The Battle of Mărăşti was one of the main battles to take place on Romanian soil in World War I. It was fought between July 22 and August 1, 1917, and was an offensive operation of the Romanian and Russian Armies intended to encircle and destroy the German 9th Army. The operation was planned to occur in tandem with the Nămoloasa offensive; however, this operation was abandoned before it began.
The opposing forcesEdit
At the beginning of July, based on the campaign plan drawn up in May by the High Command, final instructions were given to the 1st and 2nd Romanian Armies. The 1st Army was to carry out the principal attack around Nămoloasa and then, on terrain prepared by the latter, the 2nd Army, commanded by General Alexandru Averescu, was to carry out a second-order attack toward Mărăşti. The objective of the operation – the retaking of enemy positions from the Poiana Încărcătoarea–Răcoasa sector — was contained in Operations Order Nr. 1638.
Altogether the opposing sides were rather evenly matched, although the Romanian High Command had massed additional forces along the direction of the attacks planned for the 2nd Army, thus creating a more advantageous force equilibrium for Romania.
The combat units were as follows:
The 2nd Romanian Army had the following battle formations:
The Gerok Group contained:
The ratio of forces was as follows:
In the summer of 1917, one of the largest concentrations of forces in the First World War was located in Romania: 9 armies, 80 infantry and 19 cavalry divisions, totalling 974 battalions, 550 squadrons and 923 artillery batteries. 800,000 combatants and 1,000,000 reservists were present.
Situation on the frontEdit
When the operation began the situation on the Mărăşti-Nămoloasa front was as follows: the 2nd Romanian Army was positioned between Arşiţa Mocanului hill and the commune of Răcoasa. The 9th Russian Army was on its right flank and the 7th Russian Army on its left flank. Each of the three divisions from the first-order vanguard of the 2nd Army covered some 12 km of the front. Facing the Romanians was the right flank of the First Austro-Hungarian Army; more specifically, these were elements of the Gerok Group. The main Austro-Hungarian forces were placed between Momâia hill and Arşiţa Mocanului hill. Again, each division covered 12 km of the front.
Preparations for battleEdit
The Romanian order for battle provided for the principal offensive to unfold in three phases. The first phase envisioned breaking through the enemy defenses between Încărcătoarea clearing and the village of Mărăşti with the aim of taking Teiuş hill. The 3rd Infantry Division and right-flank forces of the 6th Infantry Division were selected to break through, after which they were to hold the Încărcătoarea clearing–Câmpurile–Vizantea Mânăstirească–Găurile line. If needed, second-order troops could be sent in. In the second phase, the 4th Army Corps was to join the fight by starting a left-flank offensive toward the Coada Văii Babei clearing. To the south, the advance was to occur in cooperation with the 4th Russian Army's right flank and with the aid of the 2nd Romanian Army, the objective being to reach the Coada Văii Babei clearing–Rotileşti–Teiuş hill–Valea Teiuşului line. The third planned phase envisioned the front shifting to the Sboina Neagră Peak–hills to the north of Lepşa –north of the Putna River–Valea Sării line. The enemy commanders had been informed of the Allied armies' operations, but thought that it had the ability to repulse their offensive and even to launch a counterattack.
The German and Austro-Hungarian units' defensive works were of two varieties. The first consisted in resistance centres connected by a network of redoubts and trenches protected by various obstacles and covered by artillery and machine-gun fire. At essential points, these resistance centres had steel domes, labyrinths of redoubts that facilitated communication and firing, artillery platforms, machine-gun alcoves, and shelters for personnel and munitions. The centres were connected by well-maintained, well-placed trenches that allowed the troops to keep fighting even when encircled. The second consisted in discontinuous sections of hastily-built trenches situated 1,500–2,000 m from the front line. The subterranean defensive lines were poorly developed; moreover, the first line of defense was spread out over uncovered terrain and lacked strong forward posts. This allowed Romanian Army ground patrols as well as the Air Force to easily identify these positions. Another disadvantage that these lines of defense had (and which was successfully exploited by the Romanian Army) lay in the difficult terrain in front of the lines which allowed numerous groups of Romanian troops to hide therein and carry out swift bayonet attacks or decisive assaults.
