|A thousand years of the Hungarian art of war|
HUNGARIAN SOLDIERS -- GERMAN STRATEGY
REBIRTH OF THE HONVEDSEG
The communist government was established in Hungary on March 23, 1919. After hardly more than four months, it lost the support of the Hungarian people. The patriotic soldiers of the Red Army also withdrew their loyalty from Bela Kun's regime. By the end of July, the communist government had escaped to Austria; the Workers' Council of Budapest elected a new government at its July 31, 1919 meeting, under the leadership of Gyula Peidl. He, as well as the members of his government, belonged to the Social Democratic Party and were stamped by the communists as "right wing" socialists./1/ To please the population and enlist mass support, Peidl's government annulled the most hated regulations of the proletarian dictatorship./2/ Political prisoners were released, revolutionary tribunals dismissed, the Red Guard dissolved. The former police organizations were entrusted with the maintenance of law and order. Confiscated properties were given back to their rightful owners. The Romanian troops occupied Budapest on August 3. An Interallied Military Mission with British, French, American and Italian members arrived in the capital on August 5. The next day, a few anti-communist soldiers, under the leadership of Istvan Friedrich, invaded the council of ministers and dismissed the social-democratic government, recognizing Joseph of Habsburg as Regent of Hungary.
Anti-communist forces were organizing also in other parts of the country. By April of 1919, Count Julius Karolyi/3/ attempted to reach Arad and from there Szeged, where the French commanders promised him support for the formation of an anti-communist government. However, because of the interference of Romanian occupational troops, Karo1yi arrived at Szeged only in June. There he found, instead of support, opposition on the part of the French representatives. By July 12, Karolyi gave in to the French demands to form a coalition government with the participation of all
political parties. He resigned, surrendering his authority to a new government led by Dezso Abraham-Pattantyus. Thus, when Istvan Friedrich formed his government at Budapest on August 6, he created a second government for Hungary. After long negotiations, on August l9 the Abraham-Pattantyus government resigned. Thus Hungary appeared to be unified again.
It was unity only on paper. Besides the political interest groups within Hungary, political forces outside the country were at work to prevent its consolidation. Britain and France were competing to secure their share of political influence for the future. Czech and Romanian, as well as Serbian armies tried to estab1ish their firm control over occupied territories and thus confront the upcoming peace negotiations with a fait accompli. The Hungarian government, unified or not, had no control over military forces. Not that there were no military forces at all. On the contrary; there were only too many, but not under the control of the Friedrich government. There were the remnants of the Red Army, which withdrew to Pannonia and established its headquarters at Siofok, on the shores of Lake Balaton. Colonel Antal Lehar commanded in western Hungary an anti-communist army no stronger than a division./4/ Officers and soldiers of the dissolved K.u.K. Army, of the Honvedseg, as well as of the disbanded Red Army, assembled at Szeged and were organized by Captain Julius Gombos into officerbattalions./5/ Former K.u.K. Admiral Nicholas Horthy was appointed on June 6th by the Karolyi government at Szeged as Minister of War. On July 12th, the Abraham government recognized him as Commander in Chief of the National Army./6/ He moved swiftly and decisively to unite the three separate groups of anti-communist officers and soldiers and organize them into an effective military force.
On November l6th, the new National Army marched into Budapest. After long negotiations, a new coalition government was formed under the premiership of Karoly Huszar. It was recognized by the Al1ied missions and prepared for parliamentary elections. The elections, held on January 25-26, 1920, produced victory for the Smallholder's Party and for the Christian National Union Party. Both parties were made up of a cross section of society;/7/ thus the parties did not represent the interest of any particular social class. On the basis of these elections, Hungary now had a responsible government, and the victorious Allied Powers began peace negotiations with Hungary. The negotiations were one-sided. Without any political bias, the terms must be technically called "dictates." Hungary had no choice but to accept them. On June 4, 1920, the Treaty of Trianon was signed./8/
The Treaty of Trianon, besides dismembering Hungary's territory. depriving her of forests, raw material resources and the bulk of her industry, detaching large numbers of her population and attaching them to the other successor states,/9/ also limited the quality and quantity of the Hungarian armed forces. The purpose of these limitations was to prevent Hungary from trying to pursue the revision of the peace dictate with the use of arms.
