Romanians Launch Major Offensive

Romanian artillery firing during the Battle of Mărăști.

July 24 1917, Mărăști–The Romanian front had been relatively quiet since January, since the Germans had called off their offensive in late January.  Romania had lost two-thirds of their country and needed time to rebuild their army; their Russian allies were quickly preoccupied with their own internal troubles.  But by the summer, the Romanians were determined to go back on the offensive.  They wanted to retake their country and prove that they were a valuable part of the Allied war effort, even after their disastrous debut.  Plans were made for an offensive in late July, at which point the Central Powers would hopefully be distracted by the Kerensky Offensive to the north.

Of course, by late July, the Kerensky Offensive had petered out and then suffered significant reverses, and cold feet began to abound.  The Romanian PM attempted to call off the offensive only hours after it had started, but was overruled by the King, the Chief of the General Staff, and the ranking Russian general in the area.

At 4 AM on July 24, the Romanian Second Army under Averescu attacked around Mărăști, to the west of the Siret.  The First Army was due to attack across the Siret further east the next day.  Although there had been substantial warning of Romanian preparations, the Austrian and German defenders were confident in their positions and had not sent any reinforcements to the area, which had been steadily stripped of soldiers bound for Italy and Galicia over the course of the year.  This gave the Second Army at least a three-to-one advantage in infantry in many places.

The Russians and the Romanians on the left flank of the attack hit and quickly overwhelmed the German 218th Division.  General Seeckt despaired: “strong is my fear that nothing can be done with this division….It is no longer capable of resistance.”  The division lost 1500 prisoners that day, with the remainder precipitately retreating back.  The Romanian left flank advanced two miles on the first day, exceeding even their initial expectations.  The right flank, without adequate artillery support and attacking into more difficult terrain, had failed to make any progress.  Nevertheless, the day was seen as a great success for Romanian arms, and Averescu was eager to continue the attack the next day.

The Germans, meanwhile, quickly realizing the threat the Romanians posed, had Mackensen hastily draw up plans for a general counteroffensive–but it would be some time before they would be ready.

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Sources include: Glenn E. Torrey, The Romanian Battlefront in World War I.