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Rumanian Air Force: The Prime Decade, 1938-1947, by Dénes Bernád, Squadron/Signal Publications, Carrollton, Texas, 1999, $11.95.

When Consolidated B-24D Liberator bombers returned from their massive raid on the Romanian oil refineries at Ploesti on August 1, 1943, survivors described running the gantlet through German anti-aircraft fire and fighters. Although the Allies understandably assumed the fighters were German, of the 17 B-24s shot down by Ploesti’s fighter defenses, only seven were claimed by Luftwaffe pilots. The other 10 had fallen to Messerschmitt Me-109s and IAR-80s of the Aeronautica Regala Romana (AAR), or Royal Romanian (or Rumanian) Air Force.

Romania’s air arm was second in size only to that of the Soviet Union’s in Eastern Europe when it entered World War II as a German ally in June 1941. It went on to play a significant role on the Axis side until August 23, 1944, when Romania declared an armistice with the Allies, and its pilots almost immediately began fighting their former German allies.

In postwar years, however, less information was available on the ARR’s wartime activities than on those of any other Axis ally in Eastern Europe. The regime of Nicolae Ceaucescu apparently destroyed documentation of ARR operations on the Axis side. Romanian airmen who had left their homeland preserved some of the ARR’s history. Some others who stayed behind had to bury their logbooks or photographs. Later, after the overthrow of Ceaucescu’s regime in 1989, they literally dug up their records for posterity. For example, 10-victory fighter ace Ion Dobran published an annotated version of his combat log in 1998.

Squadron/Signal, which has already published several paperback overviews of the air forces of Hungary, Finland and North Vietnam, has now released one of the first English-language books on the ARR, Rumanian Air Force: The Prime Decade, 1938­1947. The author, Dénes Bernád, is an expatriate Romanian living in Canada who has devoted considerable research to East European air arms since 1983. While his efforts in this volume probably represent just the beginning of what could be considerable further study on the subject, Rumanian Air Force presents an excellent overview of the ARR’s war against the Soviet Union, the United States and later Nazi Germany. The book is augmented by an impressive collection of photographs (six of which are in color) and color profiles, but there is more here than just German, Italian and Polish aircraft in Romanian markings.

Romania developed her own air industry and a number of original military aircraft designs, including a monoplane fighter, the IAR-80, which was competitive with the best of its contemporaries in 1940. Although it was approaching obsolescence by 1944, the indigenous fighter had a spectacular “last hurrah” on June 10, 1944, when IAR-81Cs of the 6th Fighter Group, commanded by Captain Dan Vizante, caught 16 Lockheed P-38J Lightnings of the 71st Squadron, 1st Fighter Group, trying to dive-bomb Ploesti and shot down half of them for the loss of three IARs.

Rumanian Air Force is a fascinating summary of a hitherto poorly documented air arm. It can be heartily recommended as an essential primer for any library of military aviation, filling a large gap in World War II history after more than 50 years.

Jon Guttman