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The context of Romania’s entry into the Second World War

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Romania’s strategy in the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th century was to unite all the territories inhabited by Romanians into a single state and to maintain its unity. In this context, Romania had three main enemies during this period: 1) Hungary, for the control of Transylvania, assigned to Romania by the Treaty of Trianon, Northern Transylvania being offered to Hungary in 1940 by the Vienna Dictate (Second Arbitration of Vienna) and returned to Romania in 1945; 2) Bulgaria, for the control of the Quadrilateral (South Dobrogea), taken by Romania after the Second Balkan War, regained by Bulgaria in the First World War together with North Dobrogea by the Treaty of Bucharest and a secret protocol with the other Central Powers in September 1918 , ceding the territory back to Romania in 1919 by the Treaty of Neuilly, and regaining it in World War II by the Treaty of Craiova in September 1940; and 3) Russia, which occupied Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina in 1940, and this occupation was confirmed by the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty.

During the period between the two World Wars, the form of government was a parliamentary constitutional monarchy until 1938, but with great political instability: between 1928-1938, 25 governments succeeded each other in leading Romania. With the 1923 Constitution, the king was able to dissolve parliament and hold early elections. On February 11, 1938, the Royal Dictatorship of Charles II was established, with the installation of a government led by Patriarch Miron Cristea and the elaboration of a new Constitution, which entered into force on February 27, with all powers concentrated in the hands of the king. Parliamentary political parties were grouped in a National Renaissance Front and a consultative crown council was formed, several legionary leaders being arrested, including Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, shot on November 30, 1938 on the pretext of “Escape from the escort” (C. C. Giurescu and Giurescu 1971, 740–41).

According to the Military History of the Romanian People, Vol. VI, elaborated by the Military History Commission (Olteanu et al., 1984, vol. 6), at the beginning of 1934 the army was equipped with individual weapons for 31 divisions, 13,240 machine guns for 20 divisions; 13,587 machine guns for 37 divisions; field guns (caliber 75 and 76.2 mm) for 22 divisions; howitzers (4 batteries of 4 pieces each for one division) for 10 divisions. With the heavy artillery, two 150 mm caliber howitzer divisions and four 120 mm caliber long-barreled cannon divisions could be set up. Military aviation had 9 reconnaissance aircraft, 101 observation aircraft, 20 connecting aircraft, 35 fighter jets and 39 bombing aircraft (Olteanu et al., 1984, 6:227–28).

In 1939, the Romanian army had 300,000 new 7.92 mm caliber carbines covering only 30% of the required, and 3,500 machine guns for 70% of the equipment needs. For artillery, 248 pcs 100 mm howitzers were new, out of 630 pcs; 180 pcs 150 mm Skoda howitzers and 72 pcs 105 mm long barrel cannons of new manufacture from 222 howitzers and 183 cannons, and 24 of 47 mm caliber cannons and 500 pcs anti-tank mines (Olteanu et al., 1984, 6:227–28).

On August 23, 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact in Moscow, according to which the USSR claimed Northern Bukovina and Bessarabia. In September 1939 Poland is invaded by Germany. In this context, the Crown Council decided on September 6, 1939, to proclaim Romania’s neutrality, securing its borders and avoiding military confrontation by activating the “Balkan Neutral Bloc” of the 1934 Balkan Agreement and trying to conclude a non-aggression pact with the USSR.

On March 29, 1940, V. M. Molotov spoke of “the existence of an unresolved dispute, that of Bessarabia, whose annexation by Romania was never recognized by the Soviet Union, although it never raised the issue of returning Bessarabia by military means”. (Văratic 2000, p.229-230)

Through the Hitler-Stalin Treaty, the Treaty of Craiova and the Second Arbitration of Vienna (Vienna Dictate) Romania loses over a third of its territory and over a quarter of its population), including Herța Land which was neither part of Bukovina nor from Bessarabia and had not been originally claimed by the USSR. Part of Bessarabia was attached to Ukraine, and the other part formed the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic, the occupation being followed by mass deportations (Бугай 1999, 567–81)[1] and the banning of Romanian values. On June 26, 10 PM, V.M. Molotov sent a note to Gheorghe Davidescu, the head of the Romanian diplomatic mission in Moscow, calling for the “return at all costs” of Bessarabia and the surrender to the Soviet Union of the northern part of Bukovina. (Scurtu, Mocanu, and Smârcea 1995, 529–30) In 1940, through a simple report, the USSR took Snake Island from Romania, for strategic reasons. (Văduva 2015)

