Romania during World War II

Romania during World War II

In June 1941, after a brief period of nominal neutrality under King Carol, Romania joined the Axis Powers. Romania became a member of the Axis under the government of Ion Antonescu. In August 1944, a coup led by King Michael deposed Antonescu dictatorship and put Romania on the side of the Allies for the remainder of the war. Despite this association with the winning side, "Greater Romania" was not to survive, with territory lost to both Bulgaria and to the Soviet Union following the end of the war.

The war begins

On April 13, 1938, Germany and the United Kingdom had pledged to guarantee the independence of Romania. But negotiations with the Soviets concerning a similar guarantee collapsed when Romania refused to allow the Red Army to cross its frontiers.

On August 23, 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Among other things, this pact stipulated the Soviet "interest" in Bessarabia (which had been ruled by Imperial Russia from 1812 to 1918). This Soviet interest was combined with a clear indication that there was an explicit lack of any German interest in the area.

Eight days later, Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Romania officially remained neutral, but granted refuge to members of Poland's fleeing government. After the assassination of Prime Minister Armand Călinescu on 21 September, King Carol tried to maintain neutrality for several months more. But the surrender of France and the retreat of British forces from continental Europe rendered meaningless the assurances that both countries had made to Romania.

In 1940, Romania lost territory in both the east and the west. In July, after a Soviet ultimatum, Romania agreed to give up Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina. Two thirds of Bessarabia were combined with a small part of USSR to form the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. The rest (Northern Bukovina and Budjak) was apportioned to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Shortly thereafter, on 30 August, under the Second Vienna Award (or Vienna Diktat/Vienna Arbitration), Germany and Italy forced Romania to give half of Transylvania to Hungary. The Hungarians received a region referred to as "Northern Transylvania", while "Southern Transylvania" remained Romanian. Hungary had lost all of Transylvania after World War I in the Treaty of Trianon. They had never surrendered the ambition of regaining the territory. On 7 September, under the Treaty of Craiova, the Kadrilater or "Quadrilateral" (the southern part of Dobrudja) was ceded to Bulgaria (from which it had been taken at the end of the Second Balkan War in 1913). Given the relatively recent unification of all the territories Romanians have felt as historically belonging to them on one hand, and on the other hand the fact that so much land was lost without a fight, these territorial losses shattered the underpinnings of King Carol's power.

On July 4, 1940, Ion Gigurtu formed the first Romanian government to include an Iron Guardist minister: Horia Sima. Sima was a particularly virulent anti-Semite who had become the nominal leader of the movement after Codreanu's death. Sima was one of the few prominent legionnaires to survive the carnage of the preceding years.

Antonescu comes to power

In the immediate wake of the loss of Northern Transylvania, on September 4, 1940, the Iron Guard (led by Horia Sima) and General (later Marshal) Ion Antonescu united to form a "National Legionary State" government, which forced the abdication of Carol II in favor of his 19-year-old son Mihai. Carol and his mistress Magda Lupescu went into exile, and Romania, despite the recent betrayal over territorial cessions, leaned strongly toward the Axis.

In power, the Iron Guard stiffened already harsh anti-Semitic legislation, enacted legislation directed against Armenian and Greek businessmen, tempered at times by the willingness of officials to take bribes, and wreaked vengeance upon its enemies. On October 8, 1940, Nazi troops began crossing into Romania. They soon numbered over 500,000.

On November 23, 1940, Romania joined the Axis Powers. On November 27, 1940, 64 former dignitaries or officials were executed in Jilava prison while awaiting trial (see "Jilava Massacre"). Later that day, historian and former prime minister Nicolae Iorga and economist Virgil Madgearu, a former government minister, were assassinated.

The cohabitation between the Iron Guard and Antonescu was never an easy one. On January 20, 1941, the Iron Guard attempted a coup, combined with a pogrom against the Jews of Bucharest. Within four days, Antonescu had successfully suppressed the coup. The Iron Guard was forced out of the government. Sima and many other legionnaires took refuge in Germany; others were imprisoned.

The war on the Eastern Front

On June 22, 1941, Germany launched Operation Barbarossa, attacking the Soviet Union on a wide front. Romania joined in the offensive, with Romanian troops crossing the River Prut. After recovering Bessarabia and Bukovina (Operation München), Romanian units fought side by side with the Germans onward to Odessa, Sevastopol, and Stalingrad. The Romanian contribution of troops was enormous. The total number of troops involved in the Romanian Third Army and the Romanian Fourth Army was second only to Nazi Germany itself. The number of Romanian troops sent to fight in Russia exceeded that of all of Germany's other allies combined. A "Country Study" by the U.S. Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress attributes this to "morbid competition with Hungary to curry Hitler's favor... [in hope of] ... regaining northern Transylvania."U.S. government [ Country study: Romania] , c. 1990.]

