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Prelude to Blitzkrieg: The 1916 Austro-German Campaign in Romania (Twentieth- Century Battles) [Hardcover]

Michael B. Barrett

Price: £27.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

25 Jan 2014 Twentieth-Century Battles
In contrast to the trench war deadlock on the Western Front, combat in Romania-Transylvania in 1916 foreshadowed the lightning warfare of the Second World War. When Romania joined the Allies and invaded Transylvania without warning, the Germans responded by unleashing a campaign of bold, rapid infantry movements, with cavalry providing cover or pursuing the crushed foe. Hitting where least expected and advancing before the Romanians could react, even bombing their capital from a Zeppelin soon after war was declared, the Germans and Austrians poured over the formidable Transylvanian Alps onto the plains of Walachia, rolling up the Romanian army from west to east, and driving the shattered remnants into Russia. Blitzkrieg in Walachia tells the story of this largely ignored campaign to determine why it did not devolve into the mud and misery of trench warfare, so ubiquitous elsewhere.


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Review

"[Barrett's] treatment of the Central Powers is extensive, and his research in this regard can only be described as exhaustive. This work will stand as the definitive study of the Central Powers part of the campaign for some time to come." Journal of Military History"

About the Author

Michael B. Barrett was Professor of History at The Citadel for over thirty-five years, and is Brigadier General (ret.), U.S. Army Reserve. He is author of Operation Albion: The German Conquest of the Baltic Islands (IUP, 2008).

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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well, The Title is Great! 20 Jan 2014
By Stanley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
With the coming of the one hundred year anniversay of the start of the Great War there are several new books on the market covering both the causes of the war and its battles, especially away from the Western Front. A good example is Edward Paice's World War I: The African Front. Paice goes into detail of the actions of the Germans and their adversaries but the reader still has a grasp of the overall situation and some idea of where everything is. That's not true with Barrett and his Prelude to Blitzkrieg.

Here's an example: "The crisis in the Calimani mountains caused by the Romanian advance to Lunca Bradukiu (Palota) in the Mures Valley saw the unit reembark the following day for Prunda Bargalui, where it came under the temporary control of the 73rd Hunved Brigad, 1st Army Corps, of the adjacent 7th Army." Huh? Now Barrett does explain that over the last hundred years many names have changed as borders are adjusted in favor of victors. But still the eight or nine small maps in the book do little to help the general reader (me) in following the events of the Romanian Front.

There's no doubt that the book is well researched, the same holds true for Paice's African Front offering, but for any reader who is not intimately familiar with East European place names the book becomes incomprehensible. Sorry, maybe I'm showing my own ignorance. Still, in my opinion, the book is not for the general audience. A part of the book I did enjoy regarded General Falkenhayn and his demotion to the Romanian Front after he argued that an offensive war on the Western Front was impossible. In Romania he worked diligently to save his reputation, that's a good story in itself.

One final note. The book is expensive with a $45.00 retail price. That being noted, I was surprised at the very inexpensive binding that Indiana University Press used in publishing it. Again just a small, final note.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AMuch-Needed Addirion 21 May 2014
By P. G. Wickberg - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
What Michael Barrett has written, with the centennial of WWI coming up, fills a gap in the historiography of that war - there hasn't been much written on the Central Powers' campaign against Romania in a LONG time, and one of the basic sources, although by no means comprehensive, is still Erwin Rommel's mole's-eye view of his sector in "Infantry Attacks" (yes, THAT Erwin Rommel - the Desert Fox). The standard picture in a few paragraphs in most general histories of WWI goes like this: after two years of studious neutrality, Romania, whose king was closely related to Kaiser Wilhelm, came into the war in 1916 for the same reason Italy did - they saw a chance to grab a much-lusted-after piece of the crumbling Habsburg Empire at low cost. The outraged Germans, with their Austrian, Bulgarian and Turkish allies, promptly turned on the Romanians and creamed them, knocking them out of the war quickly and occupying all but a narrow strip of the country until the Armistice, at little cost to themselves.

