Home Page World War II Armed Forces — Orders of Battle and Organizations Last Updated 20.12.2018
The Royal Hungarian Army
1920 - 1945

by Leo W.G. Niehorster

— The Air Force to March 1941 —

The Hungarian Red Air Force

When the Communist government came to power on 01.08.1919, it established the Red Air Force (Vörös Légjárócsapat) to assist in the defence of Hungary.

There was no shortage of combat-experienced personnel, as the Hungarian contribution to the Austro-Hungarian K.u.K. Luftfahrttruppen (Imperial and Royal Aviation Troops) had been strong, 5,341 Hungarians having served with the Austrian Imperial Air Force during World War I. Over 600 aircraft were still available on Hungarian territory. These were mostly trainers of various types, but included some combat aircraft. The latter were not always in the best condition.

Hungarian aircraft manufactures, (the Ungarische Lloyd Flugzeug- und Motorenfabrik at Aszod, the Ungarische Allgemeine Maschinenfabrik at Budapest, and the Ungarische-Flugzeugfabrik at Albertfalva), resumed production for the Red Air Force, building the Phönix C I and UFAG C I two-seater reconnaissance biplanes, the Brandenburg W.29 two-seater float fighter, and the Fokker D VII single-seat fighter. Nine squadrons were formed.

The 1. – 7. Squadrons had five reconnaissance and five fighter aircraft each. (The reconnaissance aircraft were a mixture of Austro-Hungarian Aviatik (Berg) C I, Phönix C 1, UFAG C I and Lloyd C V aircraft, together with a handful of Fokker C I's confiscated from the German Mackensen Army which was being sent home through Hungarian territory; the fighter aircraft were mostly Austro-Hungarian Aviatik (Berg) C I and the Fokker D VII).

The 8. Squadron, (with 18 Fokker D VII fighters), was manned by personnel mostly from the former K.u.K. J-Flik. 42, which fought on the Italian front during WW I.

The 9. Squadron had floatplanes (Brandenburg W.29's).

The Red Air Force quickly established partial aerial supremacy, (although serviceability left much to be desired), and together with the Hungarian Red Army temporarily brought the Rumanians to a halt at the Tisza River.

As described in Chapter 1, after three months of fighting the Communist government collapsed in August 1919, and with its demise, the Red Air Force was dissolved.

During its brief existence the Red Air Force lost about 100 aircraft. Some 120 aircraft having been delivered by the three Hungarian aircraft factories. Most of the surviving aircraft were taken away by the Rumanians and Czechs.

The Secret Air Force

After the fall of the Soviet Republic, the Hungarian National Army put together three air groups in 1920 with aircraft salvaged from the Szeged, (under French occupation in 1919), from aircraft hidden from the Allies, and from the remaining aircraft of the Red Air Force which had succeeded in escaping the Rumanian wholesale theft. The Aviation Department (Légüyi Hivatal – LüH) was formed secretly within the Ministry of Traffic in January 1920, and was allocated the responsibility for the creation of the new air arm which began its clandestine existence in August 1921.

Modest aircraft production was continued by the industry, the new government trying to maintain the nucleus of an air arm under the guise of the Air Gendarmerie (Légi Csendörség) with a few dozen aircraft (Fokker D VII, Phönix C I, and UFAG C I).

Czechoslovakia, Rumania and Yugoslavia immediately protested the formation of this paramilitary organization and forced its disbandment. Not to be out manoeuvred, the Hungarians used its personnel and equipment in 1920 to form the cadre of MAeFORT, (Magyar Légiforgalmi Társág, literally, the Hungarian Aero Company), the new airmail service. This company operated two scheduled services, between Budapest and Szeged, and between Budapest and Szombathely.

But the Treaty of Trianon had forbidden all forms aviation to Hungary, and in 1922, under the supervision of a control commission, 108 aircraft and 220 engines were scrapped. However the Hungarians continued to prepare the ground work for an air force in secret. The Entente Control Commission also closed down the civilian airline MAeFORT, destroying all planes and even hangars (!) in Hungary. However, the Hungarians managed to save something from the disaster by hiding dissembled aircraft in farms and other locations.

Department II was formed within the Ministry of Trade and Transport in January 1920, and was responsible for the creation and training of the new air arm.

Formation of the secret air force was begun in August 1921 as Department XI (Air). It was equipped with a very mixed assortment of aircraft, and manned by WWI veterans. It worked out training programs for both pilots and ground crews.

