Romanian Special Forces - Vanatorii de Munte
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Vanatorii de Munte
- The Mountain Hunters -

The Mountain Hunters are one of the oldest types of units in the Romanian military. This is an "infantry with special abilities" branch and it is dedicated to mountain warfare. Mountain infantry, mountain artillery, also mountain armour, anti-aircraft, medical, NBC, sapper and commando types of units can be found in the Mountain Hunters Brigades.
The Mountain Hunters do not consider themselves "special forces". "We like others to call us that way", said Lt-Col Cristinel Cernea, commander of the 21st battalion, 2nd Brigade, the most elite Mountain Hunters battalion in the country. The Mountain Hunters are locally called Vanatori de Munte, or VM's for short.
The VM's thrive in rough environment, they move stealthy thru mountainous terrain and are well trained, both phisically as well as psychologically. A VM can operate completely alone behind enemy lines, however teamwork and unit cohesion are two notions that are well-known and cared for in this branch.
During World War II, the VM's had amazing victories against both Eastern and Western enemies, and have managed to conquer half of the European continent in the first part, and liberate the other half in the second part.
Nowadays the VM's train on a reggular basis with units such as the US Navy SEALs, SAS, KCT, RMC, Italian Alpine Warfare forces, Greek and Turkish Special Forces as well as with other such forces.


US Equivalents: Army Rangers and 10th Mountain Division

History
Characteristics
Admission
Training
Weapons
Order of Battle
Exercises
Operations
Stories

Vanatori de Munte - History

In the 3rd of November, 1916, the 1st Mountain Corps was established, opening a very important chapter in the history of this elite branch.
This event was remembered in the 3rd of november 2001, when the Mountain Hunters celebrated 85 years of existence.
The elite branch of the infantry existed in the past as well, however it was in 1916 when they started to be called "Vanatori de Munte" (Mountain Hunters) and when their main purpose was set to be fighting in mountainous regions.
The Mountain Hunters represent perhaps the toughest and the most experienced of the branches, their instruction being tough, their lives being rough, and their mission complex.
During World War II, the 4th Mountain Corps, commanded by general Paul Dumitrescu, was at the spearhead of the German-led invasion of the Soviet Union, and took part in all the major operations there. The Germans have always used the Romanians as cannon-meat, putting them in front of their armies, to sustain the toughest battles, while it was always the Germans who then occupied the conquered cities or signed the surrender documents, making it look as it was them who had obtained those victories.
The 4th Mountain Corps had an astonishing 'adventure' in the Soviet Union, which started with the liberation of Basarabia and Bucovina, two Romanian provinces in the North and East of Romania, that were anexed by the Soviet Union in 1939. The Romanian military and also Marshall Ion Antonescu then told the Germans that this is as far as the Romanian Army will go. However Hitler needed the Romanians badly, and general von Manstein, the commander of Army Group South, convinced general Paul Dumitrescu of the Romanian 4th Mt Corps to participate with his mountain hunters in the siege of Ukraine. The 4th Mt Corps was therefore present in the battle of Odessa.
After Odessa and the conquest of the Ukraine, the German Wehrmacht started to be over-stretched over its newly conquered land, and could no longer be an effective fighting machine. As such, general Dumitrescu's Mountain Hunters were put in the frontline of a war that was not theirs, and got as far as Stalingrad and Moscow. In fact, when in october 2003, German historians digged up mass graves near Stalingrad, looking for dead German soldiers in WWII, all they found were Romanians. About 3,500 of them. However there were tens of thousands of Romanians who died in the Soviet Union.
Later on in the war, when Romania switched sides to fight among the Allies, the Soviet Army, a bunch of barbaric peasants, treated Romania and its territory as a test-ground for atrocities. Robbery, murder and rape were their speciality. Romania, as now an ally of Stalin's Soviet Union, wanted to fight until the defeat of Germany and thus the end of World War Two.
It therefore comes at no surprize that it was the Mountain Hunters again, that lead the way. The Soviets treated the Romanians exactly the same way as the Germans did, as cannon-meat.

Romanian soldiers (Vanatori de Munte) entering Northern Transylvania after they have defeated the German-Hungarian armies
It was the Romanian soldiers who, one by one, had liberated Transylvania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Austria and got as far West as Berlin itself.
In one of history's most disgusting lies and propaganda war, the Soviets took credit for each and every one of these victories. In the summer of 2003, several World War II veterans, some of them from the Mountain Hunters formations, visited Hungary for a ceremonial together with the Hungarian Army (HDF). Throughout their bus-drive from Oradea (in western Romania) to Budapest, in the North-East of Hungary, they passed thru village after village that were liberated by them, more than 60 years ago. The horrible "surprize" that was waiting for them was that at the entry in each village, a big display panel at the side of the highway stated "village liberated by the Soviet Army".
Propaganda, deception and lying are a diplomat's special toolkit, I guess...
Not even today, the Russians, the Germans nor pretty much anyone else admits the fact that it was Romanian soldiers who lead the way in the liberation of Europe. All the foreign "specialists", "historians" and so-called "experts" do not even know their own trade, when they write elaborate speeches about the Soviet army and then read them in Moscow, in order to make political impression.
The end of the Cold War did not meant by any chance the end of hipocrisy and lies, things that are deeply rooted into a foreign diplomat's smile.

