- from 'the War Illustrated' 17th March, 1917
- 'Untold Chapters of Rumanias Tragic Story'
- Special Correspondent with the Rumanian Army
Why a General is "Doing Time"
Austro-Hungarian troops charging a Rumanian position
Even so able a native statesman as M. Take Jonescu, staunch friend of the Allies, believed that when Rumania threw herself into the war the duration of the great struggle would be lessened by six months. Few of us doubted that her entrance would mean a shorter war. By so much as these hopes were too high is disappointment deeper to-day. Rumania has been all but crushed by the Central Powers, and yet her patriotic King has courageously said, in his hour of sorrow, that he would have taken the step he did, even had he known all. Indeed, it remains to be proved whether the sufferings the war has brought upon that country have been in vain, and that her effort has not aided in curtailing the length of the war. Rumania, at least, has not ceased to exist, the King is still on national soil, his Army is being, speedily re-formed, and we may hope that, in co-operation with Russia, it will yet succeed in recovering the occupied territory.
Mr. Hamilton Fyfe, the distinguished, war correspondent of the "Daily Mail," who for upwards of two years has followed the fortunes of the Russian and Rumanian Armies, is, of all writers, most qualified to furnish faithful pictures of the. events that have happened in Rumania, our knowledge of which is still somewhat obscure. In this and succeeding articles, -written expressly for THE WAR ILLUSTRATED, he will tell my readers much that explains why Rumania has not realised our high hopes ; and these tense chapters' from Rumania's story will arouse in us sincere admiration for a brave and noble-minded people struggling against the greatest dignities.
Austrian position in the Carpathians
I saw in a newspaper some weeks after I returned to England a telegram from Rumania which said : "General Socec (pronounced "So-check") has been sentenced to five years' penal servitude and to degradation for his behaviour at the River Arjesh." Now I do not believe there are more than a dozen people in this country who know what happened at the River Arjesh, or how Heneral Socec behaved there. Very few people in Rumania know. The last act but one of the Rumanian tragedy was performed almost in darkness. Even those, who took part in the performance had but a vague idea. Of what was happening. Next to nothing of it came to the knowledge of the world at large.
You may fairly ask, "Why did you, a correspondent on the spot, not enlighten the world at large ?"
I will tell you why. First, It was difficult to collect exact information. That difficulty,, however, I did manage to overcome at all events, I collected enough information to enable me to write what we call in newspaper offices a pretty good "story." Then I came up against the second difficulty the censorship.
The Fateful Battle of the Arjesh
There was only one censor for foreign telegrams in Rumania. This was M. Duka, Minister for Education. He was a kindly, courteous, most agreeable little man, but he could not of course be always at the disposal of war correspondents. We had to hunt him, and often he was difficult game to track. And when we did find him, he was often obliged to ask us to blue-pencil out a good deal of what we had written. So my "pretty good story" became less good as it passed through his hands.
Still, it was worth telegraphing home, even at fivepence a word, and I sent it, as I had sent so many other messages, by wireless. For some reason, not one of these wireless messages was delivered in England. I know they were despatched. But they did not reach the newspaper office to which they were addressed in London. I thought, when I with difficulty obtained leave to use the official "wireless" that I had gained a great advantage ; now I know that the many thousands of francs I spent in this way, not to mention the labour of collecting news and writing the despatches, were all wasted !
The Battle of the Arjesh, fought in the last days of November and the first of. December, ended the organised resistance of the Rumanian Army; Up to that time this Army had been kept together in spite of bad losses. put up a good fight in many places. No one could expect it to do more than it did few supposed it could much.
I expected from what I had read about the Rumanian Army to find it ready in every way, provided with everything which this war has shown to be necessary to an army. But apart from the lack of heavy artillery, the troops were short of many things essential to success, which did not reach them in time. These things included aeroplanes, field telephones, barbed-wire cutters, trench periscopes trench-mortars, and hand-grenades.
Rumanian Courage and Endurance
The soldiers had not even sufficient spades for trench-digging; other entrenching tools were absent altogether. The trenches made were mostly of poor defensive quality. I was in some which were so narrow and shallow as to be of no use at all the men could neither stand nor kneel in them. Others were the kind of trenches that are apt to collapse altogether if a shell falls in any part of them. Imagine an army thus ill-equipped set to fight the Germans who had everything necessary, and you can begin to understand why it could not stand against them for an indefinite time.
That it stood so long was a proof of the Rumanian soldier's endurance and courage. Properly trained and properly armed, he would be fully the equal of the Russian soldier ; more useful, indeed, than many Russians, since he is quick in intelligence and adaptable. There was a great deal of talk, even among Rumanians, about regiments even divisions, and even armies, "running away." Cases there were of retreats which could not be called orderly, but these were almost all, when they came to be inquired found to have been ordered and led by officers, even officers of high rank.
Some of these had influence enough to escape the punishment that has fallen upon General Socec. Truly, the general who was to blame for the confusion that helped to lose the Battle of the Arjesh deserved more than any other guilty commander to suffer for his fault; for the consequences of it were not only a very grievous loss of life and the bagging by the enemy of a vast number of prisoners; not only the loss of Bukarest and the oil region, but this temporary break-up of the Rumanian Army.
For a fortnight after the Germans swept down from the mountains into the plain (November 15th) the Rumanians retreated before them. But they kept their formations unbroken. It was difficult to do this, because their flanks were being turned every few days. The German manoeuvre was fascinating to those who watched it and understood something of strategy. It worked like a clock. As the invading force moved eastward in the plain, the defenders of the passes to the north were forced to retire. So were the Rumanian troops stationed at various points along the Danube. Thus you had units of the Rumanian .Army retiring in an easterly, in a south-easterly, and in a north-easterly direction at the same-time.
