Hungarian–Romanian War

Hungarian–Romanian War
Part of the 1918–20 revolutions and interventions in Hungary

Romanian Cavalry in Budapest
DateNovember 1918 - March 1920
Military events:
15 April 1919 - 6 August 1919

Romanian victory

 First Hungarian Republic (until 21 March 1919)
Hungarian Soviet Republic (from 21 March 1919)
Romania Kingdom of Romania
Commanders and leaders

Béla Kun

Aurél Stromfeld
Ferenc Julier
Vilmos Böhm
Hungarian People's Republic (1918–19) Gyula Peidl
Romania Ferdinand I
France Henri Berthelot
Romania Traian Moşoiu
Romania George Mărdărescu
Romania Constantin Prezan
Romania Ion Antonescu
10,000—80,000 10,000—96,000
Casualties and losses
unknown dead
~41,000 captured
3,670 dead
11,666 total

The Hungarian–Romanian War was fought between the First Hungarian Republic succeeded by the Hungarian Soviet Republic and the Kingdom of Romania from November 1918 until March 1920 with the main military operations starting in April and ending in August 1919.

At the end of 1918, the final year of World War I, the collapse of Austria-Hungary led to the declaration of Union of Transylvania with Romania. The Romanians wanted to ensure the success of their territorial demands in the coming Peace Conference and to help the national aspirations of the Transylvanian Romanians. The crown council in Bucharest decided in favor of an attack and in April 1919 the Romanians launched a powerful offensive along the entire Hungarian-Romanian demarcation line which was set according to the Belgrade Armistice of 1918. The Paris Conference decisions of moving forward the Hungarian–Romanian demarcation line was unacceptable to the Hungarian government, which resigned in March 1919. The Bolsheviks took power and wanted to make good on their promise to protect Hungary's borders withstanding the Entente's further demand of territorial concessions.

During the war the Hungarian Red Army also fought against troops from Czechoslovakia, though not simultaneously with the Romanians, and Yugoslavian forces occupied Hungary up to Pécs. In the war's first phase, the Romanian Army advanced against light resistance up to the Western Carpathian Mountains. In the second phase they overcame the Hungarian Red Army to reach the Tisza river. Finally, in the third phase, they defeated the Hungarian Army and ousted the communist regime of Béla Kun, after they occupied Budapest (August 1919).


Territorial changes in the War between Hungary and Romania


In 1918 the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy collapsed as a result of losing World War I. On October 31, 1918, the success of the Aster Revolution in Budapest brought the left-liberal Count Mihály Károlyi, an Entente devotee, to power as Prime Minister. He yielded to Woodrow Wilson's pacifism by ordering the full disarmament of the Hungarian Army[1] than Béla Linder (the minister of war in the Károlyi Government) ordered the disband of the armed forces, thus the first Hungarian Republic left the country without any military defense.[2] Károlyi proclaimed the advent of the First Republic, of which he was President. On 13 November 1918 in Belgrade Károlyi signed an armistice with the Entente, setting up demarcation lines for the territory that was to remain under Hungarian control until definitive frontiers would be established. By the terms of the armistice, Serbian and French troops advanced from the South, taking control of the entire Banat and Croatia. At the same time Czechoslovakia took control of Upper Hungary and of Carpathian Ruthenia and Romanian troops were allowed to advance to the Mureș river. However, the demarcation lines were not to hold for long,[3] the Serbians occupying Pécs as soon as November 14.[4] The armistice limited the size of the Hungarian army to six infantry and two cavalry Divisions[5]

By February 1919 the Károlyi government had lost all popular support, having failed on domestic and military fronts. The communist leader Béla Kun was imprisoned in the Marko street prison on February. After the resign of the liberal Mihály Károlyi, Béla Kun and his comrades were released from the prison on the night of 20 March 1919.[6] After the communist Coup d'état, the former liberal president of the First Hungarian Republic, Mihály Károlyi was arrested by the new communist regime on march 21, 1919, and he could only manage to escape and flee to Paris only after the end of July 1919.[7] Kun immediately formed a Social Democrat and Communist "coalition" government on March 21, and proclaimed the Hungarian Soviet Republic on the same day. However some days later the communists purged the social democrats from the government.[8][9] The new government proclaimed the Hungarian Soviet Republic and promised equality and social justice.

