The timetable for the KGB-backed operation to remove Romanian strongman Nicolae Ceaușescu from power and replace him with somebody more agreeable to the Kremlin, had endured considerable delays. By early in the morning of D+17, roughly eighteen hours after action had been scheduled to take place, the manufactured change of leadership was prepared to commence. Only by now, word had leaked out and the news was quickly making its way up to the highest levels of power in the Romanian government. The Securitate, Romania’s secret police and intelligence apparatus, received indications of a possible assassination attempt in the works. With the Securitate firmly under the control of Ceausescu loyalists, it was not long before action was taken. While agents fanned out across Bucharest and inevitably the rest of the country, the Romanian leader and his wife were evacuated from the capital city and taken to a secure location in Ploiesti, 56 kilometers north of Bucharest. As a direct result of the Securitate being lighting quick off the mark, no assassination attempt on Ceausescu occurred that morning.
The coup’s leaders, as well as their KGB handlers, were not to be deterred by this setback. The next phase of the plan moved forward. Romanian Army battalions commanded by officers loyal to the coup leadership stormed and seized eight key military installations across the country. Minutes later, heavily armed commando type soldiers attacked government buildings in Bucharest, including Securitate headquarters. These raids were largely unsuccessful, but they helped pave the way to an extended period of confusion and instability once evening fell.
Ceausescu spoke to the nation on national radio late in the morning. He explained the situation in succinct, basic terms: Foreign mercenaries and their domestic allies were attempting to seize power. His speech was only heard by a fraction of Romanians, owing to jamming and electronic warfare efforts taking place around the peripheries of Romania. When Ceausescu learns of this he decides to return to Bucharest to address the Romanian people on television. At the same time, he presses the party leadership into action. Factory workers and others loyal to his regime take to the streets as ‘spontaneous pro-government demonstrations’ break out in cities and towns.
The coup leaders, unnamed and unknown at this point, anticipated a move like this. They have their own agitators prepared to take to the streets as well. The stage is being set for street battles that could very well signal the opening stage of a revolution. By now Romanian Army regiments loyal to Ceausescu are also converging on Bucharest. With a limited number of army and air force units having already chosen sides, the remainder of Romania’s soldiers and officers opt to remain in their barracks and monitor events closely.
Ceausescu returned to the capital and is taken immediately to the Palace of Spring, his official residence. He remains there, protected by a thick cordon of Directorate for Security troops and heavy equipment. Through the afternoon, the Romanian leader and his inner-circle huddle as Bucharest simmers around them.
Author’s Note: Part III will go up tomorrow afternoon. Just getting settled into the summer writing shack after the weekend and it’s taking a bit longer than expected. What else is new? 😊 –Mike