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Battle of Turtucaia
Part of Romanian Campaign (World War I)
TutrakanBattle.jpg
"The Battle of Tutrakan" by Dimitar Giudzhenov
Date September 2, 1916 - September 6, 1916
Location Turtucaia, Romania (now Tutrakan, Bulgaria)
Result Central Powers victory
Belligerents
Bulgaria Kingdom of Bulgaria

 German Empire

Romania Kingdom of Romania
Commanders
Gen. Panteley Kiselov Gen. Constantin Teodorescu
Strength
28 battalions:
55,000
19 battalions (initially):
39,000
31 battalions (end phase)
Casualties and losses
Dead or wounded:
7,350[1]
8,000[2]
Dead or wounded:
6,160
7,500[3]
16,000[2] ;
Taken POW:
480 officers and
22,000[4]
25,000 soldiers[5]
28,000 soldiers[6]

The Battle of Tutrakan or Battle of Turtucaia (Bulgarian: Битка при Тутракан), also referred to as the Tutrakan Epopee (Bulgarian: Тутраканска епопея) in Bulgaria, was a battle during which an outnumbered Bulgarian Central Powers force captured the fortress of Tutrakan (Turtucaia in Romanian) from its Romanian defenders.

The Romanian fortress of Tutrakan was built with the aid of French military engineers after 1913, when the town and the whole of Southern Dobruja was annexed by Romania. It featured 151 cannons and 15 strong points and was commanded by General Constantin Teodorescu. The fortification was regarded as "the second Verdun" because of its alleged impregnability. However, the Romanian troops defending the fortress were almost untrained second-rate conscripts and only 3 battalions were part of the active army. They used obsolete weapons and their artillery was compared to a "museum" by witnesses.

The Bulgarian 4th division and one brigade of the 1st division, under General Panteley Kiselov, aided by a column of German troops led by Major Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord (whose role was limited to capturing the strong point 2), stormed the fortress in the morning of 5 September, with the Bulgarian artillery opening fire (using 105 mm leichte Feldhaubitze 16, Howitzer) at 6:30 AM and the troops attacking at 8:20 AM. Five strong points were gradually taken during the day, while the Romanians were reinforced by 15 infantry battalions and three batteries from Bucharest.

The attack was renewed on 6 September and the Bulgarian forces entered Tutrakan at around 4:00 PM, completely seizing the town a half an hour later and capturing two flags, 450 officers, more than 28,000 soldiers, 151 cannons and all of the infantry's weapons. However, during the offensive the Bulgarians lost several thousands of soldiers, including many officers, due to General Kiselov's decision to put the commanding officers in front of the subordinate soldiers.

The monument of Tutrakan Battle by Hristo Mitev

Notes

  1. ^ Ген. Никола Недев, България в Световната война 1915-1918, София 2001, с. 80
  2. ^ a b According to Zagoritz Тутраканска епопея
  3. ^ According to Romanian sources Тутраканска епопея
  4. ^ Dragoş Băldescu, "Bătălia de la Turtucaia (1916)", Colecţionarul Român, 24.12.2006
  5. ^ Glenn E. Torrey, "The Battle of Turtucaia (Tutrakan) (2-6 September 1916): Romania's Grief, Bulgaria's Glory"
  6. ^ Constantin Kiriţescu, "Istoria războiului pentru întregirea României: 1916-1919", vol. I, pag. 398

References

  • Stefanov, Stefan (5 September 2006). "'Impregnable' fortress falls after 33 hours" (in Bulgarian). Dneven Trud. p. 18.  
  • Constantin Kiriţescu, "Istoria războiului pentru întregirea României: 1916-1919", 1922
  • Тутраканската епопея

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Battle of Tutrakan
Part of Romanian Campaign (World War I)
Date September 2, 1916 - September 6, 1916
Location Turtucaia, Romania (now Tutrakan, Bulgaria)
Result Decisive Bulgarian victory
Belligerents
Kingdom of Bulgaria

 German Empire

Kingdom of Romania
Commanders and leaders
Gen. Panteley Kiselov Gen. Constantin Teodorescu
Strength
31 battalions:
55,000
19 battalions (initially):
39,000
36 battalions (end phase)
Casualties and losses
Dead or wounded:
7,350[1]
8,000[2]
Dead or wounded:
6,160
7,500[3]
16,000[2] ;
Taken POW:
480 officers and
22,000[4]
25,000 soldiers[5]
28,000 soldiers[6]

The Battle of Tutrakan or Battle of Turtucaia (Bulgarian: Битка при Тутракан), also referred to as the Tutrakan Epopee (Bulgarian: Тутраканска епопея) in Bulgaria, was the opening battle of the first Central Powers's offensive during the Romanian Campaign of World War I. The battle lasted for five days and ended with the capture of the fortress of Tutrakan (Turtucaia in Romanian) and the surrender of its Romanian defenders.

Contents

Background

By August of 1916 the Central Powers found themselves in an increasingly difficult military situation - in the West the German offensive at Verdun had turned into a costly battle of attrition, in the East the Brusilov Offensive was crippling the Austro-Hungarian Army , in the South too the Italian Army was increasing the pressure on the Austro-Hungarians and generals Sarrail's forces were preparing to undertake a major offensive against the Bulgarian Army.

The Romanian government asserted that the moment was right for it to fulfill the country's national ambitions by aligning itself with the Entente and declaring war on the Austro-Hungarian Empire on 27 of August 1916. Three Romanian armies invaded Transilvania through the Carpathians pushing back the much smaller Austro-Hungarian First Army. In a short time the Romanians occupied Orsova, Petrosani, Brasov and reached Sibiu on their way to the river Mures, the main objective of the offensive.

In response the German Empire declared war on Romania on 27 of August and was followed in this example by Bulgaria on 1 of September. On the very next day the Bulgarian Third Army initiated the first Central Powers's major offensive of the campaign by invading Southern Dobrudja.

