The Romanians, Part Two
An early example of a petro-state, the Kingdom of Romania was perfectly willing to spend its oil revenues on the most modern weaponry it could obtain. Unfortunately for the Romanian Army (Armata Romana), as war began to appear likely in the late 1930’s, very few countries were willing to export their most modern arms.
The Armata Romana suffered enormous losses at Odessa in 1941, Stalingrad in 1942 and early 1943, and in the Crimea in early 1944. Many divisions were nearly wiped out, losing most of their personnel and often most or even all of their equipment. Romania set out to reconstitute these formations, conscripting and training new soldiers and assigning new classes of young military academy graduates to lead them – military dictator Marshal Ion Antonescu had held back the new graduates from front-line service in case they were needed for the final defense of the homeland. In the spring of 1944, that moment had arrived.
The biggest problem would be equipping this new army. Romania had the reserves of hard currency to buy new arms. But their German allies retained their best weapons for their own forces, selling only the captured leftovers of the French, Dutch and Soviet arsenals and cast-offs from their own divisions. Romanian industry had made gigantic strides in arms production, but had to deal with not only a lack of assistance from Germany but active interference (quashing a deal to buy Swiss machine tools to produce anti-aircraft guns, for example).
Through a variety of means, Romania managed to find or build weapons to restore her armed forces. Here’s a look at some of the Romanian weaponry that appears in Panzer Grenadier: Broken Axis.
Artillery and Mortars
Romanian industry developed the capacity to manufacture barrel liners for artillery pieces, and eventually replacement barrels for some models of foreign-made guns. But Romania’s Astra works, which made those parts, did not produce a complete artillery piece before the end of the war.
In the late 1930’s, the Armata Romana modernized its artillery. Half of the army's outdated French-made 75mm Model 1897 field guns were replaced with new 100mm Czech-made howitzers from the Skoda Works. The Germans sold more of these guns to Romania in early 1941. In late 1941 the Armata Romana had reduced the number of light artillery battalions with the “French 75” in its infantry divisions from three to two, sending the surplus weapons back to the divisional depots. In 1944 these venerable weapons were cleaned up and re-issued to the troops; each division usually had two battalions of these guns (often including batteries of captured Soviet 76.2mm field guns, re-chambered to take the same round).
Mortars – essentially a smooth steel tube on a bipod mount with a baseplate – were far easier to manufacture than “real” artillery. Romania bought 60mm and 81mm mortars from the French firm Brandt before the war, and the Voina factory bought licenses to make them as well. Once France fell to the Germans and the licenses were unlikely to be enforced, Voina ignored the limits and kept building mortars. In addition, the Germans shipped 600 former French 81mm mortars to Romania.
The Romanians apparently captured a plant making Soviet BM38 120mm mortars, and brought the machine tools back to the Voina factory which produced the weapon as the M42 mortar. This mortar helped ease the lack of medium artillery in many Romanian divisions. Soviet-made mortars captured by the Armata Romana were also pressed into service, and the Germans supplied 126 of them from their own stockpile of captured weaponry.
Hard experience had shown the Armata Romana the need for a powerful anti-tank gun; obtaining such a weapon proved extremely difficult. The standard Romanian anti-tank gun, the French-made Schneider 47mm, had been barely adequate in 1941 but could not cope with the Soviet tanks of 1944. Even so, these were re-issued in 1944, both from Romanian depots and new production at Romania’s Concordia factory. An additional 100 Austrian-made Böhler 47mm guns were provided by the Germans, apparently from captured Austrian stocks; while this weapon had better performance than the Schneider weapon the playing piece represents both guns.
Romania’s Resita Works produced Vickers 75mm anti-aircraft guns under license, and Romanian troops had successfully deployed these against Soviet tanks during the Stalingrad campaign. They were in no way suited to act as dual-purpose weapons like the famed German 88mm guns, but did provide Resita with the plant and expertise to produce a true anti-tank gun of their own. Sort of.
At the suggestion of Col. Valerian Nestorescu, an expert in artillery production appointed to lead the design team, the Resita M1943 75mm anti-tank gun took the best features from guns already in use in Romania or captured from the Soviets. A modified barrel from the Vickers anti-aircraft gun was fitted with a muzzle brake adapted from the Soviet Zis-3 76.2mm gun and the projectile chamber of the German PAK40 75mm anti-tank gun. The resulting weapon was mounted on a modified version of the Zis-3’s carriage and recoil mechanism, and fitted with a shield modeled on that of the German gun.
Nestorescu’s amalgamated anti-tank gun performed very well in testing, exceeding the PAK40’s performance while remaining easier to manufacture. The Armata Romana ordered 1,100 guns, receiving 680 of them before the end of the war. The first examples produced went to the 1st Royal Romania Mare Armored Division in early 1944; the bulk of the guns were issued to front-line units after Romania abandoned the Axis to fight against the hated Germans.
After encountering thick-skinned Soviet tanks in 1941, the Germans had adapted thousands of captured Schneider 75mm field guns to serve in an anti-tank role. The 75mm 97/38 (shortened to 75/38 on the playing piece) placed the barrel of the French 75 on the carriage of the German 50mm PAK38 anti-tank gun. Nothing could be done about the gun’s miserable muzzle velocity, but with HEAT (high-explosive anti-tank) shells it could penetrate the frontal armor of early-model T34 tanks.
As the far more effective 75mm PAK40 came into service, the Germans retired this makeshift weapon and appear to have shipped 300 of them to Romania (numbers vary between sources, and that 300 may reflect some double-counting). The gun could do little against the new Soviet tanks, but the Romanians issued them to their infantry divisions and kept them in service after the war.
In August 1943 the Romanians asked the Germans for 3,756 75mm PAK40 anti-tank guns. They received the 75/38 guns instead, plus 350 50mm PAK38 weapons. The PAK38 had been an effective piece when introduced in the spring of 1941; by 1944 it made little impression on Soviet armor. It was issued anyway, even to the otherwise favored Romania Mare division, seeing action in both the spring and summer campaigns in 1944.
And that’s the rest of 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.