French military mission to Romania (1916–1918)

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Colonel Petin on the Romanian Front.

The French military mission to Romania was a mission led by led by General Berthelot, and sent from France to help Romania during World War I. French officers, aviators and medical staff trained and supported the Romanian army. As the Bolshevik took power in Russia and began negotiations for ending hostilities, Romania signed an armistice in December 1917 and sent the military mission back to France.


Romania entered the war on the side of the Allies in August 1916. Joffre's first choice to head the French military mission was General de Langle de Cary, but the suggestion was rejected by the French Minister there, Charles de Saint Aulaire. Instead, Berthelot was appointed, arriving at Iași on 15 October and formally taking up his position the next day. Central Powers forces under General von Falkenhayn had already broken through the Transylvanian passes on 11 October, and swiftly conquered Wallachia and Dobruja.[1]


Just as France had reconstituted the Serbian Army (now based at Salonika) after her conquest in the winter of 1915-16, between January and June 1917 Berthelot supervised the reorganisation and retraining of the Romanian Army. The men travelled through Norway, Sweden and Russia by train to reach Romania.[2] The military mission was built up to almost 400 officers and 1,000 men.[3] 74 75mm guns were sent (with another 102 "under consideration") and 120 old 120L heavy guns, but Britain was asked to supply howitzers.[4] Medical staff helped fight typhus and trained the Romanian staff to use modern techniques in both radiology and surgery.[5]


On the way home from his visit to St Petersburg in early 1917, shortly before the Fall of the Tsar, General de Castelnau stopped off for talks with Berthelot, and was told that the Romanian army could not be ready before 15 May.[6] In August 1917 Foch sent General Albert Niessel (a Russian speaker and formerly commander of IX Corps), on a mission to Russia (by then a republic under the Provisional Government) in the hope of repeating Berthelot's success there.[7]

By summer 1917 Romania had reconstituted ten fully equipped divisions and had five more needing only artillery. Berthelot lobbied successfully for more munitions and 100 medics to defeat the spread of typhus.[8] The results of the reorganisation and resupply of the Romanian troops were seen in August 1917, when Alexandru Averescu's army broke the front at Mărăşti. The Central Powers' major counter-offensive under Mackensen, aiming to occupy the rest of Romania (Moldavia) and the port of Odessa, was stopped at Mărăşeşti and Oituz. US Army Chief of Staff General Hugh Scott praised Berthelot as “a brilliant general”.[9]


However, when the Bolsheviks began negotiations to take Russia out of the war, Romania, surrounded by the Central Powers, decided to sign an armistice on 9 December 1917, followed by a peace treaty on 7 May 1918. The French military mission had to leave the country. At Berthelot's suggestion, Britain and France issued a statement that Romania had fought hard and had been overcome by circumstances beyond her control and that the imposed peace treaty would be disregarded by the Allies.[10]


  1. ^ Greenhalgh 2014, p.160
  2. ^ Michael B. Barrett (2013). Prelude to Blitzkrieg: The 1916 Austro-German Campaign in Romania. Twentieth-Century Battles. Indiana University Press. p. 164. ISBN 978-0253008701.
  3. ^ Demory, Jean-Claude; Ferrard, Stéphane; Klein, Louis; Neau, Cédric; Zeyons, Serge (2014) [2008]. Encyclopédie de la Première Guerre mondiale (in French). Paris: éditions du Chêne - E/P/A - Hachette livres. p. 179..
  4. ^ Greenhalgh 2014, p.160 Greenhalgh does not say if Britain actually supplied any.
  5. ^ "Conférence de Dana Baran". (in French). Archived from the original on 2018-09-10. Retrieved 2018-06-02..
  6. ^ Greenhalgh 2014, p.181 Greenhalgh writes that their meeting was in Bucharest, which appears to be an error, as Bucharest had fallen to the Central Powers at the start of December 1916.
  7. ^ Greenhalgh 2014, p.258
  8. ^ Greenhalgh 2014, p.256
  9. ^ Greenhalgh 2014, p.256
  10. ^ Greenhalgh 2014, p. 347-8


  • Greenhalgh, Elizabeth (2014). The French Army and the First World War. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-107-60568-8.