The Hungarian Soviet Government proposed that Hungary be restructured as a federation. The proposal was intended to appeal to both domestic and foreign opinion. Domestic considerations included maintaining the territorial integrity and economic unity of the former crown lands, and protecting the nation's borders via a patriotic war.[10] The government had popular support, especially from the army. Most of the officers of the Hungarian army originated from areas that had been forcibly occupied by states bordering Hungary and this circumstance heightened its patriotic mood.[10] In light of President Wilson's doctrine of self-determination of peoples, the proposed federation was also intended to appeal to foreign opinion as a solution to the country's multi-ethnic composition. The dominance of Hungary's Magyars would be lessened by allowing self-government and self-directed institutions for the non-Magyar peoples of Hungary.[10]

The Communists, or "Reds", came to power largely thanks to being the only group with an organized fighting force, and to their promising that Hungary would defend its territory without conscription (possibly with the help of the Soviet Red Army). Initially, most soldiers of Hungary's Red Army were armed factory workers from Budapest. Later the Hungarian Red Army became a truly national army, the ranks of which were motivated by patriotism rather than ideology.


In 1916, Romania entered World War I on the side of the Entente, with the main goal of uniting all territories with a Romanian national majority into one state (see Treaty of Bucharest (1916)). In 1918, after the communists took power in Russia and signed a separate peace in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with the Central Powers, Romania was left alone on the Entente's Eastern Front, a situation that far surpassed its military capabilities. Therefore, it sued for peace, and reached an understanding with the Central Powers in May 1918 in the Treaty of Bucharest. Alexandru Marghiloman signed the Treaty of Bucharest with the Central Powers on May 7, 1918. However, this treaty was never signed by King Ferdinand.

The situation in Romania at the end of 1918 was dire. Romania was suffering from the consequences of the punitive war reparations[11] imposed by the Central Powers, Dobruja was under Bulgarian occupation and a large German army under the command of field marshal August von Mackensen was retreating through the country. The bulk of the Romanian army was demobilized, leaving only four full-strength Divisions while further eight Divisions were at peace-time strength. With these troops, the army had to keep the order and protect Basarabia from hostile actions of the Soviet Union, for which purpose it used the four battle-able Divisions, while at the same time counter the Bulgarian presence in Dobrogea and supervise the retreating German forces.

On 10 November 1918, taking advantage of the Central Powers' precarious situation, Romania reentered the war on the side of the Entente with the same objectives as in 1916. King Ferdinand called for the mobilization of the Romanian Army and ordered it to attack over the Carpathian mountains into Transylvania. The end of World War I that followed very soon did not bring the end of fighting for the Romanian Army. The fighting continued later that year and into 1919 during the Hungarian–Romanian war.

Outline of the war

The war is divided here into three phases, mirroring the main operations of the Romanian Army.[12] In the war's first phase, the Romanian Army advanced, up to the Western Carpathian Mountains. In the second phase, after the communists took power in Hungary, the Romanian Army overcame the Hungarian Red Army to reach the Tisza river. Finally, in the third phase, the Romanian Army destroyed the Hungarian Army and occupied Budapest, ousting the communist regime of Béla Kun.

Phase I: November 1918 – March 1919

Romanian crossing at Prisăcani and Palanca
Part of Hungarian-Romanian War
Date13 November 1918
LocationTransylvania, now part of Romania
Result Beginning of the Hungarian-Romanian War
Kingdom of Hungary  Romania

Following the Treaty of Bucharest, the bulk of the Romanian Army was demobilized. Only the 9th and the 10th infantry divisions and the 1st and the 2nd cavalry divisions were available at war-time strength, but they were used at the time to protect Bessarabia from the attacks of the Russian Reds. The 1st, 7th and 8th Vânători divisions, stationed in Moldavia, were the first units mobilized under these circumstances. The 8th was sent to Bukovina and the other two divisions were sent to Transylvania. On November 13, 1918, the 7th division was the first Romanian Army unit to enter Transylvania at Prisăcani, in the Eastern Carpathians, followed at Palanca by the 1st.[13]

On December 1st, 1918, the Romanian ethnics of Transylvania proclaimed the union with Romania, later being supported by the Transylvanian Saxons[14] and the Banat Swabians,[15] but not by the Hungarian ethnics - which was not asked or invited - of Transylvania that wanted to be part of the newly emerging Hungarian state.

In December 1918 Romanian Army units reached the line of the Mureş river, which was the demarcation line agreed upon by the representatives of the Entente and of Hungary in Belgrade on November 13, 1918. At the same time, units of the German Army, under the command of Marshal von Mackensen, retreated westward.

