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Hungarian Tactics Soviet tactics

The Hungarian Ambush near Hill 386.0

Introduction

The history of the Hungarian tank forces during WWII still has many “blank spots”. The existing sources are contradictory and data is difficult to verify. However, the depths of the Russian archives hold hidden treasures. One of the finds in the Russian archives sheds light on the first combat engagement of the Hungarian Tiger Tanks in 1944. There is strong evidence that on 26th July 1944, Hungarian tankers clashed with the Soviet 1448 Self-Propelled Artillery Regiment, which supported the advance of the Soviet 18th Army.

Opposing forces

By the beginning of July 1944, the Soviet 18th Army consisted mainly of infantry and artillery units, supported by the 1448 self-propelled artillery regiment, perhaps the only armored formation in the whole army. It was fighting in what is now Central Ukraine.

Interestingly enough, the command of the 18th Army knew that there were enemy tank forces in the area of operation since 28th June 1944. They also recognized that some of them were equipped with Tigers, but did nothing to reinforce the anti-tank capabilities of the troops.

The intelligence of the 18A
The intelligence of the 18A reports that a train with tanks and artillery was spotted on Vorokhta station on 28 June. “All tanks except Tigers were with Hungarian crews”. Source: TsAMO

According to the Soviet intelligence, the enemy tank forces included the 2nd Hungarian Tank Division, the 16th Panzer Division and the 10th Reserve Tank Battalion (possibly the 10th Panzer Regiment).

Unit Number of Tanks Area of Operations
2nd Tank Division
(2 TD)
Up to 60 tanks Maidan Sredni, Svetny Stanislav, Tovmachik
16th Panzer Division
(16 TD)
45 tanks, 18 of them Tigers Dora
10th Reserve Tank Battalion (10 RTD) Up to 30 tanks Between Rostoki and Javoruv

Subsequently, after July 26, POWs provided Soviet intelligence with more details on the Hungarian 2nd Tank Division. They testified that the 2 TD was formed in 1938, consisting of 3 motorized infantry regiments, 3 tank regiments and 2 RO battalions (Rohamtüzérosztály, assault artillery), as well as a medical battalion, 2 signal battalions, and two artillery battalions (2nd and 6th). The 2 TD in full force had operated in the direction of Kolomyia since April 1944, but at the beginning of May, it was withdrawn to the reserve and was located in the area of Maidan Sredni, Delyatyn, Molotkuv (north-west of Nadvorna).

Disposition of the Hungarian 2 Tank Division in April 1944
Disposition of the Hungarian 2nd Tank Division in April 1944. 1 – Molotkuv, 2 – Nadvornaya, 3 – Maidan Sredni, 4 – Delyatyn. Source: TsAMO

The 2nd Tank Division was part of the 1st Hungarian Army, but acted as a separate division. By the end of July 1944, it consisted of 1 reconnaissance detachment – 150 troops, 2 battalions and 2 companies of Hungarian tanks, one battalion of German tanks and SPGs.

In total, the division had a paper strength up to 90 tanks:

2 battalions of Turan I tanks divided into 4 companies. A total of 40 tanks;

2 companies of Turan II tanks, a total of 20 tanks;

One battalion of German tanks and self-propelled guns.

According to Dr. Leo Niehorster, the actual strength of the Hungarian 2nd Tank Division on the 22nd of July 1944 was 27 Hungarian Tanks, 8 Panzer IVs, 4 Tigers, and 11 StuG IIIs.

The 2nd Tank Division was being kept in the reserve of the 1st Army and had to be used for mobile defense and counterattacks.

With the intensification of the actions of the Red Army, the tanks were moved from one intermediate position to another, but the order to retreat was not given.

Turan II tank equipped with side screens at Kubinka Museum in 2016
Turan II tank equipped with side screens at Kubinka Museum in 2016. Source: Alex Tarasov’s personal collection

1448 Self-Propelled Artillery Regiment

The Soviet 1448 Self-Propelled Artillery Regiment or SAP was formed in April 1943.

Some sources claim that 1448 SAP (Self-propelled Artillery Regiment, Samokhodno-Artilleriyskiy Polk) was formed according to the reduced Table of Organization and Equipment (TO&E) Nr. 08/191 (1942). The unit included 289 personnel and 20 self-propelled guns, divided into 5 batteries of 4 armored vehicles each. Three batteries were armed with SU-122, two other batteries with SU-76M.

SU-76M at Vadim Zadorozhny's Museum
SU-76M at Vadim Zadorozhny’s Museum. The SU-76M was the main production variant with an open-topped compartment and uprated engines on later models, while SU-76 had a fully armored casemate. According to some sources, 1448 SAP was initially equipped with SU-122 and SU-76 SPGs and rearmed with the SU-76M later. Source: Alex Tarasov’s personal collection
SU-122 self-propelled assault gun at UMMC Military Museum, Verkhnyaya Pyshma
SU-122 self-propelled assault gun at UMMC Military Museum, Verkhnyaya Pyshma. SU-122s were not intended for anti-tank fighting and were poorly suited for fighting against enemy armor. Source: Alex Tarasov’s personal collection

However, the unit’s war diary shows that by July 1944, the unit had been out of TO&E, as it had 33 SPGs in 7 batteries. It should be noted that such an organization and the number of self-propelled guns are quite uncommon for Soviet self-propelled artillery regiments. Usually, SAPs were armed with 12 to 21 SPGs in 5 batteries. Which TO&E used the 1448 SAP is not yet known.

