How Romania entered the war
100 years ago, 27 in August, 1916, in accordance with a previously signed agreement with the Entente countries, Romania, which bargained for a long time and waited to get the most benefit, began military operations against Austria-Hungary. The Romanian King Ferdinand addressed the army: “Romanian soldiers! I urged you to carry your banners beyond your borders ... Through the centuries, the nation will glorify you! ”
On August 28, the Romanian army launched an offensive against the Austro-Hungarian forces from its southern and western borders (the Carpathians) towards Transylvania. Bucharest was counting on a quick defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, shaken by the strong blows of the Russian army and on its share in the division of its territorial "inheritance".
Lutsk (Brusilovsky) breakthrough in Bucharest was taken as a sign of the imminent collapse of the Austro-Hungarian army, and Romania decided to go to war. When entering the war, Romania was counting on the annexation of Transylvania, Bucovina and Banat - the territories of Austria-Hungary, inhabited by ethnic Romanians, as well as Rusyns (Russians), Hungarians and Serbs. The performance of Romania was actively supported by the French and Italians. In Paris, Rome and Bucharest itself, there were enthusiastic patriotic demonstrations in praise of the Romanian weapons. Romanians were counting on quick success. France was pleased that it overtook the 600-thousand to the side of the Entente. Romanian army. The Italians were happy that their main enemy, Austria-Hungary, had a new enemy, and Vienna would have to throw part of the army into a new strategic direction.
In general, in the West, it was reasonably believed that the intervention of the Romanian army in any case would lead to a weakening of the Austro-German onslaught on the French and Italian fronts. And if Romania has problems, then Russia will have to clear them up. It happened in reality. Romania’s speech eased the situation on the Western front, but on the Eastern led almost to a double catastrophe: the Romanian army was completely defeated, Romania itself was almost completely occupied, and Russia had to quickly create a new - Southern (Romanian) front, attracting huge human and material resources to close the hole, which further aggravated the internal situation in the country and brought the beginning of the revolution closer.
Also, the performance of Romania was beneficial to Britain, France and Italy in terms of geopolitical interests. Romania, together with Greece and Italy, were viewed as a political counterbalance to the Russian interests in the Balkans and the Slavic state (first of all - Serbia). The West strengthened its position in the future post-war settlement on the Balkan Peninsula.
The supreme Russian command was negative to the performance of Romania. The chief of staff of the General Headquarters of General Headquarters, General MV Alekseev, resolutely resisted its entry into the war, considering the army of the Romanian kingdom unfit. It was believed that the neutrality of Romania creates a buffer zone between the south of the Russian Empire and the troops of the Central bloc. In the event of their victory in the Romanian theater, there was a threat to the southern Russian territories.
A similar opinion was shared by the Russian emperor Nicholas II. With the approval of Admiral Kolchak to the post of commander of the Black Sea fleet he received a number of instructions from the sovereign: “I do not sympathize with the situation in Romania in this situation: I am afraid that this will be an unprofitable enterprise that will only extend our front, but the French Union command insists on it; it requires Romania to come forward at all costs. "They sent a special mission to Romania, ammunition, and they have to yield to the pressure of the allied command." In addition, Romania’s performance was almost 2 months late, since the offensive operations of the Russian armies in the southern strategic direction had already faded. Russian armies were bloodless for months of heavy fighting and could not break through the enemy defenses. Austria-Hungary and Germany got the opportunity to maneuver forces by connecting the armies of Bulgaria and Turkey to the offensive.
It is also worth noting the military weakness of Romania. Despite the fact that the Romanian king Ferdinand I managed to put thousands of soldiers under 650 gun, the state of the military machine of the Romanian kingdom was extremely poor. The Romanian “elite” was arrogant, it made me think a lot about myself, but the country was absolutely not ready for war. The peasantry was dark and downtrodden. The educated stratum, the “elite”, was immensely proud and wanted to be like an “enlightened Europe”. The desire to "live beautifully" from the bureaucracy resulted in wild corruption, all officials stole and sold. It is clear that such an “elite” could not prepare the country for war, and the common people (soldiers) did not want to fight. The Romanian officers did not lag behind the other "chosen ones": they drank, walked, stole, practically did not appear in the barracks, did not know the soldiers. Such "commanders" were far from the rules of the strategy and tactics of war, logistics. All the novelties of military affairs passed by the Romanian army. The exercises were practically not conducted. Money for new ammunition was stolen. There was a lack of modern weapons, guns, uniforms and shoes. The Romanians had all the 1300 artillery shells, half of which were considered obsolete, and all the 800 machine guns that they could not really use. There was a catastrophic shortage of railways and highways in the country, and a third of the army was forced to engage in transportation and other logistic work in order to at least somehow supply the warring units.
It is also worth noting that the Romanian kingdom had extended (1600 km) state borders, which in the southern and western sectors were completely not covered by troops. All this, in the opinion of the Russian generals, created the danger of a quick defeat of the Romanian army, as happened a year earlier with the armies of Serbia and Montenegro. As a result, the Russian army would have to close itself and the Romanian direction.
The Russian General Staff said: “If Romania comes out against us. Russia will need 30 divisions to defeat it. If Romania comes out against Germany, we also need the 30 divisions to save it from defeat. What is there to choose from? ”In the spring of 1916 of the year, preparing for a large-scale offensive, the Russian Stavka came to the conclusion that“ the performance of Romania on the side of the Entente on the conditions it offered for Russia is harder than war with it ”.