The rough sketch which I give here will convey some idea of the country through which the Rumanians retreated. They might have made a stand upon the River Oitu if they had prepared positions beforehand. But this bad not been done. On the Arjesh they halted and gave battle. They were told that Russian troops were on the point of coming to their aid. On Saturday, December and, I was informed by Headquarters that a Russian cavalry division was due to detrain that evening, and that infantry with artillery were on the way. If the Rumanians could have held the line of the Arjesh for only a few days, the Russians might have arrived, the enemy might have been stopped at-that point.
The battle had begun well for them. Their left wing had attacked and driven back four divisions of the enemy, including one German. In Bukarest the population hailed the news of this success with hope and rejoicing. They had been hearing the guns for two days. Their nerve was shaken. For several hours they recovered their spirits, and were almost persuaded that the danger had passed. They did not know that while the Rumanian left was advancing, the. centre had begun to fall back, while the right as well was wavering under vigorous pressure, from a German force advancing south-eastwards.
Communication between left and centre was so poorly maintained that they became almost separate forces. Who was responsible for this and for the ordering of the centre to retreat was not clearly known at the time. General Socec is now revealed as the culprit. The confusion caused on the road which leads across the Arjesh towards Bukarest was frightful. There was consternation among those in authority when they learnt what had happened.
They did not learn from the army in the field, or even from Headquarters. A medical officer drove into the capital just after nightfall, and went straight to the house of a Minister.
Do you know that the order has been given to retreat ? he asked.
Flight from Bukarest
The Minister denied this. He said, " It is quite impossible !"
But I have come from the spot. I saw the retirement beginning."
The Minister rang up the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister rang up Headquarters. He was told that nothing was known there about a retreat. Later the information reached them. It was then too late to countermand the order. Ministers saw that it was necessary for them to leave the capital. Headquarters also decided to shift at once.
The Arjesh was only between thirty and forty miles from Bukarest. Already a number of enemy cavalry patrols had been seen on roads quite close to the city. One was caught in a suburb. I was with our military attaché in his car on December 2nd when lie was warned that we might be surprised by Uhlans. It had already happened to me to be caught by these unpleasing enemies in the second month of war, and I did not care to take a chance of a second capture.
So we went northward, and at Ploeshti fell in with the Headquarters Staff on its way to safer lodgings. There we heard the fate of Bukarest was now decided. The end had come to the gallant resistance of the Rumanian Army. Its bravery against heavy odds had been of no avail.
Altogether the losses of those first days of .December were not less than 100,000 killed, wounded, and prisoners. If was for the time being, the end of the Rumanian Army as an organised force. And General Socec. Only gets five vears!
from 'the War Illustrated' 24th March, 1917
Rumania's Tragic Story
- by Hamilton Fyfe
- Special Correspondent with the Rumanian Army
In the Grip of Fear: Pages from My Diary
Austrian monitors bombarding Rumanian positions on the Danube
To understand what follows you must please recall the principal dates in the Rumanian campaign.
Rumania declared war at the end of August. She threw her troops across the Carpathians, invaded Transylvania, and for a month advanced into that country. By the end of September the Germans were ready. They had, in the summer, been preparing an Austro-German army which was to attack General Brussiloff's forces on the south-western Russian front. This army, commanded by Von Falkenhayn, was now directed against Rumania.
The first week of October saw the first blows of this Austro-German army delivered. They were scientifically aimed ; they had terrible weight behind them. The Rumanians reeled, then broke. By the middle of October the enemy had followed, them into the mountains. In several places he was fighting on Rumanian soil. Advance was difficult in narrow valleys, but he stubbornly pressed onward. When it became known that one of the passes into Rumania had been forced, there ,was a flight of people from the towns. These extracts from my diary give a picture of the capital in this hour.
Wild Fever of Unrest
Monday, October 9th.-The news of the evacuation of Brashof, which came privately a few days ago, is announced in to-day's official despatch from Headquarters, and has caused, very severe depression. The papers are not allowed to print anything beyond the curt announcement in the communiqué. Wild rumours are about.
Tuesday, October 10th.Overwhelming German preponderance of machine-guns ; superiority of German aeroplanes, which have two machine-guns with two hundred and fifty cartridges each, against Rumanian airmen armed with one gun and forty-five cartridges, or in some cases armed only with a rifle. Impossible to sift the false from the true. Few of them seem to understand what an exact statement means. What is clear is that the Rumanians are outclassed, except in bayonet fighting and in their gunnery, which, appears to be accurate in aim.
Wednesday, October 11th.Bratiano trying now to reconstruct the Cabinet and make it national that is to say, representative of all shades of political opinion. He feels that his position has weakened. People are blaming him now for "coming in " when he did. Marghiloman, who was the leader of the pro-German party, but who has in his newspaper and in his private talk made clear since war began his sincere desire for Rumania's victory, declines to share Bratiano's responsibility.
Thursday, October 12th.The Foreign Ministers are advising people who are not detained here by any special reason to leave the city. The consulates of Great Britain and Russia are full of travellers getting their passports put in order for the journey to Russia or to England. The newspapers publish appeals to the population to keep calm. Several of them blame the official, despatches for causing alarm by not telling all the truth. Bratiano's attempt to reconstruct the Ministry has failed. It is now being realised that Rumania can only be saved .from the fate of Belgium and Serbia by the aid. of Russia.
Friday, October 13th. To-day the official despatch was able to record success in checking the enemy's advance and the tone of feeling is now very hopeful. These people go always from one extreme to the other. They now say : "It is all right. We are holding them at a number of points." They do not see that the danger lies in the fact that the enemy is attacking at a number, of points. More and more people are leaving., I went to the station this morning at 6.30 to see a friend off.
