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ROMANIAN SS TROOPS IN WW2
 

By Andrew Prockter
 

About 12,000 Romanians wore the uniform of Waffen SS troops, having the (Romanian) tricolour on their sleeve.

A Romanian division kept up under the leadership of the celebrated Otto Skorzeny, fought until the last moment against Soviet troops, agreeing that they should surrender only to the special commandos of the Allied forces formed by Romanians.

For years on end, 9 May was celebrated as the day of Victory over Fascism, the end of the Second World War in Europe. In Romania the Tudor Vladimrescu and Horia, Clisca and Crisan divisions, formed in the USSR at the initiative of Anei Pauker and arriving in the country under the communist banner, were hailed and on 15 August, by royal decree, the soldiers and officers dressed in Soviet uniforms, they were reintegrated into the Romanian armed forces. Pinned down by accounts seen through communist eyes, specialist manuals and studies, we refused to speak about the Romanians who fought willingly in Hitler’s army and our historiography maintains a suspicious silence thereon. Whether we are happy or not, this episode belongs to our history and must be known, we must not forget that Germany has succeeded in getting over the historical guilt just by acceptance of responsibility for the past.

The event on Sunday will give a presentation of the history of the National Army of the government in exile, created at Vienna after 23 August 1944. Of Romanians who fought up to the end against communism, convinced that their sacrifice would go down in history as a protest in the face of the Soviet steam roller that had invaded the country. Although this is not yet recorded by official historiography, it must be kept in mind that after the German army had capitulated and in Berlin the Soviet banner was fluttering, the last bullets fired against the Muscovite troops were Romanian soldiers’ ones.

In the time of the greatest worldwide conflagrations, a large number of Romanian citizens, of Romanian or German nationality fought as volunteers in other armies, in the forefront of the Wehrmacht and in the Red Army. Two of the few historians that focus on this subject are Cornel I. Scafes and Horia VI Serbanescu, the authors of the monumental work –Armata Româna. 1941 – 1945 (The Romanian Army, 1941 – 1945).

Yet, from its beginning, the SS (Schutzstaffel, “Headquarters Protection”) was a paramilitary formation organised in sections, companies, squadrons and regiments. Subsequently, alongside these formations, were created Waffen SS units. Within these units Romanian citizens, Romanians as well as ethnic Germans, who enlisted voluntarily, also participated. Until the summer of the year 1944, with the exception of the Saxons, Romanians did not serve in Germany military units. About 75,000 Saxons wore German uniform

In spite of the pressure exercised by the German government to agree to the enlistment of Germans of Romanian nationality in the Waffen SS or Wehrmacht, Marshal Ion Antonescu refused, considering this an infringement of the sovereignty of the Romanian state. After the occupation of Yugoslavia and the transfer of Serbian Banat to German administration, the leaders of the German communities suggested that volunteers within Banat could be more easily persuaded to enlist should an SS unit be created especially for them. Thus the 7th Prinz Eugen Mountain Division was founded. The commander of this division at the beginning was but Artur Phleps, previously general in the Romanian army, who subsequently became commander of the SS Mountain Corps.

As a consequence of the heavy losses suffered by the Germans, on 13 April 1943 Antonescu finally agreed that members of the German community could enlist in the German armed forces. Up until the end of 1943, more than 60,000 German youths enlisted in Waffen SS units and approximately 15,000 in the Wehrmacht and the Organization Todt.

The Government of Vienna

A second category of volunteers that fought in the Wehrmacht and Waffen SS was represented by men of Romanian race. After the events that had led to Romania leaving the Axis Powers, a Romanian government in exile under the direction of Horia Sima and formed largely from legionaries who were refugees in Germany after January 1941, was created at Vienna. At this time a Romanian National Army, staffed exclusively by volunteers and that would continue the fight alongside Germany against Soviet Russia, was born. The form of this army was not unique, many national armies from nations occupied by the USSR: Russians (Russian Liberation Army, under the command of General Vlasov), the Byelorussian Brigade, Bulgarians, Croats, Ukrainians etc were fighting alongside Germany.

