miercuri, 30 noiembrie 2011

Projects Concerning the Establishment of Military Units Consisting of Transylvanian Romanians, Former Prisoners or Emigrants in the United States of America (1917)

Pentru românii din Statele Unite ale Americii şi nu numai, de ziua naţională a tuturor românilor.

This article was published in similar form in Transylvanian Review, Vol. XIX, Supplement No.4, 2010

The purpose of the present study is to investigate two interesting projects emerged during the First World War. Unfortunately, they have not materialised. We are referring to Entente’s tendencies to create contingencies consisting of Transylvanian Romanians who had fought in the Austrian-Hungarian army, as well as units consisting of emigrants in the USA.

However, the Transylvanian Romanians made prisoners during the war were not the only ones targeted by the Entente’s responsible circles to form army staff in order to fight on the Allies’ side.

As far back as December 1916, the Slovakian general Milan Rastislav Stefanik, a close friend of the future inter-war Czechoslovakian president, Thomas Masaryk, and also of the future Minister of Foreign Affairs, Eduard Beneš, visited Moldavia and obtained support for the equipment of a Czechoslovakian military unit of approximately 1400 fighters.

By the end of 1917, as result of a discussion between the Head of the military French mission in Romania, General Henri-Mathias Berthlot and Generals Dmitri Scherbachev and Constantin Prezan, it has been established to organize Czech contingencies and bring them behind the Romanian front, between Nistru and the Jnerinka-Odessa line. Those army staffs were to be placed between the Romanian Army I and the Russian Army VI. The Allies wanted to speculate the lack of cohesion of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a conglomerate of nationalities whose attachment to the dualist state was relatively low. The Double monarchy, established in 1867 represented in the end a compromise solution (Ausgleich) between the Imperial Court of Vienna and the Hungarian nobility.

Later, in order to exercise pressure on the Soviet power from Petrograd that had signed the peace Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany, the allied and associated powers decided to maintain a Czechoslovakian legion in Siberia, legion consisting of former prisoners of the Austrian-Hungarian army. That contingency will be protected by the disembarkations of Englishmen, Japanese and Americans in Murmansk and Vladivostok during 1928 . We are talking about an anticipation of the continuous barrage or sanitary cordon that the Western powers later decided with regard to Soviet Russia.

Starting the second decade of April 1917, in correlation with the reorganization of the Romanian army, the possibility of creating contingencies consisting of Romanian war prisoners who had previously fought in the Austrian-Hungarian and others consisting of Transylvanian emigrants in the USA started to emerge.

This was an important aspect, as on the 23rd of April 1917, the French minister in Romania, count Charles-Auguste de Saint-Aulaire informed the French Foreign minister, Alexandre-Félix Ribot that the Transylvanian poet Octavian Goga proposed the establishment of a commission in Russia, which should deal with the recruitment of war prisoners of Romanian origin who wish to fight for the Royal army. The number would rise to 100 000 soldiers, out of which half had already asked to be conscripted in the Romanian army. Also, 800 Transylvanian officers expressed a similar wish. Even if the establishment of such contingencies meant time, the French government was keen to support the intercession in the discussions with the Petrograd officials.

Moreover, the diplomatic representative to Iaşi was not hiding his optimism for the fact that the royal troops were going to be able to fight in two months at the most, despite the shortcomings provoked by hunger and epidemics: “This army, whose moral and training are rapidly ameliorating due to our officers’ efforts, would be able not only to second the Russian army, but also to stimulate it with its example”. The main condition was that the New Russia, meaning the Russian government itself supplied the promised war ammunition. According to a recent investigation, the army’s manpower seems to be greater than anticipated, due to the Romanian Transylvanian prisoners, whose front dispatch had been approved by Petrograd.

However, the project will be abandoned in August, when Ribot informed Saint-Aulaire that after a previous consultation with the War Minister, he realized it was not appropriate in the difficult existent context to insist for obtaining the decision to put the keen Transylvanian prisoners at the Romanian army’s disposal from the Russian government.

