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King Michael's Coup refers to the coup d'etat led by King Michael of Romania in 1944 against the pro-Nazi Romanian faction of Ion Antonescu, after the Axis front in Northeastern Romania collapsed under the Soviet offensive.


The coup

On August 23, 1944, King Michael joined with pro-Allied opposition politicians (who included the Communists) 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 the 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), what 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.


The coup sped the Red Army's advance into Romania.[1] It has been estimated by some to have shortened the war by as much as six months.[2]

The complexities of negotiations between the USSR and United Kingdom postponed formal Allied recognition of the de facto change of orientation until September 12. During this time, Soviet troops started moving into Romania. The Soviets, acting as if Romania was still an enemy, allegedly robbed and raped at will. They took approximately 140,000 Romanian prisoners (some estimates are as high as 600,000). About 130,000 Romanian soldiers were taken prisoner and transported to the Soviet Union, where many perished in prison camps.[1]

The armistice was signed three weeks later on September 12, 1944, on terms the Soviets virtually dictated.[1] The coup effectively amounted to a "capitulation",[3] an "unconditional surrender"[4] to the Soviets.

In October 1944 Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, proposed an agreement with Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin on how to split up Eastern Europe in spheres of influence after the war. The Soviet Union was offered a 90% share of influence in Romania.[5]

In the Armistice Agreement[6] of September 12, 1944, it was stipulated in Article 18 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. In the Annex to Article 18, it was made clear 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.

The Romanian Army ended the war fighting alongside the Soviets against Germans. They fought in Transylvania, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. In May 1945, the Romanian First Army and the Romanian Fourth Army took part in the Prague Offensive. The Romanians incurred heavy casualties fighting Nazi Germany.

Antonescu was placed under arrest; the new Prime Minister, Lt. General Constantin Sănătescu, gave custody of Antonescu to the Communists who would turn the former dictator to the Soviets on September 1.[7][8] Antonescu would be tried and executed in 1946.

King Michael was spared the fate of another former German ally, Prince Kyril, Regent of Bulgaria, executed by the Soviets in 1945, and was also the last monarch behind the Iron Curtain to lose his throne. Under the Communist régime Michael functioned as little more than a figurehead; he was finally forced to abdicate in 1947. He also received international recognition: at the end of the war, King Michael was awarded the highest degree (Chief Commander) of the Legion of Merit by U.S. President Harry S. Truman. He was also decorated with the Soviet Order of Victory by Stalin "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," according to an official description of the decoration.[9]

However, some claim[10] that Michael's coup afforded Stalin's troops a faster advance[1] into Romania and Europe, to the detriment of that of the Western Allies. Some others[11] even see in Michael's failure to be invited, with a few exceptions, to most of the V.E. Day celebrations in the West throughout the years, a tacit condemnation by the Western Allies of the consequences of his coup. Michael was not invited to the 60th anniversary of the V.E. Day by any Western Ally. He was invited only to the celebrations in Russia and to some Czech and Slovak commemorations on the same occasion.[12]

See also


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