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Romania Joins Allies, Fall Of Falkenhayn

Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 248th installment in the series. 

August 27-29, 1916: Romania Joins Allies, Fall Of Falkenhayn 

By the late summer of 1916, it looked like the tides of war had shifted decisively in favor of the Allies. The German offensive against Verdun had been thwarted and was now being slowly rolled back; the Allied offensive at the Somme was grinding forward, sucking in more and more German divisions (contributing to the failure at Verdun); the Italians had scored their biggest, or indeed only, victory to date at the Sixth Battle of the Isonzo; and most dramatically, the Russians had achieved a massive breakthrough on the Eastern Front with the Brusilov Offensive, shattering entire Austro-Hungarian armies and forcing the Germans to pull even more troops from the Western Front to shore up their beleaguered ally. 

Things were about to get even worse for the Central Powers – or so it seemed – as Romania declared war on Austria-Hungary and launched an invasion of her erstwhile Triple Alliance partner on August 27, 1916. Like Italy and Serbia, Romania’s antagonism against the Habsburg realm was fueled by her nationalist aspirations to “redeem” its ethnic Romanian population by breaking up the Dual Monarchy and uniting them with a new, expanded Kingdom of Romania. After months of indecision, with the war apparently turning against the Central Powers Romania’s government – fearing they might miss out on the division of spoils – finally threw its lot in with the Allies in a secret military convention signed in July 1916. 

On August 28, 1916, Romanian Prime Minister Ion Bratianu delivered a declaration of war to the Austro-Hungarian ambassador, citing the Central Powers’ evident ambition to redraw the map of the Balkan Peninsula and Eastern Europe and Austria-Hungary’s long mistreatment of its ethnic Romanian population as justifications for this intervention: 

Today we are confronted by a situation de facto threatening great territorial transformations and political changes of a nature constituting a grave menace to the future of Rumania… For a period of thirty years the Rumanians of Austria-Hungary not only never saw a reform introduced, but, instead, were treated as an inferior race and condemned to suffer the oppression of a foreign element which constitutes only a minority amid the diverse nationalities constituting the Austro-Hungarian States… Rumania, from a desire to hasten the end of the conflict and to safeguard her racial interests, sees herself forced to enter into line by the side of those who are able to assure her realization of her national unity.  For these reasons Rumania considers herself, from this moment, in a state of war with Austria-Hungary.

On paper Romania was a formidable force, with an army of 800,000 men – but there was only enough equipment for about 550,000 of these, and many had received scarcely any training, while their officers had no experience with the grim realities of modern trench warfare. True, the Allies promised to supply Romania with weapons, ammunition and other necessities, but the only route left open to the isolated eastern Balkan nation lay through some of the most primitive parts of Europe, in what is now Moldova. Russia was also supposed to send an army to Romania’s aid, but by the time this improvised force made it to the combat zone the situation was already desperate; just as importantly, the Brusilov Offensive had finally ground to a halt, thanks in part to the arrival of German reinforcements. 

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On the other side, the Habsburg Army was indeed stretched to the breaking point, leaving Hungary’s vast Transylvanian hinterland more or less unprotected – but Austria-Hungary’s powerful partner Germany was hardly going to sit by and let her only ally be dismembered by a second-tier Balkan state. And Germany wasn’t the only one Romania had to worry about: Bulgaria was still nursing a major grudge over Romania’s “stab in the back” in the Second Balkan War of 1913, when the Romanians seized the Danube province of Dobruja while Bulgaria was embroiled in a disastrous struggle (admittedly, almost entirely her own fault) with Serbia, Greece, and Turkey.

Despite all this the Romanians made considerable progress at first, benefiting from Austria-Hungary’s inability to mount a concerted defense against the three invading Romanian armies (a fourth Romanian army stood guard against the Bulgarians in the south). The invaders received support from sympathetic Romanian peasants as well, and by September 1, 1916 they had occupied a number of key towns along the Hungarian frontier, including Kronstadt, Petroseni, Kezdiasarhely, Brasov, and Sibiu. But the Romanian honeymoon would be short-lived. 

The Fall of Falkenhayn 

On August 28-29, 1916, the First World War claimed yet another political casualty: this time it was the turn of the cold, imperious chief of the German general staff, Erich von Falkenhayn. 

A relatively junior officer when he was promoted to the top spot following Helmuth von Moltke’s nervous breakdown at the beginning of the war, Falkenhayn owed his quick ascent to the personal favor of Kaiser Wilhelm II, which also helped protect him from his growing army of critics in the senior echelons of the German Army – for a time. 

But by the second half of 1916 multiple mistakes and miscalculations were finally catching up with him. The most glaring was the debacle at Verdun, which Falkenhayn had planned to be a carefully calibrated battle of attrition to bleed France white – but which quickly spun out of control, as German field commanders pressed forward regardless of casualties, resulting in almost as many German losses as French. Falkenhayn also paid the price for failing to anticipate the size and intensity of the British onslaught at the Somme, and for discounting Russia’s continued war-making ability, demonstrated in the Brusilov Offensive. Romania’s decision to join the Allies was the last straw – the German Army needed new leadership.

