The offensive of the Romanian troops on the Moldavian front in Mărăști came somewhat as a surprise to the Central Powers. If on the ground this offensive had a limited character, the success of the Romanian troops was heavily used by the Entente as propaganda.
In July 1917, Romanian troops supported by their Russian counterparts attacked the forces of the Central Powers on the Moldavian Front. On the night of 23-24 July, the Romanians attacked in force the section of the front near the village of Mărăști. The village, which gave the battle its name, had been fortified by the Germans, however it was quickly conquered by the Romanian troops that afterwards continued their advance.
On July 25, however, an unforeseen event occurred in the Russo-Romanian camp. The Russians decided to stop the offensive. General Shcherbachev, commander of Russian troops in Romania, received a telegram from the Kerensky government demanding that the offensive of the Russian armies be stopped, amid the disaster in Galicia and Bukovina. The Great Romanian General Headquarters is also forced to stop the offensive and cancels the action at Nămoloasa.
In spite of the orders that he received, the commander of the Second Romanian Army, General Alexandru Averescu, decided to continue the offensive in order to occupy new strategic positions. The Romanian troops continued the attack and occupied Soveja, an important support centre for the German 218th Infantry Division. The loss of Soveja created major difficulties for the Central Powers. On the evening of July 27, the Second Romanian Army troops reached the Putna River, the offensive was stopped and the new positions were fortified. The consequences of the Battle of Mărăști gave not only Romanians a reason to hope, but also to the Entente. Within a week, although at a disadvantage after the cancelation of the operation at Nămoloasa, the Second Romanian Army, supported by the Russian 8th Army Corps, liberated 30 villages and took back over 500 km². More than 3.000 Austro-Hungarian and German soldiers were captured.
The Germans prepare the counterattack
For the Central Powers, the Battle of Mărăști had larger military consequences than it would first appear. In addition to the number of losses, they had to cancel military operations on other fronts in order to send reinforcements to the Romanian Front. But perhaps even more importantly, this unexpected defeat forced them to undertake a series of inadequately sustained and prepared offensives, which would result in their defeat at Mărășești and Oituz.
The victory of the Romanian forces at Mărăști determined the Austrian Army Higher Command (AOK) to ask the Supreme Army Command (OHL) on July 28 the direct intervention of the 9th Army. Following this demand, the Germans radically changed their strategy. Ludendorff ordered Mackensen to postpone his plan of attack over the Siret and to advance instead in the north, to the west of the river. That sector, of about 40 km, was being defended by the Russian Fourth Army. After bypassing the Russians, Mackensen’s forces had to attack the left flank of the Romanian Second Army. At the same time, the right flank of the Romanian Second Army was to be attacked by the Gerok Group. Once the Romanian Second Army was eliminated, a bridgehead over Siret would be established in the vicinity of the Mărășești-Tecuci line. The attack was set for August 6 and the Gerok Group would attack two days later. The first opened the Battle of Mărășești, the second one the Battle of Oituz. The hopes of the Germans were very high. Ludendorff stated that “the occupation of all of Romania is imminent”. Negotiations were already underway to partition what was left of unoccupied from Romania between the Austrians and Germans. Mackensen was particularly optimistic, saluting his subordinates after an operative meeting with the following: “I’ll see you in two weeks, in Iași!”
On August 5, Romanian reconnaissance planes flew over the sector held by the Germans at Focșani and reported ample enemy troop movements. It was already clear to the Romanians and Russians that the German troops were preparing an attack in the area of the Russian Fourth Army.
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Translated by Laurențiu Dumitru Dologa