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Slovak–Hungarian War (Vitazstvo)

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Slovak–Hungarian War
Slovak soldiers in eastern Slovakia
Date 23 March – 31 March, 1939
Location Košice Region, Slovakia
Result Decisive Slovak victory
Belligerents
Flag of First Slovak Republic 1939-1945 Slovakia Flag of Hungary (1915-1918, 1919-1946; 3-2 aspect ratio) Hungary
Commanders and leaders
Flag of First Slovak Republic 1939-1945 Jozef Tiso

Flag of First Slovak Republic 1939-1945 Augustín Malár
Flag of First Slovak Republic 1939-1945 Ferdinand Čatloš

Flag of Hungary (1915-1918, 1919-1946; 3-2 aspect ratio) Miklós Horthy

Flag of Hungary (1915-1918, 1919-1946; 3-2 aspect ratio) András Littay

Strength
3 infantry regiments

2 artillery regiments
9 armored cars
3 tanks

5 infantry battalions

2 cavalry battalions
1 motorized battalion
3 armored cars
70 tankettes
5 light tanks

Casualties and losses
67 killed, 78 wounded
4 cars destoyed
84 killed, 201 captured
2 tanks, 8 tankettes, and 1 car destroyed
3 tanks, 67 tankettes, and 2 cars captured

The Slovak–Hungarian War, also known as the Little War (Hungarian: Kis háború, Slovak: Malá vojna) was a short war between Slovakia and Hungary over the Košice Region of eastern Slovakia in March 1939. Although the Hungarian force was better equipped and outnumbered the Slovaks, the Slovak Army's preparedness caught the Hungarians off-guard. The Slovak VI Corps, under the command of Lieutenant General Augustín Malár, managed to defeat the Hungarians and drive them out of Slovak territory.

Prelude

After the Munich Pact, which weakened Czech lands to the west, the Hungarians remained poised threateningly on the Slovak border. They reportedly had artillery ammunition for only 36 hours of operations, and were clearly engaged in a bluff, but it was a bluff the Germans had encouraged, and one that they would have been obliged to support militarily if the much larger and better equipped Czechoslovak Army chose to fight. The Czechoslovak army had built 2000 small concrete emplacements along the border wherever there was no major river obstacle.

The Hungarian Minister of the Interior, Miklós Kozma, had been born in Carpathian Ruthenia, and in mid-1938 his ministry armed the Rongyos Gárda ('Ragged Guard'), which began to infiltrate into southern Slovakia and Carpatho-Ukraine. The situation was now verging on open war. From the German and Italian points of view, this would be premature, so they pressured the Czechoslovak government to accept their joint Arbitration of Vienna. On 2 November 1938 this found largely in favor of the Hungarians and obliged the Prague government to cede 11,833 km² of the mostly Hungarian populated (according 1910 census) south part of Slovakia to Hungary. The partition also cost Slovakia Košice/Kassa, its second largest city, and left the capital, Bratislava/Pozsony, vulnerable to further Hungarian pressure. The First Vienna Award did not fully satisfy the Hungarians, so this was followed by twenty-two border clashes between November 2, 1938 and January 12, 1939.

On the evening of March 13, 1939 Jozef Tiso and Ferdinand Ďurčanský met Adolf Hitler, Joachim von Ribbentrop and Generals Walther von Brauchitsch and Wilhelm Keitel in Berlin. Hitler made it absolutely clear that either Slovakia would declare independence immediately and place itself under Nazi Germany's "protection" or he would let the Hungarians, who were - reported by Ribbentrop - gathering on the border, to take over even more land. During this time, being aware of the German position, the Hungarians were preparing for action on the adjacent Ruthenian border.

During the afternoon and night of March 14, the government of Slovakia proclaimed Slovakia's independence from Czechoslovakia, and at 5:00 am on March 15 Hitler declared that the unrest in Czechoslovakia was a threat to German security, sending his troops into Bohemia and Moravia, which gave virtually no resistance. The Slovaks were surprised when the Hungarians recognized their new state as early as March 15. However, the Hungarians were not satisfied with their frontier with Slovakia and, according to Slovak sources, weak elements of their 20th Infantry Regiment and frontier Guards had to repulse a Hungarian attempt to seize Hill 212.9 opposite Uzhhorod. In this and the subsequent shelling and bombing of the border villages of Nižné Nemecké and Vyšné Nemecké, the Slovaks claimed to have suffered 13 dead, and they promptly petitioned the Germans, invoking Hitler's promise of protection.

