The battle for Romania, also known as the Jassy–Kishinev Offensive was a battle on the Eastern front of World War 2. The Red Army launched a major attack on the German-Romanian forces in an attempt to retake Bessarabia, the future Moldavian SSR, and force it’s way into the Balkans and Hungary. The 2nd and 3rd Ukrainian fronts engaged in battle the German-Romanian Army Group South Ukraine. The German 6th Army was encircled and destroyed for a second time, having been destroyed the first time at Stalingrad. The German 8th Army had to withdraw to Hungary. During this battle the Romanians switched sides after a coup, and joined the Allies.
Following major battles and months of retreat, the German and Romanian troops withdrawing from Russia halted at the Dnestr and began occupying fixed positions once again. Here the enemy was to be halted and his advance stopped. Initially it seemed as if this might be possible. This period was not entirely quiet; there were engagements of long and short duration. These operations included efforts by the Germans and Romanians to hold onto a bridgehead on the far side of the Dnestr near Dubossary, while the Soviets attacked and won a large bridgehead near Tiraspol. In general, however, things remained quiet until the Soviets started the offensive.
Together the Axis forces had 650.000 troops. Right from the beginning, however, there was the usual linear defense, too few reserves and not enough tanks and assault guns. In addition, two facts were deceptive: at this point in the war the German units no longer possessed strengths equivalent to their designations. The second major negative point was the Romanian divisions. Their condition was even worse. As before, they were poorly trained and armed, and their morale had suffered badly from the constant German setbacks since early 1943.
Although the Romanian head of state, Marshal Ion Antonescu, remained committed to the pact with Germany, secret efforts against Germany had been under way in the senior military command for some time. Some senior Romanian officers were inclined toward treason and a coup d'etat. For this reason Generaloberst Johannes Frießner wanted to withdraw his units behind the Danube, but Hitler refused.
The German side badly underestimated the Soviets and their intentions. An increase in activity and a significant increase in traffic behind the lines was noted. This was misinterpreted by most senior German staffs. They even believed that the Soviet command would withdraw forces from the southern front in order to bolster their offensive against Army Group Center. In general the enemy was quiet all along the front apart from local operations, the usual artillery activity and occasional air attacks. Appearances were deceptive, however. The result was a misinterpretation of the situation by the German High Command, just as had happened in the case of Army Group Center.
The Soviet forces were under the overall command of Marshal Semyon Timoshenko. North of Jassy there was the Second Ukrainian Front, under the command of General Rodion Malinovsky, with six rifle armies, one tank army of two corps, an independent tank, mechanized and cavalry corps and the Fifth Air Army. In the large Soviet bridgehead at Tiraspol was assembled the Third Ukrainian Front, under General Fyodor Tolbukhin, with four rifle armies, two independent mechanized corps and the Seventeenth Air Army.
For an hour-and-a-half shells, mortar rounds and rockets poured down on the Romanian IV and VI Corps and the German 76th Division to a depth of eight kilometers. The hail of fire obliterated obstacles, covered trenches and positions, pounded bunkers and dugouts, destroyed guns and heavy weapons, severed lines of communication and killed or wounded many men. The Soviet Air Force sent whole squadrons to bomb the German and Romanian rear areas. The Russian infantry and their supporting tanks advanced on a front of thirty kilometers behind the barrage, supported by large numbers of close support aircraft.
The incoming reports shocked the headquarters of Army Group South Ukraine, located far from the scene of events. The Commander -in-Chief ordered an immediate counterattack by all available reserves to restore the former main line of resistance. However, General Frießner understood the situation completely: the enemy was already too strong and had penetrated deeply, the Romanians had given up and the German reserves were much too weak in the face of the enemy's superiority. As the Romanian reserve divisions were already showing signs of disintegration, there was no joint counterattack. The individual German advances were unsuccessful.
