During WWII, the Hungarians were one of Germany’s allies which had a significant domestic production of armored vehicles. While these locally produced vehicles were fine by the standards of the early war, unfortunately for the Hungarians, by the time they were fielded in larger numbers, they were already obsolete. To bolster their ally’s firepower, in 1942, the Germans supplied the Hungarians with a selection of armored vehicles, including over 100 Panzer 38(t) tanks.
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 Hungarian Army (Honvéd) had the largest armored force of all the German allies on this front. By the end of 1941, the Hungarians fielded light tanks, which were of little use against the newer 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 and having suffered heavy losses, including much 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 (1.páncélos hadosztály). 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 Hungarians were instead supplied with 102-108 (depending on the source) Panzer 38(t) Ausf. F and G (known in Hungarian service as the T-38, but also classified as a medium tank) and 22 better armed Panzer IV Ausf. F1 (classified as a heavy tank in Hungarian service). Among the acquired T-38s, some 38 were command vehicles with better radio equipment (Fu 2 radio receiver which was standard for all T-38 and a Fu 5 transmitter) and reduced secondary armament of one machine gun. The Germans also provided the Hungarians crews with necessary training at the Wünsdorf military school.
In Hungarian service, the T-38s received three-digit numbers, which was painted on the turret rear side. In addition, on the hull, a slightly modified German Balkenkreuz was painted. The difference is the color of the central cross was painted in green (instead of the original black) on a red background.
The 1st Field Armored Division had, in total, 89 T-38s and all the 22 Panzer IVs, which were allocated to the 30th Tank Regiment. The 1st Armored Reconnaissance Battalion of this division was equipped with 14 Csaba armored cars and 17 Toldi light tanks, with 4 rebuilt Toldi tanks being used for medical support roles. In addition, there was the 51st Armored Autocannon Battalion, also known as the 51st Tank Hunter Battalion, which was equipped with 18-19 Nimrod anti-tank/aircraft vehicles. The Hungarian 2nd Army was tasked with supporting the German left flank advancing toward Stalingrad.
The Panzer 38(t)
The TNH – LT vz. 38 tank was developed and built by the Czech ČKD company (Českomoravska Kolben Danek) in the second half of the nineteen-thirties. Production of the vz. 38 began in late 1938 but, by the time of the German annexation of Czech territory, not a single tank had been taken over by the Czech Army. Germany captured many brand new vz.38 tanks and, in May 1939, a delegation was sent to the ČKD factory to examine their operational potential. The Germans were so impressed with this tank that they were quickly introduced into Wehrmacht service under the name Pz.Kpfw.38(t) or simply Panzer 38(t). The ČKD factory was completely taken over for the needs of the German Army under the new name BMM (Bohmisch-Mahrische Maschinenfabrik).
The Panzer 38(t) was built in relatively large numbers, saw combat action from Poland to the end of the war and was considered an effective tank for its class. But, from late 1941 on, it became obvious that it was becoming obsolete as a first-line combat tank. The Panzer 38(t) chassis, on the other hand, was mechanically reliable and was highly suitable for use for other purposes, a fact which the Germans exploited to the maximum. Over 100 Panzer 38(t) Ausf. F and G tanks, which had stronger 50 mm armor, were supplied by the Germans to their Hungarian allies in an attempt to rebuild their armored formation.
The majority of the Hungarian 2nd Army was engaged in the advance toward the city of Stalingrad, ‘Operation Blau’, in May 1942. The 1st Armored Division was not involved in these initial combat operations, as its elements did not reach the front line until June and July. The reason for this delay was the general lack of fuel and transport vehicles.
