Hungarian Axis Forces in WWII

The story of Hungary in WWII as an Axis partner, like all stories, has its roots in the History preceding it. Hungary found itself demoralized and destroyed after the 1918 break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire with the end of WWI. Following the break-up, Hungary fell into a state of chaos, being led by a number of ineffectual Governments until a Communist named Bela Kun proclaimed the Soviet Hungarian Republic. The period following this takeover was known in Hungary as the “Red Terror”. In 1919, Vice-Admiral Miklos Horthy, the last Commander-in-Chief of the Austro-Hungarian Navy, raised an army which overthrew the Communist Republic.

Italy as an Axis Nation in WWII

In 1920 Hungary signed the Treaty of Trianon, and in the process, lost a good deal of its territory to the Nations around it. This Treaty, although giving Hungary independence, also gave a good deal of territory to neighboring Romania, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. This treaty also mandated things like the size of the standing army; 35,000 officers and men divided into 7 mixed brigades*, headquarter troops and a Danube Naval Flotilla.Under the provisions of this Treaty, tanks, artillery and an air force were also prohibited.

In attempts to regain stability in the years preceding WWII, Hungary,under the leadership of Horthy, strived to find alliances that would benefit their attempt at regaining lost territory. After searching in vain to England and France, in 1927 Hungary signed another treaty, this time with its former enemy from WWI,Italy. This opened the door even more for Hungarian support of the Axis cause.

In the 1930’s Hungarian Prime Minister Gyula Gombos pulled Hungary even more towards the Axis camp by signing a trade agreement with Germany. As a result of this agreement, in time, Hungary found itself in better economic and political footing. As Hungary began to re-establish itself politically and economically, it also began to thrive socially, and a seemingly open-minded Horty was not oppressive of emerging left or right-wing groups. In this air of acceptance, many groups began to form that were sympathetic to or emulated the German National Socialists.

From 1938 to 1941, Hungary began to regain its lost territory, either through political means or through limited military actions. In 1938 Hungary regained areas previously incorporated into the region of Slovakia.In 1939, an 8th mixed brigade was formed, and then all mixed brigades were expanded to corps. Another corp was then added, a Mobile Corps, as well as a new air force. In March of 1939 the 8th Corps and the Mobile Corps occupied Czechoslovakian Ruthenia. Also in 1939, Hungary joined the Anti-Comintern Pact along with Germany,Italy and Japan. When Germany invaded Poland in September of 1939, Hungary declared itself neutral, although it had been mobilizing its forces since 1938.

In 1940, Romania was forced by Germany to give back Northern Transylvania. At this time, a 9th Corp was formed that now bordered on the Romanian frontier in the Carpathian Mountains region.

The Nine Corps areas of Hungary each raised three Dandar or Light Divisions, each with one front-line infantry regiment and one reserve infantry regiment, each of three battalions; a two battalion artillery regiment of 24 guns; a cavalry troop, anti-aircraft company, and a signals company. The Corps themselves also had one motorized infantry battalion, often mounted on bikes, as well as anti-aircraft, engineer and signals battalions. As well as these units, Hungary also fielded Mountain and Border Guard brigades, labor battalions, so-called “Life Guard”,Crown Guard, and Parliament Guard units. Hungary was at the time in theory,if not in practice, considered to be a Monarchy with the associated Royal functions and positions; this is why the Hungarian units usually had “Royal”in their titles.

Also in 1940, Hungary created 3 Army Commands that would then control the various Corp formations located throughout the Nation. At the time of the creation of the new Army Commands, the Hungarian Army consisted of the following units:

1st ArmyKolozsvar
2nd ArmyBudapest
3rd ArmyPecs
I.Army CorpsBudapest
II.Army CorpsSzekesfehervar
III.Army CorpsSzombathely
IV.Army CorpsPecs
V.Army CorpsSzeged
VI.Army CorpsDebrecen
VII.Army CorpsMiskolc
VIII.Army CorpsKassa
IX.Army CorpsKolozsvar
Mobile CorpsBudapest

Finally, in 1941, German and Italy attempted to bring Hungary into a Military alliance. To do this, they offered Hungary the return of more territory that had been taken in the 1920 Treaty of Trianon. In April of 1941, Germany entered into Hungarian territory to prepare for the invasion of Yugoslavia.In so doing, they requested the aid of Hungary, who then mobilized the Hungarian 3rd Army. For the invasion of Yugoslavia, Hungary fielded the following units into the disputed territories that Yugoslavia controlled:

3rd Hungarian Army
I.Army Corps
1st Infantry Brigade
13th Infantry Brigade
15th Infantry Brigade
IV.Army Corps
2nd Infantry Brigade
10th Infantry Brigade
12th Infantry Brigade
V.Army Corps
14th Infantry Brigade
19th Infantry Brigade
2nd Cavalry Brigade
Rapid Corps
1st Cavalry Brigade
1st Motorized Brigade
2nd Motorized Brigade

On June 27th, 1941, after Germany had invaded the Soviet Union, Hungary formally declared war against the Soviet Union and became a full Axis partner to German and Italy. The pattern for this declaration had been set many years before, and the final impetus for the move is said to have come when the Hungarian city of Kassa was bombed, supposedly by Russian aircraft. According to Andris Kursietis, debate regarding this event is still occurring, and blame can not be placed firmly on any one source, although some have placed the blame on Germany in a scheme to draw Hungary into the war. Whoever is to blame, the end result was a far-reaching one, as it pulled Hungary firmly into the Axis forces.

* According to Andris Kursietis, an acknowledged authority on the Hungarian armed forces, the term “mixed brigade” was a misnomer. It was in fact,a cover name for an army corps. Each of the 7 so-called mixed brigades was actually corp with the units making up their parts actually being brigades waiting to be formed. It was through this process that Hungary had prepared itself for mobilization in time of need, against the grain of the imposed Allied restrictions of the Treaty of Trianon.

** So far, the removal of Hungarian territory and the experiences of the “Red Terror” in 1918 had provided the impetus for Hungary to move towards the Axis camp during the years preceding WWII. With the Alliance with Italy in 1927 and later economic concessions towards Germany, Hungary became a very real potential member of the Axis forces.