Operation Mόnchen - retaking Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina - 1941
Romanian cavalry marching to the front in Bessarabia. Note the swords
Elements of the 1st Armored Division near Chisinau. Note the white band on the left arm of the officer in the command vehicle, which the Romanians wore in order to avoid being taken for Soviets by the German allies
Romanian and German military advancing in Bessarabia during July 1941.
Romanian motorcyclist on a break by the side of the road. Note the white scarf around his arm, worn so that the German allies won't confuse him with a Soviet soldier
Romanian R-35 tank from the 2nd Tank Regiment
King Mihai I and gen. Ion Antonescu during an inspection on the front, July 1941
Soviet heavy artillery battery captured in the center of Chisinau by the 3rd Tank Company
Romanian infantry attacks under the protection of a smoke grenade
Romanian soldiers in offensive. Bessarabia, July 1941.
Soviet prisoners
Romanian peasants welcome the troops

Note: In order for non-Romanian speakers to better identify the more important cities of Northern Bukovina and Bessarabia, their names will be written in both Romanian and Russian.

The general offensive on the Prut River line, named Operation Mόnchen, was planned for 2 July. The main role was reserved for the more experienced German 11th Army, with the Romanian Cavalry Corps (5th and 6th Cavalry Brigades) and the German 11th Corps (German 76th and 239th Infantry Divisions, Romanian 1st Armored and 6th Infantry Divisions) towards Mogilev-Podolsky. The German 30th (German 198th Infantry Division, Romanian 8th, 13th and 14th Infantry Divisions) and 54th Corps (German 50th and 170th Infantry Divisions, Romanian 5th Infantry Division) had the mission to occupy Balti (Beltsy) and Dubosari (Dubossary). The Romanian 4th Army was going to attack with the 3rd Corps (35th Reserve Infantry, 11th and 15th Infantry Divisions) towards Chisinau (Kishinev) and with the 5th Corps (Guard, 21st Infantry and Frontier-guard Divisions) towards Tighina (Bendery). The 11th Corps (1st and 2nd Fortification Brigades) was going to remain on the defense. In the Danube Delta, the 2nd Corps (9th and 10th Infantry Divisions) had to force the Danube and to clean up the seaside up to the Dnister Estuary. Finally, the 3rd Romanian Army received the command of the Mountain Corps (8th Cavalry Brigade, 1st, 2nd and 4th Mountain Brigades and 7th Infantry Division) and had the mission to occupy Northern Bukovina.

To the north, the 7th Infantry Division started the attack at 0400 hours, after a 10 minute artillery preparation. The advance was stopped at 0630 hours by powerful Soviet counterattacks. But the troops of the Soviet 17th Rifle Corps from the 12th Army were on the retreat, because of the German breakthrough at Rovno, which threatened their rear. Thus, maj. Gen. Gheorghe Avramescu, the CO of the Mountain Corps, ordered an all-out assault for the following day. On 3 July, the 1st and Battalions of the 1st Mountain Brigade advanced to Storojinet, crossed the Siret River through the water, because the bridge had been blown up during the retreat, and annihilated the Soviet rearguard in the city. To the right of the 1st Mountain Brigade, the 4th Mountain Brigade reached the Siret Mic River, pushing back the rearguard of the Soviet 60th Mountain Rifle Division. The right wing of the 3rd Army was made up of the 7th Infantry Division and the 2nd Mountain Brigade. The 8th Cavalry Brigade was in reserve. The 2nd Brigade advanced towards Molnita, with the 15th Battalion/4th Mountain Group as vanguard, which had to fight hard in order to take Bourului Hill, while the 5th Group occupied the Porcului Hill. The 7th Infantry Division fought in the Fantana Alba, Cerepcauti and Petricani areas, without gaining much ground and loosing 88 men (7 killed, 72 wounded and 9 missing). To assist it, on 4 July, the 4th Mountain Brigade executed the maneuver ordered by lt. gen. Petre Dumitrescu and got behind the Soviet troops fighting in the Fantana Alba – Cerepcauti area, forcing them to retreat and thus the 7th Infantry Division and the 8th Cavalry Brigade managed to cross the Siret River. The 1st Mountain Brigade continued the advance and arrived with the 1st Mountain Group of col. Albert Ludwig in front of Cernauti (Chernovitsy). He was later awarded the Mihai Viteazul Order 3rd class for the rapid progress made by his detachment. The following day, on 5 July, the "Col. Mociulschi" Group from the 1st Mountain Brigade (1st, 2nd and 23rd Mountain Battalions, 1st Mountain Howitzer Battalion, a mountain guns battery, an AT company and the 1st Mounted Vanatori Squadron) attacked the city frontally, while the rest of the brigade, the "Col. Marinescu" Group, maneuvered around it from the west and the 4th Brigade maneuvered around it from the east. Threatened with the encirclement, the Soviet troops retreated. At 1700 hours the 3rd and 23rd Mountain Battalions entered the town. The capital of Northern Bukovina had been retaken.

