Romanian Artillery, Part Two
Many secondary or popular historical accounts claim that the Royal Romanian Army’s artillery “followed French doctrine” during the early years of the Second World War, but this isn’t exactly true. In 1936 the French Popular Front government led by Léon Blum stood ready to fund an overhaul of the French Army’s artillery, but the generals themselves demurred.
Heavier pieces had been crucial to battlefield success in the Great War, but the French chose to rely on the enormous rate of fire of the 75mm Model 1897 field gun for direct support of the infantry divisions. Heavier pieces would be under control of corps and army headquarters, where their fire could be centrally controlled to bring overwhelming force against a key point, whether on offense or defense.
Romanian doctrine followed this pattern to an extent, with heavy and medium pieces held by corps- and army-level battalions. The Romanians departed from French practice by giving their divisions light howitzers as well as field guns. But the light field gun remained the most common Romanian artillery piece.
Like most European armies, the Royal Romanian Army emerged from the First World War with a large arsenal of light field guns. In the case of Romania, these included guns manufactured in Austria-Hungary (76.5mm), Russia (76.2mm), Germany (77mm and 75mm) and France (75mm), all of them of roughly equivalent performance, but each requiring its own supply of ammunition.
Romanian field artillery in the Great War relied on the German-built 75mm Model 1904 (the standard Model 1903 with Romanian-produced sights). The Armata Romana acquired 636 of them before the First World War, and still had 312 pieces in 1926. They were modernized starting in 1936, with new sights, improved carriages and were re-chambered to fire the French-made 75mm round of the Model 1897 as well as Krupp ammunition. During the Second World War were issued to the artillery battalions (16 pieces each) of the cavalry brigades.
Romanian Krupp 75mm Model 1904 guns captured by the Bulgarians, Dec. 1916.
During the 1917 rebuilding of the shattered Royal Romanian Army, their French allies supplied 87 pieces of the famed 75mm Model 1897 Soixante-Quinze. A few more were obtained after the war, and the 1926 inventory showed 126 of them still in service, in 21 batteries. All of them were modernized in 1936, and served with infantry divisions during World War Two.
The Armata Romana ended the First World War in possession of about 460 Russian-made Putilov Model 1902 76.2mm field guns. Most of these had been abandoned by Russian artillery batteries serving in Romania during the war, and others had been captured during the post-war Romanian occupation of Bessarabia. Some were modernized in 1925 to accept the same 75mm round as the Krupp-made pieces, and that modification was extended to all of them starting in 1936. The Model 1902/1936 fired the same Schneider-made round as the Soixante-Quinze, with a new chamber modeled on that of the Krupp Model 1904.
The Putilov Model 1902/1936, its formal Romanian label, was the most common light field gun of the Armata Romana and served in the light artillery battalions of the infantry divisions and fortress divisions, and the Frontier Guard Division. Some divisions had the Soixante-Quinze instead, which after modernization gave equivalent performance. Each division had three battalions of 12 guns each, for 36 of their 52 artillery pieces.
None of the three types had very good anti-tank capability until 1942, when the Romanian Resita Works began manufacturing the Costinescu anti-tank round. Based on the German PzGr 39 anti-tank round with a casing copied from ammunition for the Vickers 75mm anti-aircraft gun then in production at Resita, the new ammunition improved performance against the newer Soviet tanks but could not turn the aging field pieces into modern anti-tank guns.
Romania also purchased a new light field gun in 1930, the Skoda 75mm Model 1928. An ambitious design, the designers tried to create a weapon that could serve as a field gun, mountain gun and anti-aircraft gun. The 96 guns formed 24 batteries that equipped the light artillery battalions of the four mountain brigades. In service the Model 1928 wasn’t of much use against aircraft and was larger than the typical mountain gun, but proved to be a very good light field gun.
Wartime experience showed the light field guns to be less useful than expected, and the Armata Romana reduced the number of light artillery battalions in each division from three to two. Those guns and their crews returned to the front lines in 1944 when the Armata Romana rebuilt from the disaster of Stalingrad. Newly-captured Soviet 76.2mm field guns were converted just like the other Model 1902 pieces to fire 75mm ammunition.
Tsar Nicholas II meets Madame Soixante-Quinze.
On paper each division would have 48 pieces: one battalion of 150mm, two of 100mm howitzers and one of 75mm field guns. In practice all of the rebuilding divisions except the three re-equipped with German arms received two battalions, with the intention that one would later convert to 100mm howitzers but this appears to have happened in only a few of the divisions.
While the field guns proved better than nothing, they were in no way comparable to the 105mm howitzers of a German light artillery battalion. The 105mm howitzers had twice the range and tossed a shell two and a half times the size of the 75mm round. The smaller gun had an enormously higher rate of fire, better than five times as fast for a short burst (this could not be sustained, as the barrel would overheat). But all of the 75mm field guns were flat-trajectory weapons, without the same ability as a howitzer to loft its shells over hills or other obstacles.
Late in the war the Germans converted many of the 75mm Model 1897 pieces they had captured in France and Poland, creating a stop-gap anti-tank gun known as the Pak 97/38. It fired a high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) round to compensate for its low velocity, and was placed on the same low-slung carriage as the 50mm Pak 38 anti-tank gun. Just over 3,700 were converted by the Germans; of those, about 1,500 were supplied to the Armata Romana in place of the 3,700 Pak 40 75mm anti-tank guns demanded by the Romanians. By the time these weapons reached Romania they were already heavily worn by German use, and had little effectiveness against modern Soviet armor. The Romanians don’t appear to have converted any of their own light field guns along the same lines.
The reliance on light artillery and the resulting disparity in artillery throw-weight goes far to explain the Armata Romana’s performance in the Great Patriotic War. After the war’s first weeks, a Romanian division’s artillery firepower roughly equaled that of a Red Army division for the remained of the war, but was at best between a third and a quarter that of a German division. And there were many more Soviet divisions than Romanian ones, and far more non-divisional supporting guns. We’ll look at those next time.
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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 countless 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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