740.0011 European War 1939/7564: Telegram

The Minister in Rumania ( Gunther ) to the Secretary of State

22. Yesterday I had a long conversation with General Antonescu,8 the salient points of which are given below.

The General had much to say about Russia and indicated quite clearly as he has done before that he genuinely fears that country’s intentions toward Rumania.9 He observed that Rumania was constantly being harassed by Russia, that two Rumanians had been killed on January 7 in another frontier incident, that Rumania had been obliged as a result of Russia’s attitude to negotiations for a commercial agreement with that country and [to?] recall its delegation from Moscow, that no progress was being made in the negotiations for the delimitation of the new Rumanian-Russian frontier and that Russian agents were constantly working on a section of the Iron Guard and generally endeavoring to whip up Communist sentiment here. He also referred to the Russian attempts to seize the mouths of the Danube, to the apparent impossibility of arriving at a working agreement in the Danubian Commission10 and to the recent Russian effort to force a passage up the Danube by gunboat from Sulina. (The latter report may have been somewhat exaggerated according to British Intelligence information reaching me).

I countered by observing that with all the troops Germany was bringing into Rumania and in view of the German guarantee of Rumania’s frontiers it seemed high time for Germany to adopt a firmer stand and to back Rumania’s case. I was therefore surprised when he replied that Hitler had told him during his recent visit to Germany that under no circumstances did he want the issue forced with Russia as he did not desire war with that country. This I should point out is much more emphatic than what the General told me on December 3—see my telegram 783 of December 4, 7 p.m.11 On that occasion the General seemed to be under the impression that while Hitler did not desire war with Russia at the present time he would accept it and had sufficient troops not otherwise employed to deal with the situation should the inevitable happen.

I then observed that if Hitler did not want under any circumstances to force the issue with Russia all the military and engineering preparations [Page 275] now being undertaken by the German military forces in Rumania must be with a view to a move southward. The General expostulated that this could not be the case adding that if Bulgaria was prepared to consent to the free entry of German troops this would not concern Rumania. I remarked that if there was a German occupation of Bulgaria, Turkey would have to be reckoned with and that the latter might not wait until a large number of German troops had been massed in Bulgaria before striking. In any case I feel that there would at least be air conflicts. He replied that if there were hostilities the Germans would initiate them from Bulgarian territory. To this I observed that the German line of communications ran through Rumania and that in my opinion this country could not hope to escape encompassment in the area of operations with all the inevitable consequences. He replied that this was to be avoided at all costs.

I then asked the General point blank his views as to the real intentions of Germany in respect to its military preparations and increasingly substantial military forces in Rumania. His reply was to the effect that in his opinion Germany’s military gesture in Rumania was only for general military purposes. He then went to a long explanation of Rumania’s position vis-à-vis Russia and of the vast sums the Rumanian state was saving by having demobilized two-thirds of its army. He also said that it was his information that Germany was at present endeavoring to bring about peace between Greece and Italy.12 If this important statement is true, and I have no reason to doubt it, the fact of considerable German troop concentrations in Rumania would obviously give Germany leverage in any such peace efforts.

The General then proceeded to discuss the desirability of an early peace, particularly in view of the possibility of anarchy should the war be prolonged. He also said—see my telegram 783, December 4, 7 p.m.—that he thought Hitler would be prepared to withdraw from the countries in Western Europe he now occupies in order to secure peace. When I asked what recompense Hitler would be able to give the German people for their great war effort he replied that he did not know inasmuch as he and Hitler had never discussed the details of a possible peace.

As the Department has undoubtedly observed from the reading of my various telegrams and despatches, the General is obviously obsessed with the danger, either real or imaginary, of Russia. He is evidently dealing with present day Russian annoyances with great caution and temperance but he has told me more than once that he would resist, come what may, any Russian attempt to occupy the mouths of the Danube. Possibly he feels that should a conflict with Russia ensue he might both be blamed and overthrown by the Germans [Page 276] because of it. I share his opinion that Germany will go to great lengths to prevent a war with Russia at least for the moment. At the same time I am inclined to agree with him that German military preparations in Rumania are opportunist and may not be intentionally belligerent. Nevertheless, I feel it incumbent upon me to invite the Department’s attention to the fact that these views are not necessarily shared by all competent observers, Rumanians as well as foreigners in that country. Some feel that a German-Russian conflict involving Rumania is inevitable in the near future and others are of the opinion that Germany is preparing to strike southward at an early date.

General Antonescu’s views with regard to the general situation in the Balkans may be unduly optimistic. In any case I am of the opinion that they deserve more than passing consideration and as the Department knows he is honorable to the highest degree and has always acted in what he sincerely felt was Rumania’s best interest. He inherited an appalling situation and has been in desperate straits ever since his accession to power. Just how long he will be able to remain master of the situation remains to be seen. Without him the situation would undoubtedly be much worse.

Gunther
  1. Jon Antonescu, Rumanian Chief of State.
  2. In the last paragraph of telegram No. 14, January 6, 4 p.m., p. 117, the Ambassador in the Soviet Union described some of the reasons for the existing dissatisfaction of the Soviet Union with Rumania.
  3. See Foreign Relations, 1940, vol. i, footnotes 93 and 94, pp. 500 and 501, respectively.
  4. Ibid., p. 533.
  5. See vol. ii , section under Greece.