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The War in Romania, 1917

Map of Romania and the Allied and Central Power campaign plans for 1917. 'Romanian Territories under Foreign Rule' include Transylvania, Austria-Hungary, northwest of the Carpathian Mountains, and Bessarabia, Russia, to the east between the Prut and Nistru Rivers, regions with large ethnic Romanian populations. From 'Romania in World War I, a Synopsis of Military History' by Colonel Dr. Vasile Alexandrescu.
Text:
The Romanian Army in the 1917 Campaign
Romanian territories under foreign rule
The Romanian territory invaded by troops of the Central Powers in the 1916 campaign
The Romanian-Russian campaign plan for the summer of 1917
The German-Austro-Hungarian campaign plan for the summer of 1917
Romanian troops
Russian troops
Troops of the Central Powers

Map of Romania and the Allied and Central Power campaign plans for 1917. 'Romanian Territories under Foreign Rule' include Transylvania, Austria-Hungary, northwest of the Carpathian Mountains, and Bessarabia, Russia, to the east between the Prut and Nistru Rivers, regions with large ethnic Romanian populations. From Romania in World War I, a Synopsis of Military History by Colonel Dr. Vasile Alexandrescu.

Image text

The Romanian Army in the 1917 Campaign

Romanian territories under foreign rule

The Romanian territory invaded by troops of the Central Powers in the 1916 campaign

The Romanian-Russian campaign plan for the summer of 1917

The German-Austro-Hungarian campaign plan for the summer of 1917

Romanian troops

Russian troops

Troops of the Central Powers

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January 1 through December 31, 1917

Romanian Front

By early 1917, Central Power forces had confined the Romanian Army to Moldavia, Romania's northeast. German General August von Mackensen who had commanded the Central Power Danube Army in the Romanian invasion in 1916 was prepared to fully defeat what remained of Romania's army. Romania held its battle front with Russian aid and troops as typhus, typhoid, dysentery, jaundice, and influenza sickened and killed a large part of the Romanian army.

In February and March, as disease took its greatest toll on the army, Russia deposed its Tsar in the February Revolution. Russia's provisional government and Duma would share, and struggle for, power with the soviets in the coming months. Alexander Kerensky, the sole member of both the government and the Petrograd Soviet, and events in Russia would be critical to Romania's position in the coming months. Kerensky and the Russian government would keep Russia in the war, but the armed forces would be subject to Order Number One, issued by the Petrograd Soviet on March 15, which democratized the Army and offered amnesty for deserters.

By the end of May, General Henri Berthelot, head of the French Military Mission to Romania tasked with supporting and rebuilding the Romanian army, reported to Paris that the army had young officers ready to lead increasingly well supplied troops. The Romanians had 112 machine guns per division, more than the Germans they faced, as well as automatic rifles and heavy artillery, neither of which they had in 1916.

The Royal Palace in Bucharest, Romania. A postcard altered to show the German flag flying over the palace.

As Russian Minister of War, Kerensky launched an offensive on July 1. The initial attack and a second on July 6 had some success, but an Austro-Hungarian counterattack begun on the 19th drove the Russians back and the Russian line began to collapse. By late July Russian troops were refusing to fight, retreating, and deserting in large numbers.

To support Kerensky, the First and Second Romanian Armies, with Russian support, readied a July offensive. The Romanians and Russians struck the German Ninth Army on July 24 in the Battle of Mărăşti, taking the village the same day. The Russian advance on the Romanian left was a relief to some Allied commanders who had doubted the Russians would go into battle at all. Ready to continue the attack on the 25th, Dimitri Shcherbachev, the Russian commander, received a telegram from Kerensky ordering all Russian armies to cease offensive action. As Shcherbachev shared the contents with Berthelot and the Romanians, he pointed out that the message had been sent in clear text, and that his troops were already aware of its contents. He could do little more than order the Russians to hold their positions. With the Kerensky Offensive failing and the Russians being driven back, and with no Russian support to continue the offensive, the Romanians suspended operations on August 1.

