The great battles of Mărăști, Mărășești and Oituz in the summer of 1917 had a significant impact on the Romanian forces, increasing the morale and confidence in their own strength. Romanian general Alexandru Averescu called the Battle of Mărăști “the first real victory of the modern Romanian army”, while the battle of Mărășești was its most significant victory in the First World War. However, these successes were jeopardized in the fall of 1917 by the collapse of the Russian army.
In the autumn of 1917, the Romanian army was in a good state, which made the leaders of the Entente increasingly optimistic about a positive development on the Romanian Front. The battle-hardened divisions were reinforced and strengthened, and the morale of the Romanian soldiers was excellent. The intelligence services of the Central Powers reported that the Romanian army retained its discipline and fighting strength. Romania’s big problem was caused by the state of the Russian army, which was increasingly affected by the spread of Bolshevik ideals. For this reason, a number of changes were made on the Romanian Front.
Thus, the Russian Fourth Army was withdrawn from between the Romanian First and Second armies. The Romanian troops were now occupying 120 km of the frontier, from the Uzul valley in the north to Suraia, in the south-east, on the Siret River. Even so, on the Romanian Front in September 1917, the Russian armies totalled 59 infantry divisions and eight cavalry divisions, but many of them were not at full strength and discipline was undermined by the Bolsheviks in their ranks.
The state of the Russian divisions was worrying, as they were not capable of any large-scale offensive actions and their defensive lines were increasingly disorganized The Russian reservists who arrived at the front, especially the young officers, brought with them more and more radical ideas. The increasing Bolshevik influence, pacifism, and disrespectful behaviour towards the superiors were all the more common.
The Brest-Litovsk armistice compelled Romania to cease the hostilities
On October 25, 1917 the Bolshevik Revolution began. On October 26, revolutionary authorities issued the “Decree on Peace”. The hopes of the Romanians, but also of France, the United Kingdom and the US to maintain the status quo on the Eastern Front during the winter of 1917-1918 were shattered by the Brest-Litovsk armistice on November 22/ December 5, 1917. The armistice would also seal the fate of the Romanian Front.
Romania was faced with a terrible choice. On one hand, it could continue the fighting on its own, which was nothing less but suicide. There were some Romanian politicians who supported resistance in the so-called “Triangle of Death” in Moldavia, but the outcome could only have been a retreat into Bolshevik Russia, hostile to the war and Romania.
On the other hand, an armistice would have inevitably led to a separate peace, but French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau had already warned that such a solution would jeopardize Romania’s war goals; Clemenceau, however, had confessed to the Romanian representative in Paris, Victor Antonescu, that “the fate of Romania brought tears to his eyes”.
In an extensive memo sent to the Allies (France and Great Britain) the Romanian Prime Minister, Ion I. C. Brătianu, analysed with great lucidity and realism the state of isolation in which Romania was placed as a result of Russia’s exit from the war. On the military level, the disorganization of the front, the impossibility for the Romanian army to take over the defence of all sectors, the superiority of the Central Powers, all of these were insurmountable obstacles for Romania. Moreover, Romania was now completely cut off from the Allies, which led to the impossibility of getting supplies of food and munitions, or using the reserves in different supply bases organized to the east of the Prut River.
The prime minister thus demonstrated that Romania faced the imminent danger of its occupation by the Central Powers if it did not accept the armistice. Brătianu added that, even under such conditions, there would be no change in Romania’s intentions and its relations with the Allies, as it was stated in the treaty and convention of August 1916, and that it reserved its right to re-enter the war as soon as the external conditions allowed it. Taking all these aspects into account, Romania had no other choice but to participate in the armistice talks at Focșani with the Central Powers. The armistice was signed on November 26 / December 9, 1918.
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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.
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Translated by Laurențiu Dumitru Dologa