THE ROMANIAN NAVAL FORCES
Like anywhere else in the world, navigation has been an important part of the Romanian geographic area, the land surrounded by the Carpathians, the Danube and the Black Sea, "our entire past being governed by waters”, as our great historian Nicolae Iorga said: Ever since ancient times the Danube and the Black Sea have represented a major attraction for the intrepid sailors, who originally made use of rudimentary boats and later on steam-propelled ships. In order to sail along the Danube and on interior rivers, the Dacians used rafts and the so-called dugout canoe, which often stood for a "fighting weapon”.
From the Antiquity to the Modern Age, Phoenician ships, Greek triremes, Roman galleys, Byzantine dromons, Venetian and Genovese caravels, Moldavian sailing ships and Walachian kayiks sailed on the Danube. On the Black Sea shore, the three Greek colonies established between the 7th and the 6th cent. BC – Histria, Tomis and Callatis – became prosperous ports and commercial areas, the last two of which later on developing into the nowadays Constanta and Mangalia ports.
As a result of Burebista’s military campaigns these colonies became part of the kingdom of this great Dacian king, called by Acornion of Dionisopolis "the first and the most powerful king of Tracia”. Thus, the maritime coast of the Dacian kingdom, which during Burebista’s times reached its maximum territorial width, lay between Olbia (located at the river Bug mouth) and Apolonia (the nowadays city of Sozopol in Bulgaria). In the 1st century AC, the expansionist intentions of the Roman Empire targeted at the left bank of the Danube, became real during Trajan’s ruling, through the two Dacian-Roman wars. During these wars, the battles between the Dacians under the great king Decebal and the Roman troops took place not only on land but also on the Danube and the Black Sea.
After Dacia was conquered and turned into a Roman province, the defense of the limes along the Danube and the Black Sea coast became part of the Roman fleets’ mission, stationed in Dacia: Classis Flavia Moesica, the Roman military fleet on the Danube and Classis Pontica, the Roman military fleet on the Black Sea. Several centuries later, the Byzantine Empire imposed its power over the Danube and the Black Sea through its fleet, which had forts, real naval stations, specially created for the Danubian limes, like the isle of "Păcuiul lui Soare”, erected in the 10th century.
After the crystallization of Romanian feudal states in the 14th century, their rulers were mainly interested in the Lower Danube, the Danube’s mouths and the Black Sea shore (from the North of Chilia arm to the South of Varna), where adequate military structures had been created. Mircea cel Bătrân, the ruler of Ţara Românească, united Dobrudja, including Silistra, with Walachia in 1388-1389 for the first time, becoming "ruler over the two banks of the Danube, and allover Podunavia, up to the large sea” – as he used to name himself in any issued document – and the founder of our maritime fleet. In 1456, Iancu de Hunedoara, the ruler of Transylvania, took part in the great naval battle of Belgrade, thus contributing, alongside the other Christian forces, to the defeat of the Ottoman fleet. In Moldavia, the organization of a maritime fleet had started ever since the time of Roman I and Alexandru cel Bun, who, in the officially issued documents, named themselves "rulers of Moldavia from the mountains to the sea”. It was Stefan cel Mare who continued their naval policy and carried through the organization of the Navy by endowing it with vessels (Moldavian sailing ships called pânzare) built in Chilia and Cetatea Albă naval shipyards. These vessels sailed across the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, under the well known red flag bearing the symbol of the Moldavian bullhead. Concerned with the safety of navigation, the ruler of Moldavia built a tower – a place for lookout, probably a lighthouse, used for orientation at sea, as the inscription at the Zografu Monastery on the Mount Athos informs us.
For military purposes and especially for lookout over the Danube, cannon-armed kayiks were used. These were built between the 17th and 18th century during Constantin Brâncoveanu’s ruling. During the Phanariot era, especially under Alexandru Moruzzi, a fleet was organized in Walachia for the first time and its vessels were used both for military and merchant purposes.
