From Volume One, Issue Two, Fall 1996:
THE ROUMANIAN CAMPAIGN
Editor's Note: This article is extracted from
Supplemental Material on the First World War published
in 1944 by the Department of Military Art and
Engineering, United State Military Academy, for the
instruction of cadets. It was based on lectures given
at the Command and general Staff School (now the
Command and General Staff College). It is re-printed
here in verbatim form, with no changes in spelling,
capitalization, etc. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's
memoir ATTACKS (Vienna, Virginia: Athena Press Inc.,
1979. ISBN 0-9602736-0-3) describes his experience as
a small unit commander on four fronts during the Great
War. One chapter is devoted to operations in
SITUATION IN AUGUST, 1916
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General Situation -- In 1916, as an inducement to Roumania to
enter the World War against Germany, the Allied Powers offered her the
territories of Bukovina (north of Moldavia) and the Transylvania-Banat
region (eastern Austria-Hungary), all of which contained a large
Roumanian population (Map 1). Motivated by this offer, by the
favorable Allied situation, by public opinion, the sympathies of Queen
Marie, and by various other contributing factors, Roumania declared
war on Austria on 27 August, 1916. On the following day Germany
declared war on Roumania. At this time the left of the Russian line
was opposed to the Austrians and Germans in the Carpathians near the
norther boundary of Roumania. The northwestern boundary of Roumania
extended from the Carpathian Mountains southward and westward along
the crest of the Transylvania Alps to Orsova on the Danube. From
Orsova to the east the Danube River formed the southern boundary of
Roumania to just west of Turtukai. From there the boundary ran
southeast to the Black Sea. The Central Powers had communications
with Turkey through Serbia and Bulgaria. An Allied force under
command of the French General Sarrail was at Salonika (northern
Greece) with the mission of pushing north to cut the communications
(including the Berlin-Belgrade-Constantinople-Bagdad railway) of the
Central Powers with Turkey.
The Roumanian Military Situation -- The participation of Roumania
in the war was necessarily bound up with the operations of the Allies,
particularly as regarded Russia; in addition, Roumania was dependent
on other than her own resources for a continuing supply of munitions
of war. Political conditions and Allied pressure dictated the early
launching of a large-scale offensive.
Since 1914, Roumania had greatly increased the size of her Army.
Its combat efficiency was adversely affected by a lack of competent
officers to organize and train the new units and by shortages in up-
to-date equipment, which she had been unable to manufacture herself or
secure from the nations at war.
Upon her entry into the war, Roumania had 20 infantry divisions
(each 20,000 to 25,000 men) with 3 more forming; 2 cavalry divisions;
and 5 home guard infantry brigades. The relative classification of
the infantry divisions was as follows: divisions 1 to 10 (the old
regular divisions), good; divisions 11 to 23, about equally divided
between mediocre and poor.
The Roumanian Army had no automatic rifles, light machine guns or
trench mortars; divisions 1 to 10 had 6 heavy machine guns per
regiment, divisions 11 to 15, only 2 per regiment, and divisions 16 to
23, none at all. Thus although the numerical strength of the infantry
battalion was 1000 to 1200 men, its fire power was actually inferior
to the far smaller German battalion.
No gas equipment, offensive or defensive, was on hand. There
were very few telephones, and other communication equipment was poor.
Her air forces were negligible in size and she had no antiaircraft
None of the units were equipped for or trained in mountain
Turtukai, Silistria, and Cernavoda, on the Danube in southwestern
Dodrudja, were fortresses of considerable strength. Braila, Galatz
and Bucharest were also fortified.
Terrain Features of the Theatre of Operations -- The fertile
plains of Roumania (the "Plains of the Danube") lie nestled among the
mountains which characterize the terrain of Bukovina, Transylvania,
and, to a lesser extent, that of Dodrudja and Bulgaria. Among the
crest of the Transylvanian Alps the frontier was in the shape of a
great arc, with a length of about 400 miles. These mountains to
between 8000 and 9000 feet, slope gradually toward the "Plains of the
Danube", with long spurs extending into Roumania, while on the
Transylvanian (Austro-Hungarian) side they break down very abruptly
into the valleys of the Aluta (also called Olt) and Maros Rivers.
