The capture of Magyaros-tető on 8 March 1917
The First World War is depicted in history books as one in which life was worth almost nothing, and military leaders of all ranks, regardless of which country's or coalition's army they were commanding, cared about nothing else but the goal to be achieved. Yet big victories did not materialize and not even the smaller ones were made use of. Rather the war was decided by economic factors, by the richness of available human and financial resources. Reality, however, is not this one-dimensional. Those commanders who felt responsibility for their soldiers did their best to spare their lives, especially as it became more and more difficult to replace them. This was all the more so in the armies of the Central Powers. They were the firsts to make attempts to develop such military solutions with which the goals (breaking through the enemy defense, eliminating it and capturing enemy positions) could be achieved with minimal losses. Yet, in the age of machine guns, precise and quick-firing artillery such efforts could rarely have been successful. The German army used the so called shock troops first in the Western Front. These smaller, well-equipped units were deployed unexpectedly, at selected locations and directions after short but sharp artillery preparation fire. If they managed to infiltrate enemy defense lines the attack continued in the traditional manner.
The 39th infantry division of the Hungarian army was still able to achieve a very spectacular and important success. At the end of 1916, the division was chasing the Romanian troops, which had infiltrated the country, through Csík county in the valley of the stream Úz and reached the Eastern borders of Hungary. As the Romanian army had already prepared and established positions during peacetime along the banks of the stream, the Hungarian division needed to halt there. In the middle of November, the Romanian forces were replaced by Russian troops in significantly superior numbers, and they almost immediately went on the attack along the entire line. As a result, in December they captured the peaks of Lápos, Magyaros and Söverjes, the possession of which could have meant great advantages for the entire front line. The German divisions refused to attempt to recapture the peaks, but the chosen troops of the 39th infantry division of the Hungarian army launched a surprise “shock attack” on 8 March 1917, and recaptured the peaks with only slight losses. The attack was led by major general József Breit, who later as a military historian wrote a book on the military history of Hungary. The paper describes the circumstances of this attack, and its thorough and careful preparation as well as the attack itself.
Operational-level breakthrough in the Italian front in October-November 1917
The military strategic assessments of some of the events of World War I, or the Great War contain such military experiences to this day, which are worth discussing from time to time.
The military operations that took place between 1914 and 1918 can be divided, according to their types, into two distinct periods. The first is the so called “mobile period”, when the parties wanted to achieve victory through attacks hoping to win the war by the time the leaves fall. But there were no quick victories. The second was the period of “trench warfare”, where the key to victory was breaking through the entrenched enemy lines. Breakthrough could be an initial success, building on which they hoped to win the war. Because of that, from 1915, all forces, means and methods were mobilized to achieve this goal. The chemical warfare agent (gas) released on 22 April 1915 at Ypres, the widespread use of tanks, the development of assault techniques, all served the purpose of breakthrough. All these naturally resulted in some successful attempts. The Gorlice-Tarnów Offensive or the breakthrough between Lutsk and Chernivtsi led by the Russian general Brusilov signaled that the parties had already found the methods and technical possibilities required for the successful execution of breakthroughs. Though, without shock troops, they could not expand their success, these examples were progressive developments in military strategy.
On 24 October 1917 at Caporetto, the Central Powers launched one of the best organized breakthroughs. They were aware of the organization, location and activity of the Italian forces, properly assessed the terrain and carefully planned the grouping of the troops. The direction of the central attack was well-chosen, while the well thought-out and quick decisions also caught the slowly reacting Italian command by surprise.
Opposing the traditional theory of mountain warfare,the attacking forces followed a new method. Instead of breaking through enemy defenses at the mountaintops and ridges, they advanced in the valleys. This impeded the free maneuvering of the defenders while facilitated the advancement of the attackers. The tactic required a great deal of artillery as well as well-orchestrated cooperation between the combat arms.
