Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, December 5, 2016

100 Years Ago: Bucharest Falls

By Matt Church

Ferdinand, King of Romania, During the War
On 5 December 1916, the Romanian capital of Bucharest fell to enemy forces and effectively brought an end to Romania's disastrous participation in the First World War. Romania remained neutral in the early stages of the war, only to find itself assailed by German, Bulgarian, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman forces by the end of 1916. The main Romanian national interest was in Hapsburg-controlled Transylvania, home to three million Romanians. Allied success would begin the process that led to the decimation of the Romanian Army. The success of the Brusilov offensive made Romania more inclined to accept Allied territorial offerings in return for participation. On 17 August 1916, France and Russia agreed to reward Romania with Transylvania, the Bukovina, the southern tract of Galicia, and the Barat after the peace treaty in return for their participation on the Allied side (Keegan, 2000). The strategic situation for Romania was precarious and they were surrounded by enemy forces on three sides; nonetheless, they entered the war on 27 August 1916. 

Bolstered by their performance in the Second Balkan War and confident of the Russian Army checking the German and Austro-Hungarian forces, the Romanians overestimated the potential of their 23-division army. The Romanian Army paid scant attention to the threat of Bulgarian or Ottoman attacks. Russian commander-in-chief Alexeyev believed Romanian participation to be more of a hindrance than asset; he would be proven correct. While Allied forces attempted a diversionary attack at Salonika, the Romanian Army invaded the Austro-Hungarian Empire through the passes of the Transylvanian Alps and occupied Eastern Transylvania (Keegan, 2000). Allied commanders had expected the Romanians to attack Bulgaria. This would be the high point of Romanian participation in the war. 

Romanian Forces Abandon the City

While Romanian forces did nothing after their initial success, German, Austro-Hungarian, and Bulgarian forces prepared a counterattack. Austro-Hungarian local defense forces were quickly organized into the First Army to oppose the Romanians and on 2 September, Bulgarian forces invaded the Romanian province of the Dobruja. On 25 September, German forces under Falkenhayan began to drive the Romanians back through the Transylvanian passes. Part of this German force was composed of the Alpenkorps and included the young Erwin Rommel. After driving the Romanian army through the Transylvanian passes, German forces continued to force the Romanians toward the central plains of Romania and toward Bucharest. By late 1916, German and Austro-Hungarian forces were assailing the Romanian Army and driving them further into their own borders while Bulgarian and Ottoman forces were in the Dobruja province, the Ottomans having taken the sea route to assist in the assault. On 5 December 1916, Mackensen's German forces crossed the Danube and took Bucharest, and the Romanians retreated to Moldavia and entrenched themselves between the Sereth River and Russian border. 

German Troops Occupy Bucharest

The Romanian decision to enter the war was disastrous. By the end of 1916, they had lost 310,000 men, nearly half as prisoners, and almost the whole of their country (Keegan, 1916). Their defeat also left Germany in control of the Ploesti oilfields, the only source of European oil west of the Black Sea. Germany gained one million tons of oil and two million tons of grain through their defeat of Romania, and these gains would help continue the German war effort into 1918. Not only did their victory yield material gains, but the German victory also necessitated the diversion of Russian forces to rescue the Romanian Army. The results of the Allied recruitment of Romania did not prove a benefit to the Allied cause, but actually diminished allied strength and forced a diversion of resources. Romania's decision became their folly. 



2 comments:

  1. Very good summary of another little-discussed part of the war.

    On this topic, how is Michael B. Barrett's _Prelude to Blitzkrieg_?

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  2. Romania had a bit of a resurgence. Their army was reequipped and retrained with French help and continued fighting. See The Romanian Battlefront in WW1, by Glenn Torrey

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