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> 69. A Command Crisis on the Moldavian Front
Posted: February 18, 2007 04:27 pm
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by Colonel dr. Alesandru Dutu

Grasping the danger for the Romanian units which resulted from German High Com-mand's decision to shift some of the divisions disposed in Moldavia to other fronts, General Mihai Racovita asked on July 22, 1944, for an "reexamination of the military situation", considering that otherwise "we may have to face an avalanche and then it will be too late". On his turn, Colonel Nicolae Dragomir, his Headquarters Deputy-Chief, consid-ered on August 17 that the Moldavian front was "doomed from the start", suggesting the setting up of several new positions on the line of the Prut river, with the view of "putting there the troops rejected or withdrawn in the due time (this being a better solution) from Bessarabia". This way, Colonel Nicolae Dragomir appreciated, the Romanian Commands could have at their disposal all the forces needful for the execution of a "casual manoeuvre into the depth of enemy's disposition or to face successfully other eventual problems which our State's policy might raise at any moment". Eight days before "the turning of the arms", the Romanian 4th Army Headquarters Deputy-Chief directly pronounced himself for the adopting of several radical military and political decisions, which would have avoided the predictable disaster. "In the decisive moments which are to come upon us — he continued — it is a fact of absolute necessity to take over in our own Romanian hands the command of our troops on the Romanian front. This would give us the possibility to fulfil entirely the military and political manoeuvre which the international situation, in course to be changed, impose to ourselves... In another way the political factor is acting now, and in another way it will act when we shall be overthrown — and this surely will happen, sooner or later - when the Russians will be stopped from their advance towards west, a task for which nowadays they're making all efforts, and when they will be able to turn important forces against us. Our elapsing power might be used and politically increased in value both in our ally's and in their opponents' views. For this purpose, the military leadership must immediately persuade our country's political leadership".

A similar position had General Gheorghe Avramescu, who followed in command General Mihai Racovita; he considered that, in case the Romanian and German troops disposed in the bridgehead north of the Bahlui river were not to be withdrawn on the "Traian" line - which permitted that the front line become shorter and also the grouping of new reserves - "we shall be forced to face a disaster, given the means and the Russsians' attacking force". Disappointed, because the Romanian and German High Commands were not able to perceive the danger, General Avramescu concluded: "In vain one tells what the very truth is; there's nobody to listen".

Meanwhile, the II and the III Fronts' armies had launched, on August 20, 1944, the offensive on the Jassy-Kishinev front and they had deeply advanced into the Romanian and German's troops disposition, though Marshal Antonescu ordered, on August 22: "the law must be strictly applied, and all those who are running away from the enemy's face are to be executed". The approval Hitler gave him on August 22, 1944, for a retreat of the front's line, came too late; moreover, General Erich Wohler even further delayed the fulfilment of such an action, fact that drove to dispair General Gheorghe Avramescu, who asked, in the evening of August 22, to be replaced in the 4th Army's command.

In this context, Colonel Nicolae Dragomir, after he tried, in the morning of August 23, to contact Marshal Ion Antonescu, for the purpose of explaining him, once again, the necessity and the urgence for the 4th Army's with-drawal on a better strenghtened position, addressed himself to General Sanatescu, to whom — after he related the situation on the front, underlining that it was practically impossible to oppose "a serious resistance" against the Soviet troops — he declared: "All is ready. You may trust, in the military and political moment that is now approaching, our immovable Romanian faith. I'm waiting for an answer from you".

In his memories, General Sanatescu mentioned the interview with Colonel Dragomir and what they had talked. He affirms that he ordered to him "to contact immediately General Steflea, who must have received instructions from Marshal Antonescu"; but Colonel Dragomir, on his turn, wrote that through the end of their discussion, General Sanatescu has declared to him that in case the situation presented to be itself in such a high degree of gravity, he would ask King Mihai I "to call for Marshal Antonescu, within no more than one hour, and to oblige him to make a choice between the resignation and the concluding of the truce". Yet contradictory, extremely interesting, these retorts must be confronted with several other documents and testimonies, with the view to establish if General Sanatescu and Colonel Dragomir have had or have not had a previous agreement, if Dragomir just intuited what was to come next or if Sanatescu really took a profit of the contents of the mentioned report, which was corresponding with the situation on the front, and thus attentioning Colonel Dragomir in referrence with the folowing course of the events.

The deterioration of the situation on the front's line, in the hours which succeeded, and also the fact that he understood the high responsability which the 4th Army's Command had in those dramatic moments, determined Colonel Dragomir not to wait for Marshal Antonescu's resignation or dismissal and for the concluding of the truce and to sent, at 12.00 a.m., a report addressed directly to Marshal Ion Antonescu. In this report - without mentioning what General Sanatescu had told him - he underlined the extremely critical situation for the Romanian troops on the front, which was "totally broken and opened between the Barlad and Siret rivers", also expressing his conviction that "the single task of our operations cannot be now else but the salvation of this Army, through a method that still might be useful for our country". Protesting against the way the German Commands were leading the Romanian troops on the Moldavian front, Colonel Dragomir asserted that "unfortunately, the Army's movement is deliberately delayed by the German Commands, to which you had subordinated us abso-lutely and — in a certain way — humiliatingly, in such moments, when none else but a Romanian Command knows better how to use the Romanian armies, for the benefit of the Romanian cause".

