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Romania during World War II.

Romania during World War II

Following the outbreak of the war in 1939, the Kingdom of Romania declared its neutrality. However, in 1940 it was basically abandoned by its formal allies (France and Britain) and lost huge territories – Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina were ceded to the USSR, while Northern Transylvania was given to Hungary under the Second Vienna Award (influenced by Germany and Italy).

Strengthened by these events, nationalist and fascist political movements gained momentum in Romania, culminating in a coup d’etat on 4 September 1940, forcing the abdication of King Carol II in favor of his son Michael. However, the real power was in the hands of the fascist Iron Guard and its honorary leader, Marshall Ion Antonescu.

Hitler and Antonescu in Munich, June 1941.

By October 1940, German troops already started crossing into Romania, and on 23 November Romania officially joined the Axis powers.

In February 1943, with the decisive Soviet counteroffensive at Stalingrad, it was growing clear that the tide of the war was turning against the Axis powers. By 1944, the Romanian economy was in tatters because of the expenses of the war, and destructive Allied air bombing throughout Romania, including Bucharest.

King Michael I of Romania (left) and Marshall Antonescu (right) on the front lines

On 23 August 1944, with the Red Army penetrating German defenses, King Michael I of Romania led a successful coup against the Axis with support from opposition politicians and most of the army. Michael, who was initially considered to be not much more than a figurehead, was able to successfully depose the Antonescu dictatorship. In a radio broadcast to the Romanian nation and army, King Michael issued a cease-fire, proclaimed Romania’s loyalty to the Allies, announced the acceptance of an armistice offered by Great Britain, the United States, and the USSR, and declared war on Germany.

The armistice was signed three weeks later on 12 September 1944, on terms virtually dictated by the Soviet Union. It has been suggested that the coup may have shortened World War II by up to six months, thus saving hundreds of thousands of lives.

The Romanian Army ended the war fighting against the Wehrmacht alongside the Red Army.

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