Ion S. Dumitru was born on 1 March 1921 in Robanesti-Dolj. He went to high school in Craiova and then in the military high school in Timisoara, which he finished among the first in 1941. Two years later, in 1943, he finished the Infantry officer School in Buchreast and on 1 July he was promoted to the rank of sublocotenent (2nd lt.) and assigned, at request, to the 1st Tank Regiment, which was in the process of restructuring after the 1942 Stalingrad campaign at Targoviste.
He specialized in tank warfare in the Tank Training Center at Fallingbostel/Hanover of the 6th Panzer Regiment.
In March 1944, the 1st Armored Division (Greater Romania Division) was transferred to the front in Moldavia. A part of it the Cantemir Detachment had been on the front from early 1944.
They were now kept in the reserve of the 4th Army. In the morning of 20 August, when the Jassy-Kishinev (Iasi-Chisinau) Operation had already started, the tankers were in their machines ready for action.
The 1st Tank Regiment was the spearhead of the counter-attack launched by gen. Korne's 1st Armored Division against the flank of the Soviet tank columns. At about 10 am, the regiment ran into a Soviet tank formation near the Scobalteni village and engaged it. The fighting lasted until 8 pm (10 hours) and the casualties were high: 60 Soviet tanks, 20 Romanian tanks. After several IS tanks were knocked out, the Soviets chose to disengage. It is not known how many tanks did slt. Dumitru destroy that day, but given his performance in other battles the following days, probably at least one.
The Soviets changed their tactic and called in several aircraft which dropped smoke bombs. The regiment was situated on both sides of the highway. During the confusion created a Soviet tank formation rushed in on the road, while the Romanians wee unable to fire, for fear of hitting their comrades. Thus the regiment was encircled.
In the meantime, slt. Dumitru's tank was immobilized and he took over another tank from his platoon. In the evening, when some of the officers gathered to discuss the situation and find a solution. The chief communications officer reported that a BBC communiqué mentioned the fact that the 1st Armored Division was destroyed and that the remains had been captured.
The decision was to retreat off-road under the cover of darkness. However, during the escape the columns got separated and thus, slt. Ion Dumitru found himself in command of 13 T-4s (Pz IV) and 3 TBs (SPW 250), which made it safely to the village of Stornesti, where there was a company of motorized infantry. The next morning, about 25 German Stugs came rushing over the hill towards the Romanian positions, on the hill top behind them stopped two motorize AT batteries which positioned the guns to fire in the Germans, without seeing the Romanian positions. Slt. Dumitru ordered to open fire with HE shells and the ZIS-3s were blasted away, together with four Ford trucks.
Soon came a motorcycle with a message from gen. Korne who was on a hill further away and had seen the battle. The order was to retreat and to take in his formation the general's personal tank. The formation reached the village of Boghicea where there was another motorized infantry company and a 150 mm howitzer battery. The tank company took a defensive position. Later, Romanian motorized infantry appeared, followed closely by a Soviet column. The tanks and the howitzers opened fire and repulsed the Soviets, causing them heavy casualties.
The infantry and the guns left after that. The tanks followed them after an hour and headed to Bara, where again it engaged Soviet troops. The nightfall caught them on the hill near the village Sagna. On 22 August, the Soviet artillery forced them to retreat. They crossed the Siret River, passed through Roman and stopped in the village of Sabaoani, where there was also an AT ditch, guarded by a pioneer company. The next day, on 23 August, four German towed 75 mm Paks arrived and took positions between the tanks.
A Soviet column, more than 20 tank strong, approached the ditch in the afternoon. As agreed with slt. Dumitru, the pioneers blew up the passageway when the Soviets where 100 m away. The Soviet tanks changed their formation to line abreast and advanced towards the ditch, supported by their infantry. They did not see the T.4s and Paks in the forest 700 m away from the ditch, until it was too late. The tanks and Paks fired. Dumitru had ordered his men to fire only at his command, to save ammo. All was over very quickly. 22 burning carcasses remained on the field. Dumitru probably destroyed another tank on this occasion.
After an hour, the tanks left Sabaoani. On the road they joined 6-7 tanks and 3 Stugs and crossed the river Moldova.
On 24 August, the tanks continued the retreat until it met up with a German column and they found out that Romania had declared the armistice.
In the following days, the Romanian-Soviet "co-operation" began and the remains of the 1st Tank Regiment (like many other Romanian units) were interned in POW camps*. Slt. Dumitru managed to escape from the improvised camp together with his trusted friend, plutonier (staff sergeant) Ion Cojocaru. They were recaptured and interned into another camp, but escaped again. On 8 September they managed to get to Targoviste (in southern Romania and away from the front), on side roads, dressed as peasants.
He was incorporated in the 2nd Tank Regiment, together with other officers from the 1st, which had been disbanded at the Soviet request. This remaining regiment was made up of the Command Company, the Recon Company (8 armored cars and 5xSPW), the 1st Tank Battalion (8xT-4 and 14xTAs) and the 2nd Tank Battalion (28xR-35/45 and R-35, 9xT-38, 2xR-2, 5xTACAM R-2).
