The Battle of Brașov was part of the defensive operation conducted in the Carpathian mountain passes, the third such strategic operation undertaken by the Romanian army in the 1916 campaign. It took place from the second half of September until the beginning of October 1916, having three main objectives: to stop the Austro-Hungarian offensive on the Transylvanian Front, to maintain and strengthen a defensive line along the Carpathian Mountains and to create the conditions for an offensive. The battle was marked by the defeat of the Romanian forces at Șinca, the general withdrawal from Transylvania, and orders by the Romanian High Command to strengthen the positions in the south of the country.
During the first day of the Battle for Braşov (October 7, 1916) fighting broke out in southwestern part of the Bârsa Country. In spite of the efforts made by the Austro-Hungarian and German troops, the Romanian resistance could not be overcome. The only progress that was made was the occupation of Codlea, from where the enemy troops managed to extend their control over Râșnov. The main attack on Braşov was launched by German troops but it too failed to make any headway towards the city. The resistance of the Romanian troops was strengthened by the arrival of new reinforcements, confounding the attempts of the enemy to take the city.
During the second day of the battle (October 8, 1916) the fighting encompassed the entire area surrounding Brașov. The German encirclement of Romanian troops in the northern part of the theatre of operations failed. However, the Romanians are forced to abandon the strengthened positions in Zărnești, withdrawing to the south of Bran. Hostilities continued in the northern sector of the front throughout the day, with attacks and counterattacks from both sides. The Germans had the upper hand, especially with regard to the number and type of artillery they used.
The large number of victims, as well as the destruction of Romanian artillery, opened the way for an Austro-Hungarian attack from Stejăriş Hill. The pressure on the Romanian forces was becoming unbearable as a result of renewed attacks launched by newly arrived German troops. This was the background for the events that would ensue at Bartholomew Railway Station where a Romanian company was decimated by German troops.
Thus, Romanian High Command decided to withdraw from Brașov to Predeal-Buşteni, an operation that took place during the night of October 8-9, 1916. The failure resulted in the replacement of General Grigore Crăiniceanu from the command of the Third Army, with General Alexandru Averescu, who tried hurriedly to organize some semblance of defence.
“On the bodies of the fallen soldiers, no single cartridge was found”
The massacre at Bartholomew Railway Station went down in history. The Romanian newspaper “Gazeta Transilvaniei” from Brașov reported on the event: “It was a huge battle, during which the company and half of the 45th Regiment (Vlașca) had spent all of their ammunition. The enemy, seeing the stubborn resistance that opposed him, believed that there was a strong Romanian rear-guard in front of him. Consequently, it concentrated even more firepower and after two days of fighting, they forced the crossing of the railway beyond Bartholomew Station on the night of October 10 (Sunday), which Captain Cristescu Sava defended with half a company and which had to withdraw in the face of the enemy’s infinite numbers. With this sudden retreat during the night, the left flank of the firing line, which was stringed along the railway line from Bartholomew Railway Station towards Braşov, was undefended and not aware of what had happened. The enemy, who had crossed the railway line using the cover of darkness, positioned two machine guns in the Bartholomew machinery warehouse, placing them in a window to the left flank of the firing line, and German soldiers armed with grenades sneaked behind the firing line. In the morning of October 10, the Romanian company was ambushed by machinegun fire from its flank. Many of the soldiers died in the first few moments. Those still alive began to retreat towards the city. But after taking just a few steps back, they were greeted with hand grenades. Of the two hundred and fifty soldiers, who were along the railway line, not one had escaped with his life. Everyone was barbarically killed from the flank or from behind. This cruel act, which is also recognized by the enemy when describing the Battle of Bartholomew, was undoubtedly retribution for the two-day resistance that the Romanian fallen heroes put up and because of the fear that the opponent, who stopped them for two days, was of greater number than it actually was. Immediately after the battle, an enemy officer photographed the line with the fallen Romanian soldiers […]. In conclusion, another finding made by the enemy. On the bodies of the fallen soldiers, no single cartridge was found. Evidence that in the two-day battle they used all of their bullets.”
In a campaign diary, the tragedy was described by a German soldier: “In the early hours of the morning, the Romanians were still lying in a field of potatoes in front of the railway embankment and trying to attack us from the flank, but as the light started to shine they retreated back to the railroad. Now, as platoon commander, I received the order to travel with a troop to the railway warehouse and the canton, where we could catch the Romanians off guard. I brought the troop into position and opened fire on the Romanian company set up along the railway. Unfortunately, I had a jam after two hundred shots, and then, on my right, next to the canton, a Hungarian troop bravely intervened with a machine gun, but had to change its position because of the intense fire and attacks with hand grenades coming from the Romanian side. Meanwhile, Corporal Strassburg, my spotter, fixed the weapon jam and started firing along the railroad, with such an effect that the few remaining Romanians surrendered. We got moving with the Hungarians and found the entire Romanian company, stringed along a compact line, dead by the railroad, except for the 40-60 soldiers, whom we took prisoner.”
Translated by Laurențiu Dumitru Dologa