romanian army : mechanisation

source : ‘romanian army of world war 2’ men at arms 246, Osprey publishing

Mechanisation, and particularly the provision of modern armour, was Antonescu’s main preoccupation. Romania’s was fundamentally a horsedrawn army, but the loss of 525.752 horses between 1941 and 1944 from a national herd of 1.268.716 seriously limited even this obsolescent means of transport. In 1938 there were only 34.000 motor vehicles in the entire country, of which about 10.000 were trucks, and only a single Ford assembly plant with a maximum capacity of ten vehicles per day. This severely restricted the army’s ability to mechanise. Wartime attrition and reparations to the soviets reportedly reduced vehicle holdings to a mere 3.000 by 1945.

In 1934 a motorized rifle battalion, later to become Antonescu’s bodyguard, was formed to reinforce the cavalry;  and in the 1936 manoeuvres two infantry battalions were successfully mounted on buses. The army consequently bought over 2.000 locally assembled Ford 4×2 trucks and imported various four- and six-wheel-drive Skoda, Pagra, Tatra, Steyr and Horch trucks and cars to motorise the 3rd and 4th rifle regiments, six cavalry regiments, the seven corps artillery regiments and various command, antitank, engineer and signal elements. Limited deliveries of Mercedes, Volkswagen, Walter, Bussing NAG and Opel trucks and cars and Czech vehicles continued up to 1944. From 1937 to 1942 numbers of fully tracked Czech Praga T-VI-R heavy artillery tractors were delivered and these were later supplemented by german SdKfz 8 half-tracks.

Romania’s armour was never numerous or modern enough to allow it a major role on the eastern front. Romania had possessed some 70 Renault FT tanks since the 1920s. These were supplemented by two Skoda OAvz 27 and 12 Tatra OAvz 30 armoured cars which fled Czechoslovakia in march 1939 and were assigned to corps HQs for reconnaissance. During the late 1930s 1st armoured regiment was re-equipped with 126 R-2 (Czech 10.5 ton Skoda S-II-a) light tanks; and in 1940 was combined with the four motorized battalions of 3rd and 4th rifles and the 1st motorized artillery regiment into 1st armoured division. 2nd armoured regiment, with 41 french and 34 ex-polish II ton Renault R-35s, remained independent.

From 1939 60 french Renault UE2 chenillettes, known in Romania at the ‘Malaxa’, were assembled locally as a first step toward the creation of an indigenous armour industry. Romania applied to build the Skoda T21 17 ton medium tank in 1940 but the germans refused a licence. This upset the local balance of power, as they simultaneously gave a licence for the similar T22 to Hungary. Romania’s own Maresal tank destroyer, named after Antonescu, entered production in mid-1944, only to have the soviets stop the programme.

During the liberation of Besarabia 1st armoured division had considerable operational success, but for the siege of Odessa it was split up and dissipated in the infantry support role. 2nd armoured regiment’s undergunned and underpowered R-35s proved inadequate and the unit was relegated to training after Odessa.

When the refitted 1st armoured division returned to the front in august 1942 it still had 87 R-2s, but as these were obsolete the germans delivered ten PzKpfw III ausf Ns and ten PzKpfw IVs (Kurz) in october. The division was all but wiped out at Stalingrad and most of the vehicles lost.

By 1942 the six cavalry brigades each included a single motorized cavalry regiment, and until 1943 the reconnaissance squadron of each brigade had 4 R-I (Czech 4.2 ton CKD AH-IV) light tanks. Early in the Stalingrad campaign the 1st and 7th cavalry divisions exchanged regiments so that the 7th could become largely motorized. Plans to combine it into a new moto-mechanised corps with 1st armoured division were aborted due to the Stalingrad disaster.

As a stop-gap while 1st armoured division was rebuilding after Stalingrad the germans delivered 50 obsolete PzKpfw 38(t)s to 2nd armoured regiment, and these were deployed with the cavalry and mountain corps in the Kuban and Crimea where most were lost in 1943-44. The 6th and 9th cavalry divisions lost all their vehicles in the 1944 evacuation of the Crimea and never rebuilt their motorized element.

In 1943-44 the romanians themselves refurbished over 30 of their captured soviet T-60 light tanks and at least 20 surviving R-2s and converted them to tank destroyers (Tacams) by mounting soviet 76.2mm A/T guns. They saw frontline service in august 1944, but the Tacam T-60s were all confiscated by the soviets in september. They also up-gunned most of the remaining R-35s with captured sviet 45mm tank guns.

During 1943-44 8th and 5th cavalry divisions were to be fully motorized and strengthened by transferring in the motorized regiments of the 1st and 7th cavalry divisions. However, due to a lack of vehicles 5th cavalry were on foot in august 1944. The 1st became an entirely horsed division while the 7th was disbanded to bring the 1st, 5th and 8th up to four regiment each.

1st armoured division was rebuilt during 1943-44 and returned to the front in the summer of 1944 equipped with 90 PzKpfw IV ausf Hs, StuG IIIs, Tacams and SdKfz 222 armoured cars. One of its motorized infantry battalions was upgraded to panzer-grenadier status by the issue of SdKfz 250 and 251 armoured half-tracks. The division suffered heavily when counter-attacking the soviets at Iasi on 21 august 1944. Surviving elements managed to break out of encirclement into the Carpathians and took part in the liberation of Transilvania.

In early august 1944 8th motorized division’s 4th Rosiori regiment was converting to an armoured unit and the division, with some 60 AFVs, was briefly referred to as 8th (or 2nd) armoured division until the defection to the Allies later that month. Also within the country the Romanians had 2nd armoured regiment, the depot elements of 1st armoured division and the cavalry and armoured schools equipped with an assortment of obsolete Renault FT 17s, R-1s, R-2s, R-35s, PzKpfw 38(t)s and Tacams and a few StuG IIIs and PzKpfw IVs. Combined with 8th motorized division and 115th infantry regiment into the moto-mechanised corps, they played an important role in the Bucharest, Ploiesti and Transilvania fighting against the germans up to october.

The peace treaty of 26 october required the disbanding of 1st armoured and 5th cavalry divisions. The soviets then ordered the surrender of remaining armour to ‘red army’ depots. However, Romania secured soviet agreement to send 2nd armoured regiment to the front in January 1945, equipped with 79 AFVs comprising all working examples of virtually every type previously issued plus some captured hungarian and german armour. Serviceability was consequently low, and the regiment was reduced to only two runners by the war’s end. It is probable that the unit was deliberately run into the ground by the soviets under whose direct commend it fought and who confiscated its vehicles as they became disabled. Lack of spares progressively reduced much of the 8th motorized division to marching.

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