Armata Romana:
Romanian Artillery, Part One

The world’s first petroleum-exporting nation, Romania helped set the pattern for later petro-states, earmarking oil revenue in the 1930’s to pay for rearmament. The Royal Romanian Army - the Armata Romana - had been crushed by the Central Powers in 1916, but revived at the end of the war to defeat the Hungarian Communist regime of Bela Kun and seize Bessarabia from the crumbling Russian Empire.

Despite her defeat, Romania had acquired huge swaths of territory from neighbors who had ended up either on the losing side of the Great War (Hungary, Bulgaria) or fallen into anarchy (Russia). By the 1930’s, it was evident that all of these potential enemies wanted their people and lands back. Romania desperately needed to upgrade her armed forces, and no branch needed modernization more than her artillery.

In 1930 the Ministry of War ordered Dumitri Popescu, the inspector general of artillery, to prepare a plan to revitalize the Armata Romana’s artillery. While the artillery park included some weapons still capable of rendering effective service, Popescu’s plan called for supplementing them and replacing overaged pieces with 111 new batteries (444 pieces) from the Skoda Works of Czechoslovakia and another 45 batteries (180 pieces) from France’s Schneider Works. That would provide each division with four battalions of artillery: three of light field guns and one with howitzers, a total of 52 artillery pieces.

Slovak gunners pose with a Skoda 100mm M14/19.

Heavier support would be provided at the corps level, a doctrine retained by the Armata Romana throughout the war. Each corps would field a motorized regiment with two battalions, one with long-range guns and the other with heavy howitzers. The Armata Romana’s older, still-serviceable heavy pieces would be collected in independent, horse-drawn battalions held at the army level often referred to as the army’s “siege train.”

Popescu’s plan fell within the budgetary limit he had been given (5 million Romanian lei), what Romania’s partners were willing to sell, and what the training establishment of Armata Romana’s artillery branch could absorb. It was a sound plan well-suited to military thought in the early 1930’s. Unfortunately for the Armata Romana, it would not suit the battlefields of 1941.

Field Howitzers
The Royal Romanian Army ended the Great War with 220 formerly Austro-Hungarian Skoda 100mm Model 1914 howitzers, some captured when the Imperial and Royal Army disintegrated at the end of the Great War and others during the 1919 war with Communist Hungary. There were 140 of them still in the Romanian inventory in 1933, and those underwent modernization at the newly-established Astra Works of Brasov, which began producing arms in 1936 as part of an effort to localize arms manufacturing. That brought them to the standard set by Skoda in 1919, and thus were known as the Model 14/19. The re-issued howitzers were initially assigned to the VI and VII Corps artillery regiments, and later to divisional batteries.

The Skoda 10mm M34 howitzer.

Astra could not produce the entire howitzer, and so the Royal Romanian Army ordered 80 of the similar Model 1930 howitzers and 168 of the more modern Model 1934 from the Skoda Works in Czechoslovakia. That gave the Armata Romana a total of 388 100mm howitzers, enough to fulfill the re-armament plan’s directive to give a battalion of sixteen 100mm howitzers in four batteries of four guns to each of the 23 infantry divisions (21 line divisions plus 1st Guard and 2nd Guard; the Frontier Guard Division would retain only 75mm field guns).

Some sources - following Mark Axworthy’s Third Axis, Fourth Ally - state that the Germans supplied 252 further 100mm howitzers in 1940 and 1941. That’s a misreading; the Romanians don’t appear to have placed another order for 100mm howitzers. But they did demand that the Germans fulfill their obligation to make good equipment losses suffered on the Eastern Front, listing 519 leFH18 105mm howitzers, the standard weapon of German divisional artillery regiments, as required to re-arm the Armata Romana. Instead in 1943 the Germans delivered 252 older Model 1914/19 weapons from captured Czech, Polish and Yugoslav stocks. They also promised, but don’t appear to have delivered, 88 more of them. That would have almost exactly matched the number of weapons with which the Armata Romana began the war, of which 143 remained on hand in 1943.

The Skoda howitzer equipped most Eastern European armies (Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Greece). Its range was somewhat less than that of the excellent German leFH18 105mm howitzer that equipped German divisions, with a smaller explosive charge. It was an adequate piece, less capable than the German weapon but still modern and effective.

Another 100mm M14/19, this time in Czech service.

Those new deliveries allowed the Armata Romana to expand the infantry division’s howitzer allotment from one battalion of 16 pieces to two of a dozen each, and to add a battalion of 12 pieces to the cavalry divisions. The infantry divisions also would have two battalions of light field guns, which all of the divisions appear to have received, and one of 150mm heavy howitzers, which were issued to few if any of the divisions. A few Romanian divisions received this fifth artillery battalion, but armed with 100mm rather than 150mm howitzers.

Three Romanian divisions annihilated at Stalingrad (the 5th, 6th and 13th Infantry Divisions) were re-equipped by the Germans in 1943. Those three divisions, as well as the 20th Infantry Division, received the new 18/40 model 105mm howitzer then arriving at German battalions. This was a lighter version of the standard German divisional artillery piece, with the 105mm barrel fitted to the same carriage used by the new 75mm PAK40 heavy anti-tank gun. It proved successful in action, giving them same performance as the older piece with much greater mobility and better performance when forced into the anti-tank role. This would be one of the few instances of the Germans providing first-line equipment to their Romanian allies.

A 105mm 18/40 light field howitzer captured by the Red Army at Sevastopol.

All of the divisional battalions were horse-drawn, with their artillery pieces fitted with large wooden spoked wheels. Equine casualties had been massive in the war’s first three years and Romanian industry made great efforts to produce prime movers for the artillery and the new heavy anti-tank guns arriving from Germany and from Romanian factories. By the time of the Soviet offensive in August 1944 most artillery still relied on the horse.

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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 eleventy-million 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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