On March 17, the Hungarian Foreign Ministry told the Germans that Hungary wanted to negotiate with the Slovaks over the eastern Slovak boundary on the pretext that the existing line was only an internal Czechoslovak administrative division, not a recognized international boundary, and therefore needed defining now that Carpatho-Ukraine had passed into Hungarian hands. They enclosed a map of their proposal that shifted the frontier about tn km west of Uzhhorod, beyond Sobrance, and then ran almost due north to the Polish border.

The Hungarian claim partly relied on the 1910 census, which stated that Hungarians and Ruthenians, not Slovaks, formed the majority in north-eastern Slovakia. In addition to the demographic issue, Hungarians also had another purpose in mind, that they were trying to protect Uzhhorod and the key railway to Poland up the Uzh River, which was within the view of current Slovak border. They, therefore, resolved to push the frontier back a safe distance beyond the western watershed of the Uzh Valley. Berlin let the Hungarians know that it would acquiesce to such a border revision and told Bratislava so.

On March 18, the Slovak leaders, in Vienna for the signing of the Treaty of Protection, were grudgingly forced to accept this, and Bratislava ordered Slovak civil and military authorities to pull back. However, Lieutenant General Augustín Malár pretended to comply with the order while secretly preparing Slovak troops for a defense of eastern Slovakia against a potential Hungarian invasion. The Hungarians were unaware of this. But the Hungarians were aware that Slovakia had signed a treaty guaranteeing Slovakia's borders on March 18 and that it would come into force when Germany countersigned it. They, therefore, decided to act immediately and take advantage of the "disorganized" Slovak army, which had not fully reformed itself, as far as they knew. Thus, their forces in western Carpatho-Ukraine began to advance from the River Uzh into eastern Slovakia at dawn on 23 March, some six hours before Joachim von Ribbentrop countersigned the Treaty of Protection in Berlin.

Slovak order of battle

Ground forces

Slovak-LT38-tanks-px800

Slovak tank crews prepare for battle.

The Slovak Army inherited equipment from the old Czechoslovak army after the proclamation of Slovakia's independence and the disintegration of Czechoslovakia. Lieutenant General Augustín Malár became the army's supreme commander, and was in charge of overseeing the defense of the eastern regions. He had the VI Corps under his command.

Units of the VI Corps:

  • 16th Infantry Regiment (partially)
  • 20th Infantry Regiment
  • 37th Infantry Regiment (partially)
  • 12th Artillery Regiment (partially)
  • 112th Artillery Regiment (partially)
  • Armoured Car Platoon (9 OA vz. 30 armoured cars)
  • Tank Platoon (3 LT vz. 35 light tanks)

Slovak Air Force

Squadron Planes Crew
49th (fighters), part of II/3 wing 10 x Avia B-534 5 pilots
12th (patrols), part of II/3 wing 5 x Aero Ap.32, 5 x Letov Š-328 9 pilots, 6 sentries
13th (patrols), part of II/3 wing 10 x Letov Š-328
45th (fighters), part of III/3 wing 10 x Avia B-534 7 pilots

Hungarian order of battle

Ground forces

The Hungarian Armed Forces were well trained but expected little or no resistance from the Slovaks. For the operation, they deployed the VII Corps, under the command of Major General András Littay.

Units of the VII Corps:

  • 9th Independent Battalion (partial)
  • 7th Independent Battalion
  • 24th Independent Battalion
  • 8th Honved Battalion
  • 1st Cavalry Battalion (supported by 24 Ansaldo 35M tankettes)
  • 2nd Cavalry Battalion (supported by 24 Ansaldo 35M tankettes)
  • 2nd Motorised Battalion (supported by five Fiat 3000B light tanks, 22 Ansaldo 35M tankettes and three Crossley 29M armoured cars)

Royal Hungarian Air Force

Unit Planes Location
1/1 vadászszázad (fighters) 9 x Fiat CR.32 Ungvár - Uzhhorod
1/2 vadászszázad (fighters) 9 x CR.32 Miskolc
1/3 vadászszázad (fighters) 9 x CR.32 Csap - Chop
3/3 bombázószázad (bombers) 6 x Ju-86K-2 Debrecen
3/4 bombázószázad (bombers) 6 x Ju-86K-2 Debrecen
3/5 bombázószázad (bombers) 6 x Ju-86K-2 Debrecen
VII felderítőszázad (patrols) 9 x WM-21 Miskolc
VI felderítőszázad (patrols) 9 x WM-21 Debrecen

The war

Opening stages

Final stages

Aftermath

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