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Click here to view this topic in its original format Forum > Romania in World War II 1941-1945 > 64. A Difficult Situation on the Moldavian Front

Posted by: dragos July 09, 2005 09:49 pm
by Alesandru Dutu

The occupation of the north-eastern part of Romania by the Soviet forces took place before the plans for the country's defence on the Dniester river could be adopted and put into operation, in spite of the fact that both Marshal Ion Antonescu and the General Headquarters had took into account such a variant since the end of 1943. The causes were both objective and subjective, and the loss of the north-eastern part of the national territory was due, on one hand, to the German Commands and troops, who decided to abandon the eastern Romania's border on the Dniester river, giving priority to the defence on the strong defensive line in the Cornesti Massif and in the hill's region between Jassy and Targu Neamt, and — on the other hand — to the Romanian Commands and troops, who — although they were in a small number on the front at that moment - engaged themselves too easily within German hastened withdrawal.

At those moments, dramatic for our country, Romania's situation was also agravated due the fact that the High Romanian Command did not have the entire liberty to take decisions concerning the Romanian front. "The bare transmission of the informations about the operations on the front - Marshal Antonescu pointed in a letter sent to Hitler — without giving any details and a view upon the events they may produce deprives me of a necessary perspective for ruling the State and for the purpose of facing the big responsabili-ties that I have assumed". On the same coordinates, Marshal Antonescu made known to General Erik Hansen, the chief of the German Military Mission for the Land Army, on March 23, 1944, that the Soviet offensive interessed "directly and closely the defence of the country", also expressing his convinction that "it's absolutely necessary to give to the Romanian State's rulers the opportunity to speak out on the purposes and results they have got in their views".

After he made known that "a solution in the Trasylvanian case, in accordance with the Romanian demands" would give the possibility of an commitment of the Romanian Army on the eastern front with "all the troops at disposal" and of the constitution, in the southern flank, of a "compact group under Romanian command", Ion Antonescu considered that the unique solution for a positive reversal of the given situation was the withdrawal of the troops from the southern flank on the course of the Dniester river, even if this action "would bring the fight on the Romanian land", in the same time with an action that should have evacuated the troops grouped in the Crimea Peninsula and the effectives of the Army Group "A" - or, at least, the withdrawal of a few German motorized anti-tank units on the Dniester river's line, that was to be made concomitantly with the taking up of the new positions by the forces of the Army Group "South" on the upper course of the Prut river. He argumented these moves showing that the Soviet forces might had the opportunity to pass over the upper course of the Dniester river and to develop a enveloping maneouvre, with the purpose to intercept from west the withdrawn direction of the Army Group "A"; in such a case - Marshal Antonescu said — the Romanian big units, which were deprived of heavy anti-tank artillery, were not going to be capable either "to stop for a while the Soviet troops' advance, or, less, to put an end to the enemy's penetration".

But Hitler not only did not show himself disposed to accept Marshal Antonescu's proposals, but also asked the Romanian leader, on his turn, on March 26, 1944, for taking all the measures to assure the rear of the Army Group "South" disposition on the upper course of the Prut river, which meant that the Romanian forces were to be disposed much further northwards than the Romanian High Command had estimated. The German plan contradicted the view that both Marshal Antonescu and the General Heaquarters' officials had, as their intention was to give the future battle "on the strongest position we can", where from, through the back of the first line of the front, a great number of reserves, well disposed on positions, might have organised "a second defensive battle line", which was to be occupied by the troops in case of need.

Finally, the solution was taken to dispose the majority of the 4th Romanian Army's troops on the fortified line "Traian", between Targu Neamt and Jassy; in the same time, due to the German repeated requests, a bridgehead was consolidated northward from the Bahlui river with a part of its forces in the second half of April, in spite of the fact that Marshal Ion Antonescu has decided, initially, that "the 4th Army must not be pushed away further the line which links Targu Neamt with Dealu Mare, until the front on the Dniester river and in Bessarabia will be consolidated".

After he precised that "the 4th Army's divisions are the last reserves of the Romanian people", General Ilie Steflea, the chief of the Romanian General Headquarters, informed the German Headquarters of the Land Forces (O.K.H.), on April 8, 1944, about the fact that Marshal Ion Antonescu "cannot afford the risk of losing them, by commiting them in the battle without any offensive armament (assault tanks, assault cannons), without anti-tank armament (heavy anti-tank cannons, armoured vehicles etc.), without transmission (signal) means, especially by radio, without any logistic support - so, before the problem of the reunion of the 4th Army's big units into an operative offensive system will be solved".

