The Hungarian Second Army (Második Magyar Hadsereg) was one of three field armies (hadsereg) raised by the Kingdom of Hungary (Magyar Királyság) which saw action during World War II. All three armies were formed on March 1, 1940. The Second Army was the best-equipped Hungarian formation at the beginning of the war, but was virtually eliminated as an effective fighting unit by overwhelming Soviet force during the Battle of Stalingrad, suffering 84% casualties. Towards the end of the war, a reformed Second Army fought more successfully at the Battle of Debrecen, but, during the ensuing Siege of Budapest, it was destroyed completely and absorbed into the Hungarian Third Army.
The Hungarian Second Army had four commanders from March 1, 1940, to November 13, 1944:
- Lieutenant General Gusztáv Vitéz Jány (vitéz Jány Gusztáv) - from March 1, 1940, to August 5, 1943 (awarded the German Knight's Cross on March 31, 1943)
- Lieutenant General Géza Lakatos (Lakatos Géza) - from August 5, 1943, to April 1, 1944 (awarded the German Knight's Cross on May 24, 1944)
- Lieutenant General Lajos Veress von Dálnoki (Dálnoki Veres Lajos) - from April 1, 1944, to October 16, 1944
- Lieutenant General Jenő Major - from October 16, 1944, to November 13, 1944
The Kingdom of Hungary was a reluctant member of the Axis at the beginning of the European conflict. Hungary's head of state was Regent Admiral Miklós Horthy and the government was led by Prime Minister Pál Teleki. On April 3, 1941, Teleki committed suicide when it became clear that Hungary was to take part in the invasion of Yugoslavia, its erstwhile ally.
The comparatively small Hungarian Army had a peacetime strength of only 80,000 men. Militarily, the nation was divided into seven corps commands. Each army corps consisted of three infantry divisions, each of which comprised three infantry regiments and an artillery regiment. Each corps also included two cavalry brigades, two motorized infantry brigades, an anti-aircraft battery, a signals company, and a cavalry reconnaissance troop. On March 11, 1940, the Hungarian Army was expanded to three field armies, each with three corps. All three of these field armies were to see action against the Red Army before the end of the war. Hungary did not immediately participate in Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Adolf Hitler did not directly ask for, nor necessarily want, Hungarian assistance at that time. Most of the Hungarian forces, including the three field armies, were initially relegated to duties within the newly enlarged Hungarian state. Hungary regained substantial portions of its territories that had been ceded following the loss of World War I and the resultant Treaty of Trianon. At the end of June, 1941, Germany summoned Hungary to join in the attack on the Soviet Union. Hungary continued to resist joining in the war. The matter was settled on June 26, 1941, when the Soviet air force bombed Košice (Kassa) . The Kingdom of Hungary declared war on the Soviet Union the next day, June 27, 1941. At first, only Hungary's "Karpat Group" with its integral "Rapid Corps" (Gyorshadtest) was sent to the Eastern Front, in support of the German 17th Army. Towards the end of 1941, only the exhausted and battle weary "Rapid Corps" was left. But, before Horthy would gain Hitler's consent to withdraw the "Rapid Corps," he had to agree to deploy an even larger Hungarian force.
By April 11, 1942, the 209,000-man-strong Second Army joined the German Army Group South in southern Russia. In June, 1942, the Second Army became part of Army Group B in Operation Blue (or "Case Blue," Fall Blau).
In June and July 1942, prior to the Battle of Stalingrad, the Hungarian Second Army was involved in the Battle of Voronezh as part of Army Group B. Fighting in and around the city of Voronezh on the Don River, the Hungarian troops supported the German 4th Panzer Army against the defending Soviet Voronezh Front. Though technically an Axis success, this pyrrhic victory fatally delayed the arrival of the 4th Panzer Army in the Caucasus.
The Don River, Operation Saturn, and disaster
The Hungarian Second Army is probably the best known Hungarian wartime army because of the part it played in the Battle of Stalingrad. Before being sent to Russia, the rank-and-file of the Second Army had received but eight weeks of training. The only tactical experience for many of these soldiers were the maneuvers held just prior to the departure for the front. This lack of preparation badly affected the soldiers' morale.
In 1942, the Hungarian Second Army was given the task of protecting the 8th Italian Army's northern flank between Novaya Pokrovka on the Don River and Rossosh. This allowed the German Sixth Army to continue to attack Soviet General Vasily Chuikov's 62nd Army defending Stalingrad. The Hungarian Second Army, as almost all of the armies protecting the flanks of the Sixth Army, was annihilated when the Soviets launched Operation Uranus, Operation Saturn, and Operation Little Saturn. As part of these operations, two Soviet pincers drove through the Romanian Third Army to the north of Stalingrad and the Romanian Fourth Army to the south, cutting off the Sixth Army.