Falkenhayn’s successor, announced on August 29, 1916, would be none other than Paul von Hindenburg, assisted as always by his brilliant younger aide de camp Erich Ludendorff, who had become national heroes with the victory at Tannenberg in August 1914 and earned more plaudits for the Central Powers’ victorious campaign on the Eastern Front in the summer of 1915. As “Easterners,” Hindenburg and Ludendorff believed that the Central Powers should try to achieve victory by knocking Russia out of the war, while assuming a defensive posture on the Western Front – foreshadowing another major change in German strategy in 1917. 

For his part Falkenhayn would have a successful “second act” as commander of the Central Powers counterattack against Romania, earning praise for his skillful handling of the hybrid force composed of German, Habsburg and Bulgarian armies (along with his subordinate August von Mackensen, who had previously orchestrated the successful assault on Serbia in the fall of 1915).

See the previous installment or all entries.

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Jim Henson's Labyrinth Is Being Adapted Into a Stage Musical
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Henson Company

More than 30 years after its cinematic debut, Labyrinth could be hitting the stage. In an interview with Forbes, Jim Henson's son and Henson Company CEO Brian Henson shared plans to transform the cult classic into a live musical.

While the new musical would be missing David Bowie in his starring role as Jareth the Goblin King, it would hopefully feature the soundtrack Bowie helped write. Brian Henson says there isn't a set timeline for the project yet, but the stage adaptation of the original film is already in the works.

As for a location, Henson told Forbes he envisions it running, "Not necessarily [on] Broadway, it could be for London's West End, but it will be a stage show, a big theatrical version. It’s very exciting."

Labyrinth premiered in 1986 to measly box office earnings and tepid reviews, but Jim Henson's fairytale has since grown into a phenomenon beloved by nostalgic '80s kids and younger generations alike. In the same Forbes interview, Brian Henson also confirmed the 2017 news that a long-anticipated Labyrinth sequel is apparently in development. Though he couldn't give any specifics, Henson confirmed that, "we are still excited about it but the process moves very slowly and very carefully. We're still excited about the idea of a sequel, we are working on something, but nothing that's close enough to say it's about to be in pre-production or anything like that."

While fans eagerly await those projects to come out, they can get their fix when the film returns to theaters across the U.S. on April 29, May 1, and May 2. Don't forget to wear your best Labyrinth swag to the event.

[h/t Forbes]

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10 Wild Facts About Westworld
John P. Johnson, HBO
John P. Johnson, HBO

The hit HBO show about an android farm girl finding sentience in a fake version of the old West set in a sci-fi future is back for a second season. So grab your magnifying glass, study up on Lewis Carroll and Shakespeare, and get ready for your brain to turn to scrambled eggs. 

The first season saw Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and her robotic compatriots strive to escape bondage as the puppet playthings of a bored society that kills and brutalizes them every day, then repairs them each night to repeat the process for paying customers. The Maze. The Man in Black. The mysteries lurking in cold storage and cantinas. Wood described the first season as a prequel, which means the show can really get on the dusty trail now. 

Before you board the train and head back into the park, here are 10 wild facts about the cerebral, sci-fi hit. (Just beware of season one spoilers!)

1. IT’S NOT THE FIRST TV ADAPTATION OF THE MOVIE.

Though Westworld, the 1973 film written and directed by Michael Crichton, was a hit, its 1976 sequel Futureworld was a flop. Still, the name and concept had enough cachet for CBS to move forward with a television concept in 1980. Beyond Westworld featured Delos head of security John Moore (Jim McMullan) battling against the villainous mad scientist Simon Quaid (James Wainwright), who wants to use the park’s robots to, what else, take over the whole world. It would be a little like if the HBO show focused largely on Luke Hemsworth’s Ashley Stubbs, which just might be the spinoff the world is waiting for.

2. THE ORIGINAL GUNSLINGER HAS A CAMEO.

Ed Harris and Eddie Rouse in 'Westworld'
JOHN P. JOHNSON, HBO

The HBO series pays homage to the original film in a variety of ways, including echoing elements from the score to create that dread-inducing soundscape. It also tipped its ten-gallon hat to Yul Brynner’s relentless gunslinger from the original film by including him in the storage basement with the rest of the creaky old models.

3. QUENTIN TARANTINO, ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, AND MANY OTHERS COULD HAVE REBOOTED IT.

Speaking of Brynner’s steely, murderous resolve: His performance as the robo-cowboy was one of the foundations for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s turn as the Terminator. Nearly 20 years later, in 2002, Schwarzenegger signed on to produce and star in a reboot of the sci-fi film from which he took his early acting cues. Schwarzenegger never took over the role from Brynner because he served as Governor of California instead, and the reboot languished in development hell.

