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Fire & Sword:
The Curse of Turan

By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
February 2024

So great, brave nations fought determinedly for her
Until the Magyar finally emerged as the bloody victor
Oh, but discord remained in the souls of the nations: the land
Can never know happiness, under this curse’s hand
- Mihály Vörösmarty

In the year 1000 A.D., Hungary's King Stephen converted his people to Christianity. According to Magyar legend, a taltos of the old religion (a shaman, male or female, born with six fingers on one hand and thus possessing phenomenal psychic powers) cursed his people for a thousand years. Having backed the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, by 1944 Hungary found itself on the losing side and the Curse of Turan lay heavy on the minds of many Hungarians. The Hungarian Second Army fought north of Stalingrad and was utterly destroyed during the winter months of 1942 and 1943. Afterward, Hungarian troops provided security behind the German lines but saw little fighting at the front.

That changed as the war came to Hungary. Throughout 1943 the Hungarians trained new forces while Hungarian industry struggled to provide enough equipment for two field armies, including three armored divisions. In August 1943 the Hungarians signed a secret treaty with the British and Americans, pledging to allow free passage of Allied bombers through Hungarian airspace in exchange for the Allies refraining from bombing Hungarian targets. The Allied bombing campaign did not begin until March 1944, and the Germans immediately noticed that no bombs fell inside the kingdom, while Hungarian fighter squadrons failed to scramble after passing enemy bombers. Meanwhile, the Hungarians denied repeated German requests to place Luftwaffe fighters at Hungarian airbases and refused to transfer Allied air crews who parachuted into Hungarian territory to German custody.

Hungarian hussars in Poland, 1944. Note the tomahawk carried by one trooper.

Afraid that Hungary would switch sides (and angered that Hungarian authorities had refused repeated demands to hand over the kingdom's Jews for slaughter) the Germans executed their "Operation Margarethe" to seize control of Hungary. Planned in September 1943 following Italy's defection from the Axis, Margarethe called for German troops to take control of railroads, airfields and radio stations.

Before sending in the troops, Adolf Hitler summoned the Regent of Hungary, Adm. Miklos Horthy, to a meeting in Salzburg together with the Army chief of staff, foreign minister and defense minister. After screaming at the Hungarians, Hitler threatened them with imprisonment if they did not consent to immediate German occupation of their country. German troops moved in the next morning, with only a handful of small incidents of resistance.

Hungary's army, the Royal Honved, had spent a year in re-organization but remained very weak in modern weapons and particularly in motor vehicles. The Hungarians hoped to re-equip eight infantry divisions, an armored division and a cavalry division as well as two mountain brigades and some reserve divisions. Each would be much larger than the divisions sent into Russia in 1942 or German divisions of 1944: They would have three infantry regiments of three battalions each, an assault gun battalion with 30 vehicles, 66 light and 30 heavy anti-tank guns, and an artillery regiment with 48 guns. The 2nd Armored Division would have a very similar organization to a German panzer division, with 143 tanks; 1st Armored Division would be kept at cadre strength awaiting enough equipment to enter combat itself.


After their takeover, the Germans promised to provide the weapons and vehicles, though not the ammunition, to achieve this mobilization plan. Hungarian plants had been turning out weapons for the German armed forces for several years, and the Hungarians wanted some of these diverted for their own use. The Germans, for their part, wanted to move a number of these factories or at least their machine tools to Germany.

Hungary built its own tanks, copies of outdated Czech designs that were badly outmatched by the newest Soviet models (and most of the older ones, too). Attempts to buy production licenses for German designs failed; Italy's Fiat-Ansaldo obtained a license for the PzKpfw V Panther in February 1943, but the Nazis demanded 200 million pengö to grant the rights to either of the Hungarian tank makers, Manfred Wiess or Ganz-Danubius (Hungary's gross domestic product in 1944 was 4.4 billion pengö). Nor would they allow Skoda to license its T25 design, the so-called Skoda Panther, to the Hungarians despite the long-standing relationship between Skoda and Wiess (which already made the Skoda-designed T22 as the Turan).

