When one thinks of security assistance and the training of foreign troops, Adolf Hitler’s Germany is not a country that typically comes to mind. Yet there were two instances in World War II when Germany did indeed deploy troops to other countries that were in noncombat circumstances. The countries in question were Finland and Romania, and the German military mission to Romania is the subject of this article. The activities of the German mission to Romania are discussed and analyzed, and some conclusions and hopefully a few takeaways are offered that could be relevant for military professionals today.
Creation of the Mission
The matter of how the German military mission to Romania came into being can be covered relatively quickly. In late June 1940, the Soviet Union demanded from Romania the cession of both Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina. The only advice Germany could give to the Romanian government was to agree to surrender the territory.1 Fearful of further Soviet encroachments, the Romanian government made a series of pleas to Germany including a personal appeal from King Carol II to Hitler for German military assistance in the summer of 1940. Hitler, however, was not yet willing to undertake such a step. Thus, all Romanian requests were rebuffed with Hitler telling Carol that Romania brought its own problems upon itself by its prior pro-Allied policy. Hitler also urged the Romanian government to settle its problems with Hungary peaceably.2
Having been urged by Hitler to attain a peaceful solution, Romania and Hungary then asked Hitler and Italy’s Benito Mussolini to act as arbitrators in their dispute over the contested area of Transylvania.3 Much to Romania’s chagrin, however, Hitler and Mussolini tried to split the difference but in Hungary’s favor. On August 30, 1940, Germany, Italy, Hungary, and Romania signed the Second Vienna Award. By the terms of that agreement, Romania had to cede about half of Transylvania to Hungary.4
The territorial losses incurred during the summer of 1940 caused considerable political instability in Romania. The Second Vienna Award, coming after Romania’s agreeing to conduct a pro-Axis foreign policy, completed the discrediting of Carol’s government. Carol appointed Romania’s top military leader, General Ion Antonescu, as prime minister on September 4, 1940. Antonescu promptly forced Carol’s abdication on September 6, with exile following soon thereafter. The now vacant Romanian throne was then occupied by King Michael, a callow youth of 19, while Antonescu assumed dictatorial powers and the title of “Leader,” much in keeping with his Nazi and Fascist colleagues.5
With Antonescu’s ascension to power, the relationship between Germany and Romania warmed considerably. Antonescu began by promising closer collaboration with Germany. He also renewed the request for German military assistance, with the idea of having Germans train and reorganize the Romanian army. This time, Hitler agreed and on September 19, 1940, he decided to send a military mission to Romania. The improvement in relations would culminate on November 23, 1940, with Romania’s adherence to the Tripartite Pact.6
To be precise, Germany actually sent four missions to Romania. The umbrella organization was the German military mission, commanded by Army General Erik Hansen, who was also the military attaché to Bucharest. Hansen also commanded the German army mission (Deutsches Heeres Mission in Rümanien, or DHM) to Romania. The next major element was the German air force mission (Deutsches Luftwaffe Mission in Rümanien, or DLM), commanded by Luftwaffe Lieutenant General Wilhelm Speidel.The final part of the military mission was the German navy mission, headed by Admiral W. Tillesen.7 This article looks at the activities of the DLM to a small degree, but the major focus will be on the DHM.
