The Rifles of Romania 1878-1948
By Dan Reynolds
Romania, in the main, is formed from two former principalities, Moldavia and Wallachia, which were vassal states of the Ottoman Empire until Russia defeated Turkey in 1878 and the Kingdom of Romania was proclaimed in March 1881. Contained within the borders were many ethnic minorities, Hungarians a notable group. Ethnic Roumanians in other lands, sometimes called "Vlachs," amounted to large numbers in Bessarabia, Transylvania, and Macedonia .
As a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire, the first breech loader was a Snider conversion, the Turk M1867. These were followed by the .45 Turk Peabody and the later.45 Peabody-Martini which was the standard of the Ottoman Empire at the time. After the war of 1878, when Romania sided with Russia and gained independence, she adopted a slight modification of the Turk M1874 Martini as the M1879. It was made under contract at Steer and was purchased in numbers exceeding 100,000. A carbine version existed but was not widely issued. Cavalry tactics in use called for saber, lance and revolver to be the major weapons at this period.
The advent of a magazine smokeless powder rifles in 1886 caused Romania to seek a new rifle in this class. After considering the new Russian Mosin and several others, it elected to buy a trial batch of turn bolt Mannlichers evolved from the German M88 Commission Rifle. This was the Model 1892 6.5x53mmR made by Steyr. Several minor modifications were made and the resulting rifle, the M1893, was purchased in large numbers, deliveries exceeding 100,000 by the middle of the next decade. Some carbines were purchased, but as late as 1910 only about half of the cavalry had them, the rest were still armed with lance, saber and revolver, although it was now recognized that this was archaic and required change.
During the course of WW1 in which Romanian allied itself with the Allies, she was heavily pounded and lost many weapons. Reinforced with rifles from herco-belligerents, she issued Mosin Nagants, French M07/15 Berthiers, as well as captured Mannlicher M95 8x50mmR straight pull rifles and carbines of Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian original issue. At the end of the war she was on the winning side and accrued the following rifles: German Gew.98 and Kar.98AZ, Russian M1891 Mosin Nagants, Mannlicher M1895,M1888/90, as well as more French equipment including M07 and M05/15 rifles and carbines. As a reward for her participation in the war, she was awarded Bukovina, the Banat, southern Dobruja, and Bessarabia. In the inter-war years following, she seemed to deploy French rifles and machine guns in active service. She was an ally of France and a member of the "Little Entente"along with Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. Perhaps ammunition supplies favored this deployment. In this period senior French officers advised the Roumanian Army and France provided credits for equipment. The Army followed the French pattern.
Generally speaking, the Army was second class in equipment, uniforms, and organization as the 1930's ended. There was a recognition of the need to improve things. The Czechoslovak VZ24 Mauser rifle was selected as the new standard rifle along with the ZB-30 and ZB-37 light and heavy machine guns in 7.92x57mm. These rifles can found with one of two crests on them, that of Carol, or his son Mihai. They are also found with no crest, but the makers address, and with markings that were later removed during the Communist era. The Dutch style helmet supplemented the French Adrian style helmet from about 1937 and attempts were made to modernize in other ways.
In November 1940, the Germans took over as the "Big Brother" of the Roumanian Armed Forces. This was a major change, the reasons for it being beyond the scope of this article. The Germans set up schools and provided advisers and instructors to retrain and reorganize the forces along more modern lines. Roumanian oil-funded purchase of equipment from stocks captured by Germany from France and Czechoslovakia. Production of the Mauser rifle and ZB-30 at Cugir in Romania was expedited.
In June of 1941 Romania joined Germany in attacking Soviet Russia. The Roumanians wanted to recover Bessarabia and northern Bukovina which Stalin had taken from them in 1940. As of 1 June 1941, 445,000 Czech-made VZ24's were in issue to the infantry and cavalry units along with 16,000 ZB30 LMGs'. Some reserve units retained the French M07/15 or M1893 6.5mm Mannlichers along with the appropriate caliber machine guns at this time, but production of the Mauser and ZB30 were underway in Cugir. In the early stages of the war the Roumanians did well, but lacked the necessary armor and antitank weapons to fight a modern war. The mountain troops were said to be the best units in the order of battle so far as equipment and morale are concerned. The Germans could never supply enough material that was necessary for the proper functioning of the Roumanian units fighting with them, and the were chewed up and rolled back as the Germans retreated after Stalingrad. The Romanians always held back strong forces in the border areas facing Hungary for they were wary of an attack by their supposed allies. As 1944 began, Germany increased supplies of arms in payment for Romanian oil, but couldn't deliver what was desperately needed to keep her in the war on Germany's side: a halt to the advance of the Red Army.