Colonel István Petróczy was the first chief of the Air Force. He had been the commanding officer of the Austro-Hungarian K.u.K. Luftschiffahrtabteilung.

When the restrictions on civil flying were lifted the autumn of 1922, four military aviation establishments were in existence and flying courses had already begun, despite the presence of the Allied Military Control Commission. The new establishments were not, of course, overtly military, bearing such designations as the Society for Aviation (AERO Szövetség), which was future experimental and testing group, the Meteorological Group (Idöjelzö Osztály), which was the cover name for the fighter component, the Airmail Group (Légiposta Osztály), which was to become the future bomber element, and the Air Gendarmerie (Légi Csendörség). The Pilot Training School (Repül-ögépvezetö Iskola) formed at Szombathely, was also ostensibly a purely civil organization, established to train personnel for Hungarian Airlines Ltd., the new national civilian passenger and mail carrier, (Magyár Légiforgalmi R.t., or MALÉRT).

The Air Department (Légügyi Hivatal, or LüH), was revealed on 10.04.1924. Aircraft consisted of a handful of WWI aircraft that had been hidden successfully from the Control Commission, and a few Ansaldo A.300 and Bristol F.2B two-seaters that were obtained by the Air Force during 1922–23 for evaluation by the "Airmail Group". Hungary's depressed economic situation prevented substantial aircraft purchases for her clandestine air arm until 1925, when priority was given to the acquisition of a successor to the Hansa-Brandenburg B I trainer. To provide replacement training aircraft quickly, the Air Force established secret production facilities at Székésfehérvár-Sóstó. This plant, designated as the Central Repair Workshops to hide its true function, built five or six examples of a improved version of the Hansa-Brandenburg B I known as the "Kis Brandi" (Little Brandis) in 1925. It also managed to produce a few modified Fokker D VII's in 1926.

An Air Force purchasing commission narrowed its choice to the Bristol Type 83 and the Udet U 12 Flamingo as possible replacements for the / B I. Five of the Type 83 trainers were delivered to Hungary in April 1926, but the U 12 Flamingo was finally selected. The Air Force decided to purchase 24 examples from Germany together with a manufacturing licence. Production was awarded to Manfréd Weiss. Manfréd Weiss in Budapest was one of the biggest industrial concerns in Hungary. It had started aircraft manufacturing on the instructions of the Air Force in 1927, and subsequently produced 40 U 12 Flamingos, the first of which flew in April 1929.

Prior to manufacturing the U 12, Manfréd Weiss had built 27 Heinkel HD 22 two-seat general-purpose biplanes, officially for use by new national carrier (Magyár Légiforgalmi Részvénytársaság – MALÉRT), but in actual fact serving with the Air Force's embryo bomber component, the "Airmail Group". Weiss also initiated licence production of the Fokker C VD, which had been selected by the Air Force as the standard tactical reconnaissance aircraft. Three Fokker C VE's purchased in 1927 from the Netherlands flew on internal airmail routes for MALÉRT. Manfréd Weiss built some 50 C VD's, which were delivered direct to the clandestine military units. The first Fokker C VD flew in December 1928. Manfréd Weiss also produced a few C VE's for MALÉRT. The Central Repair Workshops produced a further nine C VD's.

Throughout the late twenties emphasis was placed on training in order to create a substantial personnel reserve. In addition to a Pilot Training School at Szombathely, aero clubs (similar to those of the Germans), were established throughout the country, staffed by Air Force instructors and provided initial flying training for the pilots. The air crews came from the ranks of the regular and reserve officers and NCO's.

When the Inter-Allied Control Commission ceased activities, and turned over its powers to the Hungarian government. Hungary joined the International Aeronautical Federation on 19.05.1927. The Aviation Department was then able to allowed officers to acquire their pilot's license as of 1.08.1927, at least privately.

On 16.12.1928, LTG Vassel was secretly appointed as Inspector General of the Royal Hungarian Air Force (Magyar Királyi Honvéd Légierö – MKHL). By 1930, the LüH had also managed to train some administrative staff, which were allowed to wear uniforms staring in 1930.

Aided by the improved economic situation during the 1930's, the Air Force was expanded little by little. It was accelerated by the Miklos Horthy National Aviation Fund (The National Aviation Fund was a pseudo-civilian organization, in actuality staffed by Hungarian Air Force instructors and which was nonmilitary in name only), owed much to Hungarian aspirations of regaining by force of arms the territories ceded to the "Small Entente". Nevertheless, although Hungary's neighbors were perfectly well aware of the fact that an Hungarian air arm existed in defiance of the terms of the Treaty of Trianon, the service continued its twilight existence without any public admission on the part of the Hungarian government that it possessed an air arm.

