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Romania in World War II

Romanian National Coat of Arms

The Romanian Army in World War II 

By Jonathan Forsey

Background

During the 1930’s, Romania boasted a huge but obsolescent army, firmly tied to the doctrines that had evolved from the first World War, particularly those of her close ally, France. King Carol embarked on modest programmes of reform, but the army remained poorly equipped, particularly in terms of motor transport, communications equipment and anti-tank weapons.

In 1940, the situation changed dramatically. France fell, the Soviet Union occupied the Romanian province of Bessarabia and land was also lost to Hungary and Bulgaria.

King Carol abdicated and hard line General Ion Antonescu became Conducator (Leader). Romania saw its best means of survival being allegiance with Germany. A German training mission was sent in October 1940 in an effort to modernise the Romanian Army and met with some success in terms of infantry tactics, but resistance from other branches, particularly the artillery.   

The core of the army lay in 18 Infantry Divisions, plus Guard and Frontier Divisions, each comprising three infantry and two artillery regiments, plus signals, engineer and reconnaissance troops.

Romanians get German medals
Romanians on the March

Each infantry regiment had three infantry battalions, plus support in the form of cavalry, mortars and a very modest allocation of anti-tank weapons. The regular regiments were numbered 1 to 33 and 81 to 96, with the former group bearing the traditional honorific Dorobanti. Some divisions contained Vanatori rifle regiments, these being identical in organisation to the infantry regiments.

Cavalry remained strong in the army, drawing on regular Rosiori and “yeomanry” type Calarasi regiments.

Specialist Mountain troops constituted the army’s elite.  Cavalry and Mountain Brigades were expanded to Divisions in March 1942. A single armoured brigade was expanded and became the nucleus for an armoured division.

Barbarossa

The campaign against the Soviets allowed Romania to recapture lost territory and the Army’s best units were committed to the campaign. Operation München involved the retaking of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina.

Romanian Cavalry
Romanian R-35 French tanks

Romanian Divisions served with the German 11th, 30th and 54th Corps in the German 11th Army, as well as comprising the Romanian 3rd and 4th Armies.

The operation commenced on 2 July 1941, following the opening of the main Barbarossa offensive on 22 June. Romanian and German forces advanced rapidly against Soviet forces occupying Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina, driving them out within a month at the cost of over 4,000 dead, 12,000 wounded and 5,500 missing. Romania had succeeded in its limited war aims.

Odessa

Germany required further Romanian assistance however, and Romanian troops were committed to the capture of the vital Black sea port of Odessa.
   
By 13 August, Odessa had been isolated on its landward side, but assaulting Romanian troops made slow progress. The Soviet garrison swelled to over 86,000 men by early October and the attacking Romanians required heavy reinforcement.

The besieging 4th Army eventually involved all or part of 17 Infantry divisions, a Reserve division, the Armoured division, Guards,

Romanian infantry advance
Odessa

Frontier and Cavalry units at various times during the siege, plus  assistance from some German units. 

Steady pressure saw the Romanians capture Odessa on 16 October, rounding up 7,000 stragglers following a skilful Soviet naval evacuation of the bulk of the Garrison.

This significant feat of arms in storming a Soviet ‘Hero City’ was almost entirely a Romanian operation, but came at a heavy cost, with total losses of 17,729 dead, 63,345 wounded and 11,471 missing. Many units had to be withdrawn for refitting, and deficiencies in tactics and equipment had been exposed.

Crimean Operations

Romanian 3rd Army was deployed to assist German 11th Army, engaged in operations up to the Dnepr. The 3rd Army’s Cavalry Corps (5th,6th and 8th brigades) and the Mountain Corps (1st, 2nd and 4th Mountain brigades) assisted in the assault on the Crimea.

Romanian Mountain Trooper
Romanian Infantryman in Crimea

Romanian units faced a Soviet landing at Feodosiya which led to a substantial bridgehead in the Kerch peninsula. Additional Romanian units of VII Corps (10th and 19th Infantry, 8th Cavalry) were committed and the Kerch bridgehead was wiped out in may 1942. X Mountain Corps (1st and 4th Mountain Divisions, 18th Infantry) participated in the assault on Sevastopol in June 1942, 1st Mountain taking the crucial Sugar loaf position and 4th Mountain capturing over 10,000 prisoners in Balaklava.

Stalingrad Campaign

German pressure for Romanian troops to remain at the front saw VI Corps (1st,2nd,4th and 20th Infantry) placed under the command of Army Group South from January to April 1942. The 1st and 4th Divisions faced the Soviet offensive south of Kharkov in May 1942, being shaken by the Soviet heavy armour. The Corps formed part of 4th Panzer Army for the summer offensive toward Stalingrad, engaging in heavy fighting and forming the southern flank of the German defensive line around the city in September. 

VI Corps was joined by VII Corps (5th and 8th Infantry), forming a new 4th Army and during October, these forces were subjected to probing attacks, each badly under strength Division holding 25-40kms of front line.

