This material deals with little-known and thus rare Romanian decoration dedicated to the largest and bloodiest battle ever fought in the history of the humankind, the Battle of Stalingrad. Though it haven’t ever been instituted officially for political reasons, Medalia militară “Campania de iarnă” was ordered by state officials to be struck privately as patterns for further consideration. Concept of that obscure commemorative decoration in terms of minimalistic design and award criteria was similar to the famous German medal “Winterschlacht im Osten 1941/42”, also known as “Ostmedaille”.
Medalia militară “Campania de iarnă” was supposed to be issued to Romanian military personnel who fought alongside German allies in major offensive to conquer the city of Stalingrad in the south-western Soviet Union during winter of 1942-1943. However, decisive Soviet victory and total destruction of the German 6th Army as well as Romanian, Hungarian, Italian and Croatian contingents nullified once existent plans to institute medal commemorating victory that was never won. Instead, the Battle of Stalingrad is fairly regarded as the most strategically decisive battle of the whole World War II and turning point in the European theatre.
Romanian forces who fought in the Battle of Stalingrad comprised of 152,492 soldiers and officers from the 3rd Army (Armata a 3-a Română) under General de armată Petre Dumitrescu (18.02.1882-15.01.1950) and 75,580-strong 4th Army (Armata a 4-a Română) commanded by General de armată Constantin Constantinescu-Claps (20.02.1884-xx.xx.1961).
Twelve poorly equipped and undermanned Romanian divisions of the 3rd Army with its headquarters in Morozovsk – 5th, 6th, 7th, 9th, 11th, 13th and 14th Infantry Divisions, 1st and 7th Cavalry Divisions as well as three Reserve divisions (only one armored) defended 170 kilometers of the front. Bearing in mind that Romanian divisions had only six battalions each and suffered heavy losses during previous battles with the strengthening Red Army, the 3rd Army could only count as having some seven or eight battleworthy divisions. Before Italian troops were relieved from that sector of the front, Petre Dumitrescu requested that Romanian and Italian units were mounted together to eliminate Soviet bridgeheads. However, German headquarters rejected that plan thus weakening Romanian forces. No positive response came from the Germans when Romanian commanders sent numerous messages warning about their weak positions and looming catastrophe. Despite unsatisfactory equipment and shortage of anti-tank weapons, Romanians fought bravely.
“Overall, the conclusion is that between 19-24 November the Romanian troops have fought bravely, with heroic sacrifices. There were many acts of bravery and many units have distinguished themselves. It was only the unexpected high number of enemy tanks and the fact that Romanians didn’t have the weapons to stop them that have allowed enemy breakthroughs and made ineffective the counterattack of the German armored reserve”, wrote Generalleutnant Arthur Hauffe (20.12.1892-22.07.1944) in his report on operations in the sector of the Romanian 3rd Army.
As for the 4th Army that defended 200 km to the south of Stalingrad , the situation was even worse, not to say disastrous – five Infantry Divisions (1st, 2nd, 4th, 18th and 20th) had no tanks to oppose crushing superiority of the Red Army.
As a result, Romanian troops were destroyed by Soviet units, and according to Ion Antonescu, 158,854 servicemen perished in Stalingrad. Survivors were sent back to Romania for brief recreation and reorganization.
Upon return to Romania veterans of that bloody battle were consequently decorated with the commemorative clasp “Stalingrad” that was attached to the ribbon of the “Crusade Against Communism” medal (Medalia “Cruciada Împotriva Comunismului” cu bareta “Stalingrad”).
Having completed that necessary historical digression let’s return to the main subject of an article. An obverse of the Medalia militară “Campania de iarnă” with raised border showed a flying Wallachian eagle with raised wings and lowered head. A sword was gripped in his claws and a cross held in a beak. Cipher of the young Romanian King Mihai I who was reinstalled as a ruler by Ion Antonescu and reigned from September 06, 1940 until December 30, 1947 – capital letter “M” and numeral “I” – topped with the royal crown was situated at the bottom of an obverse. The whole composition was placed against a gloomy background symbolizing Russian wintry landscape: two firs on the left and smooth curves of drifting snow.
A reverse with raised border and high relief had a wide wreath made of oak leaves on the left and laurel leaves on the right. The wreath was gripped with the clenched right fist at the bottom. An inscription in capital letters of different size “Winter Campaign” (“Campania de Iarna”) running in three horizontal lines was situated at the centre of a reverse.
Patterns of a round medal measuring 32 mm in diameter were struck by private manufacturers of Tombac with addition of patina to surface.
Literature: Radu Ocheşeanu. “Campania de Iarnă”. O Medalie Neinstituită. Buletinul Societății Numismatice Române, Anii LXXXVI-LXXXVII (1992-1993).