Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Romanian 1st Armored Division

By Phil Gardocki

The 1st Romanian Panzer Division, later known as “Romania Mare”, (“Great Romania”), was built from preexisting motorized components of the Romanian army. Formed in April, 1941, it did not have time to train as a unit before the war with the Soviet Union started.
  • 11,773 men
  • 126 × R-2 (3.7cm guns) light tanks
  • 75 × R-35 (3.7cm guns) light tanks
  • 28 assorted armored cars
  • 12 × 10.4cm Austrian towed cannons
  • 12 × 10cm towed howitzers
  • 12 × 7.5cm towed cannons
  • 12 × 12cm mortars
  • 24 × 6cm mortars
  • 30 × 4.7cm towed antitank guns
  • 30 × 2cm towed antiaircraft guns
  • 583 machineguns
  • 1,002 trucks
  • 124 cars


After the capture of Odessa in 1941, the 1st Panzer was returned to Romania for a refit. It returned to the Soviet Union for the Stalingrad Campaign nearly ten months later. The 2nd Regiment was kept in Romania as a training unit, as its R-35 tanks were too slow for modern combat. The number of trucks was increased and Germany provided a number of Panzer III medium tanks, Panzer IV medium tanks and Pz38t light tanks as well as armored cars, half-tracks and antitank guns.
  • 11,799 men
  • 100 × R-2 (3.7cm guns) light tanks
  • 26 × Pz 35t (3.7cm guns) light tanks
  • 10 × R-3 (PzIII - 5cm guns) medium tanks
  • 10 × R-4 (PzIV - 7.5cm guns) medium tanks
  • 28 × SdKfz 222 armored cars
  • 14 × SdKfz 251 half tracks
  • 12 × 10.4cm Austrian towed cannons
  • 12 × 10cm towed howitzers
  • 12 × 7.5cm towed cannons
  • 12 × 12cm mortars
  • 24 × 6cm mortars
  • 9 × 7.5cm PAK 40 towed antitank guns
  • 9 × 5cm PAK 38 towed antitank guns
  • 72 × 4.7cm towed antitank guns
  • 30 × 2cm towed anti-aircraft guns
  • 749 machineguns
  • 1,156 trucks
  • 135 cars


Most of this combat equipment was lost in the winter of 1942/1943, although the supporting units survived intact. The 1st Romanian Panzer Division then had to wait for replacement equipment to be delivered from Germany and did not see action for more than a year. While the table of organization is known and shown below, it never fought as a division again. Its components were committed by regiments until Romania proper was under assault and then it was split into two detachments.
  • 11,870 men
  • 48 × R-4 (PzIV) medium tanks in April
  • 90 × R-4 (PzIV) medium tanks in August
  • 22 × TA (STGIII—7.5cm guns)
  • 10 × TACAM T-60 (7.62cm guns)
  • 30 × SdKfz 222 armored cars
  • 20 × SdKfz 251 half-tracks
  • 12 × 10.5 FH18 towed howitzers
  • 12 × Skoda M19 10cm towed howitzers
  • 6 × 12cm mortars
  • 14 × 8.1cm mortars
  • 27 × 6cm mortars
  • 28 × 7.5cm Reisita
  • 6 × 5cm PAK 38 towed antitank guns
  • 11 × 4.7cm towed antitank guns
  • 12 × 2.5cm towed anti-aircraft guns
  • 12 × 2cm towed anti-aircraft guns
  • 749 machineguns
  • 780 trucks
  • 140 cars
  • 24 swimwagons (amphibious Volkswagens)
Note: *self-propelled guns

