Constantin "Bâzu" Cantacuzino - The prince of aces

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Jun 1, 2004
He was born on 11 November 1905 in Bucharest. His father was Mihai Cantacuzino and his mother Maria Rosetti. There were both from old noble families and very, very rich. For example, after 1921, when many lands were expropriated and given to the peasants, his estate in Jilavele, still had 1172 ha(1ha=100 mx100 m), a huge surface of high quality agricultural land. His mother married for the second time with George Enescu (Romania's best composer and a world class violinist; he was Yehudi Menuhin's teacher). He went to high-school in Bucharest. He loved motor sports and he could afford to practice them all the time. He was an excellent biker (won some races) and driver (he set a new record on the Paris-Bucharest race). He played tennis and was the captain of the Romanian ice hockey team at the World Championship in 1933.

That year he attended the "Mircea Cantacuzino" Flight School (the fee was 30000 lei, which was a considerable sum, the leu was equal to the French franc). He flew a lot around Europe until the beginning of the war and sometimes in very difficult conditions. He was the pilot of the prince G. V. Bibescu, the president of the International Aviation Federation. Until the beginning of the war he had already over 2000 hours of flights all across Europe. In 1939 he won the national aerial acrobatics contest with his Bücker Bü-133 Jungmeister.

In 1941 was named chief-pilot of the Romanian national air transport company LARES. Even though this was a comfortable and cozy job, he managed to get in the front line as a fighter pilot in the 53rd Squadron (equipped with Hurricane Mk. I). From 5 July, when he started flying war missions, until 31 October 1941, when he was demobilized, he claimed 4 victories (3xDB-3 and 1xI-16) and 2 probable (1xDB-2 and 1xI-16).

After the capture of Odessa, the Romanian armed forces reduced the number of front line troops, because the main objectives were achieved (Bessarabia was liberated and the Soviets were pushed away the frontiers).

"Bâzu" was one of the reservists who were sent home. He retook his position at LARES.

But he managed to return to active duty in 1943. On 26 April 1943 he was remobilized and assigned to the 7th Fighter Group, which was equipped with the new Me-109 G. On 5 May he arrived on the front line and was named commander of the 58th Squadron. On 29 June, he and his wingman engaged 4xYaks, 2xLa-5s and 4xSpitfires, while trying to protect 3 Romanian Ju-88s His wingman was badly hit and forced to return to base. He continued the fight and shot down 2 Spits. He was also damaged, but managed to escape. Unfortunately, two of the bombers were destroyed. In July he flown both day and night missions, even though his "Gustav" was not equipped for that kind of flying. He tried to stop the Soviet night bombings of his airfield. The Germans protested and considered him mad. He finally gave up these missions.

On 27 July 1943, his wing was suppose to escort a German recon plane. But because of technical problems, only "Bâzu's" airplane could be fueled in time. When he reached the rendezvous point, the German plane was already under attack by a Yak with a red engine hood (that meant over 25 kills). There were another two Yaks which were protecting the other one. He fired from distance and the Soviets turned on him. After 2 minutes he managed to get behind the Soviet ace and shot him down, before the wingmen could intervene. They ran away after seeing what happened to their leader. On his way back to the airfield "Bâzu" also sent a Pe-2 to the ground.

Between 2 and 5 August he shot down 9 planes (4xYaks and 5xIl-2s), raising his score to 27. On 5 August he was alone on patrol and he encountered a Soviet formation about 40-50 planes strong (Il-2s and Yaks). He realized that he couldn't have obtained outstanding results, but he could try to create them some problems. He dove into the Il-2 formation and shot down 2 of them, but he was immediately attacked by the Soviet fighters. He managed to shake them off, only one remained, but soon he joined Cantacuzino's kill collection.