As a result of the failure of the Romanians to stand and fight, the Russian penetration quickly gained further ground. By evening the enemy had penetrated to the center of Jassy, which was the scene of heavy fighting. Events in the east in the Soviet Tiraspol bridgehead went much the same as in the west before Jassy. The Russians were so certain of victory beforehand that they even sent some of their radio messages in clear text. At 0400 there began a preparatory bombardment of fifty minutes duration. Here too the main Russian attack was preceded by smaller attacks whose aim was to capture important terrain features or make initial penetrations.
At Tiraspol, too, the failure of the Romanians had resulted in a large gap in the front. Located precisely on the right wing of the Sixth Army, it expanded and grew steadily. The Sixth Army's mobile reserve, the 13th Panzer Division, was alerted. Following earlier detachments to other units the division had available one panzer battalion with thirty-five tanks, two panzergrenadier battalions and elements of the pioneer battalion. From the beginning the counterattack was a questionable operation against such an overpowering enemy with his hundreds of tanks. The counterattack bogged down with heavy losses, without having closed the gap in the front.
The Commander-in-Chief of the Romanian Army, Marshall Antonescu, arrived. Having learned of the conduct of his troops, he had come in person to try and halt them and bring them back to the front. Several senior officers were reduced in rank by his entourage and immediately relieved of their posts. The Marshall had no idea that he would be deposed in three days and imprisoned.
The second Sixth Army, like the first at Stalingrad, had been almost completely broken through on both wings and its deep flanks were increasingly threatened. The army headquarters far to the rear in Tarutino was as yet unaware of the terrible danger. Late that evening, the army staff knew only that the right wing was under heavy pressure. The army commanders were unaware of the most important development: the Soviets had gone to the offensive at Jassy simultaneously. The commanders of Army Group South Ukraine were already well aware how the beginning battle would end. The Romanian divisions had all but collapsed and had disappeared from the front.
The Soviets resumed their attack, in order to expand the breakthroughs achieved the previous day and drive into the German rear with their tank and motorized units. The Germans, on the other hand, were forced to bend back their shattered wings further, and their open flanks were increasingly threatened. Near Jassy a joint German-Romanian counterattack was supposed to halt the Russians. The effort was in vain. On the second day of this major offensive the Russians expanded the breakthrough near Jassy to an area 65 kilometers deep and 25 kilometers wide. They had gone over to a rapid pursuit deep into Romanian territory with tank and motorized units.
Things looked even worse in the Tiraspol battle zone. The panzer battalion of the 13th Panzer Division had been reduced to about 20 tanks. It was forced to attack here and there in an effort to help the hard-pressed infantry at least for a little while. The XXX Corps' Commanding Officer, General Georg-Wilhelm Postel, went forward himself to intervene and try and hold his divisions' wavering front. By the evening the Russians had broken through to a depth of 50 km in the Tiraspol area and were already 15 km from Tarutino, site of the headquarters of the Sixth Army.
The army command was now aware of the seriousness of the situation. It also knew that all available and committed reserves had already largely been destroyed. There was nothing left with which to halt the enemy. Generaloberst Frießner, the army group's Commander-in-Chief, was forced to realize that the two breakthrough areas to the left and right of the Sixth Army had become so deep and large by the second day of the enemy offensive, that the enemy and his masses of forces had won complete operational freedom of action.
Heavy fighting lasted through the night. Headquarters Sixth Army used its radio net to issue orders, specifying immediate relay to the units, for an accelerated withdrawal behind the Prut. This was the army's last order, but it was already much too late for its implementation. By the time the order reached the corps and divisions during late morning it had long been overtaken by events. The Soviets were meeting virtually no resistance in their breakthrough areas. They were already marching south toward Barlad and Galatz unhindered, at the same time sending powerful forces to the southeast and southwest.
The situation for the German troops between Jassy and Tiraspol was worsening by the hour. In the west IV Corps and the remains of its three divisions (376th, 11th and 79th Romanian) were defending south of Jassy. Initially the corps succeeded in repulsing all attacks, but then was forced to withdraw in a southerly direction. The main body of the Sixth Army now faced an extremely difficult withdrawal. It would have to be carried out under constant enemy pressure and in the face of increasing signs of encirclement. Four German army corps had to reach the Prut as quickly as possible. Some of them made it, but most were overwhelmed.
