The Romanian Army and the First World War

The Romanian Army and the First World War


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Romania's peacetime army was manned by limited conscription, and all adult males spent time in the territorial reserve. This gave it a regular strength of around 100,000 men. On the outbreak of the Second Balkan War in 1913, conscription was introduced and the army grew to 400,000.

In August 1916, Romania joined the Allies against the Central Powers. Within weeks Germany responded by invading Romania and by the end of the year controlled Wallachia and Dobrudja and most of the country's natural resources including its oil supplies.

After Russia withdrew from the fighting Romania was placed in an impossible situation and in December, 1917, the prime minister announced a ceasefire. Under the Treaty of Bucharest, Romania became a virtual economic colony of the Central Powers. Germany stripped the country of food and raw materials and it is estimated that the occupation led to the deaths of 500,000 civilians.


The Battle of Mărășești, the most significant victory in the history of the Romanian army

Historian Glenn E. Torrey had this to say regarding the Battle of Mărășești: “If the battle of Mărășești was «the first real victory of the modern Romanian army», as Averescu described it, the Battle of Mărășești was the most significant victory of this army in the First World War and, perhaps in the history of Romania. It was a defensive victory that the Romanians called «our little Verdun»”.

The Battle of Mărășești, lasting from August 6 to September 3, was the bloodiest battle waged on the Romanian Front in the summer of 1917. The German Ninth Army lost more than 16.000 soldiers (dead or wounded), including General Wenninger, and nearly 1.000 men were taken prisoner. The Romanian army also had considerable losses: over 17.000 soldiers (dead or wounded), to which were added nearly 10.000 missing or captured. The losses of the Russians were somewhat comparable to those of the Romanians.

The offensive of the Ninth Army proved to be “a disappointment” from the onset. German history provides some explanations for these failures: unfavourable terrain, extreme heat, too many objectives, insufficient artillery, etc., but “above all the enemy had been underestimated”. In the final report given by General Johannes von Eben to Mackensen, the following causes are specified: “The assumptions and hopes that the Russians and the Romanians will withdraw without resistance or that they will let themselves be taken prisoner were wrong. On the contrary, the Russo-Romanian armies fought valiantly. Every trench, every house, every hill was fiercely defended […] Counterattacks were well led and most of them ended in hand to hand combat”. Even though they also recognized the role played by the Russians in stopping the Ninth Army, the Germans reserved their highest praise for the Romanians. General Curt von Morgen said the following: “The Romanians became respectable opponents […] They had fought better, they were more skilfully led, and the artillery cooperated better than at the beginning of the Romanian campaign”. Reports by Austrian intelligence services have also highlighted the role of the Romanians: “During attack, the Romanians showed vigour and defied death, and the men, emboldened by intense Romanian patriotic propaganda, let themselves be carried willingly into the fight”. The Romanian officers who had been taken prisoner by the Austrians were portrayed as “serious, versed, behaving with dignity and displayed in their conversations patriotism, a sense of duty and confidence”. In Austrian history the Battle of Mărășești was summed up thusly: “The idea of ​​the German command to invade Moldavia over the Siret was thwarted by the resistance of the Romanians”.

“It was the most glorious episode of the Reunification War”

The Romanian historian Florin Constantiniu had this to say about the Battle of Mărășești: “It was the most glorious episode of the Reunification War, and it sits beside the greatest victories in Romanian military history. The merit of this victory lies with the generals Constantin Christescu- replaced following arguments with the Russian commanders- and Eremia Grigorescu. The heroic resistance of the troops and the rapid replacement of Russian units, that panicked or lacked the will to fight, as a result of Bolshevik propaganda, brought about the ruin of the enemy. Romania held on and continued the struggle, and the authorities- the king, the parliament, the government- remained in the national territory”.

Selective bibliography:

Glenn E. Torrey, România în Primul Război Mondial [Romania in the First World War], Meteor Publishing House, Bucharest, 2014.

I.G. Duca, Memories [Memories], vol. I, Expres Publishing House, Bucharest, 1992.

Henri Prost, Destinul României: (1918-1954) [The destiny of Romania: (1918-1954)], Compania Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006.

The Count of Saint-Aulaire, Însemnările unui diplomat de altădată: În România: 1916-1920 [The testimonies of a former diplomat: In Romania: 1916-1920], Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2016.

Constantin Argetoianu, Memorii [Memories], Humanitas, Bucharest, 1992.

Florin Constantiniu, O istorie sinceră a poporului român [A sincere history of the Romanian people], Encyclopaedic Universe Publishing House, Bucharest, 2008.


Romania before World War I ↑

Throughout the 19 th century, modern Romania was shaped by interactions between internal transformations and properly effected international connections. In only six decades the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia turned from vassal states under the sovereignty of the Turks into a sovereign Romanian state that played an important role in the alliance system worldwide and also succeeded at the end of World War I in making its claims heard over the Romanian inhabited territories that until 1918 had belonged to Russia, Austria-Hungary or Bulgaria. [1]

Throughout the 19 th century, Romania was preoccupied with the 're-connection' to the Central and Western European world since Moldavia and Valachia, vassal states of the Ottoman Empire, had been for four centuries severed from the cultural advances in Central Europe − Humanism, Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment. An immense need to be in tune with this world is characteristic of Romanian society: a need that translates into its so-called ‘synchronisation’. [2]

A special case was represented by the provinces which were inhabited mostly by Romanians, but embedded in other states: Banat (where Germans, Serbs and Hungarians coexisted) and which had been occupied by the Habsburgs since 1718 the Bihor and Maramureş regions (Romanians and Ukrainians) Transylvania (Romanians, Hungarians, Germans), which since 1690/91 had been under the Habsburgs as a Grand Duchy, and after 1867, by constitution was the Hungarian part of the Dual Monarchy Bukovina (Romanians, Ukrainians, Germans and Jews), which had been an Austrian province since 1774/76 and Bessarabia (Romanians, Russians, Ukrainians, Germans, Jews), which was ceded to Russia in 1812. These Romanians, living within other states, became important for the direction of Romanian foreign affairs.

With the deepening of the 'Oriental crisis' and the issue of how the inheritance of Europe’s 'sick man' would fall to pieces, the 'Romanian question' gradually became an important issue for the European cabinet. Putting an end to the Crimean War, the Congress of Paris (1856) already allowed for the possibility of the principalities of Moldavia and Valachia merging in the future: this finally happened between 1859 and 1861. Bordered by the Ottoman, Russian and Habsburg Empires, the new state was born on the Lower Danube: it was a potential obstacle for Russia’s advance through the Balkans. Whereas Prussia had endorsed the emergence of the new state, Austria felt it should react in a rather reserved manner despite the fact that it was among the first to have recognised the new state: a united Romanian state could have been a very powerful reference point for the Romanians of Transylvania as indeed, eventually happened. Austria and the Ottoman Empire were the chief opponents of the unification.