The 1st Armored Division’s initial position was in the Uryv-Pokrovka, Storozhevoye area, on the western banks of the Don River. Its first orders were to crush a Soviet bridgehead defended by the 130th Tank Brigade. The Hungarian attack, which began on 18th July, was spearheaded by elements of the 30th Tank Regiment and 51st Tank Hunter Battalion. The Hungarian Panzer IVs managed to destroy a Soviet T-34, followed by more Soviet tank losses, mostly T-34s and American supplied M3 Stuart tanks. Being lightly armored, the M3 Stuart tanks could be destroyed by the T-38’s 3.7 cm guns. A Hungarian correspondent who was in one of the T-38s during this offensive later wrote down in his memories:
“… We carried on and entered the light of a burning farm just at the worst moment. A stack stirred and approached us. As the straw fell behind a Soviet tank appeared in front of us…. It was a medium tank (a M3 Stuart tank) firing two shots at us. None of them got us, we were still alive! But our second shot did hit it! … As I spied out of the turret I couldn’t see any Hungarian tank losses. But my joy was too early: my headphones asked for a doctor. ‘Tank number 591 got hit. We need a doctor!’ I could see through my binoculars that a major from the staff reached the damaged vehicle and lifted the injured men over into his tank under heavy fire. Quite a few enemy tanks opened fire on them and we tried to cover them as well as we could from the distance. We were much relieved when the doctor’s tank arrived and that the damaged tank hadn’t fallen into enemy hands. It didn’t catch fire either and was towed away. ”
The Soviet bridgehead was eventually destroyed by the afternoon. The Soviet losses were 21 destroyed tanks. The majority of these were destroyed by the Panzer IVs. The Nimrod vehicles destroyed 6 tanks and the remaining 3 were destroyed by the T-38s. During the Soviet retreat, their losses climbed to 35 tanks, with at least 4 captured M3 light tanks. The Hungarian losses were minimal, with only two damaged but recovered T-38 tanks. Of the 4 captured M3s, one was sent back to Hungary for evaluation and the remaining were used to tow the damaged T-38’s.
By the end of July, the Hungarians were confronted by the 261st and the 260th Tank Battalions (both belonging to the 130th Tank Brigade). The 260th Tank Battalion had organized two centers of resistance. The first ,supported with 3 M3 and 5 T-60 tanks, was located 1.2 km northwards from the forest which lies 2 km northwards from the village of Miginevo. It was intended to support the actions of the composite battalion of the 24th Motor Rifle Brigade. The second point of resistance was supported with 7 T-34, positioned in the North-Western outskirts of Miginevo, ready to provide fire support in the direction of Titchiha – Selyavnoe. The total armored strength of the 260th Tank Battalion was 3 M3, 5 T-60 and 7 T-34 tanks. The 261st Tank Battalion had its 10 T-60 concentrated at the North-Eastern edge of the wood 2 km westwards from the village of Davydovka. Another 17 T-60 tanks were concentrated in the woods 500 m to the South-East from the village of Drakino. In total, this unit had 27 T-60 tanks.
Some elements of the 1st Armored Division were engaged in the battle for Storozhevoye on 10th August. There, a poorly prepared attack led to the loss of 10 T-38s, of which 3 could not be recovered. Interestingly, these three abandoned Hungarian T-38 tanks (known by the Soviets as 38T) would be evacuated during the night of 10/11 August by the Soviet 260th Tank Battalion. The 1st Armored Division’s next action was the attempt to stop the Soviet attack near the city of Korotoyak. For this, elements from the 1st Armored Division were sent to support the Hungarian defensive.
The battle against Soviet forces resumed on 15th August, when the Hungarian forces managed to inflict on the Soviets the following losses: 3 knocked out M3 Stuarts, 3 burned and 3 knocked out T-60s, 1 knocked out 38T (reused by the Soviets) and one T-34, which took severe damage including a jammed turret and bent gun barrel.
The Hungarians also lost a Panzer IV and at least three T-38s. One of these T-38s was destroyed by a Soviet Sergeant, V. Panganis, who, after his 45 mm anti-tank gun was destroyed, took a few AT grenades and jumped under the tank, blowing himself and the Hungarian vehicle up. Two more Soviet tanks were destroyed by the end of the day, with the loss of three additional T-38s. One was destroyed by a Soviet T-34 and the remaining two, ironically, by German anti-tank fire. In the following days of harsh battle for Korotoyak, the Hungarian losses increased to 55 T-38s and 15 Panzer IVs. Of these numbers, some 35 vehicles were under maintenance and repairable. The 1st Armored Division was eventually pulled back from Korotoyak due to increased losses. The Germans provided the Hungarians with four Panzer Ausf. F2 tanks fitted with the longer 7.5 cm gun. By the end of August, the 1st Armored Division total strength was around 85 T-38s, 22 Panzer IVs and at least 5 Toldi tanks.
