IN 107, A. D., a century and a half after Julius Caesar's last campaign in Gaul, the Roman emperor Trajan brought to a successful end the conquest of a new land, Dacia. The genius of Trajan as an organizer and builder of colonies, and the perseverance of his immediate successors transformed the new borderland of the empire into a beautiful and rich Roman province. Then, as now, Dacia's physical geography exhibited a grandiose and true system of natural defenses. In the center the wide plateau of Transylvania served as a fortress of last resort, surrounded by the plains of Moldavia, Wallachia, Banat, Crishana and Maramuresh; beyond lay extensive fields bounded by large rivers whose deep waters offered strong obstacles to invaders: the Dniester in the East, the Danube on the South, the Theiss in the West. This peculiar configuration of the land, affording a logical and effective defense, enabled the inhabitants of Dacia to preserve to this day their language, characteristics, and customs; and the safeguard of their loyalty and dignity as a Latin race, throughout unending hardship and the vicissitudes alloted them by destiny, may be attributed to no other cause.
For almost two centuries after the time of its incorporation in the empire Dacia enjoyed continuous prosperity as the luminary of Roman civilization in the Orient. The fateful situation of the province, which was on the highway which the barbarians were naturally wont to follow in their advance on Europe, and in no small degree the temptation of its rich soil, were to bring to an end the golden age of "Dacia Felix." Supported by Roman legions the population of Dacia energetically fought the first invaders. However, when in 274 A. D., the emperor Aurelian, who had been engaged in a campaign in the Orient against Queen Zenobia of Palmyre, realized that the needed means to oppose the increasing pressure exerted by the barbarians were failing him, the retreat of all armies and administrative agents of the Roman empire on the right banks of the Danube was decreed. Henceforth Dacia was left to its own destiny.
Completely isolated from Rome, the population of the unfortunate province never ceased throughout the Middle Ages to devote all its strength to the preservation of its ethnical entity. When, at the dawn of the modern age, the Danubian principalities were established on the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, they were to fight with the aid of Western Powers the Turkish invasion; and when Bajazet I became victor at Nicopoli, for the second time in their history these principalities were left to their fate, and thus forced to face unaided the formidable Mohammedan empire.
Beginning with the 15th century, the Roumanian principalities had to contend not only with the Turkish menace, but also with the rising antagonism of Poland and Hungary. The whole Balkan peninsula was then under Turkish sway. Serbia, so flourishing only a century before under Prince Dushan, had ceased to exist after the battle of Kossovo. Of all the Balkan states, the Roumanian provinces alone were to continue to oppose the Mohammedan empire,—with great courage, and at times with success, notably during the reigns of Sultans Bajazet II and Mohammed II.
In more recent times, by the same implacable fate, the Roumanian principalities were again to find themselves an obstacle in the way of powerful neighbors. The Russian colossus was casting its shadow over Constantinople. While the Turks were losing hold gradually on their European conquests, Russia and Austria were making ready for the spoils. In such critical times the Roumanian principalities found salvation in the enlightened patriotism of their politicians and, in no less degree, in the aid which France tendered towards the creation of the modern Roumanian nation. Thus, the movement toward freedom which, originating in France in 1848, swept over Europe, found the Roumanian nation prepared; and it appears plausible that as early as 1859 Roumania would have joined France against the common enemy, Austria, had the campaign of that year been of longer duration.
When Russia in 1877 called to liberty the Balkan peoples Roumania took arms at her side and made victory possible. While Bulgaria and Serbia emerged free from the struggle in which they had no part, victorious Roumania lost southern Bessarabia to Russia and received in compensation,—from Turkey,—Dobrudja, a land less extensive and, at the time, poor and deserted. Threatened by the Czarist aims in the Orient, so clearly evidenced in the unscrupulous annexation of Bessarabia, Roumania became aware of the desirability of a temporary alliance with Austria-Hungary, Russia's rival. On the basis of this new political alignment the following years witnessed the rise of forts and defenses along the lower Sireth river, from Focshani through Namoloasa to Galatz, destined to halt the march of Russia on Constantinople.
Proof of the futility of this alliance was to come only too soon. Under the spell of the famous "Drang nach Osten" and with German and Bulgarian assent, Austria-Hungary inaugurated on the threshold of the 20th century a policy of conquest. Its consequence was the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the scrapping of the Berlin treaty as well as the Austrian Declarations of 1888. This iniquitous abuse of force could not fail to find repercussion in the entire Slav and Jugo-Slav minority elements of Austria and Hungary. The Kingdom of Serbia, brutally deprived of a province greater even than its own territory, prepared for war. Austria-Hungary, fearing the hostile attitude of the Slavs living within its borders as much as the effects of the unorganized state of its field artillery and the inadequacy of its heavy cannon supply, brought into play all the resources of its diplomacy to avert a conflict. And when in 1913 Austria succeeded in swinging Bulgaria against Serbia aiming at the latter's destruction, Roumania rose in sturdy opposition. Notwithstanding the threat from Austria of backing Bulgaria by force of arms in the case of Roumanian intervention, the Roumanian army never wavered an instant, marched against Bulgaria and saved Serbia. From that day the Roumanian-Austrian alliance became a dead letter.
This outline of the history of Roumania brings us to the outbreak of the World War. So far our people have lived through the centuries completely encircled by alien races, always isolated at times of greatest danger, ever left to its own resources. For the pride of flying her flag alongside those of the Allies, Roumania paid with heroism, sacrifice, endurance and toil.
In what follows I shall attempt to review Roumania's contribution to the World War. When in July 1914, 50 million Austro-Hungarians declared war on 4 million Serbians who has just emerged from two successive wars,—one against Turkey, in 1912, another against Bulgaria, in 1913—Roumanian public opinion was greatly disturbed. It is but natural, therefore, that Roumania rose to its feet at the call of the Allies, united to preserve the liberty of peoples: the war with Austria-Hungary, as far as Roumania was concerned, was considered virtually declared.
Unfortunately two equally weighty reasons prevented immediate action: the German origin of all Roumanian armament, and the deficiency in ammunitions as well as war material of every kind. Necessarily the Allies required time to equip their plants with suitable machinery for the manufacture of Roumania's ammunitions. Conscious of the truth that a premature campaign would have as consequence a complete disaster, Roumania bent all her efforts towards preparedness.
The task was not easy. Situated at one extreme wing of the Russian forces, and as an enemy of the Central Powers, Roumania, with its right-angle geographical configuration, was to be at the same time the salient point which would endanger the retreat of the German right wing, as well as the most imminent threat to the only artery of communication between Germany and her allies. In fact, the Roumanian army in Oltenia was but sixty miles away from the Budapest-Belgrade-Sofia railway. The possibility of cooperation between the Roumanian armies and the Allied forces at Salonica furnished the German Staff with an additional and no less serious concern. On the other hand, Germany's most direct way towards Southern Russia and the important centres of Kieff and Odessa, lay across Roumania. Were Roumania to wage war against Germany, the Central powers would have to mobilize a number of units at least equal to the Roumanian forces, namely 20 to 25 divisions, as contrasted to the situation which would have prevailed had Roumania joined the Central Powers, in which case twice the number mentioned, namely 50 divisions, would have become available to the German Staff.
Giving due weight to these considerations, it was to be expected that Roumania's final decision as to the side she would take in the war would preserve its importance during 1914-16. The number and the sternness of efforts made to influence this decision may be taken as additional proof.
As early as the end of 1914, Russia signed a convention with Roumania whereby the latter was to have free hand to occupy, at the opportune moment, all territories then under Hungarian rule whose population was mainly Roumanian, and this in exchange for a bare assurance of a friendly neutrality. This pact which gave Roumania the freedom of deciding on the most favorable time to enter the war was to be, unfortunately, interpreted to our disadvantage. It was said, indeed, that on the basis of this convention Roumania would intervene only at the very last moment, when her aid would be minimal. The tale went around that "Roumania's war declaration would not help securing an Allied victory; it would only be an unmistakable sign that victory was at hand." In thus throwing doubt upon the real intentions of the Roumanian government, the efforts made to complete its military preparations in the Allied countries were seriously hindered. The head of a large Allied ammunition plant who, with the consent of his government, had undertaken to fill an important order of material for the Roumanian armies, told me one day: "Roumania's vacillations between the Entente and the Central Powers are revealed to me day by day by the orders received from our Government to accelerate or to decrease the monthly production of your ammunitions."
Thus to doubt Roumania was nevertheless grossly unjust. This Latin country, reared in the light of French culture, could not fight in this most sacred of all wars save on the side of right and justice, on the side of the Allies.
Time has inscribed and consecrated the misfortunes and sufferings of the Roumanian people who since 107 A. D. have been fighting in the world for their very existence. They have never, in spite of all their sacrifices, for a single moment forgotten either their duties or their rights.
The situation of Roumania, menaced as she was in her national existence and honor, could have become dangerous indeed had doubt of her intentions persisted.
Fortunately France was the first to have confidence in her and to take up the question of the military preparation of Roumania.
While this preparation was going on with the aid of the French staff, the war had reached a critical phase. The victorious Anglo-French drive on the Marne had been halted by the Germans, who early in August 1916 had redoubled their attack on Verdun.
The Italian offensive had ended with the capture of Gorizia. Broussiloff's offensive was checked and completely exhausted. The army at Salonica was seriously menaced, for epidemic had deeply affected it and it was difficult to supply reinforcements.
This situation invited a move on the part of the Central Powers. As it was to be expected that a new offensive drive by the enemy would take place, as usual, at weak points in the Allied line, important concentration of forces against Broussiloff's southern wing and the Allied forces in Salonica caused no surprise.
The concentration on Salonica meant a Bulgaro-Austro-German offensive with the objective of driving the Allied army to the sea; that against Broussiloff could be nothing but the beginning of a counter-offensive very dangerous in case of success. As a matter of fact, this move could have pushed back beyond the narrow Moldavian frontier General Licinsky's troops, which constituted the southern wing of General Broussiloff's, penetrating Bessarabia and Southern Russia, completely upsetting the Russian left wing and exposing the eastern front to a disaster greater than that of 1915.
Then it was that General Alexieff, greatly worried, and prompted by the Western Allies, stated that Roumania should either enter the war immediately or forever renounce her right to fight on the Allied side.
It was also then that munition trains sent by France began pouring into Roumania in such quick succession and great quantities that even the most skeptical were impressed.
Roumania therefore acquiesced in the demand and signed a political and military treaty with the Allies.
It was agreed that the Allied army at Salonica was to back up the mobilization, concentration and movements of the Roumanian army against Austria-Hungary, by a strong offensive against the Bulgaro-Austro-German armies, to be carried out with all available forces, eight hours before Roumania declared war.
Unfortunately, the army at Salonica was itself attacked on all flanks forty-eight hours before its offensive was to have been launched.
Inasmuch as the commander-in-chief at Salonica had concentrated his men and ammunitions in the center of his line, where his own offensive was to have taken place, the Bulgaro-Austro-German offensive constituted a serious menace.
The skilful manoeuvring of General Sarrail mastered the situation. But, by the force of these same circumstances, the offensive as provided in the military Convention had to be abandoned.
This state of affairs caused the French staff, with which I was then connected, some anxiety; it was thought that under the new strategic circumstances and since the army at Salonica could no longer intervene, Roumania would be obliged to delay her move.
This was a mistake.
Her political claims as well as her need for munitions having been satisfied, Roumania did not hesitate a moment to discharge her signed pledge, oblivious of the danger which threatened her.
Therefore, on August 27, 1916, Roumania declared war on Austria-Hungary, and three Roumanian armies, 370,000 strong, launched their drive in Transylvania.
A detachment of 150,000 men held the Danube and the Dobrudja and a force of nearly 50,000 men was kept in and about Bucharest.
Russia, which had promised 50,000 men, did not deem it necessary to increase this aid, notwithstanding the fact that, since the army at Salonica could not help, the situation was completely changed. A real effort on the part of the Russian armies, even at the risk of weakening other parts of the eastern front, could have produced a decisive result and could have spared all the bloodshed and suffering that followed.
If, following Roumania's declaration of war, Russia had marched against Bulgaria and had cut off this country and thereby Turkey from the Central Powers, the war would have ended, even if the German armies had been able to reach Petrograd and Moscow.
Meantime Roumania again remained alone to defend herself against her formidable enemies.
Left to its own resources, the Roumanian army at once advanced into Transylvania until the middle of September, when the Austro-German forces which had finally concentrated under the command of Falkhenhayn took the offensive.
Thereafter, unable to resist the crushing numerical superiority of the enemy, their heavy artillery and formidable war equipment, the Roumanian army was forced to retreat to the Carpathian Mountains. There it prolonged its resistance and inflicted heavy losses on the enemy, until, overwhelmed by numbers, it had to give way. The Roumanian lines were pierced at the Volcan pass.
The front thus broken, the Roumanian army in Wallachia was attacked in the rear. Due to the unwillingness to abandon their native soil prematurely, as well as to failure to receive the promised aid, the loss of a large number of men and material could not be avoided.
On November 23 Mackensen, commanding the Bulgaro-Turko-German forces in the south, crossed the Danube and joined Falkhenhayn.
The Roumanian army, always alone, endeavored to face the enemy and waged a great battle west of Bucharest.
Victory seemed certain. But again the Russian troops in the vicinity did not think it their duty to intervene, with the excuse that they had not been ordered to do so. The battle was lost and the Roumanian army, after inflicting great damage, had to retreat to Moldavia up to the Sereth. Instances of the artillery firing to the last moment, and of dismantling the guns to avoid their falling into enemy hands, were numerous.