The 2nd Mountain Brigade crossed the Prut River and advanced towards Hotin, fighting at Noua Sulita and Dincauti, where the Soviet forces counterattacked, the situation being saved by the intervention of the 2nd Mounted Vanatori Squadron. For the operation to take the city, the 8th Cavalry Brigade was subordinated to brig. gen. Ioan Dumitrache, the CO of the 2nd Mountain Brigade. It replaced the 7th Infantry Division on the left of the mountain troops. On 6 July, the general decided to attack in the following manner: the 2nd Calarasi Regiment had to pin down the enemy, while the "Lt. col. Ciubotaru" Detachment (the CO of the 7th Mountain Battalion) and the 1st Squadron/3rd Motorized Calarasi Regiment maneuvered from the east and two mountain battalions and a mountain artillery battalion from the northwest. At 0545 hours, the vanguard of the 2nd Calarasi (3rd Squadron) arrived in the area of the Rates mansion, where it was stopped by heavy resistance, cpt. Fortunescu, the unit's CO, being wounded. The squadron was reinforced with two platoons and at 0900 hours it enveloped the Soviet positions and forced the defenders to retreat. The assault on the city began at 1800 hours and at 1930 hours the 16th Battalion was vigorously attacked near Rucsin. The 9th Mountain Battalion intervened and saved the day. Thus at 2000 hours, the 16th Battalion entered in the southern part of the Hotin Forest, followed by the 9th. The "Ciubotariu" Detachment advanced up to the Imasului Hill, where it surprised a Soviet column on the retreat. During the night, infantry supported by tanks attacked the detachment's positions, but it held out, blocking the retreat path to the southeast. On 7 July, though it rained heavily, the fighting went on. The 10th Mountain Battalion managed to enter the northern part of the city and the 16th Battalion approached the village of Atahi, the crossing point over the Dnister River used by the Soviet troops. The following day, the 52nd and 57th Motorized Heavy Artillery Battalions silenced the Soviet artillery on the left bank of the Dnister. At 1400 hours the 2nd Mountain Brigade started the attack and eliminated the last strongholds on the Cetatii Hill and at Atahi. By 1700 hours, Hotin was in its hands.

Following these successes, the 3rd Army received the order to change the direction of the offensive. Thus, the 8th Cavalry Brigade had to secure the link on the right wing with the Cavalry Corps, while the Mountain Corps was going to advance to the Dnister between Vyzhnievo si Voloskova. The 7th Infantry Division was subordinated to the 4th Army. By 11 July, the 3rd Army had reached the Cormani – Romancauti line with the 4th Mountain Brigade, the Romancauti – Climauti line with the 1st Mountain Brigade and the Kalus – Volshkova line with the 8th Cavalry Brigade. The following day, the mountain brigades had several clashes with the Soviet rearguards and in the evening they had arrived at the Dnister, in the Romancauti area.

Going back to 2 July, on the front in Northern Bessarabia, the Cavalry Corps, subordinated to the German 11th Army, started the crossing from the first hours of the day. The 6th Cavalry Brigade, on the corps' left wing, at the junction with the 3rd Army, created with difficulty a bridgehead over the Prut River in the area north Serbeni – Dumeni, because of the numerous Soviet armored counterattacks. The 6th Infantry Division started the crossing at Cuconesti, Movila Rupta and Corpaci, without incidents. The 27th Dorobanti Regiment Bacau managed to ferry 2 battalions over the river by nightfall. The 1st Armored Division attacked in the Bratuseni – Edinita direction.

The following day, the 6th Cavalry Brigade arrived northeast of Varatec and the 6th Division continued the crossing without events. On the other hand, the Soviet 2nd Mechanized Corps made a powerful attack at Soltoaia on positions of the 13th Infantry Division. The initial reports forwarded to the division's command mentioned 200 tanks, a figure obviously exaggerated. On 4 July, the 5th Cavalry Brigade crossed the Prut River with the "Col. Korne" Motorized Detachment and started the advance on the Terebna – Edinita direction. The 1st Armored Division intervened with the 1st Battalion from the 1st Tank Regiment east of Bratuseni in support of the 203rd Regiment from the German 76th Infantry Division that was in a critical situation because of an attack by Soviet tanks and repulsed the Soviet assault. The 8th Infantry Division, subordinated to the German 30th Corps, broke out of the bridgehead at Badarai, Chetris and Moara Domneasca, but was stopped by the corps' command, because the German 198th Division on its flank was experiencing problems. Subordinated to the same corps, the 13th Division fought at Sarata Noua, and the following day encountered strong resistance at Marandeni. The 3rd Battalion/7th Dorobanti Regiment managed to occupy the settlement, but suffered heavy losses in the process. On 5 July, the Romanian 5th Infantry Division, from the German 54th Corps, also crossed the Prut River and took up position on its right flank.

