The autumn of 1918 would be a particularly troubled period for Romania. Forced by the exit of Bolshevik Russia from the war, Romania had to conclude a humiliating peace with the Central Powers on May 7, 1918. However, King Ferdinand never ratified the peace treaty, and he even surreptitiously slowed down the demobilization of the Romanian army. The military developments in the summer and autumn of 1918 gave Romania hope that the fate of the war would swing in favour of the Entente. Furthermore, French general Henri Berthelot requested in October 1918 the remobilization of the Romanian army and its re-entry into war on the side of the Entente “to liberate its national territory and to win once more the right to realize its national claims”.
In September 1918, there were still 170.000 soldiers and officers in the Romanian army, with sufficient ammunition for about 15-20 days of combat for all of its nine divisions. During September and October, German intelligence services received reports indicating that Romanians were preparing for mobilization. “The Information Service of the Romanian General Staff has lately carried out sustained activities in the occupied area of Romania”, a report submitted to Mackensen by the German intelligence services showed. After Bulgaria concluded the armistice with the Entente, more and more Romanians demanded the mobilization of the army and the liberation of Bulgarian occupied Dobruja.
Even Marghiloman proposed to the Germans that a mixed Romanian-German contingent should occupy Dobruja. The Germans showed a certain availability for this variant, but they asked Romania and in particular King Ferdinand to ratify the Treaty of Bucharest. Ferdinand refused and asked Marghiloman not to make any commitment to the Germans. The King awaited the Allied army from Thessaloniki to approach the Danube in order to begin the liberation of Romania.
Mackensen: We must spare no expense to win Romania to our side
Under such conditions, the position of German Field Marshal Mackensen, who was facing down the forces of the Entente approaching the Danube, became decisive for the manner in which the events were to unfold. Here is what he said on October 4, 1918 in his “Journal”: “For me, the main question is «what will Romania do»? If Romania joins the Entente once more…then the Balkans and maybe the whole war is lost to us…We must spare no expense to win Romania to our side”.
On the other hand, when he arrived in Thessaloniki, Berthelot sent a letter to the French ambassador in Romania, the Count of Saint-Aulaire, in which he outlined his plans. The French general, together with the army he was leading, was to cross the Danube in mid-November. “It is imperative that Romania take up arms in order to prove its loyalty to the Entente, to liberate its national territory and to win once more the right to realize its national claims”.
King Ferdinand agreed, but the Romanian generals were hesitant even though the moment couldn’t be better. The German army had major problems on the Western Front, Ludendorff had been sacked, the German navy had rebelled, nationalist revolts and uprisings broke out in Austria-Hungary, and the Allied army from Thessaloniki had reached the Danube.
Glenn E. Torrey, România în Primul Război Mondial [Romania in the First World War], Meteor Publishing House, Bucharest, 2014.
I.G. Duca, Memorii [Memoirs], vol. I, Expres Publishing House, Bucharest, 1992.
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 [Memoirs], Humanitas, Bucharest, 1992.
Florin Constantiniu, O istorie sinceră a poporului român [A sincere history of the Romanian people], Encyclopaedic Universe Publishing House, Bucharest, 2008.
Translated by Laurențiu Dumitru Dologa