But because of the poor performance of vehicle-based logistics they could not build upon the success. The few trucks available could only transport the most indispensable materials to the field, which was not enough for maintaining the momentum of the attack. This operation was another proof that in a modern environment it was not possible to build operational logistics solely on horse-drawn baggage trains. In this respect, the Allies were far superior than the Central Powers.
The Caporetto breakthrough discussed in the paper may be the best example of the described endeavors. This operational-level breakthrough achieved by the Central Powers is taught in military academies in many countries even today. And with a good reason: we should see both its merits and mistakes to be able to learn the lessons from one of the most significant military operations of 1917.
Learning from military history or the experiences of the Hungarian Royal Army between 1939 and 1941
The following were key questions in the preparation, development and use of the Hungarian Royal Army. To what extent were Hungarian military theoreticians in the interwar period acquainted with ideas foreign thinkers had about the war of the future? How much did they adapt from these and how did they want to use the country's military forces in the circumstances given in Hungary? It was essential to harmonize the new battle strategies with the military potential and power of Hungary.
In the paper, the author describes the experiences the Hungarian Royal Army had between 1939 and 1941 and the possibilities for making use of these, with a focus on how Hungary got dragged into military participation in the war following a peaceful territory annexation. Were there any changes in our mobility and combat support, in the structural hierarchy of the body of corps and armies, in the system of leadership and control?
Today's scholars of this era or any interested persons obviously know how the theories of blitzkrieg or deep battle worked both in theory and in practice during a larger campaign. But we must not forget that these theories were constantly changing and got refined. A good commander always used the proven battle processes in such a way as to avoid predictability. We must not forget that the practical application of a battle process, its success or failure, depend on several factors none of which is to be found in textbooks or regulations. One of the most important factor here is the practical experience the commanding officer has.
In many cases, the author provides a detailed analysis and calls attention to such subtleties that usually escape the attention and the interest of scholars and readers as well. Yet these segments are the ones that make it possible for the system to operate effectively and enable the completion of tasks.
Another goal of the paper is to acquaint our posterity with the works of some unfairly forgotten Hungarian military thinkers. Partly for this reason, the author hopes that the paper will be though-provoking. He hopes to call attention to one of the deficiencies of Hungarian military historiography: the complex works of Hungarian military theoreticians in the interwar period has not been discussed and analyzed in such a way that it becomes possible to make realistic international comparisons and find their places in international military theory.
The author emphasizes the difference between the theoretical and practical preparedness of the staff of officers, in the advantage of the former. Unfortunately, there were many examples when a theoretically excellently prepared commanding officer performed a task in thoughtless way, without proper caution. Had the deficiencies become clear already during the preparation phase it would have been possible to correct the error. If they surfaced only during execution, the price was paid in lost lives...
Finally, the author dedicates the paper to the memory of those military thinkers in the Hungarian Royal Army who were trying to find solutions for the discussed problems.
“The one, who has time, has life.” The role of Colonel-General Ferenc Szombathelyi in the German occupation of Hungary and the formation of the Sztójay government
The guiding principle of the military policy represented by Colonel-General Ferenc Szombathelyi, who had led the General Staff of the Hungarian army since the autumn of 1941, was the preservation of the Hungarian forces in order to avoid the tragedy of 1918-1920. However, the German occupation of Hungary radically changed the circumstances.
Focusing on the situation of the Chief of Staff of the Hungarian army and the political leadership, the paper describes the antecedents of the occupation, the available information and the hypotheses that were formed on the basis of these. It concentrates on the following main questions: given the situation in the Eastern Front is the German military leadership really willing to carry on with the occupation of the country or does it just use the forces lining up near the Hungarian borders for political blackmail? Is the Hungarian army capable of successfully opposing the German forces?