T-38 destroyed a T-34
At the start of September, the Hungarians made another attempt to crush the Soviet positions around Uryv-Korotoyak. The attack began on 9th September, supported by the German 168th Infantry Division and the 201st Assault Gun Detachment. As the Soviet positions were well defended, the attack was proceeding at a slow pace. A Hungarian Tank Battalion was sent to support the attack on the Soviet positions at Storozhevoye, which were defended by T-34 tanks. During the fighting, a T-38 commanded by Sergeant Janos Csizmadia came across a T-34 that was attacking the German rear positions. Sergeant Janos Csizmadia reacted quickly and fired at the T-34 at close range. The T-38’s 3.7 cm armor-piercing round managed to pierce the T-34’s rear armor and the tank exploded. This was one of the few occasions where the T-38’s weak gun managed to destroy a T-34. By the end of the day, Sergeant Janos Csizmadia, encouraged by this success, managed to personally destroy two enemy bunkers with hand grenades but also to capture at least 30 demoralized Soviet soldiers. For his action, he was awarded the Great Silver Medal for Bravery.
Continuous battle for Uryv and Korotoyak
After two days of hard fighting, the Axis forces finally managed to capture the entirety of Storozhevoye on 11th September, with the further loss of two Hungarian T-38s. The Axis attacked the Soviet bunker positions in the Otitchiha hamlet.
Because they were too well defended, the first attack was repulsed, with many Hungarian tanks being damaged or put out of action. The next day, the Axis forces attacked from another direction. As the heavy Soviet bunkers were immune to the 3.7 cm guns, the crews would often destroy these bunkers by using hand grenades. The attack eventually succeeded and the German 168th Infantry Division set up defensive positions there. The Soviets made a counter-attack supported by heavy KV-1 and T-34 tanks. The Hungarian tanks were ordered to resist this attack. The following engagement was mostly one-sided, as the Hungarian 3.7 cm guns proved useless during this combat. The desperate situation was later described by Corporal Moker in his diary.
“ …. We pushed ahead until we reached the Headquarters of the German Infantry… A Russian tank (KV-1C) appeared ahead of us from the wheat-field and opened heavy fire on us. Yet comrade Nyerges, our gunner, was quick to answer. He managed to gun superbly and we watched his moves trustfully. We retired a few meters and so did the enemy. Nyerges sent one tank-grenade after the other. He shook his head, something must have been wrong. He kept on loading and firing and we were stifling from the smoke. It seemed that we were unable to break the armor of that tank, its thick and slanting skin resisted everything, thus all our efforts were in vain. Nyerges stopped for a moment and took a deep breath. He was dripping with sweat. This helplessness was terrible! … In the meantime, the enemy tank retired. We started to hope. I could hear a terrible detonation and felt as if I was rising. I was struggling desperately to stand up and open the roof but my throat microphone’s cord held me back. Helping hands rescued me from my imprisonment, pulling me out by the arm. I fell in front of the vehicle. I felt a burning pain at the back of my head but I didn’t pay attention to it… “
The same KV-1 destroyed another T-38 which was nearby. By the end of the day, the Hungarian losses were extensive and only 22 T-38s and 4 Panzer IVs were still operational. The Soviets lost 8 T-34 tanks and two KV-1s were damaged. Between 14th to 16th September, all Soviet counter-attacks were repulsed with losses of 18 T-34 and 6 KV-1 tanks. Some fell victim to Hungarian fire, but also to the firepower of German supporting assault guns. Nevertheless, on 16th September, the Hungarian 30th Tank Regiment had only 12 T-38s and 2 Panzer IVs operational.
By October 1942, in order to reinforce their Hungarian allies, the Germans provided them with 10 Panzer III Ausf. N tanks and 6 Panzer IV Ausf. F2 and G. The next larger engagement of the Hungarian armor with the Soviet happened on 19th October near Storozhevoye. The Hungarian tankers managed to destroy 4 Soviet tanks.
From that point on, the 1st Armored Division was put into reserve for rest and refurbishment. In December (or September depending on the source) 1942, the Germans supplied the Hungarians with five Marder II vehicles and at least three more Panzer 38(t) Ausf. C tanks. At the start of 1943, the Hungarian 1st Armored Division was put under direct German command, under the Cramer-Corps. At that time, the total armored strength of this unit consisted of 9 Panzer III Ausf. N, 8 Panzer Ausf. F2 and G, 8 Panzer IV Ausf. F1, 41 T-38s and the 5 Marder II tank destroyers. 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.