Hitler laid out the chains of command for the elements of the German military mission in his directive of October 10, 1940. Each service mission traced its administrative chain of command to its respective headquarters in Germany. Hansen, as head of the military mission, would decide matters of common concern. Political matters would be turned over to the German minister in Romania, who looked after German foreign policy interests there.8
The DLM and the Aerial Defense of Romania
The DLM had two principal missions. The first was to create air defenses around the vital oil region of Romania in the vicinity of Ploesti and the Black Sea port of Constanta. Also involved was the regulation of air space over the defended areas. The second mission was to modernize the Romanian air force. The DLM was more successful in completing the first mission. Speidel and his staff were able to use both Romanian and German materiel and procedures to make Ploesti one of the most heavily defended targets against air attacks. This was to prove invaluable in the initial Romanian participation in Operation Barbarossa. Between late June and mid-October 1941, Ploesti and Constanta were attacked 91 times by Soviet aircraft. Led by the efforts of the Luftwaffe’s Jagd Geschwader 52, the combined Romanian-German defense brought down some 81 Soviet aircraft.9
Modernizing the Romanian air force proved a bridge too far for the DLM to travel. Bringing the air force up to date assumed growing importance for Germany as Romanian participation in Barbarossa became a certainty. The most notable problem was the veritable plethora of aircraft used by the Romanian air force. This mélange included German Me 109E, German Hs 112B, and Romanian IAR 80A fighters. The bomber fleet included German He 111s, French Bloch 210s and Potez 63s, Italian SM 84s, Polish PZL 37Bs, and Romanian IAR 37s. The Romanians used several of their own aircraft models for reconnaissance as well as British Blenheims. Under these circumstances, the best the Germans were able to do was to train ground troops extensively in aircraft identification and make sure the Romanians received British aircraft and parts captured in Yugoslavia in 1941.10
The DHM and Romanian Army
The major effort in Romania was made by the German army mission, the DHM, first commanded by Hansen and later by General Eugen Ritter von Schobert. Aside from Schobert’s own staff, the presence of the DHM would be manifested initially in the form of a division-size unit. At first, this was to be Friedrich Wilhelm von Rothkirch’s und Panthen’s 13th Motorized Infantry Division, but was later expanded to include Hans Valentin Hube’s 16th Panzer Division as well. Several infantry divisions were added in the course of 1941 as German plans first for the invasion of Greece and later the Soviet Union took shape.11
Like the DLM, the DHM had two missions. Aside from the training mission, the German units were to assist the Romanian force in erecting defenses against a possible Soviet invasion, although the mere presence of German units in Romania did act as a guarantee against further Soviet encroachments. The second mission was to train the Romanian army up to a level that was as close to German standards as possible. These units would play a part in the invasion of the Soviet Union. Hitler had distinctly mentioned this in his December 5, 1940, speech to the heads of the Wehrmacht. Both Finland and Romania are mentioned as possible allies in the execution of Operation Barbarossa in Hitler’s first official directive on the subject issued December 18, 1940.12
The DHM’s ability to carry out its training mission was hampered by several factors outside of its control. The first was an earthquake that struck Romania on the night of November 9–10, 1940. German soldiers in the 13th Motorized Infantry Division found themselves in the unaccustomed position of rendering humanitarian assistance to Romanian civil authorities, which did yield some dividends in terms of goodwill.13
The second factor that disrupted DHM activity was the tension between the Antonescu government and Romania’s contribution to fascism, the Iron Guard. By January 1941, Antonescu decided that cooperation between his government and the leader of the Iron Guard, Horia Sima, was no longer possible and that the Iron Guard would have to be dealt with decisively. For his part, although he had more affinity ideologically with the Iron Guard, Hitler decided that Antonescu was a much more reliable ally with whom to deal. The result was the suppression of the Iron Guard by the Romanian army, in some cases with German support. Horia Sima and some of his principal followers fled to Germany, where they were offered safe haven.14
Third, DHM efforts were interrupted by the German invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece, an operation that had to be mounted from Romania. The German High Command had already indicated to Antonescu that some 500,000 German troops slated for the invasion of Greece would pass through Romania. While the troops would be under the tactical command of Field Marshal Wilhelm List, the Twelfth Army commander, List would be subordinate to the head of the DHM for the purposes of the preparation and conduct of the Twelfth Army’s passage. As head of the DHM, Hansen would keep Romanian headquarters informed of the army’s progress.15
