King Michael's Coup

Last updated
King Michael in 1947 Mihai.jpg
King Michael in 1947

King Michael's Coup was a coup d'état led by King Michael I of Romania during World War II on 23 August 1944. With the support of several political parties, the king removed the government of Ion Antonescu, which had aligned Romania with Nazi Germany, after the Axis front in northeastern Romania collapsed in the face of a successful Soviet offensive. The Romanian Army declared a unilateral ceasefire with the Soviet Red Army on the Moldavian front, an event viewed as decisive in the Allied advances against the Axis powers in the European theatre of World War II. The coup was supported by the Romanian Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party, the National Liberal Party, and the National Peasants' Party who had coalesced into the National Democratic Block in June 1944.

Coup détat Sudden deposition of a government; illegal and overt seizure of a state by the military or other elites within the state apparatus

A coup d'état, also known as a putsch, a golpe, or simply as a coup, means the overthrow of an existing government; typically, this refers to an illegal, unconstitutional seizure of power by a dictator, the military, or a political faction.

Michael I of Romania King of Romania (1927-1930, 1940-1947)

Michael I was the last King of Romania, reigning from 20 July 1927 to 8 June 1930 and again from 6 September 1940 until his abdication on 30 December 1947.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.



According to Silviu Brucan, the two main conspirators from the Communist Party's side were Emil Bodnăraș and Lucrețiu Pătrășcanu, who contacted King Michael to prepare a coup d'état against Ion Antonescu. [1] The first meeting between King Michael's representatives with the Communists was during the night of 13–14 June 1944 in a secret house of the communists, at 103 Calea Moșilor. Apart from the two communist conspirators, participants in the meeting were Gen. Gheorghe Mihail, Gen. Constantin Sănătescu and Col. Dumitru Dămăceanu, while King Michael was represented by Baron Ioan Mocsony-Stârcea  [ ro ] (marshal of the palace), Mircea Ionnițiu (private secretary) and Grigore Niculescu-Buzești (diplomatic adviser). [1]

Silviu Brucan was a Romanian Communist politician. Though he disagreed with Nicolae Ceauşescu's policies, he never gave up his Communist beliefs and did not oppose Communist ideology. After the Romanian Revolution, Brucan became a political analyst and author of books on Communism and Eastern Europe.

Emil Bodnăraș Romanian general and politician

Emil Bodnăraș was an influential Romanian Communist politician, an army officer, and a Soviet agent. He was involved in many of the events of Communist Romania, thus making him a complex figure of Romanian Communism.

Lucrețiu Pătrășcanu Romanian politician

Lucrețiu Pătrășcanu was a Romanian communist politician and leading member of the Communist Party of Romania (PCR), also noted for his activities as a lawyer, sociologist and economist. For a while, he was a professor at Bucharest University. Pătrășcanu rose to a government position before the end of World War II and, after having disagreed with Stalinist tenets on several occasions, eventually came into conflict with the Romanian Communist government of Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej. He became a political prisoner and was ultimately executed. Fourteen years after Pătrășcanu's death, Romania's new communist leader, Nicolae Ceaușescu, endorsed his rehabilitation as part of a change in policy.

The King's representatives presented the Gigurtu plan, through which the King would meet Baron Manfred von Killinger, the German ambassador in Bucharest, to discuss the replacement of Antonescu with a cabinet led by Ion Gigurtu. The Communist Party thought that this plan was "naïve and dangerous", as it would have alerted the Gestapo and that it would have meant even more German espionage. [2]

Ion Gigurtu Romanian politician

Ion Gigurtu was a far-right Romanian politician, Land Forces officer, engineer and industrialist who served a brief term as Prime Minister from 4 July to 4 September 1940, under the personal regime of King Carol II. A specialist in mining and veteran of both the Second Balkan War and World War I, he made a fortune in interwar Greater Romania. Gigurtu began his career in politics with the People's Party (PP) and the National Agrarian Party, moving closer to the far right during the 1930s, and serving as Minister of Industry and Commerce in the cabinet of Octavian Goga. Shortly after the start of World War II, Gigurtu was affiliated with King Carol's National Renaissance Front, serving as Public Works and Communications Minister and Foreign Minister under Premier Gheorghe Tătărescu, before the territorial losses incurred by Romania in front of the Soviet Union propelled him as Tătărescu's replacement.

Gestapo official secret police of Nazi Germany

The Geheime Staatspolizei, abbreviated Gestapo, was the official secret police of Nazi Germany and German-occupied Europe.