Saturday, October 14th. News bad again. The enemy has broken through one of the passes. The anxiety to get away among the baser sort of people now becomes greater. Nothing is talked about but the chances of keeping out Falkenhayn's army until the Russians can send here forces large enough to take the offensive. At noon the hospitals were told to evacuate their patients. At two they were told not to. At noon the Legations were asked to have all their archives and the personal baggage of their members ready by the early evening. There was hasty packing up, burning of papers, filling of cases with books and documents, withdrawing of money from banks. About six, word was sent round that the cases and trunks would not be sent away to Jassy until to-morrow. As for the departure of the Ministers and their staffs, that is indefinitely postponed.
"To Go or Not to Go ?"
The consequences of this are in all directions tiresome, and in some ludicrous. I went into one consulate and found the consul in a state of despair because he had burned all his books and most of his official insignia. "l am doing all sorts of things which arc quite illegal," he wailed.
Another consul had packed up all his belongings so carefully that lie had to borrow a suit of pyjamas for the night. We go to bed in a state of uncertainty.
As I write, between eleven and midnight, I hear the noise of heavy vans in the street. That is the noise of the evacuation of Bukarest.
Sunday, October 15th. Another hot day, brilliantly sunny, exquisite, pale-blue autumn sky. What an irony that under a sky so tenderly serene and amid glorious .mountain scenery men should be killing and maiming one another! What a comment upon two thousand years of pretended Christianity ! After the fever and unrest of yesterday there has descended upon the city a tranquil Sabbath calm. No one speaks of going away. The scare of yesterday seems like a nightmare that has passed and left the sufferer laughing at the terrors of his dream.
Yet, if one judges by the official despatch, the situation is .very little better than it was. Indeed, if it is carefully studied it seems to be, on the whole, rather worse. The enemy is still attacking at all points, and although he has suffered reverses at some of them, he clearly intends to go on. General Avarescu says he can keep him out for twenty days. But the Government does not seem to have fully regained its confidence. This morning it was decided that there should be a move from Bukarest. This afternoon the matter is again in doubt.
Monday, October 16th.Heated debates are going on in all official quarters, foreign as well as Rumanian, with regard to the question of the hour "To go or not to go ?" Many members of the Legation staffs strongly oppose the former; The argument against going is that it would depress the Rumanian troops and encourage the enemy. This was also the view taken at Headquarters a few days ago. Now the military view represents Bukarest as a bad place to be in, "regarding it in a strategical sense." The truth, I believe, is that Headquarters thinks "les civils tiendraient mieux" if the politicians were farther off.
Pains have been taken to prevent communication between the front and the rear. No letters or newspapers are received by the troops, except a little sheet prepared especially for them. An officer wounded in Transylvania told me last night he had received no letter for a month.
Here is a nation and an Army, which, in spite of reading about battles and sieges for two years, had not realised what war meant. The Army has learned much already. When it is seasoned and better provided with heavy artillery which will happen, we hope, very soon it will do good work. But the public learns more slowly, and among the public one must include even men of authority and position.
Hope at Army Headquarters
Tuesday, October 17th. Calm reigns among the populace. At Army Headquarters cheerfulness and hope prevail. I had almost written confidence, but the feeling is not yet quite that.
Wednesday, October 18th. The Rumanian, troops are making a better stand than could have been expected from their earlier demeanour. The summary punishment of a few officers who failed in their duty appears to have had a good effect upon the others. The men have always been excellent material, and now they are growing accustomed to the din and terrors of battle.
Almost the whole Rumanian Army is now defending the passes of the Carpathians, for the most part on Rumanian soil. This means something like 300,800 men. The attack is being delivered, so far as I can gather, by sixteen divisions which, allowing for the weakness of many among them would give a total, perhaps, of 250,000. The enemy's numerical inferiority is made up by their possession of heavier artillery and of machine-guns greater in number by many times than those of the Rumanians.
Wonderful Recovery of the Army
Friday, October 20th. The panic has so far subsided that there is now talk of sending couriers from the Legations to bring back the trunks and packing-cases which were sent away on Sunday in anticipation of a general flight from the capital. The Rumanian Army has found its feet in a most wonderful way. Even Bratiano is beginning to feel hopeful. It is too early as yet, it seems to me, to say that the danger is past. But every day that avoids a disaster is a day gained.
The only traces of the fear that passed over Bukarest on Saturday are the number of empty houses and the still higher prices that are charged for all kinds of commodities under the influence of the "frousse." This has always been an expensive place to live in. Before Rumania came into the war the city was spoken of as the most expensive in the world. Here are one or two prices which .have come under my notice during the past few days.
A sixpenny bottle- of soda-mint tabloids, 2s.; boots soled and heeled, 15s. ; biscuits, 3s. 6d. a pound; coffee, 25s. a pound; tea, dearer still. As for clothes, they are impossibly dear 350 francs for an overcoat, 300 francs for a tweed suit. I hope there will be no more panics to give the shopkeepers any further chance of raising prices.
from 'the War Illustrated' 31st March, 1917
Rumania's Tragic Story
- by Hamilton Fyfe
- Special Correspondent with the Rumanian Army
The Flight from Bukarest
German officers interrogating a captured Rumanian officer
I carried my story last week up to the calming-down of the first panic which disturbed the capital, and not only the capital, but the whole country. While this panic lasted there was a large flow of people out of Bukarest, and at the same time a large inward flow, also. Those who went out were well-to-do inhabitants of the city. Those who came in were mostly peasants from the country round about. The exchange was advantageous. Peasants consumed less; they talked less, also.
Food was getting scarce. We had plenty of wheat bread, plenty of maize flour and enough potatoes, but very little meat, very few eggs ; and everything grew rapidly dearer, for the reason that the thoughtless among the well-to-do paid whatever prices were asked. If they had said firmly and sensibly : "We will not be robbed ; we will do without this or that," the price of this or that would have dropped immediately. Thus they would have done the whole community a service. Actually they made all suffer for their thoughtlessness and unreadiness to change their habits. No one regretted their flight. It made food conditions a trifle more easy.
