Germany's Eastern Front in World War II saw many campaigns and battles that have been forgotten by a Soviet Union that tried to hide its military failures. The Red Army's invasion of Romania in April and May 1944 was one such campaign, which produced nearly 200,000 casualties and tarnished the reputations of its commanders. The redoubtable David Glantz, the world's leading authority on the Soviet military in World War II, now restores this tale to its proper place in the annals of World War II.
Working from newly available Russian and long-neglected German archives—plus Red Army unit histories and commanders' memoirs—Glantz reconstructs an imposing mosaic that reveals the immense scope and ambitious intent of the first Iasi-Kishinev offensive. His re-creation shows that Stalin was not as preoccupied with a direct route to Berlin as he was with a "broad front" strategy designed to gain territory and find vulnerable points in Germany's extended lines of defense. If successful, the invasion would have also eliminated Romania as Germany's ally, cut off the vital Ploiesti oilfields, and provided a base from which to consolidate Soviet power throughout the Balkans.
Glantz traces the 2nd Ukrainian Front's offensive along the Tirgu Frumos, Iasi, and Dnestr River axes and the 3rd Ukrainian Front's simultaneous advance to the Dnestr River and dramatic struggle to seize bridgeheads across the river and capture Kishinev. He discloses General Ivan Konev's strategic plan as the 2nd Ukrainian Front prepared its Iasi offensive and fought a climactic battle with the German Eighth Army and its Romanian allies in the Tirgu Frumos region in early May, then the regrouping of General Rodion Malinovsky's 3rd Ukrainian Front for its decisive offensive toward Kishinev, which aborted in the face of a skillful counterstroke by a threadbare German Sixth Army. Glantz describes how the Wehrmacht, with a nucleus of survived combat veterans, was able to beat back Soviet forces hampered by spring floods, while already fragile Soviet logistical support was further undermined by the Wehrmacht's scorched-earth strategy.
Although Konev's and Malinovsky's offensives ultimately failed, the Red Army managed to inflict heavy losses on Axis forces, exacerbating the effects of Germany's defeats in the Ukraine and making it more difficult for the Wehrmacht to contain the Soviet juggernaut's ultimate advance toward Berlin. By re-creating this forgotten offensive, Glantz commemorates a rich and important chapter in the history of a war that brought down the German Army and reshaped the map of Europe.
David M. Glantz is the author of When Titans Clashed, The Battle of Kursk, The Battle for Leningrad, Zhukov's Greatest Defeat, Stumbling Colossus, Colossus Reborn, and many other books.
"Using Soviet and German archival sources, Glantz proves that Stalin had intended to move deep into the Balkans as soon as possible with postwar hegemony in mind, while pursuing a broad-front strategy. . . . His study corrects a sixty-year misinterpretation of Soviet Army operations along the Romanian approaches to the Balkans in 1944 and adds tremendously to our understanding of the war's conduct in the east."
Roger Reese, author of Red Commanders: A Social History of the Soviet Army Officer Corps, 1918-1991
"With his usual command of the sources and devotion to detail, Glantz once again brings to light a little-known episode of the struggle on the eastern front. He shows that, contrary to the common image of the Soviet juggernaut rolling over all opposition, there were places where the combination of Soviet overreaching combined with German reactions could produce sharp and bloody defeats at the hands of the still-dangerous Wehrmacht. . . . Essential reading for students of World War II."
Richard L. DiNardo, author of Germany and the Axis Powers: From Coalition to Collapse
"Glantz is once again at the top of his form. ... He convincingly demonstrates that the Red Army's abortive invasion of Romania in April and May 1944 was no mere feint but part of an integral part of a broad-front strategy of keeping the Germans under pressure everywhere."
Dennis Showalter, author of Patton and Rommel: Men of War in the Twentieth Century
During the course of over five months of nearly continuous fighting in the winter and spring of 1944, the Red Army's 11 operating fronts inflicted major defeats on three German army groups, liberated large amounts of German-occupied territory in the western Soviet Union—including virtually all of the Leningrad region [oblast'], most of the central and western Ukraine, and the Crimean peninsula—and made significant inroads against the Wehrmacht's defenses in eastern Belorussia. While doing so, the Red Army destroyed or severely damaged at least 16 German divisions and eliminated hundreds of thousands of soldiers from the Wehrmacht's order of battle, either by encirclement or sheer combat attrition, and reduced another 60 German divisions to only skeletal strength.
Whereas the rasputitsa [rainy season] compelled the Red Army to call a halt to its offensive operations during the springs of 1942 and 1943, this was not the case during the spring of 1944. As a result, the Wehrmacht, which had been able to exploit the rainy weather and mud-clogged roads to rest, refit, and regroup its forces during the spring of previous years, faced a prolonged and unremitting struggle for its very survival. Therefore, when the Red Army's winter campaign ended in May 1944, the only region where the Wehrmacht's defenses held firm was in eastern Belorussia, where the beleaguered forces of its Army Group Center defended an immense salient jutting eastward, but with virtually no reserves.
Operating along the northwestern (Leningrad) axis, during January 1944 the Red Army's Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts defeated German Army Group North in the Leningrad region, finally raising the German blockade of Lenin's namesake city. Joined by the 2nd Baltic Front, the same two fronts then expelled Army Group North's forces from most of central and southern Leningrad oblast' by the end of March and, during April, commenced offensive operations to penetrate the Germans' Panther Defense Line and recapture the Baltic region, which the Wehrmacht had invaded and seized in June and July of 1941. Simultaneously, from January through March 1944, the Red Army's 1st Baltic, Western, and Belorussian Fronts conducted nearly continuous though often futile attacks against Army Group Center's defenses in eastern Belorussia, pressing German forces back into the fortress city of Vitebsk, turning the army group's northern and southern flanks, and forcing it to commit its last precious reserves to contain their assaults.
Finally, operating far more effectively than their counterparts to the north, the Red Army's 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Ukrainian Fronts, joined by the new 2nd Belorussian Front during February, which were advancing along the southwestern axis in the Ukraine, liberated virtually the entire Right Bank of the Ukraine (the region west of the Dnepr River) from German Army Groups South and "A," expelled German forces from the Crimean peninsula and the city of Sevastopol', and advanced westward to the borders with Poland and Romania1. As the four fronts advanced westward, they shattered or seriously damaged the Wehrmacht's First Panzer, Sixth, Eighth, and Seventeenth Armies.
Since the war's end, Soviet and, more recently, Russian historians have insisted that the military strategy Stalin pursued during the winter campaign of 1943-1944 required the Red Army to conduct major offensive operations against German forces defending along the northwestern (Leningrad) and the southwestern (Ukrainian) axes to the exclusion of other sectors of the front, in particular, the western (Minsk-Warsaw) axis. Furthermore, these historians claim, once the Red Army accomplished Stalin's objectives in these regions by mid-April 1944, Stalin abruptly halted further offensive operations by the Red Army and thereafter shifted his strategic focus to Belorussia and Poland, the most direct axes into the heart of Hitler's Germany, where the Red Army resumed offensive operations in the summer of 1944.
In short, these historians assert Stalin's military strategy involved concentrating the bulk of the Red Army's strength along the northwestern and southwestern strategic axes so that the army's operating fronts could achieve the missions the Stavka (High Command) assigned to them, while the Stavka economized on the expenditure of vital Soviet manpower and material resources. In reality, however, during the winter and spring of 1944, Stalin pursued the same "broad front" strategy he had employed since the beginning of the war, based largely on the assumption that, if the Red Army applied maximum pressure everywhere, the Wehrmacht's defenses were likely to break somewhere.
