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Nations at war
Niehorster, Leo W. G. The Royal Hungarian Army, 1920-1945. Bayside, NY: Axis Europa Books, 1998
Foreword; Hungarian Military Organizational Symbols; maps; charts; tables; diagrams; orders of battle; TOEs; Bibliography; Glossary; Index
Leo Niehorster's labor of love, said to be more than twenty years in the making, will find many admirers and rightly so. Much as Mark
Axworthy and his co-authors produced the definitive English-language work
on the armed forces of Rumania during World War II, so Dr. Niehorster has
created far and away the best reference for the Hungarian armed forces from
1920-1945. (Indeed, compared to Third Axis, Fourth Ally, the Hungarian volume has more and better maps, more OB and TOE material, far more unit histories, and so on, although less on hardware specifications and probably less text overall.) On just over three hundred 8.5" x 11" pages, the author presents a
review of Hungarian history, the story of military/political/economic
developments in Hungary between the wars, and the details of Hungarian
military participation in the seizure of the Carpatho-Ukraine in 1939, the
invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941, and the inferno of the Russian Front from
1941 through the end of the war. The text is well supported with enormous
amounts of order of battle and TOE material including charts, tables,
diagrams, and many pages of exactingly rendered organigrams. A third of the book is devoted to unit histories presented in tabular format.
Niehorster begins his book with a brief survey of the origins of Hungary
with the arrival in 896 A.D. of the seven Magyar tribes, skimming over the
important dates, events, and leaders through the end of World War I and the
"brutal" Treaty of Trianon which stripped away "65% of its population, 73%
of its raw materials, and 70% of its land" in 1920. This background,
particularly WWI and its immediate aftermath, provides important insights
into Hungary's position during World War II.
"Hungary between the Wars" explains how the nation, in an effort to regain
its lost territories, eventually aligned itself with the Axis and in so
doing was rewarded with parts of Czechoslovakia in 1938. The following
year, with the final dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, Hungarian troops
invaded the remainder of Czech Ruthenia (the Carpatho-Ukraine) and
subsequently seized territory across the Slovakian border at the cost of
over 200 casualties. In the early summer of 1940 when the army was mobilized
for an invasion of Rumania, Hungary stood poised to win its greatest
victory over its greatest rival. The greatest victory for Hungary came,
however, without bloodshed, when, in August 1940, with the Second Vienna
Award, Adolf Hitler presented his Hungarian allies with the bulk of
Transylvania. In November Budapest officially signed the Tripartite Pact.
With the stage thus set, Niehorster commences his intensive investigation
of the Hungarian armed forces. "Military Organization and the Armed Forces"
describes the original limitations of the Treaty of Trianon.
- the officer corps was numerically fixed at 1,750 men;
- the armaments industry was totally dismantled;
- stockpiling for and equipment of the army was exactly described;
- the maintenance of an air force was forbidden;
- the creation of a tank force was also strictly forbidden;
- the production of anti-tank guns, anti-aircraft guns, heavy artillery, etc. was not allowed;
- only the manufacture of light weapons such as pistols and rifles was allowed.
From that point, with only seven "mixed" brigades under arms, he traces the evolution of the resurgent Hungarian military
from 1920 onward, including precise OBs, the "Elot Plan" for expansion, a
meticulous map of Hungary's military districts, departments, and precincts,
the gradual acquisition of weapons and equipment, and the multi-tiered
scheme for mobilization. The "Armed Forces Act of 1938" is summarized in a
sidebar and the main narrative carries explanations of the "Levente"
pre-military youth organization, conscription, training systems, and reserves.
Diagrams include "Enlisted Men Career System" and "Officer Career and
Training System", each of which depicts the stages of training,
examinations, and qualifications for moving upward through the ranks. Other
sections cover military academies, the general staff corps, engineer staff
corps, the Honved Ministry (i.e., the Ministry of Defense), and logistics
The next chapter delves even more deeply into the ground forces, with
detailed information about the organization, equipment, and doctrine of the
border guards, mountain troops, cavalry, bicycle troops, mobile troops,
artillery, anti-aircraft troops, etc. Numerous charts and diagramsincluding more of the very nicely executed organigrams down to platoon
level using Hungarian military symbols and quantifying allotments of
machine guns, mortars, AT rifles, etcaccompany the text. Sidebars
explain the Hungarian system of military ranks and the administrative order
of battle of the entire Hungarian Army. Similar material is provided in two
subsequent chapters for the Hungarian air force and the Hungarian river
With "Part II" of The Royal Hungarian Army, Niehorster returns to
the end of 1940 and takes up Hungary's descent into war and
destruction. Three pages, with a complete order of battle and a crisp map,
describe Hungarian participation in the invasion of Yugoslavia in April
1941, costing almost 350 casualties but regaining yet more territory lost after WWI.