Romania annexed Soviet lands immediately east of the Dnister. After the Battle of Odessa, this included the city of Odessa. The Romanian armies advanced far into the Soviet Union during 1941 and 1942 before being involved in the disaster at the Battle of Stalingrad in the winter of 1942-1943.

Romania's most important general, Petre Dumitrescu, was commander of the Romanian Third Army at Stalingrad. In November 1942, the German Sixth Army was briefly put at Dumitrescu's disposal during a German attempt to relieve the Romanian Third Army following a devastating Soviet offensive.

Prior to the Soviet counteroffensive at Stalingrad, the Antonescu government seriously considered a war with Hungary over Transylvania as an inevitability. Of course this new war would have to wait until "after" the expected victory over the Soviet Union.

The bombing of Romania

"See also:"
* Bombing of Romania in World War II
* Bombing of Bucharest in World War II
* Operation Tidal Wave

Throughout the Antonescu years, Romania supplied Nazi Germany and the Axis armies with oil, grain, and industrial products. Consequently, by 1943 Romania became a target of Allied aerial bombardment. One of the most notable air bombardments was the attack on the oil fields of Ploieşti (Ploesti) on August 1, 1943. Bucharest itself was subjected to intense bombardment on April 4 and 15, 1944.

Unfortunately for Romania, most of the products sent to Germany were provided without monetary compensation. As a result of these "uncompensated exports", inflation in Romania skyrocketed. Quoting again from that same "Country Study": "Even government officials began grumbling about German exploitation."

Romania and the Holocaust

According to an international commission report released by the Romanian government in 2004, between 280,000 to 380,000 Jews in the war zone of Bessarabia, Bukovina and Transnistria were systematically murdered by Antonescu's regime. [Ilie Fugaru, [ Romania clears doubts about Holocaust past] , UPI, November 11, 2004] cite web
author = International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania
title = Executive Summary: Historical Findings and Recommendations
work = Final Report of the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania
publisher = Yad Vashem (The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority)
date = November 11, 2004
url =
format = PDF
doi =
accessdate = 2006-07-25

Though much of the killing was done in war zone by Romanian troops, there were also substantial persecutions behind the front line. During the Iaşi pogrom of June 1941, over 12,000 Jews were massacred or killed slowly in trains travelling back and forth across the countryside.

Half of the 320,000 Jews living in Bessarabia, Bukovina, and Dorohoi district in Romania were murdered within months of the entry of the country into the war during 1941. Even after the initial killing, Jews in Moldavia, Bukovina and Bessarabia were subject to frequent pogroms, and were concentrated into ghettos from which they were sent to concentration camps, including camps built and run by Romanians. The number of deaths in this area is not certain, but even the lowest respectable estimates run to about 250,000 Jews (and 25,000 Roma) in these eastern regions, while 120,000 of Transylvania's 150,000 Jews died at the hands of the Hungarians later in the war.

Romanian soldiers also worked with the Einsatzkommando, German killing squads, to massacre Jews in conquered territories. Romanian troops were in large part responsible for the Odessa massacre, in which over 100,000 Jews were shot during the autumn of 1941.

Nonetheless, in stark contrast to many countries of Eastern and Central Europe, the majority of Romanian Jews survived the war, although they were subject to a wide range of harsh conditions, including forced labor, financial penalties, and discriminatory laws. Jewish property was made a part of the state for protection from loss during the war.

Despite the survival of a majority of the Jews living in Romania proper, the report commissioned and accepted by the Romanian government in 2004 on the Holocaust concluded:

Of all the allies of Nazi Germany, Romania bears responsibility for the deaths of more Jews than any country other than Germany itself. The murders committed in Iasi, Odessa, Bogdanovka, Domanovka, and Peciora, for example, were among the most hideous murders committed against Jews anywhere during the Holocaust. Romania committed genocide against the Jews. The survival of Jews in some parts of the country does not alter this reality.

"See also: Antonescu and the Holocaust."

War comes to Romania

In February 1943, with the hugely successful Soviet counteroffensive at Stalingrad, it was growing clear that the tide of the war had turned against the Axis Powers.

By 1944, the Romanian economy was in tatters because of the expenses of the war, and destructive Allied air bombardments throughout Romania and even in the capital, Bucharest. Resentment of the heavy hand of Nazi Germany was growing in Romania. This was even true among those Romanians who had once enthusiastically supported the Germans and the war.

In May 1944, the Battle of Târgul Frumos was fought in Romania between the advancing Soviets on one side and the defending Germans and Romanians on the other.

