“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 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 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 reenlarged 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.
Of the 3 Hungarian field armies, high command decided to send the 2nd Army. (The 1st one was considered to be the “best” and the 3rd Army was still being organized). However the Armed Forces in general were so poorly equipped that practically all “modern” equipment (which was still dated by contemporary standards) was provided to the 2nd Army. Even after these desperate measures the 2nd Army still lacked adequate motorized transport and especially anti-armor weapons. Germany has promised to provide the necessary equipment, but failed to deliver any meaningful quantities. Practically all the armoured units Hungary had were re-organized into the 1st Hungarian Armored Division and attached to the 2nd Army. Similarly, almost all combat-worthy aircraft and supporting units were organized into the 1st Flight Group, also attached to the 2nd Army. For both the armored and air units, shortages in supplies and equipment lead to significant delays and they were shipped to Russia significantly later than infantry units.
By April 11, 1942, the 209,000-man-strong Second Army was assigned to 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). Transportation of the army to the frontline began on 17 April 1942, and the last units arrived by 27 June. During the transport, 19 of the total 822 railway trains suffered attack by Soviet guerilla units, causing casualties (27 combat deaths and 83 wounded).
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. During these operations, the Hungarian Second Army had suffered severe casualties in manpower as without adequate air and armor support all assaults were carried out by infantry units only, against the skillful and determined defense conducted by the Soviet troops. Lack of transportation was so severe that there were examples of divisions marching over 1,000 km on foot from their disembarkation points to the first contact with the enemy. Artillery support during the offensive was also limited for the same reason, leading to even worse infantry losses.
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’ fighting abilities and morale when confronted with heavy tank assaults. Also, a significant part of the army was made up by reservists (officers and enlisted men alike), who were promised a “quick victory” and became demoralized as their prospects for getting home soon were worsening.
Map showing the Hungarian Second Army near Svoboda on the Don river, in autumn 1942
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. As winter set in, and with the worsening German situation around Stalingrad, the 2nd Army’s transportation collapsed and failed to supply even the basics (food, winter clothing, heating fuel, building materials) for the frontline units. The cold, hungry and demoralized 2nd Army had to defend even longer and longer stretches of the frontline as more and more German units were sent to 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 the Ostrogozhsk–Rossosh 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. The losses of the 2nd Army were made especially severe by the attitude of the Army command (Colonel General Vitéz Gusztáv Jány), who forbade any sort of withdrawal, in spite of seeing the neighbouring German and Italian Armies pulling back. Most of the Hungarian units were encircled and either annihilated or forced to open terrain where they succumbed to the extreme cold (-30C – -40C). The 1st Armored Division was reduced to a single operational tank within a few days, and most of the personnel of the 1st Air Group died on the ground when their airfields were overrun by Soviet tanks.
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.
Order of Battle, Hungarian Second Army (1942):
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.