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Click here to view this topic in its original format Forum > Romania in World War II 1941-1945 > 43. Dramatic Situation and Warnings

Posted by: dragos April 03, 2004 10:18 pm
by Alesandru Dutu

During the strong counteroffensive unleashed by the Soviet troops in the Kalmuk Steppe on November 20, 1942 in the conditions in which the Romanian commanders "did not have the liberty to move not even a company without the approval of the German Commands", as remarked Marshal Ion Antonescu, the Romanian Commands often found themselves in dramatic situations, having to decide on either uselessly sacrificing their units or take initiatives in disagreement with German orders. When on November 21, 1942, Lieutenant Colonel Nicolae Dragomir, deputy chief of Staff of the 4th Army asked General Ilie Steflea "Shall we carry out verbatim and by all means the German orders?" the latter replied: "The General Headquarters does not command. The 4th Army was subordinated to the 4th Armoured Force, whose orders it obeys. Yet, in critical situation it is only he who is well acquainted with the situations that can make decisions. Therefore, you can have initiative, assuming all responsibility. That's how we would do and so would any responsible commander".

The actual development of military operations was to record many initiatives taken by the Romanian commanders who did their utmost to interrupt the advance of enemy's forces. When defeat loomed ahead as a true disaster, the situation could no longer be remedied only through the initiative of the Romanian commanders in the field, who were subordinated to the German Commands. Given the circumstances, the Commands on the battlefront led the big units during the combat but, naturally, waited for the decision of the country's political military decision-makers.

Quite significant in this respect is the talk of December 7, 1942 between the same Lieutenant Colonel Nicolae Dragomir and Colonel Socrate Mardare from the forward echelon of the General Headquarters.

Lieutenant Colonel Nicolae Dragomir: "The whole army, which due to superhuman efforts, could remake and hold the present front, is now faced with the question whether the soldiers, who had absorbed the attack of Russian tanks, and the recruits, who had not seen tanks so far, can hold their position without benefiting by antitank armament and defence works. I myself, together with the whole Command, believe that our troops will retreat in disorder when they will be forced to lay down their lives in fighting against the Soviet tanks with bare hands. We need a word from our leadership so that our decision should not have serious political consequences".

Colonel Socrate Mardari: "We cannot give you any order, the more so as General Steflea is in Bucharest. I will talk to him, but you know the view of the Marshal: he does not interfere with the command. However, the Marshal's telegram that I have sent to you tonight shows what His Excellence thinks and his opinion is also ours. Show the German commander the precise situation of the troops and the imposibility to cope with the powerful attacks delivered by tanks as we are not equipped with antitank weapons. I think you can stipulate as a condition of resistance their putting at your disposal antitank armament which their units have plenty".

Lieutenant Colonel Nicolae Dragomir: "Excuse me, but everything you are saying now I have already told the Germans. They keep repeating «hold your positions!». But I'm asking you: shall we die or not? If you cannot answer, please get an answer from Bucharest because the battle may be fought tomorrow and it may be equally disastrous to lose our whole Army here or to withdraw it and run into conflict with our allies. That's the problem. If you let one decision solely on our shoulders, we shall make our decision with responsibility in front of the Homeland and of God, but it will be clear that we were left alone to cope with this difficult military and political problem".

Colonel Socrate Mardari: "I shall ask someone in Bucharest, but I can tell you beforehand that you won't receive answers from there. Good night and be sure I shall send you the answer as soon as I get it".

Lieutenant Colonel Nicolae Dragomir: "Thank you. I would like to add that we do not ask for decisions but for approvals that are beyond our rights".

Despite such warnings and Marshal Ion Antonescu's protests, which were increasingly stronger, the German Command gave the Romanian units strict orders to "hold on the spot" even after the "Wintergewitter" operation, aimed at breaking the besiege of the 6th German Armoured Force, was cancelled. Explaining once again the dramatic situation of the 4th Romanian Army, Lieutenant Colonel Nicolae Dragomir reported to the Romanian General Headquarters on December 27, 1942: "You have ordered us to carry out the orders of the German Army. In the above mentioned circumstances, the German orders that «our troops hold on the spot» is a death sentence. We have done our utmost to avoid this. We cannot do more but disobey the orders. Please intercede decisively and immediately to have our troops strengthened against tanks or if not to change the present mission of our troops".

All these desperate attempts made by the Romanian Commands failed to produce the expected results and the 3rd and 4th Romanian Armies faced a dramatic situation in the Kalmuk Steppe and at the Don River's Bend; in barely two months they suffered losses amounting to 140,000-150,000 dead, wounded and missing.

Posted by: Florin April 03, 2004 11:26 pm
The German Army units were under the same kind of unrealistic orders: "do not give up any meter of ground".
American general Eisenhower called this way of leading the battles by Hitler as "the conqueror complex": do not give away anything already conquered.
This incurred much heavier losses to the German units in many key battles:
in 1941 in front of Moskow, at El Alamein, later in Tunisia, or at Stalingrad, or in Normandy in June-July 1944. In this last case the German commanders begged unsuccessfully to be allowed to withdraw just few kilometers, to avoid the shelling from the Allied battleships pouring them from the sea.
But as mentioned in the post above, the equipment available to the Germans was more modern and in bigger quantities than what the Romanians had. As shown above, the Germans expected from the Romanians to hold the T-34's and the KV's with their bare hands.
Germany started to consider seriously the equipment of her allies (Romania, Finland, Hungary etc.) just in the summer of 1944.

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