Outbreak of the war
End of the war

Romania's Entry into the War and Defeat by the Central Powers

Originally, the government in Bucharest was bound to Germany and Austria-Hungary through an alliance treaty from 1883. In reality, however, this agreement continuously diminished in value.

For example, the general staff in Vienna had to recognise that the Romanian executive forces were arresting Austro-Hungarian agents who had been employed against the Romanov Empire, whilst in Transylvania, Galicia and Bucovina they allowed Tsarist spies to work unhindered. Thus, to some extent, Romania had already anticipated the fighting with the Danube Monarchy of the First World War prior to 1914 through a ‘Cold War of the Intelligence Services’.

Before the open exchange of blows between Bucharest and Vienna, and Berlin, signs of serious displeasure were already growing: during the Balkan Wars, Romania adjudged the entering of the Habsburg Empire on the side of Bulgaria as a hostile act. An alliance in a larger armed conflict was now out of the question, especially following the summer of 1914 when Bucharest openly decided to withdraw its support of the Central Powers.

The country’s temporary neutrality was, however, accompanied by domestic controversies, until the pressure from France and Russia eventually increased and the hope for future territorial gains in Transylvania and Bucovina grew more realistic. But just as important were the changed overall conditions since the alliance between Bulgaria and the Central Powers from October 1915 onwards. Romania showed itself willing to consider offers of an alliance with the Entente.

On August 27, 1916 the country finally declared war on Austria-Hungary. However, the Romanian army was not well prepared. The lack of equipment and qualifications, combined with infrastructural deficits, especially the poorly developed rail network, caused many difficulties. After initial successes, the swift conquest of large parts of Transylvania, the offensive came to an abrupt halt. The massive counter-attack launched by German, Austrian-Hungarian and Bulgarian troops pushed the Romanian armed forces on to the defensive.

By the end of 1916, more than half of Romania, including the main city, Bucharest, was in the hands of the Central Powers. King Ferdinand, who had been regent of the Balkans since 1914, had to escape to Iaşi, although the Germans and Austrians did not totally succeed in forcing Romania to its knees.


Hitchins, Keith: Romania 1866–1947, Oxford 1994

Contents related to this chapter


  • Aspect

    Power blocks

    At the start of the war France, Britain and Russia formed the Triple Entente, extending the existing Entente Cordiale between Britain and France. The aim was to curb the ambitions of the German Empire under Wilhelm II to become a major power. Italy joined the war in 1915 on the side of the Entente. On the other side were the Central Powers consisting of the German Empire, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire. In 1917 the USA entered the war on the side of the Entente, marking a decisive turning point that was to lead to the military collapse of the Central Powers.


  • Development

    National attitudes to the war

    The Habsburg Monarchy as a state framework for the smaller nationalities of Central Europe was not seriously questioned before 1914, either internally or externally. With the outbreak of war, representatives of the nationalities initially emphasised their loyalty to the Monarchy’s war aims.