Close examination of German and Russian archival materials now indicates that this traditional explanation of the military strategy Stalin pursued during this period is incorrect. In reality, contrary to this Soviet construct, archival records prove beyond any reasonable doubt that Stalin ordered the Red Army to conduct major offensives along the entire Soviet-German front during the winter and spring of 1944. Specifically, in addition to the major offensive operations it ordered the Red Army to conduct in the Leningrad region, the Ukraine, and the Crimea during the winter, the Stavka also directed the Red Army to conduct large-scale offensive operations against German Army Group North's defenses in the Baltic region, as well as against German Army Group Center's defenses in eastern Belorussia. Furthermore, once the Red Army's forces liberated most of the Ukraine during the winter and early spring, in mid-April Stalin and his Stavka ordered the Red Army's 2nd and 3rd Ukrainian Fronts to commence a coordinated invasion of Romania, by doing so, evidencing Stalin's deliberate strategy to project Soviet military power and political influence into the Balkans so that the Soviet Union could secure a more favorable postwar settlement and division of the spoils of war with its western Allies.
Although the Red Army's invasion of Romania during April and May 1944 ultimately failed, it exacerbated the harshly negative military and political effects of the devastating defeats the Wehrmacht suffered in the Ukraine during the preceding winter. In addition to seriously weakening Army Group South Ukraine, the Red Army's invasion of northern Romania during the spring of 1944 also seriously damaged the fighting spirit and will of Romanian Armed Forces; undermined the morale of its soldiers, sailors, and airmen; and weakened Romanian support for the German war effort in light of Romania's previously catastrophic military losses and the loss of its northern provinces of Bessarabia and Moldavia. Tangentially, but as a consequence of the defeats it suffered in the Ukraine, the German Army occupied Hungary on 19 March 1944 to prevent its possible defection to the Allied camp.
By exploiting a wide range of existing but unexplored German archival materials and newly released Soviet archival documents, along with more fragmentary materials found in numerous Red Army unit histories and the memoirs of its wartime commanders, this study reconstructs an imposing mosaic, thereby revealing the immense scope and scale and ambitious intent of what should be termed the Red Army's first Iasi-Kishinev offensive.
Like so many other "forgotten battles" of the Soviet-German war, which encompass as much as 40 percent of the actual war record, Soviet and Russian historians have "forgotten" the Red Army's invasion of Romania during the spring of 1944 largely because the offensive failed and because this failure seemed to tarnish the luster of the Red Army's newfound and lofty fighting reputation, as well as the reputations of the senior commanders who planned and conducted the offensive.2 However, while "forgetting" this military defeat helped preserve the reputations of the Red Army and some of its generals, it also insulted the memories of the thousands of Red Army soldiers and officers who participated in, perished, or otherwise suffered during its conduct and obscured the remarkable feats of those thousands of German and Romanian soldiers and officers who inflicted this signal defeat on the Red Army. It is to those soldiers that I dedicate this volume.
1 Before 1945 and during World War II, the English spelling of the country's name was "Rumania." The spelling "Romania," as used in this volume, follows current practice in English. It is also the only spelling ever used in Romania itself, since 1859, when the land came into existence as a state. The form with "o" was particularly chosen to stress the people's descendency from the ancient Romans. It was a statement the Romance-speaking population surrounded mostly by Slavic countries and then under Turkish rule wanted especially to make.
2 Ironically, the Red Army's winter campaign of 1944 also included a successful "forgotten battle," Rokossovsky's offensive in southern Belorussia from January through March 1944, whose conduct Soviet and Russian military historians have also covered up. In this case, presumably they covered up this partially successful offensive, which will be the subject of a future volume, because it enhanced Rokossovsky's reputation to the detriment of other senior Red Army commanders, in particular, V. D. Sokolovsky, the commander of the Western Front during this period, who rose to prominence during the postwar years despite his dismal record in front command during wartime. See also David M. Glantz, Forgotten Battles of the Soviet-German War (1941-1945), vol. 6: The Winter Campaign (24 December 1943-April 1944) (Part Three: The Western Axis) (Carlisle, PA: Self-published, 2004).