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Hungary-The Modern Period

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In the fifteenth century lived Janos Hunyadi, perhaps the greatest Hungarian general of all time (see Renaissance and Reformation , ch. 1). Although Hunyadi fought, not always successfully, against the Turks several times in the 1440s, he is best known for his victory against them near Belgrade in 1456. There the Hungarian forces decisively defeated the Turkish army and sent the sultan into flight. However, the Turkish wars, together with the petty struggles on the western borderlands, drained the national treasury, and increasingly heavy taxation and feudal obligations pushed the peasantry into a rebellion that was eventually crushed. The country was economically weakened and racked by political instability, and its military might declined precipitously after the death of King Matyas Corvinus in 1490.

The Ottoman Turks threatened to invade in the 1520s, but the Hungarian nobility seemed oblivious. The Turks successfully attacked Belgrade in 1521, and on August 29, 1526, met the small, poorly equipped Hungarian army at Mohacs. The Hungarian forces were nearly wiped out, and their king, Louis II, died in the rout. The Turks captured Buda in early September but then retreated southward, loaded with captives, and having no intention of permanently occupying Hungary. However, the struggle between the Habsburgs and the Hungarian contenders for the Hungarian throne pulled the Turks deeper into Hungarian politics, leading to their military occupation of Buda in 1541 and the entire Hungarian plain soon afterward. The Habsburg emperor was left with a strip of land in northeastern Hungary (called "Royal Hungary"), while Transylvania remained nominally independent under Turkish suzerainty (see fig. 3). The section of Hungary directly under Ottoman rule became a wasteland, as various Turkish military formations periodically looted and destroyed settlements, killing the inhabitants or selling them into slavery.

In Royal Hungary, the Habsburgs constructed a system of fortifications along the border with Ottoman Hungary during the seventeenth century. Many Hungarian nobles, having fled the Turkish zone of occupation, assumed military leadership of important sectors of this border zone. Their serfs were obliged to work twelve days annually on border fortifications, to perform military service, and to pay a military tax. Several Hungarian military leaders during this time achieved fame for their exploits. Miklos Zrinyi's heroic stand against the Turks in 1564 and Istvan Bocskay's victory over the Habsburgs in Transylvania in 1604-05 were bright spots in the otherwise dismal military history of the Hungarians during the period of Ottoman occupation (see Partition of Hungary , ch. 1).

The failed Turkish attack on Vienna in 1683 began a process of retreat that led to the Ottomans' being driven out of Buda in 1686 and most of Hungary by the end of the century. The subsequent Habsburg rule, however, proved to be just as cruel as that of the Turks, and resulted in an eight-year rebellion led by Ferenc Rakoczi (see Hungary under the Habsburgs , ch. 1). The Treaty of Szatmar (1711) ended this war, during which half a million Hungarians died.

During the eighteenth century, the Habsburg Hofkriegsrat (see Glossary) in Vienna directly controlled the Hungarian army, which was created in 1715. The Palatine (see Glossary) was commander in chief of the armed forces in Hungary, but the Habsburgs deliberately left the office vacant. Responsibility for recruitment and supply was assumed by the Hungarian Viceregal Council, located in Pozsony, the capitol of Royal Hungary, (present-day Bratislava in Czechoslovakia), until 1785 and then transferred to Buda.

During the first half of the eighteenth century, the Habsburgs established a Hungarian standing army made up of six high commands: one for Hungary proper and the others for Croatia, Slavonia, Transylvania, the Banat (in southern Hungary), and the Military Frontier Zones (located in Croatia). The Hungarian standing army was supported by war taxes paid by the counties and towns. Soldiers were supposed to serve for life but were usually discharged after twenty years of service. This term was reduced to ten years in 1830. Until 1840 soldiers were forced into service by press gangs; later they were selected by lot.

In 1790 the Hungarian nobility revolted against the Habsburgs in an attempt to restore former feudal privileges and Hungarian autonomy. A separate Hungarian army was formed from the banderia, but it was dissolved when the Habsburgs managed to avoid war with Prussia and thus were able to redirect their imperial forces toward Hungary.

Hungarian soldiers fought in the Habsburg army during the wars against France from 1792 to 1815. Except for a small battle at Györ in 1808--which the French won--no military action took place on Hungarian soil. Nevertheless, the Hungarian troops suffered more than 150,000 casualties during these wars.

The revolution that broke out in Vienna in 1848--part of a wave of revolts that swept across Europe that year--caused enough disruption in the imperial government to allow the Hungarian nobility to seize more political autonomy for Hungary. After quelling the revolt in other parts of the empire, the Habsburg government in September 1848 sent forces into Hungary under Josip Jelacic, the Habsburg governor of Croatia. Jelacic's army was met by a hastily formed Hungarian army and was driven out of the country. The government in Vienna attacked again in the late fall and even occupied Pest in early December. In the spring, however, these Habsburg forces were driven out by a Hungarian army under a young major, Artur Gorgei, while another Hungarian army, under General Jozef Bem, drove the Habsburg forces out of Transylvania. Nevertheless, in June 1849 the Russian army came to the rescue of the Habsburgs and invaded Hungary through the Carpathian Mountains. Outnumbered and outgunned, Bem's small army was defeated in August, and Gorgei surrendered his forces to the Russians shortly afterward. The revolt was crushed and its leaders hanged, although Lajos Kossuth, the leader of the revolutionary government, escaped to the Ottoman Empire.

Although the Compromise of 1867 establishing the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary gave each country separate parliaments and separate governments, the Hungarian military forces remained under centralized Habsburg control (see Dual Monarchy , ch. 1). Thus, Hungarian soldiers, together with the other troops of nations under the Habsburg monarchy, found themselves mobilizing for war in the summer of 1914, first against Serbia and then against Serbia's ally, Russia. The largest Hungarian army in history fought under the imperial flag on the side of the Central Powers.

Data as of September 1989

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