Hungary in the Warsaw Pact:
The Initial Phase of Integration, 1957 - 1971
by Imre Okváth
As part of the Soviet buffer zone after World War II - Hungary had to take a forced path to serve Soviet interests. In the years following the war, the Soviet leadership, hoping to be able to maintain cooperation among the victorious powers, did not envisage the possibility of a war in the near future. It therefore did not show much interest in the armies of the countries it occupied. This did not mean, however, that their communist parties - in conformity with the Stalinist concept of power - had given up trying to exert influence on the control of the armies. As a result of the deterioration of relations among the great powers and their conflicting interests, the possibility of a new world war had come to be viewed as a real danger by their leaders by 1948-49. As a consequence, the military and political issues that had until then been peripheral became prominent.
In view of the perceived threat of a World War III, the Soviet leadership enforced an accelerated development of the Hungarian army in the fall of 1948 and again at the beginning of 1951. The accelerated pace of development, aimed at creating a large army, was meant to win the war that was regarded as inevitable. The Hungarian military operational plans conformed to the Soviet doctrinal assumption that the war would be launched by the "imperialist camp" led by the United States. The expected attack was to be repelled first by well-organized defensive operations, and then by a sweeping counteroffensive. The main lines of advance were directed through Yugoslavia toward Belgrade, through Italy toward Trieste and Milan, and through West Germany toward Munich.
The Hungarian party and military leadership was first informed about the change in Soviet military-political ideas after Stalin´s death at a Hungarian-Soviet party meeting in May 1954. The Soviet minister of national defense, Bulganin, made mention of having to pay more attention to the armies of the friendly states, which was a clear indication that the Soviet Union started to take the first military steps to respond to the possible integration of West Germany into NATO. In addition to Czechoslovakia, the Soviet government picked Hungary as the countries that together should take the initiative for convening in the fall of 1954 an international conference on the establishment of a European collective security system. After Western rejection of the conference and the ratification of the Paris treaties providing for West Germany's admission into NATO, the work aimed at subordinating the armies of the satellite countries to a common military command picked up speed, and on 14 May 1955 the Warsaw Pact was signed.
The Soviet Union proceeded energetically to modernize the armies of the member states of the Warsaw Pact, trying to deepen their integration and raise their military value closer to the level of the Soviet army. Within a short period of time, effective military structure was to be created that could offset the ground forces of NATO, supplemented by the West German army and equipped with US strategic and tactical nuclear weapons deployed in Western Europe.
The first group of documents published here illustrates the organizational and training aspects of the Hungarian army's integration into the Warsaw Pact up to the October 1956 revolution. In trying to get a comprehensive view of the Hungarian units subordinated to the supreme commander of the Unified Armed Forces (UAF), the Soviet military staff requested information on the effective force strength, the state of the military technology, supplies and armament, political indoctrination, combat training, and the concepts of staff command exercises.
With a view toward acquiring modern operational command and exercising cooperation among the Hungarian, Romanian and Soviet forces that were to be deployed in the direction of the Southwest, joint staff command exercises were held in two stages within the scope of a full front line in the Ukraine as early as in the summer of 1956. The goal of the exercises was to practice the most up-to-date methods of operational command, with the use of weapons of mass destruction, and to study the patterns of combat of the NATO armies (Documents: 29 May 1956, 17 July 1956).
By the fall of 1956, the Hungarian army, in terms of both its force strength and its organization, was ready for deeper integration into the Warsaw Pact. This entailed the establishment of the 4th army (two rifle-corps, four rifle and two motorized rifle divisions, artillery, armored, technical, and chemical protection units, and signal corps under direct army command), filling up the effective force strength, and starting the modernization of armament and the technical equipment, as specified by Moscow. However, serious problems emerged with respect to military readiness as well as the political and moral condition of the officer corps. According to the survey made by a group of Soviet generals, the readiness of the People's Army was very low. In his summary report to his Soviet army superiors, chief adviser Lt. Gen.Tikhonov noted the following shortcomings: the commanders do not assess thoroughly enough the situation, make their decisions late, sometimes without proper justification, and fail to specify the assignements of various units and military branches. In complex situations, the staffs were unable to organize the command of the troops well, and did not know their own assignments well enough. He described extreme shortage of tanks and assault artillery as the army's most serious problem. The most important and urgent task, in his view, was to remedy these shortcomings in order to improve the military readiness of the army.
After the Hungarian struggle for freedom led to the suppression of the October 1956 revolution, Soviet military leaders had no interest in a speedy restoration of the Hungarian army; instead they urged the formation of political police units and special police forces. Accordingly, the army was no longer a central political issue for the Hungarian party leadership.