The Soviet Winter offensive
In mid-January 1943, the Soviets launched an offensive against the Hungarian positions and, after heavy losses, forced them to retreat. The Soviet tanks caused chaos in the Hungarian lines. The German 700th Armored Detachment (equipped with Panzer 38(t) tanks) was also decimated on the way. The Soviets then engaged the Hungarian 12th Field Artillery Regiment, which they destroyed, but the Soviets lost 9 tanks in the process. The low temperatures of -20 to -30°C also caused important losses to the Hungarians. Nevertheless, the Soviets were forced to stop their attack due to significant tank losses. During the Soviet offensive, many T-38s were blown up by their crews due to a general lack of fuel and breakdowns. For example, the 1st Tank Brigade alone had to blow up 17 T-38 tanks.
The fighting was extensive around the city of Alekseyevka (west of the Don river), 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 after heavy fighting, Alekseyevka was taken by the Axis forces. 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. Despite their success, the Axis forces were forced to retreat out of Alekseyevka. On 21st January 1943, the Axis forces again managed to enter the western parts of the city of Alekseyevka. But the 1st Armored Division had to retreat and, on 25th January, reached Noviy Oskol. For the remainder of January and early February, the 1st Armored Division fought many hard battles with the advancing Soviets. During the fighting around the city of Korocha, the last operational T-38 was lost. Without ammunition, it was attacked by two T-60s and one T-34. By 9th February, the 1st Armored Division reached the river Donets and eventually reached Kharkov. Due to extensive losses, this division had to be pulled back from the front. The last remaining operational vehicles were two Marder II tank destroyers.
The remaining T-38s that managed to avoid destruction were mostly used in Hungary for crew training. They may have seen some more action during the Soviet advance towards Hungary by the war’s end, but in any case, these were already obsolete.
In Russian hands
It appears that the Soviet 130th Tank Brigade, during their fighting with the Hungarian armed forces, managed to capture at least three T-38s tanks. The war diary of the Soviet 260th Tank Battalion (which was part of the 130th Tank Brigade) stated that, on 9th August 1942, the unit had three T-34, three M3 Light and fifteen T-60 tanks (21 operational tanks in total). On the same day, the battalion took up a defensive position at the edge of the forest northwards from Hills 171,6 and 195,5. By 18:00, the battalion, including tanks, was ‘fully entrenched’. Three T-34 tanks were allocated to defend the village of Miginevo. On the next day, 10 August, at 5:30 in the morning, the battle started with heavy shelling. At 9:00, the enemy put into action 27 tanks, but after losing 16 of them, the enemy was forced to retreat. The 260th Tank Battalion reported no losses during this engagement.
On the 10th August 1942, the Axis forces advanced in the area Storozhevoye – Hill 186,6. Multiple tank-infantry attacks were repulsed. The 260th Tank Battalion, acting as a part of the 24th Motor Rifle Brigade, defended an area in the South-Western part of the forest to West of the hamlet of Titchiha (Otitchiha). As a result of the engagement, the 260th Tank Battalion reported 1 enemy tank knocked out and 1 burned. Also, 25 enemy soldiers were reported as casualties.
The report also noted that First Lieutenant HOMENKO (originally ‘HOMENK’, one letter probably missing), commander of the tank company of the 260th Tank Battalion, ‘organized defense right’, which eventually helped to hold the ground. On the same day (10th August), the I/130 MSPB (Motostrelkovo-Pulemyotnyj Bataljon, Motor-Rifle Machine-Gun Battalion) took up a defensive position near the Hill 187,7 and also fought as a part of 24 Motor Rifle Brigade.
On the night of 10/11 August, the 260th Tank Battalion managed to evacuate from the battlefield 3 knocked-out 38T tanks. Two of them were repaired during the next day (11 August 1942) and put into Soviet service. On the 13th August, the 260th Tank Battalion had three T-34, three M3 Light, 15 T-60 and 2 captured 38T tanks (one of the 38Ts finished repair by 18:00 on the same day).
The Soviet forces on the 14th August received a verbal order to move during the night and concentrate in the area south-west of the village of Goldayevka. The task was to advance in the direction of Hill 160,2 – Goldayevka. The force allocated to that attack consisted of one T-34, three M3 Light, ten T-60 and the two captured 38Ts.
On the next day, 15th August, at 5:00, the 260th Tank Battalion arrived at the area of operations and reconnoitered it. At 6:00, the Battalion started to advance in the direction of Hill 160,2 keeping the line formation. After heavy fighting, the battalion commander reported that the enemy lost 4 anti-tank guns, 3 machine guns, 2 mortars and at least 25 soldiers and officers.