During the early thirties Manfréd Weiss produced the WM 10 primary trainer for the clubs, and the Central Repair Workshops evolved an improved version of the Flamingo known as the Hungaria, 80 examples being built for the Air Force. Until 1931, the Air Force possessed no aircraft intended specifically for the fighter or bomber role, but with the purchase from Italy of 21 single-seat Fiat Cr-20bis fighters and a few Cr-20B two-seaters the first fighter unit was formed as the 1st Meteorological Group (1. Idöjelzö Osztály). This was followed by a bomber unit, called the 1st Airmail Group (1. Légiposta Osztály), for which 20 Caproni Ca-101 trimotor bombers were bought.

To supplement the Fokker C VD in the tactical (short-range) reconnaissance role Manfréd Weiss produced two derivatives of the basic Fokker design, the WM 16A Budapest I (550 HP WM-built Gnôme-Rhône 9K Mistral) and the WM 16B Budapest II (860 HP WM-built Gnôme-Rhône 14K Mistral-Major), the prototypes flying in 1933 and 1934 respectively, and eight WM 16A Budapest I and four WM 16B Budapest II being built.

 Aircraft of the Royal Hungarian Air Force acquired before WWII 
    Aircraft in green produced in Hungary.                                                      Approximate *
    Aircraft Type & Model     Service     Total
    Ansaldo A.300     1922-25 ?   
    Bristol F.28     1922–25 ?   
    Hansa-Brandenburg B I (Kis Brandi)     1925–32 5   
    Bristol Type 183     1926–35 5   
    Udet U 12 Flamingo     1926–39 24   
    KRG Fokker D VII     1926–32 –   
    WM-Heinkel HD 22     1927– 27   
    WM-Fokker C VD     1928–43 50   
    WM U 12 Flamingo     1929–39 40   
    Junkers A 35     1930– 2   
    Junkers A 50     1930– 3   
    KRG-Fokker C VD     1930–42 9   
    Fiat BR 3     1932– 1   
    Caproni Ca 97     1932–35 4   
    Hungária I–V     1930–39 80   
    Fiat Cr 20bis     1934–36 1   
    Fiat Cr 20B     1934–38 5   
    WM 16A Budapest I     1934–42 8   
    WM 16B Budapest II     1935–42 4   
    Caproni Ca 101     1935–43 20   
    Caproni Ca 102     1935– 2   
    Fiat Cr 32     1936–42 90 *
    Heinkel He 46     1937–43 66   
    Heinkel He 170A (70A)     1937–41 18   
    Meridionali Ro 37bis     1937–41 6 *
    Heinkel He 45     1938–41 2   
    WM 21 Sólyom     1938–43 85   
    Breda 25     1938–39 3   
    Junkers Ju 86K-2     1938-43 66   
    Bücker Bü 131 Jungmann     1938-45 100   
    Messerschmitt Bf 108B Taifun     1939-44 120 *
    Fock-Wulf Fw 56 Stösser     1939-44 18   
    Messerschmitt Bf 109D-1     1939– 3   
    Heinkel He 112B-1     1939– 3   
    Heinkel He 112 V9     1939– 1   
    Klemm Kl 25     1937– 6   
    Klemm Kl 31     1937– 1   
    Klemm Kl 35     1939– 5   
    Fiat Cr 42 Falco     1939-43 71 *
    Nardi FN 305     1939-44 12   
    Meridionali Ro 41     1939-41 5   
    Meridionali Ro 41B     1939-41 3   
    Caproni Ca 310 Libeccio     1939-41 12   
    Focke-Wulf Fw 58B Weihe     1939– 6   
    Focke-Wulf Fw 58C Weihe     1939– 3   
    Caproni Ca 135bis     1940–43 70 *
    Dornier Do 23     1940– 4   
    Arado Ar 79     1940– 5   
    Arado Ar 96B     1940–44 35   
    SIAI-Marchetti SM 75     1940–44 5   
The other seven squadrons were known as:
  • The Budapest Sports Society (BSE)
  • The Technological University Sport Flying Society (MSrE)
  • The Experimental Flight Group (RKC)
  • The National Aircraft Pilot School (REGVI)
  • The Debrecen Aero Club (DAC)
  • The Matra Aero Club (MAC)
  • The Somogy Aero Club (SAC)

These nine squadrons of the MKHL were organized into three air groups of three squadrons each.