Russia

On August 6, the German Ninth Army attacked the Allied line along the Sereth River near Mărăşeşti. The Russians holding the northern end of the Allied line retreated and the Romanian First Army filled the line. Four days later, the Romanians and Russians counterattacked. In a final exchange on August 19, the Germans again attacked, then retreated in disorder in the face of a Romanian counterattack. The Battle of Mărăşeşti was the greatest Romanian battle and victory of the war. In the fighting, the Romanians suffered 27,410 casualties: 5,125 dead, 12,467 wounded, and 9,818 missing. Russian losses were comparable, though suffering 2,000 more dead than the Romanians Total casualties for the Central Power forces were 65,000 with the German 9th Army losing 16,000 dead and wounded.

On August 8, two days after the German Ninth Army began its attack, the General Friedrich von Gerok Group — German and Austro-Hungarian divisions — attacked north of the Mărăşeşti fighting, targeting units of the Romanian Second Army and Russian forces in an attempt to drive the Romanians from the heights west of Oituz, between the Agăş River to the north and the Caşin River to the south. General Alexandru Averescu commanded the Romanian 2nd Army in the battle, Archduke Josef the Austro-Hungarian troops. The Romanians held, and launched three assaults two days later, each answered by a German counterattack. The Romanians suffered nearly 5,000 casualties in the fighting on August 10. On August 19, Austro-Hungarians and German troops resumed the attack, suspending the offensive the next day. Romanian counterattacks extended the Battle of Oituz through August 22.

Mackensen hoped to resume his attacks, but on August 24, Erich Ludendorff informed him that he would transfer German and Austro-Hungarian troops to Italy in September. Disappointed that he was unlikely to be the conquerer of Moldavia, Mackensen struck again. On August 28, the German Alpine Corps attacked two Russian divisions holding the Romanian-Russian front at the village of Muncelu, driving the Russians back as much as four kilometers. Allied troops counterattacked the following day with the Russians suffering heavily in repeated and determined attacks. On September 1, the Romanians under General Grigorescu took the lead, with similar results. The Romanians repeated their attack on the 3rd, to the same effect.

French Farman two-seater planes on the Romanian front.

The Romanians were not yet done. Their last 1917 offensive, the Battle of Cireşoaia on September 9, 10, and 11, was an attempt to take advantage of the transfer of German and Austro-Hungarian troops from the Romanian front. The battle was in the same sector that had seen the Austro-German offensive at Oituz in early August. The attempt to recapture Cireşoaia failed. It would be the last Romanian offensive for more than a year.

In mid-November Romanian Colonel Ion Antonescu reported Russians soldiers did not want to fight, and would retreat if attacked. Some simply left the front, and the Romanians, recognizing the hazards of trying to stop bands of armed men, made little attempt to hold them. Romanians replaced Russians in the line. Without Russian support, what remained of the Romanian army would not be able to hold what remained of unoccupied Romania. Russia's Bolshevik Revolution and the armistice with the Central Powers made Romania's defeat inevitable, and on December 9, 1917, Romania suspended operations to begin negotiating an armistice.

In the aftermath of the revolution, Russia itself was breaking apart. Revolutionaries and nationalists began reconfiguring Europe. In autumn 1917, in Bessarabia, a Russian region east of Moldavia with a large Romanian population, the Autonomous Moldavian Republic of Bessarabia was proclaimed, and revolutionary Soldiers Assemblies and a Country Assembly was formed.

Germany and Austria-Hungary, expecting great quantities of food and oil, were disappointed in the benefit the conquest of Romania brought. British agents destroyed most of the oil wells, and little oil flowed to the victors. Despite theiir disappointment, the Central Powers, primarily Germany and Austria-Hungary, seized 1,140,000 tons of oil, petroleum and oil products, over 2,161,000 tons of food and fodder, 12,000 tons or railway rolling stock, and 125,000 tons of building material.

1917-01-01

1917-12-31

Events contemporaneous with The War in Romania, 1917

Start Date End Date View
1915-06-23 1917-11-12 Battles of the Isonzo
1917-01-19 1917-01-19 Zimmermann Telegram
1917-02-24 1917-03-18 Operation Alberich
1917-03-08 February Russian Revolution
1917-03-11 Russian Revolution
1917-04-07 Cuba declares war on Germany
1917-04-09 1917-04-10 Battle of Vimy Ridge
1917-04-09 1917-05-17 Battle of Arras
1917-04-16 1917-05-17 Nivelle Offensive
1917-04-16 1917-05-05 Second Battle of the Aisne