Primary Documents - German Report on the Romanian Campaign, March 1917
Romania's entry into the war had not been well-timed. She had misjudged the date of entry on three counts. She had received a pledge of Russian military support and consequently believed her northern frontier secure; she had believed Russia when the latter assured Romania of continued Bulgarian neutrality, thus removing the need for Romania to defend her Bulgarian frontier; and finally she had assumed that Germany was too extended on the Western Front to lend military assistance to the Austro-Hungarians in the east.
Romania was to be proven wrong in each of these assumptions, with disastrous consequences.
New German Army Chief of Staff Paul von Hindenburg consequently despatched August von Mackensen to assist the Bulgarians with their own military preparations. With a combined German-Bulgarian-Turkish force he attacked Romania along her exposed southern border. In response Romania hurriedly detached forces from her attack on the Hungarian province of Transylvania, inevitably weakening her strength there.
At this stage a German force appeared in Hungary and threw back the Romanian army at Hatzeg on 19 September 1916. A third German force attacked through eastern Transylvania and took the Romanian forces from behind, seizing control of the mountainous Romanian border. The Romanians eventually managed to beat a retreat to their own country in the face of heavy losses.
The German-led attacks continued into October from north and south, capturing the sole Romanian seaport of Constanza on 22 October 1916. With belated Russian assistance the German advance was slowed, but von Falkenhayn crucially captured Tirgujiulij on 17 November 1916 and, meeting up with von Mackensen's forces, progressively seized increasing areas of Romania.
Reproduced below is von Wollman's semi-official German statement based on the early fighting. Click here to read von Mackensen's triumphant announcement to his troops dated 3 March 1917.
Semi-Official German Statement of von Wollman on the Early Fighting
The Rumanian declaration of war against Austro.-Hungary on August 27, 1916, was followed on the next day by a declaration of war against Rumania by Germany. On August 29th, General von Falkenhayn was transferred from his position as Chief of the General Staff for "service elsewhere."
In his new capacity as commander of the Ninth Army, von Falkenhayn immediately marched against the Rumanians who had crossed the mountains into Transylvania, drove them back, and during September wrested from them the Szurduk, Vulcan, and Red Tower passes.
During October the Rumanians, helped by the Russians, put up a desperate resistance to von Falkenhayn's further advance, and the month was spent in heavy fighting with victory first for one side, then the other.
In the meantime, immediately after war was declared on Rumania by Turkey and Bulgaria, Mackensen had gone to Bulgaria and thence led an army composed of German, Bulgarian, and Turkish units from the Varna-Rustchuk line over the border into Rumania by way of the Dobrudja.
Under the delusion that Bulgaria would not declare war against her and might even break with the Central Powers, Rumania had sent the bulk of her forces to the Transylvanian frontier, leaving the Bulgarian front, except for some Russian reinforcements, weakly held. This mistake, made at the very beginning of the campaign, affected the whole course of the struggle, and after Mackensen's success in the Dobrudja, could never be retrieved.
Mackensen's object, which was to occupy the Dobrudja and thus block the Russians from their shortest road to Constantinople, was accomplished in a comparatively short time. One smashing blow after another was delivered against the allied Russians and Rumanians.
The bridgehead at Tutrakan on the Danube was attacked on September 4th, and captured on the 6th, at a cost to the enemy of 22,000 men. On the day that Tutrakan fell, a Rumanian division hurrying to the rescue was routed at Sarsinlar by the west wing of Mackensen's army, which subsequently took 30,000 prisoners and much war material.
On the eastern wing furious Russian attacks in the region of Dobritch led to heavy fighting. This ended on September 7th with the complete defeat of three Russian-Rumanian-Serbian divisions. As a result the Rumanians voluntarily evacuated Silistria, and, pursued vigorously by Mackensen, retreated along the whole front in a northerly direction.
Between Lake Oltina and Mangalia the arrival of four fresh Rumanian divisions and some additional help frown the Russians enabled the fleeing enemy to make a stand, but his resistance was broken in a few days, and on September 14th he was driven back to the general line Cuzgun-Cara Omar, forty kilometres north of Dobritch.
Here also his stay was short. Beaten almost to annihilation, he soon continued his flight to prepared positions between Rashova, Cobadin, and Tuzla, twenty kilometres south of the old Trajan wall and the railroad from Cernavoda to Constantza via Megidia.
On this line he was able to stand under the protection of Rumanian regiments drawn from Transylvania and of Russian troops sent by sea to Constantza.
As announced in the communiqués of September 20th and 21st, the battle now came to a standstill. After the line was stabilized, the Bulgarians, who had particularly distinguished themselves on the east wing, erected on their front as a threat to the Russians and a sign of their own confidence a huge placard bearing the inscription "Mackensen leads us."
The results of Mackensen's victorious progress up to this point were important. Eight Rumanian divisions had been taken prisoner or terribly shattered; the Russian forces sent to aid Rumania had been so often defeated that their fighting power was badly shaken; and positions on the lower Danube flanking Wallachia and the national capital had been won.