General of Division Platon Chirnoaga, previously commander of 4 Romanian Division and taken prisoner in the fight for the Tisa Fortress, was designated commander of this corps in October 1944.

Units continued to be created within the Waffen SS, however, in November 1944 the Waffen SS Grenadier Regiment No 1, formed by members of the Gărzii de Fier (Iron Guard), Romanian soldiers and specialists trained in Germany was formed. Romanian prisoners were added to them. According to some documents General Avramescu, commander of IV Romanian Army, was planning to cross from the other part of the front in winter 1944/1945 together with all the whole troops that he commanded. His plan was uncovered by conspiracy and he was killed by the Soviets.

“The most important work that the Vienna government performed was the saving of national honour. The contribution of the national army from the point of view of numbers was not great, but on a moral plane, represented an historic protest against those who sought salvation in betraying yesterday’s ally”, claim veterans of the National Army of Vienna. In addition, the Romanian Viennese Government saved about 12,000 Romanian prisoners interned in German camps, who were dying of hunger.

The Last Bullets against the Bolsheviks

The head of the national army was General Platon Chirnoaga, Minister of War in the Vienna government, having as chiefs of staff Lt Col Ciobanu, Colonel Alexandrescu and Major Bailla for aviation matters. The volunteers were assembled in the Döllersheim training camp in Austria and formed the first of the units of the future Waffen-Grenadier Division of the “Rumänische” Division No 1. Major Wehnert was named commander of the regiment and battalion commanders were Romanian officers, Captains Opris and Dreve. Company commands were formed by officers and NCOs from special schools within Germany.

The Viennese government obtained the assurance that the units would not be engaged with Romanians. The Bevo firm at Wupperthal had made two types of armband applied to the sleeve of the uniform for the Romanian volunteers: one with the (Romanian) tricolour in its upper part and the inscription “România”, and the other having the form of a blazon with coat of arms of the state and the inscription “Rümänien” in its upper part.

In March 1945 the Waffen SS-Grenadier Regiment No 1 was thrown into the fighting to the north of Stettin to hold up the Red Army’s offensive in Pomerania. Romanian soldiers dressed in SS uniforms were fighting within the Tank Corps, led by General Felix Steiner, occupying positions on the Oder. A large part of the unit of volunteers was concentrated on the last line of defence in front of Berlin, and we can say with confidence that the last bullets fired against Soviet troops were fired by Romanians. The regiment of 3,000 soldiers was in practice completely destroyed in those battles.

The Fight until the very End

The first battalion, commanded by Captain Opris remained further away in the fighting line, being attached to III SS Panzer Korp. The new mission of the battalion was to hold up the invasion of the Soviet tank corps. The regiment, reduced to a battalion, became Panzer Zerstörer Regiment. After the unleashing of the offensive of 16 April 1945, whose objective was the cutting off of Berlin, the Soviets crossed the Oder and the Romanian regiment withdrew initially towards Eberswalde and from there towards Oranieburg. On the way it attempted, together with an SS unit, Kampfgruppe Harzer, a regrouping of forces from the remains of the other military units met in the retreat. They were unco-ordinated attempts, more so after news of the death of Hitler was received. Romanian troops withdrew to the Oranienburg-Neuruppin-Perieberg line and the exodus terminated in the American-occupied town of Ludwigslust on 3 May 1945. At Döllersheim the creation of the Waffen SS-Grenadier Regiment No 3 began, but because the front line had got much closer, the officers and NCO instructors were used to replace the losses of the fighting units in the area. The idea of creating a Romanian SS Division was abandoned and the Waffen SS-Grenadier Regiment No 2 was transformed into an anti-tank regiment, under the name SS Panzer-Zerstörer Regiment. The II and III regiments did not leave their cantonment until the last moment, as if nothing had happened. Hardly had the Russians advanced any distance into Austria, Colonel Alexandrescu gave orders that the troops should retreat towards the west.

