Slovak–Hungarian War


Slovak–Hungarian War

Warbox|conflict=Slovak-Hungarian Border War


caption="One of the OA vz. 30 armoured cars captured by the Hungarians in March 1939, guarded by a Hungarian soldier. The retreating crew took the two ZB vz. 26 light machineguns with them."
date=March 23, 1939 – March 31, 1939 [A truce had been concluded on March 24, but fighting continued until March 31.]
campaign=Slovak-Hungarian Border War
place=Eastern Slovakia
casus=Hungary's discontent with Slovak-Hungarian border
result= Tactical Hungarian victory
territory= Slovakia is forced to cede a strip of Eastern Slovak territory
combatant1=
flagicon|Slovakia|1938|size=75px
First Slovak Republic
combatant2=
flagicon|Hungary|1940|size=75px
Kingdom of Hungary
commander1=flagicon|Slovakia|1938 Augustín Malár
commander2=flagicon|Hungary|1940 András Littay
strength1=3 infantry regiments
2 artillery regiments
9 armoured cars
3 tanks
strength2=5 infantry battalions
2 cavalry battalions
1 motorised battalion
3 armoured cars
70 tankettes
5 light tanks
casualties1=Slovak military:
22 killed,
360 Slovak and 311 Czech POW
Slovak civilians:
36 killed
casualties2=Hungarian military:
8 killed,
30 wounded

The Slovak-Hungarian War or Little War ( _hu. Kis háború, _sk. Malá vojna), was a war fought from March 23 to March 31/April 4, 1939 between the First Slovak Republic and Hungary in eastern Slovakia.

Prelude

After Munich, the Hungarians had remained poised threateningly on the Slovak border. They reportedly had artillery ammunition for only 36 hours of operations, and were clearly engaged in a bluff, but it was a bluff the Germans had encouraged, and one that they would have been obliged to support militarily if the much larger, better trained and better equipped Czechoslovak Army chose to fight. The Czechoslovak army had built 2,000 small concrete emplacements along the border wherever there was no major river obstacle.

The Hungarian Minister of the Interior, Miklos Kozma, had been born in Carpathian Ruthenia, and in mid-1938 his ministry armed the Rongyos Gárda ('Ragged Guard'), which began to infiltrate guerillas into southern Slovakia and Ruthenia (ethnic Rusyn or Ruthenian territory). The situation was now verging on open war, which might set the whole of Europe ablaze. From the German and Italian point of view, this would be premature, so they pressured the Hungarian and the Czechoslovak governments to accept their joint Arbitration of Vienna. On November 2, 1938, this found largely in favour of the Hungarians and obliged the Prague government to cede 11,833 km² of the mostly Hungarian populated South-Eastern Slovakia and Ruthenia to Hungary. Not only did this transfer the homes of about 590,000 Hungarians to Hungary, but 290,000 Slovaks and 37,000 Rusyns as well. In addition, it cost Slovakia its second biggest city, Košice, and left the capital, Bratislava, very vulnerable to further Hungarian pressure.

The Arbitration of Vienna fully satisfied nobody, and there followed twenty-two border clashes between November 2, 1938 and January 12, 1939 alone, during which the Czechoslovaks lost five dead and six wounded.

On the evening of March 13, Tiso (The Slovak leader) and Ďurčanský met Hitler, Ribbentrop and Generals Brauchitsch and Keitel in Berlin. Hitler made it absolutely clear that either Slovakia declared independence immediately and associated itself with the Reich, or he would let the Hungarians, who were reported by Ribbentrop to be massing on the border, take the country over. In fact, encouraged by the Germans, the Hungarians were largely massing on the adjacent Ruthenian border.

During the afternoon and night of March 14, the Slovak people proclaimed their independence from Czecho-Slovakia, and at 5:00 AM. on March 15, 1939, Hitler declared that the unrest in Czecho-Slovakia was a threat to the German security, and sent his troops into Bohemia and Moravia, meeting virtually no resistance.

The Slovaks were surprised when the Hungarians recognised their new state as early as March 15. However, this did not mean the Hungarians were satisfied with their frontier with Slovakia and, according to Slovak sources weak elements of their 20th Infantry Regiment and frontier Guards had to repulse a Hungarian attempt to seize Hill 212.9 opposite Užhorod. In this, and the subsequent shelling and bombing of the border villages of Nižné Nemecké and Vyšné Nemecké, the Slovaks claimed to have suffered 13 dead and they promptly complained to the Germans, invoking Hitler's nebulous offer of protection.