The principalities of Moldavia and Valachia, the United Principalities of Moldo-Valachia and finally Romania had to assert themselves in an international context in which Russia on the one hand and the Habsburg Empire on the other wanted to take over the Ottomans’ role in the Balkan region. In this context, the Romanian political elites saw Russia as a much greater danger, which also led them to search for an alliance with the German Empire and implicitly Austria-Hungary.

Moldavia and Valachia were unified de facto in 1859 (the administrative and political union was achieved in 1861), and through the double election of Alexandru Ioan Cuza (1820-1873), Carol I, a ruler from the Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen House, was to take over Romania’s throne, so as to lead the country on the "long way towards the West." In 1866 a constitution fashioned after the Belgian model came into effect, enshrining a parliamentary system, the separation of powers and a constitutional monarchy.

The Balkan insurrections against the Ottoman Empire (1875) and the self-proclaimed role of Russia to protect the Orthodox Christians in the Balkans drew the Romanian government’s attention to their relationship with their "great" Russian neighbour. Russia’s war against Turkey, to whose successful denouement Romania’s army had contributed significantly, taught the young Romanian state that relations with Great Powers are not always easy to build up: even though Romania’s independence was recognised, Russia again seized the south of Bessarabia together with the northern branch of the Danube and its ships once more sailed in the Black Sea.

At the Congress of Berlin, Germany was an advocate of Romania’s independence upon condition that the losses of the Stroudsberg and Bleichröder banking companies during the construction of the Romanian railway lines were reimbursed and the Jewish community granted citizenship. Only after the Romanian state complied with these conditions would the German Empire, France and Great Britain recognise its independence. [3]

In 1881, Prince Carol was proclaimed king, and Romania a kingdom. The previous experiences with Russia, the power loss that France suffered after 1871, the dominant position of the German-Austrian alliance and then the Triple Alliance made the king, together with a significant part of the Romanian political elite, search for an alliance with the German Empire. The German chancellor Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898) was not ready for the road to Berlin to pass through Vienna. On 30 October 1883 Romania joined the Triple Alliance by means of a defensive agreement with Austria-Hungary. The German Empire joined it on the same day. Romania had to disregard serious obstacles when signing the deal: the economic differences that would later lead to the 1886-1891/93 Tariff Customs War the differences concerning the issues of navigation controls on the Lower Danube and, even more burdensome, the question of the Romanians from Transylvania and Hungary, i.e. the status of the Romanians in the Hungarian side of the Dual Monarchy. [4]

The alliance was renewed in 1892, 1896, 1902, and, for the last time in 1913, with extended validity until 1920. It was brought to the knowledge of only the most significant political figures (the prime minister and foreign minister in office) as well as the king, and was not ratified by parliament, which was not, however, uncommon for that period. [5] Its guarantor was none other than King Carol I, supported nonetheless by an increasingly large group of Germanophiles.

Until the Balkan Wars (1912/13), Romania was a loyal partner in the alliance with the Central Powers. The question of the Romanians in Transylvania however soured this relationship, while the changes in the Balkan politics of Austria in the Second Balkan War (1913) sheared Romania off. The Bucharest Peace Treaty put an end to the Second Balkan War and gave Romania territorial expansion on the coast with Bulgaria against Austria's will, showing the signs of a new orientation of Romanian foreign policy. Since 1883, by means of the alliance with Austria-Hungary and, from the Romanian perspective, especially the alliance with Germany, Romania secured its borders, and gradually became a more significant partner for European Powers. All the Great Powers would favour an alliance with Romania, who was finally able to negotiate its interests on an international platform. It was a different Romania from that of 1859, 1877/1878, but also from that of 1908.


Romanian Nightmare at Stalingrad

As morning broke on November 19, 1942, the soldiers of Romania’s 3d Army shivered in their trenches along ridges south of the Don River in southern Russia. Some winter uniforms had arrived but not nearly enough. For two months the soldiers had been protecting the left flank of German 6th Army, which was locked in a death match with Red Army defenders in the rubble of Stalingrad southeast of the Romanians’ position. The warm, beautiful autumn was over the first snow had settled atop bunkers and pillboxes on November 16. More snow arrived around midnight November 18-19, and the morning sun was hidden behind a thick, frozen mist.

At 7:30 a.m., Soviet Katyusha rockets came whooshing through the fog, their terrifying sound joined within minutes by the shriek of shells from 3,500 artillery guns and heavy mortars. The Romanians’ nightmare had begun.

UNWANTED ALLIANCE

Many Romanian soldiers saw no good reason to die defending Germans. For most of their lives,their nation had not intended to be a German ally – in fact, quite the opposite. Post-World War I,Romania had annexed Transylvania from Hungary, took Bessarabia and Northern Bucovina from the new Soviet Union, and seized a portion of Bulgaria, uniting the majority of Romanian people into a single nation for the first time in centuries. It signed mutual defense agreements with Czechoslovakia,Greece, Poland, Turkey and Yugoslavia against future aggression by Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria or the Soviet Union.

A 10-year military rebuilding program began in 1935, overseen by the chief of general staff – later defense minister – General Ion Antonescu, a hero of the Great War.The country’s mishmash of artillery was standardized at 75 mm. Rifles,machine guns, light tanks and 100mm light howitzers were purchased from Czechoslovakia. France provided additional weapons and training, but Germany’s 1938 takeover of Czechoslovakia and May1940 conquest of France severed Romania’s weapons pipeline.

With its most powerful ally, France, defeated, Romania officially acknowledged Adolf Hitler’s “new European order” on May 29, 1940, and subsequently was pressured into allowing Germany and Italy to mediate an agreement over its disputed territories. Everything was handed back to the previous owners. Overnight Romania lost half its territory and population.

Romania’s King Carol II, already unpopular, was driven from the country. His 19-year-old heir, Mihai (Michael), was a paper monarch real power lay with Antonescu, now prime minister, who proclaimed himself Conductator (leader). He was more nationalist than fascist, but as a proven military leader he had Hitler’s respect.

A QUICK VICTORY, BUT …

Germany’s June 22, 1941, invasion of the vast Soviet Union, code named Operation Barbarossa, required more troops than Hitler could field. He promised the Conductator that Romania could have Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina back from the USSR if it joined the Nazi invasion. Antonescu proclaimed a “holy war” against the Soviet Bolshevists, and on July 2-3, Romanian and German troops of Army Group Antonescu began crossing the Prut River. By month’s end, the two lost territories were recaptured. (See Romanian Army in the East map, p. 36.)

Romania’s war seemed to be over. Half its army was demobilized.But Hitler dangled a plum in front of Antonescu: Capture the major port of Odessa, the “Marseilles of the Black Sea,” and it’s yours. The Conductator hoped a large commitment of troops would convince Hitler to hand over the lost lands in Transylvania as well – Hungary’s contributions to the Russian invasion were meager, after all.Romania became Europe’s third-largest Axis military force, behind only Italy and Germany itself.