Romanian soldiers (Vanatori de Munte) giving hot meals to the local population.
Budapest, Hungary, 1945

Romanian gunners from Vanatori de Munte in the mountains of Czechoslovakia, 1945
After World War II, Romania was given away by its western "allies" to the Soviet Union. Out of all the countries in Eastern Europe, Romania had the highest Soviet influence. 90% Eastern, and 10% Western. Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill have traded Romania as if it was their own pocket watches or pocket-money.
The first things the Soviets did were to disband the Mountain Hunters that have crippled their primitive army and to also disband the Paratroopers that have raged fear among its manipulated recruits.
In April 1946, the 2nd Mountain Hunters Brigade, the last sizeable Mt Hunter unit remaining after the end of World War II, was disbanded.
The two Romanian provinces, where Romanians have lived since the start of recorded history (mentioned by Herodot in 800 BC), and where even in the late 40's the population was 93% Romanians, were again, anexed by the Soviet Union. Without Basarabia and Bucovina, Romania became smaller and more helpless than ever before. Betrayed by its allies, with a third of its territory stripped away, Romania was forced to pay a huge ammount of hard-currency (US$) as "war payment" to the same, Soviet Union. Soviet troops stayed in Romania until 1953, which was also the year when Stalin, the most evil man in history who killed more than 30 million people, finally died. A small aviation unit however remained in Romania on Otopeni international airport until 1964.
In that same year the 2nd Mountain Hunters Brigade is re-established, this time with the headquarters at Baia Mare (N-W of the country). Soon after, in the 12th of november 1964, Brigada 2 Vanatori de Munte (2nd Mountain Hunters Brigade) is established as an independent unit with the headquarters this time in Brasov (central Romania).

Romanian soldiers from a tank regiment that have liberated Vienna, 1945
In 1974, the "Sarmizegetusa" indicative was given to the 2nd VM(Mountain Hunters) Brigade. Sarmizegetusa was the regional capital of the part of Dacia, the ancient state of Eastern Europe, that was conquered by the Romans after four bloody wars in 101, 102, 105 and 106 AD.
The 2nd VM brigade saw action for the first time after world war two during the 1989 Romanian Revolution, when they fought unidentified terrorist elements in the central counties of Harghita and Covasna.
Several VM (Mountain Hunters) died in those operations.
There is no recognition of any kind and usually even no mention of the Mountain Hunters when talking about Odessa, Stalingrad, Moscow, Transylvania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Austria and Germany in all the documentaries, books, films, manuals and materials about World War II available in the West.
The only mentioning of the "Romanian Mountain Corps" in the entire World War II was a single line in a Discovery Channel documentary about the battle of Odessa. There, in a one-hour long film, a single line ever remembers them: "The Romanians were pushed back by Soviet tanks whom their anti-tank weapons could not penetrate".
A single line, tens of thousands of deaths. Perhaps you should remember the Romanian Mountain Hunters next time you thank your God for the freedom you enjoy.

Vanatori de Munte - Characteristics

The Mountain Hunters are an elite part of the infantry. Under the command of the Ground Forces, their specialities are fighting in mountaineous and difficult terrain. However they handle combat just as well when faced with fighting in forrests, hills or even flat ground and beaches.
The Mountain Hunters usually have a climber license. The exceptions are few and are made of a small number of recruits, some of the anti-aircraft gunners incorporated into this branch and that's about it.
Mountain Hunters are divided into three cathegories, 3rd class, 2nd class and the most elite, 1st class. Being a 1st class VM required a 1st class climbing licence, a transmissionist license, a graduation of the Mountain Special Missions course of the VM Application School in Predeal and a graduation of the cold survival training course.

Admission and Selection

Most of the soldiers selected to become mountain troopers are from a rural background and hail from areas around the Carpathian Mountains, where the base is located. Many already have some experience in rock climbing and skiing.
The soldiers are selected from a pool of conscripts, as well as from the professional military. Romania still has mandatory conscription, but the country has seen a rise in the numbers of those who want to make a career out of the military. Both types of applicants go through a selection process, and usually about four people compete for a spot in the battalion.
Commander of the Mountain Hunters' most elite battalion, the 21st VM battalion of the 2nd Brigade, is lt-col Cristinel Cernea.
“The professionals have to go through basic training, even though they have been in the Army before, in a different unit or specialization,” said Cernea. “They may have forgotten what they have learned, and so they need this accommodation period to be modeled into what we want, and in a few months, they get into the rhythm that we impose.” All the battalion members are professionals in their 2nd or 3rd 5-year tour. Less than 25 percent of the applicants are accepted into this unit. "Physical endurance is of utmost importance", said Cernea. "The trainees also have to go though elaborate psychological testing." The main areas of instruction are tactics and weapon use, rock climbing and downhill skiing. The first period of combat training lasts for about seven months.

Training

Brasov county, Romania. A usual training ground for the elite men of Romania's 21st Mountain Hunters battalion. The 21st VM, the most elite battalion of the Mountain Hunters, is located in the near by city of Predeal. Close-by, another great natural training 'facility', Cheile Rasnoavei.

On one of the training ranges at the base, several soldiers go through basic routines-climbing, rappelling and evacuating the injured. Donning bright red helmets, from afar, they look like giant red ants scurry around on a massive concrete wall.
Training on this wall is more difficult than actually climbing a mountain, said Capt. Adrian Buzea. “The wall has a 90-degree inclination and even worse in areas where the wall is built with parts that stand out,” he said. “On the mountain, you can climb as if you were climbing a set of stairs. On a rock, you have the freedom to choose the route that may be easier, but here, you do not have that choice.”
Since 1995, the 21st Mountain Battalion has rappelled from helicopters in joint exercises with U.S. Special Forces, Army Rangers and Navy SEALs, said Cernea.
Soldiers also read U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division manuals and the Ranger handbook, among others, said Ionescu.

