Born: 11 October 1915, Roman
- 22 June - 15 December 1941: 5th Bomber Group
- 1 January 1943 - 7 May 1944: 78th Bomber Squadron
Combat missions: 60
- Virtutea Aeronautica Order Gold Cross class with two bars
- Eiserne Kreuz 2nd class
- Coroana Romaniei Knight class with Virtute Militara ribbon
Died: 7 September 2005, Bucharest
Picture courtesy of Mr. Serban Dutescu
Slt. av. (r) Sorin Tulea on his motorcycle
Sorin Tulea was born on 11 October 1915 in Roman. However, he grew up in Bucharest. His mother
remarried when he was only 7 years old with Constantin Matasaru, who eventually became the board chairman of the Steaua Romana Oil Company in the 30s. Needless to say his family enjoyed a very good material situation. His stepfather also turned out to be a strong character and "made a man" out of Sorin Tulea, as the pilot wrote in his memoirs many years
His first contact with aviation, which planted the seeds of his future passion, was in
1926 when the young Tulea saw the film Wings. The following year he made his first
flight as passenger onboard a Farman Titan piloted by cpt. av. Romeo Popescu, during a
public action to familiarize schoolchildren with airplanes.
In 1936, Sorin Tulea entered the Mircea Cantacuzino Flight School, where many
other famous Romanian pilots learned to fly. A good example would be the top scoring ace of
WWII: Constantin Cantacuzino. He had as flight instructor adj. sef av. Virgil Chifulescu,
who he would later meet while serving with the 1st Bomber Flotilla.
Besides flying, Sorin Tulea also had several other "extreme" hobbies like skiing or
climbing. He was part of the team that laid out the first level 5 (very difficult) climbing
track in Romania: "Trei Surplombe" on the Galbinele Valley in the Bucegi Mountains. Together
with him in this endeavor were Nicolae Baticu (who was also a pilot and served in an
observation squadron during WWII), George Niculescu and the legendary Emilian Cristea.
After graduating from the prestigious "Gheorghe Lazar" High-School in Bucharest, he was
admitted in the Politechnical School, Aviation section. His studies were interrupted by the
mobilization. In 1939, he then went through a military aviation training course at Otopeni
and was licensed as war pilot on the Potez XXV biplane, receiving the rank of
sublocotenent (2nd lt.) in the reserves.
In 1940 slt. av. (r) Sorin Tulea was mobilized once again and dispatched to the 1st
Bomber Flotilla in Brasov. There he met once again adj. sef. av. Virgil Chifulescu, who this
time taught him how to fly two-engine aircraft. He was then assigned to the 4th Bomber
Group, as the officer responsible with coding and decoding messages and as the commander's
aid. He usually made liaison flights with the Fw-58 no. 14, which he had just learned how to
master. In July he underwent another training course, this time an official one at the
Two-Engine Aircraft Flight School.
Thus, in August 1940, just as the relations have gotten more tense between Romania and
Hungary, he returned to the 4th Bomber Group, which was deployed in the Blaj airfield, as a
licensed bomber pilot. As the crisis was developing, the P.37s were moved closer to the
frontier, at Campia Turzii. At one moment, they were even prepared to fly a bombing mission
against a target in Budapest. At the end of August, when Northwestern Transylvania was given
up, the group returned to Brasov. It then moved to Targsor and for bombing exercises at
Mamaia. In October 1940, Sorin Tulea was released from duty and attended the autumn exams
for the fourth year of the Polytechnic School.
He was again mobilized on 1 June 1941, but to his surprise, he and his good friend
Nicolae Baticu were assigned as climbing instructors to the 4th Mountain Battalion. The
order was revoked ten days later and the two returned to their flight duties. Because of
five P.37s had been lost in accidents in 1940 and there were more crews than neccessary,
slt. av. (r) Sorin Tulea and several other pilots were sent to the 5th Bomber Group equipped
with He-111H-3s. He was now part of the 78th Bomber Squadron, under the command of cpt. av.
