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German Armed Forces Research 1918-1945

Romanian Knights Cross Holders of WWII

by Greg Kelley from the works of Mark Axworthy

During WWII 16 or 17 members of the Royal Romanian Armed Forces (16 appear in German sources, while a 17th is cited in a Romanian one, hence the discrepency), were awarded the coveted German Knight's Cross award, more than any other non-German Axis power.

1. Maresal (Army Marshal) Ion Antonescu: 6th August 1941

As Commander in Chief of the Royal Romanian Armed Forces, Antonescu ostensibly received his Ritterkreuz in recognition for his leadership of the Romanian troops during the initial stages of the Russian campaign.

2. General de armata (General) Petre Dumitrescu: ?? 1941

Dumitrescu, perhaps Romania's most senior and able commander after Antonescu, was awarded the Ritterkreuz for leading the Romanian 3rd Army in its successful summer campaign against Soviet forces in 1941.

3. General de corp de armata (Lieutenant General) Corneliu Dragalina: ?? 1941

Dragalina commanded the 3rd Army's VI Corps, often in the vanguard of the Royal Romanian Army's advance into southern Russia during the summer of 1941. His Ritterkreuz appears to have been awarded simultaneously with Dumitrescu's.

4. General Mihai Lascar: 18th January 1942

Perhaps one of Romania's most noted Generals, Lascar won his Ritterkreuz for leading the 1st Mountain Brigade to victory during the Crimean campaign. Promoted to command a division, Lascar added Oak Leaves to his award during the Battle of Stalingrad due to a heroic, if ultimately disastrous, defense against Soviet attacks. Captured at the end of November 1942, Lascar spent three years as a POW before resurfacing in command of a Soviet-sponsored division of pro-Allied Romanians in 1945.

5. General de divizie (Major General) Gheorghe Manoiliu: ?? June 1942

Manoiliu commanded the 4th Mountain Division, which under his leadership cleared Soviet defenses at Balaclava in the Crimea, taking over ten thousand prisoners including virtually the entire Soviet 109th Rifle Division.

6. General de brigada (Brigadier General) Ion Dumitrache: 2nd November 1942

Dumitrache commanded the Romanian 2nd Mountain Division, which captured the Soviet town of Nalchik in the Caucasus, the farthest, or most southern, Axis advance on the Eastern Front; he also received a promotion to the rank of General de divizie or Major General shortly afterwards.

7. Major Gheorghe Rasconescu: ?? December 1942

Rasconescu was a battalion commander in the 15th Dorobanti [infantry] Regiment of the 6th Infantry Division. His was the only Romanian formation of Lascar's embattled group to escape Soviet encirclement during the Battle of Stalingrad. From 26th November until 3rd December 1942 Rasconescu's battalion prevented the Soviet 8th Cavalry Corps from capturing the vital German airfield at Oblivkavia, a heroic stand against overwhelming odds which earned this very junior officer a Ritterkreuz.

8. Colonel Ion Hristea: ?? December 1942

Hristea commanded the famed 2nd Calarasi Cavalry Regiment, which during the Battle of Stalingrad defended an eighty-kilometer stretch of front for the embattled Romanian 4th Army. Incredibly, Hristea held this sector against Soviet attacks for nearly a month before being forced to withdraw. Hristea himself suffering grievous maiming wounds while leading his troops against heavy Soviet armor, in one instance firing his pistol at a KV-1 tank.

9. General de divizie (Major General) Radu Korne: 18th December 1942

A cavalry commander, Korne led the independent Korne Motorised Detachment during the advance into southern Russia. His Ritterkreuz, won during the Battle of Stalingrad, may have included Oak Leaves, but this is not clear.

10. General Nicolae Tataranu: 17th December 1942

Tataranu commanded the 20th Infantry Division of that was encircled at Stalingrad in the winter of 1942, receiving the Ritterkreuz as recognition for his services there. A vocal supporter of the pro-German Iacobici (former Chief of Staff of the Royal Romanian Army and rival of Antonescu, often used by the Germans to pressure Antonescu towards a firmer Axis standpoint), Tataranu escaped capture at Stalingrad by flying out of the encircled pocket to personally complain to Antonescu of his loss of control in the face of German interference. Tataranu narrowly escaped execution on charges of deserting his command, no doubt primarily due to German intervention with a much-displeased Maresal. Tataranu's subsequent career was mixed.

11. Major Ioan Palaghita: 7th April 1943

Palaghita was a battalion commander in the 19th Infantry Division's 94th Infantry Regiment. His personal leadership of a local counterattack in the Kuban bridgehead saved neighboring German forces from being encircled and overrun. Palaghita was killed in action on 9th May 1943 and was posthumously promoted to locotenet colonel [lieutenant colonel]; three days later this was upgraded to full colonel.

12. General de brigada (Brigadier General) Leonardi Mociulschi: 18th December 1943

During mopping up operations of the Eltigen beachhead in the Kuban in 1943, a force of 820 Soviet troops broke out of their encirclement in the direction of Soviet-held enclave at nearby Ganikale. Overrunning German artillery batteries on Mount Mithridates, this force quickly jeopardised the entire German ring at Eltigen. Mociulschi assembled a force from elements of the 6th Mountain Division and the 9th Rosiori (cavalry) Regiment, personally leading them in a counterattack upon the Soviets, obliterating enemy forces and saving the local sector from disaster.

13. General de divizie (Major General) Corneliu Teodorini: 18th December 1943

Teodorini commanded the 6th Cavalry Division during mopping up operations of the Soviet Eltigen beachhead in the Kuban in 1943; his Division counted over 1,200 dead on the battlefield and captured some 1,570 prisoners along with a cache of equipment such as 38 tanks and 25 antitank guns, many of which were subsequently pressed into Romanian service. Teodorini went on to command the 8th Motorised Cavalry Division. Teodorini's award is cited in Romanian sources but not in German records; this is the elusive "17" possible recipient mentioned by Mark Axworthy. While Axworthy reports him winning his Ritterkreuz the same time as Mociulschi, another source suggests he had won it in September 1943, adding Oak Leaves for the Eltigen operation.

14. General de ......... (Major-General) Emanoil Ionescu 10th May 1944

Ionescu commanded the Royal Romanian Air Force's Corpul I Aerien deployed in Russia during WW2, and the largest non-German Axis air contingent to serve on the Russian front during the war.

15. Contraamiral (Rear-Admiral) Horia Marcellariu: 21st May 1944

Marcellariu commanded the units of the Royal Romanian Navy that during April and May of 1944 successfully evacuated no fewer than 57,386 Germans, 35,877 Romanians, and 25,840 Axis auxiliaries (mostly pro-German Russian personnel) for a total of 119,103.

16. General Edgar Radulescu: 3rd July 1944

As commander of the 11th Infantry Division, Radulescu received his Ritterkreuz in recognition of his division's local counterattack at Tirgu Frumos in eastern Romania, conducted in early June of 1944 against strong Soviet forces.

17. General de corp armata (Lieutenant General) Mihai Racovita: 7th July 1944

Racovita's Ritterkreuz, the last one received by a Romanian, was won due to his role as commander of the oft-luckless Romanian 4th Army (prior to this appointment he commanded the Cavalry Corps), in its final manifestation/reconstitution from March 1944 or more specifically, for 4th Army's role in the Tirgu Frumos counterattack (see under Radulescu).