Introduction: XIXth Century Origins
Following the unification of the principalities of Romania and Wallachia, the Romanian Navy was created by Alexandru Ioan Cuza (ruling Domnitor) on 22 October 1860 as the Flotilla Corps. Officers were then trained at Brest, in France. The first base was at Izmail (Black sea), commanded by an Army colonel, Nicolae Steriade. The base was later moved to 1864 at Brăila and eventually in 1867 at Galați which saw various inffrastructures being added over the years, included drydocks and a Yard that produced Romanian ships and submarines during WW2.
With six modest ships manned by 275 sailors there was nothing more than training for future expansion that can be realistically done. A training school was eventually setup in 1872 at Galați. The first large ship acquired was the steamer Prințul Nicolae Conache Vogoride (1861), converted at Meyer naval shipyard in Linz, then renamed România and commissioned at Galati. She was joined in 1867 by Ștefan cel Mare, the Royal Yacht. However the Navy received its first purpose-ordered warship, the gunboat Fulgerul in 1873, from France. In order to pass through neutral and Turkish waters, she sailed unarmed and was armed at galati by a Krupp gun. She was joined in 1875 by the spar torpedo boat Rândunica.
The gunboat Fulgerul (1873)
1877 to 1914
All these ships took part in the Action off Măcin, part of the 1877-78 War of Independence. For these operations, the tiny fleet sailed under the Russian flag, transporting Russian troops, supplies and equipments across the Danube. In cooperation, the Rândunica sank the Turkish river monitor Seyfî and coastal artillery the Podgoriçe. After the war, the Danube flotilla benefited from three rearmament plans, in 1883-1885, 1886-1888 and 1906-1908.
In 2 July 1905 the Romanian Navy was involuntarily involved in the Russian famous mutiny of the Potemkine and torpedo boat N267 (Ismail). At some point, the rampaging mutineers thought to puchase Romanian protected cruiser Elisabeta. The latter engaged the Russian torpedo boat Ismail when trying to sneak in Constanța. Both ships left Romanian waters soon after, then returned with a proposal of surrendering both ships in exhange for political asylum. This was acted the following day, the Potemkine flying Romanian colors was handed over Romanian authorities, and later given back to Russian authorities. There were two Black sea flotilla plans, one being acted in 1898 being quite ambitious (and proved unrealistic): Six coastal battleships, four destroyers and twelve torpedo boats. This does’nt stop another plan in 1912 to be dawn, 1912 naval program envisioned 6 light cruisers, 12 destroyers and a submarine. In fact only four destroyers and a sub were ordered in Italy when the war broke up. They were all requisitioned on stocks by the Italians.
The Romanian protected cruiser Elisabeta (1888)
The Romanian navy in the great war
In 1917 another order was passed of three 340-ton coastal submarines from France, which were also requisitioned and never delivered. In fact the Romanian Navy ws left for the duration of the war with the venerable Black Sea flagship, the Elswick-built 1888 protected cruiser Elisabeta which guarded the mouths of the Danube for the entire Second Balkan War, and was disarmed in 1914. Her guns were placed on the Danube River border bank with Austria-Hungary. The Black Sea squadron also operated four 1880s gunboats and three Năluca-class torpedo boats. The state merchant marine or SMR (Serviciul Maritim Român) procured in fact armed ships like the liners Regele Carol I, România, Împăratul Traian and Dacia, which offered valuable auxiliary cruisers duties.
Romanian minelayer Aurora
On the other hand, the Danube Flotilla consisted of the four recent and potent armoured river monitors (built 1907 at Galați, each bering three 120 mm guns in turrets) Lascăr Catargiu, Mihail Kogălniceanu, Ion C. Brătianu and Alexandru Lahovari, reinforced by eight torpedo boats built in UK (Căpitan Nicolae Lascăr Bogdan class, 1906-1907, 50 tons). In 1918 Mihail Kogălniceanu was taken in hands and converted as a sea-going monitor. In addition there were six older gunboats as well as minelayers and auxiliaries. The Romanian Navy played only a back-stage role during the Great war with a few losses. The river monitors defended Turtucaia and backed Russian trooped defending the Dobruja. An Austro-Hungarian river monitor sunk in these actions.
