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 operate 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

Romania, 1942

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.

Antonescu and Hitler, Munich, June 1941Romanian stamp, 1941, touting Romanian-German military alliance

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.”

Postwar Romania, 1947

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, 1941–1943: Period Newsreels Set to Martial Music (English Subtitles)

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