Origins and State of the Fortress

Originally a Roman fort, during the reign of emperor Diocletian it developed into one of the largest strongholds of the Danubian limes. In the 7th century it became part of the Bulgarian Empire until the latter was subjugated by the Ottoman Empire in the late 14th century. When the Ottomans entered their period of stagnation and decline they were forces to rely on the Danube as their main defensive barrier on the Balkans. The enormous length of the river however proved an insufficient defense against the armies of the Russian Empire which crossed it several times in its lower stretch, during the numerous Russo-Ottoman Wars. To counter this constant threat the Ottoman military created the fortified quadrilateral Ruse-Silistra-Varna-Shumen hopping to prevent any invaders from crossing the Balkan Mountains and threatening Constantinople. Tutrakan was situated on the northern side of the quadrilateral, on a stretch where the Danube was narrow and opposite to the mouth of the navigable river Argeş. This made it an excellent spot for a crossing and prompted the Ottomans to fortify and keep a large garrison in it.

With the liberation of Bulgaria after the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878) Tutrakan formed an integral part of the country. The Bulgarian national ambitions were directed in general towards Macedonian and Thrace and the defense of the Danube was neglected. As a result of the Second Balkan War Tutrakan and the entire Southern Dobrudja were ceded to Romania in 1913.

The Romanian General Staff immediately took measures to strengthen the defenses of the town as it was to serve as a tête-de-pont) in a war with Bulgaria. The intensive construction work lasted for more than two years under the guidance of Belgian military engineers[7]. The surrounding terrain was favorable for a bridgehead as the heights overlooking the town were a plateau - 7 to 10 kilometers wide, raising to 113 meters over the level of the Danube at their highest point and surrounded by numerous wide ravines[8].

The basic defense consisted of three concentric lines of trenches anchored on the river. The most forward of these however were small outpost designed for surveillance, only to the west around the village of Staro Selo the fortifications where of a more extensive character.


The main defensive line was constructed on the very edge of the plateau in order to keep the enemy artillery away from any bridge that could be build to Tutrakan. The line stretched for almost 30 kilometers and had as its heart 15 "centers of resistance" or forts numbered from one to 15 and baring the names of local settlements - "Tutrakan", "Staro Selo", "Daidur", "Sarsanlar" etc. Each of these incorporated two shelters for 50 to 70 soldiers, with their roofs supported by iron rails or wooden boards on top of which a 2 meter earth layer was laid . Their profile was also low as the construction raised only about 60 centimeters over its surrounding terrain. Thus the forts were capable of ensuring reasonable protection but only against field artillery shells[8]. The distance between the individual forts varied from 1,2 to 2,2 kilometers and could be covered with rifle or machine gun from them. Nevertheless the forts were linked through series of shallow trenches and machine gun nests that were in turn connected through communication trenches to the rear of the main defensive line. The "centers of resistance" were well protected by barbed wire obstacles that reached a width of 10 to 15 meters but where placed some 50 meters away from the firing line and thus could not be defended with hand grenades. 100 meters in front of the main line the Romanian also constructed three rows of pitfalls and barbed wire that ran continuously from fort 15 to fort 3[9]. Most of the artillery was also placed in the main defensive line but more trenches with machine guns and artillery pieces were placed on the nearby islands of the Danube in order to support the Romanian Danube Flotilla that was tasked with providing artillery cover on the western approaches of the fortress[8].

Some four kilometers from the main defensive line and 3 kilometers from Tutrakan itself laid the secondary defensive line of the fortress. It consisted of a single line of trenches with few prepared machine gun nests, artificial obstacles and no artillery at all. The Romanian command had its attention focuses entirely on the main defensive line, completely neglecting this secondary line.

For command purposes the entire area of the fortress was divided into three sectors:I(west), II(south) and III(east), also named after local villages - Staro Selo, Daidur and Antimovo. Each of them had its own commander[7].

The Garrison

The defense of the Danube and Dobrudja frontiers were entrusted to the Romanian Third Army under the command of general Mihail Aslan, who had his headquarters in Bucharest. The fortress of Tutrakan was entrusted to the commander of the Romanian 17th Infantry Division general Constantin Teodorescu who by the beginning of the conflict had the following forces at his disposal:

17th Infantry Division (Teodorescu)

18th Infantry Brigade
  • 36th Infantry Regiment
  • 76th Reserve Regiment
39th Infantry Brigade
  • 40th Infantry Regiment
  • 79th Reserve Regiment
  • one company of boarder guards
  • one cavalry squadron
  • four militia battalions
  • one pioneer company

The battle strength was 19 battalions with over 20,000 men and 66 machine guns. Only three of the battalions were of the standing army with the rest drawn from the reserve. A valuable asset for the garrison was the assistance of the Romanian Danube Flotilla.

General Teodorescu could also rely on a large artillery park consisting by the end of August of over 157 artillery pieces of various caliber. Most of these were fixed guns with a caliber ranging from 7.5 to 21 centimeters but the vast majority were not quick-firing guns[10]. The trench artillery consisted of numerous small caliber turret guns while the mobile horse drawn artillery had 23 guns and 8 of those were quick-firing[9]. On the Western Sector the troops also benefited from the guns of the Danube Flotilla. Almost all of the artillery was deployed in the main defensive line but especially the fixed artillery was positioned in a such a way that made it very difficult for all the guns to concentrate their fire on a single spot[9]. The artillery was distributed in equal quantities among the sectors, leaving no reserve at all. Compounding these difficulties was the fact that the guns in most cases were firing from platforms which meant their position could not be shifted[9].

The garrison of Tutrakan was linked to Oltenita, which laid across the Danube, with a submerged telephone cable and to the Third Army headquarters with a wireless telegraph station. Despite this it remained relatively isolated from the nearest Romanian units in Dobrudja - the 9th division was almost 60 kilometers to the east in Silistra, the 19th Division and 5th Cavalry brigade were 100 kilometers to the south-east, around Dobrich[7]. The Romanian 16th, 20th, 18th Infantry and 1st Cavalry divisions were all on the left bank of the Danube and could be used to reinforce the fortress if needed.

