Armata Romana:
Romanian Artillery, Part Three

One lesson the Royal Romanian Army drew from the French experience in the Great War was the primacy of heavy artillery, and the need for flexibility in assigning the big guns where they were most needed. Longer-ranged artillery would be held in corps- and army-level battalions, as would the heavy guns of the siege train.

Experience gained in the Spanish Civil War deeply influenced the Armata Romana’s thinking on heavy artillery. Many Romanian Communists volunteered to fight for the Spanish Republic, and were gathered in the XI International Brigade’s artillery detachment, where they formed the Tudor Vladimirescu Battery. Informants within their ranks reported not only on their political activities, but tactical details of their engagements, which were passed on to the Artillery Inspectorate.

The involvement in Spain allowed the Armata Romana to rid itself of communist agitators while benefitting from their experience, which had deep-ranging effects. The XI Brigade’s artillery, eventually raised to regimental strength, included three battalions of three batteries each, all of them full motorized. While Communist-era Romanian writers would claim this as a “Romanian” regiment, it appears that only two of the nine batteries were manned by Romanian gunners. But that was enough to yield modern battlefield experience that few other mid-sized powers possessed.

The Skoda 6ST6 prime mover powered the Romanian motorized artillery.

Motorizing the artillery increased its flexibility; not only could it be assigned where needed, it could get there and open fire quickly. Based on the Spanish experience, in 1938 the Armata Romana established eight motorized heavy artillery regiments, each of them of two battalions. One battalion would have a dozen new Schneider Model 1936 105mm cannon, and the other a dozen Skoda Model 1934 150mm howitzers.

On top of the best weapons money could buy in 1938, the Armata Romana gave these regiments the very best they had in every other category: the best personnel and officers as well as modern communications equipment and new all-terrain-capable prime movers to pull them. And the investment paid off; the corps regiments gave outstanding service throughout the war. But there were only eight of them, plus a handful of independent battalions manned and equipped to the same standard but assigned to army-level commands.

Corps Artillery
The French Army selected the Schneider Model 1936 105mm cannon to equip its long-range battalions, and the Romanians deployed it in the same role. They ordered 180 of them, receiving 132 before war broke out in 1939. Some English-language sources claim that a dozen more arrived before the fall of France in 1940, but Romanian ones don’t support this. The 132 guns equipped 33 batteries. Each of the corps artillery regiments had a battalion of three batteries of four guns each. The remaining 36 pieces went to three independent motorized artillery battalions (the 41st, 45th and 47th), organized identically.

Schneider 105mm Model 1936 cannon in French service, December 1939.

The Model 1936 was an excellent weapon, certainly the best available on the open market in 1938. It out-ranged any other weapon in the Romanian inventory, with good explosive power and accuracy. It was also a very heavy weapon, and would not have been well-suited to serve as a divisional artillery piece. The Romanian People’s Army kept them in service until the 1980’s, when they were modernized with new wheels and used for training until the mid-1990’s, when ammunition stockpiles had finally been exhausted and the guns were scrapped.

At the same time the 105mm cannon were ordered from Schneider, the Armata Romana placed a matching order for 180 new howitzers from Skoda. The 150mm Model 1934 was likewise a cutting-edge weapon; it out-ranged the contemporary German sFH18 150mm howitzer though not the Soviet ML-20 152mm gun-howitzer.

A Skoda 150mm howitzer in German service. Greece, 1941.

Romania took delivery of all 180 pieces, issuing 96 of them to the heavy howitzer battalions corps motorized artillery regiments. Each of the corps artillery regiments had a battalion of three batteries of four howitzers each. The remaining 84 howitzers went to seven independent motorized artillery battalions (numbered 51st through 57th), organized the same way. As with the 105mm pieces, the 150mm howitzers continued in service until the 1990’s. New Skoda 6ST6 prime movers pulled the heavy howitzers as well as the 105mm cannon.

Army Artillery
Romania had no true heavy artillery, other than some aged Krupp and Skoda 210mm siege mortars that had been obsolete during the First World War. They had nothing to match the counter-battery capability of the big German corps-level pieces like the 170mm cannon, or to answer the Soviet 203mm heavy howitzers. Those roles were instead filled by somewhat lighter pieces.

The divisional howitzers were supplemented by independent battalions held at the corps and army level armed with longer-range guns. Two of the army-level battalions had Schneider Model 1913 105mm cannons. Thirty-six of these weapons had been abandoned by Russian armies in Romania during the First World War, and these were seized and modernized by the Romanians. They equipped the 36th and 37th Heavy Artillery Battalions and one reserve battalion. In 1940 the Germans offered 45 more of them from captured Polish stocks, in exchange for oil. The Romanians accepted and used the guns in the same role.

The Romanians kept their Model 1913 cannon fitted with heavy wooden wheels and drew them with horses. They provided some additional firepower but weren’t particularly effective weapons. They did out-range the 100mm divisional howitzers and so theoretically could be useful, but horse-drawn artillery could not provide the operational flexibility demanded by the modern battlefield.

Polish 155mm Model 1917 howitzers captured by the Germans.

During the Great War the Armata Romana received 46 of the Saint-Chamond155mm Model 1915 and Schneider Model 17 heavy howitzers (exactly how many of each model is unclear); these were very different weapons. The Schneider weapon was far superior, with better range and volume of fire, and after the initial Saint-Chamond order had been filled that factory switched to producing the Schneider howitzer under license. In 1939 fourteen of the Saint-Chaomond howitzers were assigned to the 1st Heavy Fortress Artillery Regiment while a dozen of the Schneider howitzers were gathered in an independent army-level battalion.

Even in 1941, the Schneider howitzer remained a useful weapon; the French still had just under 2,000 of them in service in 1940 and the United States a little over 2,100 pieces in 1942. Romania acquired another dozen formerly French pieces from the Germans in 1942 and used them to form a second howitzer battalion, combined with the existing one to form a motorized regiment.

Romania’s heavy artillery - including pieces other nations would have classed as divisional artillery - proved to be its most effective branch. Unfortunately for the Armata Romana, there simply wasn’t enough of it to balance out the weak support of the divisional artillery.

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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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