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.