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Hungary Calling: 1956

by David & Krisztina Almási-Tucknott

 Originally published in Military Modelcraft International Magazine, October 2006 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian Uprising.

Much seems to have contributed to this violent period of history. Oppression under Communism, economics, lack of freedom of speech, even following the Hungarian football glory days of 1954 and the persecution of the players by the political and military powers for not winning the World Cup. In fact there were many revolutions and riots in 1956. This article covers the first 13 days as they saw the most activity: from the outbreak of armed conflict to the day on which the returning Russian troops regained general control. Researching dates brought up inevitable contradictions, so it’s as accurate as we can make it. It isn’t an account of everything, as there is enough information available to fill “War and Peace”!

HungaryMap.jpg

23rd October 1956 – Budapest

     University students gathered in front of the poet-patriot Petőfi’s statue (leader of the 1848 rebellion against Austria). They carried banners supporting the Polish people who were rebelling against Russian control there. The students wore cockades in the national colours (red, white and green) and National flags were distributed. Angry crowds ripped out Soviet emblems that the Russians had put into the Hungarian National flag. Even now the flag with a hole torn out is one of the most powerful symbols of the uprising by the Hungarian people.

Workers and Hungarian Army soldiers in uniform joined the demonstrators

     Imre Nagy, the purged ex-Premier, had recently been readmitted to the Hungarian Communist Party (at a time when you were expected to be a member), and was the rebels’ leader and figurehead to take charge of a new free and independent Hungary.

     When students tried to be heard above Budapest (Communist State controlled) radio Police attempted to disperse the crowds – using teargas and arresting students. The demonstration turned into rioting and street fighting broke out. Martial law was declared and a call for Russian troops was issued. During the night there were reports of tanks and jets being used against demonstrators, although some of the Hungarian Army were seen to support the revolutionaries.

 

24th October

     Heavy artillery was heard along with machine gun fire and several Budapest buildings burned. The crowd shouted abuse at the AVH – State Security Police, known as AVÓ.

     Near Parliament two Soviet tanks and an armoured car drove up packed with young Hungarians fraternizing with Russian soldiers. Other tanks and Soviet guns were mounted at the corners of the Parliament building. A tank fired wildly, three armoured cars drove up packed with Soviet soldiers, aiming their guns skyward before they fired at the crowd. There were many victims of the shooting in the Square.

 

25th October

     The Nagy government claimed its forces had restored order in Budapest, but admitted fighting continued and added that following restoration of order, negotiations for withdrawal of Soviet troops would be initiated. The fighting at the radio station had not ended. The Minister of Defence issued an appeal for members of the Army to report to their commanding officers.

     Rumours circulated in the capital that many of those detained by the authorities in the course of armed clashes had been executed.

 

26th October

     In Magyaróvár (about six miles from the Austrian border) almost a thousand people went to the security police barracks to expel them – while outside the barracks the policemen waited in small trenches. As the demonstrators approached, an officer took out his pistol and fired into the air. His thirty-strong troop then opened fire on the crowd with machine guns and grenades.

     Fighting continued throughout the country, Budapest’s streets filled with broken glass, burnt-out cars, tanks and rubble. Still the battle raged on. Demonstrators had torn up tram rails and dug out trees to use as anti-tank weapons and barricades. At least 30 burnt-out tanks remained along the Danube, many destroyed by Molotov cocktails. Burnt-out cars were at every street corner but at least 50 Soviet tanks, armoured cars and troop carriers still moved through the city firing indiscriminately with 75mm guns and MGs.

     Even children became involved in the Uprising. Many wore Hungarian Uniform – with the hated Red Star torn out – others wore red, white and green armbands, or continued to wear their everyday bright coloured clothes. They carried submachine guns, and pistols - their pockets were filled with ammunition. Later they would fight against tanks and artillery with machineguns and homemade grenades. One 13 year-old-boy, Jancsi, defended a street intersection for four days by himself with just a machine gun, only taking breaks to fetch food and ammunition, before succumbing to exhaustion.

 

27th October

     A new government was announced headed by Imre Nagy, significantly including non-Communists. The news reported that resistance had been broken except for "certain isolated groups."

 

28th October

     Negotiations with Soviet commanders were reported and in some cases Soviet forces joined the revolutionaries. The government announced a cease-fire and Nagy stated Soviet troops would withdraw from Budapest immediately, and the security police would dissolve.

 

29th October

     Fresh Russian troops were on route from Poland, Russia and Romania. They fought hand-to-hand combat in Budapest.

     Artillery was now on each of the bridges spanning the Danube.  At the Maria Therésia (aka Kilián) Barracks Soviet T34 and T54 tanks fired on students and soldiers at point-blank range.

     The scale of the clashes cannot begin to be illustrated here; in the countryside villagers even attacked enemies with scythes and pitch-forks. All this led to a situation of total national unrest, with Russian soldiers being sent to hotspots to attempt to stifle accounts of the revolution reaching the West. There were two Soviet Army divisions stationed in Hungary and only one is known to have been involved with the fighting in the capital. The other dealt with the provincial situation. The Soviet command did not trust any Hungarian Army unit, whatever its alleged loyalties; Hungarian tanks fighting under Russian orders had been allowed only two rounds of ammunition for warning shots.