Fortified Odessa fell to Romania’s 4th Army in mid-October1941 – the greatest independent success of the war by any minor Axis power – but Romania’s 70,000-100,000 casualties exposed the army’s weaknesses.

Essentially a peasant army, illiteracy rates were high. Discipline was brutal. A largely aristocratic officer corps had little in common with men in the ranks, but the antiquated practice of leading from the front caused horrendous officer casualty rates – 4th Army lost 4,600 officers before the end of the Odessa campaign, primarily junior officers.

Infantry and armor crews weren’t trained to work together. The army’s 37 mm and 47 mm anti-tank guns and its similarly equipped light tanks couldn’t stand up to heavier Soviet T-34 and KV tanks. Communications equipment was in short supply, and motorized/ mechanized transport was insufficient for an effective mobile reserve. Romania’s military simply was not up to the demands of modern mobile warfare.

Regardless, in January 1942, against the wishes of many of his officers, Antonescu agreed to further operations in the Soviet Union and the Crimea in exchange for equipment and training to modernize the Romanian army. Germany, unable to fulfill its own weapons needs, provided only a trickle of equipment, frequently obsolete.

Still, the Romanian divisions fielded in the summer of 1942 were greatly improved over those that bled themselves white at Odessa. Their men were better trained, particularly in marksmanship, and some support weapons had arrived. But many officers and men felt they were fighting Hitler’s war, not Romania’s, despite propaganda to convince them their cause was just and Germany’s victory certain.

THE STALINGRAD FRONT

Ordered to advance toward Stalingrad on September 19, 1942, Romanian VI Corps of General Constantin Constantinescu-Claps’ 4th Army impressed the Germans by marching nearly 500 miles in two months, covering over half the distance in just 20 days, often while encountering Soviet resistance.

Ordered to protect the Germans’ exposed right flank, 4th Army’s VI Corps (1st, 2d, 4th, 18th and 20th infantry divisions) took up positions beyond some lakes south of Stalingrad. On September29, a strong Soviet counterattack penetrated all the way to VI Corps’ headquarters. Additional attacks during October drove 1st and 4thdivisions back behind the lakes with heavy casualties before the Romanians stabilized their line. In the first two weeks of November, Romanian VII Corps (5th and 8th cavalry divisions) joined 4th Army,compacting divisional frontage but exacerbating supply problems. Its“160-mile front” was closer to 185 miles wide.

In September, Romanian 3d Army arrived. Consisting of I Corps(7th and 11th infantry divisions), II Corps (9th and 14th infantry divisions), IV Corps (13th and 15th infantry divisions and 1st Cavalry Division) and V Corps (5th and 6th infantry divisions), it replaced Italian and German troops south of the Don River to the northwest of Stalingrad. The army’s commander, General Petre Dumitrescu, had received Germany’s Ritterkreuz, the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, for his performance in the September-October 1941Battle of the Sea of Azov.

Dumitrescu immediately recognized a serious threat. In late August 1942, Soviet counterattacks against the Italian and German divisions that Romanian 3d Army was replacing had seized two bridgeheads south of the Don, near Serafimovich and Kletskaya. Since the Don River was Dumitrescu’s primary defensive barrier, he appealed for German assistance to push the enemy back across the river. But the Germans, fixated on Stalingrad, showed little interest in clearing a bridgehead 150 miles to the northwest. No help was forthcoming, even though Romanian 3dArmy was protecting the only rail supply line into the embattled city.

The Soviets tested 3d Army’s mettle with a series of probing attacks and heavier assaults beginning October 14 and continuing into November. Sergeant Manole Zamfir of the Pioneers Company,36th Regiment of 3d Army’s 9th Infantry Division, wrote: “Pushed forward by their officers, the Russian soldiers were yelling [in Romanian]: ‘Brothers, why are you killing us? Antonescu and Stalin drink vodka together and we’re killing each other for nothing.’”

The Romanians repulsed each attack, inflicting heavy losses but also losing over 13,000 of their own soldiers. Romanian 13th and 14th divisions suffered the most casualties – a fact not lost on the Soviet command.

Romanian 3d Army’s front stretched approximately 85 miles. Divisional reserves were sent to expand the front lines, leaving only 15th Infantry, 7th Cavalry and1st Armored divisions in reserve. Barbed wire and landmines were in short supply, like everything else.

Many Romanian soldiers wondered, “Why die for Hitler?” Others believed they were fighting a “holy war against bolshevism” or “for a fully restored Romania,” but continuing hardships sapped morale. Pay could barely purchase a liter of milk a day. Rations often consisted of a single, small hot meal once a day and a small portion of bread this was particularly true among Romanian 4th Army south of Stalingrad,which went 10 days without resupply in November.

In late October, reconnaissance by the Royal Romanian Air Force (Aeronautica Regalã Românã) indicated a Soviet buildup on the north side of the Don. The Germans were skeptical, but when their own intelligence confirmed it they began delivering a little more of the equipment they had promised, but some was still second-rate. For example, each Romanian division at Stalingrad received a half-dozen 75 mm Pak97/38 anti-tank guns – converted French field pieces only marginally better than the small-caliber anti-tank guns already in use.

On November 17, Romania’s defense minister Mihai Antonescu, a distant cousin of the Conductator, pressed Germany’s ambassador Manfred Freiherr von Killinger for more supplies and equipment: “The Russians are right now preparing a big action in exactly the region where our troops are situated. … I don’t want to lose [our army], for it is all we have.”

The “big action” was Operation Uranus, a plan to smash through the Axis flanks and encircle German 6th Army in Stalingrad. To assault the 155,500 Romanians and 11,000 Germans south of the Don, the Soviets’ South West Front and Don Front combined had massed over 338,000 men. Four rifle divisions would strike Italian troops west of the Romanians, but the crushing blow was aimed at strung-out 3d Army.

THE NIGHTMARE BEGINS

Operation Uranus opened with a massive Soviet artillery bombardment at 7:30 a.m. on November 19. The ground shook 30 miles away. The morning’s frozen mist concealed Romanian trenches, but Soviet gunners had ranged in during weeks of probing attacks, allowing for accurate targeting. Romanian artillery crews, however, couldn’t see to fire effectively on the advancing Soviet columns.

When the 90-minute bombardment ended, Russian infantry moved out through snow and mud, with some men riding atop tanks that crushed barbed wire or on sleds pulled behind the tanks.

The attackers may have expected to roll over a demoralized foe,but most Romanians held firm, cutting down enemy riflemen and knocking out light tanks as the Soviets came on in single-echelon formation. The attack fell behind schedule. The attackers penetrated in places, but progress was slow or stalled by late morning, when the Soviet 5th Tank Army ordered the mass of its tanks to attack on a 4-mile front. Between noon and 1 p.m., the spearhead crashed through the weakened Romanian 13thand 14th divisions. When 9th Division’s right flank collapsed, the division pivoted into an L shape and held – but the Romanian line was broken and the enemy poured through.

