Ionel Brătianu, the Romanian Prime Minister, signed the alliance treaty with the representatives of the Entente on August 17, 1916 and Romania committed itself to enter the war no later than August 28. The country’s army was already in a process of partial mobilization that turned into total mobilization starting on August 27. But was the Romanian army prepared for such a conflict?
Romania mobilized 833.601 people (over 80% of the troops were infantry) out of a population of about 8.000.000 million and another 400.000 were in reserve and could be called on at any time. Of these, 560.000 formed the operational army, and 444.000 were fighting forces organized in 23 infantry divisions, two divisions and five cavalry brigades, six mixed brigades, and 329 artillery batteries. As far as infantry divisions were concerned, they differed greatly in size, quality and weaponry. The divisions from 1 to 10 had a staff of 640 officers and 27.000 soldiers. The soldiers were equipped with Mannlicher M1893 bolt-action rifles, which were relatively modern, and each battalion had at its disposal four machine guns.
The divisions from 11 to 16 had on average 420 officers and 17.000 soldiers who were armed with older Mannlicher rifles (1879), and had only one machine gun in a battalion. The divisions from 17 to 23 were being mobilized with older men and had outdated rifles and some battalions did not have a machine gun.
Training and communications
In 1916, the 7.800 platoons on the frontlines had only 6.700 commanding officers (lieutenants), 75% were reservists (mostly high school graduates, civil servants, teachers, professors, pharmacists or merchants), and of the 1.700 companies, only 820 had commanding officers (captains), 30% were reservists, totally unprepared to lead. The officers were poorly trained, were not familiar with the new battlefield realities and had no leadership skills. The Romanian army’s troop soldiers were overwhelmingly peasants, and 60% did not know how to write or read. They were, however, accustomed to hardships and sacrifice, and this would be best seen in the 1917 campaign. Many senior commanders were also unprepared for the coming conflict. Very few knew the circumstances of the war they were about to be engaged in. Instead of fire power, many Romanian commanders emphasized the soldier’s bravery, through frontal attacks by the infantry. In addition, of the 1.400 field guns, only 750 were quick-firing guns. Communications also suffered from the lack of field telephones and orders were transmitted with couriers, which took them hours to reach from the upper echelons to the frontlines. For a country that had more than 600 kilometres of border on the Carpathians, Romania had no mountain troops and had only two modern batteries and six outdated mountain artillery batteries. The opposing forces, the German Alpine Corps, the elite Württemberg mountain battalion and some Austrian mountain brigades were extremely well equipped and trained to fight in the mountains.
The lay-out of the army
The Romanian army had to cover a huge front: about 560.000 troops, of which 420.000 were on the Transylvanian front, covered more than 1.500 km. On the Western Front, on a 700-km stretch, the French and English had about four million men and on the 1500 km of the Russian front, from Riga to Vatra-Dornei, there were four million men.
Concerning the central command, the Romanian Army General Staff was divided into two sections: the stationary and the operative. The first was named the General Staff and remained in Bucharest and took over the administrative tasks. The second, called the Great General Headquarters, co-ordinated military operations and was moved to Periș, a village near Bucharest. Political appointments in the army would seriously affect the first month of the Romanian army campaign.
The mobilization and concentration of the Romanian army took place quite quickly. The army was divided into four armies, disposed as follows:
The Third Army was ordered in the south of the country, being commanded at the time by General Aslan.
The North Army, stationed in the Eastern Carpathians, on a 260-kilometer front, between Vatra-Dornei and Oituz, was commanded by General Constantin Prezan.
The Second Army covered the Carpathian Arch, on a 230-kilometer front, commanded by General Alexandru Averescu.
The First Army secured the left side of the Carpathian front, commanded by General Ioan Culcer.
Glenn E. Torrey, România în Primul Război Mondial [Romania in the First World War], Meteor Publishing House, Bucharest, 2014.
I.G. Duca, Memorii [Memories], vol. I, Expres Publishing House, Bucharest, 1992.
Henri Prost, Destinul României: (1918-1954) [The destiny of Romania: (1918-1954)], Compania Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006.
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.
Translated by Laurențiu Dumitru Dologa