On December 12, 1942, as a counter move, the Germans launched Operation Winter Storm to relieve their Sixth Army by attacking through the pincers of the Soviet armies participating in Operation Uranus. The Soviets counter-attacked on December 16, 1942, and launched Operation Little Saturn, penetrating between the Italian Eighth Army and the Hungarian Second Army near the junction held by the Italian Alpini and threatening the flank of German forces attempting to relieve the Sixth Army by cutting the would-be relievers off at the Donets river. With heavy losses the Soviets conquered some areas west of the Don river, but were temporarily stopped and delayed in their advance.
But on January 13, 1943, Russian forces, overwhelming in numbers and equipment, began the Voronezh-Kharkov Strategic Offensive Operation with the Bryansk, Voronezh, and Southwestern Fronts simultaneously. The Soviet Red Army was totally successful this time: during this offensive the Russians rapidly destroyed the Hungarian Second Army near Svoboda on the Don River. An attack on the German Second Army further north threatened to bring about an encirclement of that army as well, though it managed to withdraw and was forced to retreat. By February 5, 1943, troops of the Russian Voronezh Front were approaching Kharkov.
During its twelve months of activity on the Russian front, the Second Hungarian Army's losses were enormous. Of an initial force of about 200,000 Hungarian soldiers and 50,000 Jewish forced-laborers, about 100,000 were dead, 35,000 wounded, and 60,000 taken prisoners of war. Only about 40,000 men returned to Hungary, scapegoated by Hitler for the catastrophic Axis defeat. "No nation lost as much blood during World War II in such a short period of time."
The Hungarian Second Army, as most other Axis armies in the Army Group B, ceased to represent a meaningful fighting force. The German Sixth Army, encircled in Stalingrad, surrendered on February 2, 1943. The remnants of the Hungarian Second Army returned to Hungary on May 24, 1943.
Most of the field divisions sent to the Eastern Front as part of the Second Army in 1942 were light field divisions (Hungarian infantry divisions typically were composed of three infantry regiments; "light" divisions typically had but two regiments).
In addition to the three infantry corps, the Hungarian Second Army included the First Armored Field Division. Most of the armor in this division was included in the 30th Tank Regiment. At the time of the Siege of Stalingrad, the primary battle tank in this unit was the Czechoslovakian Panzer 38(t). These were augmented by Hungarian Toldi tanks for scouting duties, Hungarian Nimrod armoured self-propelled anti-aircraft guns, and Hungarian Csaba armored cars. The tank regiment also had about ten German Panzer IV/F2 tanks and a few German Panzer III tanks in its heavy tank battalion. Unfortunately there were far too few of these better German tanks to make much difference.
Attached to Armeegruppe Fretter-Pico
Hungary becomes a battlefield
On March 19, 1944, Hungarian Regent Admiral Miklós Horthy surrounded himself with anti-fascists. Relations between Hungary and Germany became more and more difficult. Horthy met Hitler on April 16 and 17 at German headquarters, where he told Hitler, "We Hungarians have already lost one hundred thousand men in this bloody war, counting dead, wounded and missing. Those we have left have but few arms with which to fight. We cannot help you one bit more. We are through. We are doing our best to stave off the Bolshevik menace and we won't be able to spare a single man for the Balkans." The German dictator arranged to keep Horthy busy by conducting negotiations while Hungary was quietly and efficiently overrun by German ground forces in a quick and bloodless invasion, Operation Margarethe.
Soon all of Hungary was to become a battlefield. By mid-August 1944, German Colonel-General (Generaloberst) Johannes Friessner's Army Group South was on the brink of collapse. To the north, the Soviet's Operation Bagration was completing the destruction of the Axis Army Group Centre. To the south, Germany's former ally, Romania, declared war on Germany on August 25, 1944, as a result of the Yassi-Kishinev strategic offensive (August 20–29, 1944). On the eve of the Soviet East Carpathian strategic offensive (September 8–28, 1944), as Soviet forces crossed the Hungarian border, Bulgaria, too, declared war on Germany. The subsequent Budapest strategic offensive (October 29, 1944 - February 13, 1945) attack by the Ukrainian Second and Third Fronts far into Hungary destroyed any semblance of an organised German defensive line. By this time, Fyodor Tolbukhin's Ukrainian Third Front, aided by the Ukrainian Second Front under Marshal of the Soviet Union Rodion Malinovsky, had annihilated thirteen Axis divisions, capturing over 100,000 men.