It also lessened the number of rumours that flew about the city. The people of Bukarest are afflicted with both the Oriental love of gossip and the Oriental's lack of exactitude. Their favourite amusement before the war was to gather in crowded tea-shops on the Calle Victoria, the principal street, and wag their chins. As soon as war was declared by Rumania the Government ordered those tea-shops to be closed. The Rumanians themselves admitted that this was wise. "We talk too much," they said, with engaging candour. "This might be dangerous in war-time."
Fall ol Constantsa and Craiova
However, they still talked too much in spite of the ban on tea-shops. To these they did not return, even when they were opened again, because they knew Government spies would be sitting there listening while they sipped their chocolate and munched little sugary cakes for indiscreet conversations. But wild, foolish talk went on everywhere else. Most of it exaggerated misfortunes, invented tales of blunder and bolting, magnified slight reverses into defeats. There were also unbalanced optimists who did as much harm as the gloom-sowers. They would go about telling everybody that they knew upon the highest authority of a famous victory which had been won. Up went everybody's spirits. Next day the story was seen to be well, inexact. Spirits dropped lower than they were before.
This lasted for about a month. Confidence grew more steady. The Rumanian Army defended the passes of the Carpathians with stubborn courage, fighting against almost impossible odds; for what are bayonets opposed to big guns ? The loss of Constantsa, Rumania's only seaport, was a bitter grief, but the hope was firm that it would quickly be retaken.
Then suddenly cam's the shock of the news that the Germans had burst through the mountain barrier and were pouring on to the plain. The fall of Craiova was so unexpected that at first people refused to believe this rich and pleasant town the Millionaires' Town as they called it could have been taken. When they were convinced of this disaster they fell into profound depression. Day by day they looked for comfort in the official despatches, but found only admissions of retreat.
Growing Depression and Nervousness
I used, when I was in the capital and not at the front, to meet regularly a Rumanian friend. We lunched together in a little mess that he had formed, consisting of himself and his wife, a Russian diplomat, a Polish author, a British captain in the Intelligence Service, and myself. We lived up to the motto of "plain living and " well, perhaps I ought not to call it high flunking," but we used to discuss everything from Ideal Love (in which Madame took great interest) to the best ways of cooking potatoes. As we lived very largely upon potatoes, I fancy the latter subject had more interest for us men.
My friend is a man of vigorous mind, of extensive experience. He admitted that his country had made mistakes, miscalculations ; but his patriotic faith never wavered until Craiova fell. He said to me on the morrow of the official admission that it had surrendered : "If anyone had told me this yesterday I would have struck him in the face. I could not have believed it. I cannot understand it. This is a terrible disenchantment. What next ?"
What next ? That question everyone was asking.
Could Bukarest be saved ? Those were unquiet days. At lunch-time we talked quietly and rather anxiously in our little room, where we often heard .the police-whistles and church-bells announce air raids, and, looking up, saw the bomb-dropping aeroplanes, and, listening, heard the explosions of their bombs, sometimes near by, sometimes far away. Ideal Love little occupied our thoughts in these times. Each member of the mess would come in, asking, "Well, what news ?" Each would contribute the facts or fictions he had gathered that morning.
On the day the order for departure was given I took a walk in the only big open space Bukarest possesses, the Chaussee Kissileff, a broad highway bordered by small woods, leading northward out of the city. Although it was near the end of November there was bright and even warm sunshine. I walked into the country past the Military Wireless Station, past the French anti- aircraft guns which the French gunner officers had only that week finished getting into position.
Just before I turned to go back the King and Queen flashed by in a motor, the King driving, the Queen looking sad and anxious. When I reached the busy part of the Calle Victoria I was astonished to see flags hung out. Everyone was smiling and talking excitedly. All who had not hoisted their flags already were mounting step-ladders or running the national colours out on poles from first-floor windows. I asked a shopkeeper what it all meant.
"A great victory," he said. ''Thirty-seven thousand prisoners ! A great many cannon ! We are saved ! We are saved !"
I knew that what he said could not be true, but I hoped there had been some kind of a success. The secretary to the Belgian Legation came up.
"What do you make of it ?" he asked me. "All through the city the people are rejoicing."
Before I could reply I saw the Minister for Education, who was also Chief of the Censorship, passing in his motor-car. I ran into the road and held my hand up. The car stopped.
"Excellency," I said, "have you heard this news ? Is it true ?"
"True !" he replied bitterly. "No, mon ami, of course it isn't true ! It is a German trick. Pull those flags down !" he' shouted, in a voice that shook with anger and mortification. "Hi, policeman, see that all the flags are taken in at once !"
Bukarest Under Martial Law
I had joined another mess for dinner. This was the only way to get food regularly, of a wholesome if meagre kind. The hotels had become impossible on meatless days, four a week ; at all times now they were bad, a melancholy change from the excellence of their fare before the war. That evening our dinner of thin soup, macaroni, and stewed apples was enlivened by a dramatic outburst from one of the Rumanian ladies who shared a table with a Frenchman, a Belgian, a Kumaniaa engineer officer, and me. We knew by this time that the Bulgarians had crossed the Danube. The danger was acute.
That night a friend came to my rooms, woke me up. and told me the Legations were to leave next evening. I left with them, as I have described elsewhere ; but a few days later I was back in Bukarest. The city was under ,martial law. Patrols of aged militiamen stumped about the streets. No one was allowed to stand still in the street. Not more than three people might walk together. Warnings were posted up that any person caught stealing would be shot at once. The population seemed spiritless and cowed. The sound of the guns could be heard distinctly. A battle was going on, but nobody had any hope left that the Germans could be stopped.
from 'the War Illustrated' 7th April, 1917.
