|A thousand years of the Hungarian art of war|
On May 11, 1779, the Colonel Commandant of the Pulaski Legion, Michael de Kovats, a former Hungarian army officer fell on a battlefield while fighting for American independence. Two hundred and fifty years later, in commemoration of his services and supreme sacrifice, our generation unveiled his statue at The Citadel in Charleston.
I was happy to be the principal speaker on this occasion and to be able to pay tribute not only to the memory of Colonel Kovats, but also to other hundreds and hundreds of less well known Hungarians who fought for the greatest ideals of mankind.
I learned about Hungary and the Hungarians through my readings of their military history. A study of a nation's art of war, paradoxically, may be the best instrument to promote international understanding and peace. If we know the dreams and hopes of other nations, the causes of wars and their goals, we can understand better their way of thinking, the influence of past experiences on their view of life, and their national character. Knowing the qualities of nations enables us to make an educated guess as to how they will act in future crises.
While the Western World often regarded Hungary as an exotic, small country in East-Central Europe, the Hungarians proudly professed to be full-fledged members of Western civilisation and culture. Neither the Mongols, nor the Ottoman Turks could convince the Hungarians to turn against the Western World.
It was not an accident, or a coincidence of circumstances that the Hungarian immigrants fought in the American Revolutionary War for independence and freedom, many of them becoming the heroes of the United States, as well as of Hungary. It was not an accident that the Hungarian immigrants volunteered and valiantly fought in proportionally great numbers in the American Civil War in the Union army but not in the Confederate army. They knew from their own history and experiences, from their memories of the Rakoczi
rebellion and of the 1848 revolution, that freedom was worthfighting for anywhere in the world.
During World War II, when Stalin impatiently urged President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill to establish a second front in Europe, I hoped that the Western Allies would invade the Balkans, then attack through Hungary and Poland the rear of the German eastern front. Convinced that history is the best adviser, I was sure that although the Hungarians fought bitterly against the Soviet armies, they would not deny their past, traditions and national character: if the troops of the Western Allies would reach Hungary, the Hungarians would not fight against us. Instead, they would turn against the nazi war-machine, they would award their loyalty to us and would fight on our side, as faithful comrades-in-arms for the liberation of their fatherland. Regretfully the Allied decision launching the invasion in Normandy deprived Hungary of its willingness to fight for her own freedom.
The above examples and the 1956 Hungarian revolution and fight for freedom prove that the present values of the Hungarians continue to follow the trend of their long history and valiant tradition.
This study, besides offering interesting and useful lessons of the Hungarian art of war for the professional soldier, also provides an opportunity for the general public to understand better the mentality and spirit of our fellow American and Canadian citizens of Hungarian ethnic origin. They as well as the Hungarian people are our natural allies, our comrades-in-arms, who always considered, as we did, the greatest gift of life to be freedom, worth living and fighting for.
Mark Wayne Clark
General, USA, Ret.
Charleston, June 30, 1981
It is a pleasure for me to express my thanks to those persons whose help and co-operation made the publication of this study possible, within a relatively very short period of time.
First among these people, I should thank Nicholas Korponay, Director of the Rakoczi Foundation, former comrade-in arms and dear friend. The publication of a short history of the Hungarian art of war was his idea, and throughout the research and writing of the manuscript he was ready to help, removing material and financial problems which could have delayed the completion of this work.
My special thanks are addressed to Dr. Paul Lietz, Professor Emeritus, Loyola University of Chicago, dear friend who read the manuscript and gave valuable advice to improve its quality, maintain its scholarly standard, yet write it in such a way that non-military readers would be able to enjoy it.
Professor J. G. Szemler helped me to make this study organised and concise. His remarks undoubtedly aided in improving the narration.
Mr. Louis Szathmary kindly allowed me to use his archives and his collection of old, out-of-print sources of great importance in the writing of new interpretations.
Mrs. Debbie Walsh, Reference Librarian at Rosary College, provided precious aid in locating and obtaining source material written in Hungarian and German and not easily traceable in the United States.
Sister Benvenuta Bras did an excellent job of copyediting the manuscript and making the style enjoyable for the average reader. Mrs. Judy Davies sacrificed her free time in order to type and retype the manuscript until it reached its present form. The plans are the work of Miss Joanne Girardi. My sincere thanks to all of them.
It is not necessary, perhaps, to mention (since everyone who does research and writes knows the importance of his spouse's attitude) that without my wife Edith's patience and continuous moral
support, my job would have been much, much more difficult. I hope she will continue to award me with her support and patience in the future as well.
