Military Aviation

The day Romanian IAR 80 fighters claimed to have shot down 24 American P-38 Lightnings

The IAR 80 fought mostly against the Russians, but one engagement on Jun. 10, 1944 put it against America’s P-38.

The IAR 80 was a Romanian World War II fighter. It first flew in 1939 and was comparable to contemporary designs being deployed by the air forces of the most advanced military powers such as the Hawker Hurricane and Bf 109E. Production problems and lack of available armament delayed entry of the IAR 80 into service until 1941. It remained in frontline use until May 1945.

‘The IAR-80 was a Romanian aircraft that looked much like the German Fw 190,’ says Bruce Gordon, former F-86, F-100, F-102 and F-106 pilot, on Quora. ‘It fought mostly against the Russians, but one engagement on June 10, 1944 put it against America’s P-38. I have talked with P-38 pilots who flew against the IAR-80, and it is the closing story in my book, “The Spirit of Attack”. I compared the report by the Americans to the report by Dan Vizanty, the Romanian commander. When I sent my article to the P-38 pilots to review, they strongly disagreed. The Americans and the Romanian had wildly different views of what happened. The “Fog of war” shows that both sides claimed more kills than the other admitted losing.

‘Basic situation: 75 P-38s were flying a low-level mission from Italy to bomb the Romanian oilfields at Ploesti. Their route took them right over a Romanian base with IAR-80s. The Romanians got warning in time to climb to about 4,000 feet over their base. 26 IAR-80s dove down on the P-38s, mostly engaging one squadron of 12 P-38s with other squadrons joining the furball.’

Gordon continues:

‘In the ensuing dogfight, the Romanians claimed shooting down 24 P-38s, but that is the total P-38s lost in the entire mission, including planes lost to AA fire as they dive-bombed Ploesti and other engagements. I believe 13 P-38s were lost to the IAR-80s. American pilots claimed shooting down 12 IAR-80s (the Americans reported the enemy was Fw 190s). The Romanians admit to losing only three IAR-80s.

‘In this engagement, the Romanians had the advantages of altitude, surprise, and speed, diving on the P-38s which were cruising with loads of bombs and fuel tanks.’

Gordon concludes:

‘In real war, there are few “fair” fights. Someone always has an advantage, and luck plays a big role. This battle shows that the IAR-80 was a very worthy opponent for the P-38.’

Photo credit: Planck and Umeyou via Wikipedia and U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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