Picture courtesy of cdor. Titus Axente
Lt. av. Titus Axente on the airfield.
This interview was taken by Victor Nitu and Claudiu Stumer in May 2002 in Bucharest.
Victor Nitu: Sir, you were a Bf-110 pilot. Please tell us how a mission went by.
Titus Axente: We took off from Otopeni airfield, from the concrete runaway. There were several Freya-Wurzburg (I think 7) across Romania. All had Roman names: Brutus, Tiberius etc. The command center was situated at Otopeni. They directed us to one of the stations. When we entered their designated area (the range was about 60 km) we wee guided by them to about 2 km from the target, where the onboard radar became effective. But we never entered in contact with the British.
Claudiu Stumer: Why?
Titus Axente: The ground radar operators were German and they preferred to guide their Germans, not us. Plus, the communications were in German, coded. Even more difficult.
Claudiu Stumer: What's your impression about the aircraft?
Titus Axente: It was a very good aircraft. We flew on the C and F versions. We learned to fly on the Bf-110C and only then we passed to the Fritz, which had radar. The Germans flew on the more advanced Gustav. The Bf-110C could do aerobatics, but limited. We were not allowed to do fast rolls or spins. Only slow rolls. I did not have any problems with this aircraft.
Victor Nitu: Can you tell us about the no visibility flight school?
Titus Axente: We started with a course of instrumental flying on the Fw-58 with a German instructor, Schumacher. Then came the radio-navigation course on the Do-17. This aircraft did not have double controls. The German was pretty nervous at the beginning, because he did not know me. But after a while we got along very well. It was a very good school.
Claudiu Stumer: You said the instructor was nervous. What do you mean by that?
Titus Axente: Bormann had flown many missions over London. He came to Romania to restand recuperate. He was very tense.
Claudiu Stumer: Bormann? What was his first name?
Titus Axente: I don't remember. The same for Schumacher. He was a painter in the civilian life. He used to draw on the mission reports little men with cigars or pipes, as I was flying. Unfortunately I did not keep them.
Only after the no visibility flight school could one go to the night fighter unit. According to my calculations, there were about 100 Romanians then who had passed through this school. One learned some special skills. We flew very smoothly, very gently.
Claudiu Stumer: Did you make any night firing exercises?
Titus Axente: Yes, we did. One got very close and managed to see the silhouette of the enemy aircraft. But the radio operator could "see" it very well on radar. The crews were formed from the no visibility flight school. The ROs were in a parallel school.
Victor Nitu: Did you fly permanently with the same radio operator?
Titus Axente: Yes. Only with Iuliu Petrus.
Claudiu Stumer: Is he still alive?
Titus Axente: I don't know. I looked him up in the 70s. He was from Alba Iulia. I later heard something about him on Radio Free Europe. Maybe he left the country.
Victor Nitu: Please tell us what you did after 23 August 1944.
Titus Axente: On 23 August, the Russians took all our airplanes. It was the first time they had captured Bf-110s with radar. They took off with them, but they all crash landed. They did not know that there was a switch, which had to be turned on in order to connect the exterior fuel tanks with the interior ones. The Bf-110 had two tanks between the fuselage and the engines and two tanks after the engines. When switch was on, it let the fuel come in the central tanks and from there it was pumped in the engines.
Our squadron was disbanded. We made several appeals to the Ministry of Defence and, on 25 December, we were moved to the Heavy Transport Squadron, equipped with Ju-52s.
Claudiu Stumer: You flew on Ju-42s?
Titus Axente: Yes, I flew on 17-18 types of aircraft.
Victor Nitu: Could you list them?
Titus Axente: Well, let's see: Fleet F 10G, IAR-27, PWS-26, P.11c, Fw-58, S-79B, JRS-79B, Do-17, He-111E, He-111H3, He-111H6, He-111H20, Lockheed 10, Ju-34 (we called it "Canarache", because at Baneasa airfield there was a guy, a hunchback named Canarache ), Ju-52 and Nardi FN-305 green and white. We were the first students to fly on the white ones. They had been ordered in France before the war. They were very nice inside, very comfortable, but pretty hard to fly.