Following a Romanian request, the Allied Command in the East under the leadership of the French general Franchet d'Espèrey allowed the Romanian Army to advance up to the line of the Western Carpathians. The 7th Vânători division advanced in the direction of Cluj, and the 1st in the direction of Alba-Iulia. On December 24, units of the Romanian Army entered Cluj. By January 22, 1919, the Romanian Army controlled the entire territory up to this demarcation line.

At this point the Romanian Army in Transylvania was stretched thin, having to simultaneously deter the Hungarian Army and maintain order in the territories under its control. Hence, the Romanian High Command decided to send two more divisions into Transylvania: the 2nd Vânători division to Sibiu, and the 6th infantry division to Braşov. A unified command of the Romanian Army in Transylvania was also established, with the headquarters at Sibiu; General Traian Moşoiu was put in charge of this command.

Romania started organizing the territory it had taken, which at this point was far from encompassing the ethnic Romanian population in the region. Two new infantry divisions, the 16th and the 18th, were organized from Romanian soldiers previously mobilized in the Austro-Hungarian Army.

On February 28, the Allied council decided to notify Hungary of the new demarcation line to which the Romanian Army would advance. This line coincided with the railways connecting the cities of Satu Mare, Oradea and Arad. However, the Romanian Army was not allowed to enter these cities. A demilitarized zone was to be created, stretching from there up to 5 km beyond the border marking the extent of the Romanian territorial requests on Hungary. The retreat of the Hungarian Army behind the westward border of the demilitarized zone was to begin on March 22, 1919.

The notification reached Hungary on March 19 through French Lieutenant-Colonel Fernand Vix. The Károlyi government resigned rather than accepting the notification, and on March 21 gave control to Béla Kun, who instituted a Communist regime in Hungary.

Within this period of time, only limited skirmishes took place between the Romanian and Hungarian troops, and on one occasion between Romanian and Ukrainian troops. Some Hungarian elements engaged in the harassment of the Romanian population outside the area controlled by the Romanian Army.[16][17]

Phase II: April 1919 – June 1919

After 21 March 1919, Romania faced two communist neighbors: Hungary and the Soviet Union. The Romanian delegation at the Peace Conference in Paris requested that the Romanian Army be allowed to oust the Hungarian communists from power. Although well aware of the communist danger, the Allied council was marked by dissension between the US president Woodrow Wilson, the British prime minister David Lloyd George, and the French prime minister Georges Clemenceau about the guarantees required by France for its borders with Germany. In particular, the American delegation was convinced that French hardliners around Marshal Foch were trying to initiate a new conflict that would eventually lead to a new war, this time against Germany and the Soviet Union. Acting on these premises, the participants at the conference tried to defuse the situation in Hungary. Hence, the South African General Smuts was sent to Budapest on April 4 with a proposition for the Kun government to abide by the conditions previously presented to Károlyi. This action of the Allies also amounted to recognizing Communist Hungary. In exchange for fulfilling the conditions in the Vix Note, the Allied powers would lift the blockade of Hungary and adopt a benevolent attitude towards it in the question of the territories it had to yield to Romania, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. Kun however asked that the Romanian Army be ordered back to the line of the Mureş river, and the discussions stalled.

Meanwhile, Kun sought to gain time in order to be able to build up a military force capable of waging war with Romania and Czechoslovakia. On the Romanian front, there were some 20,000 troops in the first line facing the Romanian Army. Kun managed to mobilize another 60,000 in the second line by the use of recruitment centers in Oradea, Gyula, Debrecen, and Szolnok, among others. This Hungarian Army was a mix of some elite units and officers from the former Austro-Hungarian Army, and poor-quality volunteers. They were equipped with some 137 cannons and 5 armored trains. Although a colorful mix, this army was held together by nationalist rather than communist ideals, and was therefore highly motivated. Kun hoped also that the Soviet Union would come to its help and attack Romania from the east.

Once the discussions with Kun stalled, the Romanian Army was ordered by the Romanian government to take action and force the Hungarian authorities to comply with the Allied council decision on February 28 concerning the new demarcation line.[18] The Romanian Army in Transylvania comprised 64 infantry battalions, 28 cavalry squadrons, 160 cannons, 32 howitzers, 1 armored train, 3 air squadrons, 2 pioneer battalions, organized into two groups: North and South. The overall command of the Romanian Army in Transylvania was entrusted to General George Mărdărescu, while General Moşoiu was appointed commander of the Northern Group. The Romanian battle plan was to strike with the more powerful Northern Group and take Carei and Oradea, thus separating the elite Székely division from the rest of the Hungarian Army, made primarily of volunteers. Then the Group should proceed with the flanking of the Hungarian Army. At the same time, the Southern Group would advance only up to Radna and Beiuş, and then serve as pivot for the flanking maneuver of the Northern Group. The overall advance was to stop only at the Tisza river. The start of the offensive was planned for April 16.