The 260th Battalion had lost two T-60 tanks, with one completely burned out. The second tank was recovered and repaired. The 260th Battalion managed to eventually capture Hill 160,2, but was later forced to retreat as it was lacking infantry support.
Another attack started at 15:30. The Battalion still possessed one damaged T-34, three M3, eight T-60 and one captured 38T. Again, the commander reported enemy losses as follows: 6 anti-tank guns, 2 mortars, 3 cars, and up to 100 enemy soldiers and officers. Soviet losses included at that time three knocked-out M3 (all later recovered), one knocked out 38T and one destroyed T-60 which was left on the battlefield. In the following attack, despite having infantry support, Hill 160,2 was not captured and Soviet forces fell back. At 18:00, the Battalion withdrew from the battle. Its War Diary mentioned another one 38T “destroyed and left on the battlefield” as well as stress, that ‘T-60s don’t fit to be used in the first line of attack’.
This information could be corroborated with the 130th Tank Brigade report. According to that document, on the 15th August, the 260th Tank Battalion lost one of two operational 38T tanks during the first attack on Hill 160,2 which commenced at 7:00. The second 38T was lost during the next attack initiated at 15:30 in order to recapture the same hill.
Total claimed enemy losses at the end of the 15th August were 12 AT-guns, 3 cars, 4 mortars, 6 machine guns and more than 160 men and officers. Total Soviet losses were 5 men and officers killed in action, 1 severely damaged T-34, 3 knocked out M3 Light, 2 knocked out 38T and 6 T-60, of which 3 burned and 3 knocked out.
On 16 August, the 260th Tank Battalion had 5 T-34 (3 tanks in Migenevo) and 12 T-60 tanks. Most of them did not take part in the attacks on the previous day.
According to the 130th Tank Brigade report, on 16th August, the 260th Tank Battalion formed a Tank Company from remaining operational tanks. The Company had five T-34s, ten T-60s, three M3 Light and one 38T. Three days later, the Brigade still had one 38T but with a jammed turret.
According to the 6th Army report dated from 21st September 1942, one 38T (previously belonging to the 260th Tank Battalion) was to be allocated to the 3rd Barrier Troop (in essence an anti-retreat unit) Detachment which was stationed at Davidovska. In total, it seems that the Soviet units engaged in this area operated around three captured 38Ts captured from the Hungarian forces.
While the 260th Tank Battalion had three 38T tanks, only two were ever used. The fate of the last vehicle is unknown but it was either unusable or more likely simply cannibalized to get spare parts.
The T-38s provided the Hungarians with means to equip their shattered armored forces after the hard battles of 1941. Over 100 were acquired but their performance was inadequate by the standards of 1942. While they did achieve some success, they simply did not have any chance against more modern Soviet armor.
Panzer 38(t) Ausf.G, Royal Hungarian Army, 30th Tank Regiment, 6th Company – 1942, Don area, Russia.
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C. Bescze (2007) Magyar Steel Hungarian Armour in WW II, STRATUS.
P. Chamberlain and H. Doyle (1978) Encyclopedia of German Tanks of World War Two – Revised Edition, Arms and Armor press.
B. Adam, E. Miklos, S. Gyula (2006) A Magyar Királyi Honvédség külföldi gyártású páncélos harcjárművei 1920-1945, Petit Real
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N. Thomas and L. P. Szabo (2010) The Royal Hungarian Army in World War II, Osprey.
War Diary of the 260th Tank Battalion. TsAMO, F 3107, Op. 1, D. 90, ll. 64-67 (ob.)
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Soviet 6th Army operational area map. TsAMO, F 203, Op. 2843, D. 182
The author would like to express special thanks To Alex Tarasov for providing translation and information from Russian sources!
|Dimensions||4.61 x 2.14 x 2.4 m|
|Total weight||9.8 tonnes|
|Crew||Commander/Gunner, Loader, Driver and Radio operator|
|Propulsion||Praga Type EPA 125 hp @ 2200 rpm, six-cylinder gasoline engine|
|Top speed||42 km/h, 20 km/h (cross country)|
|Range||250 km, 160 km (cross country)|
|Armament||29/44M. 80 mm (3.15 in) Bofors/DIMÁVAG L/58
2x 34/40AM. 8 mm (0.31 in) Gebauer machine guns
|Armament, prototypes||3.7 cm KwK 38(t) L/48.8
2 x 7.92 mm MG 37(t)
|Elevation||-10° to +25°|