|A thousand years of the Hungarian art of war|
OPERATIONS OF THE SECOND ARMY, 1942-1943
Hitler, in April, issued his directives for the Summer of 1942,/1/ but he did not inform the Hungarian military leadership about his plans. Against the protest of the Hungarian general staff, he reserved the right to subordinate the Hungarian 2nd army to one of his army group commanders and to use the Hungarian army units as he saw fit.
The army,/2/assembled in Hungary under the command of Colonel-General Gusztav Jany, was comprised of three army corps (with three light divisions each), one armored division, and a mixed airforce regiment. The tanks, armament and equipment for the mechanized forces were provided by the Germans upon payment of eight million pengo./3/ The infantry still was not equipped with modern weapons. A light division had 92 machine guns, 265 light machine guns, 410 submachine guns, 36 grenade throwers, 40 howitzers, 38 heavy antitank rifles, 46 antitank cannons, 32 field cannons, and 6 antiaircraft cannons./4/ These numbers suggest formidable firepower. However, compared with the firepower of a Soviet division, a Hungarian light division was indeed in an inferior position, partially because of smaller numbers, partially because of outdated weapons./5/ The army did not have heavy howitzers or assault guns; machine pistols were given only to platoon commanders; antitank rifles and cannons were ineffective against the heavy Russian T-34 tanks. Rifles with optical sights were not even introduced. Keitel promised to replace the outdated armament, but in most cases his promise never materialized. When kept, it created a new problem: the rank and file were unable to use the new weapons effectively.
In conclusion we may say that although the Hungarian general staff stripped the remaining forces of almost all of their armament and equipment, the 2nd army still could not be considered a match against the Soviet armies.
The effective force of the 2nd army numbered 200,000. Combat value and morale were low because of a regulation which seemed right from a sociopolitical point of view but was hardly beneficial from a mi1itary one. In order to equal1y divide the sacrifices of mobilization among the various counties of the country, the Hungarian High Command assembled the army by removing battalions from each standing division. Thus, officers and soldiers, unacquainted with each other, met for the first time at the rear of the front line. It took a long time to forge these strangers into effective combat units. Furthermore, neither the officer corps nor the rank and file received satisfactory answers to their basic doubts: "If we want to defend Hungary, why must we do so thousands of miles away from the national frontiers?"
Today critics of Hungarian political and military leadership accuse Horthy and the general staff of sacrificing the 2nd army in order to save the rest of the Hungarian armed forces. They should have known, the critics argue, that Hitler would lose the war and thus the sacrifice would be in vain./6/ This criticism fails to consider the possible consequences of refusing Hitler's demands. Hungary was unquestionably unable to oppose German demands with military force. Therefore, the only alternative would have been to capitulate to Germany after a few days or weeks of fighting within Hungary. In that case, Hungary would certainly have been punished for "treason," ultimately suffering the same fate as Czechoslovakia and Poland.
The communist interpretation led to strong condemnation of the ruling classes. These authors maintain that the capitalist-imperia1ist-nazi leaders offered "Hungary's services to Hitler, were 'anxious' to participate in the war against communism, and disregarded the real interests of Hungary."/7/ Attempting to prove their point with quotations out of context. taken from memoirs and documents, they omitted one undeniable fact, i.e., that Hitler demanded participation of the entire Hungarian Army./8/
The officers and soldiers viewed their assignments in the 2nd army as a job; one they had to do, and had to do well within the limits of common sense, because they were soldiers.
The troops were sent to the Ukraine by train, directed and supervised by the German authorities. The army was to arrive at the front between April 11 and July 27 in three consecutive echelons. But Hitler designated July 15 for the summer offensive. He intended to deploy the Hungarian 2nd army within the Eastern Army Group.
