At the beginning of WWII, Romania was independent, but then the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact came and parts of the country were invaded by Russians. This pact triggered Romania to join the war on the German side, but there is something interesting when looking at the dates. As part of the Axis, Romania joins the "Eastern Front War" on June 22, 1941, and regained Bessarabia on July 1st, 1941. Basically, Romania could have stopped there and kept the troops around the lost territories (including Transilvania), but instead, Antonescu continued to send lots of troops to Stalingrad for manslaughter. This raises the question: was Antonescu following Hitler's orders? Or was he just in a spree to get more territories?

  • 4
    What would be unusual about fitting into a larger ally's command structure? Just advancing into the Soviet-held part wouldn't have solved anything in the long run. To keep that, the Soviets needed to be defeated, and sending armies where the Germans wanted was a means to that end. Note that Finland's strategy of occupying disputed territory and not going further didn't buy them anything. Dec 4, 2018 at 21:57
  • 1
    @DavidThornley - this was posted in relation to Could Romania have remained neutral in WWII?. Most Romanians wanted back lost land, few wanted total war with the Russians. Many asked themselves then and many do now these same questions. - Finland's strategy of occupying disputed territory and not going further didn't buy them anything. - Finns ended neutral after the war.
    – user8690
    Dec 4, 2018 at 22:16
  • @cipricus What I was mainly reacting to is the italics, which seemed to imply that it would be unusual for a lesser ally to be part of a greater ally's command structure. As far as Finland goes, Finland was a sideshow, and as long as Finland was neutralized there was no need for Stalin to do more. Romania was part of the main front, and was going to be overrun as part of military operations. Dec 5, 2018 at 22:42
  • 1
    Romania received the same guarantee from Britain and France in 1939 as did Poland. It was only after the French withdrew from the war that Romania became obviously isolated, and vulnerable to the predations of the USSR, Hungary, and Germany. Once Germany went to war with Britain she became dependent on Romania and/or the USSR for oil. That's the bottom line. Oct 4, 2020 at 13:47
  • 1
    Hitler never really trusted Romania. At a conference on 16th July 1941 he said that "relations with Romania are at present good, but one does not know what our relations will be at any future time... One ought not to be dependent on the goodwill of other people; we have to arrange our relations with Romania in accordance with this principle." Oct 4, 2020 at 14:13

2 Answers 2


The root cause of Romania's accommodating attitude towards Nazi Germany was a territorial dispute with Hungary. This dispute arose out of the Treaty of Trianon of 1920, which defined the borders of the new Hungarian state, one of the successors of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Quite a lot of Hungarians were left outside the borders of the new Hungary. The region under dispute was Northern Transylvania, whose population included many Hungarians, and many Romanians. The dispute had been "settled" by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, in the Second Vienna Award of August 1940, when the territory had been removed from Romania and given to Hungary.

The Romanians wanted it back, and while the Axis powers dominated Eastern Europe and the Balkans, the only way to get it was to persuade Hitler that he should change his policy and return it to Romania. Since his decisions were largely made for his own advantage, this may seem a forlorn hope, but Romania really wanted Northern Transylvania back. So policy was to help the Germans with whatever they wanted, and it stayed that way well past the point where it had become clear Germany was going to lose the war and would have no authority over territorial claims.

Romania also wanted Bessarabia back, which it had conceded to the USSR under threat of invasion shortly before the Second Vienna Award. Joining in the war against the USSR had that effect (for a while) but the Hungarian quarrel was the one that had been festering for twenty years.

The policy was eventually changed by King Michael's Coup when Romania switched sides. The Second Vienna Award was reversed after the war, and Romania finally got the territory back.

The Romanians, and Germany's other allies on the Eastern Front, were under German operational command. That's a military necessity to prevent mistakes, clashes between allies and so on. So the Romanian Third Army and Fourth Army were under the command of various German Army Groups.

This wasn't completely one-sided: Petre Dumitrescu was in command of the German Sixth Army as well as his own Third Army for a few months in 1944. The Germans did have to keep the Hungarians and Romanians apart on the Eastern Front; if their units were adjacent, the soldiers would certainly brawl, and there was a risk this would escalate.

