Tuesday, January 8, 2019

October 16, 1941: Romanians Occupy Odessa

Thursday 16 October 1941

Romanian troops enter Odessa 16 October 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Romanian troops enter Odessa on 16 October 1941.
Eastern Front: A full 73 days after they began the siege of Odessa, Romanian troops enter the city late in the afternoon of 16 October 1941. They find Odessa empty, the last Soviet evacuation ships having left well before sunrise at 05:10. The fortifcations are still there, but many buildings are burning and everything else of value is wrecked.

Deceased soldier's boy wears his medals, 16 October 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
"Patrick Mead, aged 14, wears his father's medals and holds the British Empire Medal posthumously awarded to his father, a member of the Royal Marines, at a recent Investiture. With him are his mother and baby brother, Roger." 16 October 1941 (@IWM(10551785)).
Both sides justifiably can claim a victory at Odessa. The Romanian 4th Army captures an important port and completes the occupation of Transnistria, their long-desired territory in the East. The Romanians inflict roughly the same number of casualties on the Soviets as they themselves incur (accounts vary wildly, but losses seem to be roughly even). Capturing Odessa solidifies Axis control of the Black Sea coast and provides a useful port to supply the troops operating farther east. It also proves handy for operating warships and warplanes to aid in the eventual capture of the Crimea.

German radio operator, October 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
A German radio operator in a light armored observation car (Sd.Kfz. 253), October 1941 (Utrecht, Fred Erich, Federal Archive Bild 101I-268-0158-16).
While the Romanians capture the town and thus "win," the Soviets can claim an important defensive victory. They hold up the Axis advance for over two months during good campaigning season, inflicting 98,000 casualties (17,729 dead, 63,345 wounded, 11,471 missing) on the Romanians and attached German forces, and escape with their forces almost intact. About 121,000 Soviet troops escape, along with 1000 trucks and 20,000 tons of ammunition. These troops and their equipment will go to good use in their new quarters in Sevastopol, which already is threatened by General von Manstein's 11th Army. The evacuating troops dump the big artillery guns of the 95th Rifle Division into Odessa Harbor and destroy numerous port facilities and other installations of value to the enemy.

Deportees from Bessarabia arrive at Poznan, 16 October 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Russian Bessarabians deported from Amara arrive at the main station in Poznan, 16 October 1941 (Holtfreter, Wilhelm, Federal Archive R 49 Bild-0244).
It is common to call the Romanian capture of Odessa a "Pyrrhic Victory." This is because of the length of time that it takes and the number of casualties that the Romanians incur for something they don't really need and which is of no lasting value. There is no question on either score. The siege lasts much longer than anticipated and casualties are heavy. However, the Romanians don't really care how long the victory takes, and, to them at the moment, the casualties are worth the gain. Their war aim was to capture Odessa and the nearby region. Having done that, the Romanians consider the war effectively over for their country - with the minor proviso that they continue helping the Germans to defeat the Soviet Union. Of course, the Soviet defeat is a foregone conclusion, so that is a small price to pay.

London General Post Office, October 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
"32-year-old Mrs. Evelyn Leighton took the 8 week Ministry of Labour Engineering Course and now works as a GPO switchboard fitter." London General Post Office, October 1941. © IWM (D 5228).
Having achieved their own war aims, the Romanians immediately begin demobilizing their army. They reduce it in size from nearly 900,000 men to 465,000 by the end of the year. Since this was the plan all along, the German war effort is not really impacted much by the length of time it took to capture Romania. That is, Romania would not have given the Wehrmacht any more help even if casualties had been lighter and the siege shorter because Romania simply would have demobilized its army earlier. So, in that sense, the lengthy siege that leads to the capture of Odessa is not Pyrrhic at all, it is simply tedious.

Deportees from Bessarabia arrive at Poznan, 16 October 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Russian Bessarabians deported from Amara arrive at the main station in Poznan, 16 October 1941 (Holtfreter, Wilhelm, Federal Archive R 49 Fig. 0245).
However, in a larger sense, the Romanian capture of Odessa does have, if not a strictly Pyrrhic effect, a terribly negative impact on the Romanian state for many years. By having joined the Wehrmacht in its war of conquest and gained such a high-profile victory, Romania angers both the Soviets and the Western Allies. Ultimately, Romania winds up at war with both Great Britain and the United States as a result - and, obviously, the Soviet menace never ends, it just temporarily recedes. The reduced military assistance that Romania continues to give to Germany at places like Stalingrad ends very badly, as we shall see. In an even larger sense, Romania's international reputation is stained for decades by its repressive Transnistria Governate. That territory becomes the scene of horrible events which form an integral part of the Holocaust. The local Romanians pay dearly when the Soviets recapture the city. Of course, hindsight is perfect, but Romania would have been better served by never having joined Germany in Operation Barbarossa and never having coveted Odessa.

Lubny massacre victims, 16 October 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Victims of executions at Lubny, Ukraine. About 1900 villagers and residents of the surrounding area, perhaps entirely Jewish, are executed after being told to gather for deportation. As at Babi Yar and other sites, the victims are taken to trenches outside of town and shot.

2019

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