On March 17, the Hungarian Foreign Ministry told the Germans that Hungary wanted to negotiate with the Slovaks over the Slovak/Ruthenian boundary on the pretext that the existing line was only an internal Czechoslovak administrative division, not a recognised international boundary, and therefore needed defining now that Ruthenia had passed into Hungarian hands. They enclosed a map of their proposal that shifted the frontier some 10 kilometres west of Užhorod, beyond Sobrance, and then ran almost due north to the Polish border.

The Hungarian claim partly relied on the fact that Hungarians and Rusyns (as shown in the figures above), not Slovaks, formed the majority in north-eastern Slovakia. Besides the demographic issue, Hungarians also had more pragmatic reasons in mind. They were anxious to protect Užhorod and the key railway to Poland up the River Už, which was well within view of the current Slovak border. They therefore resolved to push the frontier back a safe distance beyound the western watershed of the Už Valley. Secondly, the Hungarians wanted to undertake a hot pursuit to disperse the rest of the Sic Guards, who were beginning to reassemble just across the border at Ulic.

Berlin let the Hungarians know that it would acquiesce to such a border revision, and told Bratislava so. On March 18, the Slovak leaders in Vienna for the signing of the "Treaty of Protection" had grudgingly to accept this, and a Slovak-Hungarian boundary commission was set up. This calmed the situation, skirmishing died down and the two sides even fraternised. On March 22, the commission finished its work, and the prospect of a peaceful settlement led to the Slovaks lowering their guard. However, they were given no time to accept or ratify any border revision, and the Hungarians were still unsatisfied with their border with Slovakia. The Hungarians were aware that Slovakia had signed a treaty guaranteeing Slovakia's borders on March 18 and that it woud come into force when Germany countersigned it. They therefore felt pressed to occupy their claim beforehand, if they were not to embarrass their German ally. Thus their forces in western Ruthenia began to advance from the River Už into eastern Slovakia at dawn on March 23, some six hours before Joachim von Ribbentrop countersigned the "Treaty of Protection" in Berlin.

Order of battle

* Slovak Order of battle
* Hungarian Order of battle
* Weapons employed in the Slovak-Hungarian War

The war

At dawn on March 23, 1939, Hungary suddenly attacked Slovakia from Carpathian Ruthenia with instructions being to "proceed as far to the west as possible". The Slovak troops (supported by some Czechs) were surprised and unprepared for war.

In the north, opposite Stakčín, Major Matjka assembled an infantry battalion and two artillery batteries. In the south, around Michalovce, Štefan Haššik, a reserve officer and a local HSLS secretary, gathered a group of about four infantry battalions and several artillery batteries. Further west, opposite the passive, but threatening Košice-Prešov front, where the Hungarians maintained an infantry brigade, Major Šivica assembled a third Slovak concentration. To the rear, a cavalry group and some tanks were thrown together at Martin, and artillery detachments readied a Banská Bystrica, Trenčin and Bratislava. However, German interference disrupted or paralysed their movement, especially in the V Corps. The defence was tied down defensively, as the Hungarian annexations the last autumn had delivered the only railway line to Michalovce and Humenné into their hands, thereby delaying all Slovak reinforcements.

The Hungarian troops advanced quickly into eastern Slovakia, which surprised both the Slovaks and the Germans. Despite the awful confusion caused by the hurried mobilization and desperate shortage of officers, the Slovak force in Michalovce had coalesced sufficiently to attempt a counterattack by the following day. This was largely thanks to the arrival of the regular Major Kubícek, who had taken over command from the belligerent, but not very professional, Haššik and had begun to get a better grip on the situation. Because they were based on a widely available civilian truck, spares were soon found to repair five of the sabotaged OA vz. 30 armoured cars in Prešov and they reached Michalovce at 05:30 AM on March 24. Their Czech crews had been replaced by scratch teams of Slovakian signallers from other technical arms. They were immediately sent on a reconnaissance mission to Budkovce, some 15 km south of Michalovce, but could not find any trace of the Hungarians.

It was therefore decided to counterattack eastwards, where the most advanced Hungarian outpost was known to be some 10 km away at Závadka. The road-bound armoured cars engaged the Hungarian pocket from the front whilst Slovak infantry worked round their flanks. Soon they forced the heavily outnumbered Hungarians to fall back from Závadka towards their main line on the River Okna, just in front of Nižná Rybnica.

The armoured cars continued down the road a little past Závadka whilst the Slovak infantry fanned out and began to deploy on a front of some 4 km on either side of them, between the villages of Ubrež and Vyšné Revištia. The infantry first came under Hungarian artillery fire during the occupation of Ubrež, north of the road. At 11 PM a general attack was launced on the main Hungarian line at Nižná Rybnica. The Hungarian response was fierce and effective. The Slovaks had advanced across open ground to within a kilometre of the Okna River when they began taking fire by Hungarian field and anti-tank artillery.