From 1st May 1944 to 1st August 1944, the 1448 SAP was part of the 18th Army. On 23rd July 1944, the regiment was attached to infantry units of the 18th Army. Five batteries (23 SPGs) were attached to the 66th Infantry Division of the 95th Rifle Corps, 2 batteries (10 SPGs) to 226th Infantry Division of the 11th Rifle Corps. The 1448 SAP was tasked with helping infantry to break through the enemy line of defense in the area between Mikhalkuv-Cheremkhuv (now Mihalkov-Cheremhov) and supporting the further advance.

Disposition of the 1448 SAP on 13th July 1944
Disposition of the 1448 SAP on 13th July 1944. Source: TsAMO, F 315, O 4440, D 410. Source: TsAMO

After reconnaissance and establishing contact with units of 66th and 226th ID, the Army commander decided to attach self-propelled guns to the assault battalions to break through the enemy’s front line. In the first line, the SPGs were distributed throughout the entire breakthrough sector of the 18th army in order to deceive the enemy, showing the presence of many armored units in the area.

On the night of July 23, SUs moved up to their forward positions. After the artillery preparation they started the offensive, firing from short stops and supporting the infantry. When crossing the minefield, 6 SPGs were destroyed by mines. However, the right group of 8 SUs and the left of 10 SUs passed through the minefields along the passages made and continued to support the advancing units of 66th and 226th IDs.

After the breakthrough of the enemy’s frontline in the Yuzefovka area, two more SUs were lost to mines, and another self-propelled gun was hit by artillery fire. The regiment’s losses amounted to 9 SPGs in total, 8 lost to mines and 1 destroyed by artillery. Five personnel were killed, of which 2 were officers in addition to 15 wounded, of whom 3 were officers.

On 24th July, self-propelled guns continued to support the advancing units. They were divided into two groups – left (8 SUs) and right (12 SUs). The right group was in turn divided into two detachments of 7 SUs and 5 SUs, respectively.

The right group fought in the area to the north and south of Hill 344.4. One of the groups (7 SUs), together with 195th IR, captured Grabich. The second group (5 SUs) operated in cooperation with 193th IR and captured Glyboka (Glubokaya), and by the end of the day the station Goloskuv (Goloskov). The left group of 8 SUs acted in collaboration with units of the 226th ID. By 10:00 hours that day, Soviet troops took the southern outskirts of Khlebichen-Lesny (Lesnoy Khlebichin).

On 25th July, 1448 SAP divided into two groups continued to support the offensive of rifle units. The first group by the end of the day took the village of Kamenna (Kamennoye) to the north of Nadvornaya, and the second approached the Nadvornaya station, where it met strong enemy resistance.

Self-propelled guns, together with units of the 985th IR managed to break through from the northeastern direction, by 16:00 hours on the same day they completely captured the city of Nadvornaya. By 19:00 hours, Soviet units crossed the Bystritsa River (Bystritsa-Nadvornyanskaya) and developed an offensive northwards along the Nadvorna- Bogorodchany highway.

It is noted in the regiment’s war diary that units of 1448 SAP fought with enemy tanks, two of which were knocked out and subsequently captured.

The results of the battles on July 24-25 show that no self-propelled guns were lost. Thus, the regiment continued to operate with at least 20 SU.

On 26th June 1944, at 20:30 hours, self-propelled guns of the right group took tank desants (tankovy desant), infantry soldiers who rode into an attack on tanks, onboard and after a swift march captured the Bogorodchany. The left group was less fortunate, as it subsequently faced the Hungarian Tigers of the 2 TD.

Soviet troops in the Vyborg region, on the Karelian Isthmus. No date available, probably Summer 1944
Soviet troops in the Vyborg region, on the Karelian Isthmus. No date available, probably Summer 1944. The image shows tankovy desant in vivid detail. This was a very common and yet extremely dangerous way of transporting troops. Source: NARA, WDGS Report 100-44 – Russian Armored (Track Laying) Vehicles

The Ambush

The following account is based on the account from the 1448 SAP found in the war diary of the unit in the Russian archives. A group of 5 self-propelled guns progressed towards Bogorodchany, with the reconnaissance detachment of the 985th IR moving ahead of the main group.

The enemy allowed the avant-garde to pass towards Hill 386.0. Having let the SUs advance at a distance of up to 200 meters, the Hungarian tanks opened fire, 2 self-propelled guns were burned and 2 were knocked out, 4 men were killed and 5 wounded.

According to the war diary of the 1448 SAP, there were 5 tanks in the ambush, including 3 Tigers supported by an infantry company. The ambush itself was prepared at the southeastern edge of the forest east of Dombrovka (present-day Dibrova).