On the other hand, ever since Romania had joined the war on 15/28 of August 1916, the leaders of the Romanian National Party of Transylvania, who were refugees in Bucharest, had studied the appropriate means to incorporate the Transylvanian Romanians from the USA in the Romanian army. For this purpose, Romania’s government was to send a special mission over the Atlantic Ocean. Its members, together with the US State Department, the French Defence Staff and the British Defence Staff will analyse the measures to be taken. Priest Vasile Lucaciu was designated the coordinator of the mission. Other members of the mission were: Ioan Moţa- another priest, as well as Lieutenant Vasile Stoica, who has enrolled in the Romanian army and was injured twice on the battlefield. The unofficial character of the mission is clear in Vasile Stoica’s memoirs. Nonetheless, the President of Romania’s Council of Ministers, Ion I.C. Brătianu and the Minister of Interior, Alexandru Constantinescu agreed. USA’s business delegate in Iaşi, Andrews, gave them recommendation letters that they were to present to the State Department. Also, Saint-Aulaire obtained the necessary recommendations from Jules Jusserand, France’s ambassador at Washington.

The Romanian mission was meant to support the idea of Transylvania’s unification with Romania and to organize a volunteer unit. This contingency was meant to fight on the French battlefield, to be part of the French or American army, while maintaining its Romanian character. According to the information given by Vasile Lucaciu, the number of Transylvanian Romanians established in the USA at the end of April 1917 was of 300 000, out of which 12 000 had already spontaneously registered on the volunteer enrolment lists. Father Lucaciu foretoken that the number, previous to USA’s intervention in the war, could be doubled due to a sustained propaganda. He showed his will for this contingency to constitute a division that should fight in France, on the French side of the French-English battlefield. It was there that it should be transported, once gathered. The survivors of that Transylvanian Romanian body were to return to the Romanian Kingdom, where they were meant to contribute to the consolidation of the French influence. The republic’s government established as primordial objective subsequent to the war the attainment of an advantageous position in Central and Eastern Europe and in Romania, by containing the Russian influence.

On the 6th of June 1917, USA’s business delegate to Tokyo sent a telegram to the State Department’s Secretary, Robert Lansing, informing that the mission of the Transylvanian Romanians aimed at the stimulation of the patriotism of their co-nationals in the USA, fighting for the Allies’ cause. The idea of establishing a legion consisting of Transylvanian volunteers from the USA is supported by Saint-Aulaire and Ribot, the Minister of Exterior Relations.

The special mission created by the Romanian government and assured to Vasile Lucaciu will arrive in the USA at the end of June 1917, after passing through Russia and Japan. The President of the Council of Ministers of the French Republic, Ribot, informed Jusserand about this matter on the 26th of June 1917. Having the consent of the Romanian officials, Father Lucaciu insisted that a French officer of the French military mission be authorized to offer him assistance. During the audience with Robert Lansing, Vasile Lucaciu presented defectively the objectives of the mission, asking for USA’s support for Romania’s unification. The Secretary of the American State Department promised the entire American aid for this purpose. Subsequently, the mission of the Transylvanian Romanians was also received by William Philips, Lansing’s deputy, who has been presented with the matter of establishing a volunteer unit consisting of Romanian emigrants. On 6-7 of July 1917, Lucaciu, Soica and Moţa also discussed with the American Minister of War- Newton Barker, presenting a concrete plan for establishing a Romanian contingency in the USA.

The plan had various stages: the organisation of a unit consisting of volunteers from Transylvania and Banat who did not have American citizenship; the inclusion of this unit in the American army (but being named The Romanian battalion or the Romanian brigade, in compliance with the number of volunteers); the officers will be Americans or Transylvanians designated by the cabinet in Iaşi, taking into consideration that all the Romanians in the USA were natives of Transylvania and Banat; the NCOs were to be Romanians, with gradations in the army in which they have completed their military stage or under-officers already trained in the American army; the command and training language shall be English, the Romanian being used only when needed. The other details were to supervene after an agreement with the Romanian state. As Vasile Stoica appreciated, the recognition of this contingency as Romanian unit represented a sine-qua-non issue.