Commander of the 2nd Mountain Hunters Brigade is Brig. Gen. Ion Bucaciuc.
His men train for free-climb up sheer rock, speedy traverses by zip wiring high above, rappellings, ambushes, observations, rescue missions and anti-terrorist missions on a daily basis.
They call themselves the masters of improvisation. They comb the mountainsides on horseback, conducting various operations ranging from humanitarian assistance and peace-keeping, to search and rescue at extreme heights, observations and all the specific war missions.
"We certainly have enough difficulties, but we always figure a way out", said Lt. Col. Cristinel Cernea, the battalion commander.
Mountain Hunters are trained to be independent and to survive in an inclement mountain environment, while conducting covert missions.
The history of this mountain battalion goes back to World War II. It was set up in 1940 to defend Romania’s northwestern border. Two years later, these troops were deployed to the Crimean Peninsula. The battalion was dissolved in 1946 and reshaped in 1961.
For the future, members of this elite battalion will be drawn to a module incorporated in the integrated special forces battalion.
Until the summer of 2003, the 21st Battalion has stood up an operational company of 170 soldiers that can be deployed for NATO commitments. The company can deploy in 12 hours for search and rescue missions and in 30 days for collective defense or large-scale combat.
In September of that same year, the whole battalion had become operational within NATO, together with the entire 2nd Mountain Brigade, to which this battalion belongs. Brig Gen Bucaciuc stated that Romania will be able to send a complete battalion on NATO missions rather than a single company.
On a typical day, soldiers carry about 40 kg on their back, and depending on the mission they can carry up to 50 kg (100 pounds). But a commander said that is not considered too heavy. Each soldier has to be able to operate independently. If this independence is not created, and the support for this independence is not there, then he can't accomplish his mission.
The soldiers are trained and outfitted to be self-sufficient. Logistics support is more challenging in the mountains. Each soldier is equipped with everything he may need to survive, including a medical kit.
Every company in the battalion has a medical group, which receives its training and certificates from Romanian medical assistance services. Every unit has its own doctor who keeps the medical groups up to speed.
To move the injured down from the mountain (or the wall), the soldiers use a pulley that allows two men to bring down a casualty tied up in a stretcher. A single soldier also can do that, or he can simply carry the injured on his back if it is not a serious injury. When they lack any other means of transporting a casualty, the soldiers have learned to use a sturdy wooden rod to transport the injured. At the heights in which they operate it is often impossible to carry a stretcher. Soldiers pointed out that despite advanced weaponry that may be available their training lets them make the most of harsh and sometimes primitive conditions.

Young people receive the command of the units

Tough physical training, marches, climbing, firing... these are the all important aspects in training conscripts incorporated into the VM units. In the 4th VM instruction base, located in Curtea de Arges, the home of the former 4th VM Brigade, conscripts are training hard. Major Gheorghe Gheorghe, chief of PE in the Ground Forces Chief of Staff, takes care of that.
After a punishing physical training that reminds the newly recruited conscripts that they are in an elite unit, instruction camps, dangerous rock climbing and live artilery firing follow. Afterwards, a 28 kilometer march from the barracks in Curtea de Arges to Cheile Argesului (Arges' Keys).
The camp is settled at the base of the Vidraru dam. For the conscripts, the first day of mountain training is deceavingly easy. They are mere spectators, watching as their instructors are doing all the hard work, building the camp and also simulating situations that could create panic among the soldiers. The second day, its the conscripts' turn to start the work. Climbing stiff rocks with the help of the hands alone, then with specific equipment, followed by peak traversing and rappeling proves them that their are not there to watch anymore. The rappelling and the traversing provoke fear among the young conscripts. But only at first, as they soon discover they actually love to do it. The small number of conscripts from the city are more fearing than the majority of conscripts who were drafted from mountain villages. After a week of mountain training, the conscripts leave the Keys and embarque on a 20 km march to the small river flow of the Valsan. The living conditions here are better, they get to stain in cabains compared to tents in the previous camp, but the disadvantage is a daily 9 kilometer walk to and from the firing range. In all these marches the conscripts are accompanied by their commanders.
Lieutenant-colonel Alexandru Dabija, chief of the Mountain Hunters, names some of the qualities required for a VM commander: a good organizer, serious, loyal and with a rough character so that they can make the tough choices so badly needed in the never-missing unpredicted situations.
In the tactical combat firing exercises, the conscripts from cpt Constantin Cirjan's company had excellent results. However, thick fog prevented them to finish the exercises. In the mountain, firing an automatic weapon, a machine-gun or a sniper rifle differs significantly from doing it in a flat field; one has to find an enemy that could be not only in the front, back or sideways, but also upwards or downwards from yourself.
After all these exercises, there's nothing better than a hot meal, which is always followed by the long and boring search for the used ammunition elements. The mountains need to be kept clean. All that awaits the young conscripts now is the 50 km long march back to Curtea de Arges.

For a conscript, physical education is the first thing he has to master. Long marches with heavy backpacks, even longer skiing sessions followed by never-ending firing sessions in the training range, followed by push-ups, pull-ups, one more march and finally, yet another skiing session, are his first "encounters" with the Mountain Hunter lifestyle.
After these, tactical instruction, weapons instruction (24 percent) and military topography (12 percent) follow.

Camp training - the men of lt-col Popa
Night in the mountains. A VM scouting patrol, lead by SMSgt Liviu Stancel, a tactical operations instructor, is performing a reconaissance mission thru the bushes. Modeling their movement after the shapes of the terrain, in total silence, listening, observing, waiting, looking thru their NVG's, the recruits perform well.

"The survival manual needs to be changed", says pragmatically major Stelian Dumitru. "It was very good for the geoclimatical properties of our country, but the future NATO missions would find the VM's in many other parts of the world", he continues.

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The Mountain Hunters of col. Gheorghe Sorescu
At altitudes between 1000 and 2200 meters (3,000 and 7,000 feet), the VM's were fighting the heavy snow, bitter cold and the harsh mountainous terrain. "Even if it might seem weird for some, we are still perfecting the way to move in the mountains", said captain Constantin Cirjan. In fact, the Mountain Hunters know that this is an ever-changing thing in their branch.
At night, at a tactical exercise, the VM's were fighting an enemy airborne assault combined with enemy scouting and special forces attack on their positions. Running with a heavy back-pack in heavy snow, being shot at from all directions and skiing for long distances surely puts a lot of stress on one's body. For the Mountain Hunters and their "enemies" today, the Scouts, the biggest problem remains equipment. This has been on a constant and significant improvement in the past years, but it is yet to reach the desired level, a level already achieved by other similar forces, such as the SAS or the Green Berets. (2002)
A VM camp means rough terrain and no Hilton conditions. Water is available in the near-by river flow, food can be found around as the mountain is giving, both in summer as well as during the winter. Basic survival skills are used, sometimes without even noticing, in each and every one of the camps. But most of the times the food is provided by high quality, high energy products that are brought in by the men themselves. Survival stages are usually practised only by professional VMs, not conscripts, and are in fact usually yearly sessions for them.

