After two years of neutrality (1914-1916), Romania allied with Britain, France, Russia and Italy and entered the war with the aim of unifying the Romanian provinces under Austrian-Hungarian rule, and first of all Transylvania, with the Old Kingdom of Romania. Despite the courage and heroism shown in some fierce battles, the might of the Central Power armies and especially the defection of Russia after the Bolshevik coup left Romania agonising. The final victory of the Entente in 1918 would bring an unexpected, yet extraordinary, conclusion to the Romanian campaign.
THE ROMANIANS AND THE GREAT WAR
28th June 1914
THE ARCHDUKE FRANZ FERDINAND AND HIS WIFE, THE DUCHESS OF HOHENBERG, WERE ASSASSINATED IN SARAJEVO.
The culprit was a Bosnian student named Gavrilo Prinzip, a member of the secret ‘Black Hand’ society. Austria-Hungary blamed Serbia for this incident, as several Serbian officers also participated in the preparation of the attack. Although the Belgrade government had no direct connection with this assassination, Austria-Hungary made use of this pretext to take aggressive action against the Serbs, with the intention of expanding and consolidating their possessions in the area of the Balkan Peninsula.
28th July 1914
AUSTRIA-HUNGARY DECLARED WAR ON SERBIA.
In the next few days, a series of war declarations followed, triggered by the system of alliances within Europe (August 1 – Germany declared war on Russia, August 2 – German troops invaded Belgium, August 3 – Germany declared war on France, August 4 – Britain declared war on Germany). Thus, in less than two weeks, the Balkan crisis turned into a general European conflict, which soon became a global one. The governments of the European states, as well as a significant part of public opinion, did not oppose the war and aligned themselves enthusiastically with it. Everyone thought it would be a short war, but was bitterly deceived.
16th August 1914
THE CROWN COUNCIL OF SINAIA DECIDED ROMANIA’S NEUTRALITY.
This decision was taken in the context in which, shortly after hostilities began, the Austro-Hungarian government requested that Romania enter the war. The Romanian Kingdom had signed a defensive pact with the countries of the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy) in 1883. The Austro-Hungarian aggression was, however, not considered a sound reason for Romania’s entry into the war at that point. Another aspect that contributed to Romania’s refusal to join the war with Austria-Hungary was the Magyarisation policy of the Budapest government against the Romanians in Transylvania. Although King Carol I supported Romania’s entry into war alongside the Central Powers, Prime Minister Ion I.C. Brătianu was able to convince him that such an action was not in accordance with the national interest. The only politician who supported the King at the Sinaia debates was Conservative Petre P. Carp. Neutrality was considered the best solution for the moment. This choice was founded on several considerations: the similar attitude of Italy, the fact that the stipulations of the alliance treaty with Austria-Hungary did not require Romania’s entry into the war, except for reasons of defence, and the fact that the Romanian army was not yet prepared from a technical point of view.
10th October 1914
KING CAROL I PASSED AWAY AT PELEȘ CASTLE.
11th October 1914
THE CROWNING CEREMONY OF FERDINAND I TOOK PLACE IN BUCHAREST.
The future king was among the supporters of benevolent neutrality towards the Entente. This orientation was also due to the fact that his wife, Queen Marie, was of British origin.
27th December 1914
THE EXTRAORDINARY CONGRESS OF THE ‘LEAGUE FOR THE CULTURAL UNITY OF ALL ROMANIANS’ TOOK PLACE.
On this occasion, President Vasile Lucaciu was elected, and the organisation’s name was changed to ‘The League for the Political Unity of all Romanians’. This was one of the most important organisations fighting for the unity of Romanians, having done so since the end of the nineteenth century. The official change of name was a sign that the fight for unity had entered a new phase.
28th February 1915
A LARGE MEETING OF THE ‘LEAGUE FOR THE POLITICAL UNITY OF ALL ROMANIANS’ TOOK PLACE.
On this occasion, several Romanian politicians and intellectuals, who supported the liberation of Romanians from the Austrian-Hungarian rule, delivered fiery speeches. Among those who took the floor were famous figures like poet Octavian Goga, playwright Barbu Ștefănescu-Delavrancea, politicians Nicolae Filipescu and Take Ionescu, and historian Nicolae Iorga.
28th March 1915
THE CONGRESS OF ROMANIANS ABROAD, WHICH DECLARED ITSELF SUPPORTIVE OF THE ‘IDEAL OF THE NATION’S COMPLETENESS’, WAS HELD IN BUCHAREST.