Expansion and New Equipment

Although all Air Force aircraft bore civil registrations, the clandestine existence of the MKHL, as the air arm was to be named, was coming to an end. By 1935 the Air Force had began to seek more modern combat aircraft.

Dr. György Rákosi, the head of the LüH at this time, (who had himself commanded a WWI air force squadron), used Italian and German concepts to modernize Hungary's air defense forces. He also laid the groundwork for improved training, logistics, and local aircraft components manufacture.

In an attempt to provide a standard fighter of superior performance to the Fiat Cr-20bis, the Central Repair Workshops, with the backing of Dr. Rákosi, had built a prototype fighter of indigenous design, the Avis I, but official trials conducted during 1933–34 had yielded disappointing results. Modified versions of this aircraft, the Avis II and III prototypes, were flown in 1935, but were also found to offer inferior performances to those of contemporary foreign designs. An attempt was made to purchase a manufacturing licence for the PZL P 24 fighter but this was refused by the Polish government.

The Air Force therefore approached the Ernst Heinkel concern in Germany with a view to the possibility of Hungarian licence manufacture of a version of the He 51 fighter powered by the Manfréd Weiss-built Gnôme-Rhône 14K radial. Accordingly, at the end of 1935, an He 51 re-engined with a Gnôme-Rhône 14K was secretly demonstrated to the Air Force at Budapest, but this fighter's performance was found to be inadequate, and the Air Force elected to purchase the Fiat Cr-32.

The first of some 90 Cr-32 fighters, together with a small number of single- and two-seat Cr-30s for training, arrived in Hungary during 1936.

In 1937 the framework of the future fighter element of the Hungarian air arm was created with the establishment of the 1st Fighter Regiment (1. Vadász Ezred) quickly followed by the 2nd Fighter Regiment. The fighter regiments were supposed to have two groups, (each with three 12-aircraft squadrons), but initially the fighter regiments had only enough aircraft to form one group each, (1./I Fighter Group (Vadász Osztály) at Börgönd and Veszprém, and the 2./I Fighter Group at Nyiregyháza).

The He 51 had been accompanied during its demonstration at Budapest by an He 111 prototype and an He 70F, and consideration was given to the possible licence manufacture of both types for the future bomber and long-range reconnaissance elements of the Hungarian air arm, but in the event only the latter type was purchased, the 18 aircraft ordered (and delivered from September 1937 under the Heinkel designation He 170A) being produced by the parent company with Manfréd Weiss supplying the Gnôme-Rhône 14K engines. With the delivery of these aircraft the 1st Independent Long-Range Reconnaissance Group (1. Onálló Távolfelderitö Osztály) was formed at Mátyásföld airfield, near Budapest, early in 1938 with two nine-aircraft squadrons.

Short-range reconnaissance squadron equipment consisted of 36 Gnôme-Rhône 14K-powered Heinkel He 46 monoplanes obtained from Germany after the few Italian Meridionali Ro 37bis reconnaissance biplanes acquired for evaluation had been being promptly rejected. Together with the Fokker C VD's and the WM 16 Budapest, the He 46's were operated by the short-range reconnaissance squadrons from 1937, one squadron being attached to each mixed brigade and each squadron being designated by the brigade numeral (e.g., 1., 2., 3. Közelfelderitö Század), and from 1938 the ageing C VD's were progressively replaced by the Hungarian-produced WM 21 Sólyom.

To meet its bomber requirements the Air Force had, in 1936, finally opted for the Junkers Ju 86K-2 powered by the WM-built Gnôme-Rhône 14K, and successive orders were to result in a total of 66 bombers of this type being acquired. The first recipient of the Ju 86K-2 was the 3rd Bomber Regiment (3. Bombázó Ezred), its 1st Group (3./I Bombázó Osztály) starting to form on the type in 1937, its 2nd Group (3./II Bombázó Osztály) being equipped with the Caproni Ca 101 and still known officially as the 1st Airmail Group (1. Légiposta Osztály).

Hungary developed two important technical innovations in connection with the field of aviation between the world wars.

The first was the Gebauer machine gun, which was initially put into practice as early as 1921, but which the Allied Control Commission ordered destroyed. This was the standard "through the propeller" type machine gun interrupter for the Air Force throughout the Second World War.

