Romanian Campaign - The Burning of Constanza and the Evacuation of Bucharest

Romanian Army, 600,000
General Averescu
General Asian

Russian Army, 50,000
General Sakharov
General Zaionchovsky

Austro-German Army, 750,000
General von Falkenhayn
General Mackensen
General von Staabs

Bulgarian Army, 300,000
General von Delmensingen

Romanian Army Invades Hungary

Romania's military forces, numbering 600,000 men, were quickly set in motion after the declaration of war by Romania on Austria-Hungary on August 27, 1916. They were divided into four armies under the supreme command of General Averescu. Three of these armies were to cross the Carpathian Mountains into Transylvania, a Hungarian province, on the north; the fourth was to guard the Danube frontier in the South. The Carpathians extend three hundred miles along the northern boundary of Romania. They are crossed by several passes leading into Hungary. The plan of General Averescu was to send one army over the Vulcan Pass and capture Hermannstadt; a second army by the Predeal Pass to seize Kronstadt, while the third army would advance by three separate passes further north and unite with General Lechitsky's Russian Army, then operating in Bukowina.

Kronstadt and Hermannstadt Captured

With her declaration of war, Romania dispatched three armies across the Carpathians into Transylvania. Descending into the Hungarian Plain, they took many villages and prisoners, meeting with weak resistance. The two heights of Orsova, each 1,000 feet in air, were stormed and captured on September 1, 1916, the Hungarians being forced across the Czerna River. A Romanian Army 40,000 strong, under command of General Zaionchovsky, had just arrived at Bucharest by way of the Black Sea and there united with a brigade of Serbians. Together they crossed the Danube and then advanced into the province of Dobrudja, their left wing, on the Black Sea coast being protected by ships of the Russian fleet. Meanwhile, Bucharest had been shelled with bombs dropped by Austrian airplanes and zeppelins, without causing much damage. An Austrian monitor had also shelled several towns along the Danube, while the Romanians were bombing the Bulgarian port of Rustchuk.

Two German Armies to the Rescue

Continuing their advance into Hungary, the Romanians captured the two Austrian strongholds of Hermannstadt and Kronstadt. In their distress the Austrians called for aid from Germany. Two large German Armies, one commanded by General von Falkenhayn, a former Chief of Staff, the other by General Mackensen, a mighty strategist who had compelled the Russian retreat during the previous winter, were dispatched to the scene. Falkenhayn was to operate from the north, driving the Romanians back across the Carpathians, while Mackensen was to assault the Romanians from the south with the aid of Bulgarian, German and Turkish forces operating along the line of the Danube. They hoped to crush the Romanians between them as in a vice.

Mackensen Captures Tutrakan

With an army of 400,000 Bulgarians, Germans and Turks, General Mackensen on September 2, 1916, moved swiftly into Dobrudja, the Romanian province lying between the delta of the Danube and the Black Sea, and advanced toward the fortified city of Tutrakan, which guards the 12-mile viaduct bridge across the Danube, over which runs the main railroad line connecting the capital at Bucharest with the seaport at Gorstana. His object was to forestall the advance southward of any Russian army to the aid of the Romanians. At the same time, he ordered the main Bulgarian Armies to attack both flanks of General Sarrail's Salonika Army, thus preventing any forward movement by Sarrail from the south, and releasing great numbers of Bulgarian troops and guns for action against Romania.

Having, by this strategy, isolated the Romanian Armies, Mackensen's forces advanced in three columns into the Dobrudja. The right wing, in eight days, seized all the seaports as far as Mangalia. The Central column in seven days pushed forward to Silistria, occupying that town on September 9, 1916. Mackensen's main army, on September 4, 1916, seized Dobic and two days later bombarded the outer fortifications of Tutrakan, a fortified town defended by a combined Romanian and Russian force commanded by General Asian. After a dozen assaults, following a concentrated artillery attack, Mackensen entered Tutrakan, capturing 15,000 prisoners and 100 guns. The Romanian Army retreated northward to Lipnitza. Here Mackensen attacked them on September 12, 1916, but after an all-night battle the Romanians repulsed Mackensen's forces, recovering eight guns and many prisoners.

Mackensen Routed at Rasova

Reinforcements were already on the way to the Romanian-Russian Army. General Averescu, who had conducted so brilliant a campaign in Hungary, recrossed the Carpathians with a force of Russo-Romanians and took charge of the campaign in the Dobrudja. Forming a junction with General Asian's army on September 16, 1916, he established a new front of ten miles, extending from Rasova to Tuzla. On the next day he suddenly attacked Mackensen's army. A furious battle ensued for three days.

Again and again Mackensen hurled his Bulgarians and Turks against the Russo-Romanian lines, his chief point of attack being at Rasova, on the Danube. Had he gained the bridgehead at this point, he might have flanked the Romanians, cutting them off from their communications. At the crucial moment in the battle, Russian reinforcements arrived, and Mackensen was forced to retreat to a new line extending from Oltina on the Danube to Tuzla on the Black Sea. During their retreat, the Bulgarians set fire to all the villages they passed through.

Germans Retake Hermannstadt and Kronstadt

Meanwhile, the Romanian forces across the Carpathians, in Hungary, had seized nearly a third of the province of Transylvania, together with 10,000 prisoners. The army had been weakened, however, by the transfer of General Averescu's corps to Dobudja. Now they were threatened by the approach of the huge German Army under General Falkenhayn.

