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From Volume One, Issue Two, Fall 1996:

Erwin Rommel


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 Roumania.


Map 1

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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 guns.

None of the units were equipped for or trained in mountain warfare.

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 Transylvanian system.

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 theatres.

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 Turkey.

Situation as to Allied Military Support -- As to military support, the Allies promised the following:

  1. Energetic action on the part of the Russians; a Russian offensive in the Carpathians was to be started without delay.
  2. 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.
  3. Cooperation of the Russian Black Sea fleet.
  4. A minimum of 300 tons of munitions was to reach Roumania daily from Russia.
  5. General Sarrail in Salonica was to begin his offensive immediately upon Roumania's entry into the war.


Two general offensive plans of campaign were considered by the Roumanian authorities:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 -- another Alsace-Lorraine.

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- German forces.

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).


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 brigades.

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 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.

Map 2

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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 modern conditions.

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 cavalry.

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 fighting.

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 follows:

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.


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:

  1. The Second Army (16th, 4th, 22d and 12th Divisions) to cover the Buzau (east of Ploesti) -Ploesti-Targoviste oil region.
  2. 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.
  3. In the south, Joncavescu's group to act frontally against von Mackensen's Danube Army, as a holding and delaying force.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.


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 consequences.

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 strategic picture.

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 the remainder.

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 force.

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 directions.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 Roumanian forces.

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