The size of the army was limited to 35,000 professional volunteers./10/ The infantry was to be a pre-world war type, without heavy equipment such as machine guns, grenade throwers, mortars or cannons. The arti1lery's heaviest pieces were 105 howitzers, with 10.5 cm. caliber and 70 light and medium mortars. The organization of tank, airforce, and antiaircraft units was forbidden. To police the international traffic on the Danube River, a flotilla was organized, but restricted to a maximum of eight patrol boats and two heavy motorboats. The customs officer corps (Vamorseg) numbering 7,000, was strictly separated from the armed forces. Its duty was to control traffic across the frontiers and preferably also prevent smuggling. The treaty emphasized that the primary duty of the army was the maintenance of internal order. Only in case of an open military invasion could the Hungarian army react, even in such case only defensive1y. To paralyze the army completely, the general staff, as an institution, was dissolved, the organization of strategic military units forbidden, organization and training of reserves was not permitted, and mobilization plans could not be drawn up.
Since these military limitations were imposed upon Hungary, as "part of the general disarmament program" of Europe, the observation of disarmament rules was supervised by an A1lied military commission.
The general disarmament negotiations lasted for a decade and ended in a complete fiasco. In 1930, the Czechoslovak army numbered 111,539 men./11/ The Romanian army organized 4 army corps (32 divisions) and 3 independent divisions./12/ Yugoslavia commanded 22 divisions and 2 mountain brigades./13/ Each of Hungary's neighbors was superior to it numerically, as well as in the quality and quantity of heavy equipment and air force. Besides their individual military superiority, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia signed mutual assistance treaties,/14/ thus creating an iron ring around disarmed, defenseless Hungary.
The Trianon Treaty deprived Hungary of needed war materials, resources and industrial complexes which could supply her army with modern weapons and equipment. The army's arsenals were
l l 9
filled only with weapons left over from the war.
Under such conditions, the duty to provide adequate defenses for the country seemed to be an impossible task. The leaders of the army were confronted with several crucial problems; the most important among them concerned the officer corps. Professional officers of the former K.u.K. Army (sometimes speaking on1y a broken Hungarian) and of the Honvedseg, many officers of the Red Army and a great number of reserve officers sought employment in the new1y-organized National Army, named after its glorious predecessor, Honvedseg.
The great number of officers and the small number of rank and file naturally afforded no opportunity for the majority of younger officers to serve as commanders. They were organized into officer detachments from the beginning of the national army at Szeged./15/ After the collapse of the communist regime, these officer detachments began a witch hunt against communist col1aborators. By their arbitrary terrorist actions, they alienated not only the relatives of their victims, who were often innocent, but also the majority of the officers./16/ No wonder the detachments were dissolved before the peace treaty mandate.
Too many officers were still aspiring to the 1,750 positions permitted by the peace treaty./17/ The supreme commanding positions were entrusted to the higher-ranking officers of the former K.u.K. Army, most of whom were of Austrian-German nationality. The middle positions were awarded by and large to the proteges of the first group, while the lower positions were filled with ranking officers of the old Honvedseg and with graduates of the Ludovika. Thus, it was impossible to create an officer corps with a unified spirit./18/ Under such conditions professional achievements of the new Honvedseg were remarkable. Ludovika and the National War College (the latter established as a covert operation in 1923 under the Name "No. l0 Course for the Study of Regulations" (Szabalyzatismerteto Tanfolyam)/19/ graduated officers well trained for the future. If not military skills, a nationalist spirit was furthered by the military "real schools' for boys between the ages of ten and eighteen.
The Hungarian Army, no matter how hard the military leadership tried to develop it into an effective combat force, remained inferior to its neighbors. The most dangerous enemy was considered to be Czechoslovakia, because of the nearness of the Czech frontiers to the Hungarian capital and to the regions of heavy industry, of which some (Gyor) were located practically on the border. Hungarian grand strategy expected that the army would impede a possible invasion. The duty of securing the
intervention of the Great Powers was assigned to the political leadership for the purpose of stopping the invasion before the Hungarian army would collapse under the onslaught of superior forces./20/ Undoubtedly, the success of Hungarian foreign policy, as well as military actions, depended on the good will of the Great Powers, two of them being sympathetic to the Little Entente and only Italy supporting Hungary. Still, Hungarian foreign policy continued to demand the revision of the Trianon Treaty; but naturally, only by peaceful means.