Since there were large numbers of German troops passing through Romanian territory, the DHM also had to negotiate a status-of-forces agreement with the Romanian government. German troops were instructed not to buy too many goods from the Romanians, especially items from the countryside, since it would weaken the Romanian economy. Romania was already paying for the two initial instruction units that would conduct the training of its army for the DHM. German soldiers were told to present as friendly a face to the Romanians as possible and to help the Romanian people when circumstances required. Finally, training of the Romanian army by the DHM was set back by the hard winter of 1940–1941, especially in Moldavia.16
Aside from these problems, members of the German military mission in Romania, especially in the DHM, had to avoid stepping into the minefield of ethnic minority politics. For the DHM, this centered around the Volksdeutsche (ethnic German) community in Romania. Like all ethnic German communities in that part of Europe, the Volksdeutsche in Romania had major connections to the Nazi Party, and the Nazis had newspapers and political organizations in Romania. Not surprisingly, German language newspapers ran articles welcoming the German military presence.17
A sticky issue for the DHM was the fact that the Volksdeutsche in Romania were subject to conscription and service in the Romanian army, which they were resistant to for a variety of reasons. Matters were made more complex by the presence of the Schutzstaffel (SS) recruiters in Romania who were eagerly seeking ever more members for Heinrich Himmler’s expanding SS empire. The Romanians naturally objected because they sought this manpower for their own army, and avoiding military service in Romania was in fact a crime. Both issues were eventually solved. When a local Volksdeutsche leader, Gauleiter Fromm, came to Hans Valentin Hube on January 28, 1941, he complained about Romanian conscription and recounted all manner of mistreatment of Volksdeutsche by Romanian authorities. Hube sidestepped Fromm’s complaints first by expressing skepticism of his tales of Romanian mistreatment, and then got around the conscription issue by telling Fromm that service in the Romanian army was also service to the Führer. The activities of Himmler’s SS recruiters were also curbed after the SS was able to recruit about 1,000 men from the Romanian Volksdeutsche. The German minister to Romania, Manfred Killinger, wrote to Himmler that if so many young German men were removed from Romania, the remaining female Volksdeutsche in Romania would have no choice but to marry Romanians, thus polluting good German blood lines. This was followed by Himmler’s recall of all SS officials from Romania.18
As these problems were dealt with by Germans or Romanians or both, the DHM got on with the business of training the Romanian army. Training was conducted at the tactical and operational levels, at least in a theoretical sense. There was also an ideological aspect to the training.
Tactically, the Germans set up training centers for the Romanian 5th, 6th, 13th, 18th, and 20th infantry divisions as well as for the Romanian Panzer Division. These centers aimed at training Romanian soldiers in both German weapons and tactics. Later on in the spring of 1941, the Germans extended the training in a limited way to artillery.19 They also sought to improve the quality of Romanian general officers through education. The DHM set up the equivalent of the German Kriegsakademie in Romania. All aspirants for general officer rank were to take a 2-year course of instruction. Like its German counterpart, the Romanian war college was tactically oriented and focused on division-sized operations. The course was also aimed at producing officers who could undertake all staff and administrative functions associated with division and brigade operations. A course was also set up for general officers and older staff officers as well, lasting from 1 to 3 months.20
As might be expected of such an effort mounted by a country such as Nazi Germany, there was the previously mentioned ideological component to DHM activities. In a situation report, Hube noted that, in addition to the need for measures to be taken against corruption in the officer corps, friendly attitudes toward Great Britain and the Jews had to be eliminated. To aid this, German propaganda was disseminated that found a degree of receptivity in Romania, although not as much as the Germans hoped.21
The various endeavors of the DHM brought about a record of mixed success. The biggest problem the DHM had was a lack of time. Given all of the issues discussed above and the ever-looming onset of Operation Barbarossa, the DHM had at best 4 months to train with the Romanians before they would be committed to combat against the Soviets.22 This was particularly important regarding the issue of mindset. During the interwar period, Romania’s closest ally had been France. Naturally, such a relationship had a military component. Romanian officers attended French schools, and, institutionally, the Romanian army was greatly influenced by French doctrine and thinking. If it proved difficult to get more senior Romanian officers to abandon what the Germans saw as the overly “schematic” and methodical French approach to combat operations, the younger officers, in contrast, proved more receptive to German concepts and doctrine.23
A major problem faced by the DHM involved the lack of interpreters. To be sure, the mastery of a foreign language was a requirement for graduation from the Kriegsakademie. The vast majority of German officers who studied a foreign language generally gravitated toward French or English. In 1932, for example, a language examination was administered by Wehrkreis (Military District) III in Berlin. Some 178 officers took examinations, the great majority of which were in French or English. Only 34 took the examination in Russian, and no one took it in Romanian. Examinations administered by the Luftwaffe showed a somewhat wider variation, but again Romanian was well down on the list.24
