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Belligerents and Participants
A secret treaty had been signed between King Carol I of Hohenzollern and the Triple Alliance in 1883, which obliged Romania to join the Alliance if the Austro-Hungarian Empire was ever attacked. When the Great War broke out, King Carol was prepared to ally Romania with the other central powers, but public opinion favored the Allies, largely due to its dissatisfaction concerning the treatment of ethnic Romanians in Hungary. Carol used the same excuse that Italy had that Austro-Hungarian aggression did not require his participation in the War. To help placate his partners, Carol then promised Romania would at least remain neutral in the conflict.
Transylvania, which held the largest number of ethnic Romanians in Hungry, lost its sovereignty when Hungary became a duel monarchy with Austria in 1867. All minorities within this Empire suffered afterwards. France, always looking for impediments to place in front of Russia’s expansionist ambitions saw Romania’s lust for expanding into Transylvania as part of the solution to both their problems. Russia’s Brusilov offensive seriously damaged the Austro-Hungarian Empire over the summer of 1916, and France believed one more good push might topple her. Romania was the perfect candidate for this push, and now there was a grater incentive to fight. She had long perceived Russia as a threat, and now with her armies nearing Transylvania Romania become more fearful. After the Allies agreed to a long list of demands for support and territorial gains, the Kingdom of Romania declared war on August 27th, 1916 but only against Austria-Hungary.
After the Allies agreed to a long list of demands for support and territorial gains, the Kingdom of Romania declared war on August 27th, 1916 but only against Austria-Hungary. The Kaiser however felt personally betrayed by the violation of King Carol’s promise to remain neutral. Germany declared war on Romania the next day, which was soon followed by the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria. While the Allies expected Romania to work in conjunction with their forces in Salonika to defeat Bulgaria, most Romanian troops were concentrated on the Hungarian border ready to invade and seize Transylvania with little concern for home defense. While the success of this offensive satisfied her territorial ambitions it did not make strategic sense considering Romania’s geography. Carol took the risk, leaving his armies in a vulnerable position because he felt the Central Powers were already too occupied on other fronts to counter these moves.
Only a month later Germany transferred troops from the Western Front to the East, and with Austria they launched an offensive into Transylvania in September. Another attack by Bulgarian and the Ottomans troops was launched against former Bulgarian lands in the Dobrogea to the south. The campaign would be brutal and aggressive to punish Romania’s transgression. Romanian armies fell back rapidly, stabilizing their front in hope that help would arrive. Relief from Solonika came to naught when the bulk of the Greek army refused to fight and surrendered to the Bulgarians. The Kowel offensive launched by the Russians was meant to keep the Central Powers occupied but it fizzled out and no reinforcements would be forthcoming from them. Romania’s defenses soon crumbled and Bucharest fell. The Central Powers continued to push forward into January when bad weather and overstretched supply lines finally ended the advance.
This respite enabled what was left of the Romanian army to take refuge in neighboring Bessarabia where it began to regroup, resupply and retrain. By the summer of 1917, the Romanian army had evolved into a significant fighting force and they added their weight to the Kerensky offensive. Though the Romanians were successful in breaking through the Austro-Hungarian defenses, they were unable to fully exploit this victory due to the failure of the Russian offensive. Germans reinforcements counterattacked through early September but could not retake Romanian gains.
The October Revolution in Russia that took it out of the War left Romania surrounded by her enemies. With no access to supplies and incapable of launching a counter offensive on their own they signed an armistice with the Central Powers on December 9, 1917. The campaign to Punish Romania for its betrayal had been particularly brutal and it left the kingdom devastated. The oil and foodstuffs Germany was able to pillage from the territory they occupied enabled them to prolong their war effort.
Many ethnic Romanians from Transylvania found themselves serving in the Hungarian army before Romania entered the War. As there numbers grew in Russian prisoner of war camps, they were eventually organized into a Romanian Legion in March of 1917. While some just wanted to leave the camps, many felt they were fighting to free Transylvania from Hungarian rule. They would fight against the Central Powers on the Romanian front, but after Romania surrendered and Russia left the conflict, they were an army without a war. They would add their weight to the Czech Legion that was trying to leave for the Western Front through Siberia where they got caught up in the Russian Civil War. A similar Romanian Legion was formed in Italy in the spring of 1918 from camps for Austro-Hungarian prisoners.
After the October Revolution in Russia, their province of Bessarabia, with its large population of ethnic Romanians, declared its independence and formed the Moldavian Democratic Republic in December. Bolshevik attempts to regain this lost territory was used by the Romanians as an excuse to invade and annex this new nation in April 1918. In May Romania signed the Treaty of Bucharest with the Central Powers in which it officially ceded much territory to them. After French troops broke through the Bulgarian lines at Salonika and pushed on to Bucharest, Romania reenter the war on November 10th, 1918.
After the War the Versailles Treaty voided the Bucharest Treaty, and allotted Transylvania to Romania. Moldavia continued to be held by Romania, though this annexation was not recognized by all nations.
Military themed charity cards were printed by the Romanian Red Cross during the War, but many of these seem to outlived their original purpose. They can be found in circulation well into the 1930’s with the Red Cross emblem blackened out.
Romania, never a huge publisher of postcards to begin with was knocked out of the War so quickly that their card output was slim. Their cards rarely show action but tend to be photo-based depictions of their troops in non-combative situations. Similar cards of Romanian forces were published by the Allies.