By analysing the consequences the breach of the bridgehead situated north of the Bahlui river might have had, General Ilie Steflea appreciated that the Romanian and German big units "were to be exposed to suffer disastruous losses, that might compromise also the defence of the Dealu Mare position". In his view, the Romanian-German's front main lack was not only the small amount of infantry troops, but also - and in a far higher measure — the lack of armament, so that these troops were unable to strike the enemy rapidly and strongly. In his previous vision of the future events which were to be developed, the Romanian chief of the General Headquarters drawed the attention on that: "In spite of the great density in infantry units we are able to assure on the entire line of the front, if we shall not have a sufficient number of heavy assault cannons and armoured vehicles to react at the shock produced by a massive tank attack of the enemy, the front will be broken in the end, especially in case that the infantry won't finish by then the training for the fight against tanks and that the troops won't have enough anti-tank cannons".

Without constituting the only cause of the disastre which was to be produced four months later, the problem of the front's alignments that were to be chosen for giving the future battles on the Romanian front also concerned General Hans Friessner, the chief of the Army Group "South Ukraine", who asked for a retreat of the front's line "in the back of the Prut river's banks or on the line of the Carpathian Mountains chain" in the summer of 1944, and, also, General Heinz Guderian (who was to became, on July 21, the chief of the German O.K.H.); on his turn, he considered that the decision to take-up the fortified alignment Focsani-Namoloasa-Braila as a position for the defence's preparation and the grouping of the forces on this line should have been assumed "even before the Russian offensive would have started" and that in such a situation "the front could have been shorted in such a measure that we could have kept it by ourselves alone, without the Romanian troops' support".

If from the military point of view this decision was probably the most indicated, for Marshal Antonescu the problem was also a political one, of an overwhelming importance: should he had ceded or should he hadn't, without fighting, the eastern part of the Romanian land, for the purpose of better organizing, in advance, the defence on the fortified line Focsani-Namoloasa-Braila? The answer for this dilemma was given by the Marshal to General Hans Friessner, to whom he declared: "The political interest of Romania demands that Bessarabia, inclusively Jassy town, must be kept". Also said he; "I feel responsable for the loss of each small piece of my motherland". This great dilemma, and also his loialty for the German ally were the main reasons where from come his hesitations to ask firmly to the German Commands for a withdrawal of the forces on the line of the fortified belt Focsani-Namoloasa-Braila, after the front was broken, although such an action was insistently demanded by General Gheorghe Avramescu, the new commander of the 4"1 Romanian Army, and by Colonel Nicolae Dragomir, his Headquarters Chief-Deputy. "As he accepted this conception — General Hans Friessner lately appreciated — Antonescu himself has contributed to the collapse that followed up on the front and to the catastrophe of his country".

In spite of this conclusion — which was not taking into account the fact that in those moments the power to assume decisions was attributed to somebody else but Marshal Antonescu — the chief of the Army Group "South Ukraine" has recognized also the gravity of the German Command's order, which had as a result the withdrawal of 12 divisions from the battle-line, between June 23 — August 18, 1944. They could have been "a big support, in the given situation on the front", especially for the divisions disposed in the bridgehead, north of the Bahlui river, whose main reason to took up position there was the mobility and the fire-power of the German armoured divisions. But the decision to withdraw the troops on the fortified alignment was attributed at that time to General Hans Friessner, and yet he could not give such an order, without Hitler's approval; as it is known, the approval came only on August 22, 1944, when "it was already too late" — as the chief of the Army Group "South Ukraine" himself wrote.

What followed up after that is well-known. In spite of the different views and of some strained relations between the German Commands and the Romanian ones, they both had the same objectives and acted together, during the spring and the summer of 1944, to stop the advance of the Soviet forces through the depth of the Romanian territory.