The Communist Party presented an alternative plan, through which King Michael, who was the commander-in-chief, would order the weapons to be turned against Nazi Germany and Antonescu would be summoned to the palace, ordered to sign an armistice with the Allies and, if he refused, be arrested on the spot. [3] After this, a coalition government of the National Democratic Bloc (the National Peasants' Party, the National Liberal Party, the Social Democratic Party and the Romanian Communist Party) would take power. [3]

This proposal was accepted by both the military representatives and the King's advisers, who then convinced King Michael that it was the best solution. [3]

The coup

On 23 August 1944 King Michael joined with pro-Allied opposition politicians and led a successful coup with support from the army. Michael, who was initially considered to be not much more than a "figurehead", was able to successfully depose dictator Ion Antonescu. The king offered a non-confrontational retreat to German ambassador Manfred Freiherr von Killinger, but the Germans considered the coup "reversible" and tried to turn the situation around by military attacks. The Romanian First Army, the Romanian Second Army (under formation), the remnants of the Romanian Third Army and the Romanian Fourth Army (one corps) were under orders from the king to defend Romania against any German attacks. The king then offered to put Romania's battered armies on the side of the Allies.

Ion Antonescu prime minister and conducător of Romania during World War II

Ion Antonescu was a Romanian soldier and authoritarian politician who, as the Prime Minister and Conducător during most of World War II, presided over two successive wartime dictatorships. After the war, he was convicted of war crimes and executed.

Manfred Freiherr von Killinger German politician

Manfred Freiherr von Killinger was a German naval officer, Freikorps leader, military writer and Nazi politician. A veteran of World War I and member of the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt during the German Revolution, he took part in the military intervention against the Bavarian Soviet Republic. After the Freikorps was disbanded, the antisemitic Killinger was active in the Germanenorden and Organisation Consul, masterminding the murder of Matthias Erzberger. He was subsequently a National Socialist German Workers Party representative in the Reichstag and a leader of the Sturmabteilung, before serving as Saxony's Minister-President and playing a part in implementing Nazi policies at a local level.

Allies of World War II Grouping of the victorious countries of World War II

The Allies of World War II, called the United Nations from the 1 January 1942 declaration, were the countries that together opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War (1939–1945). The Allies promoted the alliance as a means to control German, Japanese and Italian aggression.


The coup sped the Red Army's advance into Romania. [4] Romanian historians claimed that the coup shortened the war by as much as "six months." [5]

Formal Allied recognition of the de facto change of orientation of Romania in the war came on 12 September 1944. Until this date, Soviet troops started moving into Romania, taking approximately 140,000 Romanian prisoners of war. [6] About 130,000 Romanian POWs were transported to the Soviet Union, where many perished in prison camps. [4]

The armistice was signed on the same date, 12 September 1944, on Allied terms. [4] [7] Article 18 of the Armistice Agreement with Rumania stipulated that "An Allied Control Commission will be established which will undertake until the conclusion of peace the regulation of and control over the execution of the present terms under the general direction and orders of the Allied (Soviet) High Command, acting on behalf of the Allied Powers." The Annex to Article 18, specified that "The Romanian Government and their organs shall fulfill all instructions of the Allied Control Commission arising out of the Armistice Agreement." It also made clear that the Allied Control Commission would have its seat in Bucharest. In line with Article 14 of the Armistice Agreement, two Romanian People's Tribunals were set up to try suspected war criminals. [8]

In October 1944, Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, proposed an agreement with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin on how to split up Eastern Europe in spheres of influence after the war. It was reportedly agreed that Soviet Union would have a "90% share of influence" in Romania. [9]

The Romanian Army, from the armistice until the end of the war, were fighting alongside the Soviets against Germany and its remaining allies. They fought in Transylvania, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. In May 1945 the Romanian First and Fourth Armies took part in the Prague Offensive. The Romanians suffered a total of 169,822 casualties (in all causes) fighting on the Allied side. [10]

Ion Antonescu was placed under arrest; the new Prime Minister, Lt. Gen. Constantin Sănătescu, gave custody of Antonescu to Romanian communists who would turn the former dictator over to the Soviets on 1 September. [11] He was later returned to Romania, where he was tried and executed in 1946.

For his actions, King Michael was decorated with the Soviet Order of Victory by Joseph Stalin in 1945 "for the courageous act of the radical change in Romania's politics towards a break-up from Hitler's Germany and an alliance with the United Nations, at the moment when there was no clear sign yet of Germany's defeat." He was also awarded the highest degree (Chief Commander) of the Legion of Merit by President Harry S. Truman a year later. [12] Nevertheless, he functioned as little more than a figurehead under the communist régime and was finally forced to abdicate and leave the country in 1947. Michael remained in exile until after the Romanian Revolution of 1989 and was only allowed to return to the country in 1992. [13]

See also


  1. 1 2 Brucan, p.20
  2. Brucan, p.20-21
  3. 1 2 3 Brucan, p.21
  4. 1 2 3 "Armistice Negotiations and Soviet Occupation". Country Studies: Romania. US Library of Congress.|chapter= ignored (help)
  5. Constantiniu, Florin, O istorie sinceră a poporului românAn Honest History of the Romanian People), Ed. Univers Enciclopedic, Bucureşti, 1997, ISBN   973-9243-07-X (in Romanian)
  6. Ioan Scurtu, Politica Si Viaţa Cotidiana in Romania in Secolul Al XX-lea, editura Mica Valahie, Bucuresti, 2011, p.265.
  7. "Hitler Resorts To 'Puppets' In Romania". The Washington Post. August 25, 1944.
  8. "The Armistice Agreement with Rumania; September 12, 1944".
  9. "The division of Europe, according to Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin (1944)". CVCE.
  10. Romulus Dima, Contribuția României la înfrângerea Germaniei fasciste, București, 1982 (in Romanian)
  11. "Marshal Ion Antonescu". Romanian Armed Forces in the Second World War.
  12. Armata Română în Al Doilea Război Mondial(in Romanian)
  13. Tomiuc, Eugen (May 6, 2005). "World War II -- 60 Years After: Former Romanian Monarch Remembers Decision To Switch Sides". Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty.

