Rusyns in Hungarian army

Foreign volunteers, collaboration and Axis Allies 1939-1945.

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Norman aus Lemberg
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Post by Norman aus Lemberg » Thu Mar 17, 2005 12:21 pm

Hi Sid,
Ruthenia/Carpatho-Ukraine became part of the Ukrainian SSR even before there was a Communist government in Czechoslovakia, so I fail to see where these "Communist myths" come in.
- I knew this question is gonna come up. While in Ukraine, all carpathian groups such as Lemko's, Boyko's and Rusyns were quickly Ukrainianized, post war governments of Poland and Czechoslovakia actually encouraged the rusyn movement for the reasons that it would diminish the size of Ukrainian national minority (similarly as Rusyn or another ficticious nationality "Slovac-Greeco Catholic" were encouraged during the interwar years). The more people sing up as Rusyns - the less Ukrainians will be shown. I believe as late as 2002 - Polish gov. while conducting national statistics introduced "lemko" subgroup in its questionaire, which caused quite a stir among Ukrainian community.
The Sich Guard completey failed to disarm any Czech Army units. On the contrary, the Czech Army suppressed the uprising in Khust within hours and the Sich in the capital had to surrender.
- What is your source for this? I just checked History of Ukrainian Army - once again, its states that when the Czechs started to attack the gov. building, Sitch dissarms the Czech units in the vicinity. Seeing this resistance, gen. Prhala orders Czech units to stop the combat and withdraw.
The Sich Guard captured no Czech tanks, only the buildings of the autonomous government in Khust just long enough for a quorum of the Carpatho-Ukraine autonomous government to declare independence, appoint a government, declare the Sich the national army, adopt a flag and the trizul, sing the national anthem, and send a telegramme to Hitler asking for recognition. (He replied that the Carpatho-Ukraine should surrender itself to the Hungarians).
- Well the gov. and militia began to form on 4th of December, 1938 to be more precise, the coat of arms was actually OUN emblem (sword with trident). On 12th of January the Sojm of Carpatho-Ukraine was formed which prety much made it an authomomy already.
It is true that about 600 Sich Guards tried to halt the Hungarians outside Khust with small arms (and often dressed in conspicuous grey-blue uniforms), but they were overwhelmed in a couple of hours in a single afternoon.
- Holding off a MUCH LARGER, proffecional army equipped with tanks, artilleryand planes i still prety good job. When retrieving to Irshava, Sitch members even managed to capture number of Hungarian troops and two carts with ammo. Khust was was tanken only on 16th of March in the evening. (History of Ukr. Army, pg. 601)

As I posted above, the Hungarian commander was recorded by a Canadian journalist as complimenting the Sich on their courage. However, they were not very effective.

- Can you post the memuars?

In late 1938 the Czechoslovak Army offered to give the Sich Guard weapons training under Ruthenian army officers, but the Sich Guard was too chauvinistic to accept. It preferred to steal weaponry from Czechoslovak depots.

- What is your source for this?

As a result, the Sich was both under-trained and under-equipped in March 1939 and was soundly and rapidly beaten by both Czechs and Hungarians. In reality, whatever its pretensions, the Sich Guard was more a paramilitary political organisation than an effective military force.

- Again, compared to any army in the world, Sitch would have been underdeveloped, but it lacked weapons due to Czech restrictions and spontanity of events. As for the tank - Czech gov. used tanks and armored wehicles when they attacked the Sojm. One of such tanks (TNHS) was captured and used against Hungarians. This is not a widely known fact, however I do have the memuars where this is mentioned. Also, let it be noted, that the Polish army invaded Carpatho-Ukraine from the North on 18th of March and Polish boarder guard units attacked those who tried to cross into Poland. Hungarians on the other hand, executed en-masse a good half of the Sitch POW's, while the smaller half was sent to concentration camp in Variu Loposh near Nirel'gaza. Further war-crime of Hungarian army was exectuion of known Ukrainian civil figures.
Sterchko's book is useful, considering that it emerged from an area notorious for extreme Ukrainian exiled nationalist sentiment. I shall look out the Osprey book.
- Well am sure Czech or Hungarian book on the subject would be no less nationalistic. Am not too happy with the Osprey book - i found many mistakes.

