fighter planes from the factory’s emergency squadron were already in the air searching for the soon to arrive American bombers, Frim strapped into his own aircraft and took to the skies.
When he reached 6000 meters altitude and spotted in the distance the large bomber formations, his first instinct was to pull back on the throttle and reconsider his life choices. „You fool – I said to myself – if you’re afraid, why did you take off in the first place?”.
With the existential dread out of the way, Frim engaged the tens of bombers, firing, turning, doing all the good stuff Iron Maiden sing about. With the machine gun tracers all following the sole IAR 80 weaving through the crowd of bombers, Dudu Frim remembered that he was felling less threaten by them as he did by the snowball fights of his childhood.
The Romanian pilot got hits on multiple B-17’s. The next day, police officers brought to the IAR Factory airfield a group of six Americans that reported going down after a wacky fighter plane attacked them.