In the persio 1922-45, the Romanian Navy went through three major phases, punctuated blank times dicated by economic difficulties and budgetary restraints. With her coastline double as a result of the war, she took the initiative to bolster her naval assets. War reparations was the first reinforcement phase. With fledging industrialization, in the 1920s a second phase opened with better funds for 1923-1928 and allowed for a more ambitious 1927 program targeting the Black Sea. Then after the international market crisis in 1929, recession also struck Romania, which was only able to reinforce the Dnestr and Danube flotillas, but there was no budget until 1937 for major ships. In 1936 the Nvy Minstry was created and proper funds were allocated. The fleet was bolstered but the programme only partially realized.
Following the peace treaty and dismembering of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Romanian Navy made many valuable acquisitions: Three former river monitors, renamed Ardeal, Basarabia and Bucovina, and seven torpedo-boats from Austria-Hungary (TB74T, TB82F) which went to the black sea, but also four Italian four Italian patrol boats purchased in 1921, which were added to the existing fleet and made it the most impressive riverine strike force on the Danube in 1939. However that’s the Black Sea fleet which gained much of these acquisitions, mostly from italy: Two Aquila-class scout cruisers (of the size of learge destroyer leaders) renamed Mărășești and Mărăști, fprmed the backbone of this new fleet. Ex-French gunboats (Friponne ASW class, 1917-18) Stihi, Dumitrescu, Lepri and Ghiculescu were also purchased, not to forget the valuable addition of the seven Viforul class TBs (see above). The only lost was Fulgerul, which sank in the Bosporus during transfer in February 1922. Three were later discarded bu the three remainder Năluca, Sborul and Smeul saw action in WW2. Importantly enough, to bolster the numbers and with the budget to match, the Navy ordered in italy two large destroyers, in 1926, the Regele Ferdinand class. These had an unusual design for italian destroyers and were much tailored for Romanian needs. Also important was the construction at galati of Romania’s first submarine, the Delfinul, with its submarine tender, Constanța. Later in the war, Romania would built two more submarine based on U-boat designs. In parallel to this, Romania founded from 1920 a brand new naval college at Constanța, with cadets training on the sail ship Mircea. Also the merchant navy or SMR (Serviciul Maritim Român) received the addition of 11, then 17 ships from Italy and Germany, culminating in 1940 to a 72,000 tonnes shipping.
Italian scout cruiser Nibbio, later puchased by the Romanian Navy as Marasesti.
The Romanian Navy in WW2
A rearmament program was proposed in 1937, which envisioned a cruiser, four destroyers, three submarines, two minelayers and ten MTBs. But as previously, only one minelayer and two submarines were eventually completed by local shipyards. The three BTBs had to be imported later in 1940 from the UK (Viforul class – MTB20-23) and later on the 4 ships of the Vantul class ex-Dutch TM21 class. Four of the new warships were laid down at the Galați shipyard, in a new larger dry dock. However the Navy kept a low priority within the Romanian Armed Forces. The minelayer Amiral Murgescu (1938) was only commissioned in the first half of 1941 but mostly served during the war as an escort ship. Her sister ship, Cetatea Albă, was was launched in 1940 but never completed. Two submarines laid down in 1938 on German plans were launched in May 1941 but commissioned only in May 1943 (Marsuinul and the lighter Rechinul).
Destroyer Regina Maria
In 1941, The Royal Romanian Navy aligned the destroyers Mărășești, Mărăști, Regele Ferdinand and Regina Maria, one submarine (Delfinul), one minelayer, three auxiliary minelayers, three MTBs, three gunboats, fifteen auxiliary vessels… and twenty seaplanes. Mărăști had a machinery problems limitinh her speed to 24 knots and never ventured far offshore. Delfinul was de facto the only Axis submarine in the Black Sea in 1941. But her Italian design was now obsolete, and she was found unreliable. This force faced the Soviet Black Sea Fleet: One battleship, three cruisers, three light cruisers, three large destroyers, thirteen destroyers, two large TBs and no less than 47 submarines plus the usual naval dust.Therefore the Royal Romanian Navy only conducted defensive operations and her boldtest ventures never passed Cape Sarych. The two destroyers of the Regele Ferdinand class destroyers also represented the best assets of the axis in the Black Sea but they only served as convoy escort. The Amiral Murgescu and the auxiliary minelayers defended Constanța in 1941 and secured merchant routes to the Bosphorus, Odessa and Sevastopol. Romanian Minefield claimed the most of Soviet submarine losses in this sector. In addition Romania would receive soon 5 italian-built midget submarines of the CB-class, 6 british-built MTBs (Vedenia-class), but also three naval trawlers, landing craft (German MFP type) and four German S-boote. From August 1943, she also received from Italy seven MAS boats.
