Mission Accomplished: The Coup of 23 August 1944

  • Dennis Deletant


The most extraordinary event to occur in Romania during the Second World War was the coup orchestrated by the young (22-year-old) King Michael on 23 August 1944, and the events leading up to it. The coup overthrew the wartime leader, Marshal Ion Antonescu, who had taken Romania into the war as an ally of Germany and stubbornly remained loyal to Hitler even as the tide of war was turning against them. Antonescu, aware of the fragility of Romania’s territorial integrity in the face of the Soviet advance in summer 1944, continued to hold out for armistice terms with the Allies which would guarantee Romania’s independence of Soviet authority.


Soviet Government Romanian People Soviet Authority Opposition Leader Soviet Force 
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  1. 7.
    Lya Benjamin (1996) (ed.), Evreii din Romania intre anii 1940–1944. Vol. II. 1940–1944: Problema Evreiască în Stenogramele Consiliului de Miniştri (Bucharest: Haseler), Doc. 160, p. 501.Google Scholar
  2. 8.
    Vasile Arimia, Ion Ardeleanu and Ştefan Lache (1991) (eds), Antonescu-Hitler: Corespondentă şi întîlniri inedite (1940–1944), Vol. II (Bucharest: Cozia), pp. 68–73.Google Scholar
  3. See also Dinu Giurescu (1999), România în al doilea război mondial (Bucharest: All), pp. 189–90.Google Scholar
  4. 10.
    Spitzmuller joined the French legation in Bucharest as First Secretary in April 1938. For several of his reports to Paris, see Ottmar Traşca and Ana-Maria Stan (2002), Rebeliunea legionară în documente străine [The Iron Guard Rebellion in Foreign Documents] (Bucharest: Albatros).Google Scholar
  5. 12.
    Gheorghe Buzatu (1990), Mareşalul Antonescu în faţa istoriei, Vol. 1 (Iaşi: Editura BAI), pp. 388–91. For the complete text of the interview in English see Appendix 1.Google Scholar
  6. 23.
    The Soviet official in question was a man named Spitchkine whom the Special Operations Executive surmised was acting independently of his Minister, Madame Alexandra Kollontay (Elisabeth Barker (1976), British Policy in South-East Europe in the Second World War (London: Macmillan), p. 229).Google Scholar
  7. 24.
    Foreign Relations of the United States [FRUS] (1966), 1944, Vol. IV, Europe (Washington DC: US Department of State), p. 170. The terms were also passed to the Romanian minister in Stockholm by the Soviet chargé who transmitted them on the same day (13 April) to Bucharest; see Buzatu (1990), pp. 418–20 and Ivor Porter (2005), Michael of Romania: The King and the Country (London: Sutton), p. 94.Google Scholar
  8. 26.
    Ion Scurtu (1978) (ed.), Culegere de documente şi materiale privind Istoria României (6 September 1940–23 August 1944) [Collection of documents and materials regarding the History of Romania] (Bucharest: University of Bucharest), pp. 219–20 (I thank Viorel Achim for showing me this anthology).Google Scholar
  9. 30.
    Interview with Corneliu Coposu, 31 October 1991. In a paper presented at a symposium in Paris on 22 May 1994, Coposu disclosed, in his capacity as Maniu’s secretary and the person responsible for enciphering and deciphering Maniu’s telegrams in the British code sent via Ţurcanu to Cairo, that in response to Novikov’s suggestion to Vişoianu that the Romanian opposition should involve the section of the Comintern in Romania, Novikov was told that the number of Communists in Romania identified by the SSI (Romanian Intelligence) was 845, of whom 720 were foreigners. In reply, Maniu was told that it was common knowledge that a section of the Comintern in Romania did not exist but that public opinion abroad had to have the impression of the existence of a homogeneous opposition embracing all social and political categories. Maniu said that, in that case, he had nothing against the enlargement of the opposition. However, none of the Communists contacted in Romania claimed to be the true representatives of the Romanian Communist Party. With some satisfaction, Maniu cabled Novikov for his direction as to who was the official representative of the Comintern in Romania and Novikov replied: ‘Lucreţiu Pătrăşcanu’ (‘Exilul Românesc: Identitate şi Conştiinţă istorică’, Lupta, No. 232 (7 October 1994): 5). According to Communist historiography, the meeting of 4 April in Târgu-Jiu is alleged to have instructed Pătrăşcanu, Bodnăraş, and Ion Gheorge Maurer to join the other political parties in an effort to extract Romania from the war with the Soviet Union. A few days later, Pătrăşcanu negotiated an agreement with Titel Petrescu, the leader of the Social Democratic Party, to set up a United Workers’ Front. Bodnăraş made his first appearance at a sub-committee charged with the preparation of plans for the defence of Bucharest on 13 June although according to one account the main purpose was to discuss future relations with Moscow (Ioan Hudiţă (1994), ‘Pagini de Jurnal’, Magazin Istoric, Vol. 28(7) (July): 41).Google Scholar
  10. 36.
    For Vişoianu’s journey to Cairo see Bickham Sweet-Escott (1965), Baker Street Irregular (London: Methuen), pp. 210–11.Google Scholar
  11. 45.
    See Nicholas Baciu (1984), Sell-Out to Stalin: The Tragic Errors of Churchill and Roosevelt (New York: Vantage Press), p. 147. The courier in question, Neagu Djuvara, made it quite clear to his audience at the fiftieth anniversary symposium on ‘23 August 1944 in the History of Romania’, held in Bucharest on 8–9 October 1994 (to which King Michael had accepted an invitation but was refused entry to Romania by the authorities), that Mihai Antonescu, with the Marshal’s approval, had merely told Nanu to approach Madame Kollontay to ask whether the earlier conditions given by the Russians were still valid or would have to be negotiated. At the same time, Djuvara revealed, Mihai Antonescu instructed Nanu not to tell the British and Americans of this approach to the Soviets.Google Scholar
  12. Mihai Antonescu did not, as Nanu later claimed, tell him that the Marshal was ready to withdraw from the war and had given Mihai a free hand to sign the armistice (F. C. Nano (1952), ‘The First Soviet Double-Cross: A Chapter in the Secret History of World War II’, Journal of Central European Affairs, Vol. 12(3) (October): 236–58). As Djuvara remarked, the events in the three-month period since the issue of the Russian conditions had rendered many of them irrelevant and the mere raising of the question as to whether they were still valid showed how out of touch with reality the two Antonescus were.Google Scholar

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© Dennis Deletant 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dennis Deletant
    • 1
  1. 1.Georgetown UniversityUSA

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