They were sent to the front in Slovakia in March 1945 and subordinated to the Soviet 27th Armored Brigade, which ironically the 1st Tank Regiment faced in August 1944. They began operations on 26 March, by crossing the river Hron. Slt. Dumitru's platoon advanced quickly, destroyed 6 AT guns and their towing vehicles and captured a German 150 mm howitzer battery, after destroying one of them. The advance was stopped by a Tiger platoon. However, he maneuvered around their position and forced to retreat.
Slt. Ion S Dumitru met another German armored formation two days later near the village Mal-Chetin, where he and plut. Cojocaru destroyed a Pz IV a StuG, a SPW 250 and two AT guns and their towing vehicles. The remaining Germans retreated and the Soviet infantry occupied the village.
The Soviet infantry continued its advance, supported by the Romanian tanks, the following days. On 31 March, it was again stopped. The Germans had brought a Tiger platoon, a Ferdinand platoon and a Pz IV company (probably Hungarian). The artillery barrage drove off the Ferdinands and a german bomber that crashed near the Tigers (!!!) damaged two of them and forced the others to tow them to safety. Thus, in the confusion, slt. Dumitru lead his platoon against the remaining tanks, firing from the move. They panicked and started to retreat. Two Pz IVs were destroyed and another two damaged.
During the following night, 31March/1 April, took place one of the most unusual actions of the 2nd Tank Regiment: a night assault on a fortified village. Luckily it was the Catholic Easter and most Germans were caught by surprise, but the confusion was high among both sides. An artillery bombardment disrupted the Romanian-Soviet formation, but after slt. Dumitru destroyed the church tower (where there was probably an observer) it stopped. In the following battle, which lasted until morning, slt. Dumitru and his platoon destroyed six SPW 250s, while another platoon destroyed a Pz IV.
The 2nd tank Regiment then took part in the assault on Bratislava, but no armored formations were encountered, only entrenched infantry.
On 5 April he commanded a detachment of 7 T.4s and 3 StuGs in the assault on Devinska. The katiushas statrted to fire, but, just as the attack commenced, the Germans repositioned their tanks and tank hunters to ambush the attackers. Slt. Dumitru however managed to change the direction of the attack and maneuvered around them. The Germans started to retreat and were faced the fire of the entire company. After one hour and half all was over. Inside the village, 9 tanks and StuGs and three SPWs were burning.
On 8 April, the regiment began crossing the river Morava into Austria and on 11 April was engaged in the battle for Vienna. The tank company of the 1st battalion (the T.4 company) attacked towards Hohenruppersdorf, which was occupied without encountering any resistance. They remained on those positions during the rest of the day. The only Germans spotted were the ones in a command vehicle which was captured. The rest of the regiment and the 27th tank Brigade encountered heavy resistance and were even pushed back.
In the morning of 12 April, the Germans counter-attacked and only slt. Dumitru's group (two tanks), a Soviet AT battery and infantry platoon were the only Allied troops in Hohenruppersdorf. The others had been sent to the endangered areas.
At about 4 pm, four German SPWs surprised the Soviet infantry and managed to pass through their position into the village. Dumitru destroyed the first and let the Soviet AT guns finish the others off, because he did not want to waste ammo. The Soviets bagged two, but one got away. One hour later, four Pz IVs and four SPWs entered the village. The Soviet AT guns destroyed one tank, while Dumitru got behind the other three. He fired and destroyed the tank in the middle. The crews of the other two jumped out and surrendered. In the meantime, the other Romanian tank had destroyed two of the SPWs. The rest had fled.
The fighting continued on 13 April, when the Germans were finally pushed back. Both the 27th Tank Brigade and 2nd Tank Regiment suffered heavy losses. The regiment was reorganized and slt. Dumitru was named CO of the 1st Tank Company/ 1st Tank Battalion. He was assigned to lead the assault on Shrick on 14 April. The detachment had six T.4s (Pz IV), 3 StuGs, 5 TACAMs, 2 R-2s and 3 armored cars.
They were attacked by three Panthers from the flank and two T.4s were knocked out and one TACAM destroyed. To make things worse one T.4 broke down. One of the immobilized tanks was the one commanded by slt. Dumitru's, who was wounded. Ironically, this was not his usual tank and crew.
This is how the war ended for lt. Ion S. Dumitru. After recovering he served mainly in administration jobs in the regiment.
He had fought five days against the Soviets and 20 days against the Germans. In the meantime, the formations he lead destroyed 39 tanks and 13 AFVs, of which at least five tanks and 3-4 AFVs belonged to him.
Col. Stan Zatreanu, the CO of the 2nd tank Regiment, wrote in the proposal for decoration that the actions of this officer had a very important role in the success of this regiment (which had received four citations from the Soviet comandduring its less than two months campaign). As a side note, the personal relations between the colonel and Dumitru were not very good.
He received the highest Romanian wartime award: the Mihai Viteazu Order 3rd class with swords.
He also found out that he had been promoted to lieutenant in February, but because he was on the front, under Soviet command, the news got lost in the bureaucracy. After the war he continued to serve in the army as tank instructor, until 1953 when he resigned (still a lieutenant, even though he was the chief of operations of a tank brigade!!).