Even in a short study there exists the possibility of error, and this book undoubtedly is not free from shortcomings. Should the reader find such faults, I am the only one who should be blamed for them.
Military history is an organic part of the general history of every nation, as well as of the whole of mankind. Political, social, economic, and cultural developments are always affected by existing army systems, strategic principles and wars. The evolution of strategy, tactics, and army organisation is influenced conversely by political, social and other conditions. Recognising these inseparable relationships, modern historians have begun to re-examine their nations' military past. The publication of books on military history has greatly increased, especially in the last two decades. In this growing military history there is, unfortunately, no study describing and analysing the Hungarian art of war in its entirety. Even the Hungarian military historians have up to now failed to produce an extensive reference work and have restricted their field of interest to certain limited topics.
The lack of a Hungarian military reference work does not signify neglect. The many wars in the history of Hungary, especially the Second World War, destroyed a great number of primary sources. The majority of the old sources still available are not written solely in Hungarian, but require knowledge of Latin, German, French, occasionally Italian, and Russian or other Slavic languages. Thus, a historian who would like to study the Hungarian art of war must be well acquainted not only with the general and military history of Hungary, but also with various foreign languages. Only the teamwork of several specialists could produce a book to satisfy modern requirements.
Our study is not intended to be such a reference work. Our goal is to enlighten English-speaking readers, among whom may be a second or a third generation of ethnic Hungarians. Because of limited space, this work analyses only certain events and developments arbitrarily selected by the author to illustrate different aspects of the Hungarian art of war.
During their high school and college studies all of our readers heard and learned about the "second barbarian invasions" (as the textbooks incorrectly define the Avar, Magyar and Norman
migrations). Thus our first chapter will bring back memories and correct some misconceptions.
After the tragedy at Augsburg in 955 the Magyar tribes discontinued their raids, turned to peaceful occupations, accepted Christianity and devoted their time and energy to transforming their political, economic and social system to a Western European style feudal kingdom. The transformation was not easy: they had to forge ahead toward their goal and absorb, synthesise and assimilate all that Europe and Byzantium had produced since the fall of the Roman Empire. For this they paid dearly in civil wars, while fighting for independence against expansionist attempts by the German empire and invasions of Cuman armies from the East. At the same time Hungary was hit hard by the Mongolian invasion.
The devastating Mongolian invasion affected Hungary in two ways. First, Hungary, now too westernised, too civilised, could not again be absorbed by the East. Second: the Mongolian destruction wiped out all the forces which previously had opposed or hindered modernisation of the country. Thus Hungary, united for the reconstruction of life in Western style, began to grow and during the Anjou (Angevin) dynasty, in a personal union with the Bohemian and Polish kingdoms, became the strongest power of East Central Europe.
In the last decades of the fourteenth century and the first half of the fifteenth century, a new danger emerged for Hungary. The Ottoman empire, now in control of parts of the Balkans, might lay siege to the Hungarian frontiers. Hungary recognised the threat and got involved in Balkan politics to such a degree that Hungarian armies fought important battles against the Turks on the Balkan. This policy of preventive war was pursued by Hunyadi whose role is evaluated in the third chapter of our study.
Preoccupation with the Turkish problem did not prevent Hungary from remaining an active member of Western civilization. King Mathias while promoting the achievements of the late renaissance period of the fifteenth century to extraordinary heights, also continued to modernize the Hungarian army and warfare. His contributions are discussed in the fourth chapter.
The sixteenth century seemed to repeat for Hungary the sad developments preceding and during the time of the Mongolian invasion in 1241. This time Hungary was not so lucky. The Turkish forces, defeating the Hungarian army in the battle of Mohacs in 1526, occupied the country. The defeat did not end Hungarian resistance. The frontier guards of royal Hungary continued to fight "little wars" against the Turks. The princes of Transylvania, while recognizing Turkish overlordship, sought opportunities to unite
Hungary under one leader. We are omitting this period in order to hold our study to its projected length. Instead, we pay tribute in our fifth chapter to Count Zrinyi, less known to our readers, but a shining star in the story of the Hungarian military achievements in the early seventeenth century.
In the last years of the seventeenth century, the Habsburg armies liberated Hungary from Turkish occupation and attempted to establish Habsburg absolutism in the country. Resistance to this attempt triggered the rebellion and freedom fight led by Prince Rakoczi, described in our sixth chapter. Rakoczi's name is well known to historians of East Central Europe. Our chapter will introduce him to others.