Operational History

The Romanian Army started early with their interest in the motorization of their forces, having their first motorized battalion in 1934 and conducting maneuvers with buses in later years. Romanian industrialization was not heavy and their prewar truck production was limited to a single Ford factory that produced ten vehicles per day. While this plant effectively ceased production when the war started, in later years it provided a cadre of good mechanics to refit captured American vehicles and Soviet T-60 tanks, which had an American designed engine.
On the eve of war, the Romanian Army had only about 3,000 trucks in its inventory. About a third of that was required for its single panzer division, a third for the various motorized elements of the army and the remainder for the supply chain. Compare this to the Red Army starting the war with 272,000 trucks and the Wehrmarcht with just over 1 million.
For prewar tanks, Romania had 76 FT-17's, 126 R-2's, 41 R-35's and a small number of armored fighting vehicles that escaped from Czechoslovakia in 1939. By 1940, an additional 34 French Renault R-35’s “found” their way from Poland into the Romanian inventory.
The First Panzer Division was created from independent motorized and armored components on April 17, 1941, just 2 months before it would go into combat. It was assigned to the Army Group Antonescu, in the Romanian Cavalry Corps (or RCC), which operated under the German 11th Army. Divided into several mobile groups, the division participated in the northern penetrations into Bessarabia, the area the Soviet Union had taken from Romania in 1939. It was during this campaign that the speed deficiencies of the R-35 became obvious. They simply were unable to keep up with any mobile operations and could barely keep up with the advancing infantry. During these operations, the 1st Panzer was used continuously in flank attacks with much success. Bessarabia was liberated by July 26, 1941 and the 1st Panzer went into refit mode for the next two weeks.
Once Romania made the political decision to continue the war into Russia proper, the 1st Romanian Panzer Division attacked into the Red Army’s Odessa pocket. The R-2s took heavy losses, but the slow R-35s, with their heavier armor, were well suited for frontal assaults, although, they suffered a 50% breakdown rate during the course of this operation. The initial attacks on Odessa ended by the end of August and the 1st Panzer was down to 20% of its tanks. The remaining mechanized units were collected together in a battlegroup referred to as the “Eftimiu Mechanized Detachment.” Eftimiu continued to support the reduction of the Odessa pocket, which, for the next month and a half, evolved into an artillery duel between Romanian Army artillery and Soviet Navy ships.
After Odessa fell, the 1st began a ten month refit and retraining period. The 2nd Panzer Regiment, with its slower R-35s, was detached to Romania,and was relegated to a training role. Of the lost R-2s, only 26 were not repairable and, eventually, Germany sent 26 Czech-built Panzer 35ts as replacements for them as well as much other German equipment.
In 1942, the 1st was assigned to the 3rd Romanian Army for the advance through southern Russia. Along with many other refitted and retrained Romanian units, it arrived at the front late in the year, and was not in position until September. The 3rd Army was holding positions west of Stalingrad along the Don River on November 19th when the Soviets began Operation Uranus, and the Soviet Southwestern Front attacked the 3rd Romanian Army.
During the battles, the 1st Panzer engaged a Soviet tank corps, four rifle divisions and a cavalry corps, in conjunction, with the German 22nd Panzer Division (41 tanks) in an effort to at cut off the attackers. When that effort failed and supplies reached critical levels, the division broke out across the Chir River and formed a corridor for the 22nd Panzer Division and the remnants of several Romanian infantry divisions to use to escape.
Despite being down to 28 tanks, the 1st, along with the 22nd Panzer Division, continued to counter attack Soviet bridgeheads across the Chir River. On 2 December, the situation stabilized and other divisions replaced the panzer divisions along the river line. By this time, the 1st was down to 3 tanks and 7,200 men, of whom 6,300 were non-combat troops. They had never advanced to the Don River and thus were never encircled or forced to break out.
The commander of the 1st, General Gherghe, took command of the Romanian 2nd Corps, and the remains of the 1st became known as the “Nistor Detachment,” after the Colonel who took charge of it. Its manpower was bolstered by a security battalion and 20 tanks had been repaired when the Soviets attacked again, penetrated the Chir River, and encircled most of the Romanian 3rd Army. The Nistor Detachment attacked to breakout of the pocket, this time going through the Soviet 1st Guard Mechanized Corps. Once it reached safety, the division was withdrawn to Romania for a major refit. It had managed to keep 40 of its tanks, though most required major repairs. Despite being outnumbered, outmaneuvered, poorly supplied and equipped, it had managed to destroy 150 Soviet tanks during the previous two months.
Almost immediately, there was an effort to rebuild the 1st Panzer. However, all tank deliveries were dependent on Germany, which needed every armored fighting vehicle, so no new tanks arrived for some time. The only tanks in repair were 25 R-2s, 2 R-3s, 2 R-4s, 54 F-17s and 52 R-35s from the 2nd Panzer Regiment. The proud 1st Romanian Panzer Division was relegated to training infantry in anti-tank tactics.
Since the Romanian government would not commit the division to the front without equipment upgrades, Germanywas forced to meet its commitments to supply German equipment. When elements of the 1st Romanian Panzer Division were committed to battle again, in February 1944, its equipment list included a number newly delivered, if used, Panzer IVs and STG-IIIs, which joined the recently rebuilt and converted TACAM T-60s. It fought in defense of the Romanian borders, but never as a full unit. From February to August, several battalions were still refitting in Romania and, during August, the division was split into two separate battle groups.
There was a coup of the Romanian government on August 23rd, 1944 and a ceasefire with Russia became effective on August 25th. At that time the 1st Panzer was surrounded, but still largely intact. When the Germans attempted a counter coup, the 1st was ordered to Bucharest to defend it from Germany, but arrived too late to join the fighting. The counter coup was still put down, and, when the Soviets arrived at Bucharest, they disarmed the 1st Panzer. Only one remnant, then named the “Matei Detachment,” continued on in service with the Soviet 7th Guards Army.