Gheorghe Văduva states that Russia, as one of the empires in the vicinity of Romania, has always been interested in the Black Sea-Baltic Sea strategic line, which affects northern Bukovina and the territory between Prut and Dniester, considered a strategic security area for the Russian Empire. Thus, the unification of the Romanian states contradicted the geopolitical interests of the three great neighboring empires. (Văduva 2015)

On June 22, 1940,the king Carol II formed the Party of the Nation. On July 4, 1940, the Ion Gigurtu government was installed, which on August 30, 1940, through the Vienna Dictate, was forced to cede half of Transylvania (“Northern Transylvania”) to Hungary, and on September 7, 1940, by the Treaty of Craiova, the “Quadrilater” was ceded to Bulgaria.

The crisis of the “Carlist” regime ends with the formation of the Ion Antonescu – Horia Sima government by Royal Decree signed by Carol II. Benefiting from the suspension of the Constitution and the dissolution of the parliament (D. C. Giurescu 1999, 65), Antonescu demanded the abdication of the king on September 6, 1940, forming the National-Legionary State, with Horia Sima vice president of the Council of Ministers and secretary of state (C. C. Giurescu and Giurescu 1971, 742). On the same day of his enthronement as King of Romania, Mihai I issued a decree by which Antonescu had full powers as Head of the Romanian State, but with a clarification that escaped to Antonescu: The King appointed the Prime Minister. (Hitchins 1994)

The Iron Guard, after coming to power, unleashes a wave of revenge against supporters of the previous parliamentary regime, killing 60 former dignitaries in Jilava Prison on November 27, 1940 (Georgescu 1992, 233) (Constantiniu 2011, 390), including the historian and former prime minister Nicolae Iorga and the economist Virgil Madgearu, considered the “moral authors” of Codreanu’s elimination (Albulescu and Munteanu 2004). Ion Antonescu tried to remove the Iron Guard from the government, suppressing the legionary revolt and excluding the Iron Guard from the government (Lambru 2017).

According to Petre Otu, Ion Antonescu reorganized the administration, abolishing the Ministries of Air and Navy and Army Equipment, created in 1936 and 1938 and returning to a single department, the Ministry of National Defense. He created four secretaries of state (Land, Air, Navy and Army Endowment) [2] and two naval and aviation staffs, subordinate to the Chief of the General Staff. The position of Chief of the General Staff, respectively of the General Headquarters, was fulfilled between September 6, 1940 – September 17, 1941 by General Alexandru Ioanițiu (Cioflină 1995, 47–72), and Section 7 for higher education changed to Section 7 – allied armed forces[3] (Otu 2021).

According to Alesandru Duțu, Romania had become isolated on the international arena, after the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact (August 23, 1939) (Constantiniu 1991), the loss of territories in 1940 (Dutu and Ignat 2000), and practically forced to enter the sphere of influence. of Germany by joining the Tripartite Pact (November 23, 1940), according to Ion Gheorghe, the former Romanian ambassador to Berlin, “an official act without persuasive power”, a “political opportunism” (Gheorghe 1996, 17) (Duțu 2016).


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  • [1] Paper based on NKVD archives
  • [2] Romanian National Military Archives (A.N.M.R.), fund 948, Section 7, file no. 2, f.28 (Decree Law no. 34 888 of October 16, 1940)..
  • [3] A.M.N.R, fund 948, Section 1, file no. 1068, p. 47.

Sfetcu, Nicolae, “The context of Romania’s entry into the Second World War”, Telework (April 4, 2022), DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.14123.11049, URL = https://www.telework.ro/en/the-context-of-romanias-entry-into-the-second-world-war/

Email: nicolae@sfetcu.com

This essay is under Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license. To see a copy of this license, please visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/4.0/

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