The Romanian Army of the Russo-Turkish War 1877-78


The Ottoman provinces of Wallachia and Moldavia became autonomous following the Treaty of Adrianople 1829. In 1868 they united to form the nation of Romania which declared its independence at the outset of the Russo-Turkish War in May 1877. This article looks at the Romanian army which played an important part in the eventual Russian victory confirming Romania's independence at the Treaty of Berlin 1878.


A Romanian army of 32,000 infantry, 5,000 cavalry and 84 guns, organised in 4 divisions was mobilised in May 1877. This freed the Russian army advancing through Romania for the invasion of Bulgaria. After the Russians crossed the Danube the Romanian 4th Division garrisoned Nikopolis.

Following the failure of Russian assaults at the 2nd Battle of Plevna, Prince Charles of Romania responded to Russian pleas for assistance by concentrating an army of 30,000 infantry, 4,500 cavalry and 126 guns at Plevna (see ORBAT). He was given nominal command of all forces at Plevna and the Romanian contingent was commanded by General Cernat.

At the 3rd Battle of Plevna the Romanian 4th Division (supported by the 3rd) captured the Grivitza Redoubt suffering 2,617 casualties. Poor co-ordination of the other assaults resulted in defeat for the allied army and siege operations began. Romanian infantry and artillery played a key role in the successful siege and their cavalry assisted in the investment to the west of Plevna.

After the fall of Plevna the Russian army crossed the Balkans and drove the Turkish army almost to the gates of Istanbul. The Romanian army was engaged in capturing the Turkish garrisons on the Danube and particularly distinguished itself at the Battle of Vidin 12/13 Jan. 1878.


There were two types of infantry regiments, Line and Dorobanz (territorial). Brigades usually had one Line and two Dorobanz regiments of two battalions each. In addition each division of two brigades had a rifle (chasseur) battalion and an artillery regiment of six, six gun batteries (5 field and 1 horse). Battalions numbered about 750 effectives in four companies.

Most line regiments were equipped with the excellent American Peabody rifle, although most Dorobanz regiments still had the Dreyse needle-gun. The artillery were equipped with the latest 4pdr and 9pdr Krupp steel guns.

The cavalry consisted of regular (Rossiori) hussar regiments and territorial (Calarashi) regiments. Each regiment had four squadrons of 125 men each.


There are uniform details and colour plates in the Osprey MAA 277 as well as Ray Lucas's articles in 'Miniature Wargames' 20&21. However, the plates reflect the dress regulations and in practice there appears to have been considerable variation. In particular between Line and Dorobanz uniforms.

Photographs in the National Military Museum, Bucharest show Dorobanz with kepis and some regulars with the old 1860's frock coat. In summer a wide variety of uniform adaptations were adopted by officers and men.

The sources above make no reference to standards. Those I have seen all appear to be based on the national flag (red, yellow & blue vertical stripes). The Romanian eagle in gold or sometimes in red appears in the centre of several flags as well as on the point of the flagstaff.


My own 15mm army was completed entirely from Awesome Enterprises, Rank and File range. This extensive range also covers the Bulgarian Legion as well as Turks and Russians. Some Serbs and Montenegrins would complete the range if I could add a not too subtle hint! This is the only dedicated range I am aware of although the line infantry and hussars could easily be converted from other ranges (e.g. Franco-Prussian War, Wurtemberg line are very similar).

Classification under 'Principles of War' (POW) rules is more difficult and like others I am eagerly awaiting Tom Penn's next continental lists. Tactically the army was influenced by both Prussian and Russian models. Unfortunately the Russian's, at least pre-Plevna, had a low opinion of the Romanians and this seems to be reflected in English language sources. Romanian sources I have seen tend to be of the fiercely nationalist variety.

If we start with the allied Russian classification (steadfast and poor fire discipline) there seems to be strong evidence (particularly at Plevna) that all the Romanian infantry (including Dorobanz) were just as predictable and reliable. The ammunition purchased for the Peabody's appears to be on a larger scale than Russian tactical doctrine required. I would therefore suggest all infantry as steadfast with poor fire discipline limited to the Dorobanz. Tom I know has doubts about steadfast.

I have seen no accounts of the chasseurs fire discipline to come to a view on their marksmanship. The cavalry was certainly held back west of Plevna, however, as it was under Russian command this may simply reflect Russian prejudice.


In summary, an interesting army which brings variety and a little colour to a Russo-Turkish wargame. Any alternative views would be welcome.


Ian Drury.       The Russo-Turkish War 1877                                   Osprey MAA277

F.V.Greene.   The Russian Army and its Campaigns in Turkey          Pallas Armata

W.H.Cromie.  The Military Forces of the Balkan Peninsula               Pallas Armata

C.E.Vincent.   The Military Aspects of the Eastern Question             Pallas Armata

F.Maurice.     The Russo-Turkish War 1877                                    Pallas Armata

Ray Lucas.     Armies of the Russo-Turkish War 1877-78                MW 20&21

Muzeul Militar National - Bucharest

ORBAT - Romanian Army at Plevna, September 1877

Commander - General Alexandru Cernat


1st Brigade. 8th Line, 10th Dorobanz, 12th Dorobanz

2nd Brigade. 2nd Line, 9th Dorobanz, 11th Dorobanz

3rd Rifle Btn.

4th Artillery Regiment


1st Brigade. 7th Line, 14th Dorobanz, 15th Dorobanz

2nd Brigade. 5th Line, 13th Dorobanz, 16th Dorobanz

2nd Rifle Btn.

3rd Artillery Regiment


1st Brigade. 1st Line, 7th Dorobanz, 1st Rifle Btn.

2nd Brigade. 4th Line, 6th Line, 8th Dorobanz

3rd Brigade. 5th Dorobanz, 4rd Rifle Btn.

2nd Artillery Regiment


3 Brigades. 9 Regiments (2 Rossiori, 7 Calarashi) 3 Horse Btys.

(This article can also be read in 'Principles of War - The Magazine' October 1997)

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