Related Research Articles

King of the Romanians

The King of the Romanians or King of Romania, was the title of the monarch of the Kingdom of Romania from 1881 until 1947, when the Romanian Workers' Party proclaimed the Romanian People's Republic following Michael I's forced abdication.

Following the outbreak of World War II on 1 September 1939, the Kingdom of Romania under King Carol II officially adopted a position of neutrality. However, the rapidly changing situation in Europe during 1940, as well as domestic political upheaval, undermined this stance. Fascist political forces such as the Iron Guard rose in popularity and power, urging an alliance with Nazi Germany and its allies. As the military fortunes of Romania's two main guarantors of territorial integrity—France and Britain—crumbled in the Fall of France, the government of Romania turned to Germany in hopes of a similar guarantee, unaware that the then dominant European power had already granted its consent to Soviet territorial claims in a secret protocol of 1939's Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.

Horia Sima Romanian politician

Horia Sima was a Romanian fascist politician. After 1938, he was the second and last leader of the fascist para-military movement known as the Iron Guard.

Constantin Sănătescu Prime Minister of Romania

Constantin Sănătescu was a Romanian statesman who served as the 44th Prime Minister of Romania after the 23 August 1944 coup, through which Romania left the Axis Powers and joined the Allies.

Dinu Brătianu, born Constantin I. C. Brătianu, was a Romanian politician, who led the National Liberal Party (PNL) starting in 1934.

Lorković–Vokić plot

Lorković–Vokić plot was an attempt initiated by the Minister of Interior, Mladen Lorković and Minister of Armed Forces, Ante Vokić, to form a coalition government with the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS), abandon the Axis powers and align the Independent State of Croatia with the Allies with the help of the Croatian Home Guard. The plan originated from the HSS which was also involved in the negotiations with the Allies. The plot ended with massive arrests and the execution of major plotters, including Lorković and Vokić.

The Soviet occupation of Romania refers to the period from 1944 to August 1958, during which the Soviet Union maintained a significant military presence in Romania. The fate of the territories held by Romania after 1918 that were incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1940 is treated separately in the article on Soviet occupation of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina.


Scînteia was the name of two newspapers edited by Communist groups at different intervals in Romanian history. The title was a borrowing from the Russian Iskra.

Ștefan Voitec Romanian politician

Ştefan Voitec was a Romanian socialist and communist journalist, politician, and statesman of Communist Romania.

Soviet occupation of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina

The Soviet occupation of Bessarabia and northern Bukovina from June 28 – July 4, 1940, of the Romanian regions of northern Bukovina and Hertza, and of Bessarabia, a region under Romanian administration since Russian Civil War times. These regions, with a total area of 50,762 km2 (19,599 sq mi) and a population of 3,776,309 inhabitants, were subsequently incorporated into the Soviet Union.

Lothar Rădăceanu Romanian politician

Lothar or Lotar Rădăceanu was a Romanian journalist and linguist, best known as a socialist and communist politician.

Tămădău affair

The Tămădău affair was an incident that took place in Romania in the summer of 1947, the source of a political scandal and show trial.

Moscow Armistice peace treaty

The Moscow Armistice was signed between Finland on one side and the Soviet Union and United Kingdom on the other side on September 19, 1944, ending the Continuation War. The Armistice restored the Moscow Peace Treaty of 1940, with a number of modifications.

Operation Autonomous was a clandestine operation carried out on the territory of Romania by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) set up by Churchill for the duration of the war to assist local Resistance movements.

Battle of Romania

The Battle of Romania in World War II comprised several operations in or around Romania in 1944, as part of the Eastern Front, in which the Soviet Army defeated Axis forces in the area, Romania changed sides, and Soviet and Romanian forces drove the Germans back into Hungary.

Letter of the Six

The Letter of the Six was an open letter signed in March 1989 by Silviu Brucan, together with five other Romanian Communist Party dignitaries.

The Socialist Peasants' Party was a short-lived political party in Romania, presided over by the academic Mihai Ralea. Created nominally in 1938 but dissolved soon after, it reemerged during World War II. A clandestine group, it opposed the fascist regime of Ion Antonescu, although its own roots were planted in authoritarian politics. Looking to the Soviet Union for inspiration, the PSȚ was cultivated by the Romanian Communist Party (PCdR), and comprised a faction of radicalized social democrats, under Lothar Rădăceanu.

Ivan Nikolaevich Burenin was a major general of the Red Army during World War II. From August to December 1, 1944 he was the Soviet commander of the Bucharest garrison.