The Eastern Army Group was assigned to push the Soviet forces back across the Don River. Then digging in with part of his forces,
send the rest off to the Southern Army Group to enforce its attack sagainst the Crimea and then Stalingrad. Meanwhile, the Northern Army Group was to attack northeast and, after bypassing Leningrad, create a united front with the army of Finland. Only the first echelon of the Hungarian troops, the command of the 2nd army, and the 3rd army corps arrived in time for the beginning of these operations.
The exhausted troops,/9/ which attacked the well-fortified Russian positions broke through at the price of losing fifty percent of the personnel of, the 9th light division./10/ Still, the army corps reached the Don River on July 9, cooperating with the 3rd German army corps.
The troops of the second and third echelons of the 2nd arrny arrived at the Don River without enemy interference after a march of nearly 1,300 miles./11/
Now the Hungarian Army was assigned to defend a 120-130 miles stretch of the Don's banks, so that one battalion had to guard over two miles of front line from attack. With the exception of the mechanized division, every unit was on the front 1ine. To create reserves, to concentrate forces on important points, or to eliminate the bitterly-defended Russian bridgeheads on the Western banks of the Don River were impossible tasks.
To talk about the art of war, therefore, does not apply in this case. Hitler's egotistical orders prescribing (sometimes in detail) the assignment of divisions deprived not only the Hungarians but also the German high commanders of the opportunity to make strategic decisions. Such decisions might well have enabled their troops to emerge victorious. The German High Command demanded a flexible "offensive" defense of the front line. These small offensive tactical undertakings simply exhausted the troops even more and created more loss of human life. Then the Russian winter, with its 20-30 degrees below zero temperatures and deep snow, incarcerated the unprepared troops in their small, unheated bunkers./12/ (Winter clothing was not even manufactured in 1942, and warm underwear did not reach the troops before Christmas.)
To the good fortune of the 2nd army, the center of battle was now in Stalingrad where the city turned into a meatgrinder for the attacking Germans./13/ Meanwhile, in the interior of Russia the troops fortunate enough to have escaped the German pincers in previous years were reorganized, retrained and re-quipped with the help of the Lend-Lease Act. The Russians had already, during the battle of Stalingrad, reinforced their troops along the Don, especially in the two major bridgeheads within the Hungarian 2nd
army zone. On January 12, 1943 the Soviet Army launched its massive attack across the Don against the Hungarian Army.
The Soviet High Command assembled four armies and two independent army corps to break through and encircle the 2nd Hungarian and 8th Italian armies. (Plan 10) The numerical superiority of the Soviet forces can be better appreciated if we remember that a Soviet division had three regiments and the Hungarian light divisions only two. Such organizational differences strengthened the Soviet forces more effectively than mere numbers suggest. The Soviet army was numerically superior in ammunition, artillerys and tanks, and had nearly inexhaustible reserves as well. The Hungarian army had not been resupplied since the losses incurred during the summer campaign of 1942. Ammunition was in such short supply that the artillery was restricted to four grenades per cannon daily.
All of the weapons and arms of the Soviet soldiers had been designed with the Russian winter in mind, whereas the German, Hungarian and Italian-made machine guns, rifles and tanks froze in the 30-below-zero temperatures. The Soviet Army was well fed (canned food made in Chicago was in their haversacks) and clad in fur hats and gloves. Winter clothing for the soldiers of the Hungarian 2nd army was not issued until just before the Soviet attack, and only one warm but inadequate meal a day was allotted.
Under these conditions the 2nd army had to prepare to repel the coming attack. That the Soviet armies were preparing an attack was common knowledge, as even at Christmas their reconnaissance activities had been stepped up and more and more soldiers and tanks could be observed in the bridgehead at Uryv.