Habsburg absolutism prevailed after the defeat of the Rakoczi rebellion. Hungary had to pay heavy taxes and provide manpower for the imperial army. Many Hungarians rose to high ranks in the imperial army during the enlightened reign of Empress Maria Theresa. We pay tribute in our study to Count Andreas Hadik, who as an imperial general, with a typical Hungarian hussar raid forced the period's most famous general, Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, to abandon his campaign in 1757 (if only temporarily) against the French forces.
The seventh chapter surveys the 1848-1849 Hungarian revolution and freedom fight. This topic, which could well be analyzed in detail, tempts the Hungarian author to discuss in depth the campaigns, the many important and glorious battles. Yet, a full discussion might lose readers who are not particularly curious about military history. Therefore, we describe only the most important aspects of the freedom fight.
Entering the 20th century the Hungarian art of war could not and did not produce extraordinary deeds. Under the Habsburg high command, Hungarian generals, although their troops excelled in courage and military virtues, could not lead great, decisive battles. Yet the art of war cannot be restricted to the activity of generals. Therefore our study pays tribute to the unknown Hungarian soldiers who, often under Austrian command, exceeded expectations in World War I.
The communist regime in Hungary after World War I created the impression (supported by political propaganda and new communist historical interpretations) that the Hungarian army collapsed and lost its patriotic spirit, and that only pro-communist workers defended Hungary from the invading Czech, Romanian, and Serbian forces. While not denying the role of the worker regiments in this short war, our study corrects the record and proves that the soldiers of the Hungarian Red Army were
motivated by patriotism and not by the desire to defend the communist regime.
We illustrated the role of Hungarian soldiers and generals in foreign armies in Chapter IX, but the few examples we discuss serve only as a short introduction to the topic.
Chapters XII-XV dealing with the Second World War treat political aspects of Hungary's involvement more perhaps than military events. Our aim here is to correct prevalent misconceptions of the role of Hungarian armies in World War II. The book market is flooded with diaries and reminiscences of former Allied and Axis generals, who have often misunderstood the reasons for the sometimes "courageous," sometimes "cowardly" performance of the Hungarian troops. Without the intention of excusing the erroneous political and military leaders, we want here to set the record straight and pay due respect to the Hungarian soldiers.
To avoid the traps of subjectivity and nationalistic bias, we offer examples of the Hungarian art of war at extraordinary heights or depths. An effort has been made to establish connections between the non-military (political, social, economic, cultural, technological, philosophical, religious) and military factors (organization, training, armament, strategy, tactics, generalship) employed by Hungarians and foe alike. Using a pragmatic approach, we here pay due respect to those who have earned it and pass judgement on those who - willingly or unwillingly - erred and sometimes caused national catastrophes.
The title of our book ". . . art of war" was preferred by the author to the modern expression: military science. The conduct of war, although modern armies use computers, atom-powered submarines, sophisticated military instruments, etc., is still not a cold objective science. It is an art, indeed, since the human being, who operates the weapons is still the most important factor. The generals' and soldiers' fight, their determination, mutual trust and confidence, excellent training and expertise, healthy instinct and intuition, comradeship and discipline, imaginative reaction to unexpected developments, and ability to improvise, still decide the outcome of skirmishes, combats, battles, and finally victory or defeat. The selection of the right men at the right time for the right assignment is like the creation of a masterpiece of art. No computer can create as well as an artist or a general can. This study will therefore consistently use the expression: art of war.
One more point should not be forgotten. History is not a rigid, dead science. With the discovery of new evidence and documents, it is a very much alive and a constantly changing discipline. Old
facts are sometimes reinterpreted or rejected outright. New interpretations are suggested. Topics like the origin of the Magyars, the role of Hungary in the Carpathian Basin, the Austrian-Hungarian struggles, the degree of freedom of national minority groups, etc., are today hotly debated by the new generation of historians. We may occasionally contradict the work of other historians. This does not mean that those historians are wrong and that this author is right, but, rather, that different writers interpret the same events differently. The great variety of interpretations simply testifies to the intellectual richness of historians.
Lively academic discussions lead historians to a better understanding of our past. Surveying different interpretations of an event, listing all the studies published (in footnotes and in bibliographies) are academic exercises which are exciting for a professional historian to read, but are utterly boring and discouraging for the general reader. Therefore, instead of discussing what other authors write about our topics, we simply survey the events, describe how they happen, why they happen and what consequences they produce.
It is the sincere hope of this author that the present study will favorably introduce the story of the Hungarian art of war to general readers and will awaken their interest. At the same time may it inspire members of the younger generation of historians to devote time, talent and energy to the study of Hungarian military history. Historians of other nations might then enrich their knowledge with lessons learned from a thousand years of the Hungarian art of war.
|A thousand years of the Hungarian art of war|