The Union of the Romanian Principalities in 1859 resulted in the union of the flotillas of the two sister principalities on October 22, 1860, whereas the new Navy was named the "Flotilla Corps”. By the Decree signed by Alexandru Ioan Cuza on the permanent union of the flotillas along the Danube, Colonel Nicolae Steriade was appointed Commander-in-chief of the Flotilla Corps. The Headquarters were initially located in Ismail, where the first Romanian War Flotilla Headquarters was to function. This was founded under the Law on the Training of the Army of the United Romanian Principalities (May 13, 1860). Along with the union of flotillas, a single flag was chosen, bearing both the colors and the symbols of the Moldavian and Walachian flags. The process of updating the Flotilla’s uniforms started in 1861 by introducing the dark blue color.
Endowing the Navy with new ships claimed the existence of well-trained Navy personnel and staff. Therefore, by the Ministerial Resolution of November 17, 1872, the first Special School was founded in Galaţi for the officers and petty officers in the Flotilla Corps, the first of its kind in Romania. In 1873 the gunboat Fulgerul was commissioned to sail on the river and at sea. Built at Toulon, Fulgerul was the first military ship of Modern Age Romania which hoisted the national flag at its mast and sailed across the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea. In 1875, the Flotilla was endowed with the torpedo motorboat Rândunica built at "Yarrow” Naval Shipyard in London.
With these ships, the small-sized Romanian Flotilla wrote history during the Independence War. The Romanian sailors’ missions during the Independence War were as follows: they participated alongside the Russian fluvial forces in setting barrages in Reni – the Prut mouth and the Siret mouth, at Ghecet on the Vălciu arm, by the Isle of Gâsca Mare; they attacked the Turkish vessels on the Măcin Channel – May 12/13, 1877; the ships Fulgerul, Rândunica and Xenia launched the attack on the enemy ships in Hârşova (June 8); the Romanian sailors supported the Russian troops to breach the Danube barricade (June 9/10 in Brăila - Galaţi; June 14/16 in Zimnicea) by providing the necessary means and defending them through their land artillery; the sailors equipped eight artillery batteries in Calafat under the command of Lieutenant-Commander N.D. Maican and accomplished a number of important missions; they also built and defended the Siliştioara-Măgura bridge and laid the mine barrage of Nedeia (15 km from Rahova); they sank the Podgoriţa monitor (November 7) and rescued the Russian ship "Ada”; transports for the front were also provided.
Along with its Independence and therefore its free access to the Black Sea, the Romanian Navy, endowed in 1880 with its first sea-going ship – the gunboat Griviţa benefited until WWI from 3 navigational aids endowment programs: in 1883 – 1885, in 1886 – 1888 and in 1906 – 1908. The 4th program, meant for 1912 – 1913 was never carried out at that particular moment, the ships commissioned abroad having been requisitioned as WWI broke out in 1914. As a result of these programs the Romanian Navy was endowed in 1881 with the brig Mircea, a steam-powered sailing ship built in London, three gunboats, one mine-laying torpedo boat, two torpedo boats, police motor boats (in the 1st program), one cruiser, three fluvial gunboats and three fluvial torpedo boats (in the 2nd program), four monitors and eight patrol boats (in the 3rd program).
Among these ships, an utmost important role for training the military staff was played by the training ship Mircea which on her 31 training voyages (out of which 17 on the Black Sea, 12 on the Mediterranean Sea and 2 on the Atlantic Ocean) trained almost 40 classes of Navy officers and petty officers. A significant role in the maritime fleet was held by the cruiser Elisabeta built in Newcastle and launched on December 13, 1887.
In the first decade of the 20th century the four monitors built at "Stabilimento Technico Triestino” in the Austro-Hungarian Empire were commissioned; they were named Lahovari, Bratianu, Catargiu and Kogalniceanu. Along with them eight patrol boats built in England and named after heroes of the Independence War were also commissioned. They were stationed in Galaţi, where on September 19, 1907 the vessel christening ceremony of the modern fluvial naval units took place.
In 1913, the events in the Balkans also involved the Romanian Navy in the second Balkan war, whereas the Danube Division ships proved their operational capabilities. Otherwise, this short military campaign represented a preview of the Romanian Navy, which would face extremely difficult situations during the WWI yet to come.
