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The EK1

As the Germans were engaged in a battle of attrition at Verdun in mid-1916 General Brussilow launched an offensive in Bukowina that could be considered the biggest victory of the war. Smashing through Erzherzog Joseph Ferdinand’s k.u.k. 4th Army in the direction of Luzk and penetrating the front of Pflanzer-Baltin’s k.u.k. 7th Army near Czernowitz.

Called “the vulture of Europe” by later German writers, Romania decided to enter the war, partially due to a Russian ultimatum but also because she had her eye on the Siebenbürgen and Bukowina. Romania declared war on Austro-Hungary on the 27th of August 1916, just one day before Italy declared war on Germany. Germany and Bulgaria entered a state of war with Romania and readied themselves for a Romanian mobilization. From the day of the declaration Romanian Divisions advanced on a wide front into the Siebenbürgen area encountering little resistance. From the east of Klausenburg (Cluy) at the foot of the Carpathians up to the foot of the Transylvanian Alps the k.u.k 1st Army under von Straußenburg set up a defensive line consisting of largely Grenzschutz and Landsturm Battalions as well as a German contingent. From the 12th of September elements of the Alpenkorps arrived to reinforce the front.  After their stint at Verdun Krafft von Dellmensingen was able to rapidly rebuild and field an Alpenkorps with men apt for mountain warfare. On the supply side things were different. The Alpenkorps lacked mules for transporting equipment in the mountains and the Supply lacked the uniforms and equipment that would be needed for the campaign.

In August of 1916 von Hindenburg had taken command of the OHL and the previous commander, von Falkenhayn had taken command of the 9. Armee which was now marching to join the Romanian front to the South West of the k.u.k. 1st Army. Falkenhayn gave his orders “It is not sufficient to beat, but rather to destroy this enemy …. Never forget, in war the Victor is the one who has a Will for victory”.

Falkenhayn had definite ideas and tactical concepts and he wasted no time in implementing them. With the bulk of his army he attacked the Romanian 1st Army which was exiting the Alt-Tal to the South of Hermannstadt. The Alpenkorps had the task of crossing over the up to 2 000m high Cibin Mountain range  and to take possession of the Roten-Turm Pass. It was not without reason that the Romanians thought the Cirbin Mountain range was of no military consequence. There was no prewar civilian activity on the mountain slopes, no roads, only isolated Bridle trails.

No settlements, no food and no fodder. It was the reinforced bayerische Jäger Brigade 1 that would cross the desolate heights. All supply wagons and the rest of the Korps marched through the valley on the road from Mühlbach to Boicza to the North of the range. Mule columns and Signal troops did not accompany them, the Field Telephone and Medical sections were not equipped for mountain warfare. Mountain artillery was missing although 3 Guns from an Austrian Mountain battery joined at the last moment to support them. Under these conditions the Korps handed command of the operational elements over to the Brigade commander Generalmajor Tutschek.

On the 26th September, after 4 days March the Brigade sent a communique saying that at 6am a Jäger Company along with a machine Gun Company and a Pionier section had taken up position on the Pass between Caineni and Riul Vadului. At 11am Aerial Recon showed all was calm on the Pass, but two Romanian Civilians reported that the day before Romanian Artillery had been approaching the Pass.

above: The Red Tower at the entrance of the Pass

The beaten Romanian 1st Army to the East of Hermannstadt managed to break away from the 9th army, suffering heavy losses in the process and tried to retreat over the Roten-Turm Pass and the Vulcan Pass where the rest of the Alpenkorps (Gruppe Paulus) held positions. (Gruppe Paulus included the 1st and 2nd Bavarian Jäger Battalions and II./ I.R. 187.)

A 10 to 12m wide road went through the Roten-Turm Pass, sufficient also for heavy vehicles, but between the passes the road could only be used by Mules and it was relatively easy to defend. The Romanian Army had fallen into the trap set by Falkenhayn.

The six Battalions and 1 Gebirgs Artillery Batterie managed to set up 3 defensive lines, but had to defend against attacking Romanians to the South and retreating Romanians to the North. There were not enough troops to set up further positions to the West of the Pass, or more importantly to the East towards the Fogarascher Mountains. The 9th Army itself had not managed to annihilate the enemy as Falkenhayn had wished to.

The fresh Romanian elements approaching from the South were not able to advance through the pass and clear a way, but a large portion of the 1st Romanian Army managed to cross the Fogarascher Mountains into the Walachei by leaving their artillery, wagons and equipment behind.

Above: The Alpenkorps Iron Cross Award document to a Jäger of the 2nd Komp. Reserve Jäger bataillon Nr. 10, awarded on the 17th of September 1916 for fighting on the Red Tower Pass.

On the 7th to 9th of October 1916 the 2nd Romanian Army was beaten at Kronstadt, after which the Romanians pulled back from the Siebenbürgen. The 9th army regrouped and the Alpenkorps along with the 2nd and 10th Gebirgs Brigade came under the command of the “Gruppe Krafft von Dellmensingen”. From the middle of October 1916 the Group attacked in the direction Curtea de Arges on both sides of the Olt in contact with the fighting elements of the 9th Army near Campulung. The objective was to take the complete Roten-Turm Pass. Only a 14km section was in German hands, the fortified heights were held by strong Romanian forces. To avoid the danger of being cut off and due to the lack of artillery support, the Alpenkorps decided to attack at a weak point. The Alpenkorps advanced along the heights on both sides of the pass. A successful attack by the 2nd k.u.k. Gebirgs Brigade between the Alt and Arges Rivers on the positions on the Moscovul Pass were a success. A sudden change in the weather, including heavy snowfall and a hurricane like storm made the Brigade hurry ahead. They reached Salatrucu, 38kms South of Moscovul. The bulk of the Alpenkorps just made it through the pass and stopped on the icy Moscovul. It was only thanks to Romanian inaptitude that the Alpenkorps made it out of the Alt Tal and followed the edge of the South Carpathians through Calimanesti and Curtea de Arges in direction Pitesti, reaching Walachei. On both sides of the Ialomita the Gruppe Krafft von Dellmensingen reached the Railway line Bukarest – Ploiesti. It was not the enemy which had taken the biggest toll, rather the exhaustion and Sickness which had weakened the soldiers. It was also the first time the men had experienced an enemy that murdered prisoners and the wounded.

Of great help in preparing the above overview was "Das Alpenkorps - aufbau, organisation und Einsatz einer Gebirgstruppe im Ersten Weltkrieg" by Günther Herbert