In October 1942, the 3rd Army HQ and reorganised divisions from the Odessa campaign moved into the line North of Stalingrad in the open steppe, under the command of General Dumitrescu.

3rd Army possessed I Corps (7th, 11th Infantry), II Corps (9th, 14th Infantry), V Corps (5th and 6th Infantry) and IV Corps (13th Infantry, 1st Cavalry). The 7th Cavalry, 15th Infantry and 1st Armoured Divisions formed the reserve.

R-2 tank
Romanian Cavalry on the Don Steppe

Romanian units along the front repulsed Soviet attacks but were desperately short of ammunition and supplies including wire and mines.

3rd Army faced a massive Soviet assault on 19 November, as Guards and Armoured units sought to punch through the Romanian lines. Resistance proved stronger than expected and Soviet losses were high, but their armoured spearheads broke through the 9th, 14th and 13th Divisions, forcing others back. A counterattack by 1st Armoured division could not restore the situation, but did prevent the encirclement of several divisions. 

A Romanian pocket comprising all or part of the 5th,6th, 13th,14th and 15th Divisions was compelled to surrender on 25 November, resulting in the loss of 27,000 men. Despite this setback, 1st Armoured, 7th Cavalry and the remnants of 14th and 15th Infantry stabilised the front on the Chir and held the river line, staving off further disaster.

4th Army to the South of Stalingrad was assaulted on the 20th of November, the 1st and 4th Divisions being overrun at heavy cost in Soviet tanks.
The remnants of these divisions and 2nd and 18th Divisions withdrew, covered by the superb 8th Cavalry under General Korne.
Romanian Infantry advance across the vast steppe
Romanian Infantry in the snow

20th Infantry Division remained trapped with 6th Army in Stalingrad.

Romanian and German units counterattacked on 12 December to relieve Stalingrad, but on 18 December, Soviet armour broke through the Italian 8th Army and surrounded and destroyed the Romanian I Corps (7th, 9th, 11th Infantry).

The infantry Divisions in VI and VII Corps began to disintegrate under the pressure of the Soviet offensive, with the result that few units of the 3rd or 4th Armies were battle worthy, survivors being withdrawn to Romania. The 1st Cavalry and 20th Infantry were lost in Stalingrad. This disaster cost Rumania two thirds of its field army. Romanian bravery (three generals were killed leading bayonet charges) proved unable to compensate for a lack of appropriate equipment.

The Black Sea

A Cavalry Corps (5th,6th,9th Cavalry) operating with German forces cleared the coast of the sea of Azov, reaching the Black Sea on 12 September 1943, capturing the port of Anapa and trapping the Soviet 47th Army.

Romanian Cavalry Officer
Romanian Schnieder 47mm anti-tank gun

The 10th and 19th Infantry and 3rd Mountain crossed the straits from the Crimea and 2nd Mountain, operating with German units, captured the city of Nalchik, capturing 7,000 Soviets.

The Stalingrad disaster forced a retreat from the Caucasus into the Kuban bridgehead around the Taman Peninsula. Morale in the infantry divisions fell, the 10th and 19th being dispersed among German units, but the Cavalry and Mountain formations remained effective and were regarded as good troops. The 80,000 Romanian troops in the Kuban suffered heavy losses before being withdrawn to the Crimea in October 1943.

The Crimea was cut off in November 1943, though 6th Cavalry and 3rd Mountain succeeded in wiping out a Soviet naval landing on the Kerch peninsula, taking over 2,000 prisoners.

Soviet forces broke through the main defensive lines on 14 April 1944, compelling the withdrawal of the remaining units from Sevastopol, with over 60,000 Romanian troops being evacuated, leaving over 20,000 men and all heavy equipment behind.

Romanian mortar team
Romanian Artillery

1944

Soviet forces now pushed into Romanian territory, pushing German and Romanian defenders back, and while Romanian units resisted strongly, the situation became untenable. Romania defected, with Antonescu arrested on 23 August and war declared on Germany on 25 August.

Romania had to deal with the threat of invasion from Hungary and Bulgaria, as well as over 56,000 German troops in its own territory, reinforced by others from Yugoslavia.

Fierce fighting broke out and Romanian operations proved effective, capturing or eliminating over 61,000 Germans for the loss of 8,586 Romanians.

Soviet forces (including the ‘Tudor Vladimirescu’ Division consisting of Romanian ex-prisoners of war) flooded into Romania and by September, had joined Romanian forces along the Hungarian and Yugoslavian borders.

For the remainder of the war, Romanian forces passed under Soviet control and were often poorly treated, but fought hard against Hungarian and German forces, with over 538,536 Romanians fighting against the Axis, a contribution ranking fourth behind the USSR, USA and Great Britain.  Casualties were very heavy, over 160,000 before the final peace in May 1945.

Romanian Infantry take cover behind a destroyed train


Last Updated On Tuesday, January 26, 2010 by Blake at Battlefront