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Weapons and Equipment

Vanatorii de Munte usually rely on a large variety of weapons. At the heart of their arsenal is the Romanian-made AKM, an upgraded and recoiless local version of the famous AK-47 Kalashnikov. Romanian-made and NATO compatible 5.45mm automatic rifles are the weapon of choice of the Mountain Hunters. The guns are resistant to cold temperatures, soldiers said. The rifle butts have been designed so they can lie flat on soldiers’ backs without hindering them on hiking missions.
Automatic, semi-automatic guns, as well as machineguns are also a part of the arsenal. Artillery can be found in the VM formations as well. The 21st VM battalion for example has a battery of 76-mm cannons, specifically designed for mountain operations. "Each battery has two sections, and each section has four systems. So altogether there are eight pieces", he said. The cannons have a range of 5,600 meters, while the mortars can reach out to 8,000 meters. The mortars use 82-mm caliber ammunition. 14.5mm and 16.5mm portable anti-aircraft cannons are also employed.
A mountain force that does not use horses is a hill-billy force. The only two elite mountain forces in the world to still employ large numbers of horses are the Swiss mountain special forces and Vanatorii de Munte. Anybody who has ever been at the mountains, and I don't mean by car, knows that no vehicle can climb there. A horse however, especially the Romanian-breed ones, can easily get almost anywhere in the peaks, and carry a large quantity of supplied on their back as well.
However, a semi-armoured personnel carrier, called MLVM (Masina de Lupta a Vanatorilor de Munte - The Mountain Hunters Infantry Fighting Vehicle) is available for quick transportations. Also, each company of the 21st VM battalion in Predeal employs the usage of 10 tracked armoured vehicles that can operate at altitudes of 2,500 meters, for safe transporations or men and equipment on the roads that are enduring a snow lair of up to five meters. The armoured vehicles can sustain steeps of up to 25 degrees, cross mountain rivers and they also have limited NBC defense systems. The 10-ton vehicles are equipped with a 7.62 mm machinegun and a 14.5 mm cannon.
The 21st VM battalion started a $122,000 program to outfit its troops with new equipment over the next five years (2003).
The sum seems and perhaps is, small, however viewed in the contexted of the total defence spending, it is appropriate.
A pair of new skis, for example, can cost up to $400. Each soldier is receiving a pair of Austrian "Fischer" skis. Soldiers are trained to hike up the mountain with the skis on their feet by attaching what they call "seal skin" on the bottom of the skis, explained Capt. Adrian Buzea.
The "seal skin," a synthetic material, "allows the soldier to slide in one direction," said Buzea. “You can go up the hill that is very steep because this skin compensates in traction. It has a special adhesive.”
Soldiers in basic training use old Romanian wood skis. “These skis are still used in training, because the Fischer skis are too expensive,” said Buzea.
The mountain battalion is also trying to replace the traditional pitons that have to be hammered into the rocks, with new devices called pictogram keys. The serrated edges of these keys can be pegged into the mountain wall, noted Buzea.
In a storage room, equipment is neatly stacked in piles and rows: rifles, frontal flash lights that can be attached to the helmet, Kevlar vests, altimeters, portable heaters, tents, roll mats, ropes, boots, the seal skins and the skis.
Cernea said that soldiers could use sturdier, waterproof boots. The battalion has received a new boot, but it has not yet been tested in harsh weather environments.
For the airlift of cannons and mortars, helicopters also are used. The Romanian Air Force operates a large number of Romanian-made IAR-330 Puma helicopters.

Order of Battle

Vanatorii de Munte are currently divided into three main brigades, and a large number of subunits which are incorporated into infantry and mecanized brigades.
Brigada 5 Vanatori de Munte, the 5th VM brigade is located in Alba Iulia (center-west) and is incorporated into the IVth Regional Corps "Maresal Constantin Prezan".
Brigada 61 Vanatori de Munte, the 61th VM brigade is located in Miercurea Ciuc (central Romania) and is also in the Regional Force.
Brigada 2 Vanatori de Munte "Sarmizegetusa", the 2nd VM brigade, is located in Brasov, central Romania. This is the active force brigade, and it comprises only of professional soldiers.

Brigada 2 Vanatori de Munte 'Sarmizegetusa' - Order of Battle
22nd VM battalion
(back-up for intl missions)
30th VM battalion
(for international missions, also peace-keepers)
206th Division
(a regiment-sized structure composed of artilery, mountain armor, AAA, sapper, etc)
21st VM battalion
(the most elite VM battalion in the country)
4th detachment
(a composite structure for special purposes)
a mountain scouting company
(at the same capability level with any SEAL or SAS mountain subunit)

Exercises

Owners of Cheile Bicazului

A state of silent excitement envaled the Mountain Hunters of the 61st VM brigade (Miercurea Ciuc) as soon as they heard they will have a climbing camp in Cheile Bicazului.
Cheile Bicazului, an amazing place composed of rocks which are hundreds of meters tall and steeped at 90 degrees, but just a few meters close to one another and separated by small but very "nervous" rapids, is ranked 3rd most difficult climbing place in Romania. Bucegi in central Romania is ranked 1st, and Piatra Craiului, also in central Romania, 2nd.
Lt-Col Ioan Burghelea, the 2nd in command of the 2nd VM Brigade, prepares his men, both enlisted and conscripts, for the training ahead. The military barracks seem like a building full of busy bees, each one doing its own job for the benefit of the group.
Cheile Bicazului - The Bicaz Keys
A place of amazing natural beauty, unique in Europe, are busiers than ever. The VM's look like small ants on top of the mighty rocks, when looked upon from down below. Foreign and Romanian tourists stop from their hike and stare at the rocktops to see the Hunters rappeling down.

On the almost vertical rocks, the climbers from the 17th VM battalion from Vatra Dornei (north Romania), lead by colonel Ioan Gaftone, are coming down. Ninety percent of the members of this battalion are recognized climbing experts and all of them have the 1st class climber degree.