In general, despite some of the defense's defects the Romanian command was convinced in the strength and ability of the fortress to hold on against major enemy attacks and it was often referred to as "the second Verdun" or "Verun of the East"[8]. This comparison was not entirely without justification as 150 of the major European fortresses had forts of the same type as those around Tutrakan e.g. Liege had 12, Przemyśl had 15 and Verdun itself had 23[8] .

The Attackers

For the protection of their Danube frontier the Bulgarians had activated their Third Army as early as September 1915. Its commander lieutenant general Stefan Toshev had almost one year to prepare its troops in material and moral sense and when the Romanian intentions became clear in the middle of 1916 the Third Army became a priority for the Bulgarian high command which greatly reinforced it.

Since the end of August the army was subordinated to Army Group Mackensen headquarters that were transferred from the Macedonian Front specifically to coordinate and conduct the offensive against Romania under the overall command of field marshal August von Mackensen[7]. By 1 of September the Third Army had concentrated 62 infantry battalions, 55 artillery batteries and 23 cavalry squadrons on the Dobrudja frontier in preparation for the impending offensive'[11]. For operations against the Tutrakan fortress general Toshev planned to use the left wing of his army which had the following composition:

4th Preslav Infantry Division (Kiselov)

1st Infantry Brigade (Ikonomov)
  • 7th Preslav Infantry Regiment(4)
  • 31st Varna Infantry Regiment(4)
3rd Infantry Brigade (Kmetov)
  • 19th Shumen Infantry Regiment(4)
  • 48th Infantry Regiment(3)
  • 47th Infantry Regiment(2)
4th Artillery Brigade (Kukureshkov)
  • 15th Artillery Regiment(6)
  • 5th Artillery Regiment(6)
  • 2nd Heavy Artillery Regiment(2)
  • 3rd Howitzer Regiment(2)
  • 4th Pioneer Battalion

1/1st Infantry Brigade (Nedialkov)

  • 1st Sofia Infantry Regiment(4)
  • 6th Turnovo Infantry Regiment(4)
  • 4th Artillery Regiment(6)
  • 1st Howitzer Regiment(3)
  • 1st Pioneer Battalion

German-Bulgarian Detachment (von Hammerstein from 4 of Sept.)

  • 1/21st German Infantry Battalion
  • 5th March Regiment(3)
  • 5th Opalchenie Regiment(2)
  • 6th Uhlan Regiment
  • 105th German Heavy Howitzer Battery
  • 1/201st German Field Battery
  • two not quick firing 8.7 cm batteries
Kiselov with his chief of staff Lt. Col. Noykov.]]

The battle strength of these forces consisted of 31 infantry and reserve battalions, 29 batteries and 7 squadrons or a total of around 55,000 men with 132 artillery pieces and 53 machine guns[8] [12]. This ensured the initial numerical superiority of the attackers both in men and fire power but most of the Bulgarian units, with the notable exception of the 1st Brigade of the 1st Sofia Infantry Division, didn't have direct combat experience as they didn't take part in the Serbian Campaign. They had however profited from recent improvements in the Bulgarian Army including the addition of more machine gun companies and heavy artillery as well as improved communications and logistical support[7].

The Bulgarian and German artillery consisted of modern quick firing howitzer, field or long guns that varied in caliber from 7.5 to 15 centimeters. Unlike the Romanians however the Bulgarians and Germans could not rely on supporting fire from their allied Danube monitors because the Austro-Hungarian Danube Flotilla had been bottled up in the Persina channel by passive and active Romanian measures[7]. For reconnaissance, observation and directing of the artillery fire the invading forces had also deployed a balloon and several aircraft.

Initially general Toshev retained direct control over the left wing of his army but as the battle progressed it was realized that a common command on the battlefield itself was needed and general Panteley Kiselov, the commander of the 4th Preslav Division, was placed in charge of all forces operating against Tutrakan. While retaining the control of his division he didn't receive any additional staff which created problems with the coordination of the forces. Nonetheless general Kiselov and his chief of staff lieutenant colonel Stefan Noykov were rated excellent officers by the Germans and represented the top divisional leadership in the Third Army[7].

The Bulgarian government took great care in assisting the preparations of the operations and declared war on Romania on 1 of September - five days after the German government, a move that had initially caused a great deal of concern in the German high command.

Strategic Planning

The Bulgarian Plan

.]] On 28 of August field marshal Mackensen issued his first directive to the Bulgarian Third Army, ordering it to prepare for a decisive advance aimed at seizing the vital crossing points on the Danube in Southern Dobrudja. This envisaged the simultaneous attack and capture of both Tutrakan and Silistra by the 4th and 1st divisions[13]. Though general Toshev began deploying the forces as required by the field marshal he was deeply opposed to dividing them in two and attacking both fortresses. On 31 of August both men met at the Gorna Oryahovitsa train station to exchange thoughts on the details of the operation. Relying on his better intelligence on the Romanian forces in Dobrudja and the state of their fortifications the general managed to convince the field marshal to prioritize the capture of Tutrakan over that of Silistra and concentrate all available forces for that purpose alone. On the same day Toshev presented a detailed plan for the assault according to which the army will be ready to advance on 2 of September with its left wing against the tête-de-pont while the 3/1 Infantry Brigade moved in the directon of Silistra to cover its flank. The right wing of the army consisted of the 6th Infantry Division and the Varna Garrison was to advance against Dobrich and Balchik with the 1st Cavalry Division linking it to the left wing. On the next day von Mackensen approved the plan with minor adjustments requiring the 2/1 Infantry Brigade to be kept as reserve for the defense of the right flank of the forces attacking Tutrakan. After receiving the field marshal's sanction the staff of the Third Army moved to Razgrad from where it could coordinate the final preparations for the offensive[14].

On 1 of September von Mackensen received a telegram from the new Chief of the German General Staff von Hindenburg informing him that German and Austro-Hungarian build up in Transilvania would be completed no sooner than the second half of September while the forces that were already deployed would be able only to defend their positions against the advancing Romanians. Von Hindenburg and the Bulgarian commander in chief general Zhekov then both confirmed the orders of the Bulgarian Third Army to advance into Dobrudja in order to draw and defeat as many Romanian and Russian forces as possible, stressing the importance of a rapid success for the entire Romanian Campaign[15].