Tanks struck the Romanians’ weak rear areas. Elements of Soviet 4th Tank Corps rolled into Grominki, three miles from Kletskaya, around 2 p.m., setting 13th Division’s headquarters to flight 14th Division’s headquarters had already been overrun. A counterattack by 15th division was driven back by Soviet tanks, but the division took a position among some small hills and inflicted enough casualties to force back the Soviets.

Romanian 7th Cavalry Division counterattacked in support of the broken 14th Infantry Division, but when it was struck by Soviet8th Cavalry Corps, it retreated with very heavy losses. Romanian11th Division bloodily repulsed an attack, foiling the Soviet plan to unhinge 3d Army’s left wing.

Throughout the morning, most of the attacking Soviet rifle divisions had failed to break through Romanian defenses until sufficiently supported by tanks and cavalry, but the afternoon saw Soviet armor and horsemen rampaging in the rear of 3d Army’s center. Hospitals and other rear echelon units fled south toward the Chir River.

To Germany’s famed Stuka pilot Ulrich Hans Rudel, flying below the low clouds with Stukageschwader 2 to bomb and strafe the Russians, the scene was one of unmitigated disaster – masses of Romanians were racing for the rear, some throwing away their weapons. “It is a good thing for them I have run out of ammunition to stop this cowardly rout,” he wrote in his memoir, Stuka Pilot.

SEND IN THE TANKS

Romanian 3d Army’s only fully mechanized reserve was its 1st Armored Division. German observers described Romanian tank crews as almost suicidally willing to fight, but their armor strength was weak. Of 105 serviceable tanks, 84 were Czechoslovakian Skoda S.IIa light tanks (LT-35s) weighing 10.5 tons each, with armor thickness of just 0.47-1.38 inches and carrying only a 37 mm gun and two 7.92 mm machine guns. Other Czech tanks (LT-34s), each armed only with a machine gun, had been distributed among the infantry divisions.

Romanian 1st Armored had received 11 each of German PzKw IIINs and PzKw Mark IVGs on October 17 but staged their first battalion drill just three days before the Russian assault began only 19 of the 22 panzers were available on November 19. Two captured Soviet light tanks rounded out the division’s armor.

Romanian 1st Armored along with German 14th and 22d panzer divisions had been formed into the XLVIII Panzer Corps to provide a tank reserve in 3d Army’s rear, near the towns of Perefazovskii and Petrovo. However, XLVIII Panzer Corps had fewer than 85 medium and 100 light tanks with which to halt a Soviet force of nearly 150 heavy, 320 medium and 270 light tanks.

German 22d Panzer, ordered to counterattack, discovered that mice nesting in the tanks’ straw camouflage had chewed through electrical wires, as if even Russian rodents had joined the Soviet partisan effort. The 14th Panzer and Romanian 1st Armored were ordered to attack toward Kletskaya, but 1st Armored was disrupted in mid-deployment when Hitler intervened and insisted the two divisions attack southwest instead of southeast. After dark,1st Armored’s headquarters was hit by a surprise attack the Soviet attackers were driven off but not before the German wireless through which XLVIII received its orders was destroyed.

Far to the rear, reports of the day’s actions were muddled. Lieutenant Colonel I. Chermanescu, with a radio company at Stalinosome 300 miles west, wrote: “I am optimistic, as [are] the majority around here, because even if we will lose some of our forces and a little ground, it’s them that will end up defeated.” Two days later, however, he called 3dArmy’s situation “critical.”

Romanian 3d Army’s center was breached on November 19 the flanks were assailed on the following days. Fragments of units on the eastern flank were forced back into the Stalingrad Pocket. In the west, Soviet 21st Cavalry, reinforced with tanks, broke through on the night of November 21-22. Groups of Romanian soldiers wandered the battle area aimlessly.

An ad hoc force – named the Lascar Group for its commander, Knight’s Cross winner General MihaiLascar – was formed from Romanian 5th, 6th and 15thdivisions and portions of 13th and 14th. On November 20, 15th Division, attacked by as many as 40 T-34tanks, drove off the enemy by cutting down the two supporting Soviet infantry battalions.

Forbidden by Antonescu from breaking out, Lascar Group refused a surrender demand on the afternoon of November 22, saying, “We will continue to fight without thought of surrender.” By November 26, Las car Group had ceased to exist. Its commander – soon to become the first non-German awarded a Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves – was on his way to a Soviet prisoner of war camp. He survived captivity to become Romania’s minister of defense, 1946-47.

Like Lascar Group, Romanian 1st Armored Division fought on as long as possible, rushing here and there, trying to stamp out individual flames in a fire beyond control. By December 2 it was behind the Chir River and down to 70 percent of its strength.

In all, Romanian 3d Army lost to combat and frostbite all but 5 percent of its combat troops and half of its rear services personnel. When facing only enemy infantry, it generally held, often inflicting sharp losses but it proved too weak to knock out the masses of Soviet tanks thrown at it.

Defensive stands and local counterattacks continued along the Chir River line well into December. Italian XXIX Corps on the Romanians’ left was dislodged on December 18, and Russian tanks again poured into the rear, virtually annihilating Romanian 7th, 9th and 11th divisions before German Major General Hermann Balck’s 11th Panzer Division halted the Soviet attack. (See Battle Studies, September 2013 ACG.) On December 26, 3d Army fought its last significant battle before being withdrawn, striking a motorized rifle brigade of Soviet 1st Guards Mechanized Corps and knocking out two tanks, two armored cars and 10 anti-tank guns.

4TH ARMY DISINTEGRATES

South of Stalingrad on November 20, the Red Army’s Stalingrad Front sliced into Romanian 4th Army, just as the Soviet South West and Don fronts had done to 3d Army the previous day. At the time, 4th Army units were far below their authorized manpower strengths. Present for duty strength ranged from a high of 78 percent (18th Infantry Division) to lows of 30 percent (2d Infantry Division) and 25 percent (1st Infantry Division). Romanian 4th Army’s only mobile reserve was the 1,075-man, 120-vehicle 6th Motorized Rosiori.

At dawn on November 20, three Soviet rifle divisions, 4th Mechanized Corps and 4th Cavalry Corps tore through Romanian 1st Division’s left wing and 18th Division’s right and struck into 4th Army’s rear. Romanian 6th Motorized Rosiori, supported by a mechanized squadron and motorized 105 mm artillery battery, counterattacked in the afternoon, but a portion of its force was surrounded and destroyed. Only a minefield in which the Soviets lost 50 tanks slowed the enemy onslaught.