This frontier mountain barrier is pierced by some fifteen passes
(including that of the Iron Gate, through which flows the Danube).
Through all these passes, except Vulcan Pass, ran good roads; the six
passes of the center group (Predeal to Oituz) all converge on
Kronstadt. Toward the north the most important pass is Ghimes Pass.
In addition to the roads through the passes there were a number of
trails across the mountains over which troops could move, but only
with considerable difficulty.
On the south, the Danube, navigable and with no permanent bridge
except at Cernavoda, is a formidable obstacle, although the various
islands afford facilities for assembling bridge material. The
Bulgarian bank throughout commands the Roumanian bank. In Dobrudja
the frontier between Bulgaria and Roumania was about 90 miles long.
The best defensive line against a force advancing from Bulgaria into
Dobrudja was along high ground about 10 miles south of and covering
the railroad between Cernavoda and Constanza, on the Black Sea. The
fortress of Silistria was connected by a pontoon bridge with the north
bank of the Danube.
Railroads -- The Roumania railway system left much to be desired
for use in defensive operations along the Roumanian borders or for use
in offensive operations into Transylvania or Bulgaria. Because of the
long spurs of the mountains extending into the "Plains of the Danube"
near the northwestern frontier, few lateral rail communications
existed near that border. In western Wallachia (western Roumania),
rail lines approaching the Transylvania Alps and the Danube not only
were few and widely separated, but also all rail communication from
Bucharest to the west of the north-south line Pitesti-Zimnicea had to
pass through the railroad junction at Pitesti. Between Ploesti and
Pitesti six lines ran toward the northwestern frontier; one of these
ran through Predeal Pass to Kronstadt and western Transylvania.
Through Moldavia (northeastern Roumania) were two lines parallel to
the Transylvanian frontier, with but few lines feeding toward the
border. In the Danube area east of Giurgevo was but one main lateral
line, Bucharest-Cernavoda (a possible lateral line was Bucharest-
Ploesti-Fetesti), the Dobrudja area being mainly dependent on this
line for shipments from north of the Danube. After war was declared,
shipments from outside sources had to originate or pass through
Russia, so that Roumania was dependent for such shipments on the
railroads running from Russia and on the railroad line leading from
her Black Sea port of Constanza.
In contrast to the Roumanian railway system was the compact one
in Transylvania, consisting of a lateral lined forming an interior
circle to the Transylvanian Alps near the border and several lines
running into the interior of this circle. On the other hand, the
interruption of the railroad junctions north of Czik Szerada, at
Kronstadt, and at Hermanstadt would cut the rail traffic facilities of
the Central Powers close to the border.
To cite a concrete instance of the general effect of the railway
systems on the concentration and movement of troops along the
Transylvanian border, the distance from Predeal Pass to Red Tower Pass
the Roumanian railways was 270 miles as compared to 80 miles by the
Situation of the Enemy -- The enemy situation as known to the
Roumanian general staff at the outbreak of war was as stated below.
On the Transylvanian frontier there were not more than 100,000
enemy troops, composed largely of five tired Austrian divisions, in
poor condition, that had been sent to this area to reform and
recuperate. It was believed that ultimately Roumania would have to
contend with a considerable number of German divisions on the
northwestern front, although the Allies stated that they hoped to hod
German divisions elsewhere by continuing their offensives in the other
Concerning the souther front, it was possible that Bulgaria would
declare war on Roumania shortly after the latter's entry into the war.
On this front were two or three good bulgarian divisions together with
four cavalry brigades and a part of one German division, in all about
90,000 men. There was a possibility that this front might be
reinforced by one or two divisions from the Salonica area or from
Situation as to Allied Military Support -- As to military
support, the Allies promised the following:
- Energetic action on the part of the Russians; a Russian offensive in the Carpathians was to be started without delay.
- Two Russian infantry divisions and one Russian cavalry division were to be sent into Dobrudja at once and more troops were to follow later, if necessary.
- Cooperation of the Russian Black Sea fleet.
- A minimum of 300 tons of munitions was to reach Roumania daily from Russia.
- General Sarrail in Salonica was to begin his offensive immediately upon Roumania's entry into the war.