Regrettably, the chief of staff of the 2nd army, preferring information received from the Germans to reports from his own troops, expected only local Soviet attacks: "My impression is that we can take care of these attacks ourselves."/14/ As events proved, his impressions were false. General Jany, on the other hand, believed that an attack by superior Soviet forces was imminent. He urged (with little success) the German Army Group to place stronger reserve forces at his disposal./15/ Jany's judgment was correct and logical because the only railroad line which could supply a massive westward attack by Soviet forces ran through the center of the Hungarian 2nd army./16/
The soldiers of the 2nd army, suffering from cold and hunger, impatiently awaited replacements. They did not wait in vain: in the second week of January the first companies, inexperienced and unarmed, arrived./17/ Even Mars, the mythological Roman god of
war, seemingly turned against the Hungarian army: the Soviet mass attack began while the unarmed men were still on the front line. The fact that relatively little panic occurred proved the combat value of the Hungarian troops.
The high commanders viewed their troops but were powerless. Their units were so extended as to put every man on the front 1ine. Without reserves they could not reinforce their troops. Near collapse under the pounding of Soviet artillery, the Hungarians were pushed back by the mass attacks of Soviet infantry and tanks. Even the commander of the army was frustrated: Hitler reserved the right to employ the army reserve - an entire German mechanized corps. Instead of ordering this corps to launch a counterattack, he ordered the front line troops to defend the perimeters "to the last man."/18/
Sometimes losing 70-80 per cent of their effective force, the units of the Hungarian 2nd army manifested a splendid sense of duty, courage and heroism by beginning to withdraw from the Don banks only when the Soviet troops outflanked them, often encircling them to a depth of 50-60 miles./19/ Supply troops in unprotected areas panicked at the sight of Soviet ski troops and tanks, and this panic among the unprepared and unarmed supply troops provided a good excuse for Hitler and the German High Command to find a scapegoat (in the 2nd Hungarian army) for their own misjudgment and lack of courage./20/
The army suffered terrible losses in the great battle of the Don from January l2-30, l943 - a period of two and one-half weeks: 35,000 dead, 35,000 wounded, and 26,000 prisoners of war; a total of 100,000 men./21/ According to the latest historical research, these figures were even higher than the army had estimated (on the basis of insufficient data): the new numbers indicate 100,000 dead (including the loss of worker battalions), and 60,000 prisoners annihilated in a period of less than three weeks./22/ Only 40,000 returned home after the Germans saw no further use for the badly beaten, demoralized army. No nation lost as much blood during World War II in such a short period of time.
The material losses were no less heavy: about 5,000 dead horses, all the heavy weapons of the infantry, the bulk of the artil1ery pieces, heavy engineering equipment, the majority of tanks and trucks, and an enormous amount of food, as we11 as uniforms, boots, ammunition, exp1osives and other materials stored in depots. All of this was abandoned on the snow-covered fields of Russia.
Hitler relieved General Jany of his duties as commander of the army on January 22 and subordinated the army directly to the commander of the Army Group Mitte - Colonel-General
Maximilan Weichs. Gusztav Jany, convinced that his troops had fought valiantly, was shocked to learn that he and his army were being blamed for the catastrophic defeat./23/ But instead of rebuffing the unjustified German accusations, he turned against his own soldiers in his General Order of January 24th: "The 2nd Hungarian army lost its honor . . . the allied German army and the fatherland despise us "/24/
Horthy, however, with Chief of Staff Szombathelyi (convinced that the army had fulfilled its duty), expressed his conviction to the German ambassador that the German High Command should publicly recognize the 2nd army's heroism./25/ Hitler was unwilling to make even this small concession as it would have absolved his convenient scapegoat, thus he denied the 2nd army the slightest positive recognition /26/
No wonder that from then on the Hungarian government tried even more assiduously to disengage Hungary from Germany. The remnants of the 2nd army returned home on May 24, 1943. The new German demands to send Hungarian troops to the Soviet front, and the later demand that the Hungarians take part in the occupation of the Ba1kans, were quietly sabotaged then rejected outright. The Supreme Hungarian Defense Counci1 decided at its meeting of September 19, 1943, to seek contact with the Al1ied Powers to negotiate the terms of a separate peace./27/ The sacrifices of the 2nd army thus prompted a political decision with the intent to save Hungary from the consequences of her participation in the war a1ready lost.
|A thousand years of the Hungarian art of war|