I vant to annex your province

One hundred years ago today Romania declared war on Austria-Hungary and entered World War I on the Allied side. I know. I know. Have you ever heard an ant fart in a windstorm?

No. Sorry. That was FDR’s reaction when Romania joined the Axis in the Second World War. But you might think it applied in 1916 as well. Instead it proved to be a significant boost… to the Central Powers. Poor Romania.

Its government entered the war for the noble and elevated reason that the Allies had promised them Transylvania if they won. Which prompts a sardonic question what they might have got if they’d lost but apparently they wanted it. And Dracula is kind of cool as a tourist thing. (Not only that, but the iconic Dracula actor Bela Lugosi fought with some distinction for the Austro-Hungarians in the Carpathian Mountains that extend into Transylvania. So did Erwin Rommel for the Germans. And with all due respect to Lugosi, I think the Germans did better in military terms.)

The problem is, the Romanians didn’t win. Initially it looked pretty good; the Russians in the Brusilov Offensive were laying a rare beating on the Austro-Hungarians, which doesn’t sound that hard but to the Tsar’s armies it was. In combination with the underappreciated British attack on the Somme the Germans were reeling so badly a panicky Kaiser blurted out to close associates “The war is lost” before realizing it wasn’t, at least not yet. And while the Battle of the Somme did in fact inflict a major, generally unappreciated defeat on the Germans, the tactically innovative and initially successful Brusilov Offensive wound up backfiring.

Once the Germans had managed to bail out the Austro-Hungarians and the Russians reeled backward having lost a horrifying 1.4 million men killed, wounded or captured, the entry of Romania into the war turned out to create a cavernous weakness, a much greater stretch of front for their remaining demoralized forces to try to defend.

In that sense the addition of Romania to the Allied cause, and arguably Italy, ended up causing more problems than it solved, just as the Germans were probably worse off for luring the Ottoman Empire in and even Austria-Hungary. The Romanians actually fought valiantly until the Russian Revolution and disappearance of that ally forced them to surrender.

In the final days of the war, Nov. 10 1918 to be precise, Romania managed to stagger back into the conflict following the defeat of Bulgaria. And it got Transylvania and kept it through various vicissitudes including a 1919 war with Hungary that shows just what futile bloodshed humans can get up to even in the shadow of something like World War I.

In which both sides were too prone to accumulate allies useful on paper without having a sufficiently hard look at the situation on the ground.