Rumania's Tragic Story
- by Hamilton Fyfe
- Special Correspondent with the Rumanian Army
What The Soldiers Suffered
surrendering a fort to the Germans in the vicinity of Bukarest
German troops crossing the Danube
The sum of the sufferings of the .Rumanian Army none will ever know. Numbers of killed may be established, numbers of wounded ; but who, save perhaps those who have been engaged in like conditions can understand the depths of misery into which soldiers fall when they are fighting a battle which is manifestly unequal, when they are matched against a foe whose armament is superior in every way ?
Nor was this all that told against them. They were many times sacrificed and humiliated by the blunders, the incapacity, and the panic of their own leaders. There were, among Rumania's commanders, fine soldiers, men of nerve and resolute character. But there were at the beginning (they have all disappeared now) a number of generals who lost their heads in the first moment of serious difficulty.
It was murdering them .to send men so ill-equipped against an enemy supplied abundantly with every engine and device of the latest warfare. They behaved for the most part bravely. They showed endurance as well as courage. It was not their fault that they were beaten, but the fault of those above them. No one who knows them will deny that they. could have. done far better if they had been properly prepared and well handled. They never had a dog's chance.
I liked the Rumanian soldier as soon as I made his acquaintance, and the more I saw of him the more I liked him. No one who knows him can help liking him. His 'good qualities are all of the attractive kind. He is courteous in manner, kind-hearted, ready to oblige, easily contented in the matter of food and lodgment.
Qualities of the Rumanian Soldier
He has a bright, intelligent eye and a quick smile. In many aspects he is like the French "Poilu," but far simpler, more of a peasant still. He has the natural dignity of the man who lives with Nature in. the mountains, in the forests, in the fields. In his bearing towards his officers there is respect, but no trace of servility. In whatever company he may be he speaks and counts himself a man among men.
I have seen him in the field under conditions of advance, conditions of retirement, conditions which made .if necessary for him to hold fast against unequal forces. I have been with him in the trenches ; sung and danced with him in villages behind the front where he was resting; travelled with him in troop trains ; ridden and marched with him on the road. I am convinced that no finer material for an army exists anywhere. And I want to tell you a few stories to justify and explain this belief.
I might illustrate the fearlessness of the Rumanian soldier by relating how he dashes forward with the bayonet whenever a charge is permitted ; how lie has taken guns and even a fortress the fortress of Alion on the Danube by assault. I could fill a page with examples of that kind of courage. But I think I can better that, I can tell. You the tale of a soldier who, on a hot day, found a water-melon of the variety called pasteque, lusciously pink inside. He was very, very thirsty, and he wanted to enjoy his melon undisturbed. So he climbed out of the trench and sat down in front of it, and there he stayed until the melon was finished. An officer told him afterwards he had no business to risk his life in such a foolhardy way. "But, Domnule Capitan," .he objected, "there was nowhere else to go.
Fearlessness and Fury
General Vasilesco gave me, when I visited the headquarters of his army, a very fine instance of the headlong passion of the Rumanian soldier when he is roused to anger. A small detachment was retiring through a valley in the mountains before a larger force of Hungarians. The lieutenant in command of them was wounded and. fell. It was impossible to pick him up. His men thought the Hungarians would send him on a stretcher to the rear. Instead of doing this, the Hungarians bayoneted the helpless man as he lay on the ground in their power. As soon as the Rumanians saw this, they forgot all about their inferiority in number. Fury seized them. With cries of consent they rushed back to where their dead lieutenant lay. Many fell before they reached the Hungarians, for the latter had a machine-gun. But nothing could stop that resolute charge. They went at the enemy with the bayonet, and when they had done, there were a hundred and fifty dead Hungarians in that valley. .Only a handful got away to tell what a terrible vengeance had been exacted for their revolting. crime.
If I were to call the Rumanian soldier "emotional," I might be misunderstood, especially by British readers, who are apt- to consider emotion a weakness. It is not easy to find an expression that will convey just what I mean. Perhaps "impulsive" is the nearest I can get to it. Yet there is more than impulse in the Rumanian's love for his country. In a hospital at Craiova the father of a wounded soldier wept aloud in his simple peasant way when he saw his son's head covered by bandages, leaving only the face to be seen. The son sat up in bed. He stretched out his arm and harangued the old man. "Why should you weep ?" he said. "You should be glad, as I am, that I have suffered for the country. This is a great honour that has befallen you and me, my father. Do not shed tears, but he happy. We are happy to be hurt and to die, if it must be ; and all those who belong to as must be proud of our wounds."
There was no desire for effect in that speech, no hint of theatricality. The peasant soldier felt what he said, felt it with all the force of his being. If a British soldier had behaved so, one would have set him down for a rogue. With us those who talk of loving their country are usually of foreign descent, or else are scoundrels who make patriotism "their last resort." But autres pays, autres moeurs.
However flowery his language may be, you cannot doubt the sincerity of a man who insists on being allowed to go back to the front after having his left arm taken off, upon the plea that he can work a machine-gun with his right !
Whether two poor fellows with their tongues cut out by Hungarians will be permitted to rejoin their regiments I do not know, but they asked to be sent back in spite of their disability. When I saw them they had recovered their health and strength, but not their speech. That is gone the doctors say, for ever, though they may be able to make intelligible noises in course of time.
Another proof of the readiness of the Rumanian soldier to obey an impulse a kindly impulse this time is to be found in his behaviour to the enemy wounded and prisoners. One would think that such horrors as the cutting out of tongues and the even worse crimes against God and man committed by the Bulgarians, would have turned sour the milk of human kindness in Rumanian veins. But, no ; as soon as they see a fellow-creature in pain or misery, hungry or cold, the Rumanians do all they can to comfort him. They put into practice the teaching of Epictetus that "everything has two handles." One handle is that enemies are enemies ; the other handle is that they are fellow-men. When twelve Rumanians, found four wounded Hungarians in the mountains they did not recall atrocities committed by the comrades of these men. They carried them with great difficulty down to the nearest field hospital.