On 17 June 1941, the group moved to the Zilistea airfield. The 1st Bomber Flotilla was
gearing up for war. Before the start of the hostilities, however, Sorin Tulea barely had the
time to accumulate 9 hours and 5 minutes on the He-111H-3, too little to fully master the
aircraft in war operations.
On 22 June 1941, his crew and the He-111H-3 no. 5 were kept in reserve. So, slt. av. (r)
Tulea put his other hobby in value and asked the group commander, lt. cdor. av. Paul
Landman, if he good go on the raid as photographer and obtained the approval. Thus he took
part in the first mission of the 5th Bomber Group in WWII as flight crew, not pilot. The
Heinkel no. 5 had to wait until 25 June to take part in the fighting. That day, the
objective was the Basarabeasca Railway Station. Onboard as bombardier/observer was lt.
Marcel Luca and serg. Ciubotarev and serg. Dumitru Florea were the machine-gunners. No. 5
was going to fly on the right of the leading airplane. Basarabesca was an important railroad
hub in Bessarbaia and had a considerable AA defence. Two He-111H-3s were lost during this
mission, one shot down by AAA and the other probably by VVS fighters.
Other missions then followed, mainly attacks on the railroad infrastructure in Bessarabia
and the Ovidiopol port, used by the retreating Soviet 9th Army. On one such occasion, slt.
av. (r) Sorin Tulea, with slt. av. (r) Radu Eugen, another climbing friend, had the special
task of lagging behind the formation to photograph the results. On 24 July, the 5th Bomber
Group attacked the port of Bugaz. According to the claims of the Romanian bomber crews, the
objective was ravaged. There were many trucks with ammunitions retreating through Bugaz and
the explosion on their cargo amplified the effect of the raid. This mission brought another
first in the flying activity of Sorin Tulea: his first night landing.
At the beginning of August, the 5th Bomber Group made a special low altitude attack on
Soviet positions in the Grigoriopol area, on the Eastern bank of the Dnister River. As
usual, Tulea was in the first patrulă (Romanian for Schwarm). They came in very low
and achieved complete surprise, catching the Soviet infantry off guard. They dropped the 50
kg bombs over the trenches and continued through a small valley to the Malaesti-Polskaya
area where Soviet cavalry was stationed. There, again, they caught the enemy by surprise and
dropped the remaining four 225 kg bombs (for each airplane) over a building complex,
demolishing it completely. Amazingly, the He-111H-3 no. 5 returned to Zilistea unscratched.
The bombers from the other two patrule, however, were covered by bullet holes,
because the Soviets had recovered quickly from the surprise and returned fire. They were not
serviceable for several days afterwards.
Because the military operations had moved to the vicinity of Odessa, the group was
relocated to Bessarabia on the airfield near Leipzig, a former German colony. The new
location was much closer to the front. There he teamed up with slt. av. (r) Radu Boldur as
bombardier/observer. The missions flown in the new theatre of operations were again mainly
attacks on railroad stations, but this time the Romanian pilots met the formidable AA
artillery concentrated at Odessa and several new losses occurred. The 5th Bomber Group also
intervened in support of the Romanian 4th Army's left wing, which was in a difficult
situation following the Soviet landings East of Odessa in late September 1941. During one of
these missions, Sorin Tulea was involved in an accident with his He-111. During a "friendly"
low pass over the base of the 8th Fighter group, he hit an antenna pole with one of the
wings and destroyed the fighter group's radio station. Eventually the case was solved
amiably and there were no repercusions.
On 27 September, six He-111H-3s of the 78th Squadron attacked Zastava, in the vicinity of
Odessa. Because of the powerful AAA in the area, the bombing was executed from an altitude
of 4,000 m, without much effect. On their way back, four I-16s attacked the formation, but
the Heinkels entered the clouds and escaped. Other Ratas were engaged by the IAR-80s of the
8th Fghter Group. As they exited the clouds, the four I-16s jumped them again , but the
machine-gunners kept them at distance and they couldn't fire effectively. Soon after that,
Sorin Tulea was awarded the Virtutea Aeronautica Order Gold Cross class with two bars
and the Coroana Romaniei Order Knight class with Virtute Militara ribbon and
was discharged, as the exams at the faculty were closing in. Thus he didn't get to see the
end of the fighting around Odessa and returned to Bucharest. After the fall of Odessa, the
5th Bomber Group came back to Brasov. That is where Tulea found it on 15 November when he
finished the exams.