In the northern sector of this offensive, other Soviet rifle divisions broke through the weak Romanian2d Division, opening a gap that allowed Romanian 20th Division’sright wing to be overrun. A counterattack by 55 medium tanks of German 29th Motorized Division came to the rescue before being ordered to defend German 6th Army’s southern flank. Romanian 20thDivision would soon be forced into the Stalingrad perimeter.

Early on November 21, Romanian VI Corps’ headquarters was attacked and forced to retreat, but it formed a defense to the southwest from remnants of battered divisions and 6th Motorized Rosiori, aided by a few tanks and assault guns that a German liaison officer appropriated from German 4th Panzer Army’s workshop. This force offered a stiff but brief resistance when attacked on the night of November22-23 before falling back south of the Aksai River.

Romanian 4th Division was unmolested until November 23, when it was outflanked due to Romanian 1st Division’s loss of a key position the previous day. It began a fighting withdrawal but was outflanked on both the east and west by evening and lost some artillery before establishing a temporary defensive position.

Romanian 4th Army’s commander, General Constantinescu, wanted to pull all his units into a perimeter around Kotelnikovo but was ordered by German 4th Panzer Army to hold advanced positions: A relief column was being formed under German Field Marshal Erich von Manstein to break through to Stalingrad from the area held by 4th Army. (See What Next, General? in the November 2012 ACG.)

A German detachment of motorized and armored troops with motorized Romanian heavy artillery arrived to drive back a Soviet thrust on November 26 and secure the Romanian flank but by month’s end Constantinescu’s band of survivors had lost the Aksai River line, falling further back before the lead units of Manstein’s column began arriving.

Ordered to cover Manstein’s assembling troops, the Romanians gave ground but bought time with blood. By December 8, Constantinescu’s army was down to fewer than 40,000 men, over two-thirds of them rear area service personnel.

Four days later, Manstein’s Operation Winter Storm began. Romanian 4th Army, after a few days to rest and reorganize, was assigned to protect his right flank. It recaptured a few small towns and established a bridgehead across the Aksai before the Soviets counterattacked on December 24 with nearly 150,000 men and 635 tanks. On the night of December 26-27, Constantinescu ordered a withdrawal of all units, but apparently he didn’t notify the Germans. The highly mobile Soviet offensive caught the retreating Romanians anyway, virtually destroying 4th Army. Manstein blamed Romanian failures for the forced retreat of his LVII Panzer Corps, but he never explained how Constantinescu’s ragged band was supposed to stave off five Soviet mechanized, tank and cavalry corps.

The pitiful survivors of Romanian 3d and 4th armies were sent home to refit – except for the 12,600 Romanian soldiers who had been forced inside the Stalingrad Pocket, where they earned more than 50 Iron Crosses while sharing 6th Army’s fate of freezing, starvation and death. Fewer than 3,000 Romanians survived the Stalingrad siege to be taken prisoner. In all, Romania’s losses from November 19 into January are believed to be about 110,000 casualties (killed, wounded and captured), over half of the strength of the country’s combat divisions.

In August 1944, in the Second Iasi-Kishinev (Jassy-Chisinau) Offensive, another Soviet tidal wave engulfed Romanian troops and rolled into Romania itself. King Mihai led a coup on August 23 that deposed Antonescu, and Romania belatedly joined the Allied cause in the vain hope of securing co-belligerent status as Italy had done. For the rest of World War II, Romanians fought against Germans and Hungarians – as they had expected to do when they began rebuilding their military in the 1930s.

Gerald D. Swick, editor for ArmchairGeneral.com, previously wrote about Romania for “The Encyclopedia of World War II: A Political, Social and Military History” (ABC-CLIO, 2005). He recommends “Third Axis, Fourth Ally” by Mark Axworthy and www.worldwar2.ro for further information.

Originally published in the March 2015 issue of Armchair General.


Middle Ages [ edit | edit source ]

Transylvania and the Mongol Invasion of 1241 [ edit | edit source ]

From the 11th century until 1541 Transylvania was an autonomous part of Hungary and was ruled by a Voivode. As it formed the eastern border of Hungary, great emphasis was put on its defenses. By the 12th century the Szeklers were established in eastern Transylvania as border guards, while the Saxons were colonised to guard the southern and northeastern frontier. Early in the 13th century, king Andrew II of Hungary called on the Teutonic Knights to protect the Burzenland from the Cumans. After the Order began expanding their territory outside Transylvania and acted independently, Andrew expelled it in 1225.

In 1241 Transylvania suffered greatly during the Mongol invasion of Europe. The overall invasion was planned and carried out by Subutai, under the nominal command of Batu Khan. The attack on Transylvania was commanded by Güyük Khan, the future great khan of the Mongols.

Güyük invaded Transylvania in three columns through the Tihuţa and Oituz Passes and the Timiş-Cerna Gap, while Subutai attacked through the fortified Verecke Pass towards central Hungary. Güyük sacked Sibiu, Cisnadie, Alba Iulia, Bistriţa, Cluj-Napoca, Oradea as well as the Hungarian king's silver mine at Rodna. This prevented the Transylvanian nobility from aiding King Béla IV in the crucial Battle of Mohi. A separate Mongol force destroyed the Cumans near the Siret River and annihilated the Cuman Catholic Bishopric of Milcov. Estimates of population decline in Transylvania owing to the Mongol invasion range from 15-20% to 50%.

Wallachia and Moldavia [ edit | edit source ]

The army of Charles Robert Anjou ambushed by Basarab's army at Posada (Vienna Illuminated Chronicle manuscript)

The lands east and south of the Carpathians fell under Mongol occupation after 1241, until the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia emerged in the 14th century as Hungarian vassals.

In 1330 Basarab I, the voivode of Wallachia, managed to ambush and defeat a 30,000-strong Hungarian army led by King Charles I Robert in the Battle of Posada, eliminating Hungarian interference in Wallachia.

In the same period, Moldavia freed itself from Hungarian control, although the Hungarians made some attempts to regain the principality. During the later 14th century and the first half of the 15th century, Moldavia was under Polish suzerainty and the Moldavians supplied Poland with troops during the campaigns against the Teutonic Order in Prussia. Moldavian light cavalry detachments participated in the Battle of Grunwald and the Siege of Marienburg on the Polish-Lithuanian side.

Anti-Ottoman Wars [ edit | edit source ]

The Ottoman Empire became a major military power in the later 14th century, when they conquered Anatolia, most of the Balkans and were threatening Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire.

Conflict firstly erupted between the Ottomans led by Beyazid I and the Wallachians led by Mircea the Elder after the voivode openly supported the Christian peoples south of the Danube who were fighting the Turks. There was also a contest for the control of Dobruja, which had been independent for most of the 14th century, but fell under Ottoman rule in 1388. In 1389 Mircea took control of the province and held it with some interruptions until 1418.