The heart of the book, as one might expect, encompasses Hungarian campaigning on the Russian Front. This amounts to seven chapters about the army and one each on the air force and river forces, all spread across more than a hundred pages. More maps, OBs, organigrams, sidebars, charts, and tables complement the text. In addition to the "regular" operationsranging from the Mobile Corps' participation in Barbarossa to the destruction of Hungarian Second Army on the flank of Stalingrad to the Soviet invasion of Hungary and the death throes of the nation and its armed forcesHungarian occupation forces and anti-partisan operations in the USSR are fully documented and accorded the usual accompaniment. In addition to OB material and dispositions along the front, statistics sometimes include strength returns and the density of heavy weapons per hundreds of meters of frontage. Of heavy weapons as well as personal firearms a constant shortage existed.
...In October 1942, twelve march battalions (about 12,000 men) were sent to the front [as reinforcements for Hungarian Second Army]. As there were not enough rifles, they were marched off mostly unarmed. (Officers were issued with pistols to ensure discipline.) General Jany decided to train these men behind the line. They were only just being sent forward to the lines to carry out relief when the Soviets broke through the Hungarian lines in January 1943, incidentally overwhelming these replacements along with the others.
German reports of masses of Hungarian troops fleeing to the rear without arms can in large part be attributed to these unfortunate troops arriving to relieve their comrades just at the moment that the Soviets were breaking through the Hungarian lines. That these unarmed and inexperienced troops were in panic cannot be doubted.
Following the account of action on the Russian Front, chapter 16 devotes eight pages to Hungarian troops and units of the Waffen SS.
The final portion of the book, "Part III", assembles on almost a hundred pages complete unit histories for every Hungarian army, corps, division, and brigade. These tables include unit lineage, names and dates for commanding officers, identification of component units with dates under command, attachments to higher headquarters by date, and other notes. This is a goldmine of information previously difficult or impossible to obtain, and many readers will find this information alone worth the price of the book.
Valuable though they are, however, the unit histories are just one element of a well-researched and well-constructed account of the Hungarian armed forces during the war. Much of this excellent book can serve as a model for other authors approaching similar subjects.
On the downside, the textwith an alarming frequency of typographical errors, misspellings, grammatical mistakes, dropped words, and questionable usagescries out for copy editing, proofreading, and spell-checking. The rather ingenuous tone also provides a somewhat unconvincing undercurrent to parts of the material. Some readers expecting a more visual approach might be disappointed to discover not a single photo in the entire book.
Fortunately, the wealth of military detail and broader historical context overcomes the occasionally irksome wordsmithing. Similarly, the painstakingly assembled information and hard data require no photographic documentation. This is not a picture book.
But it is a must-have for students of Axis armed forces, the Eastern Front, or order of battle and TOE material in general. Although it's still early in the year, The Royal Hungarian Army shows every indication of making a strong run at Top Ten honors for 1999.
Axis Europa's other publishing efforts have never been nearly as successful as this excellent volume, which is a vast leap forward in terms of content, length, layout, cartography, overall appearance, binding, and value. Congratulations to Tony Munoz, Leo Niehorster, and everyone else involved in bringing Axis Europa Books to a new level of professionalism and maturity.
(By the way, it should be emphasized that Niehorster covers neither hardware nor militaria in this book. Those desiring information about Hungarian tanks and planes and helmetsand perhaps those desiring photographsshould be heartened to read the last sentence of the author's Foreword: "A future volume will deal with the other aspects of the Royal Hungarian Army, including vehicles, aircraft, vessels, equipment, arms, and uniforms.")
Available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from Axis Europa.
Thanks to Axis Europa Books for providing this review copy.
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Reviewed 18 February 1999
Copyright © 1999 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone