A PLEA FOR ROUMANIA

John Wells
Formerly 1st Lieut., 5th Army Corps, A. E. F. in France
New York, 1919


Published by The Roumanian Relief Committee of America

43, Cedar Street, New York





A PLEA FOR ROUMANIA

I am sorry to find that Roumanian aims and actions are so often misunderstood in this country and I wish to explain some of these matters and put them forth in a fairer light than the general press dispatches seem to have done.

In the first place Roumania having fully determined only to fight on the allied side was obliged to come into the war when she did by pressure which could not be resisted and having thus entered the war at the end of August, 1916, was by reason of the treachery of the Imperial Russian Government impeded in receiving the guns and munitions sent to her from England and France and essential for her needs in the war. Then this same government having assured Roumania that Bulgaria would not attack, and having pledged an army to defend her from any Bulgarian attack, or from attack through the Dobrodgea, failed utterly to keep her pledge, only in the end sending two divisions to join in the contest against von Mackensen, a reinforcement so utterly inadequate as to emphasize the more the deliberate Russian intention to betray her new ally.

The Roumanian plans for the campaign were based on the assumption that Russian pledges would be kept, and this belief was reasonable and to the credit of Roumania. Broussilow had again approached the Transylvanian frontier after reoccupying Bukovina so that popular clamour for the plan which was actually adopted probably had some effect on the decision. Stuermer, who was as we know now practically a German agent, was at the head of the Russian Government and insisted on the adoption of the plan to have the Roumanian army thrown into Transylvania.   That plan was accordingly adopted.

In the meanwhile von Mackensen having gathered a large and powerful force prepared to attack the Dobrodgea. Roumania called on Russia to fulfill her pledge, and send an army immediately to the Dobrodgea, but she refused. Roumanian troops outnumbered more than three to one, with inferior equipment, in spite of their bravery were beaten and compelled to recross the Danube after blowing up the great bridge at Cernavoda and thus abandon the entire province to the enemy.

Von Falkenhayn, having collected a force of some 42 divisions, now attacked the Roumanians who had crossed the passes of the mountains and entered Transylvania, and by reason of his great numbers and heavy guns soon drove them back into the mountains where they prepared to defend the passes.

A glance at the map will show the advantage to the Teutons of taking one of the Northern passes. They attacked in the North in force at the Oituz Pass, but failed to capture it. The Roumanians retreated at the Gyimes Pass in the extreme North, for strategic reasons but continued to hold the pass. Then von Falkenhayn collected great forces to attack the Predeal Pass and the col of Bran (Torzburg) to the West of it, in the very center of the chain of mountains, but this attack likewise failed. Then the German Commander, unable to capture a Northern or a central pass, attacked in a pass to the West known as the Vulcan Pass. The capture of this pass would only cut off the western part of Valachia and hence its capture would not be as advantageous as the capture of one of the Northern passes or even one in the center, but once in the plains numbers would tell so that the question of where the penetration was effected was not all important. The Roumanians were first pushed back here for several miles, but by a counter-attack later drove the Teutons off with heavy loss. This attack was renewed, however, by the Teutons in the middle of November, 1916, and this time succeeded, chiefly by reason of the enemy's superiority in artillery. Again taking position on the lower hills the Roumanians bravely resisted this new attack, but were again defeated. The flood of Germans with their great numbers spreading over the plains caused a hurried retreat which was hastened by the fact that Stuermer's government in Russia had prevented the munitions sorely needed by the Roumanian army and which had been sent from France, from arriving. But there is small credit to von Falkenhayn for a victory under such circumstances, in view of his enormous superiority in numbers and the lack of arms and munitions of the Roumanians.

I shall not dwell on the fights made by the Roumanians to save Bucharest, or on the lines of divers rivers intersecting the plain, as I have said enough to show that they fought well and did all that any army so placed could have done. They had to retreat leaving three-fifths of the Kingdom, including the capital, in the hands of the enemy, and the retreat did not end till the line of the lower Sereth River was reached. They continued to hold this line and that of the mountains to the north till the Russian revolution cut off all supplies and revolutionary Russia having become a declared enemy, there remained no choice but to make the so-called peace treaty of Bucharest in the early days of 1918. This so-called treaty was never signed by the King and hence was never a legal treaty, and it was abrogated by the terms of the armistice of last November when Roumania again became free. The German and Hungarian armies fled and Roumania once more came into the war on the side of the Allies.

The line of the Sereth was reached in January, 1917, and a certain amount of munitions then reached the Roumanians and also some Russian divisions, and as I said this line held until the Russian situation made further resistance impossible about a year later, but during that year the Roumanian army was not idle. It resisted with success every attack and they were many and it succeeded in spite of the odds of numbers and the lack of proper war material. During this time and in June, 1917, General Averescu launched an offensive on the frontier of Transylvania, and in two days fighting advanced about 17 miles, and there is every reason to believe that had this offensive been maintained that a disaster would have overtaken Teuton arms, for the enemy appeared to be thoroughly demoralized and almost in panic, but the Russians insisted on this offensive being stopped and therefore it had to be abandoned. This was followed by a heavy German attack on the Roumanian lines in August, which was completely defeated in spite of the tremendous advantage of numbers and of guns of the attacking forces, and in spite of the withdrawal of the Russian divisions just before the attack. All this proves not only the valour of the Roumanian troops, but shows what they might have done had they had more guns and equipment and better support from the Allies, but Roumanian intervention had diverted the huge forces of von Falkenhayn and von Mackensen from other fronts and thus spared the other Allies. Roumania also suffered severely from the Russian troops becoming Bolshevists and plundering the country and committing every excess.

After the armistice, when the other allied armies were war weary and were refusing to fight, Roumania kept on defending at the sacrifice of many lives the liberty of the world by fighting on two frontsóon the Dniester against the Russian Bolshevicks and on the Tisza against the Hungarian Bolshevicks. She could have suppressed the Reds in Buda-Pesth early last Spring but was halted by the Supreme Council at Paris, but when attacked last summer by the Hungarian Reds, she defeated them so completely that her troops marched into the Hungarian capital, however, this delay cost Roumania many lives.

When Roumania entered the war, she had about 3000 locomotives. When the Teutons left she had only about 130, as the rolling stock of the railways had been carried off to Hungary. When she took Buda-Pesth she found there some 400 locomotives with the Roumanian lettering "C. F. R.". She seized them and the Supreme Council, it is said, protestedóbut can any fair minded person say that she was not within her rights? Can anyone blame her? Her railways had been almost at a stand still, till she thus got back a small part of her property which had been stolen. Without some of her locomotives and cars, her people must have starved as nothing could be moved by rail.

When, as I said above, that von Falkenhayn had concentrated 42 divisions on the Transylvania front, von Mackensen had some 10 more divisions in the Dobrodgea. Do you appreciate what that means? At that time there were about 125 German divisions on the French and English fronts, and about 115 German and Austrian divisions on the Russian front. The entire Roumanian army consisted of only 21 divisions and this relatively small force had to resist and did resist a force of about half the size of the German army on the entire French and English fronts!

Roumania with possibly 700,000 in her army from first to last, had 325,000 dead, not to count the wounded. Her entire loss of life due to the war both among the army and the civil population was close to one million, out of a pre-war population of about eight million.

Never in her history before now has the entire Roumanian nation been united and free. Even Poland had been free and united in the past but not so Roumania, which had never even had the poor consolation of saying that it had all been free and united at some past period of her history. The Roumanian people have during the ages always been a martyred race. The . Roumanian people have suffered during centuries oppression from the Turks, the Russians, the Magyars and the Austrians. The geographical position of Roumania made it the cock-pit where the Turks fought the Russians, and the Magyars the Turks, and her people always suffered greatly from the passing through the land of these many hostile armies.

Now with this new dawn of freedom which allied victory gives to the peoples of the world, will the Roumanian race, that gentle, hard working and long suffering people be given the full fruition of its century's long dream and hope? Have not the sacrifices which Roumania offered up so bravely in the Allied cause been sufficient?

When Roumania entered the Great War in August, 1916, she was assured in the event of Allied victory of certain Roumanian territories. She did her part right nobly and the peace of Bucharest so-called cannot be held up against her as it was due to isolation from the Allies and causes quite beyond her control and this was admitted in Paris, London and Rome. Moreover, the treaty so-called was never legally adopted and was at the most an armistice. Under these circumstances and in view of her tremendous sacrifices, should she not now obtain all the benefits which France, England, Italy and Russia promised her when they asked her aid? The chief point where these promises threaten to fail is in respect to the County of Torontal, in the west of the Banat. It is conceded that all the rest of the Banat shall go to Roumania. But to divide the Banat will create a situation that will work great hardship. The rivers from the upper mountainous Eastern Banat empty into the Tisza through the County of Torontal and the whole course of these streams must be controlled by the same country if the logs cut in the mountains are to be brought down without continual quarrels with the authorities on the lower end. The same is true of the canals and a somewhat similar condition exists in regard to the roads and railways. Moreover by giving the whole of the Banat to Roumania you give as frontiers the rivers Tisza and Danube which supply natural boundaries.   Any other frontier would be highly artificial and be the cause of endless disputes. It is true that there are some 200,000 Serbs in the Torontal district, but as Roumania makes no claim to the valleys of the Timok and Morava on the South side of the Danube where dwell 300,000 Roumanians, the Serbs could well afford to give over 200,000 of their people in Torontal to Roumania.

The decision of this question depends largely on America. Unfortunately Roumania is very far away and America knows little of the Latins of the Near East and does not yet fully appreciate the high degree of civilization and democracy which the Kingdom of Roumania had developed before the great war. It is to call attention to the salient features of Roumanian conditions that this brief sketch is written and in the hope that it may tend to increase the interest of Americans in these new Romans who have shown themselves such worthy descendants of the old Romans.

Roumania will with her new frontiers, have a population of about 15 millions. The land has great natural resources. The people hate the Germans and look to America to help them develop their country which will have an area of about 110,000 square miles. There is no other field which offers so many and so great opportunities for profitable enterprises, and America should not fail to avail itself of these.

Therefore, our interest and our sympathy should go hand in hand in this new old land and play the parts of guides and friends and thus make permanent the affection for America in Roumania which our American Red Cross has founded by the relief of the misery, suffering and want which the war had left in its train and which work our Red Cross did so generously and so nobly.