In 1394 Beyazid I crossed the Danube, leading a strong army with the purpose of overthrowing Mircea and replacing him with an Ottoman vassal. The Wallachians adopted scorched earth and guerrilla tactics by starving the Ottomans and mounting small scale attacks. The two armies finally clashed in the indecisive Battle of Rovine. Beyazid failed to put Vlad the Usurper on the Wallachian throne and in 1396 Mircea was again commanding his army during the Battle of Nicopolis. At Nicopolis, the Wallachian force of 10.000 men formed the left wing of the crusader army and, having witnessed the disastrous attacks made by the western knights and the surrender of Sigismund, escaped the massacre that followed.

The defeat and capture of sultan Beyazid I by Timur Lenk (Tamerlane) in the Battle of Ankara in 1402 started a period of anarchy in the Ottoman Empire and Mircea took part in the struggles for the Ottoman throne supporting various pretenders. Towards the end of his reign, Mircea signed a treaty with the Ottomans whereby he accepted paying tribute and gave up his claims on Dobruja.

Wallachia fell into anarchy following Mircea’s death in 1418. After 1420 control of the principality changed hands until Alexander I Aldea, an Ottoman vassal was instaled. King Sigismund of Hungary arranged for Aldea’s overthrow and replacement with his own vassal, Vlad II Dracul.

A series of anti-ottoman offensives were carried by the voivode of Transylvania John Hunyadi, a magyarised Romanian noble. Hunyadi’s forces soundly defeated the Turks in 1441 and 1442. A smaller crusading force commanded by Hunyadi, consisting of Hungarians, Wallachians under Vlad Dracul, Serbs, and a large contingent of German and French knights crossed the Danube into Serbia, defeated two Ottoman armies, captured Niš, crossed the Balkan Mountains in winter, and advanced as far as Sofia. The Turkish sultan Murad II, faced with revolts in Albania and the Peloponnese, negotiated with the crusaders, signing a ten-year truce at Edirne in 1444 that recognized Serbian independence and formally released Wallachia from Ottoman vassalage.

The Battle of Varna, as depicted in the 1564 edition of Martin Bielski's Polish Chronicle

In 1444 Pope Eugenius urged the crusade’s renewal, and Hunyadi marched eastward along the southern bank of the Danube, through northern Bulgaria, toward the Black Sea. The crusaders arrived at Varna in November 1444 only to discover that Murad II had assembled a powerful army to meet them. In the ensuing Battle of Varna, king Wladislaw of Poland and Hungary was killed and the crusader army was completely destroyed. Hunyadi escaped with a small portion of his troops and became governour of Hungary.

In 1447 the Turks campaigned in Albania against Skanderbeg’s rebels, but operations were cut short by news of a new crusader invasion led by Hunyadi. The crusaders, joined by troops sent by Skanderbeg and Voivode Vladislav II (1447–56), Hunyadi’s Wallachian vassal met the Ottoman army in October 1448 at Kosovo Polje but were defeated.

Hunyadi’s greatest victory was at the Battle of Belgrade where, in 1456, his much smaller army defeated Sultan Mehmet II, the conquereor of Constantinople, and secured Hungary’s southern border. However, Hunyadi died of plague in his camp shortly after the battle. His son, Matthias Corvinus would become king of Hungary in 1458.

An Austrian oil painting of Vlad the Impaler from c. 1560, probably after a lost original

Wallachia, led by Vlad III the Impaler (1456–1462, born in Sighişoara, three-time voivode) stopped paying tribute to the Ottomans in 1459 and in the winter of 1461 to 1462 Vlad crossed the Danube and devastated Northern Bulgaria and Dobruja, leaving over 20,000 dead. In response, Sultan Mehmed II raised an army of around 60,000 troops and 30,000 irregulars and headed towards Wallachia in the spring of 1462. With his army of 20,000–30,000 men Vlad was unable to stop the Turks from entering Wallachia and occupying the capital Târgovişte (June 4, 1462), so he resorted to organizing small attacks and ambushes on the Turks. The most important of these attacks took place on the night of June 16–17, when Vlad and some of his men allegedly entered the main Turkish camp (wearing Ottoman disguises) and attempted to assassinate Mehmed. The Turks eventually installed Vlad’s brother, Radu the Handsome, as the new voivode he gathered support from the nobility and chased Vlad to Transylvania, and by August 1462 he had struck a deal with the Hungarian Crown.

Moldavia located in the extreme northeast, beyond Wallachia, was spared from problems with the Ottomans until 1420, when Mehmed I first raided Moldavia after suppressing a rebellion. During the 1450s and 1440s the principality was wracked by civil wars, of which Sultan Murad II took advantage. As the state weakened, voivode Peter Aron (1455–57) accepted Ottoman suzerainty and agreed to pay tribute, but, given Moldavia’s distance from Ottoman borders, his acts were merely symbolic.

Stephen the Great initially used the Ottoman vassalage inherited from his father as a tool against Hungary, Moldavia’s traditional enemy. He participated in Mehmed II’s invasion of Wallachia against his cousin Vlad the Impaler in 1462 because, at the time, Vlad was a Hungarian ally. An exceptional military commander and organizer, Stephen captured the Danube commercial city of Chilia from Wallachia in 1465 and defeated a Hungarian invasion of his state in 1467 at the Battle of Baia. As his successes both on the battlefield and in imposing his authority within Moldavia grew, Stephen ceased paying the annual tribute to the Ottomans, and his relationship with Mehmed II deteriorated. He invaded Wallachia in 1474 and ousted its prince, who was Mehmed’s vassal. In response, Mehmed demanded that Stefan resume his tribute payments and turn over the city of Chilia as well. Stefan refused and soundly repulsed Mehmed’s subsequent punitive invasion of Moldavia in early 1475 near Vaslui.

Stephen realized that Mehmed would seek to avenge the defeat, so he sought Hungarian aid by becoming the vassal of Matthias Corvinus. Mehmed personally led an invasion of Moldavia in 1476, and his forces plundered the country up to Suceava, Stephen’s capital, winning the Battle of Valea Alba on the way. However, all of Stephen's fortresses held fast, and a lack of provisions and an outbreak of cholera among the Ottoman troops forced Mehmed to retire, and Stefan went on the counteroffensive. With Hungarian help, he pushed forth into Wallachia in 1476, reinstalled Vlad the Impaler on the Wallachian throne, and spent the next nine years fighting a heroic border war with the Ottomans. Stefan’s efforts were the primary reason that the two Romanian Principalities maintained their independence and did not suffer the fate of the other Ottoman vassal states south of the Danube. During the last years of his rule, Stephen defeated a Polish invasion at Codrii Cosminului in 1497 and, by the time of his death, Moldavia was de facto independent.


How and why Romanians fought against the Soviets in WWII (PHOTOS)

On June 22, 1941, at 03:15, Romania entered World War II by participating in a joint invasion of the Soviet Union with the forces of Nazi Germany. That participation would bring Romanians a number of bitter defeats and even greater losses, laying the groundwork for changing the country&rsquos political system forever. But it would also result in substantial territorial gains.