On 5 July, the 1st Armored Division was engaged near Branzeni with elements of the Soviet 74th and 176 Rifle Divisions (from the 48th Rifle Corps), supported by tanks. It got a hold of the villages Chetrosita Veche and Parcova and its recon group arrived at Edinita by nightfall. The following day, this group was already on the Dnister River together with the German "Lindemann" Detachment and, on 7 July, the bulk of the division's forces reached the 1940 frontier, near Mogilev. Also on 7 July, elements of the Cavalry Corps, commanded by maj. gen. Mihail Racovita, arrived near Lipnic, on the Dnister. The 6th Cavalry Brigade managed to advance over a distance of 50 km that day.

To the south, offensive was progressing slower. The 14th Infantry Division from the German 30th Corps was stopped in front of Balti (Beltsy). The 3rd Battalion/13th Dorobanti Regiment Stefan cel Mare made a frontal assault on the village of Biliceni, while the 2nd Battalion maneuvered around it northwards. On 8 July, the 13th Division joined the battle for Balti (Beltsy), fighting at Singureni and Tarinei Hill, a well-fortified position that was assaulted by the 22nd Regiment. The 14th Division was subordinated to the German 54th Corps and received the mission to establish a bridgehead north of Raut in the Elisabeta region, mission that was carried out the following day, when the 13th and 14th Divisions managed to push the Soviet troops out of Balti (Beltsy). The 39th Infantry Regiment reached the Raut River at 1000 hours. The 5th Infantry Division, situated on the right flank of the 54th Corps, clashed with Soviet cavalry in the Zgardesti-Mandresti area. The attack was carried out with two regiments in the first line, while the third was situated behind the left wing. At 1400 hours, the 8th Dorobanti Regiment took the village of Zgardesti, while the 32nd Infantry Regiment Mircea repulsed the Soviet troops east of Mandresti and from Gliceni Forest. The following day, supported by four artillery battalions, the regiment attacked Mandresti frontally with one battalion and with the second maneuvered to the south, threatening the rear of the Soviet forces, which retreated leaving behind a lot of their heavy weapons.

The 1st Armored Division received the mission to advance southwards, on the Mosana-Soroca (Soroki) direction and managed by 10 July to block the retreat path of the Soviet troops that were retreating towards Mogilev and to clear the right bank of the Dnister in the Soroca (Soroki) area. It was then subordinated to the German 54th Corps and directed to Balti (Beltsy), contributing to the reoccupation of the city on 12 July. The same day, the 3rd Battalion /7th Dorobanti Regiment from the 13th Infantry Division entered Soroca (Soroki) after a brief fight.

Since 13 July, the Cavalry Corps was subordinated to the 3rd Army and took over the 8th Cavalry Brigade from the Mountain Corps, beginning preparations for the offensive over the Dnister, which was going to start on 17 July.

The rapid advance in the northern part of the Romanian front, all the way to the Dnister River, was explainable due to the pull-back of the Soviet 12th Army following the order received by the Southwestern Front from Stavka to retreat to the 1940 frontier. It seems that gen. Tiulenev, the CO of the Southern Front, overestimated the strength of Army Group "Antonescu" and also requested the permission to retreat to the Stalin Line, situated on the left bank of the Dnister. However, the order was canceled by Stavka, who asked him to retake the Prut River line. Thus a confusing situation was created: while the 18th Army, rushed to the front from the Moscow Military District, was deployed on the Dnister in the Mogilev-Podolsky fortified area, the 9th Army was still occupying the center and south of Bessarabia, carrying out heavy fights with the Romanian 4th Army, as we shall see in the following paragraphs.

The 3rd Corps, which represented the northern wing of the 4th Army, neighboring the German 11th Army, attacked on 2 July only with the 35th Reserve Infantry Division. The crossing of the Prut River started at 1645 hours, under the supervision of gen. Ion Antonescu, who was in inspection in the area. The 67th Infantry Regiment managed to ferry two battalions on the eastern bank of the River and to occupy the Costuleni Hill, loosing only one man in the operation. In the evening, the 6th Bridge Engineers Company started to build the bridge. The following day, the 55th Infantry Regiment also crossed the river, as did several artillery battalions. The 35th Division enlarged the bridgehead, without encountering much resistance, and made contact with the German troops on its left. The 15th Infantry Division forced the river on 4 July and managed to ferry across it by evening the 25th Infantry Regiment on the left wing and the 10th Vanatori Regiment on the right wing at Obileni and Sarateni.

In front of the Romanian 3rd Corps were elements of the Soviet 95th Rifle Division and of the 2nd Cavalry Corps (5th and 9th Cavalry Divisions). On 5 July, these forces made several attacks. The 35th Division repulsed a Soviet assault near Bratuleni and the 15th Division withstood two such blows. The first one took place around 1200 hours near Balauresti, on the left wing of the 25th Infantry Regiment, where the 3rd Battalion was located, but the intervention of the artillery support repulsed it. In the afternoon, two Soviet rifle companies attacked the positions of the 3rd Battalion/10th Vanatori Regiment, situated on the right flank. The assault was repulsed and the two companies were almost completely wiped out. Only 8 survivors were taken POWs. As it can be noticed, the Soviet troops counterattacked the flanks of the 15th Division, trying to put the Romanian unit in a difficult situation.