The Hungarian attack

Operations of the Romanian Army in the second phase of the Hungarian–Romanian War. The demilitarized zone proposed by the Allied council on 28 February is shown in gray.

Aware of the Romanian preparations, the Hungarians fortified the mountain passes in their possession and launched a preemptive attack on the night between April 15 and 16. The attack was stopped with the help of the reserve formations and the Romanians defensive lines held. Between April 16 and 18, the Romanians started their own offensive, forcing the mountain passes after heavy fighting. On the front of the 2nd Vânători division, a battalion of Hungarian cadets offered heavy resistance, and was defeated by the Romanian 9th regiment only towards the evening of April 16. On April 18, the first phase of the Romanian offensive was over, and the Hungarian front was broken. Carei was taken by the Romanian troops on April 19, Oradea and Salonta on April 20. At this moment, the Romanian Army reached the line set by the Allies in the Vix Note. However, the Romanian High Command decided to go over this line and advance to the Tisza river, for military reasons: the Tisza makes a natural obstacle that is easy to defend, and at the same time the Hungarian Army was beaten but not destroyed. By doing so, the Romanians went against the wishes of the Allies.[19][20]

The fate of the Székely division

Making use of their cavalry, the Romanians hindered any attempts by the Hungarian Army to set a new defensive line between Nyíregyháza, Debrecen and Békéscsaba. At the same time on the front of the Northern Group, the best unit of the Hungarian Army, the Székely division under the command of Colonel Kratochvil was retreating towards Nyíregyháza, being constantly harassed by the Romanian troops, mainly from the 2nd cavalry division. They tried to stop their retreat and fight around the city, but were dislodged by the Romanians, and Nyíregyháza was occupied on April 26. The Division tried to flee west over Tisza, but by this time the entire eastern bank of the river was controlled by the Romanians, the last Hungarian troops defending a bridgehead over the river being defeated on April 29 at Rakamaz. With their retreat route cut, the Székely division capitulated on April 29.

The Romanian Army reaches the Tisza line

The frontline between the Hungarian and Romanian Armies on 3 May 1919.

Debrecen was occupied by the Romanians on 23 April,[21] and the Romanian Army started preparing for the assault on Békéscsaba. This began on 25 April and, on 26 April, the city fell after some heavy fighting. Most of the remains of the Hungarian Army converged towards Szolnok, where they tried to escape west over Tisza, establishing two concentric defense lines around Szolnok whose ends lay on the Tisza. Between 29 April and 1 May the Romanian Army managed to break through these lines, despite the reinforcements sent from the west bank of the Tisza. On the evening of 1 May 1919 the entire east bank of the Tisza was controlled by the Romanian Army.

On 2 May, the Kun government sued for peace. In the peace proposition sent through Lt. Col. Werth, Kun was ready to recognize all territorial demands of the Romanians and asked in exchange for a cessation of hostilities and no intervention in the internal Hungarian affairs. The Romanians offered only an armistice and this only under pressure from the Allied Supreme Command, as on 30 April the French foreign minister Pichon had summoned the Romanian representative at the Peace Conference, prime minister Brătianu, and asked him to stop the advance of the Romanian troops on the Tisza river and eventually retreat on the demarcation line imposed by the Allies. Brătianu promised that the Romanian troops would not cross the Tisza and would remain on the east bank of the river.

Gen. Moşoiu was named governor of the military district between the Romanian frontier and the Tisza river, being replaced at the command of the Norther Group by Gen. Mihăescu. At the same time, the Romanian 7th division was transported from the Hungarian front to the Russian front in Northern Moldavia.

The Hungarian attack on Czechoslovakia

Military operations in the Kingdom of Hungary, May–August 1919.
  Territory occupied by Romania in April, 1919
  Territory controlled by the Hungarian Soviet Republic
  Territory recovered by the Hungarian Soviet Republic
  Territory under French and Yugoslav control

  Pre-WW1 Borders of Hungary, 1918

  Post-World War I Borders of Hungary, 1920

Béla Kun tried to make use of the lull in fighting against the Romanians to improve his battered international position. He prepared an attack against Czechoslovak forces, which he deemed the weaker of its enemies, as he had just been defeated by the Romanians, and believed that action against the Serbs was impossible due to the presence of allied French troops in Serbia. By attacking Czechoslovak troops, he tried to gain support from within Hungary, by making good on his promise to restore Hungary's borders. Kun also sought to establish a link to his Bolshevik allies in Russia. Internationally he argued that he acted on the belief that granting the territory where Hungarians were an ethnic majority to the newly formed Czechoslovakia following World War I was unjust.