In the past 10 years (1991-2001), this battalion has sent men to the platoon that represents Romania at the international military patrol competitions organized in common by Austria, Switzerland and Germany. In the past four years (1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001), the Romanian platoon has been ranked first. Corporal and 1st degree climbing expert Simion Alboi was present at all these competitions. With him have also participated men like corporal 1st degree climbing expert Fanica Pascar, seargant 1st degree climbing expert Ion Pascaru and also seargants Nistor Doroftei, seargant-majors Nicolai Hondac and Nicolae Olaru and lieutenant Nestor Arcadie.

The head of the Combat Training Department, major Ion Procopiuc, is also the head of the Mountain Rescue Service in Vatra Dornei. Some of the best Mountain Hunters in the country are also members and sometimes leaders of the ultra-experienced Romanian Mountain Rescue teams. Called "Salvamont", these teams have rescue missions 3-4 times per week during the summer and daily rescues during winter. A typical rescue can involve marching for ten miles and then a recovery and transportation of the lost person/dead bodie(s) back to base that can take more than 12 hours. These teams can be deployed in a time interval as short as 10 or 15 minutes from the distress call, no matter the weather, and no matter whether it is day or night, wednesday of sunday, and even if they have just returned from a 12-16 hrs mission.
Major Ion Procopiuc's team is made of nine men, all Salvamont members in Vatra Dornei, plus himself, the leader of the VM team and Salvamont team at the same time. All of them are graduates of the National Salvamont School, and have obtained in the previous years places 3 and 4 in the National Mountain Competitions !
It therefore comes at no surprize that these super-humans, after a few hours of climbing, have come to "own" the Bicaz Keys

But the VM's from the other battalions are also acting bravely. If they didn't had the same experience as their collegues from Vatra Dornei, they try to gain it here, by watching and asking the experts. The teamwork can be felt in the air. Nobody acts alone, no matter how experienced they are, and there is no such thing as a "show-off", as you so often see in American movies. This is not a cheap Hollywood movie. One, no matter how much of experience he might have, can very easily die here. One centimeter in the wrong place, and you become a 75 kilograms diving bomb into nothingness.
The VM's are helping each other. Piatra Altarului, Mount 7 November and other peaks are quickly conquered. Lieutenants Robert Galea, Adrian Voinea and Liviu Chende, 2nd lt Razvan Radu, seargant-major Dorel Barsan and seargant 1st class climbing expert Cornel Platon are daring in their actions and from the ground they look as if they were flying between the stiff cliffs.
Near-by, on a cliff nicknamed by the VM's "Kodoi", in an ironical referal to the famous Hymalaian peak K-2, we find the VM's from Miercurea Ciuc. From some distance, they don't look human, they look like a team of Spider-Men (not Spiderman), acting together. Reality is indeed more spectacular than any cheap movie. In some parts of it, "Kodoi" has sections of 9+ and 10- difficulty, exactly as its hymalaian "sister".
The cliffs from Bucegi have a 10++ difficulty which is as high as you can get, and which is exactly the same as the toughest cliffs you'd find on Everest. In fact, those are the places where Daniel Pisica, the Mountain Hunter that climbed on Everest, trained before his climb there.

After such an amazing day, your stomach is screaming for a hot meal. The mountain air also makes it come faster. But the spirit is also not forgotten. Before lunch, Mihai Negrea, a Christian Orthodox priest, blesses the food and prays for the health of the soldiers and their victory in the battles with the unforgiving mountain. Father Negrea is a priest in a near-by village called Brosteni. He took the day off from his own church, in order to come here and be with his friends, the Hunters. In the future, he would like to become a permanent priest inside the unit, employed by the Army.
Thanks to Col. Vasile Moldovan of the 61st VM Brigade for some of the information included in this article

These do not represent by any chance "all" the exercises commonly held by the Romanian Mountain Hunters with foreign elite units, but are mere examples I could think of depicting


-1997-
  • Complex tactical exercise with the Dutch Marines

    Between the 24th of september and the 23rd of october 1997, the Brasov-Rasnov-Predeal region in central Romania will be the staging area where a subunit of the Dutch Marine Commandos will conduct a series of training exercises with the Romanian Mountain Hunters. The complex training program will be executed with mixed Romanian-Dutch teams and will be composed of tactical marches by day and by night, climbing exercises, sapper training and live firing exercises. The high point of this series of exercises will be during the days of 18th, 19th and 20th of october, when a complex tactical assesment will take place.
    The Dutch subunit will arrive wednesday, the 24th of september, on Sibiu International Airport, from where they will be transported into the training area.
  • -2000-
  • Romanian Mountain Hunters to train with Turkish Special Forces

    In october 2000, a series of visits between military delegations from Romania and Turkey will take place in order to prepare grounds for a common training exercise between a subunit of Romanian Mountain Hunters and a subunit of the Turkish Commando Troops. In Turkey, the Romanian delegate's visit is to take place between the 6th and the 10th of october, while the Turkish delegation's visit to Romania will arrive between the 27th and the 31st of october. Romanian Scouting forces also held yearly exercises together with the Turkish scouts.
    These activities will contribute to increase the knowledge about each other's training concepts, a must for the two future NATO allies.
  • -2000-
  • Romanian Mountain Hunters to train with the US Navy SEALs

    An unspecified number of US Navy SEALs, presumably from SEAL Team 2 and 2nd specwar unit has arrived in Romania to conduct a month-long exercise with the Romanian Mountain Hunters. The SEALs and 200 Mountain Hunters were assisted by MH-53J SuperStallion II helicopters equipped with the Pavelow system, Romanian MiG-21 LanceR fighter-bombers and Romanian IAR-330 Puma helicopters, which also took part in the exercise.
    Designated Operation Dacia 2000, after the ancient Romanian state that covered half of Europe, the common training of the two forces was composed of complex exercises such as search and destroy, mountain rescue, hostage rescue, terrorist camp surveilance and anihilation, illuminating enemy targets for the MiG's and helicopters, etc.
    For the first time in such exercises, a team of Romanian VM's and a team of SEALs engage in a search and destroy exercise against each other. The SEAL's followed the VM's deep inside the mountains; however it is said that the VM's managed to came back behind the SEAL's and "destroy" them. If this is true, it is a remarcable achievement for the Mountain Hunters to defeat a very experienced force such as the US Navy SEALs.
    Until now, exercises with foreign special forces have meant only mixed-team engagements.
  • -2000-
  • Romanian Mountain Hunters are training in Predeal with British Commandos