After that, the 4th Army's Headquarters Deputy-Chief reported that the Germans ignored Marshal's approval, given on August 22, before he had left for Bucharest, for the withdrawal of the divisions through "little and slow moves", having in their view, undoubt-edly, "to keep our troops fixed, purposing to create a bridgehead which was to serve for helping the German troops encircled in Bessarabia to withdraw through Hungary and for constraining then our troops, cut off from their motherland's body, to fight for some interests divergent of those which concern the immediate wellbeing of the country, thus left without army and wide opened for the invasion". In such a context, considering that it was his duty to address directly to Marshal Antonescu "by taking all risks", Colonel Dragomir asked him to help them "to restore, as possibly, the tragical situation which from the 4th Army still has to help the country in the decisive moment, when the military power must be taken over in the political power's hands". In the end of his report, he showed: "It is indispensable for us that without losing one second, you give the order — or, at least, that you permit us to act by our-selves for starting the general retreat of the entire Army towards our country's territory, from which we cannot detach ourselves just for increasing the number of victims destined to form alleged titles of merit, with the view to obtain the justice that none of those called to recognize it in our favour had done until now. Before we take our own responsabilities, we are still waiting for an answer, which must not be delayed not even a single moment, so that the Army could be saved and the country could be helped".

After having received this report, Marshal Ion Antonescu had the time, before leaving for the Royal Palace, to write an answer to Colonel Dragomir. He showed that he had ordered, as far back as in the previous day, in agree-ment with General Erich Wohler, the withdrawal of the 4th Army "in successive echelons, through the position in the back of the front, with the exception of the VII Army Corps and, eventually, of the 20th Infantry Division, which were assigned to cover the communications towards Pipirig and Piatra Neamt" and that "the 4th Army Command was invested with all the needful freedom of action for the fulfilment of this move and with the absolute sovereignty to start the regrouping manoeuvre, as and when the Command will decide". "More liberty — Marshal continued - even I myself could not have given to you... General Avramescu, if he would have had the personality that none on this earth should, he wouldn't have exceeded his authority. I make this statement based on my own ascertained facts. Therefore, General Avramescu is from now on discharged with the Army Command and I temporary deliver this responsability to General Steflea, with the main task to lead the operation for the detachment of the Army from the enemy's troops". The series of contradictory orders and reports was to be continued with General Gheorghe Avramescu's answer, by 19.50 p.m., which was not to be received by Marshal Antonescu, because of his arresting. In the mentioned answer was written: "Yet, I wanted to express here that the truth is exactly opposed to the point of view where from both the measures taken by Mr. Marshal had gone, and the underserved words which he added to this order — an order that I myself had asked for in written form, for the purpose of saving the army from a disaster. Mr. Marshal has ordered me precisely to obey unconditionally the German Command's orders. In spite of lis fact, today I'm accused that I did not oppose myself to German Command. I therefore give the command of le 4th Army to General Steflea, as Mr. Marshal ordered".

In spite of the different views con-tained in the mentioned documents, both Marshal Antonescu and the 4th Army Command followed, practically, the one and same objective; the with-drawal on the fortified alignment Focsani-Namoloasa-Braila. The difference was that Marshal pronounced himself for a slow retreat, on successive align-ments and positions, while General Gheorghe Avramescu — and especially Colonel Nicolae Dragomir - had in their view the fast going out of the 4th Army from the Soviet forces heavy blows — which they were enduring in those moments — and the overtaking of the decision in the command of the troops into the Romanian Command's hands, this fact assuring the conditions necessary for the fulfilment of the future political and military "manoeuvre" they considered neeedful even before the Soviet offensive was to be launched, and inevitable after that. Also significant is the fact that the 4th Army Headquarters Deputy-Chief, Colonel Nicolae Dragomir, did not hesitate to address both to General Constantin Sanatescu and to Marshal Ion Antonescu and even to draw Marshal's atten-tion to the fact that in the given circumstances, he was constrained to assume "his own responsability". Although at the first sight they may appear unexpected, due to the multitude of the problems tackled and to their implications, Colonel Dragomir's interferences were emphasizing both the feelings which animated in those times the Romanian Army, and the detachment's process of a part of the commanding Generals and officers from Marshal Antonescu's policy.

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Posted: February 21, 2007 07:38 pm
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Excellent article, though not detailed enough.

There is something suspicious about Gen. Sanatescu's memoirs. I've read them, and I am of the firm opinion that he revised them or re-written parts of them after the war, such that they matched certain events as he wanted.
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