Under the Command of Otto Skorzeny

A large part of the Romanian volunteers was used to create commando units. The first of these units, composed of approximately 70 men, was in barracks at Korneuburg, to the north of Vienna. It components were trained as paratroops, to undertake guerrilla actions on enemy territory. This group was commanded by Lt Müller, supported by Virgil Popa. Another Romanian sub-unit was instructed by the The Service of Information of the German Army (Abwehr) in a camp near Vienna. In the last months of the war a part of the personnel of this sub-unit led by Lt Pfeiffer were parachuted into the zone of Soviet lines, where they carried out acts of sabotage.

The third and perhaps the greatest Romanian SS commando group was organised alongside the specially-named Südost SS Jagdverbaende, commanded by SS Standartenführer Otto Skorzeny, and it was relocated to the Stockerau Hollabrun near Vienna. Otto Skorzeny earnt his celebrity owing to commando actions, amongst which the liberations of Mussolini and Horthy. The head of this unit was Major Benesch, and the head of the Romanian detachment, Major Toba. The advance of the front meant that trained personnel of the elite Romanian sub-unit should be used in small scale actions within the last weeks of the war.

Epilogue for Historians

After the war, the majority of the old Romanian National army surrendered to American and English troops. They were freed in May 1946, after innumerable interrogations and investigations. At the beginning the Allied authorities were inclined to repatriate them by force to Romania where other tortures and jails awaited them. The attitude of the English authorities was modified gradually, as they took cognisance of what was happening in Romania. After their release from the camp, the officers and soldiers scattered throughout the world, seeking new lives in foreign countries.

It is the duty of historians to pronounce judgment on these men who sacrificed their lives for Romania, even under a foreign flag.

While the soldiers of the Horia, Closca and Crisan divisions arriving in Romania in Soviet uniforms, under the Red Banner, are considered heroes, those who fought under the command of the Government of Vienna do not even have a cross. As the dictum says: Vae Victis (To the Victors the Spoils).

An Anti-Soviet General

General Platon Chirnoagă (1894 – March 1974) was considered rightly by all military historians a capable officer and remarkable commander. General of Brigade from 1944, decorated with the “Coroana României” (Romanian Crown), “Steua României” (Romanian Star), German Iron Cross second class (1941) and first class (1942), Platon Chirnoagă occupied successively the posts of Head of Operations in the General Staff of III Army, Deputy Chief of Staff of III Army, commander of VII Heavy Artillery Regiment and commander of IV Infantry Division.

In the anti-Soviet stage of the war he was characterised by General Petre Dumitrescu as “being endowed with the sharpest intelligence, judgment and character, with a very developed touch for operations, with a mild temperament but full of energy”. Following the final siege of Sebastopol, when Platon Chirnoagă commanded the artillery group of the Mountain Corps, General Avramescu described him “as a brave and superior officer with exceptional qualities and fully ready for higher command,. On 20 October 1944, in the wake of the difficult battles waged to the west of the Tisa, at Veczeny, where IV Infantry Division was inserted into the bridgehead by the Soviets, he was captured by the Germans. Following jail it was demonstrated that General Chirnoagă had carried himself as a brave man, fighting in person for two days. “What worried me even from the first five minutes of his imprisonment was that he should pin me down as to my duties as a Romanian
from this point on”. “When our country was invaded by the Russian hordes, when it was led by a government obliged to execute the demands and wishes of the invader; when we knew we were not going to be able to escape from that invader than by being victorious, what should I do?”, wrote Platon Chirnoagă in his memoirs.

After a short period of imprisonment in the Lückenwald camp near Berlin, General Platon Chirnoagă decided to choose the Government at Vienna, constituted on 10 December 1944 where he held the portfolio of Minister of War. Under his command the National Army was born, the general setting conditions that the (Iron Guard) legionaries should follow the orders of their superiors and give up the Legionary salute while the troops only fought against the Russians and were not sent against their own brothers. After the end of the war and a short period of imprisonment by the Anglo-Americans, the General established himself in Germany where he passed away in March 1974, being buried in Stuttgart. In exile he published the work “The Political and Military History of the War of the Romanians against Soviet Russia – 22 June 1941 – 23 August 1944.

 

This is an English translation of an article that first appeared on the worldwar2.ro website.

 

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