Broken Axis:
Romania Mare

Panzer Grenadier: Broken Axis features five “battle games,” small campaigns of eight to 10 scenarios following a sequence of events from the Jassy-Kishinev campaign of 1944. The last of these is Romania Mare, following the final battles of Romania’s only armored division. Here’s a look at the division’s development before its fateful encounter with the Soviet Sixth Tank Army.

Romania formed an armored division in April 1941, bringing together smaller motorized units and a pair of tank regiments. German instructors began working with the division, but it had not conducted full-scale exercises when it entered combat against the Soviets in June of that year.

The division saw action in the Romanian invasion of Bessarabia, fighting well as a mobile formation at Kishinev and less well in the infantry-support role during the Odessa campaign that followed. Withdrawn to Romania afterwards, the armored division returned to the front along with the bulk of the Romanian Army in the fall of 1942 during the German attack on Stalingrad.

Allies share a smoke in the trenches outside Targu Frumos, April 1944.

Paired with the badly-trained and worse-led German 22nd Panzer Division, the Romanian formation could do little to avert the disaster that fell on Romanian arms in the Soviet counter-offensive that began in November 1942. The division counter-attacked Soviet spearheads, but suffered enormous losses in men and machines. The survivors returned to Romania to rebuild the division, but promised German deliveries of tanks, vehicles and weapons did not begin until the fall of 1943. Training and re-equipping proceeded slowly, and the incomplete division was not employed against the April 1944 Soviet offensive (some English-language writers, probably repeating an error by David Glantz, confuse the 1st Armored Division with the Royal Guard Division, an infantry formation).

The Romanians and their German allies managed to fend off the April offensive, but it was obvious that the Red Army would try again – this time with more preparation. When the Soviets struck on 20 August, the 1st Armored Division along with the German 20th Panzer Division had been stationed behind the Romanian lines to provide support.

Impressed by the stand of the German Grossdeutschland (“Greater Germany”) Division at Targu Frumos in April, the Romanians gave their armored division a similar name, Romania Mare (“Greater Romania”). The Soviet attack appears to have galvanized the Germans, and tanks finally began to arrive at the division’s depots – mostly worn vehicles discarded by burned-out German panzer divisions transferred away from the Eastern Front. The division finally received a commander, the highly-decorated Radu Korne, considered Romania’s foremost expert on mechanized operations (that’s him over there on the right, standing up in the halftrack while observing his new division’s field manuevers in April 1944).

In its last strength reports on 19 August, the division reported 48 T4 tanks (the German-made PzKpfw IVH, though some were actually J and F2 models), a dozen TA assault guns (the German-made Sturmgeschütz IIIG) and 10 Romanian-made TACAM T60 tank destroyers (a captured Soviet-made 76.2mm gun mounted on a captured Soviet-made T60 light tank and fitted with a thin armored shield).

On paper those vehicles would form an armored regiment with one battalion of tanks and one of assault guns, though Romania Mare was short of both types. The tank destroyers formed their own battalion; the division had been allocated many more of them. To make up for the missing vehicles, the Germans assigned their 286th Assault Gun Brigade with about two dozen Sturmgeschütz IIIG to assist the Romanians.

The division left behind 16 assault guns in the hands of trainers from the 20th Panzer Division; whether these were immobile or simply pilfered by the Germans is not clear. The Germans attempted to take all of the Romanian armor, claiming that the tank crews were not ready for action. Another 23 T4 tanks and seven assault guns initially shipped to Romania Mare were in the hands of German trainers working with the Romanian 2nd Armored Division, then forming from the 8th Motorized Cavalry Division.

That accounts for 71 of the 129 T4 tanks delivered to Romania between November 1943 and July 1944. The remainder apparently could not be made to run (German units naturally dumped their least-battleworthy vehicles when ordered to yield up tanks for the Romanians) or were purloined by the Germans. Again, some English-language works appear to confuse total PzKpfw IV deliveries with the number of running tanks held by Romania Mare, crediting the division with anywhere from 90 to 120 of them. This does not appear to be true, though the number of assault guns looks to be understated when compared to action reports (there may be some confusion between assault guns manned by Romania Mare and those of the attached German assault gun brigade).

Even that phantom strength was well below the paper strength of a German panzer division, which was allotted 96 Panther medium tanks (none were ever shipped to Romania) and 96 more of the smaller PzKpfw IV medium tanks. Romania Mare with its 48 T4 tanks therefore had exactly one-quarter of the tank allotment of a German panzer division, and German staffs often referred to it as a “panzer grenadier division” or even “battle group.”

A Romanian TACAM T60

On paper Romania Mare should have had four battalions of motorized infantry in two two-battalion regiments, but one incomplete battalion remained behind when the division went to the front. All were mounted in trucks, some of which were not all-wheel drive (pretty much making them road-bound). The division had a handful of German-made armored halftracks, but kept these in a separate unit rather than permanently assigning them to an infantry company.

Two artillery battalions went to war with Romania Mare, one with a dozen Czech-made 100mm howitzers and the other with a dozen German-made 105mm pieces (while some sources specify the German leFH18 howitzer, pictures hint that at least some were the heavier and less-capable French Schneider model). A third battalion had not completed formation. All of the Romanian artillery pieces were towed models. A German panzer division’s table of organization had thirty 105mm and fifteen 150mm guns, with 18 of the weapons on self-propelled mounts.

In addition to the TACAM tank destroyers, Romania Mare did deploy 28 of the excellent new Romanian-made Resita 75mm anti-tank guns (all of them towed guns) plus a smattering of much less awesome 50mm and 47mm weapons. A German panzer division counted 42 tank destroyers but only two dozen towed guns. A recon company with a dozen SdKfz 222 armored cars, a two-company motorized engineer battalion and an anti-aircraft company rounded out Romania Mare.

When sent to the front Romania Mare fell under command of the German 57th Panzer Corps. Early in the morning of 20 August 1944 the corps staff told Korne to hold his division ready to counter-attack any Soviet forces breaking through the Romanian VI Corps’ positions. Korne divided his “division” into three battle groups: one of armor with the recon company and motorized engineers, one of motorized infantry, and one with his artillery, anti-tank and anti-aircraft elements. A ninety-minute Soviet artillery barrage annihilated the Romanian 5th Infantry Division’s forward lines, and hundreds of Soviet tanks of the 6th Tank Army poured through the breach. Romania Mare moved forward to stop them.

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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and NASA Journalist in Space finalist, he has published an unknowable number of books, games and articles on historical subjects. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.

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