Before ground troops made their assault, the Romanian artillery had a decisive role in the success of the operation. Divisional artillery attacked, destroyed and disorganized the military engineers' works in the first line of defense and created breaches in the barbed wire fences. The army corps artillery had an anti-artillery mission, destroying enemy batteries. The preparatory work of the artillery took place between July 22 at 12 noon until the next day at 8 pm. The efficiency of this work was much appreciated by the Romanian officers, and was continually monitored by the front-rank troops. The 2nd Army Command thus decided, through Order Nr. 1908, to launch the ground assault on July 24 at 4 am.
The Battle of Mărăşti represented an important turning point in the evolution of the military operations on the Romanian Front, also raising the morale of Romanian troops. Reorganised and thoroughly trained, also having experienced the 1916 campaign, Romania's troops showed themselves to be an adversary capable of posing a problem for and even defeating the renowned German and Austro-Hungarian armies. The result of this battle was due not only to the tactical abilities of the Romanian officers, the efficiency of the Romanian artillerymen and their excellent collaboration with ground troops, and the determination and tenacity in battle of Romanian soldiers, but also to the precious aid given by locals, who provided intelligence about the enemy and guided Romanian troops along mountain paths toward the enemy flanks and even behind their armies.
The results of the offensive can be summarized as follows:
Archduke Joseph made a report identifying and presenting the principal causes for his defeat at Mărăşti:
During the Battle of Mărăşti, the highest average rate of offensive actions by Allied troops in the European theatre in 1917 was achieved, as shown by the following table.
The Romanian victory strongly affected public opinion, as illustrated by the reactions of the press. A few days after the battle was over, The Times wrote: "The only point of light in the East is to be found in Romania, where the rebuilt army is vigorously attacking the Carpathian lines, obtaining notable successes." France's Minister of War used the same tone to describe the Romanian victory: "The French Army has learned with joy of the beautiful successes of the Romanian Army (...) Please send my warmest congratulations and the most hearty good wishes of the French soldiers to their brothers in arms."
The success of this offensive caused Field Marshal von Mackensen to move a significant part of the 9th German Army from Nămoloasa toward Focşani. This caused the 9th German Army to alter its offensive direction, thus reducing pressure along the Nămoloasa front. Furthermore, a breach that could be further opened had been created in the enemy lines; a basis now existed from which the Allied armies could greatly expand their offensive operations on the Romanian Front.
The Mărăşti MausoleumEdit
In order to honour the memory of the heroes of Mărăşti and to keep alive a recollection of the fighting that occurred there, the cornerstone of the Mărăşti Mausoleum was laid in a ceremony on June 10, 1928. The mausoleum was built at an altitude of 536 m (where some of the heaviest fighting took place) at the initiative of a group of officers and generals who were part of the Mărăşti Society in the commune of Răcoasa, village of Mărăşti. Above the entrance gate to the mausoleum grounds there is a sign that reads, "The historic battlefield of Mărăşti". The architect Pandele Şerbănescu designed the mausoleum, with bas-reliefs executed by Aurel Bordenache. Spread out over a surface of 1000 m², the mausoleum is held up by two large rectangular concrete pillars on top of which two urns were placed in which an eternal flame once burned. The pillars are amply decorated with bronze bas-reliefs that depict a Romanian peasant crossing the front with information about the enemy, and the reception given to a Romanian general by the inhabitants of Marăşti. Between the two pillars, on a concrete wall, there are thirteen white marble slabs inscribed with the names of over 900 Romanian troops who fell in battle. In the basement there are soldiers' ossuaries as well as crypts for the officers who fell in battle. After their deaths, the coffins of Marshal Alexandru Averescu and those of Generals Artur Văitoianu, Alexandru Mărgineanu and Nicolae Arghirescu were laid to rest here.
The mausoleum, open Tuesday through Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm, can be reached by the Focşani - Soveja county highway.