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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27 Responses

  1. Bill Nance

    I think the Romanians got shafted because of what happened AFTER the war. First, the Germans used them as cannon fodder during the war anyways, then when Romania had fallen under Soviet domination, who was going to tell their story?

    German generals were looking to cover their own butts, and mercilessly lampooned the Romanians (Read Manstein if you have any questions).

    The Soviets were surely not going to attempt to heroicize an army that had fought against them, and that they had crushed. Especially, when Romanian nationalism and pride was not something that they wanted to encourage.

    The Western scholars had to rely on these sources for the most part in the initial histories of the war.

    I think that as Eastern Europe continues to progress, we will see better histories of their contributions in this war.

    Reply
  2. Rob Citino

    Indeed, Bill. All of the above! Manstein is the major source. i’ll go into this next week.

    Reply
  3. Luke Truxal

    I was actually surprised that you didn’t mention that the Romanians had a larger army than the United States prior to World War II. That’s one of my favorite statistics that you have mentioned on numerous occasions. This topic brings up a question that I have that may not be directly related to this blog. What was the coordination like between Axis countries during these offensives into Russia? It appears that their could be a lot of issues in using a large coalition against Russia as was done by the Axis.

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  4. Bill Nance

    My favorite stat was that in 1939 the Poles had more mechanized formations than the US army.

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  5. Steve Litten

    For the most part, the Axis allies had to press on against the Red Army with equipment that was rapidly becoming obsolete. The Reich only grudgingly advanced its allies “modern” materiel. This policy wasn’t only limited to tanks. Artillery and antitank weapons were for Germans first, and damn the rest. The allies were hardly even trusted with designs for better weapons. Hardly surprising then, that the Red Army tended to target Romanian, Hungarian or Italian forces during any counterattack.

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  6. John Merkatatis

    Let’s not overestimate the Romanian element in WWII’s Eastern Front; they entered the war in order to reclaim territories they considered theirs(e.g Moldova) and sat on their quiet occupation during 1941 and only after repeated urgings and constant pressure by Hitler they reluctantly agreed (since their army was basically a 1914 army with a sprinkle of automatic weapons in their battalions and with zero mobility).They reminded me the Italian colonial army who were good against Ethiopeans but rediculously wanting when faced by British armored and mechanized units in North Africa.The Romanians(with the exception of their mountain corps under Manstein’s 7th Arrmy in Crimea) were of low quality regarding their training,
    equipment and officer corps whose ability the Germans had assessed as mediocre,with a snobish attitude towards their privates causing resentment
    something that didn’t help the morale of the army.
    Therefore Italians and Romanians were nursing superior ambitions without
    the basic wherewithal to service those ambitions.
    I could have said a lot more about Romanians and their army since I live there and I have a lot of first hand information about them but that is enough mr Citino.

    Reply
    • Winters

      The logistics of the romanian army was outdated but for what you said about the training and valor of the soldiers and officers i would quess you are putting more of a personal view then of a realistic view in the matter.
      Remember the army and officer core was formed and trained during Carol the First Hohenzolern of the Prussian dynasty Hohenzolern.
      So by your personal hatred logic prussian officer school was a childsplay for you.
      Shame on you , i doubt you had real accounts from actual survivors but nothing more then some paper clippings from random intenet searches.
      Next time do more research and be more objective and less emotional about it, nobody cares about what your personal impression was about there army.

      Reply
  7. Bill Nance

    Now this is modern and not WW II, but the Romanian officers that I have worked with have been to a man professional, knowledgeable and competent in their chosen fields. In fact, of the Allied officers in my particular class a couple years ago, the Romanians and the Hungarians were standouts.

    Reply
  8. lee

    Thank you for this stellar blog post!! Front & Center is the single best blog on the planet and this post made my day :) ! Just stellar!! There are so many stories and events waiting to be shared! The Romanians have a truly unique, interesting past that causes one to rethink (at least me) WWII. Thank you so much for this excellent post! Hopefully it jazzes interest in the Black Sea Theater from The Iron Gates of the Danube to Baku. You made some excellent arguements as well– I agree with them all. All the best

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  9. lee

    And John M., your representation of the Romanian Army’s attitudes and abilities are so incorrect it isn’t even funny. And I have visited with Romanian soldiers and sailors that served, been to the archives, read the period accounts. The arguement that Romania joined the Axis for Bessarbia and Bukovina is only part of the truth. I too have read the July 1941 papers, seen the photos of a nation on her knees in prayer, but I have also read Antonescu’s letters, as well as discussions with servicemen. When you peel back the layers the truth is much more complex.

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  10. Luke Truxal

    I guess what Dr. Citino is trying to get at here is that two Romanian Armies were going to make an impact somewhere along the front despite combat effectiveness. 700,000 troops poorly equipped and poorly trained can still do a lot in my opinion. Now I haven’t done enough research on the Romanians in World War II so I can’t speak for their effectiveness in combat but I’ll take 700,000 Romanians when invading the Soviet Union over none.