Posted by: Petre April 23, 2016 12:58 pm
Source : THE WAR DIARY OF THE GERMAN NAVAL STAFF (Operations Division)
(edited british - american text)

22 Aug. 1944

Naval Group South (Marinegruppenkommando Süd) reported :
"1. After the break down of the front parts in the area of Jassy and Talmaz, occupied by Romanian troops, it must be expected that the retrograde movement at least will take place quickly to Sea-Danube and to the line Galatz - Focsani - Carpatian Mts. A lasting defense at this line is also doubtful.
2. After that : There will only be restricted naval tasks left to the Commanding Admiral, Black Sea (Kommandierender Admiral Schwarzes Meer):
a) Operations of offensive means (PT boats and submarines) should be used for the protection of the flank and for combat against enemy naval forces.
b) Submarine chase and escorting will have to be cancelled owing to the absence of transportation movements.
c) The coastal patrol with ships (minesweepers and artillery ferry barges) will be limited to a minimum.
3) Necessary supplies for the base should be left in Constanta and if the need should arise should be replenished at once from the area of Galatz.
4) All ships in the Black Sea which cannot be employed should be at once transferred to the Danube and up the river to Galatz. Ships which might be necessary for a transportation across Sea-Danube should be left there and if the need should arise be alioted in such fashion that especially a large number of naval landing craft can be withdrawn up the Danube River.
5) Withdrawn ships might be used on the Danube for:
a) Service on the Danube (minesweeping etc.)
b) Supporting the army front confined to the Danube.
c) For ferrying operations above Galatz.
6. The loosening-up of Maureb (?) Galatz and Braila as well as similar offices to the Upper Danube River should be prepared at once.

The Naval Staff informed the Naval Liaison Officer of OKW that:
1. Naval Group South and the Commanding Admiral Black Sea received instructions on the 5 Aug. to make in advance carefully premeditations for the case that a withdrawal of the army front to the Danube - Carpathian position is necessary, in which the oil areas should be held. In addition, the demanded support asked by OKW should be considered in advance for this case, when transferring the withdrawing divisions across the See Danube above the Delta, where no bridges are.
2. To this, Naval Group South reported the possibility of operations for 30 naval landing craft of the 1st Landing Division (1. Landungsflottille) as well as that of 30 ships of the coastal defense flotilla (Küstenschutzflottille) of which 24 are KFKs, 6 artillery carriers of the 3rd Artillery Flotilla (3. Artillerieträgerflottille) were in addition at disposal as antiaircraft artillery convoy defense, provided that no other sea-operational tasks were under consideration. Above this, 30 MFPs were at disposal in Braila for operations at any time … for the Commanding Admiral Black Sea and Danube.
Naval Group South received instructions on the 10 Aug. to take up communications with Army Group South-Ukraine (Heeresgruppe Sud-Ukraine), on orders from the Chief of OKW. Up to now the smallest number of persons should be informed about the operation.

… directives to the Commanding Admiral, Black Sea.
"The enemy crossed Dnjestr Liman and the Lower Dnjestr and is advancing further. Army Group Dumitrescu is starting to withdraw according to order on the evening of the 22nd, into the defense position Danube-Delta. Group South drew the attention of Heeresgruppe Sud-Ukraine to the fact that the course of this defense position is interrupted easterly of Jalpug (?) connecting Danube - Black Sea by the southerly Kilija branch. As base defense is only possible in the Kilija branch, a long advantage of the Sea-Danube cannot be expected. The route western entrance of the Sulina canal from Tulcea to Isaccea is within reach of enemy long range artillery and will therefore only be passable during night time.
It will be the present task of the Commanding Admiral, Black Sea in supplying the Army with reconnaissance and patrolling the sea flank, by screening and carrying out troop evacuations front the area northerly and near Jibrieni, in close agreement with Army Group Dumitrescu. The attention of the Group should be drawn to the fact that an evacuation across the sea should only be arranged for those troops for which a retreat across the Danube or against the stream of the Kilija branch is already cut off.
The total other available tonnage should be used for ferrying service in the evacuation of Kilija - Ismail and if the need should arise, also of Vilcov. The coastal defense should be prepared urgently against penetrations and it should be tried to block the Danube estuary, as well as outflanking landings southerly of this should be watched carefully.
Also Romanian destroyers and as far as possible also Romanian PT boats should be engaged in these transportation tasks. The carrier flotilla (Transportflottille - ?) in cooperation with Romanian Danube Flotilla were at disposal in the northern part of the delta and might be employed if the need should arise for a break through to the Kilija branch in westerly direction.

Unnecessary and for the Danube service appointed ships should be withdrawn later from the Black Sea up stream as far as the situation allows after completing the ferrying of the army.
Evacuation of Sulina should be prepared for the case that the withdrawal of the front to the St.George branch is necessary, loosening-up should be started at once.
As long as transportation movements were carried out the war freighters and submarine chasers will stay in the Black Sea as escorting vessels.