The second invention was the Juhász-Gamma antiaircraft sight, which was used on the 40mm Bofors guns. It was acknowledged as the best in the world at the time.

Further Progress

The German-Austrian Anschluss on 13.03.1938 was seen with some trepidation in Hungary. It meant that Germany was now Hungary's new neighbor, with the result that Hungary would probably fall within the German sphere of influence. Germany, anxious to strengthen its presence in the area, proposed that the Luftwaffe should help the Hungarian government with its expanding air arm and undertook to assist in the reorganization, modernization, and expansion of the Hungarian Air Force. The Hungarian government, attempting to force a rapid expansion of its military aviation, decided to accept the offer.

As matters stood, after the retirement of Colonel István Petróczy and until the appointment of his successor Valdemár Kenese, the clandestine air arm had been commanded by Army officers with little if any no aviation experience. Of the seven commanders of the Air Force between 1920 and 1941, only three had an aviation background; the rest were regular army men because no senior Air Force officers were available to fill the position.

Generalmajor Alexander Löhr was sent to Hungary to head up this mission. He had been Commander-in-Chief of the Austrian Air Force (Österreichische Luftstreitkräfte) until the Anschluss, and was a highly experienced and energetic officer, and the seconding of General Löhr as an adviser to the Hungarian air force was of interest.

The small Luftwaffe mission sent to Hungary included flying and technical instructors, specialists in tactics and organization, as well as other personnel. It arrived in Hungary to direct and staff both the flying schools and the operational units.

The Luftwaffe mission recommended reorganizing existing training facilities and establishing new schools. The mission also acted as advisers to air staffs and individual operational units.

To cater for this considerably expanded training program 100 Bücker Bü 131 Jungmann primary trainers were ordered from Germany, followed by further orders for Focke Wulf Fw 56 Stosser, Messerschmitt Bf 108 Taifun, and Junkers Ju 86D and Heinkel He 70 bombers.

Brücker Bü 131 in 1936 (click for larger image)

At Bled in Yugoslavia, on 23.08.1938, the Little Entente acknowledged at the Bled Conference Hungary's right to rearm itself as necessary.

In 1938, two Hungarian pilots flew their plane "Justice for Hungary" across the Atlantic to emphasize Hungary's feelings about the Trianon Treaty.

During this time, the assistance from Italy to Hungary also continued to grow. In 1938, the DRT (Délolaszországi Repülö Tanfolyam, lit. South Italian Flying Course) was initiated in Italy. The program trained 200 Hungarian pilots and lasted until 1940.

An Independent Air Force

In accordance with the decree signed by Horthy on of 28.12.1938 the Magyar Királyi Honvéd Légiero became independent of the Army on 01.01.1939. [HL HM Elnökség A. – 1938/93512] Colonel László Háry was appointed the commander.

The 1939 Slovakian Campaign

After the Ruthenia declaration of independence, Hungarian forces launched a lightning attack on 15.03.1939 against the new Republic of Slovakia, and quickly overran Carpatho-Ruthenia in the eastern part of that country.

On 14.03.1939 the Air Force had deployed its forces as follows:
The IInd Group/3rd Bomber Regiment at Debrecen
    • 3./3 Squadron (nine Ju 86K-2)
    • 3./4 Squadron (nine Ju 86K-2)
    • 3./5 Squadron (nine Ju 86K-2)
The Ist Group /1st Fighter Regiment
    • 1./1 Squadron at Ungvár (nine Cr-32)
    • 1./2 Squadron at Miskolc (nine Cr-32)
    • 1./3 Squadron at Csap (nine Cr-32)

Unfortunately, the 1./3 Squadron was barely operational because of the waterlogged state of the airfield at Csap following a severe storm.

The 1st Independent Long-Range Reconnaissance Group (with nine He 170) was at Kecskemét.

The Hungarian air arm proved to be superior to its fledgling Slovak counterpart, and quickly established air superiority. During the course of the brief conflict the He 170's of the 1st Independent Long-Range Reconnaissance Group flew reconnaissance sorties from Kécskemét.

The Slovaks attempted to interfere with the Hungarian occupation of Ruthenia by launching harassing raids against Hungarian towns along the border.

On 23.04.1939, Hungarian antiaircraft shot down three Letov S-328 and two Avia B-534 aircraft.

