Top positive review
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An excellent and exquisitely detailed book
on March 4, 2012
"The Romanian Battlefront in WW I" is not just the one of the few English-language books on its subject, but it stands comparison with the best English-language studies of any individual country's armed forces in WWI.
Mr. Torrey has remedied this situation, his book being an excellent study to a subject unjustly ignored by many English-speaking historians; to date, I believe it is one of the few comprehensive accounts of Romania's military involvement in WW I in English. Very well written and organized, containing 17 comprehensive chapters on (mainly) military operations (plus Conclusions and an Epilogue) and illustrated with many maps and photos, it is invaluable for anyone interested in operations on the Eastern Front in WW I. Based not only on access to Romanian military archives but also on additional studies provided by German, Austrian, Italian archives etc, Mr. Torrey's book contains an detailed, chronological account of military operations on Romanian Front during 1916-1918 and even immediate postwar actions in 1919 in Hungary. Additionally, the author inspired from relevant Romanian and non-Romanian secondary sources such as published documents, memoirs, specialized studies etc.
After a short preface, the first two chapters describe the Romania's political (leaders, geopolitical factors, alliances, etc) and military (war plans, strengths, etc) situation at the beginning of the war. This short, balanced background information about the country and its political and military leaders is useful, since most readers are unlikely to have detailed knowledge of Romania in that period of time. It also provides a helpful context for Romania's two years of negotiation with the Entente countries.
In spite of its great numbers, the Romanian army entered the war poorly armed and trained when compared with its numerous (neighbor) opponents (Germany, Austro-Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria). As the author mentioned in his book, the Romanian army spent most of the initial war period fighting with obsolete weapons and without the full training that would have made them a force equal to any of the major armies. Moreover, the country was in a very vulnerable geostrategic position and the Romanian General Staff (created in 1882, after the 1877-78 War for Independence) lacked professionalism and war experience.
Chapter 3 ("On the eve of war") is focused on political and military decisions, including the Central Powers' fault in miscalculating Romania's entry in war on Entente side, coupled with interesting accounts about the operations on Macedonian theater of war and the German strategy vis-à-vis Romanian threat.
"The invasion of Transylvania", the outbreak of the war, started with a complete surprise of the enemy troops. However, the initial Romanian ease advance was somehow timid due to the fact that many commanders lacked initiative and daring to penetrate much more in the heart of this Provence, against an inferior enemy (only 15 battalions). Thanks to a grotesque chain of mistakes and indecision, for a whole week, Romanian forces stood passive in front of town of Sibiu which was barely defended. As we could see in the next chapters this allowed Central Powers to concentrate over 40 divisions from other fronts, half of them German (among them Alpine Corps and Wurttemberg Mountain Battalion), and to regain the strategic initiative.
Chapters 5&6 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 and I personally believe that Bulgarians and Turks couldn't win this campaign on their own.
Chapters 7 to 10 are dedicated to the Austro-German counteroffensive in Transylvania, battles on the frontiers, the struggle to defend Wallachia and the retreat to Moldovia. In my view, as throughout the book, Mr. Torrey presents the facts quite objectively, sparing neither side from criticism where it is due.
The book contains an incredible insight into the Romanian High Command faulty decision making process that led eventually to lose about two-thirds of Romanian national territory.
After the alert description of the military operations on different parts of the Romanian front, the author made, in a rather slow pace, but comprehensive description of the reconstruction of the Romanian Army after losing over 300,000 troops in the 1916 campaign. This transitional chapter is very important for the reader due to several reasons. It shows the environment of reconstruction, the morale & welfare factor, rearmament and last, but not least, the role of the French Military Mission in Romania (led by General Berthelot). Mr. Torrey's study is also interesting and can fuel a debate about the Coalition warfare relationship of both sides during that period. Despite points of tensions and cultural barriers, as author turned out, the different players from both sides cooperated quite well during the conflict.
The new weapons provided by the France proved decisive, Romanian division's firepower being comparable to that of German divisions and even superior to that of other Central Powers forces. As Mr. Torrey state, this augmented armament allowed implementation of new tactical approaches on firepower use similar with the Western front. If this much-needed help (especially heavy artillery, machine guns and aircraft) had came in 1916 or earlier, most probably the 1916 defeat could have been avoided.
In the next three chapters the author described the summer 1917 famous battles of Marasti, Marasesti and Oituz. The description is even handed, informative and well supported by maps. Here, I found of special interest the actions of the young lieutenant Erwin Rommel on the Romanian front (Rudolf Hess was also wounded here!) and those of the future Romanian leader, Ion Antonescu. Mr. Torrey did a nice job of incorporating many first hand accounts to supplement his narrative.
These Romanian successes demonstrated that Romanian troops, if properly trained and equipped, could fight on a par with any opponent. As many people know, while the operations on the Romanian front during summertime of 1917 had important consequences for the Entente, they occupy a small chapter in their total war effort. The heroic and successful performance of the (new) Romanian army in 1917 restored Romania's credibility with the Entente allies, as it turned out.
Chapter 15 ("Between war and peace...") focused on propaganda war of both sides, the impact of Focsani armistice and the departure of the Russian army (from 1,200,000 remained about 50,000 troops) and continued in the next chapter with reasons and conditions which led to the occupation of Bessarabia and its subsequent union with Romania as well as the peace of Buftea (march 1918, after German ultimatum), signed in the most unfavorable conditions since the remaining 15 Romanian divisions were required to defend the whole territory without any Russian support.
The last chapter shows the turbulent and also decisive times of the remaining months of the 1918 when the tide of wars turns and Romanian army started to remobilize to enter combat again in less than 24 hours before the armistice in the West went into effect.
Sensing that the story of the WW I on the Romanian Front would be incomplete without mentioning few postwar important issues, before Conclusions, the author added a really valuable "Epilogue". I found this idea sound since many things and historical events are correlated having their roots deep buried long time ago.
Since the Central Powers were defeated and in full withdrawal, Romanian troops reoccupied the lost national territory and the union of Transylvania, Bessarabia and Bukovina with Romania was achieved on December 1, 1918. As the appearance of a Bolshevik regime in Hungary started to take shape, Romania was pressed and with widespread Allied approval started an offensive to end this Red Revolution (led by Bela Kun), eventually defeating the Hungarian forces on the way to Budapest, which was seized on 3 August 1919, as was much of the Hungary. The author doesn't forget to mention that after the peace talks, Romania received the greatest part of what it had been promised in 1916, including alienated minorities and making some neighbors (Hungary, Soviet Union) irredentist and dissatisfied. The events of summer 1940 will show their revenge, Soviet Union occupying Bessarabia and Bukovina, and Hungary, as usually with German help, Transylvania.
Very useful and comprehensive Conclusions end this well-illustrated chronicle of that age.
The text is supported by 17 useful and detailed maps that show the deployments and course of action for the major battles on this front.
Very good are also 42 B&W photographs showing the key military & political leaders of both sides.
There is a useful notes section and bibliography 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 really hesitate to describe any WW I book as definitive or indispensable on its subject, but "The Romanian Battlefront in WW I" comes as close as any. Indeed, I consider it one of the ten most important books on the Eastern Front in WW I.
For anyone interested in the military history of WW I, I recommend it most strongly.
This is easily one of the best works of analysis on the Romanian Battlefront and absolutely deserves five stars given to it!