For four months, until the 7th of January 1917, the Roumanian army continued its single-handed fight against the Austro-Germans.
At this juncture it may be useful to compare the happenings on the western front with those on the eastern.
There the little army of Marshal French time and again underwent heavy losses in order to save the situation, covering itself with glory by this gesture of a true ally.
There, also, the little Belgian army was sacrificed to check the formidable avalanche of the German offensive.
There, again, when after the Italian engagement at Caporetto prompt aid became necessary, effective assistance was given by the French in less than five days.
It may well be asked, then, how Russia could witness cold-bloodedly the crushing of the Roumanian army by four different enemies, and limit its concern to inquiring by telegraph of the Western Governments:
"What shall we do about the Roumanian calamity?"
At that time Polivanoff stated that the Roumanian disaster was not unfavorable to Russia. The treaty of 1916, he said, destined to make a greater Roumania, promised but small aid to Roumania. As the situation demanded a larger number of men than the agreement called for, he contended that it was no longer valid.
For these reasons Roumania could not help being crushed. The entire eastern front thereby suffered. The Allies lost all the advantages of Roumanian participation and the war was prolonged. All this merely to furnish an excuse for the nullification of the treaty of 1916.
With the retreat of the Roumanian army to the Sereth began the second chapter of our campaign. Our troops had suffered considerable losses in men and material. We had but six or seven divisions available for active service, the remainder having been released from the front to be reorganized.
This reorganization of the Roumanian army was, I believe, one of our greatest efforts of the war. Roumania lacked everything: food, clothing, munitions, equipment and instructors for her troops. If at last the reorganization of her armies was realized, it was above all due to the efforts of the French mission, to General Berthelot and to the fact that all the material from France and England succeeded in getting through Russia. With these efforts the Roumanian army was trained in four months and equipped with material it had never had until then.
On July 1, 1917, the Roumanian army was ready; on the 22d it began its second offensive with the second army under General Averesco.
Officers and soldiers had but one thought: to recover Wallachia, regain their women and children, and then deliver their brothers across the mountains.
Colonels marched at the head of their troops; the soldiers, on account of the heat, doffed helmets and coats. They had no superabundance of guns, but they had the will to conquer or die.
Their drive was plainly successful, and should have been supplemented by the drive of the first army under General Grigoresco. Artillery preparation had already commenced, and the first detachment was preparing to leave the trenches, when all of a sudden the fourth and sixth Russian armies were ordered not only to abstain from supporting the offensive but even to retreat.
As soon as this order was received the King, General Berthelot and General Grigoresco realized that Roumania's doom was sealed.
While the fourth Russian army was effecting its retreat the first Roumanian army, under General Grigoresco, shifted its position from offensive to defensive.
General Mackensen, probably informed of the intended change, chose that moment to attack the Roumanian army which he thought alone and unable to resist. To aid him Archduke Charles moved up at the same time along the valley of the Trotush. The question then was for the Austro-Germans to hold the Roumanian army in a vise-like grip. Nevertheless, despite Mackensen's efforts, despite the fact that Roumanian troops were left alone and must have fought two to one, five to one, ten to one even, despite Archduke Charles' efforts, the Austro-German plans failed.
It was at Focshani that Mackensen lost his title of "Invincible."
The Roumanian line had not budged.
The Russian army was, unfortunately, undergoing rapid disintegration. Discipline was a thing of the past. In Bukovina the Russians fled before the enemy, without struggle, leaving the Roumanian army in danger of being surrounded on the right.
The Roumanian Government, resolved to resist to the end, thought then of retreating into Russia. Overtures were made to Kerensky, and the village of Kerson was chosen as royal seat. But Bolshevism was making rapid progress, and the Russian troops in Roumania sent their chief, General Tcherbatcheff, an ultimatum apprising him that if an armistice was not immediately consummated on the Roumanian front they would quit the front, let the enemy through and would themselves march on Jassy.
In the face of this situation an armistice was concluded at Focshani. This truce allowed the Allies time to rearrange their eastern front. But Ukraine, on which great hopes had been placed, fell into the hands of the Austro-Germans, who hastened to send troops to Odessa and Kieff.
The Russian Government became in turn increasingly hostile toward Roumania and finally declared war.
Completely surrounded by enemies; ravaged and pillaged by Russian Bolsheviks who fled the front; hopeless, fearful of seeing her army capitulate and her prisoners taken in droves; her war material destroyed or captured; hoping at last, by conserving her energy, to be useful later—Roumania, strangled, bleeding, fell under German domination, yet with the unwavering hope of asserting her right and regaining her liberty.
That domination did not last long.
Roumania had taken up arms and was again fighting the Austro-Germans when the armistice intervened.