On 6 July, maj. gen. Vasile Atanasiu, the CO of the 3rd Corps, decided to introduce also the 11th Infantry Division in the first line. It took up position to the right of the 15th Division and north of the 5th Corps, which was struggling to breach the front at Tiganca and breakout of the bridgehead.

The 3rd Corps received on 7 July the mission to advance on the Lapusna – Hancesti – Chisinau/Kishinev direction. For this, the 35th Reserve Infantry Division started advance on two directions: towards Varzaresti – Sendreni – Vorniceni and towards Calarasi and the 11th Division towards Leuseni – Carpineni – Sarata Galbena, with the task to occupy the western bank of the Lapusna Creek. The latter was stopped on the Lapusna by Soviet artillery fire. The 19th Infantry Regiment Romanati suffered considerable losses. The following day, the 3rd Dorobanti and 19th Infantry Regiments, supported by the corps' heavy artillery, managed to reach the heights east of Sarata Galbena. In the sector of the 15th Infantry Division, the advance went on without problems and in the evening it arrived near Hancesti. Things went much more different for the 35th Reserve Infantry Division. At 1045 hours, the 53rd Recon Group reported that it had occupied the hill north of Miclauseni and the Racatau Forest and that Soviet forces are retreating towards Chisinau (Kishinev). The report proved later on to be false, because from that exact area and from the Miclauseni Forest and Lozova started the Soviet counterattack, which hit the rear and flank of the 2nd Battalion/67th Infantry Regiment. This unit succumbed and the soldiers started to retreat in disorder, influencing a part of the 3rd Battalion and the supply column. The Soviet troops thus managed to flank the Bucovat Valley, where the 63rd Artillery Regiment was on the move. It was caught by surprise by the Soviet infantry and tanks. Col. Cocinschi, the unit's CO, gave immediately the order to dismount and install the guns in firing positions. In the fight that followed, the colonel himself was wounded while he was firing a light machine-gun from the position of the 1st Battery. The majority of the guns were encircled. Two Mihai Viteazul Order 3rd class to cpt. Alexandru Borcescu and cpt. Valerie Negut, both posthumously, the two officers died in the first line. Those were the only high decorations given to officers of the 35th Reserve Infantry Division. The 1st Battalion/50th Infantry Regiment, which was in reserve, counterattacked and stopped the Soviet advance east of Sendreni and Varzaresti. Brig. gen. Emil Procopiescu, the division's CO, managed to stop the retreating troops and form a defensive line. Besides the high human losses (until 15 July the division had 177 killed, 2,295 missing and 309 wounded) all the equipment of the 63rd Artillery Regiment and two batteries of the 55th Motorized Heavy Artillery Regiment were lost. The 55th Infantry Regiment (part of the northern Group of the division) managed on the other hand to arrive north and west of Calarasi, but couldn't get inside the town. In the evening, its left wing was repulsed by a Soviet attack. The Situation of the 35th Reserve Infantry Division was still critical: the 53rd Recon Group was surrounded at Racatau and the 55th Infantry Regiment was isolated on the Bacului Valley.

Thus, on 9 July 1941, the 3rd Corps stopped the advance of the 11th and 15th Infantry Divisions and adopted a defensive stance. The Soviets maintained the pressure on the 35th Reserve Infantry Division and the Combat Air Grouping had to make over 80 sorties and drop 22.25 tons of bombs in its sector, to disorganize the enemy troop concentrations. The following day, gen. Ion Antonescu decided to retreat the division's northern group from Calarasi and left the sector to the German 72nd Infantry Division. The 15th Infantry Division made the link with the threatened division with the 1st Battalion/10th Vanatori Regiment, strengthened with AT guns. Also, to reinforce the 3rd Corps, the 4th Army subordinated the Frontier-guard Division and the 7th Cavalry Brigade to it. On 11 July, the 15th Infantry Division was attacked very violently. The brunt of the assault was taken by the 35th Infantry Regiment Matei Basarab, situated west of Lapusna, which held out against a Soviet regiment supported by 4 artillery battalions. The 10th Vanatori Regiment repulsed the Soviet attempts to get behind the division, while the 25th Infantry Regiment was pulling back from its forward positions in order to shorten the defense line. In the evening, two enemy companies infiltrated at the contact between the 11th and 15th Infantry Divisions, but were repulsed by the corps' reserve. On 12 July, the 25th Infantry Regiment attacked the Soviet troops infiltrated on the direction of Lapusna and forced them to retreat in disarray towards Hancesti, capturing around 250 POWs.

Probably the bloodiest fights in Bessarabia took place in the so-called battle of Tiganca. The 5th Corps, made up of the Guard Division, commanded by brig. gen. Nicolae Sova, and the 21st Infantry Division, commanded by maj. gen. Nicolae Dascalescu, received the task to establish a bridgehead over the Prut in the area opposite Falciu. It had rained a lot and this made things more difficult for the Romanian troops. The waterside was flooded and the river had a width varying between 200 and 600 m.