P.S. What I don't understand is why Czech government didn't try to fight off the Hungarians? Am surprised to see that Czechs who were known for their "pan-slavism" would rather hand over the area to Hungarians as opposed to having weak and (probably much easier to manipulate) Ukrainian state.

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Post by Norman aus Lemberg » Thu Mar 17, 2005 1:16 pm


sid guttridge
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Post by sid guttridge » Fri Mar 18, 2005 5:56 am

Hi Norman,

As I have posted before on Feldgrau, the concept of "Ruthenes" was built up by the Austro-Hungarians in order to counter Russian Pan-Slavism by differentiating between Catholic and Orthodox Ukrainians. After WWI it remained convenient for the multi-national successor states of Poland, Romania and Czechoslovakia, to perpetuate the idea that Ruthenes and Galicians were not Ukrainian.

Does it matter if the Poles put "Rusyn" on their census forms? If nobody identifies themselves as Rusyns then the return will read "0", thereby proving your point.

My source (amongst others) for the description of events in Khust is the memoirs of a Czecholslovak Army officer of "Ruthene" nationality (a very rare animal) who tried to conduct negotiations with the Sich. It has been published in English. I will try to dig out the details. He is also very interesting on Hungarian attempts to gain Carpatho-Ukraine by military means over 1938-39 through the Rongyos Garda (Ragged Guard).

If I remember rightly, there was some co-operation between the Czechoslovak Army and the Sich along the Polish border in late 1938, where the Sich provided a couple of hundred local guides.

From memory, the sequence of events in Khust was as follows:

On about 10 March 1939 the Sich brought in a couple of hundred men into Khust from a training school. These were the main force used to seize the government buildings several days later. In doing so they disarmed some Czechoslovak gendarmes, not troops.

Czechoslovak troops retook the government buildings the following morning after some heavy local fighting, and most of the Sich under siege surrendered. If I remember rightly, the Czechoslovaks used armoured cars, not tanks.

However, in the meantime, Slovakia had declared independence, Bohemia-Moravia had been occupied by Germany and Carpatho-Ukraine had been awarded to Hungary. In these circumstances, with no Czechoslovakia left to defend, it was totally pointless for the Czechoslovak 12th Division to continue to try to hold Carpatho-Ukraine, so it successfully retreated into eastern Slovakia under pressure from the Hungarians. (Lesser units of border guards escaped with their armoured cars into Romania).

The Czechoslovak 12th Infantry Division was not a regular formation. It was an active formation, meaning that the vast majority of its men were conscripts, not regular soldiers.

Furthermore, the vast majority of 12th Infantry Division was facing the far more formidable Hungarians, not the Sich. Only a minority of its forces were in Khust.

If I remember rightly, there were no Czechoslovak aircraft based in Carpatho-Ukraine after October 1938, because the Hungarians had occupied the main airfields during the annexation of that month. (I need to check this, so don't take it as gospel.)

I will try to give you details of the Canadian journalist next time.

The difference between Czech and Hungarian official histories and Ukrainian nationalist exile accounts is that the former are written with documentary sources to hand and conform to some academic standard. For the most part the writings of exiled Ukrainians lack verifiable documentary sources and are motivated largely by political considerations. (The same is true of the few English-language writings I have seen by members of Hungary's Rongyos Garda, another essentially nationalist political exiled organisation.) Of all the writings I have seen on this subject (not many admittedly) it is the official Czech and Hungarian military versions that are most plausible, while those of nationalist exile groups are least plausible.

The Czechoslovaks spent from October 1938 to March 1939 physically opposing the Hungarians. They suffered a number of dead and wounded and captured several hundred Hungarian Ragged Guard members in late 1938. However, behind their backs the Sich was planning secession and was trying to raid its depots for weapons. On top of this, in mid March Czechoslovakia ceased to exist. Why on earth would Prchala's Czechoslovak 12th Infantry Division want to lay down more of its own lives for a bunch of ungrateful Ukrainians who had spent the last six months trying to stab them in the back?