23 Aug. 1944

Items of Political Importance .
… Enemy penetrations near Tiraspol and Jassy were traced back to the complete failure of the Romanian divisions … The break through near Tiraspol is of a dangerous depth and forces us to withdraw the front to the Danube - Pruth position whereby the bridgehead in the Danube - Pruth triangle should be held if possible. It must be expected within sight that the Lower Danube will be controlled by the Russians and with it the river connections to the Black Sea. Army demands to the navy for support on the river when crossing the Danube can be expected and for the defense of the Danube sector.

According to the same information, Fuhrer ordered at once the examination of a Danube cutting somewhat on the height of Constanta, at a favorable place. The performance is only possible if the construction of gates is not necessary. A canal width of 20-24 meters can be expected. Employment of tremendous amounts of labor forces will be necessary.

… Naval Group South reports that the canal project Cernavoda - Constanta was planned by Romania since decades and work in advance of technical survey had already started. According to the opinion of the Group, the differences in height on a shortened waterway of about 50 km calls for the insertion of locks. The Group believes that plans for the project were ready but were unknown to Group, the execution of which would be desirable even in spite of the instantaneous and future development of the situation. The Group advises to contact Romanian authorities through Romanian agencies in Berlin or througn German agencies in Romania.

Naval Group South reports the following plans for the Black Sea with regard to the development of situation :
1. In the Black Sea were staying the 1st PT Boat Flotilla (1. Schnellbootsflottille), the 30th Submarine Flotilla (30. U-bootflottille), the 3rd Minesweeper Flotilla (3. Räumbootsflottille), the 3rd Gun Carrier Flotilla (3. Artillerieträgerflottille) as well as all war freighter submarine chasers of the 1st Submarine Chaser Flotilla (3. Artillerieträgerflottille), seven mine naval landing craft from the 1st Landing Flotilla (1. Landungsflottille), two tank naval ferry barges, one work shop naval landing craft, six naval landing craft for transportation tasks, nine armed fishing vessels from the 2nd Coastal Escort Boat Flotilla (2. Küstenschutzflottille) as motor minesweepers and submarine chasers and four motor minesweepers of foreign construction.
2. All other vessels will transfer to Sea-Danube starting on the evening of the 22 Aug. at once respectively after establishing readiness to sail.
3. For the ordered employment of offensive means as a flank protection and to combat enemy naval forces ordered by Naval Group South the, Commanding Admiral, Black Sea is operating motor minesweepers and ATS during night, as outlying piquets relevant with the occasional course of front northerly of the Sulina estuary. The commander of the 3rd Minesweeper Flotilla will be in charge of the complete formation. There were 6 minesweeper berths on the Danube 10 miles up stream and 4 artillery carrier berths at Sulina:
- to strengthen the anti-aircraft artillery.
- to carry out operations at once directed against enemy naval forces in a landing attempt,
- to supply Sulina with an artillery reserve against increased operations of partisans.
4. 11 MFPs were at once ready for action on the Sea-Danube, of which 10 were at disposal in Ismail at 12.00 on the 23 Aug. 3 MFPs were on their way from Constanta. 4 MFPs with ("Xanten") and ("Ship 19") will leave Constanta on the 23 Aug. 3 MFPs, still out of action, will be ready on the 25 Aug. 5 MFPs will be added to these in the next days, as well as all arriving smaller vessels in Sea-Danube from the Black Sea. Also the freighter tonnage space now employed with transportation tasks on Sea-Danube : 8 barges, one 300 tons sailing vessel, 2 barges (Pahlschiffe -?), 4 tugs, 3 barges for the transportation of shipyard equipment etc. from Galatz, and "Kimbur"(-?) for the evacuation of the naval commissary depot. A special staff is appointed at Tulcea to take care of the ferrying tasks. Administrator is K.Kpt. Drechsler. Embarkation officers were under consideration in Ismail, Galatz and if the need should arise, in Kilija and Reni. The COs of 1st Landing Flotilla, 7th Landing Flotilla and 1st Coastal Escort Flotilla will act as unit leaders to the transportation formation.
The Commanding Admiral, Black Sea arrived at Heeresgruppe Sud-Ukraine for a conference at 14.00 on the 23 Aug.
5. In the Danube Delta were in addition also employed Romanian monitors and gunboats; Romanian PT boats were not ready to operate.
Acceleration and following transfer of naval forces to the Danube were demanded and promised. Operations of Italian submarines on the 24 Aug. planned as well as operations of Romanian destroyers (2 in combat readiness).

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