Military of Hungary

From Academic Kids

Military of Hungary
Military manpower
Military age Draft abolished in 2004
Availabilitymales age 15-49: 2,588,365 (2000 est.)
Fit for military servicemales age 15-49: 2,062,565 (2000 est.)
Reaching military age annuallymales: 67,160 (2000 est.)
Military expenditures
Dollar figure$732.2 million (FY99)
Percent of GDP1.4% (FY99)

Ancient and medieval military

The Hungarian tribes of Árpád vezér who came to settle in the Carpathian Basin were noted for their fearsome horse-mounted warriors, who conducted frequent looting campaigns throughout much of Western Europe (once as far as Spain), terrorizing the entire population with their long range and rapid-firing reflex bows. Not until the introduction of well-regulated, plate-armored knight heavy cavalry could German monarchs stop the magyar (onugor) armies. Hence came the term ogre, a man-eating monster of child tales.

Founding king of Hungary, Stephen I of Hungary abandoned light cavalry and acquired a western-style, knight and infantry based army. This principle worked well for Szent László, the late 11th century knight-king who pacified the kun tribes, but failed disastrously 150 years later when the un-disciplined Hungarian feudal knight army was totally destroyed by mongol invaders in the Battle of Muhi in 1241. The Mongol herds used almost exactly the same kind of weaponry and tactics as brandished by Hungarian tribes two centuries earlier.

The Hungarian knight army had its golden age under king Louis the Great, who himself was a famed warrior and conducted semi-successful campaigns in Italy due to family matters (his younger brother married Joan I, Queen of Naples who murdered him later.) King Matthias Corvinus maintained very modern mercenary-based royal troops, called the Black Army. King Matthias favoured ancient artillery (catapults) as opposed to cannons, which were the favourite of his father, Johannes Hunyadi the ottoman-beater, who defended Belgrade in 1456.

During the Ottoman invasion of Central Europe (between late 1300s and circa 1700) Hungarian soldiers protected fortresses and launched light cavalry attacks against the Turks (see hussars). The northern fortress of Eger was famously defended in the autumn of 1552 against the combined force of two ottoman armies numbering circa 120,000 men and 16 ultra-heavy siege guns. The victory was very important, because two much stronger forts of Szolnok and Temesvár had fallen quickly during the summer. Public opinion attributed Eger's success to the all-Hungarian garrison, as the above two forts have fallen due to treason by the foreign mercenaries manning them. In 1596, Eger fell to the Ottomans for the same reason.

In 1566, Nicholas Šubić Zrinski defended Szigetvár for 30 days against the largest Ottoman army ever seen up to that day, and died leading his remaining few soldiers on a final suicide charge to become one of the best known national heroes. His great-grandson, Nicholas Zrinski, poet and general became of the better known stratagems of 1660s. In 1686, the capital city Buda was freed from the ottomans by an allied Christian army composed of Hungarian, Austrian and Western European troops, each roughly 1/3rd of the army. The Habsburg then annexed Hungary.

Habsburg Hungarian military

Under Habsburg rule, Hungarian hussars rose to international fame and served as a model for light cavalry in many European countries. Hundreds of thousands of forcibly enrolled Hungarian males served 12 years or more as line infantry during the 1700s-1800s in the Austrian Imperial Army.

Two independence wars interrupted this era, that of Prince Francis II Rákóczi between 1703 and 1711 and that of Lajos Kossuth in 18481849. Both time Hungarian armies were crushed by the Habsburgs, but the second time not until the help of mighty Czarist Russian armies was summoned to purge Józef Bem's second army from Transylvania, opening the path into the heart of Hungary. Sándor Petőfi, the great Hungarian poet became a MIA in the Battle of Segesvár.

Huge numbers of Hungarians served and fell in World War I, especially at the battlefield of Isonzo and on the Russian front. After the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire in late 1918, the Red Army of the Hungarian commune-state conducted successful campaigns to protect the borders, until eventually crushed by a coalition of Romanian, Yugoslavian and French troops.

Mid-twentieth century

During the 1930s and early 1940s, Hungary was totally preoccupied with the idea of regaining the vast territories and huge amount of population lost in the Trianon peace treaty at Versailles in 1920. This required strong armed forces to defeat the neighbouring states, something Hungary couldn't afford. Instead, governor Miklós Horthy made an alliance with Adolf Hitler's Third Reich and got temporary territorial gains in exchange, for which Hungary had to pay very dearly during and after the World War II.

The Hungarian Second Army was totally devastated at banks of the Don River in January 1943, a supplement of the battle for Stalingrad. Many Hungarian cities received severe damage during allied carpet bombing. The Soviets occupied Hungary during the turn of 19441945, and even though they freed the country from the Nazis, they brought suffering and kept the country occupied. All the bridges were destroyed, cattles looted, women raped, men kidnapped for slave labour in the gulags. After the fall of Hungary, Magyar troops of Ferenc Szálasi continued to fight alongside the Wehrmacht until the very last day. The Hungarian Danube Flottila fired the last shells in anger on the morning of 8th of May, 1945 and the last Hungarian fighter squadrons torched their remining Me-109s on the 6th of May, deep inside Germany. Allies thus badged Hungary the last vassal of Hitler and imposed severe retributions on the country.