It was under these conditions that Soviet forces crossed the Romanian border in late August 1944. What followed was known as the Battle of Romania.

The royal coup

On August 23, 1944, King Michael led a successful coup with support from opposition politicians and the army. Michael, who was initially considered to be not much more than a "figurehead", was able to successfully depose the Antonescu dictatorship. The king offered a non-confrontational retreat to German ambassador Manfred von Killinger. But the Germans considered the coup "reversible". The Germans tried to turn the situation around by military attacks. The Romanian First Army, the Romanian Second Army (forming), and what little was left of the Romanian Third Army and the Romanian Fourth Army (one corps) were under orders from the King to defend Romania against any German attacks. The king then offered to put Romania's battered armies on the side of the Allies.

This resulted in a split of the country between those that still supported Germany and its armies and those that supported the new government, the latter often forming partisan groups and gradually gaining the most support. To the Germans the situation was very precarious as Romanian units had been integrated in the Axis defensive lines: not knowing which units were still loyal to the Axis cause and which ones joined the Soviets or discontinued fighting altogether defensive lines could suddenly collapse.

Although, in retrospect, the royal coup has been estimated to have shortened the war by as much as six months, [Constantiniu, Florin, "O istorie sinceră a poporului român" ("An Honest History of the Romanian People"), Ed. Univers Enciclopedic, Bucureşti, 1997, ISBN 973-9243-07-X] the complexities of negotiations between the USSR and UK postponed formal Allied recognition of the "de facto" change of orientation until September 12. During this time, Soviet troops started moving into Romania. The Soviets, acting as if Romania was still an enemy, allegedly robbed and raped at will. They took approximately 140,000 Romanian prisoners.

In October 1944 Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, proposed an agreement with Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin on how to split up Eastern Europe in spheres of influence after the war. The Soviet Union was offered a 90% share of influence in Romania. [ [ The dividing up of Europe] ]

The Armistice Agreement [ [ The Armistice Agreement with Romania] ] of September 12, 1944 was stipulated in Article 18 that "An Allied Control Commission will be established which will undertake until the conclusion of peace the regulation of and control over the execution of the present terms under the general direction and orders of the Allied (Soviet) High Command, acting on behalf of the Allied Powers". The Annex to Article 18 was made clear that "The Romanian Government and their organs shall fulfill all instructions of the Allied Control Commission arising out of the Armistice Agreement." The Agreement also stipulated that the Allied Control Commission would have its seat in Bucharest. In line with Article 14 of the Armistice Agreement, two Romanian People's Tribunals were set up to try suspected war criminals.

The Romanian Army ended the war fighting against the Wehrmacht alongside the Soviets in Transylvania, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Austria and Czechoslovakia, from August 1944 until the end of the war in Europe. In May 1945, the Romanian First Army and the Romanian Fourth Army took part in the Prague Offensive. The Romanians incurred heavy casualties fighting Nazi Germany. Of some 538,000 Romanian soldiers who fought against the Axis in 1944-45, some 167,000 were casualties. [Third Axis Fourth Ally, p. 214]


Under the 1947 Treaty of Paris, the Allies refused co-belligerent status to Romania. Northern Transylvania was, once again, recognised as an integral part of Romania, but the USSR was allowed to annex Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina. Parts in the extreme north and south became part of the Ukrainian SSR; the rest, together with a thin stretch of land on the left bank of the river Dniestr, became a new "Moldavian SSR". Since 1991, these territories are part of Ukraine and of the Republic of Moldova, respectively.

In Romania proper, Soviet occupation following World War II led to the abdication of the King and the formation of a communist people's republic in 1947.



* Some passages in this article have been taken from the (public domain) U.S. Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress Country Study on Romania, sponsored by the U.S. Department of the Army, researched shortly before the 1989 fall of Romania's Communist regime and published shortly after. [] , accessed July 19, 2005. The few quotations of opinions from that piece are explicitly cited.

External links

* [ Axis History Factbook — Romania]
* [ Holocaust in Romania] on Holocaust Survivors and Remembrance Project
* [ Romanian Armed Forces in the Second World War]
* [ The Rifles of Romania 1878-1948]
* []
* []

See also

* Battle of Odessa - 1941
* Battle of Stalingrad - 1942/1943
* Romanian Armies in the Battle of Stalingrad - 1942/43
* Battle of Târgul Frumos - 1944
* Iassy-Kishinev Offensive - 1944
* Prague Offensive - 1945
* Forţele Aeriene Regale ale României- WWII Royal Romanian Air Force
* Bombing of Romania in World War II
* Operation Tidal Wave

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