The Romanian Plan

The Romanian plan, or the so called Hypothesis Z, required most of the countries forces to invade Transilvania while its almost 150,000-strong Third Army assumed a defensive stance along the Danube and Dobrudja frontiers for ten days. Thereafter, the southern forces would attack from the Dobrudja into Bulgaria with the expected assistance of general Zayonchkovski's Russian Army Corps and establish a tenable position on the Ruse-Shumen-Varna line, thus providing the northern armies operational freedom [16].

The Russians crossed the Danube on schedule and concentrated around Cobadin. On 31 of August general Aslan subordinated the 19th Romanian Infantry Division, which was deployed in Dobrich, and created the Eastern Operations Group under the command of general Zayonchkovski. The Romanians decided to defend both Tutrakan and Silistra along with the entire Dobrudja frontier in order to ensure themselves appropriate conditions for their future drive into Bulgaria. General Aslan realized that his forces were too dispersed for this task and ordered the Russians to deploy closer to the fortresses but general Zayonchkovski thought that he should concentrate his corps first at Dobrich and then if the conditions allowed move towards Tutrakan and Silistra. Thus valuable time was lost in solving this question and the Russian corps began moving south on the 3 of September[17].

The Battle

Encirclement of Tutrakan (2-4 of September)

Early in the morning of 2 of September the Bulgarians Third Army crossed the Romanian boarder along its entire length and its left left wing began closing on the fortress. Colonel Kaufman's German-Bulgarian detachment advanced against Sector I(west) of the fortress pushing back the weak Romanian vanguards and taking up positions to the east of the village of Turk Smil were they were halted by strong Romanian artillery fire from the Danube Flotilla and batteries on the Danube islands. The 4th Preslav Division, that was to deliver the main attack, attacked in Sector II(South) and overrun the Romanian outposts. The Romanian soldiers retreated so fast that none of them were captured[18]. The division advanced between 15 and 23 km and reached within 2.7 kilometers of the main defensive line of the fortress while managing to shorten its front from 20 to 10 kilometers[17]. Meanwhile in Sector III(east) the Bulgarian 1/1 Infantry Brigade met no resistance at all as the Romanian commander pulled his troops behind the main defensive line even before they came under attack[19].

By the evening of the first day the Romanians had abandon almost their entire preliminary line of defense in favor of the main(second) defensive line. From there they carried on putting up a continuous rifle fire supported by occasional artillery fire throughout the night of 2-3 of September - wasting ammunition in an attempt to frighten off the attackers[19], despite that the Bulgarian units were out of range[17]. The Romanian command itself was slow to react to the developing situation. General Aslan remained in Bucharest and ordered general Zayonchkovski to approach the Bulgarian frontier with his forces but the order remained unfulfilled. It was eventually executed but with great delay. Attempts were also made to send reinforcements from the reserve around the capital but they too were delayed because of the general confusion and congestion that accompanied the Romanian mobilization[20].

On 3 of September the Bulgarians began consolidating their positions. To do this more effectively the German-Bulgarian detachment was ordered to take height 131, west of Staro Selo where it would build the staging ground for the assault of the Romanian forts in Sector II(West). The defenders here were relatively well entrenched and protected by rows of barbed wire while the attackers had to advance through an open field with their flanks exposed to fire from the Romanian monitors and some of the trenches[21]. The direction leading to the Romania positions further south around the village of Senovo was more accessible because of the numerous low hills that could provide cover for the advancing infantry. That is why colonel Kaufman decided to divide his detachment in three columns( commanded by colonel Vlahov, major von Hamerstein and colonel Drazhkov) and useone of them in an attempt to attack towards Senovo while the remaining groups cooperated with it. At about 5 AM colonel Vlahov's forces advanced and initially met little resistance but gradually the Romanian fire intensified and the Bulgarian column was exposed to flanking fire from the main defensive line. Some of the soldiers reached the barbed wire but were unable to go through. At noon the units were ordered to dig in on the positions they had reached and colonel Vlahov requested reinforcements but he was denied any. At the same time the Romanian were beginning to conduct counter attacks which forced the colonel to order the troops to retire to about 300 meters from the barbed wire and dig in[21]. The advance of major von Hamerstein was met with strong rifle and monitor fir and achieved little, his artillery managed to drive some of the defenders from their trenches but this was not used by the attackers. Colonel Drazhkov meanwhile repelled few Romanian attempted flanking attacks but his advance was stalled by strong artillery fire at about 50 meters from the Romanian barbed wire. In general the attackers in this sector suffered around 300 casualties[22] but did not achieve their objectives and had to wait until the next day as darkness settled over the battlefield.

After a rainy night the 4th Preslav Division used the 3 of September to approach the barbed wire of the main defensive line in Sector II by driving away the Romanian patrols, taking Daidur and reposition its heavy artillery. In the process the division repelled several Romanian counter attacks, while sustaining light casualties. The situation was the same in Sector III where the 1/1 Infantry Brigade managed to close in on the main defensive line without opposition.

The Romanian situation was gradually deteriorating as general Teodorescu was forced to respond to request from the commanders of sectors I and III for reinforcements by sending them his last reserves. This directions however were secondary in the Bulgarian plan as the main attack was to be delivered in Sector II. Despite the pessimistic reports of Teodorescu the Romanian high command retained its hopes that the fortress would hold until it is relieved by other Romanian and Russian forces advancing from the east, or that the garrison would be able to break the encirclement and retreat to Silistra[20]. On 3 of September the first attempts to assist Tutrakan was made by the Romanian soldiers on the right wing of the Bulgarian Third Army but they were defeated by the Bulgarian 1st Cavalry Division at the villages of Kochmar and Kara Pelit, where a brigade of the Romanian 19th suffered 654 killed or wounded and 700 captured. By the next day however the number of captured had increased to 1035, as reported by the Bulgarian officers in Kutbunar who was tasked with escorting and redistributing the prisoners of war to the interior of Bulgaria[23] .