Consequently, the German divisions with the DHM had relatively few interpreters available to provide instruction and training to the Romanians. The 16th Panzer Division, for example, had only two interpreters on its staff, a wholly inadequate number given the tasks set for the unit. The Romanians did not have the resources to make up the shortfall. They were able to provide only one interpreter to the German 170th Infantry Division.25
Another major problem the Germans saw in trying to train the Romanian army was the lack of a professional noncommissioned officer (NCO) corps able to carry out its responsibilities. In the German army, the day-to-day conduct of training and, indeed, the daily running of the army at the lowest levels were often left to its NCOs and junior officers. In the Romanian army, however, such positions were not held in the same degree of esteem. In the eyes of DHM liaison officers, too many Romanian NCOs looked upon their positions as chances for personal monetary gain.26
The final problem faced by the DHM in conducting its activities was lack of standardization in the Romanian army. Like many of the armies in that part of the world, Romania did not have an armaments industry sufficient to equip the army by itself. To make up the difference, the army made all manner of weapons purchases. The result was that by the time the German military mission arrived in Romania, the Romanian army was using a bewildering variety of weapons including Czech, Russian, French, and Austrian rifles; French, Russian, and Czech machineguns; and German, French, Italian, Russian, Czech, Romanian, and Austrian artillery pieces, all of varying calibers. Although the Romanian army tried to mitigate this situation by minimizing the number of different weapons allocated to specific divisions, the lack of standardization made training difficult.27
The Test of Combat
The ultimate outcome of DHM activities was the record of the Romanian army in combat. In this regard, the Romanian record was mixed. Broadly put, Romanian participation in Barbarossa could be divided into two phases. The first phase extended from the start of the invasion on June 22, 1941, up through the first week of July. During this time, the Romanian army was tasked by Hitler to defend the Pruth River and then gain some bridgeheads across it. The army would also defend the Romanian oil-producing areas and the Black Sea port of Constanta.28 The second phase of the Romanian army’s part in the invasion would begin with the crossing of the Dniestr River once Army Group South penetrated the Soviet defenses to the north. Ultimately, the army would advance across the Dniestr and Bug Rivers into what would become Transnistria, and the Romanians would eventually besiege and finally occupy the port of Odessa on October 16, 1941.29
Since the main Romanian effort was to be made by General Petre Dumitrescu’s Romanian Third Army, Romanian headquarters concentrated the majority of divisions that had German training under Dumitrescu’s command. In addition, the German-trained divisions enjoyed a greater degree of standardization in terms of weapons and equipment. For the basic small arm, for example, these divisions used the Czech 7.92mm rifle, which could take German ammunition. Reserve units would have to make do with the previously noted plethora of Russian-, Austrian-, and French-made weapons.30
In the first phase of the campaign, Romanian performance might be regarded as satisfactory. The army was able to accomplish its task even though, in a number of places, the Romanians’ Soviet opponents were often better armed and equipped. Even Colonel General Franz Halder, the chief of the German Army General Staff and no particular admirer of Romanian military prowess, confessed pleasant surprise at the initial performance of the Romanians. The liaison staff with the Romanian 1st Border Division thought well enough of the division’s conduct to submit the names of some 37 members for German military awards.31
Things were much tougher in the second phase of the 1941 campaign. The Romanian Third and Fourth Armies were now required to undertake missions well beyond their normal operational radius. That often left them requiring logistical support from the Germans, who were not always in a position to deliver it when needed. Dumitrescu’s Third Army narrowly avoided a deadly clash with the Hungarian Mobile Corps, which was also operating on that part of the front, thanks to the efforts of German liaison officers with both formations.32
The siege of Odessa proved long and costly to the Romanians. The Soviet High Command was able to keep the Independent Coastal Army, garrisoning Odessa, supplied by sea. That allowed the garrison to conduct an active and energetic defense. Several successful Soviet sorties forced the Fourth Army to fight repeatedly over the same ground in bloody assaults. It was only after the Romanians secured key points in the fortress’s defense system, combined with the threat of intervention by German airpower on a massive scale, that the Soviets evacuated the city on October 15, 1941. Odessa’s occupation marked a clear end of the campaign for what was by that time an exhausted Romanian army.33
Takeaways for Today