German and Romanian troops on June 22, 1941.

In the 1930s, Romania had played a massive role in the Third Reich&rsquos strategy: it shared a huge stretch of border with the Soviet Union, which Nazi Germany was actively planning to invade it also had access to the Black Sea and possessed oil fields that were key for the German economy. However, Germany wasn&rsquot having any luck in persuading Romania to join in a military alliance with it: Bucharest was consistent in its anti-German policies, such as in its refusal to participate in dividing up Czechoslovakia, as well as taking a neutral, pro-French stance at the start of the war.

The Romanians, who in the 1910s significantly expanded the borders of their state at the expense of weakened neighbors, were quite happy with the status quo. However, the USSR, Hungary and Bulgaria, which had strengthened by the 1930s, had too many territorial claims to 'Greater Romania' to leave everything as it was. The Germans took advantage of these contradictions, seeking to break Bucharest and drag it into their sphere of influence.

Soldiers of the 8th Cavalry Brigade after receiving the Iron Cross. Crimea, 7 January 1942.

Nearly half of the territories belonging to Romania were, effectively, time bombs. Despite the active 1913 &lsquoromanization&rsquo of the Bulgarian territory of Southern Dobruja in the aftermath of the Second Balkan War, Bulgarians continued to inhabit it. A sizable portion of Hungarians (about 30 percent) continued to live in Transylvania, annexed from them at the end of World War I. And Moscow wasn&rsquot about to let the loss of Bessarabia slide - the territory had been with the Russians since 1812, with the Romanians later seizing upon the chaos of the Russian Civil War in 1918 in order to take it.

German Panther tanks in Romania.

In the end, having received the promise of German support, Romania&rsquos neighbors lodged territorial claims against it in 1940, which Romania was forced to accept. According to Soviet-German agreements, Germany would not interfere when, in June 1940, the Soviet Union took back Bessarabia. In August, as part of the Second Vienna Award, Berlin and Rome pressured Bucharest openly, forcing it to surrender Northern Transylvania (the southern part stayed under Romanian rule). And with support from Germany and the USSR, Bulgaria got back Southern Dobruja in September.

Having lost 38 percent of its territory, Greater Romania was no longer so &ldquogreat&rdquo. The loss of Transylvania turned out to be an especially severe blow - the Hungarian territory was situated right in the heart of the country. Romanian-Hungarian clashes had begun, followed by a mass exodus of Romanians into their historic homeland.

Using Romania&rsquos weakened and shocked state to its advantage, Germany offered its cooperation in the planned future division of the Soviet Union, which included not only the prospect of reclaiming Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina, but even the territories in Soviet Ukraine, all the way to the Dnieper River. Deciding to reconcile with Germany, the Romanians had also hoped to revisit the issue of Northern Transylvania. When, on November 20, 1940, Hungary - followed three days later by Romania - joined the Tripartite Pact (Germany, Italy and Japan), a paradoxical situation had emerged: two sworn enemies had become allies, both acting in the interests of the Third Reich.

In the course of the 1941 campaign, the Romanian Army was too weak to go to war against the USSR alone: it had neither the armored units, nor the modern artillery, with the bulk of its forces consisting of manpower. The soldiers also lacked in the way of adequate training. This led to the 11th and 14th German armies supporting the Romanian attack, putting the total number of soldiers at 600,000.

Romanian IAR 80 monoplanes.

June 16, 1941, saw the fall of Chisinau, the capital of Moldovan SSR. And on July 23, Bender was also taken. All of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina ended up in the hands of the Romanians, once again becoming part of the kingdom. With Romanian and German armies progressing further east, parts of Ukraine were now also under Romanian control, courtesy of Germany. The so-called Transnistria Governorate was set up, with Ukraine&rsquos Odessa as the capital.

Ion Antonescu and Erich von Manstein (R), Crimea, 1942.

With Romanian Conducator Ion Antonescu, whom Adolf Hitler had great respect for, Romania took an active role in the holocaust, resulting in the loss of some 300,000-400,000 Jewish lives. &ldquoMyself and some guys were herding cattle near a forest, which we referred to as &lsquoBrizhaty&rsquo, remembered Mikhail Tsurkan, a native of Odessa Region. &ldquoWe saw some kind of gathering of people there, approached it, and saw a group of Jews. There were more than a hundred, they must have been digging a trench&hellip Having seen us, the Romanians called some guys over - older ones - and suggested: &lsquoWho&rsquod like to shoot a minigun?&rsquo Then they laughed&hellip We ran from there in horror. And having witnessed the execution, we wept&hellip&rdquo In February of 1942, the Romanians ceased their mass executions of Jews. However, until the moment of their exit from the Axis, they had continued to hunt them down, sending them to ghettos and concentration camps.

Together with the Wehrmacht, Romanian forces progressed to the shores of the Volga River and the Caucasus Mountains. German military commanders had had very little respect for their comrades&rsquo fighting abilities. &ldquoThe management of their forces, having been influenced by the French model since 1918, was still at World War I levels,&rdquo Fieldmarshal Erich von Manstein wrote of the Romanian armed forces. And it was they who bore the brunt of the Soviet strike during &lsquoOperation Uranus&rsquo, which sought to surround the 6th German Army in Stalingrad. As a result of the decisive World War II battle, the 3d and 4th Romanian armies were completely crushed, leading to the deaths of more than 158,000 Romanian soldiers.

German and Romanian troops in southern Moldavia, 1944.

In the course of the Wehrmacht withdrawal, Romanian forces were pushed back to their own national borders and the country was beginning to be overrun with anti-German, pacifist sentiments. On August 23, 1944, with the battle against the Red Army taking place in Moldova and in the north-east of Romania, Antonescu was deposed as part of a conspiracy, organized by Mihai I. The monarch immediately announced an end to hostilities against the USSR and Western allies and, on August 31, Bucharest welcomed the Red Army with open arms. Romania had joined the anti-Hitler coalition, with its armies later taking part in the liberation of Budapest and Prague.

The Red Army is greeted in Bucharest, August 1944.

The war against the Soviet Union resulted in the loss of 475,000 Romanian lives. With Moscow&rsquos participation, the Second Vienna Award was annulled and Transylvania was returned to Romania. Ion Antonescu was executed by firing squad as a war criminal on May 17, 1946. It&rsquos fascinating that, even after entering the Soviet sphere of influence, the country had continued to be a monarchy. Mihai I, &lsquoThe Komsomol King&rsquo - as he was nicknamed in Moscow, was even awarded the &lsquoVictory&rsquo order of the USSR. It was only on December 30, 1947, that the country&rsquos communist government forced him to abdicate the throne, dissolving the monarchy and establishing the Socialist Republic of Romania.

If using any of Russia Beyond's content, partly or in full, always provide an active hyperlink to the original material.