The Nazis did promise to provide 25 new Hetzer tank destroyers per month, but deliveries fell far short of this level. A handful of Tiger, Panther and PzKpfw IV tanks were provided in 1944, but most Hungarian tank units went to war with their obsolete Turan tanks, and somewhat less obsolete Zrinyi assault guns. Hungarian tank production practically ground to a halt after the German takeover, and any new vehicles came from German stocks.

When German weapons and vehicles did arrive, they went directly to units at the front as the Germans insisted they be used against the Soviets. They also suspected (probably rightly) that the Hungarians would hoard them for future use against the Germans or the hated Romanians. However, many shipments never reached Hungarian units, as German troops diverted them to their own use; no refunds were issued by the Wehrmacht.

But weaponry was only one problem confronting the Honved. After the First World War, the Hungarian army had been limited to 35,000 men and it never really overcame this handicap. Despite the threat of imminent Soviet invasion, the 1944 mobilization plan called for about 450,000 men: only about 3 percent of the country's population, not counting Jews or ethnic Germans. The economy should have been able to bear the loss of at least twice that many men to military service, but the Army's training establishment could not have handled such an influx. German aid would have been needed, and Hungary's leaders (probably wisely) did not want to expose their army to such a pervasive German influence.

As soon as the Germans took over, they sent the Hungarian First Army to join their Army Group North Ukraine in southern Poland with four front-line infantry divisions, three reserve divisions, both mountain brigades and the armored division. The Hungarians fought through the spring and summer, joined in June by the 1st Cavalry Division and in August by another corps with two infantry divisions.

Romania defected to the Allies in late August, opening a new front on Hungary's southern border. Two new field armies, Second and Third, were mobilized. Second Army had two regular divisions from First Army and several reserve formations, while Third Army's units were all training divisions and brigades. Large numbers of raw conscripts went almost directly to the front, and by October over a million Hungarian soldiers were under arms.

A prototype of the Turan III, with 75mm gun.

Thanks to poor training and armament, Hungarian divisions suffered terrible casualties and their leaders watched as the Axis armies steadily fell back across the Hungarian plains. On 15 October, Admiral Horthy announced that Hungary was leaving the war, strongly condemning the Germans for their failure to keep promises and damning them for their program of mass murder. The Germans had begun rounding up Hungarian Jews in May 1944, and between then and July when Horthy ordered a halt over 400,000 were sent to camps in Poland and murdered.

Turan Turan. A Hungarian Turan tank in action in western Hungary, 1944.


Seized by German troops, Horthy refused demands to abdicate and told them he would sooner die than appoint Ferenc Szalasi, head of the fascist Arrow Cross organization, as Hungarian premier. He broke down and signed when the Germans threatened to shoot his son instead. But Szalasi inherited a rapidly disintegrating military. While the Germans managed to abort Horthy's plan for First and Second Armies to defect to the Soviets as complete units, they could not stop tens of thousands of Hungarian soldiers from doing so as individuals. Within weeks the Royal Honved had effectively ceased to exist and the Germans began conscripting Hungarians directly into their own units.

First Army fought on in Slovakia even after Budapest's fall in early 1945, but it was a shell as were the divisions directly attached to German corps. The last order from Army headquarters was an instruction in late April that Hungarian troops moving through Austria and Germany to surrender to American or British forces were not to repay civilians for the atrocities visited on the Hungarian population by the Germans.

Fire & Sword

The Royal Hungarian Army sees plenty of action in Panzer Grenadier: Fire & Sword, from the elite paratroopers on down to hastily-raised militia. Hungarian armor is there, with both German- and Hungarian-made tanks, and even Hungarian rocket launchers.

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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and NASA Journalist in Space finalist, he has published an unknowable number of books, games and articles on historical subjects. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife and three children; he misses his dog, Leopold.

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