But it wasn't like that at all, says Barrett. In fact, the Central Powers' campaign against Romania took over a year, involved some of the most difficult terrain in Europe (the Carpathians), and strained German and Austrian forces to the limit, resources that could have been used either in France or in the campaign against Tsarist Russia. While the Romanians suffered from having a timid and indecisive King (his wife, the famous Queen Marie, had more strength than he did), a government riddled by corruption and labyrinthine politics (I believe it was Bismarck who once said "Romania isn't a country, it's a profession!") and a military hobbled by cronyism (a problem for many countries in the early part of the war, when getting soft commands for old friends meant more than developing the best leaders), the average Romanian soldier fought well and hard, especially on the rare occasions he was competently led. What made their lot even more difficult than corruption and cronyism, Barrett argues, is that Romania, a newcomer to the war, made many of the same mistakes that its enemies had at the beginning of the war, but had now had two years to correct. Even so, supplying the front lines proved a nightmare while the two sides struggled over the Carpathians, and I was impressed as much by the persistence and inventiveness of the German and Austrian supply officers as I was by the valor of their soldiers. While the Central Powers commanders tended to be men who were sent to this remote front because they had goofed up elsewhere, Barrett would argue that German officers like Falkenhayn and Mackensen showed competence on this smaller front that they had not on larger ones, and that the Turks, in particular, fought better than anyone probably expected (the Bulgarians, also competent fighters, just wanted one thing, the Dobruja, which they had lost to Romania in 1912, and eased up once they got it). On the other side, help from Anglo-French forces at Thessalonika that had been promised somehow never showed up, while Russia, although it did send reinforcements (little and late) to Romania, obviously had its own agenda involving Bessarabia and the mouth of the Danube (the more things change, the more they stay the same, witness the Russian troops still occupying the sliver of Moldova that constitutes the illegal "Transnistrian Republic").

The title of the book comes from the fact that once the Central Powers forces, after infinite pain and struggle, made it down out of the mountains onto the Romanian plains, Falkenhayn and Mackensen pushed them relentlessly, giving the battered Romanians no time to rest and reform until Bucharest had fallen and the remaining Romanians and their Russian supporters were forced over the Sereth River in Moldavia. Due to events in other parts of the war, Romania ended up getting more from the spoils than it probably deserved - Transylvania and Bukovina from Austria-Hungary, Bessarabia from the disintegrating Tsarist Empire, although Stalin snatched the last two back in 1940. But many German officers, including Rommel, had learned valuable lessons about mountain fighting, supply lines and the importance of keeping the pressure on a fleeing enemy, and the Allies would feel the consequences two decades later. For historians of WWI, especially the Eastern Front, this is a book you need to have in your collection.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Book Review Prelude to Blitzkrieg: the 1916 Austro-German Campaign in Romania By Prof. Michael B. Barrett 4 Jan 2014
By Bryan Fugate - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book by Michael Barrett, Professor of History at the Citadel, is a joy to behold from the standpoint of its solid research and scholarship and its meticulous attention to historical accuracy and detail. This observation is especially true when seen from the viewpoint of a military historian. For a casual reader whose interest in military operations does not run to detail and the interest and ability to study and interpret maps this book would be rather daunting. For the serious-minded student of military history, however, this book is a true gem and can be said to be the “definitive history” of the Romanian campaign in 1916.

For most military historians reading histories of World War I have largely been devoted to the colossal and earth-shaking battles of the Western Front: The Marne, Ypres, Verdun, the Somme, and Passchendaele to single out the most well-researched. But to the Western reader the battles of Tannenberg and Brusilov’s Galician offensive may be known to some but certainly not by most. What happened in the Transylvanian and Carpathian Mountains and on the plains of Hungary and Wallachia in 1916 would fit into this category even more.
But it would be a huge mistake to ignore the conflict on the Eastern Front for events there had a direct bearing on the larger war in the West. What happened there profoundly affected world history in a permanent and profound way. Russia’s war gave way to defeat, revolution and collapse followed by the rise of the Soviet Empire and all that entailed. Lesser known is what happened to bring about the fall and dissolution of the amalgam of people, cultures and land fiefdoms known as the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The collapse of Austria-Hungary had a rippling affect that is still with us today in places like Serbia, Kosovo, and the patchwork of peoples in Poland, Serbia, Romania, Moldava, and Ukraine. Stalin’s post-World War II attempt to unify some of these lands again as Yugoslavia under Marshal Tito was also doomed to failure.

Although the roots of the political and social calamity that befell Eastern and Southern Europe after World War I are not the subject of the book at hand, they are laid bare by a study of the 1916 campaign which knocked Romania out of the war and hastened the political changes in Russia which led to the fall of the Romanovs and the triumph of the Communists under Lenin.

But what is really laid bare for the first time is how the concept of Blitzkrieg warfare evolved from set-piece, grinding men and material battles on the Western Front into free-flowing battles of flanking maneuvers and pursuit as carried out by the Central Powers in the East. In the West the war was characterized by enormous losses with gains measured in a few kilometers one way or the other. In the East the tableau was far more open, no trenches, no massive hours-long artillery barrages or coils of barbed wire that stretched from the Alps to the North Sea. We are introduced to the architects of this new kind of warfare: Mackensen, Falkenhayn, Hindenburg and Ludendorff. But, above all, it was Falkenhayn’s grasp of the need to win total victory and how to achieve it. Admittedly much of drive came from his desire to salvage his reputation, but regardless of his motivation, his fixation on a rapid campaign paid off. He accomplished his goal by relentless, unstopping pursuit coupled with a calculated willingness to advance with exposed flanks. His reliance on a mobile, combined-arms strategy not only won the day and the prize of the Romanian capital, Bucharest, albeit taken by Mackensen, no stranger to campaigns of movement. The brilliant invasion and quick defeat of Romania laid the predicate for what happened some two-and-a-half decades later in the German burst through the Ardennes which led to the stunning fall of France by Hitler’s panzer divisions, air power and mobile artillery and infantry.

