Constantin M. “Bāzu” Cantacuzino - The Adventerous Prince

Cantacuzino (to the right), in august 1944, after his 40:th victory -  note the stripes to the right

Born: November 11,1905 in Bucharest

Died: May 26,1958 in Spain

Nickname: "Bāzu"

Position: Center and Left Wing

Shoots: Left

Height: ca 6' 1"

Weight: ca 190 Ibs

Clubs:

HC Rosey Gstaad 1922-24

Tenis Club Roman 1928-35

HC Währing 1932-33

HC Bragadiru 1935-37

 

A Prince and a playboy...

One of the most influental and flamboyant Romanian players of all time was Constantin Cantacuzino, also known as ‘Bāzu’. He was a world class ice hockey player in the 1920’s and 30’s who excelled in everything he tried. He had an aura and classiness about him that was admirable. First and foremost ‘Bāzu’ was an adventurer and playboy whose appetite for women was wellknown, but he also was a top athlete in various sports such as tennis, cycling, and of course ice hockey. Aside from that he also loved cars, motorcycles and airplanes. In 1930 he made headlines internationally when he together with Dr. Dinopol and Jean Calcianu raced with a car from Bucharest to Paris in a record time of 44 hours.
He was also an avid competitor in aerial acrobatics with his little Bücker Bü-133 Jungmeister plane. [Romanian champion 1939]. This would later help him become Romania’s greatest fighter pilot of all time. 

He was born out of a royal family on November 11, 1905 in Bucharest.

Several hundred years ago his greek ancestors were extremely powerful and the family once ruled the Byzantine Empire which was part of the ancient Roman Empire [Eastern].
Later they ruled Wallachia which was part of Romania. Constantin Cantacuzino’s official title was being a ‘prince’. He was an extremely wealthy man and could afford any conceivable luxury one could imagine. His father Mihai Cantacuzino [1867-1928] and his mother Maria Rosetti-Tetcani [1878-1969 - later Maruca Cantacuzino] were both from noble families. They had two children, Alice and Constantin. 11 years after Mihail died in a car accident Maria remarried with George Enescu, Romania’s best composer and a world class violinist, whom she met already back in 1906.
After 1921 many of the lands were expropriated and given to the peasants, so Constantin’s family assets diminished considerably, but he still had 1,172 ha of high quality agricultural land in Jilavele [close to the black sea].
 

The Ice Hockey years...

Constantin went to high-school in Bucharest and fell in love with ice hockey while he was in the Austrian capital of Vienna. He began his hockey career in the fashionable and luxurious Swiss winter resort of Gstaad in 1922. There he played for two years before heading back to Romania. 'Bāzu’ was quite a big fellow so he could take care of himself out on the ice and was difficult to contain. He was described as being a graceful player who had a powerful shot that he liked to use. His stickhandling was also very good. 

In the late 1920's and until the mid 30's Cantacuzino played for Tenis-Club Roman out of Bucharest. On their first tour abroad they went to Austria [Dec,1929-Jan,1930] and played 5 games against various Austrian opponents. Cantacuzino was of course the shining star of his team and scored 7 out of his teams 9 goals, including a hat trick in a winning effort against Hakoah Wien [4-1] on January 2,1930. 

When Romania made their World Championship debut in the 1931 World Championships held in Krynica [Poland] it was ‘Bāzu’ who captained the Romanian team.  Their initial game came against the powerful Americans and they lost 0-15. It was the first time ever that the Romanians got to see how well hockey could be played. The ever so gentlemanly Cantacuzino approached the referee after the game and asked him to write a message on the official game sheet, it said:
”Thank you for playing against us, we have learned a great deal from this game”. 

The experience from the 1931 WC tournament strenghtened the Romanian squad considerably.
They were there foremost to see and learn. Cantacuzino was of course the driving force behind the team as usual. The following season [1931-32] Cantacuzino scored 9 out of his teams 14 goals and was on most nights the only Romanian player who played well. 

In 1932-33 Cantacuzino scored 13 out of his teams 23 goals in 13 games. For a while he led an attack together with Austrian internationals Hans Brackl and Walter Sell who both were guest players in Bucharest. 'Bāzu' himself was a guest player for the Austrian team HC Währing during a tournament in the Czech winter sport resort of Novy Smokovec that same season. Cantacuzino scored a couple of goals and enjoyed his short time in Währing. 