Warsaw Pact

During the Socialist and the Warsaw Pact era (1955–1989), the entire 200,000 strong Soviet South Army Group was garrisoned in Hungary, complete with artillery, tank regimens, air force and missile troops (with nukes). It was by all means a very capable force, that made little contact with the local population. Between 1949 and 1955 there was also a huge effort to build a big Hungarian army. All procedures, disciplines, equipment were exact copies of the soviet Red Army in methods and material, but the huge costs collapsed the economy by 1956.

After the autumn 1956 anti-communist revolution was crushed in Budapest, the Soviets took away most of the Hungarian army's equipment. A few years later, when offered a choice of pull-back, the new Hungarian leader János Kádár asked for all the 200,000 Soviet troops to stay, because it allowed the socialist Hungarian People's Republic to neglect its own draft-based armed forces, quickly leading to deterioration of the military. Large sums of money were saved that way and spent on feel-good measures for the population, thus Hungary could become "the happiest barrack" in the Soviet Bloc.

Training for army conscripts was poor and most of those drafted were actually used as a free labour force (esp. railway track construction and agricultural work) after just a few weeks of basic rifle training. Popular opinion grew very negative towards the Hungarian army and most young man tried to avoid the draft with bogus medical excuses. By the late-1980s garrisons were in bad shape, often worse than slums or barns. There were several dozens of meningitis cases with some dead among the conscripts and nearby population, due to poor facilities at the garrisons (this was during the mid-1990s).

After the Cold War

Hungary spearheaded the movement to dissolve the Warsaw Pact Treaty Organization in 1990. The country's new democratic leaders quickly realized the disastrous shape of the domestic military and how it may block their ambitions towards a NATO alliance, but right-wing patriotic sentiments of the FIDESZ and MDF parties blocked the abolishment of conscription that time. Stuck with an obsolete organisational model and very limited funding, the draft-based Hungarian military constantly struggled for most of the 1990s. It was mostly due to pure chance (namely Hungary's location at the edge of the Balkan crisis) that Hungary was allowed to join the NATO. The country was in no way prepared, that is a matter of fact.

Hungary has since worked to modernize and Westernize its armed forces. The effort is half-hearted at best. The prospect of imminent NATO membership has led the government to focus on assuring the interoperability of the Hungarian Home Defense Forces (Honvédség) with those of its future allies. This shall require not only a slow, expensive overhaul of military hardware but also a major restructuring of organization, military doctrine, and training. Hungary has been an active participant in the Partnership for Peace since 1994, as well as the NATO-led IFOR/SFOR operations in Bosnia, and regularly contributes to UN peacekeeping missions.

The Honvédség's largest service is the army, followed by the air force and a small naval contingent that patrols the Danube River, now essentially defunct. The size of the armed forces is now 45,000, down from over 130,000 in 1989. The aim is to reach 40,000 until end of 2006. The draft no longer exists, as the Constitution was modified to abolish mandatory armed service for males in late 2004, after 136 years of continuous conscription. The government has also pledged to increase defense spending to 2% of GDP until 2006 to bring Hungary's military budget in line with those of NATO countries. This promise will not be kept because of EU imposed budget restrictions for 2005-2006, thus Hungary must bear frequent NATO criticism for failing to meet its mutual defence obligations. The negative domestic opinion towards armed forces did not change significantly in the past decade.

Current military

The Hungarian armed forces has severely reduced the number of battle tanks in service, surplused all tracked IFVs and limits the number of flight hours available to rotary and fixed wing aircraft crews. A large number of garrisons were shut down, some of them sold to municipal authorities for peaceful uses.

In 1997, Hungary spent about 123 billion HUF ($560 million) on defense. Hungary became a member of NATO on March 12, 1999. Hungary provided airbases and support for NATO's air campaign against Serbia and has provided military units to serve in Kosovo as part of the NATO-led KFOR operation. Hungary has sent a 300 strong logistics unit to Iraq in order to help the US occupation with armed transport convoys, though public opinion opposed the country's participation in the war. One soldier was KIA due to a roadside bomb in Iraq. The parliament refused to extend the one year mandate of the logistics unit and all troops have returned from Iraq as of mid-January 2005. Hungarian troops are still in Afghanistan as of early 2005 to assist in peace-keeping and de-talibanization.

In a significant move for modernization, the first Saab Gripen light fighter jets shall arrive in Hungary during early 2006 to replace the aging MiG-29 fighter interceptors.

Military branches

  • Ground Forces
  • Air Force
  • Border Guard


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