In the First World War the Romanian Navy took part in the general war effort, carrying out missions during the three campaigns of the war. Thus, in the 1916 campaign, the Navy carried out the following missions: the defence the bridgehead at Turtucaia; the support of the right flank of the land troops; the retreat of the Romanian ships towards the front line. In the 1917 campaign, the Navy was assigned the following missions: to destroy the enemy artillery around Tulcea, to transport materials and to destroy the Russian ships opposition in the Danube Delta.
The 1918 Union of all Romanian territories in a single state resulted during the after war period in the development of the military fleet which was provided with new types of ships. In the first years after the war, the Navy was endowed with the M-class destroyers Marasti and Marasesti, built in the Naval Shipyard of Naples, the gunboats Ghiculescu, Dumitrescu, Stihi and Lepri, built in the Naval Shipyard of L’Orient – France (the first Romanian ships to be named after heroes of the 1916 – 1918 war), the torpedo boats Vifor, Virtej, Vijelia, Zmeul, Zborul and Naluca given back to Romania by the Austro-Hungarian Navy as war compensations, as well as four MAS-class antisubmarine patrol boats. Both the destroyers and the torpedo boats were used during the crew training process, while the gunboats and the MAS-classtorpedo boats were mainly used for marine minesweeping. The monitors Ardealul, Basarabia and Bucovina received as war compensations from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire joined them. This is how Romania became the country with the strongest fluvial combat power in Europe.
The 30s were beneficial for the Navy. Thus, as early as 1930, the Royal Navy was endowed with two new R-class destroyers, i.e. Regele Ferdinand and Regina Maria built in the Shipyards of Naples and Fiume just like their M-class predecessors, whereas in 1931, the submarine depot-ship Constantza built in the Shipyard of Fiume was brought into the country. The first Romanian submarine, Delfinul was also built in the Shipyard of Fiume and was commissioned in 1936. The refurbishing and upgrading program of the monitors, which had begun in 1936, was completed in 1940 when the monitor Basarabia with new and completely upgraded armament was regarded as the state-of-the-art fluvial unit in the world. In 1938, the "Blohm and Voss” Shipyard of Hamburg was ordered to build the second training ship Mircea for the amount of 114 million Lei from the state budget, plus 6 million Lei from the public fund raise initiated by the Romanian Naval League. The current tall ship was commissioned on 17 May, 1939; the first Romanian-made naval ship, i.e. the minelayer "Amiral Murgescu” was launched in Galati in the same year.
In 1940 the Vosper-class torpedo patrol boats Vijelia, Viforul and Viscolul, built in England, were commissioned. Together with other units purchased or built after 1940, such as the six Power-class torpedo patrol boats from the Netherlands and the two submarines Rechinul and Marsuinul, fitted in the Galatzi Shipyard, those ships were used to accomplish the complex missions assigned to the Royal Navy during the Second World War.
Taking into consideration the type of these missions, one can distinguish among seven important stages in our Navy’s participation in WWII. The first stage ranges from June 28, 1940 to June 22, 1941. During this campaign, the missions of the Naval Forces were as follows: making the Soviet troops retreat from the South of Basarabia, thus freeing the Chilia distributary and opening the navigation on the Danube; crossing of the Romanian troops to the right bank of the Danube; beating off the Soviet troops away from the border area; defending Sulina and Constanza ports.
The period between June 22 and August 4, 1941 was regarded as the second stage. During those days, the main missions of the Royal Navy were to support the offensive of the land forces and ensure the navigation on the Danube River, as well as to defend the coast and harbors by countering attempts of enemy attacks and landing. Such actions are well reflected by the military operation of June 26, 1941, when two Soviet destroyers, i.e. Moskva and Harkov turned up in the outer basin of the Black Sea by Constanta and opened fire against the city’s harbor area. In response, the artillery of destroyers Marasti and Regina Maria together with the coastal artillery batteries began firing at the enemy ships. The beaten off Soviet ships retreated, whereas Moskva, the flotilla leader, sank and Harkov was severely damaged.