The Romanian troops remained under Romanian political command, but the Romanian government's freedom of action was limited. In theory, Romania could have withdrawn from the alliance with Germany. In practice, there were always German troops in Romania to make sure that didn't happen without a fight, as happened when Romania changed sides after the coup.

  • I think that is a fact, the military intervention was seen as a political means towards recovering what was lost in 1940, that is, more than just territories lost to USSR. But were they under full German command? would it have been technically possible to stop advancing after taking Besserabia or Odessa, or before Stalingrad, or after Stalingrad? Didn't they retire most of their forces after Stalingrad? What about Italians and Hungarians?
    – user8690
    Dec 4, 2018 at 23:05
  • 1
    @cipricus the Romanian forces were under operational command of German theater commanders, but under political command of their national government. Had they decided to withdraw from their commitment to their treaty obligations with Germany, it would almost certainly have led to a German military occupation of Romania and German forces disarming those Romanian units under their control under threat of wiping them out.
    – jwenting
    Dec 5, 2018 at 8:56
  • 1
    @jwenting - It seems all details and the level of involvemrent on the theater of war were not compulsory based on a previous treaty, given the fact that Hitler asked Antonescu in a letter of 27 July 1941 for the further cooperation of the Romanian troops beyond the Dniester River.
    – user8690
    Dec 5, 2018 at 10:40
  • Wasn't the annexation of Bessarabia by USSR also a factor?
    – Rohit
    Oct 1, 2020 at 5:54
  • @Rohit: fair point, added. Oct 1, 2020 at 13:00

There was no room for "partial war" in WW2, especially in the East

First, let's make a little digression. There is a certain interpretation of WW2 events, which claims that Finland did exactly the thing you expected from Romania - i.e. (re)captured certain territories it claimed to be theirs, and then refused to advance any further into the Soviet Union, despite German protest. But this interpretation is false, even usually pro-Finnish sources on Wikipedia confirm that :

During the summer and autumn of 1941 the Finnish Army was on the offensive, retaking the territories lost in the Winter War. The Finnish army also advanced further, especially in the direction of Lake Onega, (east from Lake Ladoga), closing the blockade of the city of Leningrad from the north, and occupying Eastern Karelia, which had never been a part of Finland before. This caused Great Britain to declare war on Finland on 6 December. The German and Finnish troops in Northern Finland were less successful, failing to take the Russian port city of Murmansk during Operation Silver Fox.

And after the war, Finland lost even more territory then it has lost in 1940. No matter how do you put it, it was clear to Finns (Romanians, Hungarians, Italians, Slovaks, Croats etc ...) that if Germany loses war, they will lose too. There was simply no chance any of these countries would not suffer consequences of German defeat in such brutal conflict.

Now let's return to Romania. First of all, Romanian armies in the summer of 1941 faced Soviet Southern Front. Due to combination of various factors (better equipment, weaker opponents etc ...) this front did not suffer so badly as other Soviet fronts in the same period. Territories wanted by Romania (Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina and Hertsa) were (re)captured only in the end of July, beginning of August in Operation München with German support, especially from the air. Russian sources about fighting in the South are much more detailed, they include details about various Soviets counter-attacks with some localized success.

After the conclusion of this operation, Romanian forces still held large parts of the front in the South. These operations and fighting along the coast of Black Sea and in southern Ukraine and relatively unknown in the Western literature (except maybe Siege of Odessa). It is important to notice that there was simply no way that Romania could end its participation in war at this moment. Large Soviet forces held in check by Romanians would simply strike at German right flank in Ukraine, thus jeopardizing whole operation Barbarossa.

In fact, events in 1942 that you mention only emphasize this point. Romanian forces in 1942 were not in Stalingrad. Romanian Third Army was more then 100 km away from Stalingrad when it was attacked on November 19th, 1942. The reason they were there in the first place was sheer length of the front. Germans simply could not hold everything by themselves and attack at Stalingrad at the same time. In fact, even with Romanian (Hungarian, Italian , Croat etc ..) support , German front crumbled as it did historically.

To sum things up, when Romania sided with Germany, they did understand they would have to go all the way or suffer consequences of defeat. WW2, especially on the East, was total war, war of annihilation, and there was no place for lukewarm combatants there.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.