In December 1941, he teamed up with Unteroff. Heinz Schubert, a German war reporter, for
a trip to the front in Crimea. He obtained a Klemm 35 from the cdor. Alexandru Demetrescu,
the director of the Aripi Romanesti magazine and on 4 December they left. From
Bucharest, the small trainer aircraft took them to Tiraspol, Nikolaev and then Sarabuz,
immediately South of Simferopol, in Crimea. From there, they were only allowed to fly to an
area close to the front near Sevastopol, where fighting was still going on. The return
journey was made on the same route and after a week he was back at the 1st Bomber Flotilla
Picture courtesy of Mr. Serban Dutescu
Sorin Tulea near a trainer aircraft (probably a Klemm 35)
On 15 December Sorin Tulea was discharged for active duty, as were the rest of the
reservists. He remained in Brasov though, at IAR where he was hired by his friend eng.
Alexandru "Dudu" Frim, one of the top factory test pilots. 1942 was a quiet year for him,
spent between test flights with the new aircraft rolling out the production lines and sky or
climbing in the nearby mountains. It was in this period that he took most of the famous
color photographs of IAR-80s in flight, which had been published in many works and can be
encountered on practically every webpage dealing with this aircraft. He was again mobilized
on 1 January 1943 and returned to the 78th Bomber Squadron. The unit had remained home
during the 1942/43 Stalingrad campaign of the 5th Bomber Group because it had been
reequipped with He-111H-6 torpedo-bombers.
On 14 March 1943, Sorin Tulea was injured during a sky contest and had to stay away from
flying for several months. When he was back on his feet in July, the squadron was already
deployed on the Seaside, at Mamaia airfield. The activity was without major events: endless
patrols above the Black Sea in search of possible Soviet surface ships on board his
He-111H-6 no. 48, lying on the beach, swimming and chasing girls in Constanta. As the front
line was approaching the Romanian borders, the 78th Bomber Squadron was redeployed to the
Ciocarlia airfield, a little further inland, but still close to the sea.
In April 1944, while taking a SET-7K liaison aircraft to IAR Brasov for overhauling, the
engine stopped over the Bucegi Mountains. Together with Sorin Tulea in the airplane was also
cpt. av .Stefan Pintilescu, the squadron CO. He managed with difficulty to put it down in a
meadow, but crashed it into a house. Fortunately, both escaped unscratched.
The same month, the 78th Bomber Squadron was joined by the 76th, which was equipped with
the old P.37s, and formed the 4th Bomber Group. The front needed all available aircraft, no
matter how obsolete they were. The new group was based at Ianca airfield, in the middle of
the Romanian plain. The war had returned to the men of the 78th Squadron, who have lived a
relatively quiet life for more than a year. Only a part of the crews were veterans of the
1941 or 1942 campaigns. Slt. av. (r) Sorin Tulea teamed up with Mihai Viteazul Order
recipient lt. Mihai Oncioiu. It was arguably the best crew of the 78th Squadron.
From the first mission, at Kol Parkany, on the Dnister River, he observed the increase in
effectiveness of the Soviet AAA. Several of the six He-111H-6s that participated were hit by
splinters. The beginning of May 1944 brought the Soviet offensive in the Targu Frumos
region and the Romanian bombers were called in for support. There were days when slt. av.
(r) Sorin Tulea would make three sorties.
On 7 May 1944, the 78th Bomber Squadron had to make an attack a tank concentration in a
forest North of the Valea Seaca village in Moldavia. As usual, two patrule were
organized and he was part of the second one. A heavy rain seemed to postpone the mission,
but the sky cleared quickly. Unfortunately, the He-111 of Virgil Stanculescu got stuck in a
mud pit and the second patrulă led by cpt. av. Matei Ghica took off ten minutes later
than the first one. Thus they would miss the rendezvous with the fighter escort.