Locotenent Comandor Stihi Eugen
The Romanian Navy assisted the evacuation of Axis forces from Crimea in 1944, vital operations led by Rear Admiral Horia Macellariu (which was awarded the German Knight’s Iron Cross) saving 60,000 from Soviet captivity in the pocket of Sevastopol. The Romanian Navy then retreated behind a large coastal minefield and better AA defence of Constanța. On the capitulation of Romania in August 1944 after King Michael’s Coup, German warships were expelled from home waters. However Soviet minesweeper T-410 Vzryv accompanied by Amiral Murgescu was sunk by a German submarine whch conducted Soviet authorities to seize the entire Romanian fleet on 5 September 1944. By then, the fleet could only count on two destroyers, two gunboats, one minelayer and three MTBs, the rest being in repairs, drydock or used for training. This fleet was forcibly moved to Caucasian ports but only partially returned from September 1945 on. The biggest Romanian loss was the accidental sinking of gunboat Lepri (Romanian minefield in January 1941). By 1945 the entire state merchant navy was sunk or damaged by Soviet air force because of unsufficient air cover.
Minelayer Amiral Murgescu (wikimedia commons)
Operations in detail
Raid on Constanța (26 June 1941)
The Axis invasion of Soviet Russia commenced was accompanied by naval operations that quickstarted the naval war in the Black Sea. The first operation was a Raid on Constanța which became the only encounter between major surface warships of the entire area. Destroyer Mărăști and Regina Maria ecorted the minelayer Amiral Murgescu had to defend the harbour against the cruiser Voroshilov flanked by large Leningrad-class destroyers Kharkov and Moskva, and light destroyers Soobrazitel’ny and Smyshlyonyi. This Romanian numerical and qualitative disadvantage was compensated by a powerful coastal artillery, including the German battery Tirpitz (three 28 cm SK L/45 guns, spares from the WW1 battleship Nassau, the battery being protected by an array of 75mm and 20mm AA FLAK guns and served by 700 German Kriegsmarine personel under Romanian supervision). On their side, the Soviet fleet was covered by nearby Tupolev SB bombers. The raid however failed, the Soviet ships only managing to set alight a few fuel tanks and there was no less on the Romanian side, while Soviet destroyer Moskva was lost on her way home by a mine when manoeuvering to dodge Romanian fire. Indeed until June, 19, the minelayers Amiral Murgescu, Regele Carol I and Aurora mined a large area from Cape Midia and Tuzla in fron of Constanța, knowing the position of the coastal artillery. We will return on this naval engagement in a deeper study and dedicated post.
Regele Ferdinand (1935)
Operation München (June-July 1941)
This was the Romanian codename for the joint German-Romanian offensive, which comprised also several naval and river clashes.
On 9 July 1941, near the Romanian Black Sea port of Mangalia, the gunboat Stihi spotted a periscope and reported its location to the torpedo boat Năluca and MTBs Viscolul and Vijelia. The emerging, and then quickly diving Soviet Shchuka-class submarine Shch-206 was attacked by 20 mm rounds of the Năluca and later by depth charges, and was eventually cornered and sunk. The land operations were supported by a river flotilla, the Tulcea Tactical Group. On 13 July, Romanian monitor Mihail Kogălniceanu duelled with a Soviet monitor near the village of Copana Balca, scored a hit, and The Soviet warship reply but with no results and retired. On the 14 of July, the same monitor attacked Soviet monitor Udarnyy at Ismail scoring a direct hit while the latter returned fire without much result and retreated. Eventually, in the action of Isaccea Romanian armed barges sank a Soviet armored motor gunboat.
