Captain Varga of the Hungarian River Guard, WW2

Naval Forces of Hungary in WW2

In April 1919 the Hungarian government established the Naval Forces (Hadihajós csapat, literally “warship group”) under the authority of the Defence Ministry for the purpose of patrolling the Danube. It was replaced on 1 March 1921 by the civilian Royal Hungarian River Guard (Magyar Királyi Folyamőrség) under the Interior Ministry. Between March 1927 and May 1930 it expanded to about 1700 men personnel, a number that remained until the end of World War II. On January 15th 1939 the River Guard was renamed the Royal Hungarian Army River Forces (Magyar Királyi Honvéd Folyami Erők) and placed under the Defence Ministry. It used naval ranks until July 1944, when it switched to army ranks. In April 1941 it took part in the annexation of Yugoslavia. From April 1944 onwards its minesweepers assisted the Kriegsmarine (German navy) in clearing the Danube of aerial mines.

Order of battle (1 April 1940):

  • Patrol Boat Regiment (Budapest)
    • I Group
    • II Group
  • River Security Regiment in Ujvidek/Novi Sad after April 1941)
    • 1 Battalion
    • 2 Battalion
    • 3 Battalion
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Staff Captain Varga

The items shown here in photo’s come from the estate of Staff Captain (equivalent of Major in the army) Varga who emigrated to the US after WW2. Currently I have no photo’s or other info apart from what I will show below.

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From the ranklist of officers of the Hungarian forces the above picture. It shows he participated in the (re)annexation of Transylvania and Yugoslavia with his ship.

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And a copy (with thanks to the Hungarian Military Archives) of his basic information as stated in the Military Archives.

The generic Hungarian flag that was used on all boats of the River Guard. As there were few boats they are very rare today. Probably he took this from the last boat he was stationed on. I hope to find out which boat that was.

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Next to his flag also his parade belt with hangers for the Navy dagger has survived and a set of shoulder boards with his final rank of Captain.

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These items were part of the Otto Friedrich collection from Cleveland.

Hungarian Air Force WW2: pilot wings and cap badges

The Hungarian Air Force was built up in secret during the 1930s. Officially this was not allowed based on the Trianon treaty that was a result of World War 1. Also when the war started and they could openly built the Air Force further it remained rather small compared to other forces in the war making all insignia quite rare.

In most countries a pair of wings has become the standard symbol for an aviators qualification. In the Hungarian Air Force this was no different. What makes it a a bit more interesting is that almost the same design was used for cap badges. This leads to many mistakes by collectors, pilots wings are seen as cap badges and vice versa.

The distinction is actually quite easy. For the qualification badge the wings are straight and for the cap badges the wings are curved. Otherwise they are the same.

Pilot wings

There are basically two types of wings that were used in World War 2 by the Hungarian Air Force. One for the pilot and another for the observer (navigator). The only difference between these is that the pilot has a crown above the eagle and the observer not.

The wings are made of cloth with gold bullion stitching. There is no difference in rank visible in the badge – which makes it different from most Hungarian badges like on the cap badges we will discuss next.

The wings were worn (sewn on) on the right breast above the top pocket of the 1930M Air Force officers uniform (that I will discuss in another blog).

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 Worn version of the pilot wings, front and back below

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Metal versions of these wings were also officially made but these seem to have only been given to non-Hungarian pilots as “exchange” badges.Metal version awarded to a german pilot (photo from the internet, not my collection)

The observer wings were introduced later in the war and were worn by the officer with this task in the crew of a bomber. These are very rare and also exist in metal for foreign observers but I have not found a photo of one being worn or a confirmed original.

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        Lieutenant with the observer wings (photo from internet)

Cap badges

For the cap badges the story is interesting too as some more variations exist. The basis is again cloth with bullion stitching. Silver for ranks below officer and gold for officers. But more variations exist. A more ornate version on a red cloth background for general officers exists which is very rare. Also a version for officers in training. For use on the side cap for common soldiers a metal version was in use that later became standard for all ranks. All variations of course with the curved wings!

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NCO cap badge in silver bullion, top is worn, bottom one new old stock

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The NOS one even has the makers label still attached!

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Officers ID of an officer in training (zaszlos) with cap badge

Period overview of Air Force badges and ranks:

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WW2 Hungarian Gendarme (Csendőr) tunic

The word Gendarme is an old word, used in slightly different versions (Csendőr in Hungarian) all over Europe and has a similar meaning in all those languages. It was a military styled police force that acted in the rural areas. In Hungary cities had the right to set up a local police force (which they also had to fund in that case). All other areas (including cities that did not choose to have their own police force) were served / regulated by the Csendőr that were state funded. They were somewhere in between the army and the city police forces and brought law and order to the more remote areas.

In Hungary they also used the same uniform as the regular army (Honved) but could be distinguished by the colour of the shoulder and collar tabs: red on a green basis. Next to this they wore a very distinctive black hat with a rooster feather.