Barrett gives much and deserved credit to Hans von Seeckt who fulfilled the role of Clausewitz and became the keen observer of the Eastern Front and its fluid maneuvers. Seeckt saw the advantages of mobile, combined arms warfare and introduced them into doctrine in the German Reichswehr during the inter-war years. Seeckt’s vision of a mobile and rapidly evolving battlefront spearheaded by armor for the Reichswehr became the perfect platform for Guderian and Rommel to build on later for their adaptations which became known to history as Lightning War - Blitzkrieg.

Personally, I found Barrett’s descriptions of combat in the high mountain passes of the Transylvanian Alps separating Austria-Hungary from Romania to be the most interesting passages of all. Until I read them I was unfamiliar with the difficulties and peculiarities of warfare at altitude under extreme weather conditions of rain, snow and ice. This was a revelation and a delight to read.

All in all this book is a must-read for the dedicated and serious-minded military historian who wants to explore in substantial detail the innovative strategy and tactics followed by the Central Powers on the Eastern Front. I know it was a revelation to me and I know it will be for you too.

Bryan I. Fugate, Ph.D., Austin, Texas, January 2014
Author of:
Operation Barbarossa, 1984
Thunder on the Dnepr, 2001
Major Bob Unvarnished, 2004
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent coverage of a little-known campaign 25 Jan 2014
By J. P. Polley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Barrett does an excellent job of covering the 1916 campaign by the Central Powers that knocked Romania out of World War One. There are excellent maps of the actions on an operational level. I suggest that a reader unfamiliar with the geography of eastern europe, and the old Hungarian-Romanian border may wish to have a map at had in order to follow the action.

The book has two small failings, one being the insufficient attention paid to the diplomatic run-up to the Romanian declaration of war in August 1916, and the degree to which the Romanian desire to drive the best possible deal resulted in the campaign being launched as the Somme and Brusilov offensives were winding down. The other is the claim, not really justified, that the tactics and operational aspects of the campaign were a "prelude to blitzkrieg". The Gorlice-Tarnow offensive a year earlier, the Hundred Days in the West in 1918, all were significant victories using the same tactics and operational plans. But those small criticisms aside, I will enjoy using this as a reference in my World War One course scheduled for next fall.
4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fresh and concise study 30 Nov 2013
By F. Carol Sabin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Mr. Barrett’s fresh look of a long-neglected aspect of World War I that influenced the course of war is brought alive under the form of an interesting and compelling study.
As many people know, while the operations on the Romanian front during 1916-1917 had important consequences for the Entente, they occupy a small chapter in their total war effort. Undoubtedly, Mr. Barrett’s new and well-organized study fills a critical gap in our understanding of the”Great War” and it is a valuable contribution to the military history.

After a short preface, in the first chapter (“Romania enters war”) the author described the state and the (poor) capabilities of the Romanian Army, political leaders and domestic defense industry limited possibilities. This is followed by the description of the initial advance on the main axis in Transylvania.
Chapter 2 (“The central powers respond”) follows the same pattern as in chapter 1, but with the description of Central Powers side capabilities, plans, leadership and the deployment of the their forces in that new theater of war, rated by Ludendorff a top priority. These initial decisions, rapid operational moves plus German (qualitative) reinforcements actually sealed the fate of the 1916 campaign. Without the massive German reinforcements and their superior war experience, their allies (Austro-Hungarian, Bulgaria and Ottoman Empire) definitely could not block/advance, or win the campaign. History recorded that Romania defeated and occupied some parts of Bulgaria in 1913 and wiped out in 1919 Hungarian Red Revolution and seized Budapest.

Chapter 3 (“The first Dobrogea campaign”) and 5 (“The second Dobrogea Campaign”) show the operations on the Dobrogean Front since Central Powers decided to answer the invasion of Transylvania with an attack on Romania's southern border. As accurately described in this book, the Romanian and later, Russian, attempt to defend Dobrogea (The fall of Turtucaia fortress, Flamanda maneuver etc) during the first two months of the war, was a costly affair. Apart of losing the territory the personnel losses were heavy. As elsewhere, the German support proved decisive at all levels (general Mackensen’s abilities come first) and I personally believe that Bulgarians and Ottoman troops couldn't win this campaign on their own.

