King Michael’s Coup in 1944: Romania’s Dramatic Shift in World War II

Table of Contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. Romania’s Historical Background
  3. King Carol II and Political Instability
  4. Romania’s Position in World War II
  5. The Loss of Territories and Alliance with Germany
  6. Romania’s Involvement on the Eastern Front
  7. King Michael’s Coup and Romania’s Change of Direction
  8. Soviet Occupation and Communist Takeover
  9. King Michael’s Exile and Return
  10. Conclusion
  11. Introduction

In August 1944, as Axis forces found themselves on the defensive in World War II, a significant event took place in Romania that would alter the country’s course in the conflict. King Michael of Romania, along with conspirators and opposition politicians, orchestrated a successful coup to arrest the head of the government, Marshal Ion Antonescu. This coup led to Romania switching sides in the war, turning its weapons against Germany. To understand why this dramatic event occurred, we must delve into Romania’s complex history during the Second World War.

  1. Romania’s Historical Background

To grasp Romania’s position in World War II, we need to rewind 132 years to 1812. Following the Russia-Turkish War, the eastern parts of the Principality of Moldova, known as Bessarabia, were ceded to Imperial Russia. In 1859, Moldova united with Wallachia, forming what would become Romania after their war of independence. In 1917, as a result of the Russian Revolution, the Moldavian Democratic Republic was established, later merging with Romania. This marked the creation of Greater Romania, a national state aimed at incorporating all ethnic Romanians, though it included significant Hungarian, German, Russian, and Ukrainian minorities, leading to strained relations with neighboring countries.

  1. King Carol II and Political Instability

The interwar period saw Romania’s economy thrive, turning it into a major player in Southeast Europe. However, after the death of King Ferdinand in 1927, political instability ensued. Carol II, who would later become king, faced numerous scandals, including marriages, affairs, and renouncing his succession rights in 1925. His reign, starting in 1930, evolved into a personal dictatorship by 1938, partly due to Europe’s political climate, internal turmoil, and Romania’s geographical position.

  1. Romania’s Position in World War II

As World War II loomed, Romania found itself in a precarious situation. Its only guarantees for territorial integrity lay with France and Great Britain. However, in June 1940, France signed an armistice with Germany, and Britain focused on its defense, leaving Romania isolated. A series of territorial disputes resulted in Romania losing most of the territories gained after World War I. Under pressure, King Carol II accepted these unfavorable terms and subsequently lost Northern Transylvania and Southern Dobruja.

  1. The Loss of Territories and Alliance with Germany

In June 1941, Romania joined the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union, initially regaining Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina. However, Germany persuaded Romania to take control of Transnistria in a bid to regain Northern Transylvania. Romania’s commitment to the Eastern Front surpassed that of all other Axis allies combined, leading to its crucial role in battles across Ukraine and Stalingrad.

  1. Romania’s Involvement on the Eastern Front

By early 1943, it became evident that the tide of war was turning against the Axis powers. Romania faced dire circumstances as it fought on its own territory. King Michael contemplated changing the government to extricate Romania from the war against the Soviets. Meetings were held, and on August 23, 1944, King Michael confronted Marshal Ion Antonescu, requesting an armistice with the Allies and the Soviet Union. Antonescu hesitated, leading to his arrest and the change of government.

  1. King Michael’s Coup and Romania’s Change of Direction

On August 23, 1944, King Michael’s coup resulted in the removal of Marshal Ion Antonescu’s government. Romania sought to exit the war, and formal Allied recognition came on September 12, 1944. Soviet troops entered Romania, leading to the capture of a substantial number of Romanian soldiers. Romania continued to fight against Axis forces until the end of the war and regained lost territories in the west during peace negotiations.

  1. Soviet Occupation and Communist Takeover

The presence of Soviet troops in Romania paved the way for communist forces to come to power. In 1946, elections were held, and while real results favored non-communist parties, official results indicated communist victory. King Michael’s role became symbolic, and in 1947, he was forced to abdicate, marking the beginning of communist rule.

  1. King Michael’s Exile and Return

King Michael remained in exile for over four decades. In 1989, the Romanian Revolution overthrew communism, but former communists retained power. Michael’s attempts to return were met with obstacles, but in 1997, he regained Romanian citizenship. He passed away on December 5, 2017, at the age of 96.

  1. Conclusion

The events of August 23, 1944, when King Michael of Romania led a successful coup to change Romania’s stance in World War II, are viewed with mixed opinions. Some see it as an act of salvation for Romania, while others label it as betrayal. However, Romania’s decision was driven by the necessity to survive against two totalitarian regimes, highlighting the complexity of its historical context during the war.

  1. Why did King Michael of Romania lead a coup in 1944 during World War II?

    King Michael led the coup in 1944 to extricate Romania from its alliance with Nazi Germany and switch sides to the Allies and the Soviet Union. The primary motivation was to save Romania from further devastation and occupation, as the Axis powers were on the defensive.

  2. What were the consequences of King Michael’s Coup on Romania’s post-war history?

    King Michael’s Coup led to Romania changing its allegiance, which ultimately affected the country’s post-war trajectory. It resulted in Soviet occupation, the rise of communism, and King Michael’s exile, significantly shaping Romania’s history until the fall of communism in 1989.