One armoured car was hit in the engine and had to be withdrawn, while a second was knocked out in the middle of the road by a 37 mm anti-tank cannon. The raw infantry, unfamiliar with their new officers, first went to the ground and then began to retreat, which soon turned into a panic that for some could not be stopped before Michalovce, 15 km to the rear. The armoured cars covered the retreating infantry with their machineguns, in order to forestall any possible Hungarian pursuit.

Late on March 24, four more OA vz. 30 armoured cars and 3 LT vz. 35 light tanks and a 37 mm anti-tank cannon arrived in Michalovce from Martin to find total confusion. Early on March 25, they headed eastwards, sometimes steadying the retreating infantry by firing over their heads , thereby ensuring the reoccupation everything up to the old Ubrež - Vyšné Revištia line, which the Hungarians had not occupied. However, the anti-tank section mistakenly drove past the knocked-out armoured car and ran straight into the Hungarian line, where it was captured.

By now, elements of the 41st Infantry Regiment and a battery of 202nd Mountain Artillery Regiment had begun to reach Michalovce, and Kubícek planned a major counterattack for noon, to be spearheaded by the newly arrived tanks and armoured cars. However, German pressure brought about a ceasefire before it could go in. On March 26, the rest of 202nd Mountain Artillery Regiment and parts of the 7th and 17th Infantry Regiments began to arrive. There were now some 15,000 Slovak troops milling around Michalovce but, even with these reinforcements, a second counterattack had little better prospect of success than the first, because the more numerous and cohesive Hungarians were well dug-in, and had more than enough 37 mm anti-tank cannons to deal effectively with the 3 modern light tanks that represented the only slight advantage possessed by the Slovaks.

The air war

The most fiercely contested action was in the air, and continued after the Hungarian ground advance had halted. Relations between the Czechs and the Slovaks were better in the air force than in the armoured corps and no aircraft were sabotaged.

When Hungarian air raids of March 25 on the Slovak Air Force station at Spišská Nová Ves killed 13 persons, an intense anti-Hungarian movement arose among the local population. By that time however, a truce had been concluded (March 24), although fights continued until March 31.

Aftermath


Invasion of Poland in September 1939.
Although Slovakia had signed a "Protection Treaty" with Nazi Germany, Germany refused to help the country (in direct violation of that treaty) and did not support Slovakia during the Slovak-Hungarian negotiations in early April. As a result, by a treaty signed on April 4 in Budapest, Slovakia was forced to cede to Hungary a strip of eastern Slovak territory (1697 km², 69930 inhabitants, 78 municipalities), corresponding today to the area around the towns of Stakčín and Sobrance. 36 Slovak citizens died in the war.

The claims on both sides were contradictory. At the time the Hungarians announced the capture of 4 light tanks and an armoured car. However, no Slovak light tanks had ever entered action and a medal was awarded to the man who recovered the one knocked-out armoured car from no man's land during the night. On the other hand there is no doubt that the Hungarians did come into possession of at least one LT vz. 35 light tank and one OA vz. 27 armoured car during March. The contradictions are attributable to a combination of the fog of war, propaganda and confusion between Hungarian captures in Ruthenia and eastern Slovakia.

The Slovak casualties are officially recorded as 22 dead - all were named and so this total is probably accurate. On March 25 the Hungarians announced their own losses as 8 dead and 30 wounded. Two days later they gave out a figure of 23 dead and 55 wounded - a total that may include their earlier losses occupying Carpathian Ruthenia. They also reported they were holding 360 Slovak and 311 Czech prisoners. Many of the Slovaks presumably belonged to the two companies reportedly surprised asleep in the barracks in the first minutes of the invasion. The Czechs were stragglers from the garrison of Ruthenia.

Notes

Bibliography

* Axworthy, Mark W.A. "Axis Slovakia - Hitler's Slavic Wedge, 1938-1945", Bayside, N.Y. : Axis Europa Books, 2002, ISBN 1-891227-41-6
* Niehorster, Dr. Leo W.G. "The Royal Hungarian Army 1920-1945 Volume 1", New York : Axis Europa Books, 1998, ISBN 1-891227-19-X
* Ladislav Deák: "Malá vojna" ("The Little War"), Bratislava 1993, ISBN 80-88750-02-4.

External links

* [http://www.hungarian-history.hu/lib/romsics/w19.htm Short overview of the historical context]
* Military details of the conflict: [http://www.druhasvetova.sk/view.php?nazevclanku=mala-vojna-i&cisloclanku=2007020008 1] , [http://www.druhasvetova.sk/view.php?nazevclanku=mala-vojna-ii&cisloclanku=2007030011 2] (in Slovak)


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