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  11. John Merkatatis

    Lee,
    It is not my representation of the Romanians that you read,but that of
    the German officers who assessed the Romanian army and the Romanian Officer Corps even before the war(report by general Krebs, Head of 1st Office,O.K.H.),but I saw the standard of maintainace of the
    Romanian army now and the romanian airforce(2002-2003) and it was totally unaccetable.

    Reply
    • Sebastian

      John

      Please read Romanian Army Archives .
      Give Romanian Army reports sources a chance. For example read the reports of Romanian generals of Army 3th and 4th at Stalingrad , how every signals about concentration of Soviet Army in their sectors were ignored . Please read the reports from Soviet Army at Stalingrad that were suprised by the “resistance of Romanian Arm for 2 days without antitanc equipment”.

      Reply
  12. Lee

    John M.,
    First, let me start with an apology to you, my comment to you could, and should have been phrased in much politer terms. I was stoked to find the Romanian army being discussed on this blog, and was in public on a pda at the time, making a completely thought out, well argued comment a bit difficult, but that is a poor excuse for such ill-mannered behavior on my part, I apologize to you.
    Second, I apparently misunderstood your comments. I took your words as slighting the abilities of the Romanian soldiers and their efforts in WWII. They actions (good and bad) have been underreported in the annals of military history and this was what I directed my remarks toward. I respect your views and appreciate an opportunity to apologize for voicing my rash, reactive opinions.

    Reply
  13. daniel

    Though less important in numbers, Spain also gave her support with the _Blue Division. I believe that the Eastern Front is parcially knew as we have only the German version. Information coming from the Soviet Union is, at least, parcial, incomplete and with a political objective. Hope in the future we can learn more about that front

    Reply
  14. William T

    Does anyone know of any books about Romania during World War Two?

    Reply
    • Gerald Swick

      William T, try Third Axis, Fourth Ally: Romanian Armed Forces in the European War, 1941 – 1945. There’s also Rumanian Air Force: The Prime Decade, 1938 – 1947. Both are currently available.

      Reply
  15. Chris T

    Very interesting postings. I read about the Rumanian contribution to the war and it looks like they were not prepared but willing to fight, not decided where to stop but not abandoning either. They had a good airforce (see the American attack on Ploiesti) and good cavalry. Poorly trained officers though, but not all, some were very respected by the germans. A nation pulled in a war that wasnt theirs…

    Reply
  16. Chris

    Easy question.
    The creed: the Romanians must be united under the same banner. Right now, Ukraine and Russia have Romanian land. Romanians will continue to declare war to any country that owns territory that was part of Greater Romania and thus, populated by many Romanians. Look at history and you’ll see Romania gave up that land to shut Bulgarians up, simply because it didn’t have any historic ties to the nation. We only want Romanians under the flag.
    That’s what they teach us in history. Getting those lands back or having the land invaded would possibly be the only reason the whole Romanian nation would animously go to war again. End of story, it’s our land, it was before and if you won’t give it back, you have the ROArmy on your asses. That’s all it is.

    Second rule: Hungary has a similar ideology. Generally, Slavs look at the Ro land hungrily. It’s good to be wary, and choose the allies depending on their intentions.

    That’s kind of it. The ROArmy is kind of weak right now because of this: we have 75% of the land of Greater Romania/The Romanian Kingdom, Moldova will merge with Ro in the next 50 years and really, Bulgarians can keep that tiny land since Romanians don’t live there anymore. We don’t need more lands. The top priority in a future war would be to protect the land we have now. Maybe push Russia farther away since they wanted our land anyways. And that’s all.

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  17. Sebastian

    John Merkatatis

    You where in Romania and lived …may be as tourist. Before WWII all Eastern Europe were under the pressure of bolsheviks and in plus Romania lost land because of Molotov -Ribentropp pact. So the fight against Soviets was motivated and Romanian Army had a good moral in Eastern front WWII. They knew for what they fought. You pointed Germans sources….please do not forget Germans were considered themselves superior race , they did not liked Romanians , Italians, because they are Latin and inferior as race. As military Robert Citino is RIGHT without Romanian army Whermacht could not obtain those succeses. Please read Romanian Army notes from Archives and open your mind. In the same time for your knowledge Romanian Army foundation was based by a core of officers trained in Italy, Germany, France with experience from WWI . Those officers were very capable and motivated. My grandfather fought against Soviets all way to Stalingrad and from 1944 all way to Czehoslovakia, he was non – commisioner officer at that time and he was fired from Romanian Army in 1948 by bolsheviks because he was from middle class family and owned a lot land. I will remember all the time my grandfather words; \ When I fought against Russians I was not afraid but when I fought against Germans I was afraid !\

    Reply
  18. Sebastian

    Here are some quotes on the Romanians

    “After World War II I asked my friend General Hans Speidel, who had commanded various mixed Axis contingents and became Field Marshal Rommel’s chief-of-staff: “Which among all the non-German troops were the best soldiers: the Finns, the Croats, the Hungarians?” “None of them,” he said: “the Rumanians. Give them good leadership and they are as good as any you’ll find.” Cyrus L. Sulzberger in “A Long Row of Candles”

    “I have already shown what could and could not be expected of Romanian troops in various situations. But they were still our best allies and did fight bravely in many places.”

    Field Marshal von Manstein in “Lost Victories”

    Reply

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