The Romanians switched sides as German Army Group South continued to retreat before the unstoppable Soviet advance. The Romanians happily attacked Hungary in the hope that they would be allowed to reclaim Transylvania which they had lost in the Arbitration of Vienna in 1940. They were used under Red Army command and control and suffered very heavy casualties as the Germans were pushed west. The Reds supplied them with captured German weapons and ammunition and they captured much more as they fought westward with the "Red Tide" through Hungary and into Czechoslovakia. At the end of the war, the Romanian Army down sized and in 1947 was reorganized along Communist lines. The King , Mihai , was forced to abdicate. The number of rifles on hand in 1948 exceeded a million. Most of the equipment on hand was of German origin. The VZ24 was the most common rifle in service. Other rifles in inventory were the G33/40 and Kar.98k, the Walter G43/K43, G98/40, 43M,35M as well as other rifles mentioned earlier and Soviet M91/30, M38, and SVT40. Some MP43's and Stg44's were also held.
Country Manufacturer Model Caliber Italy Beretta 1934 9mm Scurt Belgium Browning 1910/22 9mm Short Germany DWM P-08 Luger 9mm Germany Walther P-38 9mm Russia Nagant 1895 7.62mm Austro-Hungaria Steyr 1912 9mm long U.S.S.R. Tokarev TT-33 7.62mm Germany Walther PPK 1931 7.65mm Germany Walther PP 1927 7.65mm
French Berthier M07 8mm Lebel French Berthier M07/15 8mm Lebel German - Gew 98 8x57mm German - G33/40 8x57mm German - G43 8x57mm German - G98/40 8x57mm German - Kar98AZ 8x57mm German - K43 - Austria Mannlicher Steyr M1895 8x50mm Austria Mannlicher Steyr M1893 6.5mm England Martini Peabody M1874 11mm USSR Mosin Nagant M91/30 7.62x54R Russia Mosin Nagant M91 7.62x54R USSR Tokarev SVT40 7.62x54R Czechoslovakia BRNO VZ24 8x57mm
Sub Machine Guns
Italy Beretta 38A 9mm Italy Beretta 38/42 9mm Germany - MP28 9mm Germany - MP40 9mm Germany - MP41 9mm Germany - MP43 9mm Romania Orta 1941 9mm USSR - PPD40 7.62mm USSR - PPS41 7.62 USSR - PPS43 7.62 - - STG44 -
Light Machine Guns
French CSRG Mle 1918 8mm Lebel USSR - DP 1928 7.62mm Austria Steyr Slothrum 31M 7.92mm & 8x56 Czechoslovakia ZB 1930 8x57mm Romania ZB (CMC) 1930 8x57mm
Heavy Machine Guns
Bulgaria DWM Maxim 8x50mm French St. Entinne Mle. 1907 HMG 8x50 Lebel Germany - MG 34 8x57mm Germany - MG 42 8x57mm Austria-Hungary Schwarzlose 1907/12 8x57mm Germany Maxim MG08 8x57mm Czechoslovakia ZB M53 8x57mm
Germany Bohler M35 ATG 47mm Germany - PAK 38 ATG 50mm Germany Panzerfaust 30 100mm Germany Panzerfaust 30 150mm Germany Panzerfaust 60 150mm Germany Panzerfaust 100 150mm USSR - PTRD 1941 14.5mm USSR - PTRS 1941 14.5mm Germany Rakenten-Panzerbuuchse 43 87.3mm Germany Rakenten-Panzerbuuchse 54 87.3mm Germany Rakenten-Panzerbuuchse 54/1 87.3mm Germany Resita M43 ATG 75mm Germany Rheinmettall PAK 40 ATG 75mm Germany Schneider M39 ATG 47mm