So what can be drawn from the experiences of the German army mission to Romania that would be of use to today’s military professional? The first takeaway concerns the size and composition of liaison staffs. The German effort in this regard was consistently hindered by the fact that liaison staffs were small. An army-level liaison staff, headed by a general officer, usually did not exceed 18 members, while a corps-liaison staff, normally led by a colonel, would be no more than 10. Division and brigade staffs were tiny, consisting of no more than an officer, a major or even a captain, plus an interpreter and a driver. This made it difficult for liaison officers to be absent from their units for any length of time, whether for official or personal business.34 In addition, it did not take into account the fact that liaison officers, like other human beings, were subject to problems such as sickness or sheer exhaustion. The difficulties associated with the small size of German liaison staffs mirror the complaints of many involved with Mobile Training Team efforts in Iraq during the 2005–2008 timeframe and more recently in Afghanistan.35
The structure of liaison teams is also an issue. Some current critics, such as T.X. Hammes, suggest that the Army replace field-grade officers on staffs with skilled and professional NCOs. This would allow company-grade officers to spend more time at the company level, and reduce the number of field-grade officers. At the same time, he calls for the creation of larger advisory teams to work with allies against fourth-generation warfare opponents.36
While Hammes’s call for larger advisory teams is correct, the German experience detailed above suggests that more officers, not fewer, are needed, especially when it comes to working with foreign partners. Hammes, like his German counterparts in the DHM, comes from a military culture that values the NCO. Such was not the case in Romania. German reports consistently noted that capable Romanian NCOs were rare. Too often, Romanian NCOs were corrupt and abusive. On the other hand, it does seem clear that Romanian officers regarded NCOs as not much more than privates who had a bit more rank.37 Getting a military culture to create a professional NCO corps where one has not existed previously involves a profound change in mindset, a process that would require great investments of time and patience. This was true in Romania in 1940 and it is just as true today.
Rank also becomes an issue here. As noted previously, both the German military culture of World War II and contemporary American military culture value the judgment as well as the independence of NCOs and relatively junior officers. In other cultures, this is not the case. In Germany, sending relatively lower-ranking officers to units as liaison officers was at times regarded as an insult by the commanders of those units, who believed that their status demanded that they deal with a liaison officer of higher rank.38 This is still true today, and using short-term expedients such as frocking NCOs with field-grade ranks and sending them out as liaison officers, as we did in the Gulf War, will simply not do.
A third takeaway concerns language. As noted previously, German officers who were attendees of the Kriegsakademie were required to study a foreign language. The vast majority of them, however, took French or English, the foreign languages they were most familiar with and had probably already had some knowledge of from their days as students in the German educational system. French and English were also, as the biographer of one of Germany’s most successful field commanders noted, the languages of Germany’s two most likely enemies. This had also been the case for an extended time.39
Not much thought, however, had apparently been given to training people in the languages of those countries that might be allies. Thus, while cultural and historical factors alleviated a need for the Germans to have interpreters when dealing with the Finns and Hungarians, the Romanians and Italians were another story.40 Consequently, Germany, especially the army, found itself consistently short of Romanian and Italian interpreters. Complaining that the allies were not doing their parts, as the Germans did in regard to the Romanians, although gratifying emotionally, was not a solution to the problem.41 Solving the problem of language, especially the more difficult ones, again requires a long-term attempt at a solution, while understanding that the problem may remain insoluble. Providing language instruction to field-grade officers at intermediate-level professional military education institutions, as the U.S. military has been doing over the past few years, frankly yields too little return for the size of the investment made. A longer term solution would be to improve the type of education in language afforded students in the education system generally, but this is too problematic to ensure the desired outcome. In short, the issue of language will most likely continue to impact our efforts in a negative sense, and it will not yield to the type of quick fix so desired by both American military culture and the broader society it represents.
The experience of the German military mission to Romania holds a good many lessons useful for today’s military professional. Like so many other events from history, when placed in the context of contemporary events, the story of the German mission once again shows the wisdom of William Shakespeare’s words carved outside of the National Archives in Washington, DC, “What Is Past Is Prologue. JFQ