Hungary was after Italy, Germany’s European ally with the most significant domestic production of armored vehicles. While these vehicles were fine by the standards of the early war, unfortunately for the Hungarians, by the time these were fielded in larger numbers, they were already obsolete. To bolster their ally’s firepower, in 1942, the Germans supplied the Hungarians with a group of five Marder II tank destroyers.
The Hungarians officially signed the Tripartite Pact to join the Axis forces on 27th September 1940. By the time of the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Hungarians had the largest armored force of all German allies on this front. By the end of 1941, their armored formations had been decimated by the more advanced Soviet T-34 and KV tanks. The Hungarian mostly fielded lightly armed tanks, such as the Toldi and T-38, which were almost useless against the Soviet tanks. To rebuild its shattered force, the Hungarian high command tried to implement the ‘Huba II’ military plan. This plan involved the formation of two new units, the 1st and 2nd Armored Divisions.
Despite being unprepared, having suffered heavy losses and losing most of its armored formations, the Hungarian high command was hard-pressed by the Germans to send additional forces to the Eastern Front. The Hungarian high command chose to send the 2nd Army, which consisted of 9 light divisions and the 1st Field Armored Division. As there was a general lack of modern equipment, especially tanks, the formation of the 1st Field Armored Division was too slow. Despite German promises of modern equipment, the Hungarian were instead supplied with 102-108 (depending on the source) Panzer 38(t)’s (known in Hungarian service as T-38) and 22 better armed Panzer IV Ausf. F1’s. These vehicles were attached to the 30th Tank Regiment. The 1st Field Armored Division was also supplied with 19 Nimrod anti-tank/aircraft vehicles, 14 Csaba armored cars and 17 Toldi light tanks, with 4 rebuilt Toldi tanks that were used for medical roles.
By October 1942, due to heavy losses, only 4 Panzer IV and 22 T-38 were reported to be operational. To reinforce the Hungarian allies, the Germans provided them with 10 Panzer III Ausf. N’s, and a small number of Panzer IV Ausf. F2’s and G’s. In December (September and even January 1943 depending on the source) 1942, the Germans supplied the Hungarians with five Marder II vehicles.
The Marder II was a tank destroyer (panzer jager – tank hunter) based on a modified Panzer II Ausf. F tank chassis. The Panzer II was developed to overcome the many shortcomings of the previous Panzer I model. While the Germans would eventually develop more powerful and advanced vehicles, such as the Panzer III and IV, due to their initial slow production, the Panzer II served as the backbone of the Panzer formations in the early stages of the war. By 1942, due to attrition and obsolescence, Panzer II numbers began to dwindle and the surviving vehicles were reused for other purposes, most notably for the Marder II and Wespe self-propelled guns.
The Panzer II could be easily converted into Marder II by simply removing most of the upper superstructure and the tank turret. In its place, a 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun with a three-sided shield was placed instead. In total, some 531-576 new Marder II would be built, but smaller numbers (68-75) would be built by converting older and damaged vehicles and few would even be built by frontline troops. While the Marder II had many issues, it did solve the problem of the lack of mobility of the strong but heavy 7.5 cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun. While this vehicle had several different official names, like Pz.Kpfw.II als Sfl. mit 7.5 cm PaK 40 (Sd.KFz.131), it is generally best known today simply as the ‘Marder II’.
The Marder IIs supplied to the Hungarians were used to form an 1. Önálló páncélvadász század (1st independent tank-destroyer company) under the command of Captain Pál Zergényi. This unit base of operation was near Pushkino (Пушкино), where few German officers were present to help with the necessary crew training.
At the start of 1943, the Hungarian 1st Armored Division was put under direct German command as part of the Cramer-Corps. At that time, the total armored strength of this unit consisted of 9 Panzer III Ausf. N’s, 8 Panzer Ausf. IV F2’s and G’s, 8 Panzer IV Ausf. F1’s, 41 T-38’s and the 5 Marder II’s. The Cramer-Corps, beside the Hungarian Armored Division, consisted of the 26th and 168th Infantry Divisions, the German 190th Assault Gun Detachment and 700th Armor Detachment. The commander of the Cramer-Corps was Major General Hans Cramer.