Looking for outside support, Hungary unavoidably drifted toward Germany after 1934. A rapprochement with Germany began with the Prime Ministership of Gyula Gombos,/21/ who in 1933 secured from Hitler far-reaching economic help for Hungary./22/ In 1934 Gombos began to pursue a new foreign policy, seeking support in Nazi Germany for Hungarian revisionism against Czechoslovakia, but relying on Italian support against Romania and Yugoslavia./23/ In 1938, alarmed by the growing influence of Hitler's diplomacy in Europe, Hungarian foreign policy sought an understanding with the Little Entente states to secure their consent to Hungarian renounciation of the Trianon Treaty's military clauses and to gain the right to reorganization and rearmament of her army. The consent was received in the Bled Agreement on August 22, 1938./24/ It actually contained two separate agreements: the first was a nonaggression pact between Hungary and the Little Entente States; the second recognized Hungary's right to rearm.
This agreement displeased Hitler. The Hungarian officer corps, expecting war material from Germany for rearmament, was alarmed and began to pressure the government to pursue a more cooperative policy toward Germany. Being friendly or not to Hitler actually did not matter. The German Army, in the midst of rearmament, was not willing and able to export war material to Hungary. Hitler's success at Munich and during the liquidation of Czechoslovakia was based not on German military might, but on the one-sided appeasement policy of Britain and France.
The First Vienna Award realized a small part of the Hungarian revisionist demands./25/ At the same time it demonstrated the well known axiom that without the support of strong military forces, a country's diplomacy is ineffective. "Czechoslovakia occupied with other negotiations and aware of the military weakness of Hungary, tried to postpone the opening of the talks ..."./26/
The Award was the result of a resolution made by Hitler and Mussolini. It divided the badly informed Hungarian public opinion into two camps: those who, believing that Hitler supported the
Hungarian claims against Czechoslovakia, demanded closing ranks with Nazi Germany; those who, believing that Mussolini provided better assistance, advocated a more restrained German po1icy. Admiral Horthy and his foreign minister, Kalman Kanya, knew the truth: Hitler was opposed to the Hungarian claims and opposed to Hungarian acquisition of Ruthenia, thereby restoring a common Polish-Hungarian frontier. Yet, direct communications with Poland were a prerequisite for a re1ative1y independent Hungarian foreign policy. Therefore, Horthy decided to use the Hungarian Army to occupy Ruthenia.
After the Bled Agreement and the increase of the army budget, the Hungarian military leadership planned to augment the size of the army to twentyfive light infantry divisions (with two regiments each), one cavalry division, two tank divisions, two mountain brigades, one flotilla brigade and two air force brigades. However, the full strength of these forces was projected only for 1943./27/ When the decision to occupy Ruthenia was made, the available military forces comprised one infantry regiment, two cavalry regiments, three independent battalions on bicycle, one motorized battalion, two border guard battalions, one artillery division, two armored train units, and one regiment of fighter planes./28/ The total forces numbered not more than two World War II divisions./29/ Furthermore, the rank and file were filled with recruits (70-80 per cent) who had hardly finished their basic training. The weather did not help either. In mid-March of 1939, there were snowstorms in the Carpathians. The troops had no mountain training and little special winter clothing and equipment. Only morale was high!
On the Czechoslovak side, conditions were even worse. Czechoslovakia was tranformed to a federation of three autonomous states: Bohemia, Slovakia and Ruthenia. However, the Slovak independent movement under the leadership of Joseph Tiso did not accept this solution. On March 13, declaring Slovakia an independent, sovereign state, Tiso placed himself and the new Slovak state under Hitler's protection. Thus, Czech resistance in Ruthenia became impossible. Even law and order broke down when Ukrainian extreme nationalists staged terroristic attacks against the Czech Army, as well as against the pro-Slovak or pro-Hungarian population. Thus the advancing Hungarian troops did not have to count on a well-organized and centralized resistance. The Hungarian Army already had the advantage of the Vienna Award, which made it possible for the Hungarians to take possession, without bloodshed, of territories where he Czechs built their permanent fortifications against Hungary.
The campaign of the small Hungarian Army for the reoccupation of the whole of Ruthenia began on March 14, 1939, after several days of local raids staged by the Czech and Ukrainian nationalist units. After the first couple of days of fighting, Czech resistance collapsed and the Hungarian troops reached the ridge of the Carpathians on March 18th./30/
Although the campaign was successful, it proved that the Hungarian Army had yet a long way to go to overcome the handicaps caused by the Trianon Treaty. On the other hand, it also proved that the military morale and nationalist spirit were high, not only among the troops but in the population at large. Thus an additional impetus was given to those who wanted to build a strong national army.
