In September 1942, the 3rd and 4th Romanian Armies started to take up their positions around Stalingrad. After the fall of the city, they were going form the “Marshal Antonescu” ArmyGroup together with the German 6th Army. In the same time arrived also the first elements of the Romanian Air Corps. These were engaged immediately: on 16 September the 7th Fighter Group, on 25 September the 5th Bomber Group and, on 4 October, the 1st Bomber, 8th Fighter, 6th Fighter-Bomber and 3rd Bomber Group arrived. Its mission was to provide air support for the 3rd Romanian and 6th German Armies.
The 3rd Army, commanded by gen. Petre Dumitrescu, was transferred from the Caucasus and replaced 5 Italian and 2 German divisions, between Blij Perekopa and Bokovskaya. The command point was placed at Cernashevskaya. It had to defend a front 138 km long, between Lugovsky and Sukhoy Donetsk, way beyond its possibilities. A division had to defend a front of an average length of 17-22 km. To make things worse, the Soviets had two bridgeheads over the Don at Serafimovich and Kletskaya. Gen. Dumitrescu requested several times to be allowed to eliminate these bridgeheads, but the German command disapproved.
The 3rd Army was made up from the 4th Corps (1st Cavalry and 13th Infantry Divisions), the 5th Corps (5th and 6th Infantry Divisions), the 2nd Corps (9th and 14th Infantry Divisions) and the 1st Corps (7th and 11th Infantry Divisions), in a single echelon, from west to east. It had in reserve the 7th Cavalry and 15th Infantry Division. The 2nd Long Range Recon (Do-17M) and 112th Liaison Squadrons (Fleet 10G) were assigned to the 3rd Army. In November came the German 48th Corps (22nd German Panzer Division and 1st Romanian Armored Division) and was also put in reserve. It also had the 2nd, 4th, 5th and 8th Motorized Heavy Artillery Regiments and the 41st Independent Motorized heavy Artillery Battalion. There were only 48 heavy AT guns, efficient against the T-34 and KV Soviet tanks, thus resulting a density of one gun at every 2.875 km. On 19 November 1942, when the Soviet offensive commenced, the 3rd Army had 152,492 Romanian troops and 11,211 German troops.
The 4th Army, commanded by gen. Constantin Constantinescu, occupied a line south of the city, between Straya Otrada and Sarpa. It was composed of the 6th Corps (1st, 2nd, 4th, 18th and 20th Infantry Divisions) and the 7th Corps (5th and 8th Cavalry Divisions). At its disposal were the 15th, 16th, 17th Observation (IAR 39) and 114th Liaison Squadrons (Fleet 10G). It also had air support from the Fliegerkorps VIII. The command point was installed at Kotelnikovsky. The front of the 4th Army was 270 km long… on map. In practice it was about 300 km long because of the terrain. Thus the 8th Cavalry Division covered a line of 100 km. The 5th Cavalry, the 1st, 4th and 18th Infantry Divisions covered fronts between 27 and 41 km, the 2nd and 20th Infantry Divisions covered 18 km, respectively 20 km. The strength of the Romanian divisions was also a problem: the 18th Infantry Division had the best situation, having 73% of the necessary manpower. The 5th and 8th Cavalry Divisions had 57% and 64% respectively. The rest were under 50%, with the 1st Infantry Division going as low as 25%. The reserves were the 27th Pioneer Battalion and the 6th Rosiori Regiment for the 6th Corps and the 57th Pioneer Battalion and 57th Recon Group for the 7th. Corps. The 4th Panzer Army had in the area the 29th Motorized Infantry Division, which could also intervene. The number of heavy AT guns was also very low, about one at 5.7 km. The 4th Army 75,580 men at the beginning of the Soviet offensive.
Between these two armies it was the 6th Army, commanded by Friedrich Paulus. The German 6th and 4th Army, the Romanian 3rd and 4th Army, the Italian 8th Army and the Hungarian 2nd Army made up Army Group B.
Opposing the 3rd Army was the South-Western Soviet Front (1st Guard Army, 5th Tank Army and 21st Army), which had 5,888 artillery pieces, 728 tanks and 790 airplanes. In front of the 4th Army was the Stalingrad Front (51st, 62nd, 63rd and 57th Army), that possessed 4,931 artillery pieces and 455 tanks.