The third stage covers the period of August 4th, 1941 to July 28th, 1942. During this time, the Romanian naval forces provided protection mainly for transports on the western coast of the Black Sea between Odessa and the Bosporus, as well as accomplished their mine-laying missions. The Royal Navy had its share of success by achieving its goals, but also of defeat by losing patrol boats Viforul and Vijelia, auxiliary cruiser Carol I and tug Stoicescu.
During the fourth stage - from July 28th, 1942 to April 5th, 1944, the maritime forces carried out support missions of the land forces and supply transports and ensured an open route to support the frontline, i.e. "Crimea Route”.
During the fifth stage, from April 5th to May 14th, 1944, the maritime naval forces participated in the evacuation of the Romanian and German troops from the surroundings of Odessa and Sevastopol, as part of the largest Black Sea naval operation, code-named "Operation 60.000”. From a military perspective, this naval operation was one of the most dramatic episodes of the Second World War. "The operation was carried out under the pressure of enemy land and air forces, submarines included and originally initiated in the harbor, then in its outer basin area and finally directly along the coastline," stated the Commander-in-Chief of the Maritime Naval Forces at the time, Rear-admiral Horia Macellariu, who coordinated the activity of the Romanian ships throughout the aforementioned operations.
During the sixth stage, from May 14th to August 23rd, 1944, the missions of the naval forces together with the land forces in Dobrudja focused on the defense of the coastline, the Danube Delta and harbors. To achieve their mission some ships belonging to Romanian Maritime State-owned Company and of some private shipping companies were requisitioned, modified and subordinated to the Navy Headquarters.
The seventh stage covers the period from August 23 to September 5, 1944, when the river forces carried out their missions to capture the German ships retreating on the Danube, as well as minesweeping until they successfully cleared the river rendering it safe for navigation. The 23rd of August and the 5th of September 1944 had dramatic consequences for the Romanian Royal Navy due to the twofold assault of the German forces and the allied Soviet forces, as well as to the disarmament of the warships; Constanta harbor with its battle ships and warfare installations, remained under the total control of the Soviet Naval Headquarters.
Thus, the navy fleet was abusively deprived of many of its ships, later deployed in the Caucasian harbors as follows: five monitors (Bratianu, Lahovari, Ardealul, Basarabia and Bucovina), six patrol boats, two command ships, two tug boats, 38 motor boats, 15 barges, 12 tankers, and as for maritime ships: the destroyers (Regina Maria, Regele Ferdinand Marasti and Marasesti), two torpedo boats (Zborul and Zmeul), three gunboats (Ghiculescu, Dumitrescu and Stihi), the minelayer Admiral Murgescu, three submarines (Delfinul, Rechinul, and Marsuinul), the submarine depot ship Constanta, seven torpedo patrol boats, six motor boats, three submarines hunters, a tug, the training ship "Mircea” and 11 auxiliary vessels. The Merchant Marine fleet, comprising 608 river cargo-ships and 5 sea-going vessels, was made available to the Soviet Headquarters.
After the Second World War, in the early postwar years, Romania was deprived of its merchant fleet and to a large extent of its fluvial fleet, because of the abusive takeover of the Romanian vessels by the fleet of the Soviet Union. Moreover, Romania was controlled by the newly established joint venture SOVROMTRANSPORT and also deprived of any significant income. After signing the Armistice Convention, Romania was allowed to keep 32 tugs, 332 lighters and two sea-going ships and on September 11, 1945, following the signing the Convention on the Retrocession of the Romanian naval and merchant ships, the Soviet government returned 18 warships and 23 merchant ships. Thus, on October 12, 1945, a first batch of ships, consisting of destroyers Mărăşeşti and Mărăşti, gunboats Ghiculescu and Stihi, torpedo boats Zborul and Zmeul and the submarine Delfinul reached the country. On May 27, 1946, the training ship "Mircea” was returned and the second and last batch of ships consisting of the submarine Rechinul, destroyers Regina Maria and Regele Ferdinand and five Danube monitor ships reached the country on June 21 and 24, 1951. The gunboat Dumitrescu, the minelayer Admiral Murgescu, the submarine depot ship Constanta, the auxiliary cruiser Dacia, the submarine Marsuinul, the minesweepers Maican, Basarab, Motru, Constanta, the merchant ship Cheile Bicazului, the passenger ship Basarabia, four Italian mini-submarines (which in 1943 were given to the Royal Navy by the Italian Navy) and other ships were not retroceded to the Romanian Navy.