Romanian AFV LIST

FT-17: These were World War One vintage French-built light tanks. Some had
a 3.7cm gun and some had only an 8mm machinegun. Some 76 were imported and they
were primarily used for internal security operations.
Maresal Vanatorul De Care Maresal: The first four weighed 7 tons, had 2cm
of armor and mounted a Soviet 12.2cm L/12 gun. The next two weighed 10 tons, had
2cm of armor and mounted a Romanian-built 7.5cm L/70 Reisita gun. Designed to be
built from indigenous industry, the first 4 were built from captured Soviet equipment
and the remainder from totally Romanian parts. This was an effective design but
it never saw combat.
Pz35t: These were Czechoslovakian built and weighed 10.5 tons, had 2.5cm
armor and a 3.7cm L/45 cm gun. An older design, 26 were acquired from Germany.
R-1: This was the Romanian designation for a Czechoslovakian AH-IV Light
tank. It weighed 4 tons had 1.2cm of frontal armor and armament consisted of a 7.92mm
machinegun. Like the Pz35, all 35 were imported from Germany.
R-2: This was the Romanian designation for a Czechoslovakian Skoda S11 tank.
It weighed 10.5 tons, had 2.5cm of frontal armor and armament consisted of a 3.7cm
L/45 gun. A total of 126 were imported.
R-3: This was the Romanian designation for a Panzer III model M and N. A
German made medium tank, it weighed 23 tons, had 7cm of frontal armor and armament
consisted of a 5cm L/60 gun. Only 11 were imported.
R-4: This was the Romanian designation for a Panzer IV model F to H. A German
made medium tank, it weighed 23 tons, had 5.8cm of frontal armor and armament consisted
of a 7.5cm L/43 or L/48 gun. Some 129 were imported.
Renault R-35: This tank weighed 14 tons, had 4cm of frontal armor and armament
consisted of a 3.7cm gun. A total of 41 were imported from France before the war
and 34 more were acquired from Poland when it fell.
TA: This was the Romanian designation for a German built STG-III. This turretless
tank weighed 26 tons, had 8cm of frontal armor and armament consisted of a 7.5cm
L48 gun. Germany supplied Romania with 108 of these.
TACAM R-2 or Tun Anti Car cu Afet Mobil R-2: This was a self propelled gun,
rebuilt from a S11 tank hull married to captured Soviet armament. It weighed 12
tons, had 2.5cm of frontal armor and mounted a 7.62 L/42 gun. A total of 21 vehicles
were converted.
TACAM T-60 or Tun Anti Car cu Afet Mobil T-60: This was a self propelledgun,
rebuilt from a captured Soviet T-60 tank hull equipped with captured Soviet armament.
It weighed 9 tons, had 3.5cm of frontal armor and mounted a 7.62cm L/51 gun. A total
of 34 vehicles were converted.
TACAM R-35 or Vanatorul De Care R-35: This was a tank destroyer rebuilt using
a R-35 tank hull and captured Soviet armament. It weighed 11.5 tons, had 4cm of
frontal armor and mounted a 4.5cm L/44 gun. Some 30 vehicles were converted.


  1. Thanks for your great information, the contents are quiet interesting.I will be waiting for your next post.Working in Confined Space Equipment Townsville

  2. Your welcome. I won't be writing any more unit histories as they were to support a game, Battlelines. I am still writing Flames of War Battle Reports if you are interested.

  3. Excellent piece of information on a little known subject!

  4. Eternal Glory to the 3rd and 4th Royal Romanian Armies!