On 19 November at 0530 in the sector of the 3rd Army a violent artillery preparation battered the entire front-line. The weather conditions were harsh: blizzard, snowing, -20 degrees Celsius. This made close air support impossible. The Soviets assaulted the positions of the 14th Infantry Division with the 5th Tank Army and the junction between the 13th Infantry Division and 1st Cavalry Division with the 21st Army. In total 338,631 men against 3 weak divisions. The 37 mm and 47 mm AT guns were useless against heavy and medium Soviet tanks. So the Romanian troops had to use grenades, anti-tank mines and Molotov cocktails. In the first hours they managed to delay the advance and destroy some armor (25 tanks in the sector of the 13th Division), but later they had to retreat or be encircled. The Red Army also attacked west of Sarisa Valley (the 5th Infantry Division) and at Raspopinskaya (6th Infantry Division) but was repulsed. At Raspopinskaya the Romanian pioneers managed to destroy the tanks that entered the village with explosive charges. In response to the situation developed south of Kletskaya, the 48th Armored Corps was ordered to move towards the Soviet main thrust. Shortly afterwards, the 22nd Panzer Division was redirected to northwest, towards Bolsoy. Reaching Petshany, the German division engaged Soviet armor. By evening, the 1st Romanian Armored Division reached Sirkovsky, making preparations to attack towards Bolsoy the next day.
In the first day of the offensive, the enemy succeeded in making two breaches in the defence disposition of the 3rd Romanian Army: one in the center, 16-18 km wide and 15 km deep and one on the right wing, between the 3rd Romanian Army and the 6th German Army, 10-12 km wide and 35-40 km deep.
On 20 November, the Soviet armored and motorized forces advanced towards Kalach, with the intention of encircling the 6th German Army fighting at Stalingrad. The 22nd Panzer Division, overwhelmed at Petshany by the large number of Soviet tanks, withdrew north of Bol. Donschynka. The 1st Romanian Armored Division, without any available radio contact (the radio station had been destroyed by the enemy during night), tried to advance to Petshany in order to make the junction with the 22nd Panzer Division, but was forced to stop a few kilometres west of Korotovsky by stiff Soviet resistance and numerous counterattacks. The Soviet tanks, flowing between the German 22nd and the Romanian 1st Armored Divisions, occupied the Varlamovsky and Perelasovsky villages and made the junction with forces come from Gromky, thus encircling the 5th Corps. In the 4th Corps’ sector, 40 Soviet tanks attacked the 15th Infantry Division at 1500 hours and a fierce fight occurred. The Romanian unit suffered heavy losses, but resisted and by evening the Soviet forces withdrew. The 7th Cavalry Division of the 2nd Corps unsuccessfully tried to block the enemy’s advance, the right wing of the division, which had fully received the blow, was retreating south while the left wing was reassigned to the 9th Infantry Division. Also, the 1st Cavalry Division had to retreat towards Stalingrad and was subordinated to the 6th Army.
At the end of the day, the defence disposition of the 3rd Romanian Army had a 70 km wide gap in the centre. In this pocket were encircled the 1st Armored Division, three infantry divisions (5, 6 and 15) and remains of other two infantry divisions (13 and 14). The troops of the infantry divisions made up the “Gen. Lascar” Group (about 40,000 men), commanded by maj. gen. Mihail Lascar, former commander of the 6th Infantry Division. The command point of the 3rd Army began moving to Morozovskaya.
On 21 November, the 22nd Panzer Division tried to advance towards Perelasovsky in order to make the junction with the 1stArmored Division and to relieve the “Gen. Lascar” Group, but failed and was stopped on 22 November between Bol. Donschynka and Perelasovsky. There it waited for the Romanian tanks to join it. The 1st Romanian Armored Division was advancing slowly towards Bol. Donschynka, where it was hoping to find the German division, but the village was under Soviet control. Lacking fuel, ammunition and food, it was saved by the 105th Transport Squadron which flew in the badly needed supplies on an improvised airfield. The Romanian unit then headed south and after grim fighting against a Soviet cavalry division backed by tanks between the Sarisa and Surkan valleys, it crossed the river Chir on 25.