A well-planned coup took place in Romania. The former head of state Antonescu was imprisoned, and the young King Michael went on the radio to announce a ceasefire with the Soviet Union and issued orders to all Romanian troops to cease hostilities against the Russian armed forces. This betrayal had serious consequences to Romania's former German allies, as the entire German Army rear area in Romania collapsed. In places this resulted in fighting between German and Romanian troops. But these events had little to do with events at the distant German-Romanian front, which was already collapsing, and had scarcely any effect there.
The enemy pressure from the east, southeast and south was becoming increasingly heavy, and the penetrations and breakthroughs from three sides grew ever greater. The Commanding General of LII Corps found himself forced to engage Soviet motorized forces with the help of assault guns. During the night XXXXIV Corps had to abandon Kishinev, after the enemy had crossed the Dnestr and was pressing from the north. The Soviets were driving deep into Romania and were trying to complete the encirclement of the Sixth Army. The Sixth Army was left with only a narrow corridor to the Prut near Husi. The hard-pressed German troops struggled to reach the river.
For days trains and supply units from the various divisions had been rolling in an uninterrupted stream through the city, which lay in a deep valley a few kilometers west of the Prut. Suddenly, twenty or more Soviet tanks appeared from the west. They drove into the city, firing as they came, and charged into the German train columns, causing terrible chaos. The Soviet capture of Husi caught the Germans by surprise. They were now encircled.
Army Group South Ukraine came to the conclusion that the encircling ring around the Sixth Army had become so solid and thick that any escape from the pocket by substantial forces was unlikely. The only hope was that the bulk of the army might still fight its way to the crossing over the Prut near Husi, where "Korpsgruppe Mieth" was holding out on the west bank. Increasing numbers of troops tried to make their way from the Carbuna forest region to the Guragalbina area, which had become the major assembly area for all surviving units. General Postel, of XXX Corps, who had assumed command of the breakout attempt, intended to break through between Guragalbina and Sarate-Galbina toward Husi in three columns.
Generalmajor Werner von Eichstedt came upon assembled groups of soldiers readying their small arms. They were the battle groups which were to force the breakthrough. The men in the valley meadow numbered about 1,000 men - 1,000 men from his entire division, which eight days ago was almost 14,000 men strong. Now there were no big guns, no heavy weapons, no vehicles and no field kitchens. Some of the men were already wounded. As the battle groups moved into position, Generalmajor von Eichstedt picked up a rifle and inserted a clip of ammunition. The attack was about to begin.
There was no breakout, no getting through. The German attempts to break out collapsed in the face of concentrated enemy fire. Killed in the failed attempt from the Guragalbina area were the commanders of the 294th and 384th Infantry Divisions and many of their men. The commander of the 302nd Division and the Commanding General of XXX Corps, who had personally tried to instil order into the breakout columns that morning, were wounded. Minor elements of the three divisions managed to escape - temporarily. The Soviets, who were squeezing the unwieldy mass of the German army ever tighter, now drove into the pocket from all sides and began to split it up.
The catastrophe had come, the end of the Sixth Army was in sight. Pursued and harried from all sides by the Soviet Third Ukrainian Front, the disorganized and disintegrating units of three German army corps sought to find a way through the enemy. Squeezed together into several large march groups, often two or three columns abreast, the mass of surrounded troops moved in a generally westerly direction. Every kilometer was bought at the cost of great sacrifice and heavy losses. There were no more bridges over the Prut in German hands, and there was no new front on the western side of the river.
Even as the surrounded main body of the Sixth Army was facing complete destruction and elements of the army were breaking out toward the Prut, there were still German troops on the west bank of the Prut. They belonged to "Korpsgruppe Mieth," which had carried out a slow withdrawal of over 100 kilometers south from the Jassy area. Mieth decided to retake Husi in order to capture the crossing near Stalinesti. In the face of the powerful enemy forces, Husi and the crossing near Stalinesti could not be taken. "Korpsgruppe Mieth" was now also at the end of its strength and found itself increasingly threatened with encirclement.