On August 30, 1944, Hungary mobilized a reformed Hungarian Second Army and the Hungarian Third Army. Both armies were primarily composed of weak, undermanned, and underequipped reserve divisions.
General of Artillery Maximilian Fretter-Pico's recently reformed German Sixth Army represented the nucleus of what remained of Friessner's force. By October, 1944, seeing that his Hungarian allies were suffering from low morale, Friessner attached the recently reformed Hungarian Second Army under the command of Lieutenant-General Lajos Veress von Dalnoki to Fretter-Pico's army. The combination of German and Hungarian armies was designated Army Group Fretter-Pico (Armeegruppe Fretter-Pico).
The desertions of Bulgaria and Romania had opened a 650-kilometer gap in Friessner's Army Group South. As Friessner desperately struggled to reform a defensive line, news filtered through to Berlin that the Hungarian leader, Admiral Miklós Horthy was preparing to sign a separate peace with the Soviet Union. If this happened, the entire front of Army Group South Ukraine would collapse.
In August, Horthy replaced Prime Minister Döme Sztójay with the anti-Fascist General Géza Lakatos. Under Lakatos's regime, acting Interior Minister Béla Horváth ordered Hungarian gendarmes to protect any Hungarian citizen from being deported.
On October 15, 1944, Horthy announced that Hungary had signed an armistice with the Soviet Union. But most Hungarian army units ignored Horthy's orders, and the Germans reacted swiftly with Operation Panzerfaust. Commando leader Otto Skorzeny was sent to Hungary and, in another of his daring "snatch" operations, kidnapped Horthy's son, Miklós Horthy, Jr.. The Germans insisted that Horthy abrogate the armistice, depose Lakatos's government, and name the leader of the Arrow Cross Party, Ferenc Szálasi, as Prime Minister. Instead, Horthy agreed to abdicate. Szálasi was able take power in Hungary with Germany's backing.
Success at the Battle of Debrecen and the end
Late in 1944, a reformed Hungarian Second Army enjoyed a modest level of combat success as an integral part of German General Maximilian Fretter-Pico's Army Group Fretter-Pico. From September 16 to October 24, 1944, during the Battle of Debrecen, Army Group Fretter-Pico achieved a major success against the Debrecen Offensive Operation. While avoiding encirclement, Army Group Fretter-Pico managed to encircle and destroy three Soviet tank corps of Mobile Group Pliyev under the command of Issa Pliyev. The defeat of the Soviet mobile group by the combined German and Hungarian forces contrasted with Pliyev's earlier, easy victory over the untested Hungarian Third Army. The victory ultimately proved too costly to the Hungarians. Unable to replace equipment and personnel lost in the Battle of Debrecen, the Hungarian Second Army was disbanded on December 1, 1944. Surviving units of the Second Army were transferred to the Third Army.
In 1944, the main battle tank of the Second Armored Field Division was the Hungarian Turan medium tank, a limited improvement over the Czech Panzer 38(t) and the Hungarian Toldi tanks used by the First Armored Field Division in 1942. However, the Turan I tank (with a 40 mm gun) and the Turan II tank (with a short 75 mm gun) were still no match for a standard Soviet T-34 tank, and, compared to the T-34/76, the Soviets had many much-improved T-34/85 tanks by 1944. Manufacture of the potentially more effective Turan III tank (with a long 75 mm gun) never developed beyond prototypes. Doubly unfortunate for the Hungarians, the few better German Panzer IV tanks, Panzer III tanks, and Sturmgeschütz III assault guns were never made available to them in numbers that would have made a difference.
- History of Hungary
- Hungary during the Second World War
- Military of Hungary - 1940/45
- Battle of Voronezh - 1942
- Battle of Stalingrad - 1942/43
- Battle of Debrecen - 1944
- Eastern Front (World War II)
- Hungarian First Army
- Hungarian Third Army
- Szent László Infantry Division
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- Mollo, Andrew (19818). The Armed Forces of World War II: Uniforms, Insignia, and Organization. New York: Crown Publishers. pp. 312. ISBN 0-517-54478-4.
- Thomas, Dr. Nigel, and, Szabo, Laszlo Pal (2008). The Royal Hungarian Army in World war II. New York: Osprey Publishing. pp. 48. ISBN 978-1-84603-324-7.
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