The first troops of the Guard Division that crossed the Prut on 2 July were a company of the 6th Guard Infantry Regiment Mihai Viteazul, which had the mission to secure the bridgehead at Bogdanesti. In rest, on the whole front of the 5th Corps took place an artillery preparation meant at neutralizing the Soviet heavy artillery, at destroying the fortifications and at disorganizing the defense, but because of the small quantity of ammunitions allocated, it failed to meet its purpose. Also, the river crossing preparations weren't masked and it didn't take the enemy by surprise. Thus the Guard Division encountered serious difficulties and found it practically impossible to advance too much, although it had moved on the eastern bank all its infantry. It had been stopped by the resistance on the Epureni Hill and near the villages of Stoenesti and Tiganca. On 5 July, the 5th Corps decided to engage the 21st Infantry Division to the right of the Guard Division to help it surpass the deadlock it was in. The attack was supposed to start during the night. The infantry had to Passover the railway bridge at Bogdanesti. The artillery was going to be moved only after a new bridge would be built at Falciu.

After a short reconnaissance, maj. gen. Dascalescu decided that attack should be carried out by the 24th Infantry Regiment, with two battalions in the first line. At 0100 hours the troops started to cross the bridge through the pouring rain. It had been previously damaged by a bombardment, but it was still standing. The following day, on 6 July, the two battalions were ready to begin the attack at 0900 hours. The bombers that were supposed to support them did not show up. At 1000 hours it was decided to wait no more and attack without them. But the aircraft appeared after half an hour and bombed by mistake the Romanian troops. With all the confusion created, the 2nd Battalion managed to approach the Stoenesti village, advancing with difficulty through the marshlands in the area. The intervention of the 30th Artillery Regiment was requested, but, for unknown reasons, it did not materialize. However, at 2000 hours, the 24th Infantry Regiment had arrived at the base of the Epureni Hill and the 1st Battalion had begun the assault. The losses of the first day for the 21st Infantry Division: 26 killed and 166 wounded. The Guard Division attacked with the 6th Guard Infantry Regiment and managed to defeat the Soviet resistance in front of it and by evening it had occupied the Cania Hill, establishing a solid bridgehead. The regiment's losses were, however, heavy: 32 killed, 158 wounded and 7 missing.

On 7 July, the 3rd Battalion/1/2nd Guard Vanatori Regiment attacked through the rain, crossing the Balacea Creek under heavy artillery and machine-gun fire and advanced to the western edge of the Tiganca Hill, between the Tiganca and Stoenesti villages. The 21st Infantry Division ferried the rest of the infantry east of the Prut River. The resistance of the Soviet troops in the area was very strong, causing considerable losses to the 5th Corps. Its failures were blamed on the commander: lt. gen. Gheorghe Leventi, who was replaced that day with maj. gen. Aurelian Son.

The problems multiplied the following day, when the 11th Dorobanti Regiment of the 21st Infantry Division was attacked before dawn, at 0430 hours. The Soviet troops penetrated the unit's positions and two companies panicked and retreated. At 0615 hours there was another assault, which produced panic at the 3rd Battalion that started to retreat taking the 1st Battalion along with it. The Soviets advanced to Height 93, where they were stopped by the 24th Infantry Regiment and the 2nd Battalion/11th Dorobanti Regiment, supported by the 5th Artillery Regiment. Maj. gen. Nicolae Dascalescu stopped the fleeing soldiers he encountered and reorganized the front line and the links between the regiments. The 11th and 12th Dorobanti Regiments received the mission to storm the Epureni Hill and the 24th Regiment had to clear the Stoenesti village. The 12th Dorobanti Regiment repulsed a counterattack and advanced up to Height 126 on the Epureni Hill. The 11th Regiment arrived on the hill's ridge. Col. Bardan, the latter regiment's CO, reported at 1000 hours that he was on the hill only with the 1st Battalion and had lost contact with the other two. On his right was the 2nd Battalion/12th Dorobanti Regiment. Another counterattack was repulsed, but with heavy casualties on both sides. After it, col. Bardan had with him only 8 officers and 68 soldiers and the 12th regiment had to bring the 3rd Battalion in the first line and from the remains of the 1st and 2nd Battalions was organized an ad-hoc reserve battalion. By 1220 hours the 24th Regiment had cleared the Stoenesti village. The losses for that bloody day were: 98 killed, 292 wounded and 63 missing for the 11th Dorobanti Regiment and 72 killed and 154 wounded for the 24th Infantry Regiment.

