Thursday, 30 June 2016

Prelude to Blitzkrieg: The 1916 Austro-German Campaign in Romania - Michael B Barrett

Title: Prelude to Blitzkrieg: The 1916 Austro-German Campaign in Romania
Author: Michael B Barrett
ISBN: 978-0-253-00865-7
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Year: 2013
Pages: 399
Photographs/Maps: 33 b/w//15

1916 was characterized by huge and bloody battles that chewed up literally 100,000’s of men for little or no gain to either side (the Brusilov Offensive in the East and Verdun and the Somme in the West standing as key examples). Romania, who had up to this point, remained neutral despite initial leanings towards the Central Powers (CP), had its eye on the Transylvania region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; an area that had traditionally rested within the Romanian sphere of influence. With assurances for material and manpower support from both Russia and the West, Romania made the decision to undertake a surprise strike on 27 August into Transylvania. The German-Austrian response, against all expectations in the West, was both decisive and conclusive; within 135 days the Romanians had been crushed. The significance of this victory can be gauged by a comparison between the Somme and Romania. In an almost identical period the Central Powers covered 360 miles in Romania while the Allied powers moved 7 miles in the Somme.

Barrett’s book analyses what was done differently by the Germans and Austrians and the effect that it had upon tactics at the operational level. Two significant issues set the conditions for CP success: the limited resources available to counter the Romanian incursion and the removal of General von Falkenhayn from his post as German Chief of Staff (due to the Verdun debacle) and his resultant availability to command in Romania. Barrett shows that the limited resources necessitated a significant change in traditional tactics in order to maintain both momentum against and disruption of superior Romanian forces. Additionally, the presence of a German commander determined to rehabilitate his reputation allowed for greater leeway and drive.

Falkenhayn took advantage of Romanian hesitation after their initial successes (they had driven through the Carpathian Mountain passes against very limited Austrian forces) by launching a strike utilizing Bulgarian, Turkish and Austrian forces under German Commander von Mackesen from the south into the Dobrogea region while concurrently driving back through the mountain passes from the north using combined arms operations of German and A-H forces. He also used large cavalry units to cover his flanks and to strike deep into Romania, keeping them both off-balance and blind. Falkenhayn demanded speed and audacity from his subordinates at the expense of flank security and was therefore able to retain the advantage of momentum and initiative over his adversaries.

Barrett’s explanations and insights into Falkenhayn’s strategies and the impact that it had on the Romanians is excellent. The book is very well written and researched encompassing not only the operational success of the CP strategy but also the impact of the lack of coordination at the strategic level between the Allied forces, specifically the Russians. The Austro-German success left the Romanians and Allies stunned and provided for them the resources to continue the war. The author sheds light on the lessons that were overlooked by many due to the ‘sidebar’ nature of this campaign and is able to draw a direct line between the German success in Romania and the seeds of blitzkrieg. Well researched and argued.  

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