The division was formed on 17 April 1941, just 2 months before Operation Barbarossa. It was assigned to the Antonescu Army Group as part of the Romanian Cavalry Corps (or RCC), fighting alongside the German 11th Army. Operating as several mobile groups, the division took part in the advance into Bessarabia, the area the Russians had taken from Romania in 1939.
The German invasion of Russias allowed Romania to recapture lost territory and the best army units were committed to Operation München that involved retaking Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina.
On 26 July, Bessarabia was recovered and the 1st Division halted its advance for rest and refit for the next two weeks.
After Odessa was captured, the 1st Armoured Division was recalled to Romania for reorganization. During Barbarossa, the 1st Armored Division had lost 34 officers, 102 NCOs, 1,125 soldiers as well as 111 tanks and 206 supporting vehicles.
The 1st Division later fought outside Stalingrad as part of the 48th Panzer Corps suffering heavy losses in R-2 tanks that were in the man part lost due to lack of fuel.
On 19 November 1942, the 1st Armoured Division from positions outside Perelasovskiy, counterattacked the Russian 26th Tank Corps, saving several divisions from destruction in the process. Although Russian tanks overran the supply depot at Perelasovskiy and the supply vehicle columns supporting the Romanian drive, the 1st Armoured Division fought its way out of encirclement on 21 November, before being ordered back to Romania in order to be rebuilt.
After the Battle of Stalingrad, few Romanian divisions remained battle-worthy, the survivors being withdrawn to Romania to recover. The 1st Cavalry Division and 20th Infantry Division were lost in the Battle of Stalingrad. The fighting cost the Romanian Army dearly, half its army. Romanian bravery with three generals killed leading counterattacks could not compensate for Russian superior numbers and lack of proper equipment.