As a result of the Hungarian-Soviet military negotiations in January 1957, the views on the role of the army had once again undergone a significant change. The repeatedly expressed opinion of the supreme commander and the chief of staff of the UAF of the Warsaw Pact pressed most urgently for the reorganization of the Hungarian general staff, the development of the ground and the air defense forces as well as their integration into the unified defense system. Following the Soviet approval of the army development plans, the Hungarian party leadership soon approved the development proposals submitted by the military leadership, making it possible to start a two-year reorganization of the Hungarian army.
Following instructions by the supreme commander of the UAF, the Hungarian minister of national defense annually gave a detailed account of the organizational changes, current order of battle, mobilization plans, operational directives, the moral and political condition of the arms forces as well as their discipline, and the state of supply and armament provision of the Hungarian People's Army. In addition to the above, he also gave information on the strategic operational principles and the measures to maintain military readiness (Documents: 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960).
There are important sources illustrating training aimed at acquisition by the Hungarian army of defensive and offensive capabilities, using nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, and staff command exercises meant to help the Hungarian army catch up with other armies of the Warsaw Pact (Document).
The two motivating factors behind the surge in organizational and technical development in the 1960s were increasing international tension and advances in military technology. The party and military leaders of the socialist countries firmly believed that Western political and military measures were deliberately aimed at preparing a new war. Starting in 1963, the leadership of the Hungarian People's Army took part in a series of staff command exercises designed to study and learn the theoretical and practical aspects of the Warsaw Pact strategy, the wartime tasks of the Ministry of National Defense, and the preparation of the Hungarian People's Army for a war.
Included here are three documents on the preparation and briefing of a staff command exercise held in June 1963. The report prepared by the head of intelligence summarizes the expected course of events and the consequences of a supposed Western attack (Document). It is assumed that the West takes provocative political and military measures, creating a tense international situation and a threat of war, and proceeds to concentrate strategic forces in the European region. At the same time, the enemy deploys ground forces along the borders of the socialist countries. The report specifies in detail the course and the magnitude of a nuclear missile strike against Hungary and gives full details of the ground operations. According to the assumptions by the Hungarian military, the country was to be hit by 40-53 nuclear strikes, carried out by US, Italian and West German air forces from the west (Munich-Linz-Budapest) and southwest (Milan-Budapest, Naples-Budapest). The simultaneously launched ground offensives would have come from the Northwest (Munich-Linz-Vienna-Budapest) and the West (Padua-Klagenfurt-Graz-Szombathely). Taking into account the counteroffensive by the Warsaw Pact forces, the head of intelligence anticipated a bloody battle in the Linz-Passau area.
Supplementing the intelligence report, the chief of operations set as the most important task of the Hungarian 5th army-in cooperation with the 3rd Romanian army deployed into Hungary during concealed mobilization-the deployment of forces to ensure the destruction of the main forces of the enemy. The two armies were to fight battles under the command of the Southwestern Front (Document).
The report prepared by the Quartermaster General for the ministry of national defense gave an account of the consequences of the nuclear and conventional air strikes on Hungary, including the damage inflicted on military industrial plants and the military units, and measures proposed to overcome the damage (Document).
In his report on the results of the meeting on training held in Moscow in October 1963 (Document), the Chief Training Supervisor mentioned modification of training principles. At the meeting, the UAF leaders stressed for the first time the need to prepare for a NATO surprise attack by further increasing the level of military preparedness, proper deployment of divisions and regiments that could be promptly thrown into battle, and an increasing of the pace of offensive to 80 km per day. The first signs of the adaptation to the new requirements were evident in the report on the state of the Hungarian People's Army in 1963 (Document).
Preparations by the Hungarian People's Army for an unexpected outbreak of a nuclear war were intensified in the mid-1960s. In June 1965 a front staff command war game was held to practice cooperation between the Hungarian and Soviet armies in the Southwestern theater of war. The war game was based on a fairly complex scenario in which the troops would only be mobilized and put on higher alert in case of a nuclear strike. Starting out with this assumption, the troops of the Southwestern Front would launch their counteroffensive against the enemy with effective peacetime strength. The documents show the Soviet operational concepts in the event of World War III breaking out in the area, the "Center" being the main theater of operations (Czechoslovakia, Poland, GDR) and the Southwestern theater being secondary (Document).
This Hungarian document, together with several other ones support our previous assumption about the contemporary Soviet concept for the military strategy concerning the outbreak of World War III: according to this a nuclear war would start because of the agressive ambitions and measures of the Western military alliance. Thus the only possible Warsaw Pact reaction to such an attack would be fast and preventive strikes against NATO. Right after they observe the enemy nuclear strike, the Soviets would launch nuclear counterstrikes and at the same time start moving ahead of the three services. In this period the different Fronts (directed by Soviet generals) would be occupying the previously determined West-European regions. According to this plan the Hungarian armed forces-together with the "Southern" Army Group of the Red Army stationing in Hungary and the Soviet forces from the "Kárpát" military district- would have to defeat the West-German 2nd corps and the Italian 3th army. After the victory the Hungarian People's Army would have to be able to occupy Italy for a long period.
