Carlos has inspired me. I've recently been flipping again through Romania and World War I: A Collection of Studies by Dr. Glenn E. Torrey. And I thought, evolutionary biology, medieval popes, sick parrots, bear hunts, babies... what this blog needs is more military/diplomatic history. And I did promise a post on the First World War, months and months ago. So. We turn the Wayback Machine to 1916. Romania, which at this point is a funny sofa-shaped country only about half the size of modern Romania, has just decided to enter the Great War on the Allied side. This has been no easy decision. Romania is in a strategically bad position, stuck between Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria. The straits of the Dardanelles are closed, so Romania can get no help by sea. On the other hand, the Allies are in desperate straits -- the Somme is griding the British Army to hamburger, the Italians are getting clobbered by the Austrians, and the Gallipoli offensive has been a dismal failure. So the Allies, after much haggling, have offered the Romanians a glittering prize: Transylvania.
This was a big step, because it would mean the end of Austria-Hungary. See, already, several Allied countries had made claims on A-H. Little Serbia wanted Bosnia and Vojvodina. Russia wanted a slice of Galicia, in the north. Italy had already demanded Tyrol, Trieste, and much of the Adriatic coast as her price for entering the war. Adding Transylvania meant that, well, there wouldn't be much of Austria-Hungary left. Transylvania made the difference between "the Allies are diplomatically committed to giving Austria-Hungary a really bad haircut" and "the Allies are committed to the destruction of A-H as a Power." This meant that the Allies could no longer hope to negotiate with A-H for a separate peace. So they were understandably reluctant to commit. It took until July 1916 for them to come around. Now, there were two Allied troop concentrations within marching distance of Romania. One was the Allied beachhead at Salonika, in what's now Greece. 300,000 French, British and Serbian troops were sitting there, pinned down by the Bulgarians. Salonika deserves a post in its own right, but here's the short version: as part of the deal to get Romania into the war, the western Allies committed to an attack out of Salonika. But when the time came, they reneged. The attack was too small, and came too late, and the Bulgarians were able to attack Romania in force. Then there were the Russians. There was some history in the way of Russo-Romanian cooperation. The Romanians had bad memories from their "alliance" with Russia in 1877, when the Russians looted their way across Romania, abandoned their Romanian allies in a pinch, and ultimately betrayed Romania by snitching lower Bessarabia. So the Romanians reasonably asked that, on one hand, Russian troops should come into Romania to help fight; but on the other, that these troops should be under Romanian, not Russian, command. So what happened? Well, we turn now to Chapter 11. "Indifference and Mistrust: Russian-Romanian Collaboration in the Campaign of 1916." Great title, no?
[The Romanian war experience] led to recriminations on both sides. The Romanians, with considerable justification, blamed their allies, especially the Russians, for failing to support them adequately. The latter were charged with indifference or bad faith at best and with treason at worst. The Russians, on the other hand, blamed the defeat and even their inability to aid Romania adequately on the shortcomings of the Romanians themselves. Furthermore they resented that there was so little acknowledgment of gratitude for the vast human and material resources they expended. These conflicting interpretations have been perpetuated in subsequent Russian and Romanian historiography. From its conception, the Russo-Romanian alliance evoked little enthusiasm and even some opposition in both camps... [The Romanian government] viewed the Russian alliance as necessary to obtain Romania's war aims but hedged it with many safeguards. These included provisions in the military convention which spelled out strict lines of demarcation between the two armies, assured the independence of the Romanian command and the explicit subordination to Romanian control of any Russian units operating on Romanian soil or on the Danube... [the] Russo-Romanian military convention was the sort of agreement concluded between 'two allies who did not trust each other.' It goes without saying that this mutual antipathy was a serious handicap for the functioning of the alliance...Cue ominous music here.
The Romanians had initially insisted on 200,000 Russian troops but settled eventually for 50,000. However [Russian Chief of Staff, General Mikhail] Alekseev, in an act of conscious deception, had the obligation worded 'two infantry and one cavalry divisions' lest the decimated character of the Russian units force him to send more. This expeditionary force, designated the 47th Corps, was composed of a Cossack cavalry division, an exhausted Russian infantry division and a division of Serbs freshly recruited from among Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war. Together they numbered only 28,000 - 30,000 men.This is in a theater where almost half a million Romanians would be facing over 300,000 Bulgarians and (at first) about 100,000 Austrians and Germans.
The quality of forces was so inferior that General Andrei Zaionchkovskii, nominated as their commander, was 'much perturbed' and attempted to refuse the appointment. Certainly Zaionchkovskii was an unfortunatechoice for such a delicate assignment. Even General Alexei Brusilov who selected him testified to his 'extremely caustic and often spiteful wit which had offended his colleagues' and his 'mutual ill-feeling' with other generals... Furthermore, Zaionchkovskii's performance in his preceding commands showed a lack of initiative and preference for retreat...Here we skim past several hundred words of General Z. trying to wriggle out of the assignment.