Romania made their second appearance in a World Championships tournament 1933 held in Prague. Once again it was Cantacuzino who captained the team. That same year he attended the “Mircea Cantacuzino” flight school and obtained his pilot licence, which later would prove to be his joy in life. Mircea Cantacuzino was a relative of ‘Bāzu’ and cousin of Ioana Cantacuzino who was the first licensed female pilot in Romania. 

            Romania at the World Championships, in Prague, 1933. Cantacuzino ,Captain ot the team, third from left. 

In 1934 Cantacuzino participated in his and Romania's third World Championships [held in Milan, Italy]. They won only one of 6 games but all except one were close.

Then in 1935 Cantacuzino led Romania once again during the World Championships in the beautiful Swiss winter resort of Davos. The Romanian team put in their best effort ever as they beat Belgium 2-1 and narrowly lost against the Czechs 2-4 and Austria 1-2 in the group play. Then in the releagation group they beat Latvia 3-2, Holland 6-0 but lost to Germany 0-3.

At the start of the 1935-36 season Cantacuzino went on to play for the newly founded Bucharest club HC Bragadiru. It quickly became known as "Cantacuzino's team" or the "Red Devils". In the Romanian championships Cantacuzino was their most successful player, scoring 7 goals in 7 games. On December 5,1936 HC Bragadiru played against the Czech team Troppauer EV and all the gate reciepts were donated to Cantacuzino for his world around flight attempt with his plane "Tiphon".

Highly decorated War hero...

Cantacuzino was devoting more time to flying in the late 1930’s and flew a lot around Europe until the beginning of the war, sometimes in very difficult weather conditions. He was the pilot of prince George Valentin Bibescu, the president of the International Aviation Federation, and the 27th man in the world to obtain a pilot license. ‘Bāzu’ accumulated over 2000 flight hours all across Europe. When the second World War broke out Cantacuzino could have continued with his comfortable life. But that wasn’t an option for him.

Cantacuzino to the right of the photo

His war heroics were so special that it deserves to be covered quite extensively.

His last known appearance hockey came during an international tournament in Bucharest played between January 16-18,1941. Cantacuzino played for a Bucharest combination that finished second in the tournament. [Slovakia 0-2, Yugoslavia 4-2 and Romania 2-1].

That same year he was named the chief-pilot of the Romanian national air transport company LARES. [a position he retook after his first tour of duty was completed]

As a great patriot 'Bāzu' felt that he had to help out in the war. He went to the front for the first time during the summer of 1941.

Quite a few eyebrows were raised among the active officers when Cantacuzino volunteered for duty. "Why is this reservist coming here? What does he want to prove?".

Well, he was simply a proud patriot Romanian who felt he could contribute with something. Little did they know that the Prince would become the most successful Romanian fighter pilot of all time with a massive 608 combat missions and 56 confirmed kills [+ 13 probable], ahead of Alexander Serbanescu [47+8].

Cantacuzino flew both day and night missions. On July 27,1943 he escorted a German reconaissance plane. The German plane came under attack by a Yak with a red engine hood [that meant over 25 kills]. plus another two Yaks which were protecting the other one. 'Bāzu' 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 happend to their leader. On his way back to the airfield “Bāzu” also sent a Pe-2 to the ground. It was a remarkable piece of piloting, almost unique.

Between August 2-5, he shot down an incredible 9 planes [4 Yaks and 5 Il-2s].

That last day [August 5] he was alone on patrol as he encountered a Soviet formation of about 40-50 planes strong [Il-2s and Yaks]. Totally fearless, Cantacuzino dove into the Il-2 formation and shot down 2, but was immediately attacked by the Soviet fighters. 'Bāzu' managed to shake them off, only one remained, but soon he too joined the Cantacuzino's kill collection. 

After August 23, 1944, Romania quit the Axis and joined the Allies [after previously having been with the Germans] which ment that Cantacuzino was unique as probably the only pilot during WW II who managed to shoot 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-190. 