At about 11 AM on 3 of September general Toshev, after having exchanged thoughts with general Kiselov, issued Order No17 for the attack of Tutrakan on the next day. According to it the commander of the 4th division was to assume control over all forces operating against the fortress and determine the exact hour of the infantry attack, after the preliminary artillery barrage had inflicted sufficient damage. Major von Hammerstein and his group were to attack and take fort 2 in Sector II(West), the main attack was to be delivered by the 4th Division against forts 5 and 6 in Sector II(South) and finally the 1/1 Brigade had to capture fort 8 in Sector III(East). For the protection of he right flank of these forces general Toshev assigned the remaining two brigades of the 1st Sofia Infantry division, that were to monitor the activities of the Romanian in Silistra[24]. When general Kiselov received this order, an hour latter, he began preparing for the attack making some correction to the prescribed battle plan. Forts 5 and 6 where now to be attacked only by the Kmetov Brigade while the Ikonomov Brigade was directed against fort 7. All the heavy artillery was placed under the commander of the 2nd Heavy Regiment colonel Angelov who was to execute the planned artillery barrage from 9 AM. The infantry was to approach within around 150 meters and wait for the barrage to end. Colonel Angelov however felt that the intelligence on the Romanian positions was insufficient and that the Bulgarian batteries needed better positioning so he asked the attack to be postponed for the 5 of September. In addition the communication with the group of von Hammerstein was weak and the two German minenwerfer companies that were crucial for the advance in that sector needed more time to position themselves. This convinced general Kiselov to delay the attack.

Thus the 4 of September was spent in additional preparation for the attack. Only in Sector I von Kaufman's detachment had to finish the attack on height 131 which it had started the previous day and secure the staging ground for the assault of fort 2. This objective was achieved early in the morning with relative ease as most of the Romanian defenders had retired to the main defensive line. That day field marshal Mackensen recalled von Kaufman to Byala and the German - Bulgarian detachment was placed under the command of major von Hammerstein[25].

On this day the Romanians were almost inactive. General Teodorescu continued sending pessimistic and even desperate reports to the Romanian high command and asking for reinforcements. This time his consideration were not neglected and the 10th and 15th divisions, that represented the army's strategic reserve, were ordered to move south towards Oltenita - the first to guard the river shore and the latter to prepare to cross the Danube and assist the garrison in Tutrakan. These were seventeen battalions from the Romanian 34th, 74th, 75th, 80th regiments plus one battalion from the 84th Regiment and 2 battalions from the 2nd Boarder Regiment supported by 6 artillery batteries[26]. The new fresh troops allowed the Romanians to gain numerical superiority over the Bulgarians but once again they were delayed on their way and would arrive gradually on the battlefield thus reducing their impact on the overall course of the battle[27]. The first reinforcements crossed th Danube late in the afternoon and during the night on 4 of September. When they stepped on the southern shore however they were immediately sent to strengthen the different sectors with no regard for the direction of the main Bulgarian attack or for the establishment of a sufficient reserve.

Fall of the Fortress (5-6 of September)

First Day

By the 5th of September the Garrsion had been able to strengthen some parts of the main defensive line with the help of the newly arriving reinforcements. In Sector I forts 1 to 5 were guarder by nine and a half battalions chiefly from the Romanian 36th Infantry regiment stiffened with battalions from the 40th, 75th and 80th infantry regiments, as well as four companies from 48th and 72nd militia battalions. Sector II however was reinforced with 4 battalions of the 74th and 75th regiments to a total of 8 battalions only after the attack had started. Sector III too was reinforces as the assault developed by various infantry, militia and boarder units until it reached a strength of 14 battalions. The initial reserve of the fortress had been spent on reinforcing the lines and only on 5 of September a small reserve of one infantry and one boarder battalion as well as an additional infantry company was formed by newly arrived reinforcements.

Thus in the decisive Sector II the Bulgarians were able to secure a substantial numerical superiority during the initial phase of the assault:

Forces in Sector 2 [28]
Men/Material QuantityRatioDensity
BulgarianRomanianBulgarianRomanianBulgarianRomanian
Battalions 942.25131.3
Cannons 80571.4185.7
Machine Guns 121711.445.7
Squadrons1---0.3-
Combatants18,0006,3002.716,0002,100

At 5:30 a Bulgarian observation balloon pulled by an automobile ascended to the sky to direct the planned barrage. Exactly an hour latter colonel Angelov gave the order for the preliminary artillery bombardment to begin. The cannons concentrated their fire on the forts and obstacles between them and at 7:40 AM the observation post at Daidur reported that groups of Romanian soldiers were leaving forts 5 and 6, making their way through the communication trenches leading to the rear. The Romanian batteries tried to respond but the effort was not well coordinated or pointed at the heavy batteries of the attackers and their fire ceased immediately after the Bulgarians opened fire at them. The 15 cm Romanian guns were also saving on their ammunition. The power of the Bulgarian barrage even deceived general Teodorescu in believing that it was executed by 30.5 cm cannons, when in fact there were none. By 8:00 am three out of four fortress batteries in Sector II had their fire suppressed or were destroyed which forced general Teodorescu to send the 1/5 Howitzer Section to the area. It took up position behind fort 8 without being noticed by the Bulgarians.

At the same colonel Angelov informed major general Kiselov and lieutenant colonel Noykov that in his opinion the artillery had achieved sufficient results for the infantry to begin its advance. The general was not entirely convinced but as the artillery barrage was supposed to continue while the infantry was approaching the line he ordered the commanders of the 3/4, 1/4 and 1/1 infantry brigades to begin the attack and all officers to make an example by personally leading their men in the assault. Latter this order was also received by von Hammerstein and the commander of the 47 Infantry Regiment.

