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> 42. The Romanian 4th Army in the Kalmuk Steppe
dragos
Posted: April 03, 2004 10:14 pm
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by Adrian Pandea

South of Stalingrad, in the Kalmuk Steppe, a baren land, lacking strong natural obstacles and supply sources, this is where the Romanian 4th Army, made up of two army corps and seven divisions, commanded by General Constantin Constantinescu-Klaps was deployed. The initial linear disposition, deprived of depth and reserves, had been articulated by the VI Romanian Army Corps.

The Romanian divisions had to defend a front of 270 km in width, stretching between Beketovkaa (Staraja Otreada) and Sarpa, each of them having been assigned very long sectors (ranging from 18 km - the 2nd Infantry Division up to 100 km - the 8th Cavalry Division). On November 20, the Romanian effectives amounted to 75,380 men, endowed with suffcient light weapons and artillery pieces but with utterly insufficient antitank cannons (255 pieces, out of which only 24 of 75 mm calibre, the only one that was efficient againat the Soviet tanks). Completely lacking big tank mechanized units, the 4th Army could not benefit by efficient support from the coalition partner either. The German Command had in the area only the 29th Mechanized Division whose location (at Verth-Taritzynski) was rather meant to cover the rear of the 6th German Army.

Although the Romanian Commands, the General Headquarters and Marshal Ion Antonescu interceded with the German command to make a surveying disposition with these forces (the only possible choice, taking into account the forces available there) and to strengthen the front with two German fast divisions, the allies could not make any relevant improvement of the situation.

Moreover, although the Romanian side had pointed to the importance of this battlefront in time and to that the enemy could easily intercept by a tank attack the railroad running between Kotelnikovski and Stalingrad, which was vital for ensuring the supplies of the 6th German Army, the information on the plans of the Soviet troops were scarce (unlike the situation in the Don River's Bend).

Another aggravating factor was the fact that the 4th Romanian Army, although reached Kotelnikovski as early as on September 27, was only invested with supply missions (starting from November 6), all the needs of the Romanian troops being communicated on very intricate paths (through the General Headquarters to the OKH, OKW or the "B" Army Corps and then to the 4th German Armoured Force), a state of things which impaired the unity of command.

Under those circumstances, the offensive launched by the Stalingrad Front (the 64th, 57th and 51st Armies, having at their disposal 4,931 artillery pieces, 455 tanks and self propelled cannon) took the Romanian forces and the German Command by surprise. The Russians delivered the main thrust on the front of the VI Army Corps and succeeded in making a breach at the junction of the 20th and 21st Infantry Divisions and another one at the junction of the 18th and 1st Infantry Divisions. As for the rest of the battlefront, it was only demonstrative actions that were undertaken initially. The extremely thin disposition, the lack of antitank armament and reserves resulted in the loss of Plodovitznoe after the very first day of fight, the annihilation of the 1st and 2nd Infantry Divisions and in the danger of encirclement for the 18th Infantry Division. Likewise, the liaison with the 20th Infantry Division was interrupted. General Constantin Constantinescu-Klaps thus commented the situation: "I have been on the front for three days and I realized that what happened was inevitable". On November 21, the Russians enlarged the breaches, directing their attacks to diverging directions towards Sovetski and Kotelnikovski. In response, the Command of the 4th Armoured Force ordered the Romanian forces to hold firmly "on the spot" and admitted only the intervention of the "General Radu Korne" Detachment in support of the 18th Division and what was left from the 1st and 2nd Infantry Divisions. The promised counterattack of the 29th Mechanized Division no longer took place, which resulted in more losses for the Romanian troops; they had to withdraw, thus loosing the localities Abganerovo and Tinguta.

On November 21, at 6.00 p.m., the 4th Romanian Army was entrusted the operational command of Romanian troops (including the 20th Infantry Division, connection with which was no longer restored, and the 16th German Mechanized Division, a solution which was useless and inefficient). General Hermann Hoth was to state that one mission was simply "thrown" on the back of the 4th Romanian Army. Besides, the Romanian Command was subordinated to the 4th Armoured Force.

On the night of November 21-22, 1942 the 18th Infantry Division and parts of the 1st and 2nd Infantry Divisions which were not allowed to withdraw to Aksai valley, were crushed. The Russians also attacked the front of the 4th Infantry Division and took hold of Malye Desbeti and Tundutovo. The "Korne" Detachement, which had to cover the inner flanks of the two Romanian Army Corps was also committed to battle and sustained heavy losses in men and combat material, being forced to withdraw.

It was only on November 23, when the Russians ceased their pressure from south-westward, contemplating to accomplish the encirclement of the 6th German Army, that the 4th Romanian Army managed to articulate a defence disposition in the Kotelnikovski area, deploying in the first line the less tried units, with some preserved combat capacity. The casualties suffered till that data were very heavy, amounting to 80 per cent in personnel and 90 per cent of the automatic armament as regarded the 1st, 2nd and 18th Infantry Divisions.

From those positions, on December 12, 1942 the Hoth "Group" triggered out the offensive for breaking the encirclement of the 6th German Army. The 4th Romanian Army was also engaged into that offensive and with the forces at its disposal (eight battalions, 15 squadrons) covered the flanks of the German armoured divisions. On December 23, when the German divisions reached at only 50 km from the 6th German Army's lines, the operation was cancelled. Starting from December 25, it was the Russian turn to counterattack, which brought the 4th Romanian Army into a new predicament; moreover, the 4th Armoured Force ordered it to hold the positions without withdrawing. The consequences were fresh losses (particularly the heavy artillery that had been spared in the first stage of the battles). It was only on December 30 that the German Command aproved the retreat south of Manitch of the remains of the 4th Army, that represented the ceasing of combat operations.

In January 1943, the 4th Army barely had 45,000 men which means that over November-December 1942 its casualties counted up to 30,000 men (without considering the march units which were also committed to the front). The disaster in the Kalmuk Steppe had as a main cause the incapacity of the German Command to manage the crisis resulted after the Soviet offensive started in Novernber. Besides, there was the objective situation of the Romanian troops at the moment they were engaged in battle (the occupied front, the density of troops and armament). Under those circumstances, the Romanian divisions could not do wonders, although they had been battle seasoned (at Harkov, on the Donets, in Crimea) and had been unanimously appreciated by the German Commands. Likewise, confrontation between the obstinacy of the German Command to demand the holding of positions in spite of the deliberate sacrifice of the Romanian troops (as General Hoth did in late December 1942) and the natural desire of the Romanian Staffs to save what could be still saved had dire consequences for the combat capacity and the morale of the Romanian troops.
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