As for the calculated consequences, the plan forcasts that the main strike would hit the forward moving ground forces, then the traffic, telecommunication- and logistical services, and the missile- and airbases. At the present state of research we still cannot exactly determine why the Russian and Hungarian military leaders estimated the losses of NATO to be almost the double of their own losses. And we can also wonder why they neglected the effect of the psychological and economic consequences of the destruction of Hungary's main cities including the capital? Further research will be needed also in order to find out the exact reasons, explanations and motivations for preparing a basically optimistic scenario for a potential nuclear war claiming that the Warsaw Pact can win such a war.
The problem of a surprise war was taken up in the operational training course held for the ministry of national defense officials and field staff officers in 1966. At the session entitled "The Special Features of an Unexpected Outbreak of War and Its Impact on the Preparation of the Armed Forces", high-ranking army commanders discussed the role of surprise in modern war, the strategic views of the United States and NATO, and the mobilization readiness and technical and supply requirements of the Hungarian People's Army (Document). The next document sheds light on the organization of political warfare designed to undermine the morale of the Italian and Austrian troops by drops of leaflets, radio broadcasts, and political propaganda.
The last document from the 1960s is a summary report prepared by the Hungarian chief of staff on the joint front manoeuvers conducted by the Soviet, Czechoslovak, Polish and East German armed forces in September 1969, codenamed "Oder-Neisse." Besides the theme of the exercise and the movements of the troops, the chief of staff listed the main lessons to be learned by the Hungarian People's Army (Document).
Since research on the history of the Hungarian People's Army in the 1970s is still at its initial stage, only two documents of particular interest are published here. One is a political report prepared by the Chief of Operations of the General Staff on the transformation of the military structure of the Warsaw Pact and the agenda of the meeting of the newly created Military Council and the Committee of the Ministers of Defense (Document); the other one is a report on the UAF (Hungarian, Soviet, Czechoslovak) air defense battle drill of 1971 and its experiences (Document).
The documents published here illustrate the extent of the integration of the Hungarian armed forces into the Warsaw Pact and the changes in its deployment as well as operational plans that took place since 1956. By the beginning of the 1960s the Hungarian People's Army had abandoned its plans against Yugoslavia, previously regarded as the main enemy. Instead, in accordance with the new Soviet requirements, it concentrated its forces in the direction of the Southwest. Interestingly, until 1965 the Hungarian 5th army was expected to work in close cooperation with the Romanian 3rd army in all military manoeuvers and operational plans; afterward, the Romanian armed forces abruptly disappeared from the scene. This abrupt change in Warsaw Pact military planning can be explained by the emergence of a new political line followed by the Romanian leadership now headed by Nicolae Ceauşescu. This was aimed at fostering the idea of national sovereignty within the alliance and trying to gain national control over nuclear weapons, while at the same time the new leadership declared the policy of working for the elimination of the two opposing military blocs. Since none of these ideas were welcomed by the Soviets at the time, this resulted in a special treatment of the Romanian armed forces as far as military planning was concerned from this time on.
Concerning Austrian neutrality, the Soviet-Hungarian operational plans took it for granted that in case of a war NATO would violate the neutral status of Austria and Austria would-voluntarily or under pressure by the West-give assistance to the attack on the socialist countries. Acceptance of Austrian neutrality never appeared in the plans of the Warsaw Pact as Austria was always mentioned as an area of advance operations or a buffer.
More than a decade after the ending of the Cold War and with an ever widening new archive-based Cold War history literature at our disposal it is still surprising how little in fact we know about the military aspects and military history of the Cold War. The collection of documents published here, with the 1965 Hungarian war game in its center, gives a deep insight into the military planning strategy of the Warsaw Pact in the 1960s. In fact it is for the first time that a once top secret military document illuminating the precise process and the consequences of a potential nuclear war in a shockingly detailed way is made public. We can only hope that publishing and making available these documents from the military archives of a former East Bloc country worldwide will considerably foster PHP's long time efforts to gain access to similar plans preserved in archives of the "other side".
IMRE OKVÁTH is head of the Analysis Division of the Office of History in Budapest. He received his PhD in History at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. He has tought Cold War History studies at Péter Pázmány Catholic University in Piliscsaba (close to Budapest). Dr. Okváth has published a book and several articles on the military policy and political history of Hungary during the Cold War period.