The union of Romania with the Entente represented the great benefits of the bloc provided it was used for strategic purposes. The performance of Romania opened two offensive perspectives. By joint actions from Thessaloniki and from Dobrudja, the Entente could incapacitate the Central Powers, initially Bulgaria, and then, possibly, Turkey. Then it was possible to crush Austria-Hungary. In June, 1916, when the Austro-German front broke through the army of Brusilov, Alekseev addressed the allies: “Now is the time most suitable for Romania’s entry, and this is the only time when Romania’s intervention may be interesting for Russia.” The Russian Stavka noted that the enemy was confused, was shooting troops from everywhere and was throwing new divisions against the Russians. The grouping of the Central Powers in the Balkans is weakened and a strong and sudden blow can be inflicted on the enemy. If the Thessaloniki Front goes over to the offensive from one side and Romania from the other, then Austria-Hungary, broken by Russian strikes, will simply collapse.
However, Bucharest began to bargain. And then it turned out that the Romanian leadership is not going to fight with Bulgaria. Romania has an agreement on neutrality with Bulgaria, and Bucharest wants to throw the whole army to capture Transylvania. It is clear that the British and French did not want to fight for the Romanian appetites. This project was rejected by the Western powers. In reality, Bulgaria has not forgotten the insults of 1913, as the Romanians snatched a piece of its land. And Bulgaria will become a springboard for a powerful strike on Romania.
There was another possibility. The border with Romania opened, through Transylvania, the flank of the fortified position of the Austro-Germans and the shortest route to Vienna. The early concentration of Russian troops on the left flank of the 9 Army (Romania’s delivery deadline was definitely known from half of July) and the rapid Russian offensive immediately after Romania declared war on its territory, bypassing the Austrian positions, could lead Austria-Hungary to the brink of defeat. However, the Entente refused from this method. Romania was given the opportunity to attack in Transylvania itself, and only by strengthening it with a weak Russian corps in Dobruja.
Although it was obvious that the strategic position of Romania on the weak flank of Austria-Hungary would force the Austro-German troops to bring down all free forces on the kingdom in order to eliminate the threat to their strategic flank, block the way to the Balkans and create a threat to the flank of the Russian front. In addition, after heavy and bloody battles on the Russian and French fronts, Germany and Austria needed a bright victory to invigorate society. A quick campaign in Romania gave such a victory. It was also clear that a weak Romanian army would not be able to withstand the onslaught of the Austro-German divisions, which are well-armed and have a great combat experience, and even with the threat from the Bulgarian direction.
Thus, it appeared that the independent performance of Romania, without the support of the Entente, was only negative for Russia, as it actually happened. However, St. Petersburg once again gave way to the pressure of the Allies and did not use the opportunity to strike a blow at the enemy through Romania.
Bucharest was trading for two years, looking for the greatest benefit. Maintaining neutrality, Romania was the agricultural base of the Central Powers, selling them food. The Romanian elite wanted to get Transylvania, Bucovina and Banat at the expense of Austria-Hungary. This could offer the Entente at the expense of Vienna. In addition, France has traditionally had a strong position in the Romanian elite. Romania proudly called itself the “Latin sister” of France, and Bucharest - “little Paris”. Russia, although thanks to the Russians, Romania was freed from the Ottomans, had minimal influence on Bucharest. On the other hand, in Romania there was a German party, the Romanian king Ferdinand I was from the German Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen dynasty, and the former principality of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen was part of the German Empire. However, the main role in choosing the side in the confrontation was played by greed - the Romanian "elite" was ready to take the side of the strong, who promises more to guarantee their share.
Since the autumn of 1915, in connection with the beginning of the offensive of the Central Powers in Serbia, the annexation of Bulgaria and the threat of loss for the Entente of the Balkans, the Entente government has increased pressure on Bucharest. The Russian Foreign Ministry also stepped up efforts to persuade Romania to a military alliance, or at least to get permission for the passage of Russian troops - to strategically reach the German-Austrian forces and help the retreating Serbs. Bucharest bargained: without refusing to cooperate, the Romanians put forward new and more and more favorable conditions for themselves to enter into an alliance with the Entente.
Thus, Bucharest waited a long time, bargained. Intensive negotiations on the entry of Romania into the war went all summer 1916 year. 5 August, French President Raymond Poincaré sent a personal message to Tsar Nicholas II, urging him to make concessions to Romania (including on the issue of post-war territories) and conclude an allied treaty with her. The agreement came 17 August. The Western Allies guaranteed Romanians financial support, the supply of weapons, ammunition and equipment. After the victory, they promised Transylvania, Banat and even Bukovina, which the Russian troops won. The military part of the agreement guaranteed the Romanian kingdom cover for the mobilization of the Romanian army by Bulgaria and Austria-Hungary. For this, the Russian corps was sent to the Romanian Dobrudja. In addition, the Western Allies pledged to launch a decisive offensive by the Anglo-French Army of Thessaloniki no later than 8 days before the opening of hostilities by Romania.
At the same time, the Romanian government finally showed its selling nature: Bucharest, having already decided to fight on the side of the Entente, sold a large amount of food to the Central Powers.
- Alexander Samsonov
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