PLANS OF CAMPAIGN CONSIDERED BY ROUMANIA
Two general offensive plans of campaign were considered by the
- To conduct a major offensive to the south into Bulgaria, holding defensively elsewhere, the objective being to overwhelm Bulgaria and to join with Sarrail at Salonica.
- To conduct a major offensive into Transylvania, holding defensively elsewhere.
The advantages of a successful offensive to the south into
Bulgaria, holding defensively elsewhere, would be very great for the
Allies and, indirectly, for Roumania. If Bulgaria could be
eliminated, Germany's communications with Turkey would be cut; the
difficult problem of supply both to Russia and Roumania would be
solved by joining up with General Sarrail and by the consequent
opening of routes from the Mediterranean; and the Allies' heavy
liabilities in eastern theaters, including Salonica, could soon be
liquidated. A successful advance into Bulgaria might finish the war;
it promised advantages which the British Gallipoli campaign had
sought. The approaches into Bulgaria were not as difficult as those
in Transylvania, and, conversely, the terrain in northern Roumania
lent itself better to defensive operations than did that in the south.
The alternate plan, to conduct a major offensive into
Transylvania while holding defensively elsewhere, was very attractive
to Roumania. By advancing to the chord of the arc formed by the
Roumanian frontier, the front would be shortened by over 100 miles.
The important railroad system would come into Roumanian possession or
be denied to the Central Powers. The barrier of the Carpathians would
be turned and the Russian forces would be thereby assisted their
forward movement. Politically, Roumania desired possession of
Transylvania when the war ended. Psychologically, and advance into
Transylvania would be popular with both the Army and the people, for
Transylvania, from the Roumanian point of view, was a lost province --
A very real disadvantage to this plan was the difficulty of
staging a major offensive through the mountain barrier of the
Transylvanian Alps and of maintaining the forces so employed, in view
of the opposition to be expected from readily concentrated Austro-
The Roumanian decision was to conduct a major offensive with
three armies into Transylvania, holding defensively elsewhere. Russia
was to continue her offensive in the Carpathians upon the start of the
Roumanian offensive, and was also to send two infantry divisions and
one cavalry division to Dobrudja. General Sarrail was to start his
offensive in the Salonica area.
The order of battle from north to south was:
- Fourth Army (3 infantry divisions and 1 cavalry division in front line, 1 infantry division in reserve; total strength, 107,000).
- Second Army (4 infantry divisions and 1 cavalry division in front line, 2 infantry divisions in reserve; total strength, 126,000).
- First Army (3 infantry divisions in the front line, 3 in reserve; total strength, 135,000).
In the south, the third Army (142,000) had the mission of holding
Dobrudja and covering the Danube. Three of its divisions were holding
the line of the Danube and three were left to guard Dobrudja (one at
Turtukai, one at Silistria, and one at Constanza). The promised
Russian reinforcement of 2 infantry divisions and 1 cavalry division
was expected in the Dobrudja area.
A general reserve of 2 divisions and some heavy artillery (total
strength, about 50,000) was located near Bucharest.
The Roumanians moved promptly to carry out their offensive. On
the night of 27-28 August, they advanced three armies simultaneously
into Transylvania on a broad front of some 300 miles, pivoting on the
First Army (on the left).
PLAN AND OPENING MOVES, CENTRAL POWERS
Bulgaria declared war on Roumania on 1 September. General von
Mackensen commanded the force in Bulgaria, which consisted of three
Bulgarian divisions, four brigades of cavalry, and part of a German
division. He moved at once against the Roumanian forces in Dobrudja
in order to create a diversion away from the Transylvanian theater,
where additional forces (5 German and 2 Austrian divisions) were
meanwhile to be concentrated.
Mackensen's plan was to attack Turtukai with two divisions and to
use the remainder of his forces to hold off the other troops in that
area. As soon as he made his attack, Roumanian GHQ started moving
reserves from near Bucharest and pushed a division across the Danube
into Turtukai to reinforce its garrison of one division. Mackensen
was well equipped with heavy artillery and had balloons and planes to
assist in adjusting fire. On 6 September Turtukai surrendered its
garrison of 25,000 men and 100 guns. Three days later Silistria was
abandoned, and in a short time the Roumanian forces were driven back
to the high ground just south of the Constanza-Cernavoda railroad.
