by: Andras [ ]
The history of WWII- and especially the history of the Hungarian involvement- has not been treated well during the communist times. The regime actively suppressed any effort to research the period, and this made the work of historians today even more difficult since valuable sources of information have been lost: veterans and key decision makers have passed away, documents disappeared, and physical objects destroyed. (Perhaps it is somewhat ironic that the only surviving pieces of WWII Hungarian armor -apart from a single Nimrod AAA vehicle- are in the Kubinka Tank Museum). This situation changed in the ‘90s when such research suddenly was not frowned upon, but the process was long, and only in recent years were we able to get properly researched information. The author himself acknowledges this in this foreword, when he talks about his budding interest in the history of Hungarian forces in WWII, and the lack of available sources.
This book fills in -an admittedly very small- gap in the English language literature of the Axis Powers: the history of Hungarian armored troops. (The only similar book I know of is “Magyar Steel”.) This is a part of the “Photo Sniper” series of books. It can be viewed as the second half of a book published in two parts, as the author wrote the previous book for this series titled “Hungarian Armored Forces”. That book provided more of an overview of the foundation and organization of the armored forces in Hungary, and also provided a valuable historical perspective of the situation the country was in.
This book deals more with the operational level, focusing on the individual units’, commanders’, and soldiers’ actions, and provides a historical description of the movement and engagements of the armored troops. It does provide a brief introduction to the situation at large in Central Europe, but it is not by means enough; the reader should probably refer to other books on the history of the region if he or she is interested in the geopolitics of Hungary. The book, as I said, focuses on the rearmament process, on the production of armored vehicles, on the use of captured vehicles, training, basic unit histories, and the activities of the Hungarian armored forces during the Second World War. It focuses first on the local actions of the armored forces around Hungary against its neighbours, and then moves on to the ill-fated venture into the Soviet Union as part of the invading Axis forces. The author successfully introduces the personal element in the description of unit movements by including certain individuals, their actions and their eventual fates.
The ten chapters detail the history of the Royal Armored Forces from the late ‘30s to the very end of WWII. (Interestingly there is no table of contents provided, so quickly finding parts of interests is somewhat difficult.) The first few chapters detail the small scale clashes around Hungary, mainly between Czechoslovakian forces and Hungarian ones before, during and after the adjustment of borders following the first Vienna Award; but most of the book is dedicated to the invasion of the Soviet Union. It touches on the different vehicles the Army used from domestically produced tanks, tankettes, to German vehicles (even the odd Panther and Tiger), and captured tanks and armored trains.
The finishing remarks sum up the conception, the aims, achievements and failures, and the fate of the armored forces, and their members before, during and after the war. It details the reasons for the losses and failures (basically: the armored forces were not designed to fight the Soviet Army; it was designed to counter the neighbouring countries’ forces), and quickly lays out what happened after the communist takeover. This section could be a bit longer, since it contains information on the post-war history of a few Hungarian tankers. (Not happy ones, unfortunately.)
The translation is sometimes a bit clunky, and there are a few errors here and there - and I am writing this being fully aware of the irony of this sentence from someone whose English is far from perfect. (Everyone’s a critic nowadays.) The description of troop movements can be quite dry at places, but there are lots of maps provided to help with the text. A picture is worth a thousand words- and this saying is even truer in case of maps; it makes understanding what was going on much easier.
There is a good bibliography provided with all the reference material used - most of it is in Hungarian. This is perhaps the greatest value of the book: it provides a relatively short synthesis in English of a large, largely inaccessible material. (Unless someone wishes to start to learn Hungarian to do the research on their own…) The book managed to compress an enormous amount of research and a huge number of photos into 132 pages; a pretty impressive achievement.
As mentioned the book is filled to the brim with interesting photos. These are great references for model builders, but be warned: some of them are quite graphic. War is hell, and happy tankers posing besides their vehicles with actresses on their arm will not convey this message as well as the photos of dead crew within their knocked out armored cars -or soldiers posing next to a knocked out tank with the dead driver still hanging from the front (I really want to know what the reason was for posing for a photo like this…). I’m still conflicted about the inclusion of these photos but they definitely have their place. There are color photos (probably colorized) as well, organizational charts of different unites, and great color plates of individual vehicles used by the Hungarian forces (Tiger I included); all in all a treasure trove for model builders, and come quite handy since Hungarian armor is being covered in more than one scale lately.
Together with first part this provides a good overall history for the Hungarian armored forces before and during the war.