Berlin, Germany • September 20, 1940
On this date in 1940 the chief of the German high command, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, announced that Wehrmacht troops were being dispatched to Romania “in case a war with Soviet Russia is forced upon us.” The announcement was Berlin’s warning shot across Moscow’s bow that the Soviets were in violation of both the letter and the spirit of two protocols that had been worked out between German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and his Soviet counterpart Vyacheslav Molotov the previous August and September. The protocols had secretly assigned each of the totalitarian states “spheres of influence” in Central and Eastern Europe in which they could operated with a free hand.
The next month German troops entered Romania ostensibly to train and rebuild the country’s military after King Carol II abdicated in favor of his 19‑year-old son Michael following political upheavals occasioned by a series of territorial disputes that were resolved to Romania’s disadvantage. In reality the Nazi presence in Romania protected that country’s Ploesti (Ploieşti) oil fields and multiple refining and storage plants, all of which would become increasingly vital to the German war effort and eventually supply more than a third of Germany’s petroleum needs. By 1942 Romania shipped Axis countries a million tons of petroleum a month, accounting for 40 percent of the country’s total exports.
In late November 1940 Romanian strongman Marshal Ion Antonescu initialed the Axis Tripartite treaty, joining Hungary and Slovakia in the military pact, notwithstanding that the leading Axis power, Germany, had engineered the whittling away of Romanian territory to the gain of neighboring Hungary, Bulgaria, and, yes, the Soviet Union in the previous months. As Hitler’s political and military triumphs increased in number in the early 1940s, Antonescu was drawn more and more into the German orbit, supplying Germany not only with lubricants and oil, including the highest-quality 90‑octane aviation fuel in Europe, but also grain, military and industrial products, and, interestingly, more troops to the Eastern Front than all of Germany’s other allies combined.
Becoming Hitler’s chief spear carrier had devastating consequences for Romania. In the fighting around Stalingrad alone (November 1942 to January 1943), Romanian losses were catastrophic: 160,000 dead, wounded, or missing; 3,000 were taken into into Soviet captivity where most perished. The losses came from 16 of the 18 divisions that were engaged at Stalingrad and half of the nation’s active troops (31 divisions). The Romanian army and air corps never recovered after making their way back behind their own borders. In the fall of 1944 a resurgent Soviet Army overran Romania and its southern neighbor Bulgaria, eventually pulling both countries into the Soviet orbit. Between August 1944 and May 1945 Romanian casualties fighting on the Soviets’ side against Nazi Germany amounted to another 167,000 killed, wounded, or missing.
The postwar Soviet occupation of Romania facilitated the rise of Communism as Romania’s main political force, leading to the removal of King Michael I and the establishment of a single-party people’s republic. It also led to further territorial losses (see second map). Escape from the Soviet Union’s constellation of satellite states came in the form of the Revolutions of 1989, which ended Soviet-backed regimes all across Central and Eastern Europe.
Romania During and Immediately After World War II
Above: Romania in 1942. The large intrusion into the middle of Romania represents that portion of Northern Transylvania that was awarded to Hungary by Germany and Italy in the Second Vienna Award, August 30, 1940.
Left: On June 10, 1941, less than two weeks before unleashing Operation Barbarossa on the Soviet Union, Hitler conferred with Romanian leader Gen. Ion Antonescu. As the two national leaders exit the Fuehrerbau, where the Munich Agreement was signed in September 1938, they are followed by Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel and to his left German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop.
Right: Romanian stamp design from 1941 celebrating the common participation of Romania and Germany on the Eastern Front. Profiles of a Romanian soldier (left) and his German counterpart are imposed over an eagle that represents both countries’ national seals. The caption on the bottom of the stamp reads: “The Holy War on Bolshevism.”
Above: Postwar Romania, 1947, showing the territorial losses to the Soviet Union and Bulgaria. On the other hand, Northern Transylvania, which had been lost to Hungary in 1940 (see earlier map), was once again recognized as an integral part of Romania.
Romanian Military on the Eastern Front: Period Newsreels Set to Martial Music (English Subtitles)