On 22 November, the encircled “Gen. Lascar” Group, which had been ordered to resist at any cost, was attacked and transmitted its last message. They had run out of food and each gun had only 40 rounds left. The 105th Transport Squadron (Ju-52) brought them some supplies. After refusing the Soviet proposal to surrender his troops, maj. gen. Lascar decided to try to break from the encirclement during the night. The 15th Infantry Division was supposed to try to brake through to the southwest to friendly lines, towards Bol. Dosnchynka. In the same time the 6th Infantry Division was supposed to retreat towards Petshany The column that began to form east of Golovsky grew 30 km long, totalling about 15,000 men. During the column build up, the enemy launched an attack from the west and took Golovsky. In the fights for the village, the general was taken prisoner. Commanded by maj. gen. Sion, the column managed to brake through during the night, but in the morning was surprised by Soviet tanks and cut in half. The few troops that reached Bol. Donschynka linked with the 22nd Panzer Division and, subordinating to this unit, were ordered to defend Chernashevskaya. On 24 November, 0500 hours, Soviet tanks stormed their positions. The Romanian units, lacking artillery and anti-tank weapons and without the help of the German tanks that had been withdrawn during the night, suffered heavy losses, including maj. gen. Sion. The detachment’s remains withdrew to the 22nd Panzer Division and together crossed the river Chir. Another column of the “Gen. Lascar” Group that escaped from the encirclement was overrun by tanks in the evening of 23 and was entirely destroyed. A small part of the vanguard managed to reach the Romanian lines on 27 November, in Bokovskaya area. The 1st Battalion of the 15th Infantry Regiment (6th Infantry Division) had succeeded in getting to the river Chir with all its soldiers and equipment. The CO of this unit was maj. Gheorghe Rasconescu. His battalion had managed to prevent the Soviet 8th Cavalry Division from capturing the vital German airfield at Oblivkavia from 26 November to 3 December. This action earned him a Mihai Viteazul Order 3rd class and a Ritterkreuz. Maj. gen. Lascar also received some prestigious awards: a Mihai Viteazul Order 2nd class and Oak Leaves to his Ritterkreuz.
On 23 November, the Soviet troops of the South-Western Front and of the Stalingrad Front met at Kalach, completing the encirclement of the German 6th Army, parts of the 4th Army and 6 other Romanian infantry divisions and one cavalry division.
The high command lost contact with many of the units and needed to know the situation of the front. The 7th Fighter Group carried out several recon flights on 20, despite the very difficult weather conditions and low clouds. Slt. av. (r) Dicezare flew one of these missions on 21, but as he approached a Soviet column he was hit in the fuel tank by a bullet and had to return to the Karpovka airfield with gas in his cockpit. Serbanescu then took off on the same mission and on his way back discovered that the Soviet tanks were only a few kilometres to the south of the airfield. Since slt. av. (r) Dicezare's airplane was ready (the hole in the fuel tank had been covered by a wooden cork), he was ordered to go to the Romanian Air Corps command and report the situation. He managed to get to Morozovskaya and get gen. Ermil Gheorghiu on the phone. Two JRS-79Bs were then sent to the surrounded airbase and get as many personnel out of there as possible. In the meantime, lt. av. Alexandru Serbanescu, who had a lot of infantry experience (he came in the air force from the elite mountain troops), organized the defence of the airfield. He used the two AAA batteries (one 37 mm and one 75 mm battery) and the guns on the airplanes, which were raised on barrels, to repulse the initial Soviet assault. The heavy fire unleashed on the attackers probably made them believe that they were facing an entrenched infantry formation, instead of a fighter group. However, things could not remain this way and, early on 23 November, all available airplanes took off under the artillery barrage of Soviet tanks. Five aircraft were damaged or destroyed during the attempt, but eight managed to reach Tachinskaya. They also took one or even two (in the case of adj. av. (r) Tiberiu Vinca) mechanics in their Bf-109Es. Another seven unserviceable aircraft were left behind. Later several Ju-52s returned to evacuate some of the personnel. The rest retreated to the Pitovnik airfield, inside the Stalingrad bulge. Some managed to escape on foot from the encirclement.
Because the Soviets were busy consolidating their positions, the front line stabilized. The 3rd Army, with the units that had escaped (7th, 9th, 11th Infantry, 7th Cavalry and 1st Armored Divisions, in total 83,000 men), was subordinated to Army Group "Hollidt" and occupied a line along the river Chir. The 4th Army was situated in the Kral Bayka, Baldihka and Kralov area.