Warner Bros. tried to get Quentin Tarantino on board, but he passed. They also signed The Cell director Tarsem Singh (whose old West would have been unbelievably lush and colorful, no doubt), but it fell through. A few years later, J.J. Abrams—who had met with Crichton about a reboot back in 1996—pitched eventual co-creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy on doing it as a television series. HBO bought it, and the violent delights finally made it to our screens.

4. IT COSTS $40,000 A DAY TO VISIT THE PARK. (AND THAT’S THE CHEAP PACKAGE.)

Thandie Newton and Angela Sarafyan in 'Westworld'
HBO

In season one, Logan (Ben Barnes) revealed that he’s spending $40,000 a day to experience Westworld. That’s in line with the 1973 movie, where park visitors spent $1000 a day, which lands near $38,000 once adjusted for inflation. Then again, we’re talking about 2052 dollars, so it might still be pricey, but not exorbitant in 2018 terms. But a clever Redditor spotted that $40,000 is the minimum you’d pay; according to the show’s website, the Gold Package will set you back $200,000 a day.

5. BEN BARNES BROKE HIS FOOT AND DIDN’T TELL ANYONE.

Once Upon a Time’s Eion Bailey was originally cast as Logan but had to quit due to a scheduling conflict, so Ben Barnes stepped in … then he broke his foot. The actor hid the injury for fear he’d lose the job, which is why he added a limp as a character detail. “I’m sort of hobbling along with this kind of cowboy-ish limp, which I then tried to maintain for the next year just so I could pretend it was a character choice,” Barnes said. “But really I had a very purple foot … So walking was the hardest part of shooting this for me.”

6. THE CO-CREATORS RICKROLLED FANS OBSESSED WITH UNCOVERING SPOILERS.

Eagle-eyed fans (particularly on Reddit) uncovered just about every major spoiler from the first season early on, which is why Nolan and Joy promised a spoiler video for anyone who wanted to know the entire plot of season two ahead of its premiere. They delivered, but instead of show secrets, the 25-minute video only offered a classy rendition of Rick Astley’s internet-infamous “Never Gonna Give You Up,” sung by Evan Rachel Wood with Angela Sarafyan on piano, followed by 20 minutes of a dog. It was a pitch-perfect response to a fanbase desperate for answers.

7. IT FEATURES AN ANCIENT GREEK EASTER EGG.

Amid the alternative rock tunes hammered out on the player piano and hat tips to classic western films, Westworld also referenced something from 5th century BCE Greece. Westworld, which is run by Delos Incorporated, is designed so that guests cannot die. Delos is also the name of the island where ancient Greeks made it illegal for anyone to die (or be born for that matter) on religious grounds. That’s not the only bit of wordplay with Greek either: Sweetwater’s main ruffian, Hector Escaton (Rodrigo Santoro), gets his last name from the Greek eschaton, meaning the final event in the divine design of the world. Fitting for a potentially sentient robot helping to bring about humanity’s destruction.

8. JIMMI SIMPSON FIGURED OUT HIS CHARACTER’S TWIST BECAUSE OF HIS EYEBROWS.

Evan Rachel Wood and Jimmi Simpson in 'Westworld'
HBO

In season one, the show’s many secrets were kept even from the main cast until the time they absolutely needed to know. Jimmi Simpson, who plays timid theme park neophyte William, had a hunch something was funny with his role because of a cosmetic change.

“I was with an amazing makeup artist, Christian, and he was looking at my face too much,” Simpson told Vanity Fair. “He had me in his chair, and he was just looking at my face, and then he said something about my eyebrows. ‘Would you be cool if we just took a couple hairs out of your eyebrows, made them not quite as arched?’” Guessing that they were making him look more like The Man in Black, Simpson said something to Joy, and she confirmed his hunch. “She looked kind of surprised I’d worked it out,” he said.

9. THE PLAYER PIANO MAY BE AN ALLUSION TO KURT VONNEGUT.

One of the show’s most iconic elements is its soundtrack of alternative rock songs from the likes of Radiohead, The Cure, and Soundgarden redone in a jaunty, old West style. In addition to adding a creepy sonic flavor to the sadistic vacation, they also may wink toward Kurt Vonnegut’s first novel, Player Piano, which deals with a dystopia of automation where machines do everything for humans, leading to an entrenched class struggle. The show’s resonant elements are clear, but Westworld also mentions that the world outside the theme park is one where there’s no unemployment and humans have little purpose. Like The Man In Black (Ed Harris), the protagonist of Player Piano also longs for real stakes in the struggle of life.

10. THERE ARE TWO JESSE JAMES CONNECTIONS.

Anthony Hopkins and Jeffrey Wright in 'Westworld'
HBO

Anthony Hopkins’s character Dr. Robert Ford is an invention for the new series, and he shares a name with the man who assassinated infamous outlaw Jesse James (a fact you may remember from the aptly named movie The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford). The final episode of the first season flips the allusion when Ford is shot in the back of the head, which is exactly how the real-life Ford killed James.

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