Claudiu Stumer: What can you tell us about the Ju-52
Titus Axente: Oh, that was my true love! We made transports to Oradea to Miskolc etc. It was a very pleasant aircraft. It did not have a pretty high speed. Only 220-230 km/h and it climbed to 3000-3500 m. I was the pilot of cdor. av. "Leu" [=Lion] Romanescu. I remember once we were coming back to Bucharest from Arad. The mountains were covered by thick clouds. We entered in them. Romanescu was sitting on the co-pilot seat. I reached into the pocket of my jacket. "What are you doing?!" "I want to smoke a cigarette" "Let me light it for you! He was scared. A very curious thing. Once, I was flying a He-111E to Brasov. In the back was also cdor. av. Arnautu, which had been a bomber pilot. He kept pulling the pillow underneath him. He had the impression that we were not flying strait. In the clouds one can't tell very much, but if one flies with the instruments, one needs not to worry.
Claudiu Stumer: What can you tell us about prince Brancoveanu?
Titus Axente: He was also a night fighter. Mihai was in the same officer school promotion with us, but a reservist. He was the nephew of prince Bibescu. He went with us at Severin, but was then moved at a fighter school at Brasov. He was then assigned to the 51st Fighter Squadron, which was later transformed in the 1st Night Fighter Squadron. We had at this squadron a real brotherhood. We had a totally different program. The call was at noon. We were all lined up: the pilots, the radio operators, the mechanics and the soldiers. There were two groups: the ones who were on alert from then on and those had been until then. After this we were free for 24 hours. Wehad a Fleet, which the CO was kind enough to give to us from time to time. Some went by the seaside with it, others, like Boris Capbatut, used it to go to see their girlfriends. There were no compulsions. On 23 August there were no deserters! The Germans were about 700 and we were 100. I was not on duty that night. I was called back to Otopeni airfield, but at Baneasa some Romanian soldiers stopped us because the Germans had installed AA guns, horizontally, on the other side of the bridge. We went to the HQ of the 1st Fighter Flotilla. After about a few days, cdor. av. Romanescu, which was then the flotilla's CO, sent me to Pipera airfield [near Bucharest, but it does not exist anymore] to gen. Perciu, the CO of the 3rd Air Region. There they give an Orita SMG. I had no idea what to do with it. I got into a car with the general and a driver and went to the Giulesti airfield [also in Bucharest; it does not exist anymore]. Everything was devastated, the Germans had fled and the warehouses were full with spare parts and other stuff. We then tried to go to Otopeni. On the way there, we were fired upon, but we were not hit. We took refuge behind some Romanian tanks in the area. The tank unit CO [probably gen. Niculescu] talked through the radio with a tank on a recon mission, which reported back that the enemy had left from Otopeni airfield. We went there and found no one. There were bullets and bodies everywhere. The general looked around and then turned to me and said: "You stay here!" It like in the middle of nowhere! "How can I remain here?" I was afraid, because I did not know if I was alone or not. I heard something in the cornfield behind the barracks. A soldier came out, wearing only his underwear and shirt. He had taken his clothes off so that the Germans won't take him prisoner if they found him. He hid for several days there, eating only raw corn and without any water. Slowly I gathered around 15 men. What can we do now? I organized the guard. I had one of them go around the airfield with a bicycle and bring them food. I had found some cans with beans and sausages in the storehouse. After 2 or 3 days I received a phone call from the 3rd Air Region. A Soviet was supposed to come to see the base with a Po-2 (Oh, I also flew this type of aircraft). He came. I showed him the barracks, the hangars etc. In one of the sleeping quarters we found the picture of a German with the swastika on his arm. The Russian simply went nuts. He broke it, he spit on it. After that we went to eat. I had previously sent a soldier to one of the nearby farms to get a bottle of "tuica". I poured in the small glasses. He drank only after we did, fearing it was probably poisoned. But after tasting the alcohol he threw the small glass away and wanted to drink from the bigger water glass.
Claudiu Stumer: What can you tell us about the death of Mihai Brancoveanu?