Before Hungary got involved in the Second World War, the army had one more chance to prove its combat readiness when the Second Vienna Decision returned large portions of Transylvania to Hungary. Of course, because of the political agreement there was no fighting, yet the move into Transylvania gave the high command an opportunity to practice in a realistic way how to solve the problems of large troop movements and logistics.
In the spring of 1941, Hungary participated with a so-called Gyorshadtest (mechanized army corps) in the German-Yugoslavian War. The military aspects of this campaign were insignificant compared to the political consequences: although the suicide of Count Pal Teleki, Prime Minister of Hungary, signaled to the Western Powers that Hungary had taken part unwi1lingly in the invasion of Yugoslavia, Western statesmen interpreted Hungary's involvement differently. According to their interpretations, Hungary renounced her traditional policy to seek revision of the Trianon Treaty only by peaceful means. Instead, she sided with Nazi imperialism. Thus, as a suspected enemy of the West,/31/ she had breached the Friendship Treaty signed with Yugoslavia only the preceding year. Churchill's conclusions on receiving word of Teleki's suicide were uncompromising: Teleki's suicide "clears his name before history. It could not stop the march of the German armies, nor the consequences."/32/
The employment of Hungarian military forces after 1938 caused more trouble than benefit. The three mobilizations of the army interrupted economic development and industrial production, and delayed deliveries by the war industry./33/ The German war industry postponed the delivery of ordered armament and war material until they could replace the material losses the German Army had suffered in the Balkan campaign. The Italian war industry was still producing only for its own army, to eliminate the
shortages created by the Ethiopian campaign./34/ Thus the Hungarian Army remained unarmed and underequipped, even in 1941, to participate in a more serious conflict. Mobilization hindered military training and crippled premilitary training.
The admission of reserve officers to the professional officer corps/35/ weakened morale and discipline because many of these activated reserve officers joined the army only for better pay and job security. At the same time, some of them brought into a formerly apolitical officer corps diverse political views. Gaps in the ranks of the lower officers, sometimes triggered heated political arguments (naturally always hidden from the eyes and ears of superiors), destroyed unity and divided the younger officers into pro-Nazi and anti-Nazi camps./36/ The army also had to deal with problems created by outdated or newly-introduced laws. The two most damaging laws were those which regulated the selection and promotion of reserve officers, promotion of sergeants to officer ranks, and the codicil to the Military Service Law of 1939.
The prerequisites for entering the reserve officer corps were: a high school diploma and the successful completion of a four to six-month-long reserve officer course. The reserve officer candidates, who wore a special insignia on their sleeves paszomany), were targets of envy by the rank and file, and of jealousy on the part of the sergeants. This system secured (on paper) a great number of reserve officers for the army, but their training was too short to provide them with the necessary knowledge. In practice, they were inferior even to professional sergeants. At the same time the system openly recognized class distinctions and created class antagonism within the army.
The situation of professional sergeants was even worse: trained to fulfill the duties of lower-rank officers in case of need, the sergeants had the skill to become officers. Yet, even if they studied in their spare time and obtained a high school diploma, they could not enter the officer corps. Instead, they were transferred to civil servant status and worked as clerks. Thus, the troops lost the most talented, educated and ambitious sergeants.
The codicil to the Military Service Law of 1939 was the military version of the anti-Jewish laws passed under the aegis of Minister-President Bela Imredy in the early days of January, 1939. If officers had one parent who followed the Jewish faith/37/ and the parents had married after August 1, 1919 (even if they had married according to Christian rites), they were forced into retirement or placed on an "out of service" status. Jews who served in the rank and file were made to serve in separate formations (worker battalions).
With the above laws, the weak Hungarian Army was weakened even further. There were shortages in the officer corps (also in the General Staff). the esprit de corps declined, and the average standards and requirements for officers were lowered. These conditions, in light of the lack of modernization and armament, justified the frustrated and bitter exclamation from General Ferenc Szombathelyi: "But, we do not really have an army. To start a war with such a badly equipped, armed and trained army would be a crime"./38/
|A thousand years of the Hungarian art of war|