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In times of war the Gendarme / Csendőr would also act as military police or more correctly as Field Gendarmes. Within regular army units there were also Military Police men but these were not regular Gendarme / Csendőr and did not have the same extensive level of specialized police training. Such MP men wore regular uniforms but could be distinguished by a special badge (period 1942/44) that was worn on the left breast pocket.

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During the war, as late as 1944 – when the Germans had taken over practical control of Hungary,  a German style gorget (metal plate hanging from a chain on the front of the uniform) was introduced to make it more visible that a person was a Gendarme. As these were used only late in the war only few photo’s of them being worn exist.

This tunic was probably made in the 1930s and altered after the introduction of the M1940 type of uniform where a different type of collar was used (stand and fall type as now seen on this tunic). The rank is that of sergeant and also the silver buttons indicate it is an NCO rank (gold buttons for officers). The 3 medals indicate that the man served also in WW1 and participated in of two of the three re-annexation campaigns of areas lost in the Trianon treaty.

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These items were part of the Otto Friedrich collection from Cleveland.

Hungarian Military (Honvéd) Uniforms of WW2

As most books regarding Hungary in WW2 regarding the history, uniforms and medals are in Hungarian I want to add a series of short descriptions in English in this blog.

The 1939M tunic (zubbony in Hungarian) was a modernization of the earlier 1926M version. The most notable difference being the collar which was a standing collar in the earlier version. The 1939M came with a so called stand and fall collar (so a collar that folds like on a shirt).

The same style of uniform was used both by officers and men. The basic material of the tunic is wool but many variations exist in both quality of the material and details. Most officers bought a private, tailor made version of the tunic in a fine quality of wool “kammgarn”.

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The officers version as seen above can be recognized by the details in gold: the buttons, the collar insignia “paroli” and the shoulder loops. The collar insignia give information about rank and branch. In this case a colonel of the infantry. The stars are made of bullion. The collar loops are the same for officers of all ranks and all branches of the army, a small loop of gold material.

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The ranks below officer had most often a tunic in coarser wool “poszto”. Most professional soldiers would also have a tailor made in a finer version of wool like the one above. The distinctive difference with officers is that the details are in silver, buttons and collar insignia and the shoulder loops are of cloth and give the branch of the army as do the collar insignia. In this case a sergeant of the Gendarmes. The stars for the rank are made out of solid aluminum.

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The arm of the officers tunic ends with three (non-functional) buttons which the lower ranks tunic does not have.

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The back of the tunic shows a minor difference again, a single split for the officer and a double for the NCO.

Normally medals were worn on the uniform, even in the field in the first years of the war. Later in the war most men wore ribbons only and sometimes not even those. The colonel is showing a ribbon series fitting his rank and a career spanning two wars. Behind the ribbons also the loops for medals can be seen. The sergeant is wearing three medals on loops, also spanning a period of two wars.

The Hungarian WW2 Air Force officers 1930M tunic (zubbony)

The 1930M uniform was the standard Air Force officers uniform from 1930 until 1945. The only variations are in material and color. Green for regular use, white for the summer and black as the dress version. Within the green colour also many variations exist.  Officers could buy their own tailor made versions with more luxurious materials like gabardine in place of the regular wool version.

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Example of a flight officer wearing a tailor made version

This specific version is a coarse wool (poszto) version as was handed out by the Air Force. This variation is called the front version that has brown metal buttons in place of the regular gold coloured buttons and made of poszto.

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Example of a front version being worn by an Air Force lieutenant

Unlike on the army tunic the shoulder boards are detachable (which was also the case with the river forces). If the officer was an aviator the pilot wing would be worn on the right breast just above the top pocket.

This tunic like eg the German and English ones were also worn as part of the actual flight gear. Often with a leather coat over the tunic.

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Pilots with flight jacket over the tunic (photo from internet)

The Hungarian WW2 army officers 1931M dress tunic (társasági zubbony)

The first type of dress tunic of the Hungarian army, after World War one, was the 1926 Model which was a classic atilla style tunic which was in use in many armies up to World War one.

This was replaced by a more modern but still typical Hungarian dress tunic in 1931, hence the model name 1931M. This model was in use until 1945 and was never changed in that period. Where the regular officers uniform changed the collar in 1939 this remained a standing collar.

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Some colour variations exist based on the branch of the army – this one is the infantry green version. General officers had a light blue one (like the WW1 hechtgrau colour), darker blue for the cavalry etc. This version is for a Lieutenant Colonel of the Infantry. The loops on the left breast are for medals, in this case 9 loops. The combination of rank and medals hint at an officer that already started his career in the first World War.

Sources:

  • A Magyar Királyi Honvédség Egyenruhái 1926 – 1945, dr. Tóth László, Huniform, 2007
  • Video on youtube by Decker’s Militaria: https://youtu.be/QrlaTfwqG40