Titus Axente: Mihai was a real prince, a gentleman. We were at Severin. He had come with his personal car, an Opel. If one asked to borrow it, for example, he would give it with pleasure. He was not a snob. In fact the only "interventions" from high place were done so that he can go quicker than us on the front.
He had married the daughter of the Spanish ambassador in Romania. I wasn't at the wedding since I was not in the squadron yet (came in April 1944). He invited everyone. One evening he left in a mission and had problems with the aircraft. He told the RO to jump. He then probably tried to save the aircraft, but crashed and died. He was an exceptional man, a golden heart.
Victor Nitu: Tell us something about cpt. av. Marin Ghica.
Titus Axente: Yes, it was mistake of our command, which ordered the night fighters to fight during daytime. He was shot down and died. Since then [1 August 1943] we did not fight during daytime. We fled and hid in the special hangars on the Bucharest-Ploesti highway.
I, on the other hand, have a very good memory of Alexandru Serbanescu [47 victories]. In 1940, when we started the officer school, he was our instructor. He had come from the mountain troops. We had about two hours of infantry training per week and we did it with him. He was very disciplined (understandably, he had been a vanator de munte) and very harsh. He used to pass near our bedrooms and if he heard anything, even a whisper, he ordered us to go out side at 10-11 pm and started infantry training with us. Up! Down! Up! Down! etc. We had him also in the second year. But as he was harsh, he was a really good man. We went on the field near Cotroceni [today inside Bucharest] for training. If we executed his orders correctly he let us take a break more often. There were candy salesmen around and we used to buy from them. But there were some, like Boris Capbatut, who was from Bessarabia and had no one here, that did not have too much money. Alecu Serbanescu slipped them some money so that they can also buy. If he knew that they smoke, he would offer them cigarettes.
Once something very funny happened. We had the Saturdays and Sundays (until 8 pm) off. We were lined up and Alecu came to receive the report. Antonescu Romulus was missing. "When he shows up, send him to me!" This was a serious thing in the military school. If one was late even two minutes, one was in for a lot of trouble. At about 10:30 pm, Romica Antonescu appeared. "Why are you late?" "I got drunk! I went home and saw that my mother, who is a widow, doesn't have firewood, flour, sugar etc. And since I can't do anything, I got drunk!" Alecu said: "Ok! Go to bed!" The next day he entered our classroom and sat down at the desk. "Shame on you! Yiu live in the clouds! You do not know that one of your comrade's mother is suffering. I offer 500 lei and a truck of firewood. How much do you offer?" Then, Mirel Stoenescu stood up and said he will offer 100 lei. And so did the rest of us. So we gathered 3500+500= 4000 lei. Now the problem was that Antonescu's mother had everything she needed (her husband had been a priest). But if Alecu caught us lying, he would have killed us. We bougt flour, sugar etc. 4000 lei were serious money then. Antonescu's mother "collaborated" and did not say anything. Alecu remained with the impression that he did a good deed.
Claudiu Stumer: Did you also know Constantin "Bazu" Cantacuzino?
Titus Axente: Very little. I wasn't in his unit. He came to Otopeni with his personal Fleet and the lackey with the car and a camera. He came in for a landing, then he hit the ground with the undercarriage, the airplane jumped up about 7 meters, he made a fast roll and then he landed. I've never seen anything like that before. The lackey photographed him and then he examined the photos to see what he did wrong and what he can improve. He was truly an exceptional pilot.
Victor Nitu: What did you do after the war?
Titus Axente: I remained at the transport squadron until 1949. There I flew the He-111H3, JRS-79B etc, which had been bombers, but had their launchers removed and replaced with seats.
Then I went again to a no visibility flight school at Targsor. I wanted to better myself. It was a civilian school. I had as instructor Popescu "Oita" [a Romanian JRS-79B ace], which was trained in Poland before the war, after a British model. It was a big difference. At Popesti-Leordeni (with the Germans) we were taught a "template". The made the turns with 2 degrees/second, we climbed of descended with 2m/second. Popescu instead taught us to fly using the speedometer. It was extraordinary!
[Unfortunately, here we ran out of batteries for the camera!]
[comments are mine - Victor Nitu]