There were still more than 20,000 Germans who believed they had reached a new German front at the Prut bridgehead. The bridges over the Prut had already been blown. There were no other crossings for some distance and there were no bridging materials available. The way was blocked by the river, badly swollen by the recent rains. The pioneers began a ferry service across the river. It was discovered that they had not reached the west bank of the river at all. They were on an island, about five to six kilometers wide and about two square kilometers in area, and the Russians were present on the western bank. They were now stuck on the island.
The Generals sat together in a small wood and deliberated. Soon they had devised another breakout plan. Exhausted officers tried to get the men to their feet to form new battle groups. But the breakthrough to the west bank was never to take place. Scarcely any of the 20,000 men who had managed to fight their way to the Prut and finally to the Husi area under unspeakable hardships escaped. After an initial attack which took the Russians by surprise, the Red Army soldiers managed to regroup and wipe out the Germans.
General Mieth stuck to his plan, still unaware of the true situation, to capture a crossing for the divisions still expected from the east. As the powerful enemy bulwark of Husi could not be taken, the General hoped to establish a bridgehead further south near Leova. The "Korpsgruppe" went to the attack to the south, west of Husi. Hopes of a link-up with units of the army expected from the east were dashed. The "Korpsgruppe" was forced to face the facts that it was by itself and would have to fight on alone. What was worse, they had stayed too long and were now encircled. The "Korpsgruppe" would have to fight its way out to the west.
General Friedrich-August Weinknecht, decided to break out to the west from the witch's cauldron at Vutcani as soon as darkness fell. The attack was to be made on a broad front, and if successful, they would cross the Barlad during the night. Initially the attack had to be postponed until morning, when it was too late. Command at the division level was no longer possible. While some Germans managed to get out, most had been left behind when the Russians entered the village.
There was still XXIX Corps, initially under the command of the Romanian Third Army, now at the disposal of Army Group South Ukraine. All that was left of the corps was its headquarters; it had no troops left. The German 9th Infantry Division had been lost near Sarata, and the two Romanian divisions of the mixed corps were no longer present. The corps headquarters, which was withdrawing from the Barlad area, received orders to organize a defense on the Seret in the line Galatz-Focsani and establish a new front.
The Germans were unable to halt the rapid Soviet advance. In order to avoid being encircled, the corps withdrew south from the Seret positions it had just occupied. Then, a report reached the corps command post in Cilibia that the Russians had taken Buzau. Afterward the corps' Commanding General decided to force a breakthrough to the west, south of Buzau. Some units were wiped out by the Russians and some were taken prisoners by the Romanians, who following the coup declared war on Germany. Some Germans managed to reach Bulgaria. Soon the Bulgarians too would declare war on Germany and the soldiers would be taken prisoners and handed to the Russians.
There were some Germans who wished to avoid capture at any cost. They sought to make their way across the many kilometers to a new German front. The area between the Prut and the Carpathians had long since been in enemy hands. The German front did not remain stationary, rather it got further away day by day. There may have been as many as 18,000-20,000 men who set out to reach the safety of the Carpathians. Many lost their way in the forests and were captured or died alone in the wilderness. Many more were shot or killed by Romanian or Russian troops, while others succumbed to wounds or illness.
The Sixth Army had been completely destroyed. The Eighth Army was left with the three German divisions making up its left wing, which had not been attacked. This was all that remained of the two German armies on the Romanian front following the total collapse of Army Group South Ukraine, which had tried to defend Romania according to Hitler's will. Twenty-one numerically strong German divisions had been obliterated within nine days.
In a few days the Red Army rolled through Romania and across the Danube while Romanian units joined with them in the battle toward the northwest. There in the Carpathian passes, the Germans and the Hungarians tried to build up a new front as the Red Army pushed them back in pursuit. The Romanians now hoped to reclaim the portions of Transylvania they had lost to Hungary in the 1940 territorial settlement. After heavy fighting the German-Hungarian troops were pushed out of Transylvania, into Hungary.