This congress took place in the context of various popular demonstrations, as well as an extensive press campaign that supported Romania’s entry into war on the side of the Entente. Thus, during this period, Romania’s main objective – the unification of all territories inhabited by a majority Romanian population – and the way to achieve this objective – entering the war on the Entente side – became more and more evident.
17th May 1915
ITALY ENTERED WAR ON THE ENTENTE SIDE.
The Italian government communicated the cancellation of the Alliance Treaty with the Central Powers to the Austro-Hungarian government. Shortly thereafter (24 May), a declaration of war addressed to Austria-Hungary followed. Italy’s entry into war on the Entente side had a significant impact on Romanian public opinion, offering an additional argument to those who supported Romania’s entry into war in the same camp.
17th August 1916
THE TREATY OF ALLIANCE WITH RUSSIA, FRANCE, GREAT BRITAIN AND ITALY WAS SIGNED IN BUCHAREST.
This treaty contained two conventions, one military and one political, providing the recognition of Romania’s right to the parts of Austria-Hungary where there was a Romanian majority, as well as the territorial integrity of Romania. In exchange, Romania committed itself to declaring war on the Austro-Hungarian Empire, while the Russian army was about to initiate a massive offensive on the Eastern Front.
27th August 1916
THE CROWN COUNCIL OF COTROCENI TOOK PLACE.
On this occasion, the Prime Minister announced the signing of the Entente Treaty, which until then was kept secret. Following heated debates, the decision to enter the war was made in accordance with stipulations established by the Treaty of August 17. On the evening of August 27, the Romanian Minister in Vienna, Edgar Mavrocordat, presented the war declaration to the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister. That same evening, the Romanian army’s Mobilisation Decree was made public.
28th August 1916
THE ROMANIAN ARMY CROSSED THE CARPATHIANS IN TRANSYLVANIA.
From a strategic point of view, the Romanian army was in a very difficult situation because it was required to fight on a long front of almost 1,500 km. Romania’s entry into war had immediate beneficial consequences for the Entente. To face the new enemy, Germany had to mobilise five infantry divisions and a cavalry division on the Eastern Front, thus reducing pressure on the Western Front. In the following weeks, the Romanian army succeeded in liberating approximately a third of Transylvanian territory.
1st September 1916
SEPTEMBER 1-6, 1916: THE ROMANIAN ARMY SUFFERED A DISASTROUS DEFEAT AT THE BATTLE OF TURTUCAIA.
Taking advantage of the fact that a large part of the Romanian army was involved in the liberation of Transylvania, an army of Central Powers, made up of German, Bulgarian and Turkish troops, attacked Romania from the South. The defense of the Danube line and of Dobrogea proved to be unfeasible, despite the fact that the Romanian army benefited from the support of four Russian divisions. At first, the offensive of the Central Powers, coordinated by General Mackensen, was concentrated in the area of the Turtucaia locality. After several days of resistance, the Romanian troops conceded defeat, suffering considerable losses. 25,000 Romanian soldiers were taken prisoners. The effort to reorganise the Romanian army in the Danube area was led by General Alexandru Averescu.
29th September 1916
SEPTEMBER 29 – OCTOBER 3, 1916: AFTER HAVING SUFFERED SEVERAL DEFEATS BY THE CENTRAL POWERS, THE ROMANIAN ARMY IN TRANSYLVANIA WAS FORCED TO WITHDRAW ALONG THE OLD FRONTIER.
Throughout September, a powerful offensive of the German Army (the 9th Army) took place in Transylvania. Because the Romanian troops were spread over a large area of territory, they were unable to resist the concentrated assaults of the German-Austro-Hungarian troops.
11th October 1916
OCTOBER 11-27 AND NOVEMBER 10-15, 1916: THE FIRST TWO BATTLES OF OITUZ TOOK PLACE.
Withdrawal of Romanian troops stopped at the Carpathian passes. Here, General Eremia Grigorescu organised an effective resistance that temporarily halted the offensive of the Central Powers. The two victories obtained by the Romanian soldiers in the Oituz Pass had particular strategic importance because they prevented the penetration of the German-Austro-Hungarian armies into the central area of Moldavia.
16th October 1916
THE FRENCH MILITARY MISSION, LED BY GENERAL HENRI MATHIAS BERTHELOT, ARRIVED IN ROMANIA.
23rd October 1916
OCTOBER 23-29, 1916: BATTLES TOOK PLACE IN THE JIU GORGE.
