Bombing the Romanian Rail Network.

Author:Truxal, Luke

Coordinating an air offensive against a common foe is no easy task for countries that distrust one another. The current air offensive in Syria against the Islamic State by the Russian Federation and the United States has shown the difficulties that can arise in such a campaign. Yet, that does not always have to be the case. In April 1944, the United States and the precursor to the Russian Federation, the Soviet Union, coordinated a successful combined arms offensive against Romania. The air campaign against the Romanian infrastructure served two purposes. First, the Americans wanted to aid the Russian ground offensive by destabilizing Romania and limiting the ability of the Axis to supply their frontline troops engaged with the Red Army. The second objective was to prevent Romania from exporting oil through attacks on both rail lines and mining of the Danube River. Although attacking the Romanian infrastructure did not yield the immediate results that the campaign sought in April 1944, the long term impact of the raids devastated the country, laid the groundwork for a successful invasion of Romania, and prevented the country from exporting its oil to Germany.

On April 8, 1944, the Second Ukrainian Front, under the command of Field Marshal Ivan Konev, moved into action advancing towards Iasi, Romania. Russian forces ran into a strong defensive position held by the Romanian Fourth Army, under the command of General Mikhail Racovita, and the German Eighth Army, under the command of Field Marshal Otto Woehler. After the Russians initially gained ground at Tirgu Frumos, they were soon repelled by a German counter-attack. (1) Konev tried to resume his offensive with an attack on Podu Roaie, but his forces were once again defeated by a staunch German defense. (2) At this point Konev ordered his left wing forward towards the city of Kishinev to seize the city defended by the reconstituted German Sixth Army under the command of, Field Marshal Karl-Adolf Hollidt. The fighting around Kishinev, much like the fighting around Iasi, began with limited Soviet success but was ultimately repulsed by well-coordinated German counter-attacks. (3) Despite the initial setbacks, the Iasi-Kishinev Offensive created an opening for the Americans to provide more direct aid to the Red Army on the Eastern Front.

American attacks against the Romanian infrastructure began before any attempt had been made to coordinate their offensive with the Red Army. On April 5, 1944, American strategic bombers of the Fifteenth Air Force struck the Ploesti marshalling yards that serviced key lines into Moldova. The field order itself stated: "The Ploesti [Marshaling Yard] is key point in rail lines to Moldova. Current tactical situation on Russian Front makes this target an important and active communications center for the Germany Army." (4) After that attack and the Russian offensive into Romania, it soon became apparent to the Americans that an opportunity had presented itself to coordinate their strategic offensive with the Russian ground effort to destabilize Romania economically and prevent the flow of Romanian oil to Germany.

The first discussion about the possibility of waging a joint ground and air offensive against Romania's transportation network began on April 8, 1944. The Americans wanted to exploit the Red Army's invasion of Romania. In a letter to the commander of the United States Strategic Air Forces in Europe, Lieutenant General Carl Spaatz, the commander the of the United States Army Air Forces, General Henry Arnold, stated that the Russians had been pleased with previous air attacks against Romania. Arnold wanted Spaatz to pass onto the Russians that the Americans were making every effort to attack transportation and communications targets in the Balkans when the Fifteenth Air Force was not able to attack targets associated with the Combined Bomber Offensive. (5) Three days later the British Air Ministry sent a message to the American African Headquarters in Algiers detailing the possibilities of attacking civilian transportation targets as a precursor to an invasion of Romania by the Red Army. It noted: "[the] Russian advance in Roumania created [a] chaotic movement south-westwards. This must seriously impede movements of Roumanian troops and of German supplies by rail and road." (6) The document further stated that attacks against Romanian rail centers at Bucharest and Ploesti should receive the highest priority to further impede the movement of Axis forces in the area. (7)

That same day the United States Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall, wired a message to the United States Army representative in Moscow, Major General John Deane. Marshall wrote, "We would like you to inquire of the appropriate Russian officials whether or not they would care to indicate where and when they did not desire activity by U. S. Strategic Air Forces." (8) The commander of the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces, Lieutenant General Ira Eaker, wrote to the commander of the Fifteenth Air Force, Major General Nathan Twining, that Arnold had been pleased with his attacks on the Romanian infrastructure. According to Eaker, Arnold stated that "it [is] of the utmost importance that these attacks be continued to attempt complete interruption of rail traffic even to extent of favoring these targets over Pointblank." (9) Sensing a weakened Romanian state, the Americans sought out the cooperation of the Soviet forces to wage their air war against the Romanian infrastructure.

The initial proposal to coordinate the Anglo-American bombing offensive with the Soviet invasion of Romania was to exchange liaison officers with both the Second Ukrainian Front and the Allied air forces based in Italy. This provided a direct line between Soviet ground commanders and Anglo-American air commanders. British General Henry Maitland Wilson, Supreme Allied Commander Mediterranean, was the first to put forth the idea. He proposed that an "Allied Air Liaison Officer" be attached to Konev's staff. (10) Deane outlined how the system would work. He recalled in his memoirs, "The American concept was simple. We...

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