The Great War Part 253, June 21st 1919

The Rumanian Blunder 201 WHERE RUM ANIAS BRAVERY WAS UNAVAILING. View in the Predeal Pass between Rumania and Transylvania which despite the stout defence of the Rumanians was captured by the Germans in October 1916. Above: King Ferdinand of Rum ania’s shooting-box used as Army Headquarters. The King and the Crown Prince accompanied the armies in the field and shared in the vicissitudes of their people. dependent on bullock-carts worked well. This was the department which failed badly in the war of 1913. It had been reorganised with good effect. Unfortunately while the more northerly passes were being so gallantly defended the First and Second Armies had been driven back over the mountains. Their retreat had been hasty. They had lost heavily in men. Before the end of October the Rumanian Army which consisted at the start of twenty-three divisions (460000 men) had suffered over 100000 casualties. Atone period it was losing at the rate of 12000 men putout of action everyday. These Army well on its way to make the junction with General Prezan was obliged to retire. All that had been gained in Transylvania was abandoned. General Cortesco who commanded the division which was leading the way, described tome dramatically his surprise and consternation at receiving orders to retire in the very moment of winning a battle. There was a moment when it seemed possible and even likely that by a bold tactical enterprise the Rumanians might put the enemy in a bad position. This was when General Avarescu’s engineers bridged the Danube with pontoons and a large force assembled for the purpose began to march across into the rear of Mackensens Dobruja lines. I do not think that episode of the war has ever been explained. The crossing gave cause for great hopes in Britain as well as in Rumania there was mystified wonder when it was known that the Rumanians had at once marched back again. What happened was this. The Headquarters Staff were nervous about Avarescus plan. They told him to make sure of his communications before he began to put his men across the river. According to them he did not do so and he was, therefore ordered immediately to withdraw the division which had reached the other side. Avarescus partisans maintained that this order was dictated by jealousy. They admit that the pontoon bridge was attacked by aeroplanes, and that mines were floated down the river towards it but they deny that it was badly damaged if it had been the troops could not have recrossed it. D 30 y For some days the Headquarters Staff was without news of the retiring army which had lost its big wireless telegraph plant. The enemy pressed on and on and if at this time Falkenhayn had been able to make good his part in the German plan, it is probable that Mackensen would have pushed his army as far as Galatz. The idea was that he and Falkenhayn should join hands across the narrowest strip of Rumanian territory between Galatz and the more northerly Carpathian Passes. B y doing so they would have separated Wallachia from Moldavia and would have wiped out three of the four Rumanian armies. This plan failed. The Rumanians in the -more northerly passes kept Falkenhayns troops at bay. Facing fearful odds they fought magnificently. Falkenhayn concentrated the bulk of his forces in the valleys of the Oituz and Trotuz. He enjoyed a marked Facing fearful superiority in numbers in heavy artillery, odds and in machine-guns. The Rumanians offered a dogged resistance. They got over the fear which influenced their effort harmfully earlier in the campaign that the Germans were irresistible. They found that at close quarters they were not nearly so terrible as they appeared from a distance. They quickly became hardened to the conditions of warfare. Their officers improved. The incompetents were weeded out and those who were left gained inexperience and initiative everyday. Whenever counter-attacks were possible they delivered them with vigour. They took all advantage possible of the ground on which the battle was contested for the most part defiles narrow valleys rocky beds of streams, a mountainous region which made movements of troops very difficult and transport nigh impossible. In spite of all obstacles the Rumanian Army Service Corps chiefly figures I had from a Cabinet Minister. The forces which were defeated by Falkenhayn in the first week of October north of Brashov also lost large quantities of war material. They had a few howitzer batteries most of their howitzers were left behind. Many field-guns were abandoned. The First and Second Armies recovered later and changed com­manders but for the moment they were badly shaken and their retirement opened the way for the passage of Falkenhayn’s troops through the mountains into the Wallachian Plain. The disaster was considered to be due to bad generalship even more than to the pressure of the fresh enemy forces. The commands were not incapable hands. There were dismissals afterwards but the harm had been done. A small body of Bavarians worked round the flank of the First Army which lay to westward of the Second and caused a quite unnecessary panic. Help was called for from the Second Army and was sent with the result that the Second
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