The Romanian troops, led by General Ion Dragalina, defended one of the main channels of communication between Transylvania and Wallachia. The most heated battles took place in the area of the city of Târgu Jiu where, along with soldiers, groups of civilians also took part in fighting. The effort of the Romanians was noted by the British newspaper The Times: ‘The Romanian forces from the West, placed in a dangerous strategic position, opposed a desperate resistance to a position that the Germans gave the name of Târgu Jiu, and fought for three days bravely against the best German troops. Thanks to this brave leadership, the Romanian armies […] delayed the advancement of the Austro-Hungarian-German columns over the mountain area for two months and imposed huge sacrifices and difficulties for transport and communications on the enemy.’
16th November 1916
NOVEMBER 16 – DECEMBER 3, 1916: OFFENSIVE ACTIONS OF THE GERMAN-AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN ARMY TOOK PLACE IN THE WALLACHIAN PLAIN.
Forced to abandon defensive positions in the mountain area, the Romanian army retreated along the Neajlov and Argeş rivers. The objective of the Romanian army was to defend the capital, Bucharest, which is why this battle is known in history also as ‘The Battle for Bucharest’. Romanian troops were under the command of General Constantin Prezan, backed by French General Berthelot. The Romanian army was in numerical inferiority, having 13 and a half divisions, while the Germans and their allies had a total of 16 and a half divisions. Although at first the Romanian soldiers registered more successes along the front, on November 30 enemies captured the Romanian army’s battle plans. This incident had dramatic consequences, offering the Central Powers a great tactical advantage. On December 3, the Romanian Command organised a retreat northwards, on the Siret line. Despite the losses suffered in this campaign (100,000 dead, 150,000 injured and 250,000 prisoners), the Romanian army survived, gaining the chance to resume the fight in better conditions.
1st December 1916
DECEMBER 1916 – FEBRUARY 1917: THE REFUGEE POPULATION NORTH OF THE MILCOV RIVER WAS SEVERELY AFFECTED BY CLIMATIC CONDITIONS AND EPIDEMICS.
The number of those who fled to Moldavia after the territorial losses of 1916 is estimated at 1,500,000 people. The winter of 1916-1917 was particularly extreme, contributing to hardships caused by lack of food and medicine. An outbreak of typhus claimed 300,000 victims, among both soldiers and civilians.
3rd December 1916
THE ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT, CHAIRED BY ION I.C. BRĂTIANU, LEFT BUCHAREST.
Three days later, on December 6, the capital of Romania was occupied by the Central Powers’ troops. The Romanian authorities fled to Moldavia, along with a part of the population. For a time, Romania’s capital was moved to the city of Iași.
10th January 1917
JANUARY-JUNE 1917: DURING THIS PERIOD, THE ROMANIAN ARMY WAS REORGANISED WITH THE HELP OF THE FRENCH MILITARY MISSION.
The mission led by General Berthelot, made up of 277 officers, 37 pilots, 88 doctors, 4 naval officers, 8 mission officers, and 1,150 non-commissioned officers, played a very important role in the reconstruction of the Romanian army. At the end of this period, the Romanian army numbered about 460,000 combatants and was better trained, better equipped and more determined than it had been in the previous year.
12th March 1917
THE BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTION BROKE OUT IN RUSSIA.
Gradually, Russia ceased to be an active member of the Entente, thereby affecting the balance of forces in the Eastern parts of Europe. Under the influence of Bolshevik ideas, many Russian soldiers deserted. Romania thus remained without its allies on the Eastern Front and found itself needing to resist the assault of the Central Powers alone.
4th April 1917
KING FERDINAND PROMISED LAND AND WIDER PARTICIPATION IN POLITICAL LIFE TO PEASANTS FIGHTING ON THE FRONT.
6th April 1917
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA ENTERED COMBAT ON THE ENTENTE SIDE, DECLARING WAR ON GERMANY.
26th April 1917
THE TRANSYLVANIAN AND BUKOVINIAN VOLUNTEER SOLDIERS UNANIMOUSLY ADOPTED THE DARNIŢA MANIFESTO, CONSIDERED TO BE THE FIRST DECLARATION OF UNION.