The 3./4, 3./5 and 3./6 Bomber Squadrons bombed the Slovakian airfield at Igló and the Slovakian positions in the vicinity of the Perecsen Valley on 24.03.1939. The 15 Ju 86K-2 bombers attacking Igló were escorted by the Fiat Cr-32 fighters of the 1./2 Squadron. Although the effort was not an overwhelming success, ten enemy aircraft were damaged on the ground.

Opposition from the newly-established Slovakian air arm, (Slovenské vzdusné zbrane), was limited to a few attempts to intercept Hungarian formations with Avia B-534s. On 24.03.1939 the Cr-32's of the 1./1 Squadron claimed nine Slovak B-534's without loss. One of the B-534's was forced down near Sobranice and captured by the Hungarians. In other encounters, the Hungarian Fiat Cr-32's bested the Slovak Letov S-328's and Avia B-534's. Fortunately, the Slovaks carried out no air raids on Hungary.

The attack had the effect that the Slovaks ceased their air incursions against Hungarian towns.

Inaguration of the Horthy Air Force Academy in Kassa, 5 November 1939 (click for larger image) Air Force Academy

The Horthy Air Force Academy (Magyar Királyi Vitéz Nagybányai Horthy Miklós Repülő Akadémia, usually shortened to Horthy Repülő Akadémia), was established at Kassa on 31.03.1939, and opened on 05.11.1939. The academy consisted of a school and a student flying training squadron, (1. Honvéd Alapkiképzo Zlj.), with 13 aircraft. split up into two training flights (1. and 2.). Wartime flight training was mainly on Ar 96s, Bü 131s, Levente IIs, and Fw 58s.

After the death of Horthy's son in combat on 07.11.1942, the academy was renamed A m. kir. vitéz nagybányai Horthy István Honvéd Repülő Akadémia, again shortened to István Horthy Repülő Akadémia (Istvan Horthy Air Force Academy) in his honor.

The entire Academy moved to Berlin-Gatow airfield on the outskirts of Berlin on 27.02.1945.
[Source: Magyar Szárnyak. Évkönyv (Hungarian Wings. Yearbook), Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, 1979]

The Transylvanian Crisis

The tensions between Hungary and Rumania lead to a partial mobilization of the Hungarian Army, including the Air Force.

On 2.07.1940, the 1st Air Force Brigade was alerted. The alert was called off a few days later. But suddenly, on 23.08.1940, total mobilization was ordered. All units of the Air Force were ready for the scheduled attack on 28.08.1940.

On 27.08.1940, a Rumanian He 112 fighter attacked a Hungarian Ca135 Bomber near Debrecen. The damaged bomber managed to land safely. On 28.08.1940, one Hungarian WM-21 observation aircraft dropped bombs on the Rumanian airfield at Szatmárnémeti, but was wrecked upon landing.

The Second Vienna Award signed on 30.08.1940 relieved the situation somewhat and the Hungarian Army was demobilized.

Although the Award was supposed to settle tensions, incidents continued to occur occasionally, and reconnaissance flights were continuously flown.

The Royal Hungarian Air Force Emerges

Having now fired its guns inn anger the existence of the MKHL was at last officially revealed as a force in being, but the Carpatho-Ruthenia "coup" had served to heighten tension in the area still further, and relations with Rumania over the question of Transylvania continued to deteriorate.

Weiss-Manfréd WM-21B Sólyom (click for larger image) The Hungarian government, envisaging the likelihood of war with Rumania and possibly Yugoslavia, placed considerable impetus behind the expansion of the air force, and anxiously sought more modern combat aircraft. At the same time an effort was made to expand the indigenous aircraft industry. The state-owned Györ Wagon Factory (Györi Vagongyár) begun aircraft production in 1938 with the WM 21 Sólyom (Falcon) tactical reconnaissance biplanes, and the Hungarian State Wagon and Engineering Factory (Mágyar Allami Vaggon és Gépgyár), or MÁVAG, in Budapest also now began preparations to build aircraft.

Priority in the upgrading of the air force was given to the acquisition of a replacement for the Cr-32 fighter, and early in 1939 three Bf 109D-l and three He 112B-I fighters were obtained from Germany for competitive evaluation and possible licence manufacture to fulfil the longer-term requirement.

Still thinking in terms of a conflict with the remaining members of the "Little Entente", the Hungarian government also began negotiations with Italy for the supply of the new Fiat Cr-42 Falco fighter biplane to fulfil the more immediate requirement of the air force. Although obsolescent in concept, the Cr-42 compared favorably in performance with the fighter equipment of Hungary's neighbor states and the first deliveries could be made before the end of 1939, and therefore a contract was awarded for some 70 aircraft of this type.

