IAR 80

Among the lesser known combatants of World War II there are also many lesser known weapons. Romania was among those that developed indigenous designs to avoid being wholly dependent on any of the larger powers.

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Let’s take a look at smaller country’s efforts to build a competitive weapon system.

Romania is located directly in between Germany and the Soviet Union (or Russian Empire before).  Going well back in history this was seen as a problem for its leaders. As aircraft and weapons grew more sophisticated and expensive in the 20th Century it became more difficult to match the quality of competing equipment.  In the 1920s and ’30s three aircraft companies were formed by the government and given different tasks to design and build weapons.
Foreign equipment was purchased too both to examine international state-of-the-art and as acknowledgement that local equipment was often a step behind. As war approached Romania was using Polish PZL P11, P23 and P-24 aircraft; plus German Heinkel He112, British Hawker Hurricane and Bristol Blenheim, Italian SM.79 and others.
The IAR 80 design was started in 1937 and sourced equipment from a variety of sources. It had just under 1000 HP, a top speed over 300 mph and was considered maneuverable and fun to fly. Its firepower was four light machine guns which was very light for this period (British fighters were using eight light machine guns and pilots considered that insufficient); but machine guns were high on the list of things Romania could never get enough of.
Even so, the IAR 80 was generally considered modern and capable when it entered service.  Later developments of the type tried to increase firepower (both more guns, and heavier guns, but there were never enough).  Nearly 500 were built and it stayed in service until after World War II.  IAR also built a dive bomber derivative, the IAR 81, which was similar except bomb displacement gear under the fuselage.  Attempts were made to re-engine the type with the BMW 801 (the same engine used on the Fw190), which offered about 60% more power, but Germany would not release that engine for export.

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Romania’s military involvement in World War started early.  The Soviets seized eastern portions of the country almost as soon as they signed a non-aggression treaty with Hitler (1939), which all but guaranteed Romania would side with Germany when the Germans offered their territories back for joining in their attack on the Soviet Union (Barbarossa).
The IAR 80 was used heavily against the Soviet Union for the whole duration of the eastern war.  More modern types were purchased from Germany as that war went on, but never enough which led to the IAR 80 and 81 being retained.
American readers might be most interested in two significant actions against the USAAF, both at Ploesti Romania.  Ploesti had the largest concentration of oil refineries in all of Europe and was a key part of the Third Reich’s industrial infrastructure.  On August 1, 1943 B-24 Liberators from 5 bomb groups (178 aircraft total) attacked the refineries at low level. The Romanians had two squadrons of IAR 80, one of Bf109 and one of Bf110 in the area; the Luftwaffe contributed several squadrons as well.  The IAR 80 squadrons claimed 10 Liberators shot down (out of 51 total lost to fighters), which is perhaps fewer than their numbers should have yielded.  That is likely a product of the type’s light firepower vs an American heavy bomber.  But of course the battle has gone down as a disaster for American air power (only 31 of the participating B-24s were considered serviceable the next day).
Almost a year later the USAAF started a new campaign against Ploesti that started almost more embarrassing than the previous one. 36 P-38 Lightnings with bombs were escorted by 39 P-38s loaded to fight.  The plan was to make a low level dive bombing attack. But the IAR 80 squadrons made a surprise attack and destroyed 23 Lightnings for three losses.  Unfortunately for the Romanians, USAAF resources in mid-1944 were deeper than the year before and adjustments were quickly made.  For one, bombers would be used as bombers and fighters as fighters after this. Perhaps more important, it decided to only attack at higher altitudes (sacrificing some accuracy for the sake of fighter performance).  Over the next four months 32 IAR 80 pilots were lost, including 11 aces.  This led to Romania withdrawing the type from combat against the Americans and using only Bf109G squadrons at locations likely to be targeted by escorted American bombers.

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The Romanians used different color stripes on the pitot tube to indicate squadrons

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This build is from the Hobbyboss kit.  This Chinese company puts out very uneven product quality.  The good news here (apart from unusual subject matter!) is that the kit features very nice fine detail and mostly fit quite well. The landing gear was fiddly and I understand aficionados of the type have accuracy concerns.  But by far my biggest complaint would be that the decals were printed badly out of register.  The colors on the crosses were so botched up I substituted from an Aeromaster sheet for Hurricanes in Romanian service.  But overall, a fast and pleasing build.

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Some approximate contemporaries.  The C.202 behind was a modern Italian type that would have served alongside IAR 80 on the Eastern Front.  The Spitfire Mk V was the British type in service as the IAR 80 began to be used in strength.  Unfortunately, the IAR 80 was probably a closer match to earlier marks of Spitfire.

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The IAR 80s greatest success came against American P-38s on June 10, 1944.  The Lightning should have been a much superior type.  Unfortunately the Lightning was used against its strength, with a bomb load at low altitude.  This played right into the IAR 80s lightness and maneuverability and led to a massacre.

IAR80

IAR 80s in flight (from Wikipedia)

About atcDave

I'm 5o-something years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I was an air traffic controller for 33 years and recently retired; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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6 Responses to IAR 80

  1. jfwknifton says:

    Excellent work! I really enjoyed that . The losses suffered by the Lightnings perhaps goes some way towards explaining why the Lightning was turned down by the RAF for its low altitude performance (If I remember correctly, although I know there was some issue over superchargers)

    • atcDave says:

      I think the lack of superchargers was the big thing for the RAF. Those particular Lightnings were so substandard that when the USAAF took over the order, the planes had to be re-engined before they were even used as trainers! Such a shame, the Lightning would have looked great in British colo(u)rs.

  2. I have always loved the look of these planes. Make the wings stubby and put some fixed gear on it and you have a 30’s era racer. Thanks for the post – great info!

  3. Very interesting indeed. It’s nice to see some of the lesser known aircraft get a mention, and the kit looks good considering the issues with the decals. There’s definitely a striking resemblance to the FW 190.

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