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

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Romanian Battlefront in World War I
Reviewed by Michael P. Kihntopf

The Romanian Battlefront in World War I
by Glenn E. Torrey
University of Kansas Press, 2011

NOTE: In 2012 The Romanian Battlefront in World War was awarded the annual Norman B. Tomlinson, Jr., Prize for the best work of history in English on World War One (1914–1918).

Romanian Troops Retreating, December 1916

For years authors have pummeled World War I aficionados with the statement that "the Great War's Eastern Front is largely ignored." This admonishment has of late become a cliché. Books by Jack Tunstall (Blood on the Snow, University of Kansas, 2010) and Timothy Dowling (The Brusilov Offensive, Indiana Press, 2008), to name only two among many authors, have brought much information about the Eastern Front to readers in the last few years. This book may finally put the neglect statement to rest among other passé adages of the time.

Author Glenn Torrey, professor emeritus of history at Emporia State University, has authored many pieces about the Eastern Front and especially Romania's part in the war, but this work surpasses those endeavors. It is a compilation of his previous works richly endowed with extensive archival research as well as quotes from personal correspondence from those who participated in the battles and campaigns. Much of the archival information, coming from Romanian sources, is new to Great War readers as are the personal observations. Torrey has opened a window to understanding Romania's part in the Great War through this research. However, this is not a book which delves into political rhetoric. On the contrary, the book is something I have not seen for quite some time—it is a military history dealing with battles, campaigns, and the personalities of the men who shaped those actions.

Torrey opens with a summary of how the Romanian government got involved in the war, and it is brief and to the point. Put simply, Prime Minister Ion Bratianu was an ardent nationalist who wanted to annex Austria-Hungary's Transylvania region, which was largely populated by Romanians. What follows after this chapter is a detailed description of the military efforts presented by the naïve leaders of the Romanian Army against a blooded, experienced Central Powers coalition of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Bulgaria in 1916. Torrey leads the reader through the invasion of Transylvania, showing how ill prepared the army was in materiel, leadership, and morale. Then he deftly shows how the Central Powers crushed the invasion sending the army reeling back across the Carpathians.

Normally, most authors have stopped at that point and bewailed the fate of the 500,000 man strong Romanian army which seemed to melt away. Torrey, however, takes us one step further to show how the army, albeit decimated, actually survived to regroup and retrain under its own leaders and with French assistance to become a more experienced organization that successfully matched their opponents in mid-1917. These chapters are not for a student of political science. They are for a person who will pour over maps placing 1st Army here and Russian allies there and fret over the timing of an attack on a nameless hill or the defense of an important pass whose loss would mean disaster. Torrey does this expertly, keeping the Romanian Army center stage with the Central Powers reacting to their counterattacks. Additionally, Torrey explores personages such as General Alexandru Averescu, who had a brilliant military mind that was befuddled in furthering his own image. I have researched Romanian actions for my own books, and I was delighted with Torrey's detail and surprised at the real depth of Romanian offenses and defenses.

This book is a must-read for the military maven as well as for those who have read only that the Romanian Army was soundly defeated and reliant on the Russians to maintain their front. Such works as this one will finally put a knife into the heart of the phrase "largely ignored".

Michael P. Kihntopf


  1. Fine review, Mike, especially the last two paragraphs. Sounds like something I'd like!

  2. Fine review, but how are the maps and the order of battle material?

    1. The maps were good especially considering how large the theatre was. Order of battle is in detail especially when corps, decimated by battle, were combined and sent into battle.

  3. You don't see much on the Romanians

  4. This is an excellent book, I agree. I used it as my primary research source for chapters in my own WWI espionage novel (fiction).

  5. I'm looking forward to this. It's so exciting to live through a renaissance in eastern front scholarship.