Owing to the balance of trade, Italy was favored as an aircraft procurement source, and in addition to the Cr-42's orders were placed for 12 Nardi FN 305 trainers, five single-seat and three two-seat Meridionali Ro 41 trainers, and 12 Caproni Ca 310 Libeccio light reconnaissance-bombers. Because of constant minor troubles, the last-mentioned type was relegated to ancillary tasks, such as target-towing, and most examples were eventually returned to Italy.

As a successor for the Ju 86K-2 with the air force's bomber component Hungary ordered the Caproni Ca-135bis in 1939, successive batches delivered during 1940 totalling approximately 70 aircraft.

The Air Force had the following combat aircraft in December 1939:
    69 Cr-32 fighters
    71 Cr-42 fighters
    62 Ju 86K bombers
    16 He 110A long-range recon.
    34 He 46 short-range recon.
    51 WM 21 short-range recon.

The He 170 had been relegated to advanced trainer status by this time and had been replaced by the He 110A. The air force commander was Colonel László Háry, a veteran pilot of WW I.

On 27.12.1939 a contract was placed with Caproni for 70 Reggiane Re 2000 "Falco I" fighters plus a small number of airframes to assist the MÁVAG in initiating production of the fighter, a manufacturing licence for which having been obtained simultaneously. The choice of the Re 2000 as the main combat fighter was determined by several factors, the most important being Germany's unwillingness to permit the manufacture of modern license-built German fighters in Hungary and her reluctance to guarantee deliveries from German factories.

The German Foreign Office was anxious to avoid antagonizing Rumania, tension between that country and Hungary over Transylvania having reached a new height. The situation was continually being aggravated by frequent incursions over Transylvania of Hungarian photographic sorties with the He 170's of the Long-Range Reconnaissance Group based at Kecskemét.

Hungary was well able to meet the projected HUBA I personnel requirements by the end of 1940, but equipment was a major stumbling block. The majority of its aircraft were obsolete, and it saw little chance of acquiring the needed number of aircraft, in particular bombers, from foreign sources. Even normal maintenance was a major problem because foreign ordnance and spare parts were not always available in sufficient numbers to guarantee proper service, let alone combat readiness. It also hampered flight and maintenance training. National aircraft production was completely insufficient to cover the needs of the Air Force.

The Hungarian government decided in 1940 that it could not rely any further on foreign aircraft deliveries. It therefore authorized the investment of 790 million Pengö over a four-year period. The sum was to be used to expand Hungarian aviation industry. It furthermore encouraged industry to negotiate contracts with German companies and acquire licenses to build German planes.

Up to the end of 1939, all Air Force units had existed basically as training formations, so that in case of an emergency, only five of the 30 squadrons could in reality be designated as "combat" squadrons. In mid-1940, the training mission was removed from combat units, and training was put under control of the Training Regiment.

The air force progressively phased out the Cr-32 fighter in favor of the Cr-42, although gladly taking delivery from Germany of an additional thirty-six Cr-32 of the former Austrian Air Force in 1940. [Page 227, Renner, Broken Wings]

By the end of 1940, the 4./I Group had begun complete conversion to the Ca-135bis bomber. Training equipment was supplemented by the delivery from Germany of the first 35 Arado Ar 96Bs.

MALÉRT, (Magyár Légiforgalmi R.t. – the Hungarian national carrier), ceased operations on 16.01.1941 in accordance with the mobilization plans. Its five SIAI-Marchetti SM 75 trimotor transports, staff and personnel, as well as all the equipment were transferred to the Air Force. Filled up with reservists, it formed the independent 1st Parachute Squadron (1. Ejtöernyos Század). Work began immediately to expand the parachute unit to battalion size. By the end of 1940, the Air Force had a strength of 5,734 professional and reserve soldiers.

On 24.12.1940, Colonel László Háry was retired.

The restructuring of the command structure of the Hungarian armed forces on 1.03.1941 meant that the MKHL ceased to exist as a separate service on this date and was integrated into the Army. General (GSC) András Littay was appointed as Chief, Bureau of the Air Force in the Honvéd Ministry.

Summing Up

The Hungarians had wanted to achieve military equality with the neighbors, but received no support from the western nations. Britain and France supported the nations of the Small Entente, particularly Czechoslovakia. So Hungary had little choice but to turn to Germany and Italy.