The Guard Division was also attacked that day. At 0530 hours, Soviet troops infiltrated the positions of the 6th Guard Infantry Regiment Mihai Viteazul, using the gap between the 1st and 3rd Battalions. They surprised the regimental command point and in the following fight, the unit's CO, lt. col. Gheorghe Iliescu, was killed. He was the first Romanian regimental commander lost during WWII and received the Mihai Viteazul Order 3rd class posthumously. The command company managed to repulse the enemy with the support of the pioneer company and of the 2nd Battalion. Almost 100 POWs were taken. In total, the Guard Division lost that day 102 killed and 828 wounded, of which 20 killed and 156 wounded from the 6th Regiment, that was pulled out of the first line and put in reserve.

On 9 July, the 1/2nd Guard Vanatori Regiment attacked on the direction Height 120 – Height 196 on the Toceni Hill. After vicious fights, marked by numerous Soviet counterattacks, the regiment managed to take Height 196 at 1700 hours. It had advanced 7 km. Two young officers received the Mihai Viteazul Order 3rd class following this action: 1st lt. Mihail Adabei and 1st lt. Victor Comsa. The fighting continued with intensity in the sector of the 21st Infantry Division. The 11th Dorobanti Regiment, although it had already lost about half the officers and 40% of the soldiers in the previous days, managed to take the Tiganca Hill, Height 77 and the Tiganca village, destroying 5 pillboxes and taking around 150 POWs. The losses were again big: 50 killed, 135 wounded and 23 missing. The 12th Dorobanti Regiment did not achieve its mission however. The 1st Battalion took heavy casualties and couldn't advance. Thus, the regiment's commander, col. Gheorghe Nicolescu, took over the 2nd Battalion and led the attack. At 0910 hours he was mortally wounded and the assault was stopped. In these conditions, maj. gen. Dascalescu reported to the 5th Corps that his division was in a very difficult situation, having to hold a front longer than it could and ordered that all available men in the non-combat units to be sent to the regiments in the first line.

For a moment there was the intention to retreat the 5th Corps from the bridgehead at Falciu, but it was abandoned at the intervention of lt. gen. Nicolae Ciuperca, the CO of the 4th Army, who thought that it was tying down important Soviet forces and that too many sacrifices had been made to give it up.

The battle reached its climax on 12 July. The Red Army attacked with the 14th Rifle Corps (25th and 51st Rifle Divisions) and an extra infantry division, supported by tanks and aircraft, which bombed the Romanian troops at Tigheci, Larguta, Razesti and Cociulia. The Guard Division was strongly pressed in the sector of the 1/2nd and 2/9th Guard Vanatori Regiments. The assault lasted 16 hours. The two regiments kept their positions with great difficulty. Practically all the reserves were thrown into battle, the pioneers and even the command companies. The violence was extreme, hand-to-hand combat being frequent. The example of the 3rd Battalion/1/2nd Guard Vanatori Regiment is eloquent. It was almost completely encircled on the Cania Hill, but it continued to resist on its position. On the right flank, the 21st Infantry Division, although it had been reduced to practically 4 battalions, repulsed the attack of two Soviet divisions. The Combat Air Grouping played a major role in the defeat of the Soviet offensive at Tiganca. Between 0850 and 1730 hours, almost 37 tons of bombs were dropped on artillery positions and troops concentrations. 120 sorties were mad, of which 59 were bombers. The POWs taken that day stated that the air attacks caused losses up to 40% to the Red Army troops in the area. Two pilots received the prestigious Mihai Viteazul Order 3rd class posthumously for their deeds that day: 1st lt. av. (r) Ioan Lascu, from the 5th Fighter Group, killed while strafing Soviet troops in the Larguta Valley, and 2nd lt. av. Vasile Claru, from the 8th Fighter Group, killed in a dogfight over Tiganca with several I-16s of 67 IAP. Thus the evacuation plan for the night of 12/13 July was canceled. During the fighting in July, the CAG dropped a total of 134.5 tons of bombs in support of the 5th Corps. The Soviet attacks continued until 14 July, but with small intensity. The same day, the 17th Infantry Regiment from the 1st Infantry Division reinforced the 21st Infantry Division. On 15 July, the 5th Corps finally managed to break out of the bridgehead and to advance. The battle of Falciu – Tiganca was over. The losses suffered by the two divisions were gruesome: 2,473 by the Guard Division and 6,222 by the 21st Infantry Division.

In total 17 Mihai Viteazul Orders 3rd class were awarded during this battle, of which h6 posthumously. The highest-ranking officer that was decorated was maj. gen. Nicolae Dascalescu. It is said that Antonescu took off his own Mihai Viteazul Order, received during WWI, and pinned it on the general's chest, during an inspection. Also the flag of the 21st Infantry Division was decorated with the Mihai Viteazul Order 3rd class.