Quick Impulse and Intelligence
There is an incident which happened in General Castritch's command. A convoy of Bavarian prisoners was on its way to the rear. One of them was shivering from cold. He had on a cotton shirt. A Rumanian soldier took off his thick woollen shirt and made the prisoner put it on. Moved by this act of Christ-like charity, the Bavarian pulled out his watch and made signs to the soldier to take it. It was a gold watch; but the Rumanian refused. Only when camp was reached, and when .the prisoner, a Bavarian of noble family as it turned out, laid the case before the commandant, did the good fellow accept the watch because his officer bade him.
Those who respond quickly to impulse are usually of quick intelligence also. That is true of the Rumanian soldier as a rule. I could cite many examples of their resourcefulness. One must suffice. A corporal in charge of a patrol captured three prisoners. From them he learned that there was a considerable force of the enemy near at hand. At once he thought of a plan by which they might be attacked and routed. He knew that close by a regiment of Russians was encamped.
One of the prisoners was a bugler; one of the men of the corporals patrol knew the calls. The corporal ordered him to warn and summon the Russians. After the enemy had been beaten off with heavy loss, the Russian colonel called the corporal out of the ranks and pinned on his tunic the Cross of St. George, giving him credit before all his comrades, Rumanian and Russian, for the success that had been won.
That Rumania has suffered defeats is not, I repeat, the fault of the Rumanian soldier. He has done all, and more than all, that could have been expected of him. He has suffered sorely for the faults of others. There would, under happier conditions, be no better soldier in the world.
from 'the War Illustrated' 14th April, 1917
Rumania's Tragic Story
- by Hamilton Fyfe
- Special Correspondent with the Romanian Army
The Beginning Of The End
from 'the War Illustrated' - the Rumanian capital under German occupation
On a fine day you can see from Bukarest, faintly pencilled against the horizon, the mountains that form Rumania's frontier.
They are not high mountains, nothing like the Swiss Alps in grandeur. From a distance you might think slightingly of them. But when you draw near and find yourself amid their confused jumble of rocky heights and wooded depths, of steep valleys and narrow passes and precipitous roads, you must be hard to please if you are not won by the simple, homely beauty of the Carpathians. They do not awe one into silence, but they have charm.
It was not their charm, however, which I had gone out to see on a sunny November morning, early in the month. I was motoring up to the positions held by the Rumanian Army in the Jiu valley. My business was not with the glory of hillsides golden with autumn leafage, not with the joy of streams tumbling a-foam and a-tinkle down their rocky beds. Death and destruction were the matters which took me thither. I wanted to see how strong were the Rumanian positions in the Vulkan Pass.
Through this pass a Bavarian division had forced its way a few days before. The German commander struck hard and kept, on striking, as is the German way. The Rumanians could not hold their positions. They were pursued down gentle slopes towards the town of Targu Jiu. Two hundred of the enemy pressed on rashly, and came to the bridge which carries across the river the road leading into the town. There were no Rumanian first-line troops there, only a few militiamen and a few gendarmes. The local bigwigs advised the Prefect of the Department to quit. He said he would stay and see the thing through, and his wife stayed with him.
The Prefect's Wife at Targu Jiu
A pretty, interesting little woman was Mme. Frumosham, the Prefect's wife. I dined with them in their delightful house, airy and open and spacious like an American home, and found out that she was devoted to flowers. We talked of roses and tulips and chrysanthemums, of which last her rooms were full. It was she who told me first the story of the defence of the bridge at Targu Jiu.
When the danger came near, the militiamen and gendarmes took up their positions on the town side of the stream. With them were one or two Boy Scouts, who had been given militia uniforms. The two hundred Bavarians had a machine-gun. They opened fire, expecting to penetrate very easily into the town. But the defenders were well placed. The ground sloped up from the town- side to the bank of the river, so they had a natural trench, with trees in front of them forming useful cover.
Bavarians at Targu Jiu Bridge
They kept up a hot. fire. Every time the Bavarians tried to work their machine-gun in the roadway the servers were picked off. The enemy had to expose himself before he could fire. The defenders behind their rampart were hidden and secure. For two hours the fight continued. By the end of that time the Bavarians had lost heavily, the -Rumanians scarcely at all. Then a detachment of Rumanian infantry came along from another part of the battlefield and the Bavarians paid for their rashness. Not one got away.
The whole division was "strafed" severely. In command at this point on the Rumanian side was General Dragalina, a very competent officer who owed his rise to merit alone. He rapidly sketched out a plan, providing for attacks on both flanks. He entrusted the flanking movements to two colonels whom he knew he could trust. The operation succeeded. The enemy was driven back out of the valley into the mountains again. Unfortunately, while he was driving round to reconnoitre the position. General Dragalina came under machine-gun fire at three hundred yards range. He was hit; his driver was killed. His arm had to be taken off. A fortnight later, in hospital at Bukarest, his strength failed, and the Rumanian Army lost one of its most capable commanders.
As quickly as possible the Germans set about preparing a second and more . weighty attack. That November morning I was told by the officers with whom I drove the numbers and strength of the fresh units they were bringing up.
Peasant Soldiers in Bivouac
When we started, the summits ahead of us were hidden in mist. Soon they gleamed and shimmered in the strong sunshine. On the road a well-kept, level road, like all the roads I have seen in Rumania we passed long strings of ox-carts. These were transport columns, labouring upward with loads of provisions for the troops. The villages were all occupied by soldiers. Already there were groups round steaming pots of soup, hung gipsy-fashion on three sticks over fires of crackling wood. Beside other fires stood men patiently drying their shirts which they had just washed. When we came to the last village before the pass we left our motor- vans. The road from here onward was frequently peppered by the enemy's guns. It would have been unwise to attract the attention of the observers perched on the heights ahead. We went in single file on foot.