By the end of September, von Mackensen's forces had been
increased by two Turkish divisions and one division from the Salonican
front, making a total of about six infantry divisions and four cavalry
General von Falkenhayn arrived in Transylvania on 18 September to
take over command of the Ninth Army. His first move was to contain
the advancing Roumanian forces in Transylvania with as few troops as
possible, while he attacked their left (west) flank with all other
available means. By late September the Roumanian First and Second
Armies were maintaining a stout resistance to the von Falkenhayn
attack. To the north the fourth Army had made some progress against
the Austrians on Falkenhayn's left.
THE ROUMANIAN RAHOVO OFFENSIVE
The Roumanians held a council of war. General Averescu, new
commander for the southern front, insisted that the proper plan was to
cross over the Danube behind von Mackensen and destroy him. General
Presan, commander of the norther group of armies moving into
Transylvania, insisted on carrying out the original plan of
operations. The final decision was an unhappy compromise -- to carry
out both offensives. At this time the isolated Roumanian columns were
moving into Transylvania. Now all of their reserves were to be taken
away for use south of the Danube.
The plan was to cross a force to the south of the Danube on
pontoon bridges at Rahovo (about 20 miles west of Turtukai) and operate
against the rear and line of communications of von Mackensen; at the
same time to start an advance south in Dobrudja to hold von
Mackensen's forces on the front south of the Constanza-Cernavoda
railroad. For this operation the crossing force, under Roumanian
command (General Averescu), was to consist of five infantry and one
cavalry divisions. The force in the Dobrudja was to consist of six
Roumanian and two Russian (one actually consisted of Serbians)
infantry divisions and one Russian cavalry division, all under Russian
command (General Zaionchkovsky). The two forces were to operate
independently, and the operation was to commence on 1 October. Some
Austrian monitors (gunboats) were known to be in the Danube west of
Orsova. Roumania had no boats which could effectively oppose them.
To furnish troops for the crossing at Rahovo all forces on the
northwestern front were forced to take up the defensive in the face of
Falkenhayn's attack. Nevertheless, the attack at Rahovo was a
failure, due to hostile opposition, a sudden flood, and the necessity
of withdrawing troops to the north because of reverses in
Transylvania. By the third week in October von Mackensen had taken
Constanza. Leaving half his army to defend the conquered territory by
an entrenched line from the Danube to the sea, he brought the
remaining force, strengthened by a Turkish division and an additional
Bulgarian division, south of the Danube near Sistova.
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SITUATION 26 NOVEMBER (MAP 2)
On 10 November, General von Falkenhayn, having received
reinforcements of 5 infantry and 2 cavalry divisions, launched an
attack against the Roumanian First Army, with the decisive effort
through Szurduk and Vulcan Passes. These passes were forced, and
toward the end of November the right of the Ninth Army had advanced
into western Wallachia, pushing the Roumanian forces on its front to
the east of the Aluta River. All bridges across that river, except
that at Stoenesti, were destroyed by the Roumanians. The German
cavalry seized the bridge at Stoenesti and pushed on to the east.
Von Mackensen started crossing the Danube at Sistova on 23
November. In spite of reports of von Mackensen's concentration at
Sistova, the Roumanians made only feeble efforts with second-rate
troops to prevent the crossing; consequently the Roumanian defense is
no criterion of the possibilities of the defense of a river line under
By 26 November von Falkenhayn's Ninth Army had reached a
favorable position. At Bran Pass, Morgen's four divisions were making
little progress, but their attack there had pinned the Roumanian
Second Army in place.
Farther to the west, at Red Tower Pass, von Dellmensingen's three
and a half divisions were making progress against resistance offered
by the right of the Roumanian First Army, but had not yet cleared the
mountains. As in the case of Morgen's action against the Second Army,
Dellmensingen's forces had succeeded in holding the right wing of the
Roumanian First Army well to the north while Falkenhayn's main attack
moved to envelop its south flank.