Going back to the central part of the front, to overcome the deadlock created in the sector of the 4th Army, on 12 July, the Romanian General Staff imagined an enveloping maneuver. Thus, on 13 July, the German 54th Corps was going to attack with the German 50th Infantry Division and the Romanian 5th Infantry and 1st Armored Divisions on the Zaicani – Orhei – Chisinau (Kishinev) direction and with the German 72nd Infantry Division on the Ungheni – Bucovat and Cornesti – Calarasi directions. The 35th Reserve Infantry Division had to advance on the Bolduresti – Vorniceni direction and from there towards Chisinau (Kishinev). On 14 July the 3rd Corps of the 4th Army had to start the attack, with the 15th Infantry Division on the Lapusna – Ialoveni direction, with the Frontier-guard and 11th Infantry Divisions on the Carpineni – Costesti direction and with the 7th Cavalry Brigade on the southern flank towards Sarateni. Only the 5th Corps had to remain on the defensive.

The offensive started on 13 July and the Soviet troops opposite the 3rd Corps started to retreat towards Chisinau (Kishinev). The following day, the 5th Infantry Division received a powerful counterattack by enemy cavalry in the area of the Hirova Monastery, but the 8th and 9th Dorobanti Regiments resisted and at 1000 hours resumed the advance towards Orhei. To the north, the Romanian divisions from the 30th Corps encountered some difficulties. The 13th Infantry Division managed to clear the Dubna village only after the German 399th Regiment maneuvered the resistance point to the north and a part of the Soviet troops retreated in order not to be encircled. The 14th Infantry Division experienced problems on the Raut River, where it was forced to adopt a defensive stance and to repulse the Soviet attacks. Only the 3rd Corps respected its schedule, because the enemy was retreating to avoid encirclement from the north.

On 15 July, the 14th Infantry Division was continuously attacked on the Raut by infantry supported by tanks, but it repulsed every assault and in the middle of the night it managed to occupy Height 166, following a bayonet charge made by the "Lt. col. Calotescu" Detachment. In the sector of the German 54th Corps, which was situated north of Chisinau (Kishinev), the Romanian 5th and German 50th Infantry Divisions pushed back the Soviet rearguards in front of them and entered Orhei. The 1st Armored Division advanced then down the Orhei – Chisinau (Kishinev) road and stopped only 8 km from the capital of Bessarabia. At the 3rd Corps, the 35th Reserve Infantry Division was pulled out of the first line and it will be disbanded in a short while. The same day, the 5th Corps started its offensive, following the retreating enemy.

On 16 July, the 1st Armored Division began the attack on Chisinau (Kishinev) at 0330 hours, closing in on the city with the Western Group, commanded by col. Constantin Nistor, from Ciocana Noua and with the Eastern Group, commanded by col. Gheorghe Petrea, from the northeast. The first group entered the city at 0830 hours, surprising the Soviet troops still inside Chisinau (Kishinev). Near the Orthodox Cathedral, the 3rd Tank Company, commanded by cpt. Victor Gabrinschi, liquidated a cavalry squadron and a heavy artillery battery. 2nd Lt. Stefan Marinescu raised the Romanian flag on the Holy trinity Church. At 1130 hours, the advance of the second group was stopped by Soviet troops on Rascanu Hill that were later taken out of position by the 2nd Tank Battalion supported by all the available heavy artillery. The retreat path towards Tighina (Bendery) for the troops of the Red Army was cut. The German 50th and 72nd Divisions also entered Chisinau (Kishinev) and by evening the city had been cleared of the remains of Soviet units. The other Romanian unit of the 54th Corps, the 5th Infantry Division, continued the advance eastwards from Orhei and arrived on the Hartopul Mic – Ianovat – Buric line. From there, the following day, it reached the Dnister River.

To the north, the Romanian 8th, 13th and 14th Infantry Divisions, which were subordinated to the German 30th Corps, made up the "Gen. Rozin" Group (brig. gen. Gheorghe Rozin was the CO of the 13th Division). Its mission was to guard the right flank of the German 30th Corps, while it was attempting to force the crossing of the Dnister. The 13th Dorobanti Regiment from the 14th Infantry Division had to carry out heavy fighting with Soviet forces supported by tanks, in the Gura Camenca area, but managed to repulse all attacks. In the sector of the 4th Army, the 3rd Corps maneuvered around Chisinau (Kishinev) to the south and arrived on the Rusestii Noi – Bardar – East Hancesti – East Orac line. The 5th Corps advanced with the Guard Division towards Porumbesti and Larguta and with the 21st Infantry Division towards Tiganca Noua. The 11th DorobantiRegiment took the village by nightfall, losing 16 killed, 57 wounded and 37 missing.

The fall of Chisinau (Kishinev) and of the Cornesti Massive to its south marked the end of the important fighting in Bessarabia. The command of the Axis troops in the region was reorganized. Army Group "Gen. Antonescu" ceased to exist. Thus the German 11th Army took under its command numerous Romanian units: the 3rd Army (Cavalry and Mountain Corps) and the 4th Corps (6th, 8th, 13th and 14th Infantry Divisions). Under the command of the Romanian General Staff and of general Antonescu remained the "Mattenkloht" Group (Romanian 5th and 15th Infantry and 1st Armored Divisions) and the 4th Army with the 3rd Corps (11th and 35th Infantry and Frontier-guard Divisions) and 5th Corps (21st Infantry and Guard Divisions, 17th Infantry Regiment) in the first line and the 7th Infantry Division in reserve. The 3rd Infantry Division and the 7th Cavalry Brigade made up the reserve of the General Staff. On the other side, Stavka had decided to retreat the 9th Army from southern Bessarabia, because it was in danger of being encircled, in the conditions in which the German 11th and Romanian 3rd Armies forced the Dnister on 17 July and the northern wing of Army Group South was advancing in the Ukraine.