Returning to 20 November, the 4th Army was attacked by the Soviet 57th and 51st Army. The principal shock was received by the 6th Corps in the sector of the 20th, 2nd, 18th and 1st Infantry Divisions. The 57th Army attacked towards Sovetsky (to the north-west) and the 51st Army towards Kotelnikovsky (to the south). The line was broken at the junction of the 2nd and 20th Infantry Divisions and at the junction of the 1st and 18th Infantry Divisions. The Soviets advanced fast, into the breaches created by the first wave, pushing the 13th Tank Corps of the 57th Soviet Army towards Saty, the 4th Mechanised Corps of the 51st Soviet Army towards Plodovitoye and later, the 4th Cavalry Corps towards Abganerovo. The attempt to stop the Red Army troops by using the reserves, and later, by falling back on successive alignments, was unsuccessful. By evening, the 1st and 2nd Infantry Divisions were virtually destroyed and the 18th Infantry Division was in the danger of encirclement. Likewise, the link with the 20th Infantry Division was interrupted. Despite the stubborn resistance put up by the 91st Infantry Regiment and the 20th Pioneer Battalion, the Soviets broke through towards Tundutovo and Ivanovka, getting behind the division’s position. Within an hour, most of the Romanian soldiers were either dead or captured. About 30-40 men got away. The tanks reached the positions of the 40th Artillery Regiment and destroyed the 2nd Artillery Battalion. At around 1000 hours, the Soviets attacked in the center and on the left wing of the 20th Division. Out of the 1st Battalion from the 83rd Regiment, only 32 men escaped. Maj. gen. Tataranu, the CO, managed to form a line with his reserves as he pulled back. The next day the division counterattacked, together with some German units. Afterwards the 20th Infantry Division was assigned to the German 4th Corps and shared the fate of the German forces encircled at Stalingrad. Given the situation, the 8th Cavalry Division was dispatched to the endangered area while the 4th Infantry Division was assigned to the 7th Army Corps.
On 21 November, the 57th Soviet Army advanced towards Sovietsky (17 km southeast of Kalach) to meet the forces of the South Western Front and encircled the German forces at Stalingrad, while the 51st Soviet Army advanced towards Kotelnikovo, along the Kotelnikovo-Stalingrad railroad. The 6th Corps tried to resist on the alignment Mal Derbety - Tundutovo - Gonchearovsky - Gnylo-Aksayskaya, while the “Korne” Motorized Detachment (3rd and 4th Cavalry Regiments, the 2nd Artillery Battalion of the 3rd Horse Artillery Regiment and a battery of the 7th Heavy Artillery Regiment), backed by German armored units, triggered a counterattack towards Abganerovo. In the same time, the 29th German Motorized Infantry Division attacked from northwest. Without efficient AT weapons, the action failed. In this difficult situation, command was "thrown" (as the CO of the 4th Panzer Army, gen. Hoth, had to admit) to lt. gen. Constantin Constantinescu, yet the Romanian Command was subordinated to the 4th Panzer Army.
In the next day the situation worsened, the enemy taking hold of Mal. Derbety and Tundutovo on the left flank of the 7th Army Corps. The “Korne” Detachment was attacked by Soviet tanks in the Krasnay-Geroy area, suffering heavy losses. At the 6th Corps, the remains of the 1st, 18th and 2nd Infantry Divisions were retreating unable to oppose any organized resistance. The proposal made by the Romanian Command to fall back to better positions on the Aksay River clashed with the German Command decision of holding firmly "on the spot". On 23 November, as the enemy pressure continued, the deputy chief of Staff of the 4th Army demanded and received from the Romanian General Headquarters the ability to take decisions independently from the 4th Panzer Army Headquarters. Subsequently, the 6th Corps fell back to the Aksay River. It was a belated action as the Soviets were already controlling the communication center of Aksay. The “Korne” Detachment, covering the front between the two Romanian corps could not withstand Soviet attacks and fell back, leaving the left flank of the 7th Army Corps uncovered. At the same time the 5th Cavalry and the 4th Infantry Divisions were attacked from the east. In order to prevent the enemy advance between the railroad and the river Don, a new defence line, with the centre at Kotelnikovo was established. In the afternoon, the Soviet troops of the Stalingrad Front met the SouthWestern Front troops in Sovietsky area, encircling of the German forces at Stalingrad. Receiving information about the arrival of a German detachment, the 4th Romanian Army’s commander decided that the positions must be held. The 6th Corps was on the southern bank of the Aksay River, the 4th Infantry Division from Umansevo to Kotsubayev and the 5th Cavalry Division further to Perednaya Elista. The link between the two corps was provided by the “Korne” Detachment, in the Sutov 2 area.
On 24 November the enemy activity was reduced, but the next day the Soviet troops attacked towards Kotelnikovo between the Don and the railroad, pushing the 4th Infantry Division southwards from the left flank of the 7th Corps. On 26 November, the “Korne” and “Panwitz” Detachments (the latter: one tank platoon, two infantry companies, one assault gun battery and a Romanian heavy artillery battery) managed to push back the Soviet troops which had infiltrated between the two Romanian corps. On the 27, the Soviets approaching Kotelnikovo were also repelled by counterattack of the “Panwitz” Detachment and units of the 6th Panzer Division, which recently arrived in preparation for the counter strike to relieve the Axis forces in Stalingrad. The Soviets managed to brake through the line of the 6th Corps at the 18th Infantry Division, thus forcing it to retreat on an alignment 25-30 km south of the river, which was held until the counter strike was launched. The losses of the 4th Romanian Army in this operation were catastrophic: up to 80% in personnel at the 1st, 2nd and 18th Infantry Divisions, those that have received the main blow. There was also here some fierce fighting, as in the sector of the 3rd Army. Two Ritterkreuzes were awarded: one to col. Radu Korne (also taking into account his previous actions in 1941-42 in Crimea, the Ukraine and the Caucasus) and one to col. Ioan Hristea, the CO of the 2nd Calarasi Regiment, which managed to hold his position for about a month before being forced to pull back.