That Alekseev presisted in sending such marginal units and such an unsuited commander to Dobrudja reveals how low he valued the Romanian alliance. Unfortunately, the attitudes exhibited by Z. and Alekseev were widespread among the Russians. The arrival of Russian troops on Romanian soil was marked by a degree of antipathy on both sides... despite the efforts of a special Romanian civil commissioner attached to Z.'s corps, Russian behavior quickly fueled numerous complaints by local inhabitants... the head of the operations office at Romanian Supreme Headquarters charged in his diary that the Russians 'behave as in a conqured country.' The Russians were also unhappy about their presence in Romania. They complained privately that their hosts deprived them of food, refused to cooperate with or salute Russian officers and called Russian soldiers 'beasts'. Being in Romania was worse than being in an enemy country, one Russian remarked. General Z., already negative, became further alienated after arrival... His impression of Romanian units and their leaders was 'extremely poor'... 'I must struggle more with my Romanian forces than with the enemy,' he remarked. The Romanian Army he described as being in 'disintegration' and prone to panic...In fairness to General Z., it's difficult to exaggerate the bad state of the Romanian Army in 1916. Badly led and badly equipped. Rear echelons a chaos of corruption and petty intrigue. Officer corps a bunch of prancing fops. Peasant soldiers mostly illiterate and often malnourished. GHQ, least said the better. Still...
The Russians had hardly arrived when the Romanian fortress of Turtucaia was placed in jeopardy by an unexpected German-Bulgarian attack and by the ineptitude of its Romanian defenders, including General Mihai Aslan, who was Z.'s superior as commander of the southern theater of operations. Aslan, a particularly incompetent leader who kept his headquarters far from the front in Bucharest where he spent much of his time playing cards in the Jockey Club, ordered Z. to march westward to relieve Turtucaia.A footnote here states that "the Jockey Club proved to be such a distraction and source of intelligence leaks that King Ferdinand considered closing it." Considered. I love that.
When Z. refused, the Romanian [Supreme HQ] sent a plenipotentiary, accompanied by the British, French, and Russian military attaches, bearing a written order from King Ferdinand [of Romania]. Even the argument of his fellow Russian, that he was obligated by the military convention to obey this order, failed to deter Z. from continuing his operations in another direction. Defeated there, he blamed his misfortune on the cooperating Romanian division.It goes on, and gets worse, but that gives the general idea. Turtucaia falls a day later. Z. continues to be spiteful, insubordinate, and to show a preference for retreat; a few weeks later, one of his retreats will help lose the Romanians Constanta, their major port. The Romanians continue to be confused and incompetent, up to the point where the defence of Bucharest collapses because a general panics and flees, deserting his post and galloping to the rear. Z. is eventually replaced. General Alekseev retires because of illness and then dies. Bucharest falls and there's a horrible retreat, eventually to the line of the Siret river, which runs through northeast Romania near what's now Moldova. Dr. Torrey's conclusion:
Although many of the Russian civilian leaders, especially the Tsar, were solicitous toward Romania and her needs, some, primarily in the military, were condescending toward their new ally. From Alekseev, through Brusilov down to Z., aiding Romania was considered an unnecessary burden to be evaded as much as possible.Indeed. Here's a quote from a Russian commander, Lieutenant General C. G. E. Mannerheim. (Yes, it's the Mannerheim who later became a rather important figure in Finland -- the Mannerheim Line and all that. He was a general in the tsar's army, first.) In his later memoirs, he described Romania as "a weak ally of questionable value, which tied down thirty-six Russian infantry and six cavalry divisions -- almost a quarter of the entire Russian army -- on a vulnerable, 500 kilometres long front; the Russian military also had to take care of provisioning the entire Romanian army, which contributed to the further deterioration of the Empire's strategic position. A classic example of a case where an unwanted ally can do more damage than good." Possibly true, afterwards, when Russia had to pump in a massive effort to keep Romania from collapsing. (But notice that unwanted line.) Back to Dr. Torrey:
This attitude was short-sighted and had devastating consequences not only for Romania but for Russia as well. Allowing Romania to be defeated wasted an opportunity to threaten the very existence of Austria-Hungary and/or link up the Russian army with the allied armies of Salonika. Furthermore, the Romanian defeat and the new burdens it imposed, seriously compromised the entire Russian war effort. Although counterfactual arguments are by nature inconclusive, one wonders how the outcome of the First World War would have been influenced if the Russians (and the Western Allies as well) had taken the Romanian alliance seriously, committing at the beginning of the campaign the resources and effort they were forced to at the conclusion?One wonders indeed.