The Romanians, Part One
Romania’s military dictator, Marshal Ion Antonescu, joined the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941 in hopes of regaining territory lost the year before. Antonescu also realized that the Nazis meant every word of their “with us or with the Communists” threats: Romania could fight with the Germans, or against the Germans, but Romania no longer had the option not to fight.
Romanian troops fought enthusiastically to liberate Bessarabia and Bucovina from the Soviets, and carried out the mass slaughter of Jews, Gypsies and others with equal zest. As the war dragged on, that enthusiasm sharply waned, helped along by a marked lack of materiel assistance from the Germans.
When Soviet armies surged toward Romanian soil in the spring of 1944, the Armata Romana returned to the front to help repel the invasion. Antonescu had held back three years of new military academy graduates from the Eastern Front. With these fresh new young officers now assigned to combat roles and the imperative of defending the homeland, he hoped that Romanian arms would prove up to the task in this new campaign.
That campaign is the subject of Panzer Grenadier: Broken Axis. Here’s a look at the game’s Romanian forces.
Romania went to war in 1941 with just over 200 tanks in its inventory. Many of these were lost in the years that followed to combat or overuse, and those that remained were in no way capable of fighting Soviet armor in 1944. The Germans blocked Romanian attempts to obtain licenses and machine tools to build more modern tanks in their own factories, but promised to replace the lost armor with more up-to-date German-made tanks.
Deliveries of PzKpfw IV tanks, known in Romania as the T4, began in late 1943. The agreement specified new H model tanks with the long-barreled L48 gun, but Romania actually received used tanks for the most part, some of them actually F2 models with the slightly less capable L43 main gun. Many of these tanks could not be made to work, while others were seized by the German training mission and diverted to German units. Of the 129 T4’s delivered to Romania (sources vary on the exact number), only slightly more than one-third (48) went into battle with the 1st Royal Romania Mare Armored Division in August 1944.
Under the same program, the Germans also provided 109 Sturmgeschütz IIIG assault guns. Once again, a large number apparently would not run, and others were snatched by the German for their own use. A small German assault gun brigade fought alongside the Romania Mare division in 1944, and its presence may be confusing some sources’ numbers, which list anywhere from 12 to 22 vehicles present – in any event, far less than the number supposedly supplied.
Stymied in their attempts to build or purchase new, modern tanks, the Romanians looked to their stock of obsolete vehicles for potential upgrades. Romanian troops had captured a number of Soviet T60 light tanks, and Soviet 76.2mm field guns with good anti-tank capability. They mounted the guns on the tank chassis, with armored shields made from other Soviet tanks cut up for scrap since Romania could not cast armor plate of its own. The TACAM T60 (Tun Anticar pe Afet Mobil, or “Self-Propelled Anti-Tank Gun”) was a successful conversion, but no substitute for an actual tank. Ten of them went to war with the Romania Mare division, and two independent anti-tank companies also saw action.
The Romania Mare division was to have had four battalions of motorized infantry, just like a German panzer division. On paper at least, one of those battalions in the German division would be mounted in armored halftracks, while the others rode in trucks (gummipanzergrenadiere – “rubber Panzer Grenadiers”). All of the Romanians were rubber riflemen, and not even all of their trucks had four-wheel drive allowing them to operate well off-road.
Romania did receive 27 German halftracks, and the Romania Mare division organized those they could convince to run (slightly less than half of them) into a separate company not formally attached to a matching infantry company. When Romania Mare went into action these vehicles were not used as transport but as close support, and their added firepower proved crucial.
Like the German Army, the Armata Romana re-organized its infantry platoons after the horrific losses of 1941 and 1942 to rely on more firepower and less manpower. The platoon remained relatively large on paper, dropping from 55 to 50 men, but went from three to four machine guns and added a 60mm mortar team (due to shortages, some platoons had a German- or Soviet-made 50mm mortar instead). Seven of the 50 men now carried submachine gun instead of rifles, either the Romanian-made Oritsa or a captured Soviet model.
Given the Romanian shortage of good junior leaders – when the campaign began the front-line divisions were at full manpower in enlisted troops, but only 75 percent of their junior officers and NCO’s – it’s a little surprising that the re-organized platoon organization called for more NCO’s. The 55-man platoon of 1941 required 13 for its three large squads, but the 50-man platoon of 1944 needed 16 NCO’s for its four rifle squads and one mortar squad.
For those familiar with our old, out-of-print Eastern Front game, Romanian rifle platoons (now styled VAN, for Vanatori or “rifle”) have undergone a similar transition to that of German infantry between the two games. Firepower is greater (5 for VAN vs. 4 for INF), but the reduced-strength side is weaker, with a direct-fire strength of only 2 (usually we round fractions up on the flip side).
Romanian machine-gun platoons remained at the same organization, with each serving four Czech-made ZB37 heavy machine guns. This had been the pre-war standard Romanian machine gun, and was widely used by the Germans as well. The Germans provided just short of 1,400 additional ZB37 weapons in 1943 and 1944, which covered slightly more than half of Romanian losses. To make up the deficit, the Romanians repaired at least 3,600 captured Soviet machine guns and put them into service.
The Armata Romana had a comparatively large combat engineering branch; on paper each infantry division had an engineer battalion of three companies (each of three platoons) and in addition each infantry regiment had its own company, for a total of six companies per division. The engineers fought well at Odessa in 1941 and at Stalingrad a year later. By 1944 the relatively backward state of Romanian education made it difficult to supply enough talented recruits to replace the heavy losses of the engineering branch, which continued to man six companies per division anyway.
And that’s the Romanian order of battle for Broken Axis. The pieces themselves are beautiful: silky-smooth and die-cut with minimal force, leaving them flush on both sides.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.