Looking for the answers to the questions, it discusses the invitation to the Klessheim negotiations, the dilemma of accepting or refusing the invitation, and describes the views members of the Hungarian political and military leadership had on the issue. The paper delineates the reasons why the invitation was accepted, shows the arguments for it, and the important role the Chief of Staff played in the process. Then it gives a detailed analysis of the Klessheim negotiations, focusing on the trap, the obvious blackmail devised by Hitler on the one hand, and the possible Hungarian responses on the other. What possible consequences would have followed from refusing the occupation, or what possibilities for revival did follow or could have followed from accepting the compromise of the occupation? Even in the description and detailed analysis of the negotiations, the main focus remains on the situation, the role and the goals of the Chief of Staff. The consequences of a refusal would have ruined, at a stroke, all the results that Colonel-General Ferenc Szombathelyi had achieved as Chief of Staff. It was this conviction that influenced his decision during the negotiations and the events to come, and he decided to follow the policy of siding with the Germans in order to maintain the possibility of a future (even anti-German) revival.
Using Ferenc Szombathelyi's previously unexploited handwritten notes, we can draw a more precise and detailed picture of the negotiations about the creation of the new Hungarian government, the role the Chief of Staff played in this as well as the relationship of the governor and his Chief of Staff. The paper ends with Colonel-General Szombathelyi's analysis of the events, also on the basis of his diary notes. In these, the Chief of Staff explains why he played a major role in the creation of the Sztójay government during the Klessheim negotiations, that is, as a soldier why he got involved in politics. He writes with unvarnished sincerity about his impressions, especially the brutal, hostile and disappointing behavior of the Germans, and the consequences to be drawn from this, which will certainly influence public opinion in Hungary. He describes why it was necessary to accept the compromise of occupation, what he believes to be the remaining foundations for a future revival, and what military and political consequences might ensue. After a detailed analysis of armed opposition, he concludes that under the given circumstances it would have been completely insupportable and would have led to catastrophic consequences. Drawing up a balance of his thoughts, we can claim that Ferenc Szombathelyi, while bearing in mind the pressure to favor the German side, wanted to carry on with the military policy he had followed since 1914, and he was hoping for a future revival, but his chances for realizing this were lost when he was removed from office by the Germans.
The seizure of two Hungarian steamships during the Russo-Japanese War
Prior to World War I, the only military losses of the Hungarian navy were two steamers called Burma and Siam seized by the Japanese war prize court. The story of these two ships has never been discussed in Hungarian historiography yet.
The ships belonged to the Orient Hungarian Maritime Transport Company founded in 1893. The company was founded by local entrepreneurs in the town of Fiume, which had been the part of Hungary again since 1870. Both steamships were built for long-distance transport of goods, and were plying primarily to Far Eastern ports. The ships were part of the independent Hungarian merchant marine, which was independent of Austria, and operated in the free shipping market, that is, their owner, Orient focused on the most profitable cargoes, as opposed to booked shipments according to timetable. On the basis of a lease contract with the English Mann George Co. signed in London on 11 November 1904, the ships transported coal to the Russian side during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. Both ships picked up about 4000 tons of good-quality coal that could be used by ships as well in Cardiff. In the lease contract as well as in the bill of lading the destinations indicated for both ships were Hong Kong, Shanghai and Qingdao. Burma left the port of Cardiff on 19 November, and Siam followed on 23 November. After the several-week-long journey, both ships sailed into Hong Kong within a few days of each other, but abandoning their planned route they set off for Japan. The ships wanted to get to Vladivostok through the Tsugaru Strait between Honshu and Hokkaido, but a Japenese torpedo ship (No. 30) guarding the strait captured Burma, then a few days later an Asama class cruiser caught Siam as well. On 28 April 1905, the Supreme Prize Court in Yokosuka declared the two steamers war prizes.
A long legal dispute followed, but in the end Burma was put to use as Esan Maru while Siam as Erimo Maru in Japan. While the story was only briefly discussed in the Hungarian press at the time, the Japanese sources made it possible to precisely reconstruct the events.
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