Kuhne's five infantry divisions of the Ninth Army's main attack
were disposed along the general line of the Aluta River. The 109th
Division was well across the Aluta. The 11th Bavarian Division was
following the 109th; the 301st and 41st Divisions were having
considerable difficulty in crossing to the east of the Aluta River;
the 115th Division was about one day's march to the west of the river,
marching on Stoenesti. The group as a whole was in an excellent
position to turn the left flank of the First Army.
The 6th Division of von Schmettow's cavalry corps had gained
contact with the Roumanians at Rose de Vede. The 7th Division was
covering the left flank of the 109th Division's advance against the
left flank of the Roumanian First Army.
By this date Mackensen's forces (4 infantry divisions and 1
cavalry division) were north of the Danube, along a general line
extending from Giurgevo about 30 miles westward. His cavalry division
covered his left flank and had established contact with Falkenhayn's
The total force of the Central Powers operating in and toward the
Wallachian area was thus about 17 infantry and 3 cavalry divisions.
Practically all these were good, experienced divisions. Those in
Kuhne's force were tired, due to their continued marching and
General Presan, former commander of the Fourth Army which had
successfully held the passes in the north, arrived at GHQ and took
command of all the Roumanian forces on 26 November. The situation of
the Roumanian forces on the Wallachian front at that time was as
The Second Army (four divisions) was successfully holding the
southern exits of Predeal and Bran Passes.
The First Army was delaying, with three divisions (14th, 13th,
and 8th), the hostile advance through the mountains northwest of
Pitesti: and delaying with two combined divisions (the 2d/5th and
1st/17th -- a number of divisions, due to losses, having been so
combined) the advance of the enemy east of the Aluta River. The 1st
Cavalry Division was covering the left of the First Army.
In the south, Joncavescu's group, consisting of one division
(18th) and some odd brigades of infantry, with some cavalry, was
delaying the advance of von Mackensen's force toward Bucharest.
Reserves were located as follows:
- 11th, 23d, and 10th Divisions--reforming near Targoviste.
- 9th/19th Division--east of Titu.
- 21st Division--southwest of Bucharest.
- 2d Cavalry Division--southeast of Bucharest.
7th Division, from the northwest, would shortly become available.
The Russians promised to make available on this front their 30th
and 40th Divisions and 8th Cavalry Division, which were along the
Danube east of Turtukai.
Including the Russian troops promised, there were available, or
would be available shortly, for operations on the Wallachian front
about 16 or 17 infantry divisions (not including the 11th and 23d
Divisions, which were not yet reformed) and 3 cavalry divisions. The
9th/19th and 21st Divisions and 2d Cavalry Division were in good
condition: the divisions on the front were tired and considerably
depleted in strength; the remaining divisions were reforming and were
in fair condition.
GENERAL PRESAN'S PLAN
Based on the situation on 26 November, General Presan decided to
hold defensively against von Falkenhayn and turn at once to attack von
Mackensen while Falkenhayn was still beyond supporting distance. To
that end, General Presan drew up the following plan of operations for
an attack 1 December:
- The Second Army (16th, 4th, 22d and 12th Divisions) to cover the Buzau (east of Ploesti) -Ploesti-Targoviste oil region.
- The First Army (14th, 13th, 8th and 1st/17th Divisions and 1st Cavalry Division) to delay von Dellmensingen and the 301st Division, gradually falling back to the line Costesti-Pitesti.
- In the south, Joncavescu's group to act frontally against von Mackensen's Danube Army, as a holding and delaying force.
- The 1st and 2d Cavalry Divisions to cover the gap (initially about 30 miles wide, but which would tend to decrease as the First and Second Armies fell back) between the First Army and Joncavescu's group.
- A "mass of maneuver" consisting of the 2d/5th (then on the First Army front), 9th/19th, and 21st Divisions to attack von Mackensen's left flank from the north; at the same time the Russians (the 30th and 40th Divisions and 8th Cavalry Division) to attack von Mackensen's right.
- The 7th and 10th Divisions (not immediately available) to be in general reserve.
General Presan was unsuccessful in his efforts to strike an
effective blow against Mackensen. His attack drove back and cut off
part of Mackensen's force, but before the attack could be pushed home,
Falkenhayn's Ninth Army advanced, quickly closed the weakly held gap
between him and Mackensen, and then struck the Roumanian "mass of
maneuver" in flank and rear. Outflanked on both northern and southern
fronts, and their communications to Bucharest threatened, all the
Roumanian armies were force back. They made a stand in front of
Bucharest, but after a brief and hopeless struggle in the face of the
superior German power, the Roumanians gave up their capital on 3
December. Badly demoralized, the remnants of the Roumanian Army
retreated toward the Russian frontier, while newly arrived Russians
took over the front. The Germans forced the line back to the Sereth
River (Map 1) in early January. Further attacks ceased and the front
stabilized along the river line.
COMMENTS AND DISCUSSION
The principal criticism of the Roumanian conduct of the campaign
applies to its initial conception. In the first place, in the words
of Winston Churchill, "The golden opportunity for which Roumania had
long watched for had not only come, it had gone." Her prospects for
success would have been much brighter had she entered the fight in
June or July, 1916, so that her attacks could have been coordinated
with the Brusilov offensives. At that time most of the Austrian
reserves were on the Italian front. An attack then, coordinated with
the Somme attack, while the main German effort was concentrated on
Verdun, might have made the situation of the Central Powers critical.
But by September Brusilov's offensive was spent, and the pressure had
likewise been relieved on the other fronts, so that the Germans were
able to throw a strong force against Roumania.
In the second place, the Roumanian High Command permitted itself
to give in to popular demand and made its primary objective the
territorial and political one of advancing into Transylvania, instead
of basing the campaign upon military considerations and selecting a
plan which would best insure the defeat of the hostile armies. The
successful seizure of Transylvania could have had an offensive from
Dobrudja, threatening the Orient Railway and timed with a similar
offensive from Salonika, could have had far-reaching strategic
Moreover, the terrain favored such a plan. The Transylvanian
Alps offered defensive advantages which would have permitted great
economy of force there, releasing troops for an offensive to the
south. By the same token, the selection of mountainous country for an
offensive was faulty. The Roumanian army was not trained in mountain
warfare, and their numerical superiority could not be used to the best
advantage in narrow defiles, with lines of supply drawn out through
narrow passes and into difficult country. On the other hand, the
open country south of the Danube was better suited to offensive
operations tactically, as well as fitting more soundly into the
Even accepting the Roumanian decision for an offensive into
Transylvania, numerous faults were committed both in planning and
execution. The First, Second, and Fourth Armies, from left to right,
were all to advance simultaneously on fronts proportionate to their
strengths. This approximately even distribution of troops along the
entire front of some 300 miles provided for no decisive effort. In
view of the breadth of front involved, the armies were in danger of
defeat in detail, which is what actually happened. In effect, the
initial operation was more in the nature of a forward concentration of
the Roumanian armies on the far side of a difficult mountain range
than an offensive. Such a concentration requires highly trained
subordinate commanders and is always dangerous, especially if, as in
this case, the columns are widely separated, are advancing where
serious opposition may be encountered before concentration is
complete, and are not backed up by reserves sufficient to prevent
defeat in detail. Furthermore, the Roumanian movements were not
vigorous enough after the passes had been cleared -- partially a
result of the withdrawing of forces for the faulty division of effort
in the diversion across the Danube on 1 October.
The offensive along the 400-mile northwestern frontier (Orsova to
Tolgyes Pass) should have been made with a decisive effort against one
part of the front, secondary or defensive missions being assigned to
From the standpoint of railroad transportation, a decisive effort
in the west (Orsova to Szurduk Pass) would have been very
unsatisfactory, since but one lateral line led to this area from the
interior, via Pitesti and Craiova; this line also had to supply troops
in the west along the Danube. Near the center of the northwestern
frontier two lines ran into Transylvania, through Predeal and Red
Tower Passes; also in this area several other lines ran northward
toward the frontier. Thus the front Predeal Pass-Red Tower pass would
have been very satisfactory from a railroad viewpoint. To serve the
northern part of the Transylvania front, two lateral lines were
available; however, there was but one line running into Transylvania
and no other lines, except that from Buzau, leading toward the border.
In view of the above, a decisive effort along the Predeal Pass-Red
Tower Pass front would have been the most satisfactory in so far as
concerned railroad transportation.