At the Mouth of the Pass
There are three roads through the valley. Each :was defended as strongly as the slender technical resources of the Rumanians permitted. The main defence was the one for which we were bound. It lay at the point where the three roads converge and where the pass is entered. Wriggling through a narrow, sticky communication. "boyau," we emerged at last into the fire- trench. Now one could see at a glance what fighting in these mountains means. We were on the brow of a hill which sloped down steeply to the river hundreds of feet below. Away over to the right was a narrow entry between two immense masses of rock. That was the pass. So narrow that there is only room for the river and the road, pinched in by walls of mountain hundreds of feet high. Easy to defend, you think, perhaps. But think of the effect of high-explosive shells bursting in that narrow space! It was by blasting their way through that the enemy succeeded in penetrating the defiles.
Upon a front of four hundred miles the Rumanians were defending themselves in country like this. Imagine the difficulties of transport, of moving guns, of keeping in touch even, for an Army which began its campaign so ill-prepared. There in the pass were the enemy. It is true that if they had tried to come out in the day-time the entrance would quickly have been piled high with dead.
- 'In yon straight path a thousand
- Might well be stopped by three.'
But suppose in the raw blackness of early morning our trench should be "searched" by heavy gun fire, and that under cover both of the dark and of the bombardment the enemy's infantry should come crawling up the slope. Much would depend then upon superiority in numbers. On even terms the Rumanians repelled the enemy's infantry with the bayonet every time. But when the Germans came on in wave after wave, thanks to the skill of German commanders in massing troops just where they were most needed, at last the defenders were forced by sheer weight to leave their positions.
That was how the disastrous, retreat of the Jiu valley division began, which led to the retreat of the whole Rumanian Army.
That sunny November morning we had no fear of any such catastrophe. Everyone expected that reinforcements would be sent. Everyone talked in high spirits of the defeat inflicted upon the Bavarians. Signs of their hasty twelve-mile retirement with the Rumanians hot-foot after them could be seen in places at every turn of the road. Here at the foot of a slope a heap of Bavarian helmets, cartridge-belts, gas-mask tins. Over there a huge mound, the funeral cairn of thirteen hundred horses, killed by thirteen hundred German troopers who tried to get away through the woods on foot.
The German divisional staff fled in such haste that they left behind their telephone exchange board. I. Saw it at Targu Jiu. In the roadway that leads through the Vulkan Pass you could hardly kick up the soil anywhere without coming upon clips of cartridges dropped or thrown away and trodden deep into the mud of that costly and humiliating retreat.
Now the Germans were preparing another push. They had begun their preliminary bombardment already. As we returned first by a narrow, rocky valley, then along hillside well above the road by which we came, we heard the frequent swish of shells and their explosion below us. The highway had become unhealthy for bodies of troops or transport columns passing along it. This was the curtain fire which always precedes and accompanies an attack.
Furthermore, we had heard all the morning the cannon boom to westward of us. So in the afternoon we drove up towards another pass to see how the troops were faring there. Here the formation was different. No river, no continuous valley. A road dug out of hillsides, carried across saddles, over cols. Here the enemy kept up an incessant war of raids, of sudden incursions and alarms. An oldish colonel whom we met told us he had not had his boots off for eight days. He showed us his regimental headquarters, a huge rock by the side of the road. Against this rock, on a heap of bracken under a canvas shelter he and his major slept. The other officers and men rolled themselves in their greatcoats and bivouacked on the hill-side. Their trenches were about a mile farther on. They would prefer to be in them," the major says. "Unfortunately there is not room for all."
That will show you the spirit in which the Rumanians were defending their country. Their trenches were not like those on the western front, strongly fortified and provided with all the comforts of home. Food was of the roughest and simplest. The men were often called upon to endure weariness almost insupportable, to hold out under difficult conditions against troops immeasurably better equipped. Yet there was no complaining among them. They were patient, they were even cheerful.
It was not their fault that the enemy, a few days later, poured through the Vulkan Pass, swept down the Jiu valley, captured Targu Jiu in their stride, and pressed on to occupy Craiova. One tired division, ill-provided with fighting material, cannot hold back two and a half divisions well- found in every requisite of warfare.
from 'the War Illustrated' 26th April, 1917
- Rumania's Tragic Story
- by Hamilton Fyfe
- Special Correspondent with the Rumanian Army
A Country In Ruins
German soldiers in Bukarest
When Bukarest was evacuated Rumania fell to pieces like a house of cards.
Modelled after the French example, the Rumanian system of government was centralised to a scarcely credible degree. Local administration hardly existed. All matters, however parochial, had to be referred to Bukarest. Even there they could not be settled out of hand by subordinate officials. In the Ministries the plan of leaving all decisions to the chief was carried to absurd lengths. Jealous of interference with their prerogative, Ministers insisted upon settling everything themselves. This method prevailed at all times and with catastrophic consequences as soon as the central organ of Government, the sole seat of power, ceased to exercise its usual authority.
This came to pass as soon as the daily contact ceased between M. Bratiano, the Premier, and the Headquarters Staff. That happened when the unexpectedly rapid advance of the enemy permitted by the retreat of General Socec on the Arjesh River, contrary to orders, obliged Headquarters to quit hastily the village near Bukarest where the Staff had been conveniently housed since the beginning of the war. It was only seventy minutes' motor drive from the city to this village, and it was well provided with buildings which could be used as offices.
Flitting of Headquarters
I was at Headquarters on the day of the "flitting." Already the Staff had been in danger from parties of German cavalry which were pushed ahead of the main body for the double purpose of scouting and scaring the population. That day, from another village not far off, where General Prezan (now promoted to the chief command) had established himself, the sound of the guns could be very plainly heard. So it was high time for Headquarters to move. As I drove away, the car was held up at a railway crossing. A train was standing there. At a window of a saloon carriage I saw the face of M. Bratiano. It was the face of a man stricken with mortal grief. His eyes were swollen ; tears were often in them during the period of Rumania's agony. He knew that the calamity he had striven against could, not now be turned aside.