Nevertheless they arrived unopposed above the target. The AAA started to fire. The
explosions were extremely close, but luckily they weren't hit. After the bombs were
released, the three He-111H-6s turned back and dived. A formation of 5 P-39s in the area
was, however, already on their tail. The He-111H-6 no. 48, flown by slt. av. (r) Sorin
Tulea, was singled out by the VVS fighters and received many hits in the wings. The
machine-gun of the radio operator jammed and only the two machine-guns on the He-111s no. 54
and 55 remained to keep the Airacobras at bay. The Soviets took advantage of the situation
and closed in. A long burst hit the cockpit and wounded lt. Mihai Oncioiu in the right hip
and arm. Soon after that they lost one engine and lagged behind the formation. Fortunately,
the Soviets were engaged by Bf-109s and the severely-damaged no. 48 could reach Roman. The
crew had to bail out. Lt. av. Sorin Tulea jumped the last. The air current directed him into
the tail stabilizers and he broke both his legs. As if that wasn't enough, after he hit the
ground he was attacked by peasants who thought he was a Soviet pilot or spy. They hit him
with clubs and almost killed him. Two German soldiers appeared in the area and saved him
from the mob. He was taken to the field hospital at Trifesti, some 3 km away. The others had
a similar "reception" from the locals, but got away, with the exception of lt. Mihai
Oncioiu, who was shot and killed while hanging in the harness of his parachute by the P-39s.
Eleven bullets had passed through his body.
The doctor in Trifesti was a skiing friend and took good care of him and then sent him to
Roman. From there, with a Fi-156 he was taken to Bacau and then to Bucharest with a Ju-52.
He was interned in the "Antoniu" Sanatory, but because of the American and British aerial
bombardment of the capital, Sorin Tulea was evacuated to the Interior Zone Hospital No. 367
in Sinaia. He remained interned in military hospitals until 1946 and was operated 18 times!
Most of the medical treatment was done by dr. Sandu Popovici, who was responsible for making
him able to walk and even climb and sky again.
Picture courtesy of Mr. Serban Dutescu
Sorin Tulea on the hospital bed
In the spring of 1947 he restarted flying with a weather squadron at Baneasa airfield.
His discontent with the direction Romania was heading (i. e. Communism) made him a "public
enemy" in the eyes of the regime installed in 1948 and he was simply arrested on 24 July
1948 in Brasov, without explanations. He was taken to Mailmaison, then Jilava prison. Sorin
Tulea was put on "trial" at the Military Tribunal and then sent back to Jilava, Vacaresti
and finally to the infamous Aiud prison, where he executed most of his 15-year long
sentence. He was lucky that because of technical knowledge he was selected on 2 January 1950
to work in the prison's factory. This took gave him better living conditions than other
political prisoners and, more importantly, gave him an occupation and the opportunity to
use his mind. Sorin Tulea was responsible for more than 40 projects, which included a
motorcycle (designed together with two other engineers) in the summer of 1955. The factory
closed in 1957 and he was transferred to Gherla, where he remained only for a couple of
months before returning to Aiud. Only in April 1960, did he return to the factory,
He was freed in July 1963 and forced to live in the Latesti village in the middle of the
Romanian Plain. It was a settlement inhabited by deportees from the Banat and other "enemies
of the state", like the wife of Marshal Antonescu. He was allowed to be visited and saw his
family and friends after long time. In November 1963 he was arrested again for "treason" and
taken to Malmaison, because he apparently had fled the country, while being at Aiud. Things
were cleared up and he was released in February 1964.
From this moment on, Sorin Tulea's life returned to normal. He married in October with
Nela Seitan, a old friend. They did not have any children together, but she had a boy from a
prior marriage, Serban, who he adopted and treated like his own. They made many trips around
the country and he continued his climbing activity. His wife passed away in 1989. Sixteen
years later, Sorin Tulea followed her.
Picture courtesy of Mr. Serban Dutescu
Always with the camera in his hands...