    A platoon of Romanian Mountain Hunters will participate between the 11th of january and the 22nd of february 2000 in a complex exercise with subunits from the British Royal Marines, informs a press release of the General Chief of Staff thursday.
    EASTERN CLIMB is a yearly mountain warfare exercise held in Romania, who's purpose is to increase the interoperability between mountain warfare forces of NATO allies. This year's exercise is composed mainly by the common training of the VM's and the RMC's, training meant to increase the integration of the Romanian units designated for international and multinational peace-keeping, search and rescue and humanitarian missions.
    EASTERN CLIMB 2000 will offer to the Romanians the possibility to see at first hand the British Commandos' training sessions and to learn from their experience in the fields of evaluating and certifying units and personnel.
    In return, the Romanian Mountain Hunters trained the British Royal Marines Commandos of the 45 Company in cold survial techniques. Those techniques were very useful to them a year and a half later, when they were deployed to Afghanistan.

  • Most of these exercises took place in the Diham cabain, in the central Carpathian Mountains, near Brasov. Diham cabain was a very old mountain cabain which entered the international tourism circuit in the 1920's. It was renovated around the year 2000 by the sapper subunit of the 2nd VM brigade and 131 independent commando squadron, Royal Engineers. Diham burned completely in a fire in the winter of 2002.
    -2001-

  • A visit by US Senate advisors

    A group of 7 US Senate advisors visited thursday, the 9th of august 2001, the 21st VM battalion from Predeal. They met and talked there with Sorin Encutescu, secretary of state in the Romanian MoD and also the head of the Department for the Relationship with the Parliament and Public Relationships. The visit included a static display of weaponry and equipment used by the Mountain Hunters and a dynamic show consisting of a complex search and rescue exercise combined with an ambush simulation which took place in Cheile Rasnoavei. At the end of the exercise, col (ret) John Miller, a foreign policy and military advisor of US senator Sam Brownback highly appreciated the training and professional level of the VM's, and underlined the unit cohesion, stating that this is a living example of Romania's military offer for NATO. He also stated that NATO needs such units for peace keeping and other types of operations.


    A visit to Georgia
    14 military personnel and enlisted men from the 2nd VM Brigade "Sarmizegetusa" and from the 1st VM battalion participated together with aproximately 300 soldiers from other 14 NATO and PfP countries at a peace-keeping exercise in Georgia.
    The exercise, organized and conducted by the South-East NATO Headquarters from Izmir, Turkey, lasted two weeks.
    The purpose of the exercise was to increase interoperability at a multinational subunit level by a change of experience in the area of peace-keeping. The scenario of the exercise was one of a NATO conducted, and UN ordered, peace keeping mission.
    The Romanian Mountain Hunters have been present at all leves of the exercise.
    The 15 countries organized their soldiers in multinational platoons. The platoon where the VM's were assigned to was formed of Romanian VM's and mountain troops from Georgia, Canada and Armenia.
    Attention! The Romanians are coming!
    In the second day of the exercise, thanks to the physical and moral support offered by the VM's to their collegues from the other three countries, their platoon obtained the 1st place in the exercise, out of 6 participating multinational platoons.
    During the first week of the exercise, the Command of the Multinational Battalion familiarized itself with the standard procedures, such as reports and action orders. The next four days were of specific training sessions, which meant that the combatants and the Command centre had to be on duty for 24 hours a day, sometimes on a 49o Centergrade, in order to achieve their missions.
    In all the structures and leves where they got involved, the VM's have managed to impress. The good English language skills helped the VM's from the battalion and Brigade command's to make adequate documents, orders and reports, which ensured the good organization and coordination of the subunits in the field.
    A new challenge to which the VM's have been asked to response was PR. A Canadian team, experts in the relationship with mass-media, offered theoretical and practical lessons to everyone present at the exercise. Later on, this team impersonated the mass-media and its reactions during all the incidents that took place on the field. Despide their lack of experience in such activities, the VM's have managed to handle it adequatly.
    These do not represent by any chance "all" the exercises commonly held by the Romanian Mountain Hunters with foreign elite units, but are mere examples I could think of depicting




  • Operations

    After World War II, when they went from Moscow to Berlin, from Viena to Stalingrad and they liberated Romania and several other countries, the Mountain Hunters did not have combat operations. The exceptions are the missions during the 1989 Revolution, which are indeed war missions. However two days of combat in Brasov and Sfantu Gheorghe (both in central Romania) in december 1989 are not enough for a force of this calibre.
    A VM company of the elite 21st VM battalion was offered in september 2001 for operations in Afghanistan. The company, numbering 170 men, was not requested by the Americans. Serious hiring in the VM units started in january 2002. At the end of 2003, the entire 2nd VM brigade (the only VM brigade incorporated into the Rapid Reaction Force) was operational. From that moment onwards, Romania can offer an entire Mountain brigade for operations abroad, as well as deploy its elite 21st Mountain Hunters battalion anywhere in the world in a time interval between 7 and 30 days (same as the US Navy SEALs). In the year 2000, after the US and NATO saw the capabilities of the Mountain Hunters, they requested that in the future, these warriors should participate in special operations anywhere in the world under UN, EU, NATO or US command. As such, a subunit of VM's will also be incorporated into the Special Forces battalion.
    As the war on terror continues, it is likely that in the near future, Romanian Mountain Hunters will find themselves fighting the Taliban in the wastelands of Afghanistan, at heights higher than 6,000 meters, or perhaps fighting drug traffickers in Colombia or terrorists in Indonesia and the Philippines.