Once in possession of the monitor ships, the Danube Flotilla was established. It changed its name to the River Brigade in 1959. Similarly, as a result of the 1948-1949 organizational changes, the sea-going ship squadron turned into an independent unit, which until May 1951 operated under the name of the Naval Forces Headquarters.
As of 1955, the squadrons including sea-going naval ships and the Maritime Defense Units were subordinated to the Naval Forces Headquarters. In the same period, the construction of new types of military ships began in the Romanian shipyards, such as base minesweepers built in Galati and Braila until 1954, roadstead minesweepers built in Galati or fluvial minesweeper patrol boats built in Oltenita, between 1956-1959. At the same time, some torpedo boats, submarine hunters and missile carrier boats were purchased from U.S.S.R. In 1962, the 42 Maritime Division was founded, continuing the traditions of the Sea Division, a large unit that had practically not longer existed since the end of World War II. In 1960-1961, as a result of decommissioning destroyers, submarines, etc. the 42nd Maritime Division was made up of minesweepers, minelayers, special purpose ships, coastal artillery units, support units etc.
In the late 70s and early 80s, some sea-going naval ships were built in the Romanian shipyards: the escort ships Midia and Constanta (in the Braila shipyard), the light cruiser Muntenia, which was later turned into a frigate, the former destroyer Marasesti or the Eustatiu Sebastian class frigates (in the Mangalia shipyard), which were later classified as corvettes.
After the 1989 December Revolution, reviving the tradition of the fluvial and sea defense by means of monitor type ships, as of 1993 newer type monitors (i.e. Mihail Kogălniceanu, I.C. Brătianu and Lascăr Catargiu), built in the Drobeta-Turnu Severin Shipyard, were included in the 24 River Brigade in Brăila. Following the same naval tradition, the warships were named after important historical figures and heroes of the Romanian Navy. Following the Supreme Defense Council approval of a new organizational structure of the Romanian Armed Forces, the 42 Sea Division was reorganized in 1994 and, as such, the Maritime Fleet was founded. A year later, on March 30, 1995 the Danube Flotilla Headquarters, located in Brăila was founded and on April 15, 1995 the Danube Flotilla was reestablished. On March 31, 2003 the Naval Operational Command reached its full capability in Constanţa, while also taking over the River Naval Component and turning into the Fleet Headquarters in 2006. Within the new European political and strategic framework of the end of the second millennium and the beginning of the third one, Romania has constantly promoted an active naval diplomacy, mainly based on the co-operation with the military fleets of other states, on the achievement and development of bilateral relations with the Black Sea and Mediterranean fleets, as well as on strong and diverse international military actions.
Romania was the first country to sign, at the beginning of 1994, the Partnership for Peace Framework Document. The Romanian Naval Forces were the first structures involved in extended military exchanges with the new partners. They provided solid opportunities and arguments for new forms of political and military co-operation with member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization which Romania became a member of on March 29, 2004.
The geopolitical aspects of the area call for the Naval Forces to adapt their future missions in order to adequately respond to the asymmetric challenges.
In order to accomplish the military tasks and objectives Romania committed to within the North Atlantic Alliance, the Naval Forces have drawn up medium and long-term acquisition plans. Currently, major acquisition programs are in progress, at various stages, focusing on the upgrading of 22-class frigates, the setting up of the maritime surveillance system, the purchase of mine hunters and corvettes and the creation of the integrated communication system for the Naval Forces.
The geographical location of Romania, a continental European country with free access to the center of Europe, and also neighboring both the Black Sea and a major water lane - the Danube - has made it possible for our country, throughout its history, to become itself visible at a political and military level and has given it the right as well as the obligation to have a highly regarded and functional naval component within its national defense.
Nowadays, the Romanian Naval Forces are modern, capable of acting on land, at sea and under water, being able to project its power beyond the Black Sea, an important tool within the national defense system.