In mid-January 1943, the Soviets launched an offensive against the Hungarian positions and, after heavy losses, forced them to retreat. The fighting was extensive around the city of Alekseyevka (west of the Don River, between Voronezh and Kharkov), which the Hungarian 1st Armored Division, with the help of the German 559th Anti-Tank Battalion, were ordered to take back. The attack began on 18th January 1943 and, during this attack, a Hungarian Marder II managed to destroy a Soviet T-60 tank. The next day, the Soviets made a counter-attack which was repelled with the loss of a T-34 destroyed by a Marder II and a T-60 destroyed by a Panzer IV. But, despite their success, the Axis forces were forced to retreat out of Alekseyevka.
On 21st January, the Axis forces again managed to enter the western parts of Alekseyevka. The Soviet attempts to drive them out were unsuccessful, with the loss of 150 to 200 men and one armored car destroyed by a German Marder II. The next day, the Hungarian Marder II’s managed to destroy one T-34 and a T-60 tank and stop the Soviet counter-attack. During the period of late January and early February 1943, the Hungarian 1st Armored Division saw extensive combat action against the advancing Soviet Forces. By 9th February 1943, three Marder II were lost, and only two were left operational. These were one of the last armored vehicles that the 1st Armored Division still had as it was withdrawn from the front in February 1943.
The remaining Marder IIs were returned to Germany in the summer of 1943. Their usage between their withdrawal from the front and their return to the Germans is unknown. At least one was used for evaluation purposes by the Hungarians. This may suggest that the two surviving vehicles may have been withdrawn from the front.
Other Marder series vehicles in Hungarian service
According to some internet sources, it appears that the Germans also provided the Hungarian with at least one (or more) 7.62 cm PaK 36(r) auf Fgst. PzKpfw.II(F) (Sfl.) (Sd.KFz. 132) Marder II, which was based on the Panzer II flamm tank chassis. This vehicle had a completely different suspension system and was armed with modified captured Soviet 7.62 cm field guns. This was probably supplied with the other Marder IIs at the end of 1942. It is not clear if this vehicle is included in the five previously mentioned Marder II. Sadly there is no more information about this vehicle in Hungarian service.
Tank historian S. J. Zaloga (Tanks of the Hitler’s Eastern Allies 1941-45) also mentions that, in August 1944, the Germans reinforced the Hungarian 1st Cavalry Division with a battery of Marder vehicles. While he does not mention precisely which Marder version is in question.
During 1943, while the two surviving Marder II were transported back to Germany, at least one of them was instead sent to the Haditechnikai Intézet (Hungarian Institution of Military Technology) for further studying and evaluation. Very soon, an idea to mount the German 7.5 cm PaK 40 on an obsolete Toldi tank chassis was formed. One prototype would be built, which greatly resembled the Marder II. While it appears that this project did not receive any official designation, it is referred to as Toldi páncélvadász (Toldi tank hunter). The Toldi turret and most parts of the upper structure were removed and, in their place, a new three-sided armored superstructure was added. The 7.5 cm gun was then placed on top of the Toldi hull, with the ammunition bin stored in the back, on top of the engine compartment. The one prototype would be tested but the results were probably unsatisfactory and the project was never implemented.
The Marder IIs provided the Hungarian with a means to effectively fight the Soviet Armor. But, as only a few were supplied, their impact on the overall poor condition of the Hungarian Armored Formations in the Soviet Union was essentially imperceptible. The Hungarian attempts to develop and build their own self-propelled anti-tank vehicles based on the Marder II did not take them anywhere.
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|Dimensions||6.36 x 2.28 x 2.2 m|
|Total weight||11 tonnes|
|Crew||Commander/Gunner, Loader and the Driver/Radio operator|
|Propulsion||Maybach HL 62 TR 140 HP @ 3000 rpm|
|Top speed||40 km/h, 20 km/h (cross country)|
|Range||190 km, 125 km (cross country)|
|Armament||7.5 cm PaK 40/2 L/46
7.92 mm MG 34
|Armor||Superstructure: 4-10 mm
Hull: 10-35 mm
|Elevation||-8° to +10°|
|Traverse||25° to the right and 32° to the left|