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.
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.
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.
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.