Hungary tried to get full, unqualified assistance, but failed to get it from the Germans. In their point of view, of course,

Hungary was only a potential ally, (and even a potential enemy for some time), and other countries in the region were more important to the Germans. In addition, Hitler and Horthy did not get along personally at all, which resulted in Hitler not trusting or supporting the Hungarians.

The Italians tended to be more helpful. However, the problem was that their equipment was simply not as good as that of the Germans. The Hungarians were forced to abandon buying top-quality German aircraft and instead had to import the second-rate Italian equipment. The problem was that Italian airplanes had serious operational weaknesses. Unfortunately, these defects were not immediately obvious, and only tended to come to the fore during actual combat.

Aircraft Inventory, 13.03.1941
   Aircraft Type Number of
    Fighters    8    96    96    8    88   
    Bombers    10    120    70    26    44   
    Sort-Range Recon.    10    80    78    26    52   
    Long-Range Recon.    2    24    16    -    16   
    Transport    1    6    5    -    5   
Total         326    265    60    205   
It is obvious that in 1941 Hungary lacked modern equipment and suffered from other deficiencies. The reasons, as have been examined in detail, were the poor economic state of the country after the war, the disadvantages of organizing secretly, the preference for Italian equipment, as well as the lack of knowhow in high positions. Although Hungary had spent 78.5 million Pengö between 1938 and 1941 for importing German aircraft and another 113 million Pengö on Italian aircraft, it had not been able to acquire enough to meets its plans.

On the other hand, up to the beginning of World War II, the Hungarian Air Force had been built up for a limited purpose. It was never intended to play the role of major aggressive force such as those of the world powers. It was conceived basically as a weapon to defend Hungarian air space against its immediate enemies: the Rumanians, the Czechs, the Slovaks, the Yugoslavians. Its other mission was to provide support for the ground forces. In these, the Hungarian Air Force had achieved its goals, as the brief border spats with Czechoslovakia amply demonstrated.

Air Force personnel was well trained, morale was high, and in the upcoming operations the crews would manage to get the best out of their obsolete and semi-obsolete machines.

Aircraft Capabilities

Apparently, only Germany and Britain had the right philosophy for building fighter aircraft at this time. This included good performance, aerobatic maneuverability, sufficient firepower, and protection. In the field of aerobatics, the Italian aircraft were good, very quick in all three aspects of aerobatic movement — pitch, roll, and yaw. But they were seriously under-gunned. For example, the Spitfire had eight, while the Me-109E had two to four machine guns and one cannon, providing a much heavier punch that the Italian models, or those based on them, such as the Héja (license-built Italian Re2000s) in service during 1942/43, which had only two Breda 12.7mm machine guns. The Italian fighters were not protected, (no armor at all, not even armored seats, which left the pilot very vulnerable indeed). One of the reasons for the delay in introducing the Hungarian Héja was that the armored seat introduced by the Hungarians changed the weight distribution.

* * *

Ranks of the Hungarian Air Force
Major General
Brigadier General (to 1941) Brigadier General (from 1941)
Lieutenant Colonel
1st Lieutenant
2nd Lieutenant
Cadet / 3rd Lieutenant
Hadapród Őrmester Candidate Officer/Cadet
Regimental (Command) Sergeant Major
Senior Staff Sergeant / Master Sergeant
Staff Sergeant / Technical Sergeant
Senior (Platoon) Corporal
Senior Private
Private / Soldier
The three shoulder boards shown at the bottom left are:
V.–VIII.  Vezérkar
   (General Staff)
   (Scarlet Red = skarlátvörös)
V.–XI.  Repülő Mérnök
   (Engineer of the Air Force)
   (Cherry Red = meggyvörös)
VII.–XI.  Repülő muszaki Tiszviselo
   (Technical Official of the Air Force)
   (Cherry Red = meggyvörös)
The Air Force used the same rank nomenclature as the Army, adding "rep." for repülő (airman) after the rank. The Army carried their rank insignia on their collars, except for overcoats, when the insignia similar to the Air Force was additionally worn on both lower sleeves. A similar system to that used for the Army overcoats was used by the Air Force, although the Air Force displayed their ranks on shoulder boards, even in the case of overcoats, when the rank insignia also was on the shoulders. (Exceptionally, that aircrews in flying jackets and overalls showed them on both lower sleeves.)
Royal Hungarian Air Force Uniforms and Ranks
 [Loósy, color poster ...]

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Chapter 3   **   Chapter 5
Glossary   **   Place Names