    Stories

    The Legend Of General Mociulschi

    From Russia to Berlin, a forgotten Mountain Hunter fought for freedom

    From the long list of forgotten heroes of the Romanian people, brought to an unfair state of annonimity, either by a Soviet-pressued communist government, or by our own and cheap habbit to despize and forget our great past, comes one who has been nicknamed "the legendary commander".
    General Leonard Mociulschi, a real life tactical genius and brilliant commander, was rising in rank during the 1920's and 30's. It's in this period that the leader, now in command of ever increasing Mountain Hunter units, formed and trained his men, men who, in just a decade's time, will make "the best in the world" soldiers run for their lives on the battlefield.
    After taking command of the VM unit in Sighetul Marmatiei (N-W Romania), he plans and conducts douzens of tactical applications, throughout the Maramures mountains (N-W Romania).
    World War Two came, uninvited, to Romania, in the 22nd of june, 1941. Previously, the nazi rules of Germany (Adolf Hitler) and Hungary (Miklos Horthy) have split Romania like a piece of cake, taking away northern Transylvania and attaching it to Hungary.
    The Mountain Hunters had to retreat in front of the enemy, giving up the land without a fight. For the time.
    In the 22nd of june 1941, the now Brigadier General Leonard Mociulschi leads the Mountain Hunters for the liberation of Basarabia and Bucovina, the two Romanian provences in the E of the country, that have been anexed by the Soviets just two years earlier.
    It is pointless to describe in detail all the victories won by the General and his men; it would take too long. Northern Bucovina, Basarabia, the Calmuca steps, the Caucasus mountains, Stalingrad, etc.
    General Gheorghe Avramescu, the supreme commander of the Mountain Corps, calls Mociulschi "a terrific fighter and an excelent organizer".
    When the right time arrived, in the 23rd of august 1944, Romania turned its weapons against the nazi invaders. The newly promoted Division-General Leonard Mociulschi now received the command of the 3rd Mountain Hunters Division. It was finally the time to free the two and a half million Romanians which have been under a constant extermination process by the Hungarian military. The Hungarian Army's occupation of Northern Transylvania proved to be a Romanian version of the Holocaust. The Hungarians are renouwned for their habbit of taking out the body of an unborn child, right from his mother's woumd, with the bayonette, thus killing both of them in a horrible display of nomadic barbarism. Also, Hungarian soldiers roamed the land, and in every village they encountered, the Romanians were gathered together, put to dig their own graves, and then burried alive. In a typical display of cynism, the Hungarian soldiers then covered the mass graves with lime, so the smell of decay would be more 'bearable'. It probably took hours, or even days, for all the people to suffocate or die of hunger, burried alive in their own villages.
    The Huns, nowadays called "Hungarians", are the most barbaric tribe ever recorded by history. They are the reason why the Chinese built the Chinese wall: it was to stop these Mongolic tribes to repeatedly attack China from the north. After the Chinese have built their wall, the Huns, or Hungarians, now came from their homeland of Mongolia, all the way to Europe, reaching havoc throughout its territory, all the way to the Gibraltar.
    The Romanian ancestors, the Dacs, were the only tribe that they did not conquer. The gold rich country of Dacia had become a prime target for the Huns, a goal that they never did gave up.
    But all these atrocities, conducted by Miklos Horthy, the ruler of the Hungarian Nazi party, were about to come to an end.
    Divison-General Leonard Mociulschi had arrived from Stalingrad with his 3rd Mountain division, straight back to Transylvania. In the battle of the Valley of Crisul Negru, his severely outnumbered forces manage to repell a powerful German-Hungarian counteroffensive. The Germans, which are called everywhere the best soldiers of World War II, in a high numerical superiority, together with the Hungarians, were pushed back towards the Tisa river (former in ancient Romania, nowadays in central Hungary). The city of Oradea, today at the western border of Romania, was re-taken much earlier than planned.
    The Hungarians in their own turn have had enough of Miklos Horthy and his dying nazi regime. Horthy sent 350,000 Hungarian soldiers to the German-led invasion of the Soviet Union, in exchange for Hitler's order to attach Northern Transylvania to Hungary. Many of the Hungarian soldiers, poorely trained and equipped, have been used like the Romanian and Italian ones, as a frontline buffer during the invasion. Now, the Mountain Hunters are pushing on. The German armies, now on retreat towards the river Tisa, and under herassment by both Serb and Hungarian partizans, fought dearly for the keeping of Debretin (Debrecen, E Hungary) and Budapest (capitol city, N-central Hungary). The Mountain Hunters however manage to smash the German resistance and liberate the two cities, and later the entire country of Hungary. Go back to the history section to see pictures of Romanian soldiers giving hot meals to Hungarian civilians, on the streets of Budapest. And to think, that this comes after the Hungarian soldiers have comitted all those atrocities against the Romanian civilians.
    Later on, Division General Leonard Mociulschi passes the border into Czechoslovakia, attacking the Tatra mountains, another strong-hold of the retreating German forces. The German Army Group Center felt the power of the spearhead which was the Romanian 3rd Mt Division. However, in the 8th of April, 1945, while the 3rd Mt Division was nearing Prague, Mociulschi receives an order to immediately return to Romania. Other Romanian major units will continue the fight and reach Viena and later Berlin. The Russians burned the archives and as such, if one visits Hungary or Czechoslovakia today, at the entrance of each village stays written "This village was liberated by the Soviet Army". Romanian veterans going to Budapest for a ceremony were outraged. "That's impossible, I fought here!", says one 86-year old officer. "I fought here and there was no Russian foot around for miles !!!", he continues.
    But the returning general was not received with military honours, nor with hand-shakes, when he stepped back on Romanian soil. After being ruled by pro-German governments, Hungary and Romania now have new, communist governments. Due to the great pressure of Moscow, both of them step asside any past conflicts and behave, on the surface, as good communist comrades. For sure, someone like Mociulschi, who lead his Mountain Hunters almoust all the way to Moscow, is now a political embarassment. And the Soviets want him. The Soviets behaved more or less the same as the Hungarians, when they entered Romania. But they made no mass graves, no extermination, and no wipe-out plan. However, a large number of people were superficially executed by ad-hoc judging parties. One of them was Marshal Antonescu, the leader of Romania at that time. The Russians did engage in mass raping, stealing and torture. Perhaps it should be 'understandable', if one looks at their experience with the Germans, when they too, were invaded by them. Basarabia and Bucovina have been ripped off from Romania and attached to the Soviet Union, which now represents more than sixty percent of Romania's border. All the factories were dis-assembled and sent by train, to Russia. General Mociulschi is sent to jail for one year. After that, an ad-hoc "People's Tribunal" remarcably finds him 'not guilty', and by the Court's Order No. 18, from the 31st of may 1946, he is aquitted. I say 'remarcably' because the People's Tribunal was of course, a mock judging authority meant only to quickly execute people.
    58 years old and after 40 years in service, "the legend" who fought and achieved remarcable victories in two world wars is now seeking a job in a country that has to pay a multi-billion dollar war payment to the Soviets, even after a quarter of its territory was already anexed by them and all its factories were deported to Siberia.
    But this situation would not last long. From bad to worse, during 1948 he is again arrested, this time without a trial. Still with no trial nor any kind of conviction, the communist authorities send him to force labor camps, working in places like the Danube-Black Sea cannal, Onesti and Castelu. After this detention, he is again freed, with no further comments, in 1955.
    Times have changed for the Mountain Hunters. The ones who once roamed from Moscow to Berlin, from Stalingrad to the Tatra mountains, are now looking for a job, any job. Leonard's former chief of staff, sacked and therefore still ranked as a colonel, Petrescu, was selling his decorations in the markets of Baia Mare (capitol of the Maramures region, N-W Romania), the former battlefield, in order to have money for bread. General Mociulschi, now a civilian, works on the lowest jobs. The state that he once served, has betrayed him.
    Commander of large units of the Mountain Hunters, victorious in strips of land that are longer than Europe taken from one tip to the other, decorated twice with the Mihai Viteazul order and with over a hundred other orders and decorations, has passed away without nobody even noticing it. Like him, many more, have been deprived even of a decent burial, due to, of course, 'lack of funding'.
    In 1999, 20 years after his annonymous death, the local military organization in Baia Mare has replaced its display panel at the entrance. The new one states, near by "COUNTRY, HONOUR, DIGNITY", the name of Division General Leonard Mociulschi.