The day of 16 August was an excellent day for the pilots of the 7th Fighter Group. They claimed 22 kills and 5 probable. First was Slt. Ion Milu with 5, then came Cpt. av. Cantacuzino with 3 (2xLa-5s and 1xIl-2) and Cpt. av. Alexandru Şerbănescu (2xIl-2s and 1xIl-2 probable). On 28 August he also received the Iron Cross, 1st class (Şerbănescu got his on 17).

In the autumn of 1943 "Bâzu" got sick and was interned to a hospital and then had to stay a while away from the front to rest.

On 10 February 1944 he returned to active duty in the 7th Fighter Group, which was sent to the front with the Soviets in Moldavia. On 15 April, there was an American raid and Cpt. av. Cantacuzino and his wingmen attacked the bomber formations and shot down 6 Liberators (the prince got one himself). He continued flying missions against the VVS and had a few victories.

On 31 May the 7th Fighter Group was pulled out of the first line and assigned to home defense. Cantacuzino remained in the 9th Fighter Group. He had 36 kills.

"Bâzu" was the first Romanian pilot to send a Mustang to the ground on 6 June. He shot down another one on 15 July and started August with 2xP-38s. After the death of Cpt. av. Alexandru Şerbănescu, he was named commander of the 9th Fighter Group.

After 23 August 1944, when Romania quit the Axis and joined the Allies, the Germans started bombing Bucharest, from airfields close to the capital, which were still in their hands. The 7th and 9th Fighter Group were brought in to protect the city. "Bâzu" shot down 3xHe-111 with this occasion.

He was then given a special mission: to transport Lt. Col. James Gunn III, the American highest ranking POW in Romania, to the airbase in Foggia and then to lead back the USAAF airplanes that were coming to take the POWs back.

He flew in the Gustav nr. 31, which was in the best condition, because it had only 7.5 hours of use. The American was put in the place of the radio and an extra fuel tank was added. He landed after two hours and 5 minutes of flight. First the Americans were suspicious, even though he spoke fluent English. But the colonel got out of the fuselage, everything was OK. He returned with a Mustang, because the Gustav couldn't be fueled. He needed only a flight to get used to it and dazzled the Americans with his acrobatics, which he couldn't help himself not to execute. Until 25 September he made several flights to Italy. Then he returned to his Group, which was engaged in the fights with the Germans and Hungarians in Transylvania. The Gustav was destroyed by the Americans, when they tried to fly it and were "stolen away" by it (the all known Me-109 characteristic).

Even though the ARR was facing many supplying difficulties, because the Soviets were requisitioning all the airplanes that were produced or repaired, the 9th Fighter Group did its best to carry out the orders.

On 25 February 1945, Cpt. av. Cantacuzino and his wingman Adj. Av. Traian Dârjan (11 kills), engaged 8xFw-190Fs. In the dogfight that followed, "Bâzu" got one of the Germans. While they were looking for the crash site in order to validate the victory claim, they failed to see the two German Gustavs. They jumped the careless Romanian pilots and shot them down very quickly. Dârjan died.

When the war finished, Cpt. av. Cantacuzino was demobilized and returned to LARES. He had 60 victories and was the highest ranking Romanian ace. He is probably one of the few pilots, if not the only one, that shot down Soviet, US and German airplanes, ranging from the I-16, the Yak-1,3,7,9, the La-3,5, the Spitfire, the P-38 and P-51 to the Fw-190F.

After the war, times changed. The USSR imposed a communist regime that started confiscating private properties and imprisoning the old elite and all those who dared not to think like them. "Bâzu" lost all its land and soon his wife left him. He managed to escape to Italy in 1947 and then he settled down in Spain. There he was helped by the Romanian community to buy himself an airplane, in order to earn his living at air shows. He died on 26 May 1958. There are two versions of how he died: one is after an unsuccessful surgical operation and the second when he crashed with his airplane.

His wife (the fourth one) was an actress. She emigrated to the USA and settled down at Hollywood and married there. She had a daughter which later became Miss America and stared in the "Dallas" show as JR's wife: the name was Linda Grey.

Written by Victor Niţu

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