Siege of Odessa (1941)
On land, the siege lasted for 2 months and 8 days, from 8 August to 16 October 1941 and Romanian troops did played an immense role in it, under Lieutenant-general Nicolae Ciupercă’s Fourth Army. The Soviets prepared three defensive lines, and there was still the support of the black sea fleet that can provide relief to the defenders. Soon enough, to complete the blocus, the Romanian Navy sent MTBs NMS Viscolul and NMS Vijelia to Vylkove (now Vâlcov) which attacked from there in the night of 18 September a Soviet convoy South of Odessa. However there were three misses but a Soviet destroyer was struck, although the torpedo failed to detonate. Patrols of the submarine Delfinul followed for weeks and on 20 August, she engaged a Soviet M-class submarine M-33. The latter attacked first, missed, and the latter counterattacked with her twin 13 mm heavy machine guns, forcing the Soviet submarine to dive and retreat to Odessa, damaged. The only other Soviet loss was a small submarine chaser on 17 September, ironically blown by a mine previously laid by the Leninets-class submarine L-5 off Ochakiv… On land the campaign ended with a pyrrhic victory that highlighted Romanian Army weaknesses, and hampered its capabilities durably, until the disaster of Stalingrad.
Participation of the Romanian Navy concretised on 2 November 1941, with Delfinul, the only Axis submarine in the Black Sea until late 1942 (then backed by Rechinul & Marsuinul), starting a patrol off the Crimean coast. At dawn, 6 November, she spotted the Soviet 1,975-ton cargo ship Uralets south off Yalta. She was torpedoed and sunk but soon escorting Soviet forces attacked her. She escaped along the Turkish coast and survived about 80 depth charges. She made it back in Constanța on 7 November. During this campaign, Romanian Naval Aviation also played a significant role: Equipped with an array of four squadrons:
-Sqn 101: six Savoia 62 and 65 flying boats
-Squadron 102: Ten Heinkel He 114 seaplanes
-Squadron 53: Eight Hurricanes
-Squadron 16: Eight IAR-37
In operations they successfully spotted and reported hundreds of Soviet ships, guiding attacks, and contributed to the loss of a 2,000-ton Soviet transport ship and damaging a gunboat, a motor torpedo boat and four submarines, while loosing 8 planes in action or by accident.
Less well known is the Romanian participation in the surrender of the Italian Army: The Romanian Navy captured the only Italian sub flotilla In the Black Sea, five CB-class midget submarines which were seized. Wat followed however was not seen as a friendly move and led to German protest, as the Romanian naval commander Rear Admiral Horia Macellariu, decided to integrate these into the Royal Romanian Navy rather than given them to the Kriegsmarine. These CB types were the remainder of a serie buuilt by Caproni shortly before the italian surrender, Seventy-two boats being ordered in Milan, 22 laid down and 12 completed (9 afterwards the armistice). Of these, a small batch was transferred by rail to the black sea. These 15 metres, 44.3 tons submerged boats were armed with two 450 mm torpedoes or mines, and had a 7.5 knots speed when surface and a crew of 4. They participated in the coastal defence of the Romanian coast unil the end of the war.
Romanian torpedo boat Năluca
Prior to Romanian capitulation on 23 August 1944, the Soviet Forces completed their land offensive by massive air attacked against Romanian assets along the coast. On 15 July 1941 near Sulina they sank the minelayer Aurora, largest Romanian ship lost in action in this campaign, and on 20 August, this was the turn of Romanian torpedo boat Năluca in Constanța. But the Romanian Navy, despite all odds did not lost major ships like her destroyers and submarines, a feat compared to the drastic losses of the Axis elsewhere and the Soviet superiority. However this did not changed the fate of the Romanian state on land. The Soviets quickly captured all remaining ships, moved to Caucasian ports in September 1944. Only some were returned after the war, the other remaining in service for more years under the Soviet flag.
