On 8th May 1918 one topic dominated the front pages of the Austro-Hungarian newspapers: the peace treaty signed the day before with Romania. This put a definitive end to the 1916/17 campaign, which the Central Powers waged successfully, though it did put their forces under strain, and which only the Russian Revolution managed to bring to an end.
The Romanian way to the war:
In 1883 Romania had joined the Triple Alliance of the German Empire, Austria-Hungary and Italy. However, relations between Romania and the Habsburg monarchy in the years prior to the war had clearly deteriorated due to Hungary’s nationality (Magyarisation) policy in Transylvania and diplomatic ill will during the Second Balkan War. Romania’s increasing proximity to Russia at this point did not please Germany, who wanted to bind Romania to the Central Powers on the basis of its strategic significance. Aside from the fact that the Kingdom of Romania had the strongest army in numerical terms in the region, it could, according to which allies it chose, represent a buffer or link between Serbia and Russia, as well as serve as an ideal starting point for offensives against either Ukraine, or Transylvania. Romania took advantage of the fact that the Triple Alliance agreement was an obligation to provide mutual support only in the event of a direct attack to declare itself neutral – just like Italy - after Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on 28 August 1914. Subsequently both the Central Powers and the Entente attempted to get Romania to join on their side. The Government however decided to wait and see whereby it emerged – again similar to Italy – that greater territorial gains were to be expected from the Entente at the expense of the Habsburg Monarchy. As well as a “unification of Greater Romania “ with Bukovina and Transylvania, Rumania aimed at reclaiming the parts of Dobroja that had been lost to Bulgaria in 1912. The prospect of these regions, in combination with its rival Bulgaria entering the war on the side of the Central Powers in October 1915, led Romania to declare war on Austria-Hungary ten months later.
The offensive against Romania
Although Romania after August 1914 had endeavoured to effectively remain neutral, the Central Powers suspected, and not without good reason, that the Government was merely waiting for the right moment to enter the war on the side of the presumable victors. Especially in the first half of 1916, the Chief of the German General Staff, Erich von Falkenhayn awaited almost daily for Romania to declare war. The Central Powers were already working in advance on directives for a campaign to this effect. These were based on the assumption that Romania would launch a major attack against Transylvania, which needed to be blocked, as well as minor battles to defend areas along the Danube and Dobruja against Bulgaria, which would have been repulsed with their own rapid offensive. Despite these assumptions and preparations, Romania’s entry into war in August 1916 came as a shock to the Central Powers who, at this point no longer expecting it, found themselves in an extremely precarious position. Though the campaign, carried out according to the previously devised tactics, put their forces under strain and led to troops being withdrawn from other theatres of war, it was however, over the following months very successful.
Due to the Army’s insufficient training and equipment however, as well as its poor artillery and inadequate infrastructure, after some initial success the Romanian offensive in Transylvania soon ground to a halt. The German-Bulgarian-Turkish offensive in Dobruja and the occupation of the region by the Danube Army under the leadership of August von Mackensen as well as the counter-offensive led by Falkenhayn, now Commander in Chief of the 9th Army in Transylvania, soon pushed Romania on the defensive. Despite quantitive inferiority, Falkenhayn’s mobile warfare methods and tactical-operational superiority enabled a breakthrough to be made on 11 November on the Transylvanian border, where the local mountain front collapsed within a few weeks. In the following month the Danube Army also occupied both the capital Bucharest and the economically important oil fields of Ploesti, at which point more than half of the country lay in the hands of the Central Powers. They did not succeed however in encircling and annihilating the Romanian army, which withdrew into Moldavia on the Russian border where the King and the Government had also fled. There the Army was able to reorganise and together with Russian units form a new front. Despite the difficult situation, which deteriorated even further as a result of the February Revolution, it was also possible to successfully mobilise the population. This maintained significant numbers of Central Powers’ forces tied up on the Romanian front.
From vanquished to victors
After the withdrawal of their Russian allies from the war, Romania’s situation appeared bleak. Two days after peace negotiations began in Brest-Litovsk on 7 December 1917, the Focşani Armistice was concluded, followed on 5 March 1918 by a provisional peace treaty and in May 1918 by the definitive Treaty of Bucharest. This forced Romania to transfer control of the Carpathian Mountain passes to Austria-Hungary and cede parts of Dobruja to Bulgaria; moreover the Central Powers also maintained access to Romanian resources. With the exception of the Salonica Front, the peace treaty brought the Central Powers “peace along the entire Eastern front“, as the "Illustrierte Kronen-Zeitung" on 8 May 1918 announced with delight. Parliament however delayed the ratification of the treaty and at the end of the conflict Romania re-entered the war. Romania finally emerged from World War I as a victorious power. The territories gained through the Treaties of Paris led to the Kingdom of Romania becoming known as România Mare (Greater Romania, 1919–1940).