Chapters 4 (“Clearing Transylvania”), 6 (“Stalemate in the Mountains”), 7 (“Moldavia: the forgotten front”) and 8 (“The drive across Walachia”) are dedicated to the Austro-German counteroffensive in Transylvania, battles on the frontiers, the struggle to defend Wallachia and the retreat to Moldovia. As throughout the book, the author presents the facts quite objectively, sparing neither side from criticism where it is due. The role and the influence of the French Military Mission in Romania led by General Berthelot are also presented.

“The fall of Bucharest and the end of the 1916 Campaign” is summarized in Chapter 9, which ends with a short casualty part.
After the alert description of the military operations on different parts of the Romanian front, the author made, in a rather slower, but comprehensive pace, a short and accurate description of the 1917 events (“Stalemate in Southeast Europe”). Retraining and reequipping of the new Romanian Army with French support, disintegration of the Russian forces, Brest-Litovsk treaty, etc are not missing from the facts described.
If this much-needed French help (especially heavy artillery, machine guns and aircraft) had came in 1916 or earlier, most probably the 1916 defeat could have been avoided. Also, the author briefly described the summer 1917 famous battles of Marasti (wrongly presented as a feint aimed to Bucharest, actually it was Focsani), Marasesti and Oituz. These Romanian successes demonstrated that Romanian troops, if properly trained and equipped, could fight on a par with any opponent. The successful performance of the (new) Romanian army in 1917 restored Romania's credibility with the Entente allies, as it turned out.

In November 1918 (not described in this book), the same army reentered combat and concluded the war on the victorious side, made possible the union of Transylvania with Romania (on December 1, 1918), that is, the initial aim at the beginning of war back in 1916.
In the final chapter (Conclusion) author provide interesting analyses of the prime factors which decided the outcome of the campaign. Among them, author explained the timing, strategy, location, experience etc.

The conclusion part is good, but there are some curious statements. I wondered how the author could think that a “neophyte army” (page 304) could advance as far as Istanbul with no expeditionary capabilities, experience and poor equipment facing two enemy countries (Bulgaria and Ottoman Empire) and possible German support? This could happen only if Allies questionable promises could be kept and a coordinated effort could be materialized in general offensives on all fronts. But this didn’t happen and Entente inactivity allowed Central Powers to concentrate undisturbed their forces in Romania.

The second aspect is not only unjust, but also unsupported and intriguing (page 304):”But Romania had not joined the war to help the Entente”. Where is this coming from?? After all, we have to remember how the Allies pledged Romania to enter war to lessen the pressure on the Western Front or in different theaters of war: Italy, Galicia, France or Balkans! The deployment in 1916-1917 of over 40 enemy divisions in Romania not only substantially helped Allied cause, provided relief in some theaters and also saved many lives. Central Powers had administered a crushing defeat and occupied two-thirds of Romanian territory, but at the cost of diverting substantial military forces they needed on other fronts.

Another irksome observation is that in numerous places in the book appeared “Hungary” or “Romanian invasion of Hungary” or “Arad, Hungary”, a sensitive issue, which, from many perspectives, is wrong and tendentious, not to mention the revisionist flavor. The Romanian-inhabited province of Transylvania was part, at that time, of Austro-Hungary (Habsburg) Empire. Hungary, as a state, was established after WW I. Also we cannot speak about Turkey at that time (use Ottoman Empire). I surmise that Mr. Barrett, a skilful researcher indeed, posses only superficial knowledge about the history of these places, despite his “wonderful” trip in Romania.

The title is attractive and promising, but the demonstration of the thesis I believe is a little bit too forced and less successful in clarifications. Rapid movements, envelopments, tactical/operational maneuvers were characteristic to many wars (see Napoleonic wars, French-Prussian 1870-71 war or initial battles of WW I). Kesselschlacht (cauldron battles), also a hallmark of Blitzkrieg, but this never happened, at grand scale, in the Romanian theatre. It is true, however, that lessons learned from this conflagration, plus the development of new weapons (tanks, bombers, assault aircraft, armored troop carriers etc) during and at the end of WW I provided the pillars of the new doctrine.

The text is supported by 15 useful maps (some are too small and difficult to read) that show the deployments and course of action for the major battles on this front. Very good are also 33 B&W photographs showing the key military & political leaders of both sides and some combat actions. There is a useful and large notes section (67 pages) and bibliography (from which Romanian archives are missing and just a few books are listed as sources, a serious methodological problem of the work) to indicate the sources of various statements, so the readers can verify their accuracy, consider the context, or follow them further. There is also a comprehensive index.

I must say that Mr. Barllett’s book is the second foreign book dedicated to this campaign recently, but, sadly, it doesn’t reach the superlative level of Glenn E. Torey’s book concerning selected bibliography, coverage, detailed maps and balanced presentation.
Nevertheless, with the aforementioned caveats, this book is recommended with a 4 to 5 stars rating and it is a good study for this often neglected campaign.
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