Personally, I get the impression that the Czechoslovak 12th Division performed remarkably well in extremely difficult and demoralising conditions. Neither the Rongyos Garda, the Sich, Polish saboteurs nor the Hungarian Army managed to get the better of it. It was eventually squeezed out of Carpatho-Ukraine by wider European geo-politics, not by any of its local military opponents.

I would like to know more about the History of the Ukrainian Army you quote from. Could you give me fuller details. I might be able to find it in the British Library.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Post by sid guttridge » Fri Mar 18, 2005 11:49 am

Hi Norman,

I haven't got my hand written notes to hand, but I am pretty sure that the journalist with the Hungarians was A. Henderson, and his book was entitled "Eyewitness in Czechoslovakia". It was published in London in 1939.

The quote he attributes to the Hungarian commander (given as Colonel Baron von Unger - who I haven't been able to identify, but possibly Karoly Ungar) is as follows:

"These Ukrainians are fighting desperately. I must say they show great courage. It's a pity to kill them because we could use them in the Hungarian Army after all this is over."

The Sich was apparently modelled on the German SA and was therefore only a paramiltary organisation.

Apparently in December 1939 the Czechoslovak government offered to disband its home guard organisation in Ruthenia and hand over its 4,000 rifles and facilities to the Sich Guard. It also offered to give the Sich Guard weapons training on grenades, machine-guns and mortars under instruction from Ruthenian officers of the Czechoslovak Army. However, the Sich leadership was dominated by hard line non-Czechoslovak Ukrainian nationalists who declined the offer. Instead they continued to pilfer Czechoslovak weapons and provide secret training. As a result, the Sich was worse trained and equipped against the Hungarians in March 1939 than it need have been. The Sich leadership did allow one concession and allowed the army to arm 200 Sich members to help counter Polish border incursions.

On 11 March about 80 17-20 year old uniformed Sich volunteers were summoned to Khust, supposedly for driver and mechanic training. Instead they were armed and combined with 50 men from the Sich NCO school. According to later Czechoslovak debriefing of prisoners, most were not born in Carpatho-Ukraine, but in Polish Galicia. At 0030 (on 14 March?) they were ordered to seize the public buildings in Khust. They surprised the few police and gendarmes on duty. Voloshyn declared independence and at 0130 sent his telegramme asking for support from Germany. More local members were then mobilised to defend the coup.

The Czechoslovak Army was taken by surprise but at 0900 its troops moved in to seize the buildings behind tanks and armoured cars. The heaviest Sich weapons were heavy machine guns which could not penetrate the armour, so they had to surrender by noon. The Czechoslovak Army lost seven dead. It took about 50 prisoners and believed it had inflicted about 120 casualties on the Sich. The Sich survivors were driven across the River Tiza. As part of the surrender agreement, the Sich in Khust agreed to disarm.

During the day Slovakia declared independence so Prague ordered 12th Division to withdraw from untenable Carpatho-Ukraine. After the Czechoslovaks had pulled out of Khust, Voloshin summoned 22 of the 32 members of the Carpatho-Ukrainian Diet and these adopted a constitution, the Ukrainian flag, and the Ukrainian national anthem. The Sich was made the national army under the command of Colonel S. Yefremov. The Sich tried to disarm as many of the withdrawing Czechoslovak troops as it could, but these often destroyed what they could not recover rather than let the Hungarians capture it.

Voloshyn's government fled for the Romanian border early on 16 March to avoid the advancing Hungarians. At about 1000 hours about die-hard 800 Sich left Khust to confront them at Kopania (?) about 7 miles west of the town. They only had enough time to dig a few shallow trenches and stretch a bit of barbed wire across the road. They were greatly outnumbered and out-gunned by the mechanised Hungarians and were over run in a few hours. Apparently their dove grey uniforms made them conspicuous targets.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: Rusyns in Hungarian army

Post by tooz » Mon Jan 06, 2014 11:08 am

Can anyone identify the Hungarian Forces that invaded? Which division, formations et al.

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