Romania: A Fight for Territory in the First World War

At first reluctant to join in the fighting, Romania entered the First World War in 1916, uniting with the Allies against the Central Powers. In August 1916, Romania invaded Transylvania, then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Its backing on the side of the Allies can be attributed to their relationship with Russia and its belief that this would increase their chances of gaining territory. Something the Romanian Premier saw as essential to create Romanian unity.

The Battle of Transylvania (August – October 1916)

Being Romania’s first major wartime movement, this is possibly the most important and central to their part in the war, due to their reasoning behind it and the way it reshaped Romania by the end of the war. Its importance is partly in how it was used to negotiate Romania’s participation in the fighting. Having started off neutral, it claimed it would join the Allies if they recognised Transylvania was rightly a part of Romania. This was also the first time Romania made some territorial advances in the war, although this was short lived and in October they were pushed back to Brasov, a Transylvanian town close to Romania, therefore losing considerable gains in territory.

Battle of Turtacaia and Dobrich (September 1916).

The Battle of Turtacaia was the first offensive movement of the Central Powers against Romania, and a major loss for the latter. So its short lived victory over Transylvania was also blown over by the loss of Tutrakan by the Central Powers. The Romanians defending it were forced to surrender. Tutrakan, now in Bulgaria, was a Romanian fortress ideally situated due to its close proximity to the Danube. The loss of this territory was a major blow for Romania, and another incident which would shape their future landscape.

Where they had initially gained in territory from Austria-Hungary, they lost through being pushed back by the Central Powers from all sides. Its position as a country bordered only by Central Powers came back to haunt its decision to involve itself in the war. This was underlined when the Bulgaria’s field army took Dobrich, despite Romania outnumbering them. The battle lasted only two days and underlined Romania’s weakness as a military power.

The Battle of Bucharest

But Romania was not a completely weak component of the First World War. In fact, it was seen by the Central Powers and the Allies as an important country to consider. Seemingly one of their worst moments of the war would be the falling of the capital, Bucharest. But despite the Central Powers’ aims in defeating Romania and driving them out of the war, Romanian forces and civilians alike didn’t give up, and the Central Powers’ attempts to instil their own political agendas failed.

1917 and 1918

Things started to pick up for this minor Allied side in the summer of 1917 when they managed to hold back an attack against Austria-Hungary during the Second Battle of Oituz. This was an important victory, defeating one of the major Central Powers. However, an apparent determination to not leave the war was almost over by the end of 1917, and Romania ultimately signed an armistice. This was a consequence of the Russian Revolution, led by the Bolsheviks and Lenin, and also the difficulty in being surrounded completely by their enemies. Despite a very brief re-entering into the war (only one day before Germany signed their armistice on the 11th November 1918), this signalled the end of their part in the fighting of the First World War.

The Treaty of Versailles was kind to Romania, rewarding it with the territory it had entered the war for in the first place, the long desired Transylvania. It is still a part of Romania today, indicating the long-lasting impact of this post-war decision. The major Allied Powers who sat around a table in Versailles to decide Europe’s fate in 1919 had two major criteria for countries to be considered favourably in the Treaty. Firstly, that they were a significant part of the Allies’ victory and, secondly, the country should be a military power. Despite not really fitting these two major criteria, Romania’s pitch to the Allied powers was persuasive. They claimed they would be an essential component of helping the Allies move forward, as a buffer between them and the newly communist Russia. Romania managed to regain their territory lost to Bulgaria and massively extend their country as they were ‘given’ Transylvania.

Their part in the First World War cannot be ignored. Over 200,000 Romanian soldiers died during the war and their involvement reshaped the boundaries of the central European region. Perhaps this was achieved more so from their bid to the major Allied Powers who would create the Treaty of Versailles, but their involvement in the war put them in contention for these new territories. Furthermore, its proximity to Russia promised to be an important pawn to play in future of European diplomacy and war.

Below, the video shows how Romania’s boundaries developed during their participation in the war, and after.


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