A decisive effort in the north would not have been without merit;
however, should the Russian offensive in the Carpathians have failed,
an advance into Transylvania would have been liable to expose the
right flank of the Roumanian force. Due to a lack of passes, a
decisive effort in the west (Orsova to Szurduk Pass) would have been
very undesirable; also, the western flank of a force moving north from
this area would have been difficult to protect. For the above
reasons, the Orsova-Szurduk Pass part of the front should have been
held defensively. In order to conform to the proposed Russian advance
in the Carpathians, effect surprise, and cover the right flank of the
decisive effort in the center, particularly if the Russian offensive
should fail, a secondary effort should have been made in the north.
If, then, the decision had been to conduct a major offensive into
Transylvania, making the decisive effort on the Kronstadt-Hermanstadt
front, with a secondary effort on the right of the decisive effort in
the vicinity of Ghimes Pass and with a defensive sector from the left
of the decisive effort to the Danube, what should have been done on
the Roumanian souther frontier?
In the Roumanian plan, the Third Army had the mission of holding
Dobrudja and covering the Danube. Three divisions were placed along
the Danube and three in Dobrudja -- one holding Turtukai, one
silistria, and one Constanza. As it turned out, the division holding
Turtukai, and one division sent there from general reserve,
surrendered to von Mackensen. Silistria was then abandoned. The wide
spreading out of the forces in Dobrudja indicated an attempt to hold
everything. Roumanian forces were inadequate for such a purpose. In
war an effort to be safe everywhere is liable to result in being safe
nowhere. Here the important consideration was to keep open the
railroad to Constanza on the Black Sea, a vital supply line for
munitions. The broad Danube River provided a substantial protective
obstacle for the rest of the southern frontier.
For political purposes, and to gain time, it would have been
desirable to fight an initial delaying action along the souther border
of Dobrudja, falling back from the frontier northward to the high
ground just south of and covering the Constanza-Cernavoda railroad.
This line should have been prepared as a final defensive position for
prolonged and determined defense of the railroad. Meanwhile, the
north bank of the Danube, from Dobrudja to Orsova, should have been
held lightly, with particular attention to the most favorable points
for crossing, and local reserves located at various points back of the
river to support the troops observing the river line, to move to
threatened points, and to develop any enemy attempts to cross. No
attempt should have been made to hold the long line of the Danube in
The Roumanians should not have tried to hold the forts at
Turtukai and Silistria. Each lacked an effective and sure line of
communication with the north bank of the Danube. They ran the almost
certain danger of being invested and their garrison immobilized or
captured. Nothing was to be gained by attempting to hold these
isolated forts, and the futility of such action has been demonstrated
time and again.
The Roumanians made an excellent and obvious choice in placing a
general reserve of 5 divisions and heavy artillery near Bucharest. An
effort was being made to cover two fronts of great extent. The widely
separated northern and southern forces were not readily capable of
mutual support. It was therefore necessary to have available a
general reserve which could be used to reinforce the decisive effort
or critical points on the defensive fronts as the situation developed.
Bucharest was centrally located and had rail lines leading in several
The strategic plans of the Central Powers for the operations
against Roumania were sound. By letting Roumania become committed and
involved in Transylvania before launching their attacks, they
furthered the chances of success of the Mackensen attack on vital
strategic areas and the Roumanian rear, as well as paving the way for
Falkenhayn's proposed envelopment, by drawing forward the main enemy
armies toward the northwest. The advantages of unified command,
coordinated operations, and selection of sound objectives, the
attainment of which would result in knockout blows to the enemy, were
evident on the German side throughout the campaign.
The Roumanian plan for the crossing south of the Danube at Rahovo
on 1 October is considered unsound for the following reasons:
- The two forces taking part in the operation (the force
making the crossing and that on the Dobrudja front) were separated by
some 70 miles, and initially by the obstacle of the Danube, thus
making cooperation and coordination between the two forces a task of
great difficulty. Efforts at cooperation were negatived by poor
communications and by not having the two forces under one commander.
- Troops were drawn away from the northwestern front at a time
when it was important to build up that front. The offensive in the
north was thereby stopped.