On 16 December, the Soviet 3rd Guards Army started Operation Little Saturn and attacked Army Group “Hollidt”, to which was subordinated the 3rd Romanian Army, along the River Chir. During the fighting the Romanian 1st Corps (7th, 9th and 11th Infantry Divisions) and the German 62nd Infantry Division suffered heavy casualties. On 18 December, the Soviet 6th Army broke through the defence of the Italian 8th Army (in the left of the Romanian 1st Corps) and the 18th, 24th and 25th Tank Corps penetrated deep behind Axis lines, threatening the rear of the front on the Chir. The 1st Corps retreated during the night of 18/19 December to the positions west of the Chernaya Valley, between Kalinovsky and Verh. Tokin. There its troops were surprised by mechanized forces of the Soviet 6th Army. Fierce fighting occurred at Kamenka and Kashary, with many losses on the Axis side. On 22 December the line of the River Chir was abandoned by the left wing of Army Group Hollidt as they retreated towards Morzovskaya. During the fighting that day, brig. gen. Savu Nedelea, the CO of the 11th Infantry Division, was taken prisoner. On 27 December, the 7th Cavalry Division started to retreat towards Bisry, after 40 days of continuous fighting. The following day, however, gen. Hollidt assigned the 11th Rosiori and 11th Calarasi Regiments and the 61st Recon Group the task to defend the German depots at Chernigof. The Romanian cavalrymen held the town against Soviet attacks until 2 January 1943, when they eventually retreated. They were the last Axis troops to leave the Chir line. 28 Iron Crosses were awarded to the men of the 7th Cavalry Division.
To the south, the remains of the 4th Army and the Romanian Air Corps were engaged in the "Wintergewitter" Operation, which aimed to create a link with the Axis troops in Stalingrad. The main blow was going to be delivered by the German 57th Panzer Corps (6th and 23rd Panzer Division - 230 tanks). On its left flank was the Romanian 6th Corps (2nd and 18th Infantry Divisions). On the right flank was the Romanian 7th Corps (1st and 4th Infantry Divisions) and the Cavalry Group "Gen. Popescu" (5th and 8th Cavalry Divisions). The German tanks advanced up to 50 km from Stalingrad, but were stopped. The front held by the Italian 8th Army was broken on 18 December and 7 Italian divisions and the Italian Alpine Corps were encircled.
On 24 December, the Red Army counterattacked, with 149,000 men and 635 tanks, the German 57th Panzer Corps and the Romanian 4th Army. The Cavalry Group "Gen. Popescu" was nearly destroyed on 26 in the fights at Sharnutovsky with the Soviet 6th Mechanized Corps. The Romanian 6th Corps was pushed back by the Soviet 7th Tank Corps and 4th Cavalry Corps. On 29 December, the 57th Panzer Corps had to abandon Kotelnikovsky. The failure of Operation "Wintergewitter" sealed the fate of Axis troops inside Stalingrad. On 15 January 1943 came another devastating blow: the Hungarian 2nd Army was encircled and eventually destroyed (147,971 casualties).
The Romanian army lost 158,854 men (dead, wounded and missing) between 19 November 1942 and 7 January 1943. This represented 16 of the 18 divisions engaged at Stalingrad and half of the active troops (31 divisions). The Romanian Air Corps lost 73 airplanes (26 in battle and the rest on the ground).
On 2 February 1943, the resistance of Axis troops in Stalingrad ceased. Out of the 91,000 prisoners took by the Soviets, only 3,000 were Romanian. These were the survivors of the 20th Infantry Division, 1st Cavalry Division and “Col.Voicu” Detachment. During the horrible battles in the encircled Stalingrad, the Romanian troops had performed very well under the circumstances. At the beginning of December, the 82nd Infantry Regiment, from the 20th Division, repulsed the attack of two Soviet divisions, earning the Mihai Viteazul Order 3rd class, 50 Iron Crosses for some of its men and citations from the 4th Corps and 6th Army.