He and most of the War Ministers had stayed behind in Bukarest when the Legations, the Government officials, and the members of Parliament were sent to Jassy. They were buoyed up by hopeful reports from Headquarters. They forced themselves to believe that the capital might be saved. These first moves of Headquarters were not sufficient. I went with the Staff to Buzeo, a small town farther north. We got there after midnight. There was hot soup ready for us, the last food I saw in any Rumanian station restaurant. Hunger, the great leveller, set us all down to table together, regardless of rank. Generals Eupped next to captains, majors forgot their contempt for under-lieutenants and talked to them quite as if they recognised them to be fellow human beings. No billets had been prepared in advance, so we slept in the train, and bitterly cold it was, so cold that it kept one awake. There was only one dreadful little eating-house in the town, so a capable young officer arranged a mess. Here the meals, necessarily simple, not to say scanty, were at all events decently served.
Collapse of Railway Service
After a day or two I left Buzeo for more active occupations nearer the front. Returning thitherward in the course of the same week with a motor-transport column, I stopped at a town some fifty miles farther north than Buzeo. We went to the commandant to ask for billets. He rang up the hotel. The reply he received was, "All rooms reserved for officers of the Headquarters Staff." He almost dropped the instrument which he was holding in his hand. This was the first he had heard of Headquarters being shifted again. It had been so quickly and suddenly arranged. That night and next morning there were the same scenes as there had been at Buzeo. Two "flittings" in a week made us all wish we could live like limpets in our shells.
And I was soon wishing that I could travel like a limpet also. I should have travelled almost as quickly as the trains, and in greater comfort. The railway service fell all to pieces. For ordinary passengers it was suspended ; for those who had military passes there were courier trains." If that name suggests to you speed, non-stop expresses carrying mails, I must politely ask you to guess again. The speed of these courier trains was from ten to fifteen miles an hour. You could never tell when they were due, whether they would arrive to-day or to-morrow. One Sunday I waited on the platform at Galatz from one o'clock in the day until 8.30 at night for the coming of a train for Jassy. No one knew when it would come, or whence it was coming, or how soon it would go when it did come. When it arrived there was, as usual, a fight to get aboard. The compartments were very dirty, no one troubling to clean them ; you had no light unless you carried your own candles.
I got a compartment with a Frenchman and a Rumanian. It had luckily only one broken window I say ''luckily," because it was snowing. In it we stayed until six o'clock the next evening. The distance we covered was well under two hundred miles. Of course, we had food with us. The "Times" correspondent and I always carried a provision bag with us, or otherwise we should have got nothing but occasional mugs of tea and hunks of bread at Russian Red Cross feeding- points. Often we were grateful to the kind Sisters at these hospitable tea-rooms.
The Flight from Buzeo
The railway stations were given over to confusion. They were thronged, packed by the noisy refugees, soldiers, officers' wives and families trying to find husbands and fathers, all sorts and conditions of men, women, and children, some sitting on their boxes in a dazed, helpless state, others pushing their way about, all weary, most of them hungry and thirsty, yet bearing. their troubles with that uncomplainingness which is part of the Rumanian character.
Upon every train there were hundreds of men, sometimes women as well, on the roofs of the carriages. No one tried to prevent this foolhardiness or pointed out its danger. Centralisation had robbed the railway people of any initiative they might have possessed under a better system. When the central authority ceased to issue orders the whole business of transportation broke down. General Sakharoff, taking over the chief command in Rumania, found it impossible to make use of the railways. Troops had to march ; supplies had to sent by road.
And the difficulties of road transport, great enough in any case, were enormously increased by the refugees. Let me give one picture, t-he picture of the flight from Buzeo in the second week of December. The road out of the town was filled with every kind of vehicle. Three military transport columns were mixed up in the tangle. Motor-lorries, motor-cars, ox-carts drawn by. the beautiful, patient beasts with wondering, wide-open eyes, farm-waggons, carts of every description, cabs piled high with furniture or baggage which frightened women did their best to steady when it threatened to topple over.
German soldiers in Bukarest
Order after Chaos
The refugees suffered from hunger as well as cold and exhaustion. There was hardly any food left except for the soldiers sometimes little enough even for them. One kind-hearted major of artillery, whom I came across during the retreat, was giving soup every day to numbers of lost children. The men of his battery gathered them up on the road and saved them from starvation. Whole tracts of country were cleared of everything eatable by the bands of young men who were ordered to go northward so that they might be enrolled in the new army which Rumania hoped to have ready in the spring. No transport was provided for these young men, no arrangements made for feeding them on the way. They were compelled to take what they could find. I happened upon a group of them one day roasting a porker, which they had taken from a farmyard, on a stick over a wood fire. Very good it smelt.
The same disorder which fell upon the railways affected the posts and telegraphs. Telegrams to France or England were weeks on the way. I sent a telegram on a certain Friday, addressed to the British Embassy in Petrograd. It was stamped by the British Legation in Jassy, so it had precedence as an official despatch. It was delivered in Petrograd on the following Tuesday week. The postal service collapsed altogether. The newspapers ceased to appear. There was none in the whole of Rumania after the fall of Bukarest, barring a small sheet or two with the official news, which nobody believed, though in fact it fairly often told the worst. The change of Government in England was only made known at Jassy more than a week after it had taken place, by the arrival of a newspaper from Odessa. isolation was painful. We felt cut off from the rest of the world.
The paralysis of Government lasted until near the end of 1916. Then a new Government was formed and order came creeping forth again to beat down chaos. Upon the ruins of the past Rumania began to build up her future, a future which we hope and believe will be more solid and glorious than any period in her history before.
war-time portraits of the author, Hamilton Fyfe
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