Category: eastern front

Romania Re-Enters the War

King Ferdinand re-enters Bucharest on December 1, accompanied by General Berthelot.

November 10 1918, Iași–Since Bulgaria’s collapse, the Romanians had quietly been preparing to re-enter the war.  With most of their country occupied, however, doing so before linking up with the French advancing north through Bulgaria would have been a disastrous move; the Germans and Austro-Hungarians could have crushed them with little effort.  By the second week of November, however, the situation had changed.  Austria-Hungary had left the war (even if Hungary’s status was still in question), and Germany was actively negotiating armistice terms with the Allies.  If the Romanians wanted a seat at the peace table and the gains they wanted from Bulgaria and Hungary, re-entry into the war would greatly help them.  However, even if the Germans were no longer in a condition to attack the Romanians, they could still carry out severe damage in occupied Romania.

Nevertheless, the Romanians announced an immediate mobilization and sent an ultimatum to General Mackensen, demanding that all German troops leave Romania within 24 hours.  Mackensen’s forces were already doing so, to prevent being cut off from Germany by Austria-Hungary’s exit, but such a short timeline was impossible.  At dawn on the 10th, French forces crossed the Danube into German-occupied Romania; the Germans offered only desultory resistance.  Romanian troops had already begun moving into Bukovina (in the former Austrian half of the empire) at the invitation of local Romanian councils, and on November 10 the Romanian National Council in Transylvania similarly invited the Romanian army to intervene there.

At the expiry of the ultimatum on November 10, Romania declared war on Germany, less than twenty-four hours before the general armistice.  What little fighting there was ended when the news of the armistice reached Romania on the 12th.

Today in 1917: Battle of Passchendaele Ends

Today in 1916: German Raid on Gulf of Finland Catastrophically Fails
Today in 1915: Fourth Battle of the Isonzo
Today in 1914: Germans Take Dixmude

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

The great crusade: some of the many nationalit…

The great crusade: some of the many nationalities represented in the Allied Army of the Orient in Greece. Clockwise: Serbian, Indochinese, Italian, Greek, Indian, Irish.

September 14, 1918 – Grand Allied Offensive Be…

September 14, 1918 – Grand Allied Offensive Begins in Salonika

Pictured – A six-hour artillery bombardment hit Bulgarian positions, which could be heard from the German HQ in Skopje six miles away.

French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau once called the Allied army in Greece the “Gardeners of Salonika.” The Army of the Orient numbered 650,000 men, drawn from all over world, soldiers from Britain, France, West Africa, Indochina, Madagascar, India, Greece, Italy, Australia, and Russia. It faced 300,000 Bulgarians in on the northern Greek border, near the Macedonian town of Salonika, in Greek Thessaloniki. The two armies had faced off since late 1915, with little action on either side. Clemenceau, and many other Allied generals and politicians as well, felt the “Gardeners” could be better employed elsewhere. 

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The man in charge was determined to prove his prime minister wrong. General Franchet D’Esperey had planned a grand offensive on the Bulgarian lines which he believed could crush the junior member of the Central Powers and force it to the negotiating table. The Serbian members of his army had proposed the idea, eager to liberate their home which had been occupied since 1915. The guns opened up on September 14, smashing the Bulgarian earthworks for six hours, laying waste to the barbed wire. D’Esperey finalized his plans. A Franco-Serbian attack was to breach the Bulgar front-lines the next day

German Military Governor of Ukraine Assassinat…

Field Marshal Hermann von Eichhorn (1848-1918)

July 30 1918, Kiev–The Left SRs were virulently opposed to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and the expanding German occupation of large parts of Russia and Ukraine.  In early July, they assassinated the German ambassador in Moscow, Count Mirbach, which led to the Bolsheviks effectively outlawing them in areas under their control.  The crackdown did not extend beyond their reach, however; Left SRs were present in the anti-Bolshevik governments in Baku and Samara, and throughout German-occupied Ukraine.  On July 30, a Left SR member attacked Field Marshal Eichhorn, the German military governor, killing him and one of his aides with a bomb.  Beyond his position as the head of the occupying regime, Eichhorn was hated for his role in the late April coup that overthrew the (largely socialist) Ukrainian Rada and installed a compliant Czarist general as “Hetman” of Ukraine.  The assassin was executed in early August.

Today in 1917: Herbert Hoover to Head US Food Administration


Today in 1916: German Attack on Jersey City Damages Statue of Liberty
Today in 1915: Germans Use Flamethrowers at Hooge Crater
Today in 1914: Czar Nicholas II Orders Russian General Mobilization

The interior of an armored train on the Easter…

The interior of an armored train on the Eastern Front, 1918. Trains were important weapons in the east, used both to spearhead offensives and to protect territory from partisans.

An Austro-Hungarian sentry in a snow-covered…

An Austro-Hungarian sentry in a snow-covered trench on the Torzburg Pass (Bran Castle), winter 1916-1917.

Revolts Among Former PoWs in Hungary

The leaders of the Judenburg revolt being led to their execution on May 16.

May 20 1918, Pécs–The end of the war in the East meant that German and Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war were now slowly being repatriated to their home countries.  This was a major source of manpower for the struggling Austro-Hungarian armies, as more than 2.1 million men prepared to return.  However, the Army was highly concerned that the PoWs might bring back Bolshevik ideas with them from Russia, and established a quarantine system for them.  They were held in camps with poor rations and little or no new clothing for several weeks while the authorities determined whether they had deserted or were Bolsheviks, before being eventually granted four weeks’ leave at home.  This pervasive message of mistrust towards the returning PoWs did not increase their enthusiasm for the war effort.  This was compounded by the continuing food shortage, which did not spare the regular army.

In the late spring, there were many mutinies among units with high proportions of returned PoWs.  On May 12, a group of 1200 Slovene soldiers (normally some of the Empire’s most loyal troops) ransacked the town of Judenberg.  One of the ringleaders rallied others in the barracks to the cause:

Come on lads, get dressed.  We’re going home.  We’re doing it not just for us but as a favor to the comrades at the front.  The war has to be ended now….Whoever’s a Slovene should come with.

On May 20, around 1500 troops of the 6th Infantry Regiment, which contained many returned Serb PoWs, refused to be sent to the front seized the arsenal and food stores in Pécs.  The local miners armed themselves and joined the revolt as well; it would take three loyal Hungarian regiments to suppress them.

Today in 1917: Germans Allowed to Fire on US Warships

Today in 1916: Ernest Shackleton Reaches South Georgia
Today in 1915: Germans Refuse to Surrender in South-West Africa

Sources include: Randal Gray, Chronicle of the First World War; Alexander Watson, Ring of Steel.

Austro-Hungarian trenches and barbed wire sy…

Austro-Hungarian trenches and barbed wire system in snow-covered Volhynia, Poland, date unknown.

Austro-Hungarian trenches and barbed wire sy…

Austro-Hungarian trenches and barbed wire system on the River Siret, July 1917.

That’s a lot of barbed wire.

German officers surveying no man’s land with…

German officers surveying no man’s land with scissor binoculars from a trench on the Siret River during the Romanian campaign, c1916.