- Pontoon bridges were relied upon for the crossing, but in
view of the air supremacy of the Central Powers and the gunboats of
the Austrians there was considerable danger that the bridges would be
destroyed before the entire force had crossed or that, once across,
the line of communications of the force would be cut.
When the Roumanian forces found that they were unable to hold
Transylvania and were being driven back to the mountains, sound action
on their part would have been to concentrate a large central reserve
east of the mountains, hold the mountain passes lightly, with
sufficient local reserves to develop the German attack, and then
strike a counter blow when the German main force was still only
partially across the mountains.
Considering the situation on 26 November, the basic decision of
General Presan is believed to have been generally sound. The
Roumanian forces were in close contact with the enemy and the
situation was not conducive to the organization of a defensive
position all along the front. Von Mackensen's force, now across the
Danube, was drawing close to the important city of Bucharest; however,
he was isolated and too far advanced for support from the Ninth Army.
The Roumanians could not possibly win, or save the situation, by
remaining passively on the defense everywhere. Defeat could be
prevented only by prompt and vigorous action, if at all. There was no
chance of success against the Ninth Army at this time, especially with
von Mackensen on the Roumanian rear, so close to the vital centers of
the country. But an opportunity did exist to strike von Mackensen
while he was exposed and unsupported. A successful maneuver might
have driven him back against the Danube. Therefore, General Presan's
plan of holding the Ninth Army (von Falkenhayn), while attacking and
defeating von Mackensen's Army, was the only sound choice available,
and afforded an opportunity for a decisive victory provided the
execution of the plan could be assured.
The forces allotted to the First and Second Armies and to
Joncavescu's group were probably adequate to provide a reasonable
chance of successful accomplishment of their holding and delaying
missions. However, the force allotted to cover the gap between the
First Army and Joncavescu's group was not adequate for such a mission.
The Roumanian holding force of two cavalry divisions was so inferior
in combat strength and efficiency to the German force which could be
moved to oppose it that the defenders could have little hope of giving
proper protection to the right flank of the "mass of maneuver".
Within a few days von Falkenhayn could move two cavalry divisions (6th
and 7th) and two to four infantry divisions (109th, 11th, 41st and
115th) into this gap; such a threat against only two cavalry divisions
spread over a front 20 to 30 miles wide constituted a weakness in
General Presan's plan. Although the composition of the "mass of
maneuver" was probably only barely adequate for the accomplishment of
its mission, it was the best obtainable from Roumanian sources. The
fact that one of its units, the 2d/5th Division, had to march from the
First Army, a distance of between 40 and 50 miles, was a handicap.
In view of the available Roumanian forces and the superior combat
qualities of the German forces, it is difficult to suggest much
improvement in General Presan's plan, other than to correct the
deficiency noted above. One solution would have been to increase the
forces holding the gap and strengthen the "mass of maneuver" by the
employment of the two Russian infantry divisions and the one cavalry
division on the right, instead of on the left, of Joncavescu's force,
especially since they could have done little against Mackensen's
right, which was well protected by the Danube. However, Russian and
Roumanian coordination and collaboration were not of the best. An
alternate plan, favored by the Russians, was to remain on the
defensive, utilizing the river lines, while awaiting the German attack
or the Russian counteroffensive in Transylvania, whichever came first.
This plan did not appeal to the Roumanians because it gave up
Roumanian territory and would permit the enemy to concentrate his
forces against them. Their previous experiences on the defensive
against massed attacks by the enemy with his superior artillery and
more efficient divisions were not encouraging. On the other hand, the
Roumanians believed that an attack on von Mackensen provided an
opportunity to defeat the enemy in detail before he could concentrate
his entire strength. In general, the plan adopted was strategically
the best afforded by the existing situation, the strengthening of the
forces allotted to the gap on Joncavescu's right being about the only
important and desirable change it would have been practical to make.
General Presan's attack of 1 December, though sound under the
existing conditions and probably the only possible chance for success
at that late hour, was doomed to failure by the tremendous advantages
the German commanders then possessed, both in strategic position and
quality of arms. The Roumanians had lost their original advantages of
terrain and initiative; freedom of action no longer existed for them.
The enemy forces were both across the Danube and inside the
Transylvanian Alps, threatening a complete envelopment of the