7. Confederate Shortages and States Rights

Confederate reenactors fire their rifles during a reenactment in 2008. – By MamaGeek – CC BY-SA 3.0

During the American Civil War, the Confederacy struggled to supply their troops with enough shoes and uniforms. At the Battle of Shiloh in 1862, 60% of the Confederate soldiers were wearing clothes they had captured off Union men, creating a high risk of friendly fire due to mistaken identity.

This situation was exacerbated by the fierce independence of some states – North Carolina produced twice the textile output of all the other rebel states put together, but insisted on using this to supply her own troops rather than the whole army.


The Romanian Front - 1917

Post by Victor » 31 Aug 2002, 09:19

Because I have seen that this subject is not very well known ( I have decided to write a small essay.

During the hard winter of 1917/1918, the equipment from the Western Allies finally started to come in: 150,000 rifles, 2,000 MGs, 1,300,000 grenades, 355 artillery pieces, gas masks etc. The army was reorganized and retrained mostly with the help of the French military mission. It now had only 15 infantry divisions (in 1916 there were 23) and 2 cavalry divisions divided among 5 corps and two armies. There were also 6 observation squadrons, 4 fighter squadrons and 2 bomber squadrons.

So in the spring of 1917, 400,000 Romanian soldiers were ready for action. The front started at Dorna, continued on the line of the mountains, then Putna - Siret - Danube - Black Sea. In the northern part was the 9th Russian Army, then the 2nd Romanian Army in the Marasti-Oituz sector, the 4th Russian Army and 1st Romanian Army on the Putna Valley and the 6th Russian Army on the river Siret.

The operations started on 9 July, when the 2nd Army started its summer offensive, supported by the 4th Russian Army. Using its numerical superiority in infantry and artillery, much more suited for the mountainous terrain in the area, gen. Alexandru Averescu managed to brake through on a 30 km wide front and advance as far as 20 km. His losses were moderate: 1,500 dead and 3,000 wounded. About 2,000 prisoners were taken by the Romanian forces and 500 by the Russians. The offensive forced the Central powers to transfer 5 infantry and 2 cavalry divisions in the area and to change their offensive plans.

The 9th German Army was now suppose to attack in the Focsani - Marasesti - Adjud sector, while the 1st Austro-Hungarian in the Oituz valley. The aim was to encircle the 2nd Army in the newly re-conquered territory.

The success of the Central Powers' offensive in Galitia determined the Russian-Romanian command to transfer the 4th Russian Army and one corps from the 9th Russian Army in the northern sector to attack the right flank of the advancing enemy troops. The 1st Army's reserve (2 infantry divisions) was brought to take over the Oituz sector. The 1st Army takes over the Marasesti sector and of the Russian 8th Corps, while the 6th Russian Army stretched out to occupy the former positions of the 1st Army. So the start of the offensive of the 9th German Army caught the 1st Romanian Army in the middle of redeployment.

On 24 July, the Germans attacked and started to push back over the river Siret the Russian corps in the area. But the intervention of the Romanian 6th Corps prevented the Germans from making any bridgeheads. Also the Romanian 5th Division counter-attacked and stopped the offensive of the 1st German Corps. From now on the Mackensen's offensive evolved from a walk in the park to Iasi (as he imagined it) in a regular pitched battle (Battle of Marasesti) which lasted until 21 August and involved over 20 divisions. The Germans only managed to advance 8 km on a 30 km wide front and suffered 65,000 casualties. The 1st Romanian Army lost 27,000 men.

In the same time as the guns were firing around Marasesti, the 1st Austro-Hungarian Army carried out its own offensive in the Oituz valley, which was defended by the 2nd Army. The 6th and 7th Infantry Divisions which received the shock of the attack, had just taken over the front line from some Russian units a few days before and did not have time to entrench properly. The second battle of Oituz began on 26 July, with the attack of the 8th Austro-Hungarian Corps. The 2nd Army started to pull out gradually from the Marasti bulge in order to reduce its front line and send reinforcements in the Oituz sector. On 30 July, the 2nd Army counter-attacked and regained some ground from the Austro-Hungarians forces. This day was also the first day of war for the Romanian Mountain Battalion which had been formed in October 1916. It had just arrived on the front after a four day march (160 km) and managed to take 400 prisoners, for the price of 2 dead and 19 wounded. The Austro-Hungarians made another attempt to brake through in August, but they were again stopped and the battle ended on 10 August. The only gain was an advance of 2-6 km on a 20 km front.

The fighting continued, but on a small scale up until the armistice in November.


Forgotten Army

They crossed the Soviet border on June 22, 1941, heading east. While the attacking spearheads made good progress, there were also difficulties from day one. Their generals weren’t exactly surprised. Campaigning in this part of Europe has never been easy. The terrain was tough, the distances involved were vast, and logistics in this relatively underdeveloped land were nightmarish. And then there was the adversary: a Red Army that, while not particularly skilled or well trained, had enough manpower and modern equipment to cause any attacker some serious trouble in the field. The campaign started out in mobile mode, but soon bogged down into positional fighting that bled both sides and exhausted the invading army even as it was battering its way forward towards its strategic objectives. In the end, the Russian campaign would consume it altogether.

Ah yes, any student of the war might say: the Wehrmacht in Russia. Such a well known story. Dramatic early victories, sudden turnabout. Ultimate defeat.

The only problem is that I am talking about the Romanians.

They have gotten short shrift in histories of World War II, even those that specialize in the Eastern Front. And yet they played a key role in this greatest of all military struggles. Without them, the Barbarossa campaign of 1941 becomes nearly impossible, and 1942’s Operation Blue becomes absolutely impossible. The Romanian Army had nearly 700,000 men under arms in 1941 and 1.25 million by the summer of 1944. Romanian troops fighting in the Soviet Union outnumbered all of Germany’s other allies combined. They also won their share of operational victories. They struck east towards Odessa in the summer of 1941 and took the city after a gruesome 73-day siege. They played a major role in the Crimean campaign, with their mobile units spearheading General Erich von Manstein’s drive on Kerch, and with their infantry assisting in the gritty fighting to reduce the fortress of Sevastopol. They fought in the Caucasus, playing a key role in the conquest of Anapa and Novorossiysk.

During the 1942 campaign, they contributed two full armies (3rd and 4th) to the Axis order of battle. The Germans themselves only employed four (the 6th, 4th Panzer, 1st Panzer, and 17th, with German 2nd Army also taking part in the opening assault on Voronezh). The role they played was crucial–not to smash through Soviet defenses, but to cover immense flanks, hundreds of miles long, along the Don river and in the wide-open Kalmuk Steppe. It was a task for which the Wehrmacht no longer had sufficient troops. Yes, the Romanian formations were vaporized in the opening moments of the Soviet counteroffensive at Stalingrad, but then again, German resistance to that assault was no thing of beauty, either.

If you want to know the Eastern Front, you need to spend more time with the Romanians.

Next week: what we think we know, and why.

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