In addition, any invasion of the southern Dobrudja by the enemy had been rendered impossible, and his main army on the Transylvanian front had been weakened by the withdrawal of troops which it could ill spare. These were now shut up behind Trajan's wall. The Rumanians were compelled to wage war upon three fronts.
Before undertaking further operations, Mackensen's army needed time to repair the losses which had been incident to the delivery of its mighty blows and to replenish its war material. Heavy artillery, in particular, was required for the reduction of the enemy's strongly fortified position, and this could be brought up only with the greatest difficulty owing to the lack of good rearward lines of communication.
The enemy, on the other hand, had the advantage of the railroad which ran behind his front.
The Rumanians used the pause in the battle to make a feeble attempt in the first days of October to cross the Danube farther up and fall upon our army from the rear. As an inadequate force was detailed for the venture - some fifteen battalions of infantry without artillery support - and Rahovo, the place chosen for the crossing, was midway between our two points of support at Tutrakan and Rustchuk, the undertaking failed completely.
A German-Bulgarian force sent hurriedly up from Tutrakan practically annihilated the attacking battalions. The few who got back to the north bank of the river fled to Bucharest, where they caused a panic among the inhabitants.
During October the battle for the passes on the Hungarian border developed steadily in our favour, but no military events in the Dobrudja were reported until the twentieth. After that, there were frequent bulletins about the war of position on the Trajan line, where both sides were extremely active.
Each day brought new successes to Mackensen's army. One after another the enemy's points of support, including Constantza, the chief Rumanian seaport, fell into our hands, until a break through and enveloping movement put us in possession of Cernavoda and the whole Russian-Rumanian position.
Communication between Wallachia and the sea by way of Constantza was cut. That the Rumanians despaired of restoring the line was proved by their blowing up the great bridge across the Danube west of Cernavoda.
After being driven out of the Trajan line, the enemy was pushed farther and farther into the northern corner of the Dobrudja. Finally, however, he received reinforcements from the hinterland over pontoon bridges and reached prepared defences, where he compelled us to settle down again to a war of position.
When events had reached this stage, that is, on November 24th, the telegraph gave out this brief but highly significant piece of news: "Forces from Mackensen's army group have crossed the Danube in several places."
The plans for this undertaking were so well thought out and the cooperation of the different groups so carefully and secretly arranged that it was carried out almost without losses. In the misty early morning of November 23rd the advance party gathered at several places in the vicinity of Svistov and set out upon the river, which at this point is nearly two kilometres wide.
The enemy on the north bank was taken completely by surprise. There was therefore no interruption to the transference, on pontoons and barges towed by motor boats, of additional infantry and some batteries, who built up the position into something like a bridgehead.
On November 24th, under the protection of these forces, the construction of a bridge capable of bearing the heavy artillery was begun; in twenty-two hours it was finished, and on November 25th, at five o'clock in the morning, the bridge was open to traffic.
As soon as the penetration of the Danube front was an accomplished fact, Mackensen's German-Bulgarian-Turkish army could cooperate closely with von Falkenhayn's Ninth Army, which was advancing from the boundary passes of the north and west.
The despairing attempts of Russian and Rumanian divisions to hold off or to turn aside the fate that threatened, availed them nothing, in spite of their great sacrifices. After the decisive three-day battle on the Argesh the capital of Rumania surrendered without a struggle.
On December 6th, his birthday, Field-Marshal von Mackensen entered Bucharest amid the joyful greetings of the liberated German and Austro-Hungarian inhabitants and of the Rumanians who were friendly to Germany.
From now on the Field Marshal drove the fleeing enemy ever farther to the eastward between the Danube and the mountains. Bands of Bulgarians crossed the river at Tutrakan on December 8th, and at Fetesti on the 14th, and thrust at the enemy's flank.
The fortified positions on the Jalomitza, on the Buzeu, and on the Putna could not halt our invincible troops. At Nanesti-Fundeni on the line of the Sereth and at Braila-Vadeni the Russians lost great numbers in dead, wounded, and prisoners.
Their efforts were vain. Cooperation between Mackensen's army and that of the Archduke Joseph, who was driving the Russians out of the mountains into the Moldavian plain, was perfect. Not until the winter cold had a paralyzing effect on friend and foe did the fighting slacken.
During the winter the two opposing armies were entrenched in Wallachia and Moldavia on both sides of the Sereth and its right hand tributaries, and in the Dobrudja on both sides of the branches of the Danube.
Their advanced posts and artillery clashed occasionally in minor engagements. Galatz, the important point of support of the enemy's wing, was constantly bombarded by our heavy artillery.
The Sereth marked a goal beyond which our army command did not mean to go; for the critical point of the War was no longer to be found in Rumania. The danger there had been obliterated.
Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. V, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923
An 'Old Sweat' was slang to denote an experienced soldier.
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