During the negotiations for the conclusion of an armistice between Romania and the Central Powers, the desire of the German Marshal August von Mackensen, the commander of the occupation troops of the Central Powers, to establish a “conversation” with King Ferdinand was communicated from within the German delegation. The German request surprised the Romanian government. What was behind this request?
With the exit of Bolshevik Russia from the war, Romania was forced to conclude an armistice with the Central Powers. During the negotiations taking place in Focșani, the German delegation advanced the idea of a meeting between Marshal August von Mackensen and King Ferdinand. The Romanian delegation was led by General Alexandru Lupescu, and the German delegation by General Kurt von Morgen, commander of the 1st Reserve Corps.
The German delegation was also accompanied to Focșani by a number of Romanian collaborators of the German occupation troops. Among them was Virgil Arion, one of the most zealous Romanian leaders who collaborated with the German troops. IG Duca, Minister of Public Instruction and Cults in the Romanian government in Iași led by Ionel Brătianu, reported about the context in which this proposal was made:
“Virgil Arion, accompanied by Major Iarosch, from General von Morgan’s staff, and Lt. Kremnitz, the son of Dr. Kremnitz and the famous Mite Kremnitz and raised if not born in Romania, had communicated to General N. Samsonovici, then the Chief of Staff of General Eremia Grigorescu, that Marshal von Mackensen would like to have a conversation with King Ferdinand “.
The response of the Romanian authorities
The proposal surprised both the government led by Ionel Brătianu and King Ferdinand. To be sure that King Ferdinand is not drawn into any trap, of any kind, the Romanian government mandated Jean Mitilineu to obtain more details about the German marshal’s desire, but also to establish exactly the aspects that will be discussed.
“The proposal surprised us and, after an exchange of views with the King, we decided to send Jean Mitilineu, who was a clever and fine man, to General von Morgen, with the following answer as from General Prezan, but of course drafted by Brătianu :
1) If it is about matters of a military nature, these matters are dealt with from Commander-in-Chief to Commander-in-Chief; in this case, the Commander-in-Chief of the Romanian Army being General Prezan today, the meeting would be with Mrs.
2) If it is about matters of a political nature and an official assignment of this nature and in this sense, then given that the King is the constitutional Sovereign, the audience with HM the King could only be granted with the knowledge and in the presence of the Head of Government and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Ion Brătianu.
3) If it is a personal message from HM the Emperor of Germany to HM the King that would entrust Herr Field Marshal von Mackensen, in this case HM the King could grant the requested audience.
Finally, I added to General von Morgen’s reply the following two observations:
1) That in none of the specified cases the audience or meeting, if granted or decided, could take place secretly (clandestine).
2) That in any case the people who made the move on behalf of Mr. Field Marshal von Mackensen were wrongly chosen and that it would have been preferable not to include Mr. Virgil Arion and Lt. Kremnitz. Virgil Arion because of his political situation today, and It. Kremnitz although German, which would explain his presence in the commission, due to the fact that he was raised by the Romanian Royal House. This addition is otherwise so characteristic for those who knew Brătianu up close!
The Germans take a step back
The Germans, in turn, were surprised by the demands of the Romanian government and took a step back. At the meeting with Jean Mitilineu, General von Morgen stated that “Mr. Field Marshal von Mackensen did not ask for an audience with HRH the King or a meeting, nor does he have orders to provoke such a conversation, but that Mr. The field marshal only declared that he was ready to receive a meeting if the proposal came from the Romanian side; that even today he is willing to receive such a meeting even if the proposal came from the Romanian side, this only for matters of a purely military nature, and the meeting should take place in the occupied territory”.
The change of attitude of the Germans was rather strange, especially since von Morgen had a note on his desk, which he took and showed to Mytilinius, from which it was clear that Colonel Heutsch, Mackensen’s chief of staff, had provoked the approach of Virgil Arion.
What were the Germans after?
IG Duca was the one who ensured communication between Jean Mitilineu and Prime Minister Ionel Brătianu. Duca also sent him instructions from the government of Mitilineu, when he was in the delegation. IGDuca tried to find out what was behind the gesture undertaken by the Germans:
“Obviously we have not followed up on the matter, but one question remains: why the approach, why the withdrawal of the proposal, why did Heutsch authorize Virgil Arion? Did they come to feel the ground? Did they make a decision and then change their mind? Virgil Arion exceeded the mandate given to him and which, according to the note on von Morgen’s desk, only said the following: ‘If His Majesty the King believes it is in the interest of his country and wishes to provoke a meeting with Field Marshal von Mackensen, then Field Marshal is he willing to consent to such a meeting?’
Samsonovici did not understand well – although it is unbelievable – what Virgil Arion said to him, since he omitted to ask him for a written copy of the communication he gave him? Did the Great Headquarters (German, no) invite Mackensen to do this and the Wilhelmstrasse (German Foreign Ministry, no) stop him when he found out about him or vice versa? Did Germany take this initiative and her allies forced her to back down? Mystery and mystery again, but clear evidence for us (the Romanian government, no) in Iași that the Central Powers did not have a well-defined decision regarding the attitude to be followed towards us.
I knew all these details more closely than anyone else because, in my capacity as supreme head of the service for prisoners and hostages, all the negotiations in Focşani, apart from those of a purely military nature, were done through me”.
All these questions were perfectly legitimate, but historians could not, until this moment, give a definite answer to them.