    A Mountain Hunter on Everest

    The famous loyalty of the VM's and a remarcable story about humanity
    After many years of mountain climbing in the military, and personal hiking trips in the amazing Romanian mountains, conquering peaks such as the ones from Fagaras or Bucegi, lieutenant Daniel Pisica got to be a member in the select group of Romanian mountain climbers. Also experienced in climbing peaks in far away continents, lt Pisica was one of the men who Defence officials thought of when they planned sending a soldier to the Romanian mission to Everest, at the 50th celebration of its conquest.
    "God wanted that to be me", said lt Pisica.

    No gear, no deal

    After the Defence Ministry had approved his departure, the youngest member of the team, lt. Daniel Pisica, started to look for proper equipment. Not a problem for climbers from countries like US or Switzerland, who spend tons of money in a douzen expeditions and still don't bring any results back home, the cost of the gear was the first obstacle in front of this mission. A simple pair of Lorpen sox costs around $50. And there's also tents, termarest, gore-tex, sleeping bags, boots, safety belts, communication equipment, taxes, etc. In total, 3,000 euros to say the least.
    There is a funny saying among Romanian climbers today: "In the 1960's, sex was safe, and climbing - unsafe. In the 2000's, climbing is safe, but sex - unsafe".
    The 14 members of the expedition left Romania on March the 27th, 2003, from Otopeni International Airport, North of Bucharest, and after a hop in Viena, a city craddled with smog, pick-pocketers and armed guards, landed in Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal.
    The Romanian team had the lowest budget of all the teams attempting to conquer the peak this year, however they did managed to achieve their goal. Not the same can be told about the Swiss team for example, which had an exagerrated budget even for their own standards, no less than 30 times larger than the Romanian team's budget. However, their performance was that they couldn't even get above Base Camp, but curiously enough, were greeted at home like 'heroes'.
    From the 1,350 m altitude of Kathmandu, the climbing had to be made slowly, due to the fact that above 3,500 m, the human body needs to get used to the pressure changes and lack of oxygene, thing called 'aclimatisation'.
    After their arrival in Kathmandu, the group increased by three members: Gheorghe Dijmarescu, a Romanian climber who has been living for 20 yrs now in the US, his wife, Lapka Sherpa, a world champion and the only woman to climb the Everest three times, and their 16-year old daughter, Dony Sherpa, who even at this young age already proved that she carries her parents genes.

    The storm - a curse, the accident - bad luck

    During the climb, a sherpa gets pulmonary endem. Being the youngest, and also a Salvamont member, he decides to accompany him down to Base Camp, knowing very well that the person doing that would probably miss the ascention to the peak.
    Lt. Pisica goes down the mountain with the injured Dyly Sherpa, thru the storm, arm to arm, as the sherpa could bearly walk. The road that was supposed to take 10 hours, now took 16. In the end, lt Daniel Pisica saved Dyly Sherpa's life. However, in the mean time, the climbers which were still on top got a window of opportunity, and they took it. Good weather came for a brief moment, and some of them have climbed the peak. The three "Americans" and three members of the group.
    And that was it.... waiting your entire life to climb the top of the world, when misfortune happens. One more proof, if ever needed, of a Mountain Hunter's famous loyalty. Lt. Daniel Pisica got as high as 7,200 meters, and in the end, he saved a man's life. "And isn't that the supreme duty?", he asks in a bitter-sweet smile. Back to Kathmandu, Dyly Sherpa was very giving with beer and good words. His new friend and rescuer, a Romanian Mountain Hunter, left his own life-long desire to climb the peak, in order to save his life.
    "If God helps me and I will be healthy, I will get, one day, ON TOP! For now, I have just made one 'assault'. What's left is the 'conquest'".

    Sorin Romanian Special Forces Web Site is
    Copyright © 2003-2004 by Sorin A. Crasmarelu
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