1941 U-boat type Rechinul and Marsuinul
In may 1944, the Romanian Navy launched what was perhaps its biggest operation so far, called Operation “60,000”. This was in reference to the 62,000+ Romanian troops evacuees from Crimea. The operation consisted ion two phases, in 12 April and 5 May and between 6 and 13 May. The trigger was the German 17th Army “Adler” Plan of evacuation by ships from 11 April to Constanta with just twi ships, a tanker and cargo, with Romanian escort. On 12 april another convoy comprising the ships Ardeal, Helga and Tisza transport ships passed with 4,361 men onboard (700 Romanians). The 14, German tugs, lighters, MFPs and KFKs transported 2,038 men to safety. Meanwhile supplies came on the other side, with Romanian Oituz cargo, and German Laudon, Theben and Erzherzog Karl, surviving five attacks by Soviet bombers. There was an effcient AA cover from converted MFP barges, called Artilleriefährprahm (AFP). These ships by the way carried out the evacuation from the Kuban bridgehead on the Taman Peninsula of 17th Army, and transported no less than 239,669 soldiers, 16,311 wounded, 27,456 civilians and 115,477 tons of military equipment, 21,230 vehicles, 74 tanks, 1,815 guns and 74,657 horses. The Romanians were impressed by these ships and ordered three, passed to their colors in February 1944 as PTA-404, PTA-405 and PTA-406.
Although it is not the main focus here, the Kriegsmarine managed to assemble a fleet, shipped by rail and the Danube and assembled at Galati shipyards, which amounted to 6 coastal submarines, 16 S-boats, 23 R-boats, 26 submarine chasers and over 100 MFP barges mentioned above. The 16, another convoy passed, with a cargo only damaged. However tragedy struck on 18 April when a Ll-4 attack sank the Alba Iulia (with 500+ Soviet POWs). NMS Marasti and NMS Ghiculescu put up a sturdy defence, and also repelled a submarine attack. NMS Ghiculescu and NMS Marasti al scarried men onboard, 700 for the former. On 19 and 20 April three convoys passed each other, two bound for Sevastopol. On 24 april, no less that four convoys left the besieged city, ith more air attakc, but none were succesful. The German R-Boote and S-Boote’ own AAA was also efficient. However the 25, the the lighter Leo was hit and sank. The same day a strong convoy departed from Constanta, reinforced by Durostor, Helga, two PTA boats and NMS Ghiculescu. PTA 406 was damaged but towed to safety. Durostor and Helga also escorted the last mission, on 27 April, and one of the two convoys was attacked by Soviet motor torpedo boats TKA-332 and TKA-334. The former was sunk by 88mm gunfire, while UJ 104 submarine hunter was damaged and was lost later in harbor.
In total of the 73,058 evacuees, there were 20,779 Romanians, 28,394 Germans, 723 Slovaks, 15,055 Russian volunteers, 2,559 POWs and 3,748 civilians. Overall only 5% died during the crossing which was considered a frank success. However the Soviets reinforced their positions and Between 28 April and 7 May, although 14 convoys passed through, unrelentless attacks proved more devastating: German motor lighter Junak (May, 3), Erzherzog Karl, MFP 132, Budapest badly damaged. From 9 May, the city was under constant Soviet artillery fire, which complicated the evacuation. Losses that day comprised the Prodromos tanker, the Günther (motor lighter), the Basarabia (lighter), KFK 2313 and UJ 104, Var (lighter) and UJ BW 01, while the KFK 2314 was badly damaged and had to be abandoned. On 10 May, the Romanian Navy launched four convoys the same day, named Sturzul, Profetul, Pionier and Ovidiu. Totila, Teja were lost. The following daysn losses consisted in the Friedericke tanker, Romania, Danubius, while the destroyer NMS Regele Ferdinand came through hell, being attacked 33 times by air, taking a 76mm Soviet artilley hit, then Soviet 152 mm battery hit, but her AA artilley downed many Soviet aircrafts. She reached Constanta, out of fuel, with a hole in the waterline (bomb), being towed to safety. She survived the war.
NMS Dacia and NMS Amiral Murgescu were part of the last convoy. Amiral Murgescu, commanded by lt. cmdr. Anton Foca was the last ship to leave the inferno of Kershones. 47,825 men were succesfully evacuated to Constanta: 15,078 Romanians, 28,992 Germans; but 10,00 had been lost this time and with so many ships lost or damaged it would have been tricky to mount further convoys: The Romanians lost Three large transport ships, the German about 9 plus 6 more badly damaged. This was “Dunkirk in reverse” for the Axis.
Monitor Mihail Kogălniceanu