Immediately after that, the Hungarian units launched a counterattack in the Ostre region, but were forced to withdraw, leaving one Tiger and one Turan II at the intersection of roads in Lyakhovitsa, possibly due to mechanical failure or lack of fuel.

The enemy withdrew, leaving two tanks at the intersection of roads in Lyakhovitsa
“The enemy withdrew, leaving two tanks at the intersection of roads in Lyakhovitsa, one Tiger and one Hungarian Turan II”. The excerpt from the war diary of the 1448th self-propelled artillery regiment. Source: TsAMO

“The enemy withdrew, leaving two tanks at the intersection of roads in Lyakhovitsa, one Tiger and one Hungarian Turan II”. The excerpt from the war diary of the 1448th self-propelled artillery regiment. Source: TsAMO

Other self-propelled guns of the 1448 regiment continued to fight in the Solotvin area, west of Nadvornaya.

The results of the day for the regiment were the loss of four SUs, 4 crew members were killed and 8 wounded.

Soviet troops reported that they had burnt out 2 tanks in the Banya district, destroyed 12 machine guns and 3 mortars, had killed 150 soldiers and officers and 75 enemy soldiers were captured.

Additionally, Soviet troops captured more than 4 tanks, one of which was an operational Pz. IV, which was used against the enemy.

The Hungarian forces continued to retreat westward.

Map of the ambush
1 – Hill 386.0; 2 – the approximate place of the ambush; 3 – Ostre where the counter attack took place. Source: TsAMO

A Note of Identification

Combat is a confusing experience and it is certainly true that tanks have often been misidentified as something else across different theaters. In recording these events it is important to consider this possibility here to – that the Soviet soldiers misidentified tanks in the ambush as Tigers.

The prospect of misidentification, however, seems very unlikely for several reasons. Firstly, the crew members who survived could have claimed any number of any enemy vehicles. Yet it is emphasized in the war diary, that only 3 of 5 tanks were Tigers.

Secondly, the 1448 SAP had enough time to get familiarized with new German tanks between January 1944 and May 1944 when it was employed near Chernovtsy. There is a note in the war diary, that on 8th April the unit held an exercise with live fire on captured Panther tanks.

Besides, the unit had fought with Hungarians units, including armored, since May 1944. Thus, soldiers and officers most likely were experienced and able to identify enemy AFVs.

On this basis it is unlikely that the Soviet troops misidentified Hungarian tank forces as using Tiger tanks in this action.

Conclusion

According to Soviet documents, the battle at Nadvornaya or, to be precise, near Hill 386.0, was not as successful for the Hungarian tankers as mentioned in some sources. Most likely for propaganda purposes, the number of destroyed Russian AFVs was simply doubled.

Unfortunately, the documents do not mention the exact types of SPGs the ambushed group of the 1448 SAP was equipped with. However, it can be assumed that if these were SU-122 assault guns, Hungarian tankers could confuse them with T-34 tanks, as they used the same chassis.

It should be noted that neither lightly armored SU-76 armed with a 76 mm cannon, nor the SU-122 with a short-barreled howitzer were able to fight with Tigers and newer models of Pz. IV.

The Hungarians competently organized an ambush, fully using the advantages of their tanks, resulting in success in their first battle. They did not suffer any losses this day. Later, during the retreat, Hungarian tankers were forced to abandon their vehicles due to lack of fuel or mechanical breakdowns.

The Russian forces continued to advance towards the Hungarian border. The next major clash with enemy tank forces happened at Dolina, on 31st July.

One of the Tiger tanks used by the Hungarian army during May 1944
One of the Tiger tanks used by the Hungarian Army during May 1944. Illustrations by David Boquelet
A SU-122 like those operated by the 1448 SAP.
A SU-76M, the kind of vehicle probably ambushed near Hill 386.0

Sources

1. War diary of the 18A, 4th Ukrainian Front, 31.07.1944, TsAMO, F 244, O 3000, D 890, PP 1-72 [Russian: Журнал боевых действий 18 А 4 УкрФ. ЦАМО, Фонд: 244, Опись: 3000, Дело: 890]

2. 18th Army, dislocation map on 13.07.1944. TsAMO, F 315, O 4440, D 410 [Russian: Карта расположения частей армии на 13.7.44 г. – 13.07.1944 г. – ЦАМО, Ф 315, О 4440, Д 410]

3. War diary of the 1448th self-propelled artillery regiment, TsAMO, F 4438, O 0445095с, D 0003, PP 19-30 [Russian: Журнал боевых действий 1448 сап. ЦАМО, Фонд: 4438, Опись: 0445095с, Дело: 0003]

4. TO&E of the 1448th self-propelled artillery regiment. [Russian: Штат 1448 САП] http://tankfront.ru/ussr/sap/sap1448.html

5. Tactical map of the 18 Army, July 1944, TsAMO, F 371, O 6367, D 468 [ Отчетная карта боевых действий 18 А за июль 1944, 31.07.1944 г., ЦАМО, Ф: 371, О: 6367, Д: 468]

6. NARA, WDGS Report 100-44 – Russian Armored (Track Laying) Vehicles

7. Strengths of the 2nd Tank Division of the Royal Hungarian Army, Dr. Leo Niehorster