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> 30. The Crossing of Dniester: A Controversial Decision
Posted: February 17, 2004 06:13 pm
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by Florin Constantinu

After the liberation of Bessarabia and of Bukovina, the continuation of military operations beyond the Dniester was and has been one of the most disputed decisions made by Marshal Ion Antonescu.

At that time 1941, political personalities such as Iuliu Maniu and Dinu C. Bratianu, the leaders of democratic opposition and at present, historians and politologues blamed the Marshal for committing the Romanian army in the depth of the Soviet territory, which brought Romanian into conflict with the allies of the Soviet Union, first with Great Britain and then the United States and considerably increased losses of the Romanian Army, compelled to wage war far from Romania's frontiers at the bend of the Don, in the Kalmuk Steppe and in Kuban.

The Marshal was and is still accused of engaging the Romanian Army beyond the Dniester out of sheer vanity, considerig himself a new Napoleon, an accusation wich deserves no comment whatsoever. There is not one single document to substantiate such a conclusion. The Marshal was aware of his value, he never overestimated nor underestimated his capacity and military experience, and was never actuated by desire for personal glory (as documents and narratives of people in his entourage prove); for him, the only guiding principle in making his political and military decisions was the national interest. We can discuss whether was correct, his perception of the national interest, but his patriotism can not be questioned.

The decision of the Marshal to continue military operation beyond the Dniester was brought about by two fundamental, political and military considerations.

First, as he stated in his trial staged in 1946, no army stops military operations until the enemy admit to be defeated. Clausewitz explained very clearly this goal of warfare: "In order to make the enemy surrender to our will, we have to push him into a predicament which is the more disadvantages of the situations he could be, at least apparently, temporary, because otherwise the enemy would wait for a more favourable occasion and would not yield. Any change in that situation, entailed by further continuing the military activities should consequently lead, at least hypothetically, to a still more disadvantageous situation. The worst situation a belligerent may find himself in is the total incapacity to defend himself."

To halt along the Dniester, in the circumstance in which the Soviet Union and the Red Army continued the fight, was a strategic nonsense; to halt military operations along a frontline, no matter which, was a violation of the most elementary principles of strategy. Could the Romanian have stopped at the Dniester, waiting for the Red Army to be defeated by the Germans, Finns, etc. or watch the enemy resuming the offensive - as it was to happen in 1944 -to recuperate the last spoils?

We should also take into account that Romania was fighting a coalition war and that her military action were interrelated with those of her partners, first and foremost with the main and leading force of the coalition, Germany.

We come now the political reasons prompting the Marshal's to take the decision of crossing the Dniester. According to the begining of his career Marshal Ion Antonescu should have never been a philo-German. Indeed, until the summer 1940, as long as he believed in the military power of France and Great Britain, he supported the traditional orientation of Romania's foreign policy towards the two great western democracies.

After the crisis in summer 1940, when Romania, isolated and abandoned, suffered great territorial losses, Ion Antonescu was convinced that the frontiers of Great Romania could be restored through political and military cooperation with Germany, at the highest point of its power at that time.

The Marshal believed he would be able to persuade Hitler to make void the Vienna Dictate and to return the Transylvanian territory annexed by Hungary if he would loyally fight alongside the Reich.

The conversation notes from the meetings between Hitler and Antonescu show that each time, the leader of the Romanian State pointed to the great injustice done to Romania on August 30, 1940 and insisted on the fact that Northem Transylvania would not be abandoned, being ready to resort to weapons to get it back.

Antonescu understood very well that had he stopped the attack on the line of the Dniester, Hungary would have denounced to Berlin "the Romanian defection" and would have tried to capitalise on the whole of Transylvania.

Hitler and the German diplomacy were, of course, skilful enough to speculate the Romanian - Hungarian issue and to exert pressures over the two countries in order to increase their military effort on the eastern front.

Antonescu believed he served the national interest through his collaboration with the Reich. The reward was to be late and inefficient. On March 23, 1944 Hitler told him - asking not to make public his declaration - that Germany no longer considered herself a signatory of the Vienna "Award" (on March 19, 1944 the Wehrmacht had occupied Hungary to prevent the latter from breaking away from the Reich).

Therefore, the Dniester was crossed not to gain vain glory or annex foreign territories but to crush the enemy and determined Hitler to face Romania's military effort and sacrifices to annul the Vienna Dictate.

Iuliu Maniu, July 18, 1941:

"If the entire Romanian public opinion, we all, have consented for reconquest the provinces that had been broken through aggression, out of the body of their Motherland, we are definitely against that Romania should have in its view aggressive goals. It's not admissible that we present ourselves as aggressors as concerns Russia, which today is Great Britain's ally - probably a winner in the war - for another objective but Bukovina and Bessarabia, joining at fight as combat fellows with Hungary and the Axis, those who have raped, through an arbitrary act, non-ratified by anyone, an important part of our country, thus injuring our territory, our pride and our national honour. Even the combat fellowship that existed until now, which was imposed by the circumstances, is as unfortunated as it may be, as long as we still have received no satisfaction in Transylvania's issue, but this has, however, a single justification: that it was destined to have repaired the loss we had suffered a year before, as a result of the pressures put upon us by the Axis, which at that time had tied our hands and stopped us to defend ourselves.
Now, they have untied them. Both Bessarabia and Bukovina joined our Ancient Kingdom through their free will and on the basis of the principle of self determination of the peoples. It would be too pretentious for us to believe that the carrying on of the German-RusSian war is depending on our collaboration, as well as it would be no less pretentious that we, the Romanians, should proclame a holy war against Russia, taking as a reason its internal statal and social organisation. The holy war, both military and political, let us assume for the Great Romania, with all its provinces. We do not have a single Romanian soldier to be offered as a victim in the benefit of some foreign goals. We must spare our Army for our Romanian tasks, which are great and multifarious and of tragical present interest for the very soon coming days."

Ion Antonescu, October 29, 1942:

"To stop at the Dniester River's banks and withdraw the forces out from Russia would have meant - for a man who still keeps intact his own judgement - to annihilate at once everything, all the sacrifices that have been made since the crossing of the Prut River, an action you did not pronounce publicly as being against; it means to be forever dishonoured as a people; it means to put up for our country, in case of a German victory, disastrous conditions; without having assured, in case of a Russian victory, neither the provinces we fight for, nor the borders that would Russians want to let us have, nor our liberties, and nor even the lifes of our families and of our children; finally, it means - and that's because of the unstability and the betrayal you are advsing me to perform, being this the worst crime among all - to assure for our country, within the future European community, a moral position which could deprive her of her own rights, her ideals and which might be even fatal for her.
The motion you are asking me to do, Mr.Bratianu, will make the Romanian people a victime in the benefit of all the others, because, concomitantly with the destructure, with the collapse and the destruction of the entire Army, the anarchy would gain roots in the country.
The Communists, the Iron-Guard's members, the Jews, the Hungarians, the Saxons (on Transylvania) would start sedition, fights, destruction of the order, of our peace and calm, purposing to take an advantage of this occasion for striking their final foot-blow at a people that, in such a case, would truly deserve to be qualified as a miserable one.
The Hungarians would immediately occupy the remained part of Transylvania. Do see, Mr. Bratianu, what might be the consequences of the motion you are asking me for. It would be the misfortunate gesture of a soldier lacking any sense of honour and of a man of State not only irresponsible, but insane."
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