According to the plan the brigade of colonel Kmetov attacked forts 5 and 6 defended by the Romanian 79th Infantry Regiment. The 19th Shumen Regiment divided in two groups and supported by the 48th Regiment prepared to descend along a slope directly facing the Romanian fortifications to the bottom of the ravine in front of the Daidur village. As soon as the infantry began advancing it was met with strong rifle and machine gun fire supported by the smaller caliber Romanian turret guns that had survive. The Bulgarian field and heavy artillery provided little direct support as it had concentrated its fire on Romanian batteries behind the defensive line but still. Assisted by covering fire from its machine guns the brigade managed to reach the first obstacles in front of the main defensive line by 10:30 am and the infantry rushed them and the barbed wire through passages made by the pioneers under heavy fire. Half an hour latter the 1/19 battalion and part of the 3/48 battalion, that were part of the brigade's right group, captured fort 6 and the trenches to the east of it[29]. The left group was temporarily held up by Romanian fire but by 12:30 it had driven out the Romanian soldiers out of the trenches and achieved complete control of the main defensive line in that part of the sector. After the fall of forts 6 and 5 Bulgarians continued pursuing the retreating defenders until 16:00 and advanced 2 kilometers to the north of the main defensive line. That day the Kmetov brigade captured 250 soldiers, 4 heavy batteries, six 53 mm turret guns and many rifles while its artillery had fired 2,606 shells. both Romanian and Bulgarian infantry losses were heavy with the 19th Shumen Regiment suffering 1,652 cassualties[30].

To the east of the 3/4 brigade was the Ikonomov brigade tasked with the capture of fort 7. Its 7th Preslav and 31st Varna had managed to reach within 600 meters of the line's artificial obstacles during the night before the 5 of September. At about 8:00 after the order was received the infantry advanced but was again met with strong fire from the Romanians albeit their artillery was not as effective because the Bulgarian heavy guns were suppressing its fire. At 9:30 the forward units were forced to halt and take cover some 200 meters from the obstacles. This was partially a result of the shifting of the positions of the Bulgarian artillery, as the 1/15 artillery section had been ordered to move forward in direct support of the advancing infantry. The section took up new positions on a ridge east of Daidur at 9:20 at immediately opened fire on the trenches around forts 6 and 7. This allowed the unharmed officers of the 31st Regiment to prepare the assault of the fort. At 10:30 the infantry rushed the obstacles and began advancing on the slope leading to fort 7 under the heavies fire the defenders could deliver at this point. The Bulgarians however managed to enter the fort and its neighboring trenches where they were engaged in a costly close quarter battle with the bayonet and were sometimes exposed to friendly fire from their artillery. By 11:20 the Romanian had been completely expelled but with its commander wounded and its units were disorganized the 31st Regiment didn't pursue and was content with firing on the retreating defenders from the trenches.

The 7th Preslav Regiment meanwhile had been faced with stronger Romanian fire and was able to advance at about 12:00 when its commander colonel Dobrev personally led the assault against a fortification that was unknown to the Bulgarians and was considered to be fort 8 but in fact was one of the so called subcenters of defense that were situated in the gaps between the forts. Many of the defenders had retreated from the line and those who remained were capture. Parts of the regiment continued to pursue beyond the main defensive line until 13:35 when colonel Dobrev ordered the units to halt. When it was realized that this was not for 8 he also ordered the infantry to try and cut the retreat routes of that fort but the Romanians managed to prevent this with artillery fire.

So by the afternoon of the 5 of September the forts of the main defensive line in Sector II had fallen in the hands of the attackers[31]. The Romanian 79th Regiment that defended the sector was practically destroyed as it was left with only 400 effectives[7] and suffered 46 officers and 3,000 soldiers killed or wounded[32]. The newly arriving Romanian battalions were unable to prevent this and were forced to prepared the defense of the secondary defensive line together with the remnants of the 79th Regiment. In this they were assisted by the unpreparedness of the Bulgarian units to advance through the thick forest behind the main defensive line as they were too mixed and disorganized.

In Sector III the artillery bombardment began at 6:55 and by 8:15 had achieved considerable success in damaging the Romanian fortifications and forcing some of the defenders to flee to the rear and the Danube[33][34]. The 1st and 6th Bulgarian regiments advanced through a large corn field that made their movement almost undetectable and by 11:30 reached the plateau north of Antimovo. Only now the Romanians in forts 8 and 9 spotted them and opened fire and halted temporarily the Bulgarians. Colonel Nedialkov who was with the supporting units immediately ordered part of the artillery to move forward and directly support the infantry. Following this the 1st Sofia Regiment and the neighboring 4/6 battalion rushed the barbed wire and with the help of the crossed it without difficulty. This and the breakthrough achieved by the 4th Preslav Division to the west caused the wavering Romanian soldiers to abandon their trenches and retreat to the rear and by 13:30 the surrounding trenches of fort 8 had fallen. The fort itself was taken simultaneously by parts of the 1st and 7th regiments[35]. After these successes the brigade was directed to conquer the remaining parts of the Eastern Sector with forts 9, 10, 11 and 12. Meeting little resistance, as the arriving Romanian reinforcements were often caught up by retreating units and joined them, the forces accomplished this task and by 21:30 reached the shore of the Danube and completed the isolation of the fortress[7].

Unlike in the other sectors the attack in Sector I was delayed considerably as major Hammerstein gave orders to the three groups oh his detachment to prepare for the attack of fort 2 in 9:35[36]. He also desired a prolonged artillery bombardment to better secure the advance of the infantry. So it was only at 14:30 when the guns concentrated their fire on the fort itself and the major gave the order for the first and second groups to attack. Despite the artillery fire they faced the Bulgarians and Germans advanced with relative ease as the Romanians, despite their large number, soon began retreating and even fleeing in panic to Tutrakan. Around 13:00 general Teodorescu ordered the commander of the sector to retreat from forts 2, 3, 4 and 5 which were latter captured by the attackers[37]. By the end of the day only fort 1 was still in Romanian hands as it had powerful artillery cover from the Danube monitors and batteries on the left bank of the river.

Thus by the evening of the 5 of September the entire main defensive line(save two forts) had fallen along with all of the Romanian fixed artillery and part of the mobile artillery. The Romanian units were so disorganized that a planned counter attack with the new reinforcements from the 15th Division had to be postponed for the next day[38]. The Bulgarian units , especially those of the 4th Infantry Division had also suffered heavy casualties and needed the night for reorganization and better positioning of their artillery.

