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Hungary-State Security Forces and the Revolution

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Hungary Index


Budapest, site of start of 1956 uprising
Courtesy Gustav Forster

Ironically, by the time the HPA had become thoroughly Sovietized, the first waves of de-Stalinization rippled through the Hungarian Workers' Party. In 1953 both Stalinist party leader Matyas Rakosi lost his position as prime minister, and the Stalinist minister of defense, Mihaly Farkas, fell from power. Professional training for officers was instituted at the military academies. A better educated and increasingly professional officer corps began to question the dogmatic teachings of the party. Tension arose when the "internationalism" (a euphemism for following the Soviet line in foreign and military policy) stressed by the communist state clashed with the latent nationalism of the officers. These officers also resented special privileges bestowed on both the State Security Department (Allamvedelmi Osztaly--AVO--the name for the pre-1956 secret police) and the Soviet officers in the country.

Although the HPA did not participate in the Revolution of 1956 as an organized force, its role in that conflict demonstrated its political unreliability to both the regime and the Soviet Union (see Revolution of 1956 , ch. 1). Organized military support for the revolution did not occur for two reasons. First, before being sent home on October 28-29, the Soviet military advisers in Hungary ordered various sections of the Hungarian army to disperse. Second, Prime Minister Imre Nagy refused to order the HPA to oppose the final Soviet invasion that took place on November 3. However, not only did conscripts refuse to fire on mass demonstrations that took place on October 23 (although the AVO forces did), but some even went over to the insurgents and supplied them with weapons. Supposedly "politically reliable" cadets from military academies likewise joined the insurgents, as did some military officers. One of the most important military figures to join the revolutionaries was Colonel Pal Maleter, the commander of an armored unit sent to recapture the Kilian barracks in Budapest from the Freedom Fighters. In a parley with the insurgents, Maleter became convinced that they "were loyal sons of the Hungarian people," and he joined them. Maleter eventually became minister of defense in the Nagy government; he was later tried and executed with Nagy in 1958.

The regular police, at least those in Budapest, were likewise sympathetic to the insurgents. On October 24, Sandor Kopacsi, chief of the Budapest police, gave orders to supply the revolutionaries with weapons. Budapest police joined the rebels but did not fight the Soviet army. Police headquarters then became headquarters for revolutionary forces.

Many members of the dreaded AVO, by contrast, fell victim to the public's wrath. During the revolution, AVO recruits deserted, and its professional officers found themselves hunted down by mobs. Some lynchings occurred. The regular police helped disarm the security police, and those security police known to have committed acts of state terror against the citizenry were taken into custody to await trial (some were summarily executed). Most AVO officers were detained by the revolutionary government, which abolished the security police on October 29. At first, Moscow sought to suppress the insurgency with the forces at hand. Soviet armored units began arriving in Budapest in the early morning of October 24. For the next four days, they fought intermittently with the insurgents. They were unable to dislodge Hungarian army units in the Kilian barracks that were under the leadership of Colonel Maleter or the units near the Corvin Cinema. Soviet forces and advisers publicly withdrew from Budapest on October 28. On the surface, it seemed as through the revolt was victorious.

On October 30, the government formed the Revolutionary Committee of the Armed Forces, with representatives from the army, police, and the Freedom Fighters. The following day, the appointment as its head of General Bela K. Kiraly, who had been imprisoned from 1951 to 1956, was announced. On November 1, 1956, Hungary withdrew from the Warsaw Pact and declared political neutrality. This act was in response to reports of the Soviet army's entering the country in force on October 31.

The Soviet army began pouring into Hungary on November 1 and proceeded to occupy airfields and other strategic points in the country. The invasion used 120,000 soldiers taken from eleven fully staffed, "category-one" (forces of three-quarters' to full strength) divisions in Romania and the Ukraine. Volgyes believes that the coordinated nature of the attack and the positions taken by Soviet units suggest that the Soviet Union had planned the invasion far in advance.

The Soviet army returned to Budapest in force on November 4. The HPA, still splintered and riddled with pro-Soviet officers, could not offer organized resistance. The Freedom Fighters had neither the manpower nor the ammunition to oppose the Soviet army for long. After the fighting stopped, the Soviet authorities began to round up suspects, disarm the Hungarian People's Army, and carry out summary executions. In the next few years, the Hungarian courts handed down an estimated 2,000 death sentences, primarily to street fighters.

Data as of September 1989

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