Falkenhayn struck savagely at the First Romanian Army defending Hermannstadt on September 26, 1916. The Romanians, though greatly outnumbered, resisted gallantly for three days and then retreated in two divisions toward the Vulcan and Red Tower Passes of the Carpathians. The division which entered the Red Tower Pass found the way blocked by the Bavarians, who by a quick flanking movement had occupied the pass in the rear.

In the violent battle which followed, the Romanians lost 3,000 men and 13 guns. The remainder of the division won its way through to Fogras, uniting with another Romanian force which had vainly endeavored tо succor them. The other division fell back upon Kronstadt, where the Second Romanian Army was beginning its retreat through Predeal Pass. The Third Romanian Army, being low isolated, quickly retreated across the Moldavian boundary, leaving all Transylvania again in the possession of the Germans and Austrians. The failure of the Russian armies to come to the assistance of the Romanians had resulted in this disaster.

Mackensen Takes Constanza

The scene now shifts again to the Dorudja, in the South, where Mackensen's army lad been forced to retreat on September 20th. Following this retreat, a Turko-Bulgarian division had been struck a severe blow south of Tuzla. A general assault on Mackensen's line resulted in the capture of many prisoners and 13 guns.

On the morning of October 2, 1916, a Romanian division, planning a surprise attack on Mackensen's rear, laid a pontoon bridge across the Danube River, between Silistria and Tutrakan. After crossing the Danube, the Romanians seized several villages, but they quickly retreated across the river when an Austrian monitor began shelling the bridge.

In mid-October, being then strongly reinforced, General Mackensen began a new offensive, his objective being the Cernavoda-Constanza Railway. Before this new advance the Russo-Romanian forces were compelled to retire in the Center and on the right wing. On October 21, 1916 Mackensen captured the heights of Toprosari and Mulsiova, and the city of Tulsa. The next day he occupied the seaport of Constanza, the Romanians removing the stores there under the fire of the Russian warships in the Black Sea.

Aided by his heavy artillery, Mackensen smashed through the Romanian Center with such force that the whole line westward to the Danube gave way. In rapid succession he captured Rasova, Madgidia and on October 25, 1916, he crowned his offensive by the seizure of Cernavoda on the Danube. The Romanians, after crossing the great bridge at this point, destroyed it, leaving Mackensen in possession of the railroad.

City of Constanza Burned to the Ground

Mackensen's triumph was short lived, however. The Russian General, Sakharov, had been placed in command of the Allied forces in the Dobrudja. On November 9, 1916, he attacked Mackensen's line, forcing it to retreat. During their retreat the Bulgarians destroyed several villages. Intent upon regaining the Cernavoda bridge, General Sakharov forced Mackensen still farther back until his destination was almost reached, and then he halted. Meanwhile, the Russian ships bombarded and set fire to Constanza, which was burned to the ground. Quiet now settled upon the Danube front until the last victorious offensive by Mackensen began.

Falkenhayn Crosses the Carpathians

Let us now return to the scene of warfare in Transylvania on the northern frontier. Although General Falkenhayn had driven the Romanians out of Hungary, he had been baffled for weeks in his endeavor to cross the Carpathians into Romania. Repeatedly his armies had been repulsed at the different passes. But in the end Falkenhayn forced the Vulcan Pass and'the Romanians were pushed back across the foothills.

Making a brave stand at Tirgu-Jiulig, overlooking the Wallachian Plain, the Romanians for three days sustained the attacks of the huge German Army, but on November 17, 1916 the Romanian Center was broken and the German Cavalry, which had been held in reserve, raced through the gap and down through the valley to the railroad 30 miles distant, cutting off the Romanian troops guarding the Iron Pass. These troops, finding themselves flanked, hastily evacuated Orsova and escaped to the mountains. Eventually they surrendered themselves on the Alt, after an ineffectual attempt to rejoin the main Romanian forces.

The main body of the Romanian Army meanwhile had withdrawn to positions along the Alt River which crosses the Wallachian Plain. Mackensen's left wing had by this time moved northward and formed a junction with Falkenhayn. The united armies began a vast encircling movement around the remnant of Averescu's Romanian Army. Averescu strove desperately to rally his disorganized forces behind the Alt River, but the German-Bulgarian circle contracted with ever increasing pressure. Falkenhayn's other forces were now pouring down from the north through the Carpathian Passes, getting in rear of the Romanians. Mackensen's Bulgarian hordes were swarming up from the south. Cut off from their capital, 90 miles away, and with both their flanks crumpling, the Romanians abandoned the Alt line and fell back to the last line of defense before Bucharest on the Arges River. On the same day, the Romanian Government moved from Bucharest to Jassy, near the Russian frontier.

Battle of the Arcos River

On December 3, 1916, was fought the battle of the Arges River, which decided the fate of Romania. For an entire day, though outnumbered three to one, the Romanians held back the hordes of Bulgarians, Turks. Germans, Austrians and Hungarians that encompassed them in on three sides. Then they gradually gave way and withdrew eastward to the Sereth-Putna line. Before retreating, they destroyed the famous oil wells at Ploechti, and the wheat fields as well. In this ill-fated campaign of 100 days the Romanians lost 200,000 men.

Bucharest Evacuated

Meanwhile, on December 6, 1916, the civilian population had evacuated the capital, Bucharest, wishing to save their chief city from bombardment by Mackensen's heavy howitzers. The garrison also had withdrawn to unite with the main army on the Sereth line. Mackensen's campaign had been wonderfully successful. Within four months after the declaration of war he had destroyed half the Romanian Army and conquered the provinces of Dobrudja and Wallachia. Early in January, 1917, the campaign in Romania was renewed.