Secret Document Brings Romania into the War;
Another Disastrous Miscalculation
Special to The Great War Project.
(24-27 August) On August 27, precisely a century ago from today, Romania enters the conflict by declaring war on Austria.
It is a new war zone, created by a secret agreement between Romania and the Allied powers, giving Romania new territory once the war is over.
“Romania, its dreams of expansion now gratified, at least on paper,” writes historian Martin Gilbert, “declared war on Austria.”
Romania’s King Ferdinand issues the proclamation of war.
Animated by the holy duty imposed upon us, and determined to bear manfully all the sacrifices inseparable from an arduous war, we will march into battle with the irresistible élan of a people firmly confident in its destiny. The glorious fruits of victory shall be our reward. Forward, with the help of God!
“That day Romanian troops crossed the Austro-Hungarian border into Transylvania,” an Austrian territory that Romania claims for its own.
“Transylvania contained large numbers of ethnic Romanians,” reports historian Michael Neiberg. “most of whom greeted the invading Romanians as liberators.”
The Romanians also fear that if they don’t take the territory of Transylvania first, the Russians will.
Romania declares war on Austria only, not on Germany. It sends a 700,000 -man army into Transylvania.
The German Kaiser panics, “momentarily,” writes historian Gilbert. “as Romanian troops advanced into the heartland of the Hapsburg Empire, telling those closest to him: ‘The war is lost.’”
But “the Romanian army is short of heavy equipment and inexperienced in the methods of war developed since 1914,” reports Neiberg.
For Austria and Germany, there are crises from all directions.
“Russia’s continuing advance in the east, daily British pressure on the Somme, and now by Romania’s belligerency.”
Still Germany and Austria “remain in the ascendancy. The Kaiser’s panic had been unnecessary…and short-lived,” reports Gilbert.
Observes Neiberg, “Germany responded by declaring war on the Romanians. The German Kaiser felt betrayed by the Romanian royal family, which had promised its neutrality.”
According to Neiberg, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria follow suit. By declaring war, the Romanians are soon in desperate trouble.
The Romanians gamble that they can keep their invasion confined to Austria-Hungary alone. They cannot.
“The under-equipped and inexperienced Romanian army,” reports Neiberg, “faced the full fury of a Central Powers (German and Austrian) offensive.”
‘Romanian forces found themselves terribly outmatched in every way.”
The German command “designed a campaign of annihilation for the Romanians both to avenge their betrayal to the Kaiser, and to send a warning to any remaining neutral states that might want to join the Allies.”
As it turns out, the Romanian decision to enter the war is disastrous. According to war historian John Keegan, “They appear to have made little allowance for the eventuality of Bulgarian or, as it came to pass, Turkish intervention, and they overestimated the military potentiality of their armed forces.”
“Retribution was quick to come,” reports Keegan. “The Austrians quickly organized the local defense forces.”
It is likely Austria will strike back soon, and there appears little likelihood that the Romanians are equipped to stand against the Austrian counter-attack.