However, the war secretary consulted with the Chiefs of Staff and rejected the Romanian proposal, arguing that the USA had as priority objective the creation of a unitary American army, aiming at the acceleration of the process of assimilation of the immigrants to a unitary American nation. Vasile Stoica replied that not all the Romanians in the USA were American citizens, a lot of them having families in Transylvania. They wanted to contribute to fight for the liberation of their country. Baker ascertained that there were no exceptions to the established rules. Nevertheless, it was possible for USA to analyse again this issue.

At his point, on the 1 July 1917, France’s Minister of War, Paul Painlevé officially presented his position to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, considering that the formation of a Transylvanian legion in the U. S. A. presented no interest for the Allies due to the difficulties implied by the contingencies’ transport on the French territory. Notified of Painlevé’s refusal, Ribot contacted the French minister in Iaşi informing him that from a political point of view the French government and the War Ministry were not very interested in the presence of a military force consisting of Romanians originary from Transylvania on the French battlefield. Therefore the project of establishing a Transylvanian legion came to a dead end.

Historian Constantin Kiriţescu considered that subsequent to the above mentioned refusals the mission of the Transylvanian Romanian representatives in the USA would dissolve. Newton Baker and Woodrow Wilson, president of the United States, analysed again the plan for the establishment of a Transylvanian brigade. The mission of the Transylvanian representatives continued to promote the Romanian cause in the USA. To that purpose, Vasile Stoica will hold a few conferences in Washington, Boston and Manchester by the Sea. For the achievement of an efficient propaganda activity with the Americans, the knowledge of English language was necessary and Vasile Stoica was the only of the three members of the Transylvanian mission who spoke this language. Subsequently, he was the only one who stayed in the USA in the fall of the 1917. Ioan Moţa left to Iaşi in September while father Vasile Lucaciu headed to Paris.

The sustained efforts made in order to create a legion of the Transylvanian Romanians recommenced during the second half of 1918. To this purpose Vasile Stoica and Nicolae Lupu began the negotiations with the American State Department. Despite the Romanians’ solicitations, on the 25 October 1918, the American War Minister declined again the proposal. He recommenced the topic concerning the transport difficulties, invoking other disadvantages as well. The factories in the USA hardly managed to supply the American army and they could not spare their workers. Later the high transport expenses also contributed to the final fail of the project aiming at the establishment of a Romanian unit. The Romanian-British meetings from Washington (26 December 1918-2 January 1919) were unsuccessful.

Therefore the plans of establishing Transylvanian military contingents consisting of former Romanian war prisoners- that had fought in the army of the Double monarchy- and units consisting of Transylvanian emigrants established in the USA did not materialised. However, the negotiations and the discussions of the Romanian delegates with the Entente’s representatives (especially with the French and American ones) on this issue represented an important chapter of Romania’s diplomatic relations during the First World War.


This study aims to investigate two interesting projects during the First World War. Unfortunately they have not materialized. Since the second decade of April 1917, in conjunction with the reorganization of the Romanian army, Romanian circles, but also the Entente, have begun to think of the possibility of creating military units consisting of Romanian prisoners of war who previously had fought in the Austrian-Hungarian army. The other project concerned Romanian military units which were formed by Romanian immigrants, who had come in the United States from Transylvania. The most important personalities involved in this project were the poet Octavian Goga, the preasts Vasile Lucaciu, Ioan Moţa and lieutenant Vasile Stoica.
On 6th and 7h July, Lucaciu, Stoica and Moţa have negotiated with U.S. Secretary of State, Robert Lansing and with the minister of war, Newton Baker a concrete plan for establishing a Transylvanian military unit in the United States of America. The Americans have rejected the project. On the other hand, on 1st July 1917, the French minister of war, Paul Painlevé considered that the formation of a Transylvanian military force in the U. S. A. seemed impossible because of the difficulties and the charges imposed by the transport of military contingents on French territory. Finding out Painlevé’s refusal, Ribot contacted the French Minister of Iaşi, informing him that French Government and the Ministry of war were not very interested in the presence of Transylvanian military forces on the French front.
The contacts and the discussions on this issue with representatives of the Entente, mainly with those of France and the United States of America, constituted a significant chapter of Romania's diplomatic relations during the First World Conflagration.

First World War, Transylvania, United States of America, prisoners, immigrants.