Romanian Waffen-SS

By MSW Add a Comment 8 Min Read


The “SS Division Prinz Eugen” was the only military unit ever assembled with men from the Donauschwaben of Western Banat.

The ethnic German community was very numerous and lived mostly in Transylvania and the Banat. Even after North-Western Transylvania was ceded to Hungary in 1940, there were still 542,000 Germans in Romania.

Seeking to enlarge the recruitment pool for his organization, Himmler naturally paid a lot of attention to the German ethnics in Transylvania. Thus, during the winter 1940/41, he launched the “1,000 Mann Aktion”, through which he managed to recruit a first wave of one thousand volunteers, who were all incorporated in the “Das Reich” Division.

This, however, created some problems, because the Romanian law did not allow Romanian citizens to serve in other armies. Those who did risked to be treated like deserters or lose their citizenship. The main recruitment “tactic” was to invite groups of young German ethnics to Germany, where they joined the Waffen SS or other organizations.

But the number of volunteers was not very high, so an SS division was created especially for them: the 7th SS “Prinz Eugen” Mountain Division. This was put under the command of Arthur Phelps, a former vanatori de munte general in the Romanian army. In this unit served the majority of volunteers from the Romanian and Serbian Banat.

The losses of the 1942 campaign forced Berlin to pressure the Romanian government to allow the German ethnics to join the German military formations. During his meeting with Hitler in 1943, Antonescu agreed to allow them to serve in the Waffen-SS, without suffering any legal consequences. However, in the treaty signed in May 1943, the German ethnics already incorporated in the Romanian army that were officers or NCOs or trained specialists, were forbidden to do so.

By the end of 1943, an estimate of 60,000 Romanian citizens joined the Waffen-SS and another 15,000 the Wehrmacht and Organization Todt. The superior equipment and pay, plus the fact that their nationalist feelings made many Germans prefer these forces to the Romanian army. They served, mostly in the 7th SS “Prinz Eugen” Division and 8th SS “Florian Geyer” Division, but also in 11th SS “Nordland” Division, 17th SS ”Götz von Berlichigen” Division and 18th SS “Horst Wessel” Division.

Another category of Romanian citizens that served in the Waffen-SS, were Romanian ethnics themselves. After the coup on 23 August 1944, a “government in exile” was established at Vienna, under the leadership of Horia Sima. In November 1944, Himmler decided to create the “Romanian National Army” from members of the Iron Guard that had fled to Germany and POWs.

At the beginning of 1945, two regiments (each with two battalions) were ready for action. Waffen SS Grenadier Regiment Rumänische Nr. 1 saw action in Pomerania, north of Stettin, where it was almost completely destroyed. A third regiment began training, but because the end was near, they were used mainly as work teams. The second regiment was transformed into an AT regiment: Waffen SS Panzer-Zerstörer Regiment Rumänische Nr. 2.

Alongside these regular units several commando groups were trained. One of them, consisting of 70 men, was trained in guerrilla warfare at Korneuberg. Another one was trained by the Abwehr and then parachuted behind Soviet lines, where they carried out sabotage missions. The most important of these groups was the one subordinated to Skorzeny’s SS Jagdverbände Sudost. They were supposed to take part in the March offensive in Hungary, which never actually took place. They participated, however, in several missions until the end of the war.

The majority of the Romanians fighting in the Waffen SS surrendered to the Western Allies, but some were sent back to Romania, where the new pro-Communist government would take care of them.

There seems to be some debate about the main source of manpower for the Prinz Eugen Division.

It was certainly commanded by Autur Phleps, who had the background described. However, my impression is that most of the division’s initial manpower came from ethnic Germans from Banat (where it had its depot) and other former areas of Yugoslavia under direct German or Croat administration. The small number of Romanian volksdeutsch recruited to the Waffen-SS by the time the division was formed in 1942 could have manned a battalion, or perhaps a regiment, but certainly not a division.

The Banat was split between Romanian and Serbia. There is you see also a Romanian Banat.

The Prinz Eugen Division was based in the former Yugoslav Banat and had no recruitment rights in Romanian Banat when it was founded in 1942.

However, the “split” remained effective even during WWII, because Antonescu, thus Romania, did not accept the Serbian Banat offered as present by Hitler.

The Serbian Banat was ruled by the Germans, but in Romanian Banat the last word belonged to Romanian authorities, even though various German organizations flourished.

Banat belonged to Transylvania, who by the way did not belong to Hungary in the Middle Ages.

In 1526 Hungary was defeated by the Turks at Mohacs and became a Turkish province. Transylvania did not become a Turkish province on that occasion, simply because it was not a Hungarian province. Moreover, in a period when Hungary was still a Turkish province, Transylvania took part as a belligerent independent state in the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648).

The reason of Banat “split”: Hungary, Transylvania and Banat were conquered by the Austrian Empire after 1688. So Banat was a “whole” piece under the Austrians. When the power was divided in 1867 between Austria and Hungary, Banat remained “Austrian”.

Then, in November 1918, in the wake of Central Powers collapse, the Romanians and also the Serbs, along the French soldiers commanded by General Sarrail, occupied the region. The Romanians came from North-East, the Serbs came from South-West. Where they met, there was the border. The Serbs tried to instigate the French to support them in taking all Banat, but it was a delicate matter (both Romania and Serbia were allies of France in WWI), so the French did not interfere.

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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