     Radio Free Győr announced that Soviet units had begun to leave Budapest and were marching towards their Lake Balaton base.

 

30th October

     Nagy announced the abolition of the one-party system, a return to the political conditions after 1945, and negotiations for immediate withdrawal of all Soviet forces from Hungary – not just Budapest.

     The Hungarian Air Force threatened to bomb Soviet tanks unless they left Budapest.

Insurgents stormed and ransacked the AVH headquarters in Pest, throwing hundreds of thousands of files out onto the streets – the records kept against the Hungarian people by the State. Occupants of the building did not have such an easy escape.

 

31st October

     Budapest was relatively calm. Only a few sporadic shots could be heard. The new Radio Free Kossuth broadcast a Soviet declaration concerning changes in relations between Soviet Union and Satellite States. Nagy announced that the Hungarian government was prepared to leave the Warsaw Pact and asked for negotiations on withdrawing Soviet forces from Hungary.

     A Trans-Danubian National Council was organized from various area councils, requesting immediate evacuation of Soviet troops, repudiation of the Warsaw Pact, free elections, a declaration of Hungary's neutrality, freedom of speech, press, assembly and worship.

     The Minister of Defence ordered changes in the army uniform; with cap insignia replaced with the Kossuth crest.  The crest is also widely used on free tanks, trucks and armoured cars. Radio Free Kossuth announced that Imre Nagy had been a prisoner of the security police for two days, and had made his first radio announcement with a machine gun at his back.           

     The withdrawal of Soviet units began. However, large Soviet forces – anti-aircraft units, tanks and troops – changed their direction and re-entered Hungarian territory.

 

1st November    

     Soviet units surrounded Hungarian airfields, allegedly to protect the evacuation of Soviet dependents. Budapest was ringed by Soviet tanks.

     The gates of a political prison in Szolnok were opened. The 600 former political prisoners and the government delegates sang the National Anthem together in front of the national flag as a demonstration of united support for the government.

 

2nd November

     The Hungarian government protested to the Soviet Embassy regarding the return of Soviet troops to Hungary, and The United Nations were also notified. Soviet troops held Budapest International Airport while new troops crossed the frontier and occupied railway lines and railway stations.

     Two Soviet armoured trains entered the frontier station of Zahony. Debrecen announced the uninterrupted transit of Soviet troops. Units of tanks and automatic machine guns travelled westerly through Szolnok. Battalions of tanks arrived in the Gyöngyös area and entrenched themselves there. At Beregsurány 50 motorized artillery batteries crossed the Hungarian-Soviet frontier.

 

3rd November

     Negotiations for Soviet troop withdrawal continued and further troop movements were reported, most of them concentrated around Budapest. The Austro-Hungarian frontier was closed off by Soviet troops and around 200 Soviet tanks were lined up on the Tisza River in eastern Hungary. Russian tanks surrounded the uranium mines at Pécs.

     Soviet forces were marching from Vasárosnamény near the Soviet border towards Debrecen.

     Radio Free Kossuth broadcast that Soviet troops arriving in Győr said they had been told the Americans wanted to attack Hungary so they must defend the Hungarian workers. It appears that the soldiers were unaware of the true situation.

 

4th November

     Imre Nagy announced the Soviet attack on Budapest. Russian forces took over most of the country’s airfields, highway junctions, bridges, railway yards etc.

Heavy fighting was reported in Budapest and Soviet paratroops were in action near Győr.

     Hungarian troops resisted Soviet efforts to take uranium mines and airfields at Pécs. Fighting continued in all parts of the country and the situation remained confused.

Soviet troops pushed into Budapest and imprisoned the Nagy government with János Kadár replacing Imre Nagy as Premier.

     Free radio broadcasts repeatedly called for Western help and Radio Free Kossuth went off the air with a repeated SOS signal. The station was silent until 2015. When transmission resumed then it was in the hands of the Soviet-controlled regime.

For Kris’s family and many others, the struggle against Communism didn’t end with the embers of the Uprising. Everyone knew people who had died, and the AVHs reign of terror continued, wreaking vengeance on the friends and families of those involved with the failed freedom fight – with neighbour spying on neighbour.

 

For years, the disappearances and stories of torture were regular occurrences. It is hardly surprising to learn that tens of thousands of people chose to leave their homeland, in order to survive – as did Kris’s father, who in 1956 decided that it was no longer his choice, but his only option, and fled across the border through heavily occupied territory into Austria and into a refugee camp, and in 1957 the British Government invited him to England.

 

Kris’s uncle, who had been a top Mig15 pilot officer and had flown his jet against the Soviets and refused to fire on his own people, was imprisoned for many years – and in 1990 when he died a free man, was buried a national hero with a Mig15 on his headstone in recognition of his heroism.

 

 

See our links page for more information about Hungarian history.