During the day and the evening general Kiselov was visited for inspection by both general Toshev and colonel Tappan, Mackensen's chief of staff. Both men remained pleased with the results and despite the heavy casualties urged him to carry on with the attack[39][7].

Resumption of the attack

During the night of 5 of September the Romanians established themselves on their much weaker secondary defensive position. General Teodorescu ordered a redeployment of the forces so that 9 battalions were to defend Sector I, 12 battalions Sector II, 2 battalions Sector III and 5 battalions Sector IV while an additional 7 battalions remained in reserve. This order how ever reached the troops only in the morning and the units were not able to execute it.

At around 4:30 am on 6 of Sptember once again the Bulgarian artillery opened fire in sectors I and III. The forces of the Bulgarian 4th division began crossing the large forest that separated the two main and secondary defensive lines. Impressed by the powerful artillery preparation the Bulgarian 7th and 31st infantry regiments advanced rapidly and by 12:30 they had passed through the trenches that had been abandoned by their defenders earlier in the day. At around 15:00 the two regiments of the 1/4 Brigade gathered on the hill overlooking Tutrakan itself. Meanwhile the Kmetov brigade also advance though not as fast and with greater disorganization. Parts of it reached the northern end of the forest at 13:00 and immediately attacked the Romanian trenches but it was only at 15:30 when the trenches were occupied, albeit most of the defenders had already left them due to the success of the 1/4 Brigade and the artillery bombardment. By 17:30 the brigade reached the hill overlooking the town.

The 1/1 Infantry Brigade was ordered to coordinate its actions with the 4th Division and advance against the right flank of the defensive line. While still waiting at about 6:50 the units came under attack by several Romanian battalions who threatened to envelop their flank but were stopped by Bulgarian reinforcements. After this both the 1st and 6th regiments advances and by 11:30 reached within 800 meters of the line. The Romanian defenders were deceived in believing that a Russian column wad advancing from the east to help the encircled fortress[7]. In reality that column were the Bulgarian troops advancing in this sector and as soon as the defenders realized that they started retreating in panic[40]. So the 1/1 Brigade was allowed to reach the vicinity of the town at 17:00.

In Sector I the detachment of major Hammerstein entered the forest at 10:00 where they met very week Romanian vanguards that were swiftly pushed back and in the face of more determined Romanian resistance took fort 1 during the afternoon. The forces than continued advancing until they were lined up next to the 4th Division.

The only way the garrison could be assisted by this point was from outside forces and as early as 5 of September general Aslan ordered the commander of the 9th division general Besarabescu to advance decisively from Silistra and relieve the besieged town[41]. The commander executed this order by leaving 4 battalions in Silistra and sending the remaining 5 battalions, 4 batteries and 2 squadrons to break the siege of Tutrakan. On 6 of September these forces however were met and defeated by the Bulgarian 3/1 Infantry Brigade, that had been ordered to protect the flank of the army, at the village of Sarsanlar, some 18 kilometers to the east of Tutrakan[42][7]. This sealed the fate of its garrison.

With the situation deteriorated rapidly general Teodorescu ordered his men to retreat and if possible try to break the encirclement in the direction of Silistra. At 13:40 he himself boarded a boat to cross the Danube leaving behind thousands of panicked soldiers some of whom tried to follow his example but ended dawning in the river or being hit by artillery fire [7]. The Romanian attempts to break and escape towards Silistra also proved largely unsuccessful in the face of the Bulgarian artillery. As the Bulgarians entered the town most of the defenders began surrendering in large groups . At 15:30 colonel Marasescu, who was now in charge of the garrison, and his senior officers wrote a note to general Kiselov in German and dispatched it to three of the sectors offering the unconditional surrender of the fortress together with all its men and material[43]. At 16:30 one of the truce-bearers reached the Bulgarian 1/31 battalion and was immediately dispatched to colonel Ikonomov who at 17:30 informed, through the telephone, general Kiselov of the note and its content[43]. Kiselov accepted the surrender under that condition that all military personnel gathered on the plateau south of the town's barracks before 18:30[43].

Aftermath

]]

Casualties

The Romanians committed around 39,000 men for the defense of the Tutrakan fortress and over 34,000 of them became casualties. Only between 3,500 and 4,000 managed to cross the Danube or make their way to Silistra[44]. While the number of killed and wounded rose to between six and seven thousand men the vast majority of the garrison - some 480 officers and 28,000 soldiers surrendered or were captured by the Bulgarians[45][46]. The attackers also captured all the military material of the fortress including 62 machine guns and around 150 cannons, including two Bulgarian batteries that were captured by the Romanians during the Second Balkan War. The heaviest fighting was in Sector II where the 79th Regiment, which in general was the unit that resisted the attacks the most, suffered 76% losses - out 4,659 men some 3,576 were killed or wounded[47].

Bulgarian casualties were also heavy. For the entire duration of the battle from 2 to 6 of September they totaled 1,517 killed, 7,407 wounded and 247 missing[48]. Out of these only 93 were killed and 479 wounded between the 2 and 4 of September[48]. Around 82% of the total losses occurred on 5 of of September during the attack of the main defensive line or some 1,249 killed and 6,69 wounded[49]. The heaviest fighting was in Sector II where for example the 7h Preslav Infantry Regiment lost 50% of its officers and 39.7% of the soldiers as killed or wounded. Characteristically almost all of casualties were suffered by the infantry, the heavy artillery had only 2 killed and 7 wounded[48]. German casualties were 5 killed and 29 wounded.

Impact on the Campaign

The rapid fall of Tutrakan and the loss of two Romanian infantry divisions proved to be a surprise with crucial consequences for the entire Romanian Campaign. Most importantly it unnerved the Romanian high command and severely affected the morale of the army and the people. The scale of the defeat forced the Romanians to detach several divisions from their armies in Transilvania, greatly reducing the impetus of the advance there. On 7 September that advance was restricted by the Romanian high command and on 15 September it halted it altogether, even before before the armies had linked up on a defensible front[7]. Major changes were made in the command structure of he forces operating against the Bulgarian Third Army with general Aslan and his chief of staff being sacked and the command of the Romanian Third army being taken over by general Averescu. The Russo-Romanian forces in Dobrudja were also formed in the so called Army of the Dobrogea under general Zayonchkovski.