As early as 1914, after battles in Galicia, a large number of Transylvanian and Bukovinian soldiers fighting in the Austro-Hungarian army fell into the hands of the Russians. With Romania’s entry into war in 1916, Russian authorities allowed Romanian prisoners to concentrate in the Darniţa camp near Kiev, where they would be prepared to re-enter battle. Through the Darniţa Manifesto, Romanian soldiers who had had to fight before in the Austro-Hungarian army expressed their desire to fight for their own homeland: ‘We, the Corps of the Romanian Army Volunteers, officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers of Romanian nationality, from the territory of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, former prisoners of war in Russia, we who with the sacrifice of our lives are ready to enter into battle for the fulfilment of our ideal, to unite all the people, all Romanian territory from the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy into one and inseparable free Romania […]. Today, when we, Romanians, like the other subdued nations, have been definitively convinced that we as Romanians are no longer able to exist within the frame of the Austro-Hungarian state, we who in our language, culture, social structure and in our entire ethnic and political being form a unique and inseparable body with all the other constituent parts of the Romanian nation, we request our incorporation into free Romania, to form with it a Romanian national state […] For this ideal we put to balance everything we have, our life and wealth, our women and children, the life and happiness of our offspring. And we will not stop until we are victorious or we perish […].’
1st May 1917
MAY 1917; A MISSION OF TRANSYLVANIAN ROMANIANS WAS SENT TO THE U.S. BY BUCHAREST, IN ORDER TO MOBILISE ROMANIAN COLONIES IN AMERICA TO SUPPORT THE NATIONAL CAUSE.
The delegation consisted of Vasile Lucaciu, Ion Moţa and Vasile Stoica. The importance of this mission was even greater as Romania did not have a consulate in the United States at the time.
1st June 1917
JUNE 1917; ‘THE ANGLO-ROMANIAN SOCIETY’ WAS ESTABLISHED IN LONDON.
This society was led by Lord Hugh Cecil and had as important members the Archbishop of Canterbury, Viscount Bryce (historian and politician) and publicists Wickham Steed and R.W. Seton-Watson.
24th July 1917
JULY 24 – AUGUST 1, 1917: A STRONG OFFENSIVE OF THE ROMANIAN ARMY TOOK PLACE AT MĂRĂȘTI.
The second Romanian Army, led by General Alexandru Averescu, attacked the enemy front defended by German and Austro-Hungarian troops. In the span of a few days, Romanian soldiers managed to occupy several areas controlled by the enemy. The most difficult objective was the village of Mărăști, which had been strongly fortified. It was a powerful offensive by the Romanian army, ‘the first victory in the true sense of the word’, as the commander of the Romanian troops, General Alexandru Averescu testified.
6th August 1917
AUGUST 6-19, 1917: THE BATTLE OF MĂRĂȘEȘTI TOOK PLACE.
The Romanian army failed to profit from the advantage created by the victorious offensive at Mărăști, as the Russians suffered an important defeat in Galicia. During this period, the Russian army was heavily affected by the desertions caused by the spread of Bolshevik ideas. Thus, the Romanian soldiers were forced to return to the defensive. For 14 days, Romanian troops, along with several remaining Russian divisions, managed to resist the repeated assaults coordinated by General Mackensen. In this battle, the Germans’ plans to put Romania out of the war in the context of the weakening of the Russian army were thwarted. The Romanian army lost 610 officers and 26,800 soldiers, while German losses amounted to 60,000 to 65,000. As General Eremia Grigorescu described it, the Battle of Mărășești ‘was the grave of German illusions.’
8th August 1917
AUGUST 8-22, 1917: THE THIRD BATTLE OF OITUZ TOOK PLACE.
This battle occurred almost concurrently with that of Mărășești. An army of German and Austro-Hungarian troops attempted to seize control of the Trotuș Valley, an area rich in coal fields and oil fields. The resistance of the Romanian soldiers, however, dashed this plan.
2nd November 1917
THE CONGRESS OF MOLDAVIAN SOLDIERS TOOK PLACE IN CHIȘINĂU.
This large gathering was attended by 800 delegates, representing approximately 200,000 Romanian soldiers on all fronts. The main achievement of this Congress was the unification of political efforts of the Romanian population in Bessarabia and the elaboration of a coherent political programme, whose main conditions were: territorial and political autonomy within Russia, creation of Moldavian military units, nationalisation of education, agrarian reform through allotment to peasants and the respecting of nationalities’ rights. During this congress, the decision to form the Country Council, an administrative institution that was to function until a Constituent Assembly elected by universal suffrage was established, was made.
4th December 1917
THE COUNTRY COUNCIL BEGAN ITS ACTIVITY IN BESSARABIA UNDER THE DIRECTION OF ION INCULEȚ.
5th December 1917
THE FOCȘANI ARMISTICE WAS SIGNED BETWEEN THE ROMANIAN-RUSSIAN TROOPS AND THE CENTRAL POWERS.
Political changes in Russia led to the signing of this truce. After the exit of the Russian army from battle, Romania was unable to continue the hostilities on the Eastern Front on its own.
This website has been set up as part of the programme celebrating the Centenary of United Romania (1918-2018).
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