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RUMANIA: Whatever is Rumanian

4 minute read

Ten years ago the distinguished members of a British Naval Mission to Rumania stopped on a desolate stretch of the Black Sea coast a few miles north of Constantsa. There lay small Lake Tashaul, nearly dry, with a narrow channel leading through sand dunes to the sea. There was no town near by; the country beyond the lake was devoted to sheep raising. This, said the British Admiral, was the place to build Rumania’s great Naval base, home of the dreamed-of Rumanian Black Sea Fleet. It was also a convenient spot for refueling, since it was close to Rumanian oil fields, if the British Navy ever needed it.

But the project lagged; King Carol loafed in exile with his girl friend Magda Lupescu; British suspicion of Russia, which perhaps prompted the thought of a Black Sea base in the first place, gave way to fear of a rearmed Germany; Balkan politics remained Balkan politics, and neither the base nor the Rumanian Navy amounted to much.

Last week two events dramatically demonstrated how greatly Axis pressure in the Balkans had changed, not only Rumania, but King Carol. Rumania celebrated her Navy Day, dedicated her Tashaul Base. On the destroyer Regina Maria the King warned a select audience of plans for carving rich Rumania: “The determination to defend our frontiers must exist in the soul of every Rumanian. . . . Whatever is Rumanian cannot be given away, whatever is Rumanian will be defended. . . . If anyone loves peace, he must realize that the frontiers as now marked out cannot be changed without the danger of a worldwide disaster. . . . My affection for our navy … I desire to emphasize this year by the entry of my beloved son into the ranks.”

Then King Carol moved to Tashaul to lay the cornerstone of its dike, while the Rumanian Navy proudly publicized figures on its growth: two more submarines to be launched in October; three more gunboats arriving that same month from Great Britain, as well as two new units from Italy, bringing the Rumanian Navy to four destroyers, nine gunboats, three submarines, a fine Danube River flotilla. Tashaul, to be completed by 1941, will be 30 times as big as Constantsa, Rumania’s biggest port, will be defended by heavy artillery purchased from Germany, will have both a naval and commercial port, will dock the largest ships.

What this meant was not that Rumanian efficiency had increased, but that Rumania was trying to check Nazi pressure, even though it had to be done with Italian boats and German guns. When, last March, Rumania signed a trade treaty with Germany, gave Germany extraterritorial rights in her ports, it looked as if the country had supinely surrendered. But operation of the treaty convinced observers that Rumania had promised to give away everything for the next 2,000 years, nothing for the next few months. Moreover, last week’s happenings in Rumania had warned Rumanians of steadily increasing Nazi pressure on her while the biggest Axis offensive was concentrated on Danzig (see p. 22). In seven days:

¶ A Rumanian soldier was shot, a sergeant bayoneted, a sanitary inspector kidnapped on the frontier of Hungary, which Germany considers her satellite. Hungarian story: that Rumanians were 300 yards inside Hungarian lines, were threatening to shoot. Rumanian story: that four Hungarians stopped the Rumanian patrol, opened a conversation, that when the patrol went on, six more Hungarians popped out of a cornfield, opened fire.

¶ In a Bulgarian hotel a Rumanian captain, carrying important diplomatic papers from Turkey (with whom Rumania has been negotiating a military alliance), shot himself after the papers disappeared.

¶ Fall maneuvers planned to last six weeks opened with almost 400,000 men mobilized, most of them on the flat Transylvanian plains awarded to Rumania from Hungary after the War, claimed by Hungary ever since.

To dramatize renewed national unity, the War Department published the names of deserters from the partial mobilization last spring. Penalized with loss of citizenship, possible confiscation of property, were 1,135 Hungarians, 653 Dobruja Bulgarians, 31 Ukrainians, only 28 Rumanians. How long Rumanian nationalism would last, how much Rumania’s British guarantee would mean in the face of the German-Russian non-aggression pact, were open questions. Rumania had a bigger Navy, a naval base, a higher national morale to face a riskier world.

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