the 1944 campaign : Iasi-Chisinau

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source : ‘romanian army of world war II’ men at arms 246, Osprey publishing

The soviets were now within the romanian frontier and throughout the summer the romanian deployment grew, helping the retreating germans to stabilize the front in Bessarabia. Antonescu suggested a controlled withdrawal to the more defensible Carpathian-Danube line which he had prudently been fortifying around Focsani since 1942; but Hitler refused, promising to keep sufficient german armour, leaving the front vulnerable.

By 19 august 3rd army had 2nd corps (9, marine det), 3rd corps (IIob, 2, 15) and a german corps (incl 21, 4m) under command. The neighbouring german 6th army included 14th division. Both armies came under the romanian army group Dumitrescu, which had 1st cavalry division in its reserves. To its north army group Wohler included 1st armoured, 8th infantry and 18th mountain divisions in reserve. Its german 8th army included 11th division and 4th corps (102mc, 5c, 7, 3), while its romanian 4th army comprised 6th corps (incl. 5, 101mc), a german corps (incl. 1,13), 5th corps (4,G), 1st corps (6, 20) and 7th corps (103mc, 104mc). Romanian morale, already shaken, was further undermined by rumours of peace feelers, and german units, often under romanian command, were interspersed with the romanians to brace their resistance.

On 20 august the soviets attacked both 3rd army south of Tiraspol and 4th army north of Iasi. After reporting ‘fierce fighting’ they broke through 4th mountain and 21st divisions and advanced deep into the rear of 3rd army. 3rd army began a preplanned withdrawal to the Danube line, but was pre-empted by soviet mechanized forces and naval landings which had nearly surrounded it against the coast by the 23rd. The soviets reported that 3rd army fought hard to break out.

North of Iasi the soviets soon broke through parts of 5th, 6th and 4th corps. 1st armoured and 18th mountain divisions put in an immediate counterattack, but the soviets had six times as many tanks and they were quickly surrounded. The remnants of 4th army were thrown back into the Carpathians, and by 23 august the soviets were deep in the rear of the german 6th and 8th armies which were in immediate danger of being surrounded.

However, if the romanian 115th, 106th and 121st fortification detachments resisted from the fixed fortifications in the Focsani gap supported by the locally raised three training corps (6t, 15t, 21t) and 8th armoured division which had been ordered up from the interior with 88mm guns from Ploiesti, it was still possible that the germans, 3rd and 4th armies might escape to the more defensible Carpathian-Danube line which, unknown to them, was the planned limit of the soviet offensive. This would have saved the Ploiesti oil fields vital to the german war economy.

Antonescu had deployed his entire available field army in a genuine attempt to prevent the soviets from overrunning the country. Romanian resistance was uneven but soviet reports confirm that they initially put in some determined, if ineffectual, counter-attacks. The germans, who had been wrong-footed by soviet deployments, believed themselves betrayed by the romanians on 20 august. Elements of the romanian officer corps had certainly grown increasingly unco-operative during the summer, but significant operational collusion with the soviets only occurred after 23 august. The soviet victory was largely due to good planning and execution.

For three years the romanian army, for all its failings, had proved Germany’s largest, most effective and most resilient ally on the eastern front. Until Stalingrad losses inflicted on the red army matched those suffered, but the ratio then swung heavily in the soviets’ favour. Losses against the soviets were 71.000 dead, 243.000 wounded and 310.000 missing. most of the latter died in the field or as POWs.

Romania aug 1944

 

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