Bucharest, Romania June 27, 1940

On this date in 1940 Red Army troops invaded Roma­nia in the wake of Roma­nian King Carol II’s refusal to cede the east­ern terri­tories of Bes­sa­rabia and North­ern Buko­vina to the Soviet Union (see map). These terri­tories had been assigned to the Soviet sphere of in­flu­ence in a secret pro­to­col in the German-Soviet Non­aggres­sion Pact (Ribben­trop-Molotov Pact) of August 1939. The double-dealing Adolf Hitler, eager to bur­nish good rela­tions between Nazi Ger­many, Fascist Italy (his Axis part­ner), Roma­nia, and the Soviet Union, “brokered” an agree­ment that left Soviet dic­ta­tor Joseph Stalin holding his booty and pro-German Hun­gary getting forty per­cent of Roma­nian Transyl­vania. (Only Transyl­vania was returned to Romania in 1945 after Germany’s defeat.)

In the wake of these set­backs, King Carol II abdi­cated in favor of his teen­age son, Michael (Mihai), but not before appointing Gen. Ion Anto­nescu (1882–1946) to the office of prime minis­ter. Despite opposing the German-engi­neered terri­torial con­ces­sions foisted on Roma­nia, the 59‑year-old Anto­nescu wel­comed the pro­tec­tion afforded by Hitler’s occu­pa­tion of his coun­try. The dicta­torial Con­du­cător (leader), who also held the offices of Foreign Affairs and Defense, came to admire Hitler and brought his coun­try into the Axis Tri­par­tite Pact in late Novem­ber 1941, pri­marily in hopes of gaining back Bes­sarabia and Buko­vina by backing Germany, now at war with the Soviet Union.

Romania’s army, the third largest after Germany’s and Italy’s, played a major role on the Eastern Front. Within days of Opera­tion Bar­ba­rossa’s launch on June 22, 1941—Hitler’s failed attempt to exter­mi­nate the Soviet Union—Anto­nescu placed 17 Roma­nian divi­sions at Germany’s dis­posal. Roma­nia’s mili­tary contri­bu­tion, coupled with its oil deli­veries to the German war machine and the per­sonal respect Anto­nescu enjoyed from Hitler, placed Roma­nia on a par with Benito Mus­so­lini’s Italy as a principal ally of Germany.

The alliance had devastating conse­quences for Roma­nia. With a pre­war popu­lation of more than 18 mil­lion (which included people living in terri­tories forever lost in the war), roughly 370,000 Roma­nian com­bat­ants died. Addi­tionally, 265,000 Roma­nian Jews lost their life. After the country reversed its alle­giance and joined with the Soviets to fight against Axis armies in 1944–1945, 167,000 Roma­nians were killed, wounded, or went missing.

Romania During World War II

Romania, 1930

Above: Map of Romania and its neighbors in 1930. Areas ceded in June 1940 to the Soviet Union (Uniunea Sovietica on map) are Bes­sarabia (rose) and Buko­vina (brown). Almost half of Transly­vania (gray) was ceded to Hungary (Ungaria on map).

King Michael (Mihai) I of Romania, 1947 Wartime photograph of Ion Antonescu, 1882–1946

Left: King Michael I of Romania in 1947. In 1944 Michael led a suc­cess­ful coup with support from oppo­si­tion poli­ticians and the army that deposed Anto­nescu, abolished his dictator­ship, and placed Roma­nia on the side of the Allies. On Decem­ber 30, 1947, Michael was forced by the Com­munist Party of Roma­nia to abdi­cate to the Soviet armies of occupation and the monarchy was abolished.

Right: Wartime photograph of Ion Anto­nescu. On Septem­ber 5, 1940, Gen. Anto­nescu became Roma­nia’s Prime Minis­ter. He traveled to Ger­many and met Hitler on eight occa­sions between June 1941 and August 1944. On August 23, 1944, King Michael arrested Anto­nescu. In May 1946, the Roma­nian Com­munist govern­ment prose­cuted the former prime minis­ter in a series of People’s Tribu­nals on charges of war crimes, crimes against the peace, and trea­son. Anto­nescu was executed by a military firing squad on June 1, 1946.

Romanian Armies on the Eastern Front, 1941–1944. German Newsreel Footage with English Subtitles

WWII Chronicles book coverHistory buffs, there is good news! The Daily Chronicles of World War II is now avail­able as an ebook for $4.99 on The ebook contains a year’s worth of dated entries from this web­site. Featuring inven­tive naviga­tion aids, the ebook enables readers to instantly move for­ward or back­ward by month and date to different dated entries. Simple and elegant! Click here to purchase the ebook.