The speed with which the victory was achieved was so unexpected for the Central Powers that even field marshal Mackensen, who was usually present on the site of important battles, had initially prepared to arrive on the battlefield at Tutrakan several days after the actual capitulation of the fortress. It also boosted the morale of the Bulgarian and their allied soldiers as far away as the Macedonian Front as well as the political circles in Berlin and Vienna. Kaiser Wilhelm, who had been particularly depressed by Romania's entry, celebrated with a champagne party for the Bulgarian representative at the headquarters of the German high command[7]. The suspension of the Romanian offensive in Transylvania, which had threatened to overrun the province, also gave general Falkenhayn enough time to concentrate his force and go on the offensive by the end of September.

Notes

  1. ^ Ген. Никола Недев, България в Световната война 1915-1918, София 2001, с. 80
  2. ^ a b According to Zagoritz Тутраканска епопея
  3. ^ According to Romanian sources Тутраканска епопея
  4. ^ Dragoş Băldescu, "Bătălia de la Turtucaia (1916)", Colecţionarul Român, 24.12.2006
  5. ^ Glenn E. Torrey, "The Battle of Turtucaia (Tutrakan) (2-6 September 1916): Romania's Grief, Bulgaria's Glory"
  6. ^ Constantin Kiriţescu, "Istoria războiului pentru întregirea României: 1916-1919", vol. I, pag. 398
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Glenn E. Torrey (2003)
  8. ^ a b c d e f Petar Boychev (2009) page 4
  9. ^ a b c d Министерство на войната (1939),
  10. ^ Dragoş Băldescu, "Bătălia de la Turtucaia (1916)", Colecţionarul Român, 24.12.2006
  11. ^ Тошев (2007), page 18
  12. ^ Constantin Kiriţescu, "Istoria războiului pentru întregirea României: 1916-1919", vol. I,
  13. ^ Министерство на войната (1939), pp. 326-331
  14. ^ Министерство на войната (1939), pp. 326-331
  15. ^ Министерство на войната (1939), pp. 326-331
  16. ^ Constantin Kiriţescu, "Istoria războiului pentru întregirea României: 1916-1919", vol. I,
  17. ^ a b c Министерство на войната (1939), pp. 363
  18. ^ Glenn E. Torrey (2003)
  19. ^ a b Glenn E. Torrey (2003)
  20. ^ a b Glenn E. Torrey (2003)
  21. ^ a b Министерство на войната (1939), pp. 399
  22. ^ Министерство на войната (1939), pp. 678
  23. ^ Министерство на войната (1939), pp. 451
  24. ^ Министерство на войната (1939), pp. 469
  25. ^ Министерство на войната (1939), pp. 478
  26. ^ Constantin Kiriţescu, "Istoria războiului pentru întregirea României: 1916-1919", vol. I,
  27. ^ Constantin Kiriţescu, "Istoria războiului pentru întregirea României: 1916-1919", vol. I,
  28. ^ Petar Boychev (2009) page 8
  29. ^ Министерство на войната (1939), pp. 536
  30. ^ Министерство на войната (1939), pp. 540
  31. ^ Constantin Kiriţescu, "Istoria războiului pentru întregirea României: 1916-1919", vol. I,
  32. ^ Constantin Kiriţescu, "Istoria războiului pentru întregirea României: 1916-1919", vol. I,
  33. ^ Министерство на войната (1939), pp. 552
  34. ^ Constantin Kiriţescu, "Istoria războiului pentru întregirea României: 1916-1919", vol. I,
  35. ^ Министерство на войната (1939), pp. 556
  36. ^ Министерство на войната (1939), pp. 561
  37. ^ Constantin Kiriţescu, "Istoria războiului pentru întregirea României: 1916-1919", vol. I,
  38. ^ Constantin Kiriţescu, "Istoria războiului pentru întregirea României: 1916-1919", vol. I,
  39. ^ Министерство на войната (1939), pp. 596
  40. ^ Constantin Kiriţescu, "Istoria războiului pentru întregirea României: 1916-1919", vol. I,
  41. ^ Constantin Kiriţescu, "Istoria războiului pentru întregirea României: 1916-1919", vol. I,
  42. ^ Constantin Kiriţescu, "Istoria războiului pentru întregirea României: 1916-1919", vol. I,
  43. ^ a b c Министерство на войната (1939), pp. 668
  44. ^ Constantin Kiriţescu, "Istoria războiului pentru întregirea României: 1916-1919", vol. I,
  45. ^ Министерство на войната (1939), pp. 677
  46. ^ Otu. The Battle of Turtucaia at Radio Romania
  47. ^ Министерство на войната (1939), pp. 680
  48. ^ a b c Министерство на войната (1939), pp. 677
  49. ^ Министерство на войната (1939), pp. 676

References

  • Министерство на войната, Щаб на войската (1938). Българската армия в Световната война 1915 - 1918, Vol. III. Държавна печатница, София. 
  • Glenn E. Torrey, "The Battle of Turtucaia (Tutrakan) (2-6 September 1916): Romania's Grief, Bulgaria's Glory".East European Quarterly, Vol. 37, 2003
  • Boychev, Petar (2009). "The Tutrakan Epic" (in Bulgarian). Военноисторически сборник/MILITARY HISTORICAL COLLECTION. p. 3-14. http://www.vi-books.com/vis/vis9/vis9.23/VS-2,3-2009.pdf. Retrieved 2010-09-13. 
  • Тошев, Стефан (2007). Действията на III армия в Добруджа през 1916 год.. Захарий Стоянов. ISBN 9547399764. 
  • Stefanov, Stefan (5 September 2006). "'Impregnable' fortress falls after 33 hours" (in Bulgarian). Dneven Trud. p. 18. 
  • Constantin Kiriţescu, "Istoria războiului pentru întregirea României: 1916-1919", 1922
  • Тутраканската епопея
  • The Battle of Turtucaia at Radio Romania


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