The offensive on the Dnister of the 3rd Romanian Army is presented in another article on the website and I will not go into details. I will only refer to the operations of the Romanian troops in the center and south of Bessarabia. The "Gen. Rozin" Group fought defensive actions at Alexeni with the 13th Dorobanti Regiment from the 14th Infantry Division, repulsing all Soviet attacks. The "Mattenkloht" Group took Zahaicani with the 9th Dorobanti Regiment from the 5th Infantry Division and sent the 1st Armored Division eastwards. It encountered din powerful resistances at the entrance in the Chirca village. The 3rd and 5th Corps continued the pursuit and in the southern flank of the front, the 11th and 2nd Corps started to make incursions on the Bessrabian bank, preparing the crossings. The following day, the advance eastwards progressed without problems and a column of the 1st Armored Division captured a group of staff officers of the 95th Rifle Division. The 14th Infantry Division was confronted with a more special situation. It supported another powerful assault on the Raut front. The 2nd Battalion/39th Infantry Regiment held its ground, but the regiment's 3rd Battalion and the 3rd Battalion/8th Vanatori Regiment retreated from the Cucuesti Hill and Turcului Knoll. The 2nd Battalion/8th Vanatori Regiment counterattacked and retook the Turcului Knoll.

On 19 July, the 5th Infantry Division managed to capture the Spazuratilor Knoll, where its advance had been stopped the previous day, and in the evening it arrived in the Cosernita – Boscana – Ohrancea area. In the 3rd Corps' sector, the11th Infantry Division arrived in the evening on the Selemt – Ciofinceni line, the Frontier-guard Division arrived near Cimislia and Cazangic, and the 35th Reserve Infantry Division at Gradistea, Sahaidac and Galbenita. The 5th Corps arrived with the Guard Division west of the Sasghiol Valley and with the 21st Infantry Division on the Haragos Hill. On 20 July, the 15th Infantry Divisions took Tighina (Bendery) and reached the Dnister. The 4th Army continued the advance, experiencing more problems with the muddy roads than with the retreating Soviets. The same day, the 11th Corps started to cross the Prut River. Thus, the 2nd Battalion/53rd Infantry Regiment entered Cahul (Kagul) in the afternoon, without encountering any opposition. The 2nd Corps started to cross the Danube only on 21 July, at 0730 hours, when the 33rd Infantry Regiment from the 10th Infantry Division made the first bridgehead. By evening, Chilia (Kiliya), Pardina, Isbrieni and Valcov (Vilkov) were in Romanian hands.

Once the Dnister was reached, the 4th Army organized the river's defense in the Dubasari (Dubossary) sector with the 11th Corps. It had in the first line 8 machine-gun battalions, 7 AT companies and 2 fortification infantry regiments and the 15th Infantry and 1st Armored Divisions in reserve. The 3rd Infantry Division replaced the exhausted Guard Division in the 5th Corps. On 25 July, the 4th Army left the task of clearing southern Bessarabia to the Frontier-guard, 35th, 21st and 10th Infantry Divisions and the 7th Cavalry Brigade, that closing on the western bank of the Dnister.

The 1940 frontier was reached the following day, 26 July, which is considered the official end of operations for the Northern Bukovina and Bessarabian campaign in 1941. The Romanian troops suffered heavy losses during these fights: 22,765 men (4,271 killed, 12,326 wounded and 6,168 missing) and 58 aircraft. The Soviet losses were 17,893 (8,519 dead and missing and 9,374 wounded).

On 21st August 1941, Antonescu became the third marshal in Romanian history, as reward for the leadership of the troops that returned Northern Bukovina and Bessarabia to Romania. He also received the 2nd and 1st classes of the Mihai Viteazul Order and the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.

Author: Victor Nitu
Sources:
Dutu A., Retegan M. Razboi si societate vol. 1, RAO, 2000

Dutu A., Dobre F., Loghin L. Armata Romana in al doilea razboi mondial (1941-1945) - Dictionar Enciclopedic, Editura Enciclopedica, 1999

Scafes C., Serbanescu H., Scafes I., Andonie C., Danila I., Avram R. Armata romana 1941-1945, Editura R.A.I., 1996

Ichim E. Ordinul militar de razboi Mihai Viteazul, Editura Jertfa & Modelism, 2000

Dascalescu N. Nicolae Dascalescu generalul soldat, Editura Militara, 1995

Bernαd D. Rumanian Air Force, the prime decade 1938-1947, Squadron/Signal Publications, 1999

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