As Romania's best pilot he was given a special mission late in1944 to transport Lt. Col. James Gunn, the American highest ranking POW in Romania, to the airbase in Foggia and then to lead back the US airplanes that were coming to take the POWs back.

Cantacuzino's service record:

July 5-October 31,1941 - 53rd Fighter Squadron [Commander]

April 26,1943-May 31,1944 - 7th Fighter Group

May 31,1944-May 9,1945 - 9th Fighter Group [Commander]

 

He also became the most decorated war pilot in Romania: 

- Mihai Viteazul Order 3rd class

- Mihai Viteazul Order with swords 3rd class

- Virtutea Aeronautica Order Commander class

- Eiserne Kreuz 1st class

 

Cantacuzino shakes hand with Lt.Col. James Gunn, who was the highest ranked

war prisoner in Romania. Cantacuzino helped him to security.

Ioan Dobran who flew with him was full of admiration of the Prince. 

“ He was an excellent air warrior, Dobran said in an interview made in 2002. Once I was with him in formation and spotted Soviet fighters higher to our right. I told him and he replied that they can't see us, because of their wings. Soon after that the Soviets were shot down.

He was a complete sportsman. The war was more a sport for him.”

Dobran then continued:  “There are two kind of pilots: one was Bāzu Cantacuzino, the other was Serbanescu. Looking at WWI, we could compare them with Guynemer and Fonck. Guynemer was the commander of the Stork Squadron, which fought only in turns. On the other hand, Fonck waited like an eagle, found the favorable position, dived, fired, shot down and disappeared. These two types of air warriors are found in Bāzu and Serbanescu. Bāzu was the acrobat, Serbanescu was the hawk”.

 After the War...

After the war the communists confiscated privat properties, among them of course Bāzu’s. He was ironically enough the personal pilot of Ana Pauker [born Hannah Rabensohn] who was the Romanian communist foreign minister at that time. When the protection from her proved to be ineffective he decided to flee. It was during one of his regular gold carrying flights to Switzerland in 1947 that he decided to not return back. He had sent his 5th [or 4th] wife, Nadia Kujnir-Herescu [1923-1994], an actress [La Dolce Vita] in advance to Italy for a filmshoot. They settled down in Milan but soon split up. His ex-wife then married an Englishman [Gray], together they had a daughter, Linda Gray who also became an actress and was primarily known as ‘Sue Ellen’ in the soap opera ‘Dallas’.

After Italy Cantacuzino moved to France where he performed in air shows together with another Romanian pilot, Max Manoilescu.

Dobran remembered Cantacuzino and his flying skills

" I remember what he did once with his Bü-133 Jungmeister. He came in for landing and aimed the aircraft on the direction of the German sentinel on the runaway. The soldier was a little fat and had a large belt with flares. The German moved a little to the left. Bāzu went after him. The German moved to the right. Bāzu after him. And so on. When he got close he made a fast roll, stopped the engine and landed right next to the sweaty German."  

The aerobatics in France did not work as well as Cantacuzino had thought so he finally settled down in Spain where he was helped by the Romanian community.
It is probable that much of the help came from the ex-wife of his nephew Mihai Brancoveanu
who also was a fighter pilot in the war and who died while crashing during one of the missions.
The ex-wife of Brancoveanu was the daughter of the man who used to be the Spanish ambassador in Romania.

Acrobatic flying by Cantacuzino over the airport Cuatro Vientos, Spain,

 May 9, 1953 - with General Francisco Franco among the spectators. 

 While in Spain Cantacuzino's health problems got worse. He was already interned into a hospital in the autumn of 1943 while he served in the war and got sick for a few months. No one knows exactly what he died of but it is said that he had a bad problem with an ulcer and that he succumbed during a surgical operation on May 26, 1958 in Spain.

One rumour said that he died when his plane crashed, but that is not true according to his friend Ioan Dobran: 

 "He did not die in a plane crash. He died because of his illness. He ate well, drank well and had lots of women. From countess to cook! He was a man to admire in some respect".
Cantacuzino was a man who clearly enjoyed life.

The Cantacuzino Palace - in our days a museum

 © SIHSS, Patrick Houda & Birger Nordmark, 2004