Strengthening the Hungarian army

To strengthen the army, Kun's regime recruited heavily from the male population between 19 and 25 years of age in the areas left under his control. Also many workers (mainly from the Budapest industrial area) joined the army. He also enlisted many former Austro-Hungarian officers, who joined the army out of patriotic rather than ideological reasons. For the offensive in Upper Hungary (today's Slovakia), the Hungarians concentrated two divisions, the 1st and the 5th, totaling 40 battalions with plenty of artillery.

Military operations. A Romanian perspective

On 20 May the Hungarians, under the lead of Colonel Aurél Stromfeld, attacked in force and routed the Czechoslovak troops in Miskolc. The Romanian Command tried to hold the link to the Czechoslovak Army and attacked the Hungarian flank with some troops from the 16th infantry division and the 2nd Vânători division. However, this action was to no avail and it could not stop the rout of the Czechoslovak Army. The Romanians retreated to their bridgehead at Tokaj and defended their position against Hungarian attacks between 25 and 30 May. The Hungarian attack against the Czechoslovak Army evolved well and consequently the Romanian troops in the North were in danger of being outflanked. On the 3 of June, the Romanians were thus forced to retreat from Tokaj on the east bank of Tisza, destroying all bridges over the river in the process and breaking any contact with the Hungarian troops. To deal with the danger of being outflanked and hinder the communication between the Hungarians and the Soviets, the Romanian troops along Tisza extended their defense line further north and linked with the troops of the Romanian 8th division, which since the 22 of May had advanced from Bukovina to meet them.


The success of their attack on the newly forming Czechoslovak state allowed the Hungarian Reds, besides regaining Upper Hungary, to also create a puppet Slovak Soviet Republic. At the end of the operations, the Hungarian Army had reached the old frontiers in the northeastern Carpathians. In the northwest, the campaign reoccupied important industrial regions around Miskolc, Salgótarján and Selmecbánya. They also started to plan to march against the Romanian Army in the east.

Involvement of Bolshevik Russia

On the 9 of April 1918, Bessarabia united with Romania. The unification act that brought these old Romanian lands within the modern Romanian state was not recognized by the Bolshevik Russia, and later it was challenged by the Soviet Union as unlawful. Having to fight the Whites, the Poles, the Ukrainians and later an allied invasion in that region, the Red Army had no resources available to seriously threaten Romania at that time. The Russian hopes to use Otaman Grigoriev for an expedition against Romania were shattered after much procrastination and later refusal of the rogue general. Furthermore, numerous peasant uprisings took place near Kiev.

Before the communist takeover in Hungary, the Bolsheviks used the Odessa Soviet Republic as a buffer state to invade Romania, which only turned into several sporadic attacks over the Dniester river in order to reclaim the territory of the former Bessarabia Governorate. A somewhat similar role was taken later by the Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, which covered roughly the territory of the present-day Transnistria. During that period of time the Romanian Army was being reorganized and such attacks were more or less successful. However, they were always met with force by the Romanian troops stationed in Bessarabia, which managed on all occasions to throw the Bolsheviks back over the Dniester (see Iona Yakir). After the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk the Soviet forces were pushed out of neighboring Ukraine eastward and until late 1918 were no longer a threat. The situation changed in the beginning of 1919 with the Soviets intensifying their actions, but however great their scope, the means they were using were arguably rather limited. After the end of May the Soviets scaled down their involvement and brought it to a practical stop.

A Hungarian perspective

After coming to power, the Hungarian Reds had high hopes that Soviet Union would help them by attacking Romania in Bessarabia. Indeed, the Soviets applied pressure on Romania at the political level to the best of their abilities, issuing ultimatums and threatening with war. To some extent the Red Army tried also to fulfill such expectations, but what it did never amounted to a threat big enough to have a serious impact on Romanians' military operations against communist Hungary. The most notable achievement was the transfer of one Romanian division from the Hungarian front to Bessarabia. Also some newly formed Romanian formations were sent to Bessarabia to face the Soviet Red Army rather than in Transylvania to face the Hungarian Red Army.

Military operations in Bessarabia in 1919

A major attack took place at the end of January 1919, when the Bolsheviks pushing the Ukrainian Army towards Zbruch managed to take control of the Romanian city of Khotyn. They held the city for a few days before being routed by the Romanian Army. After that, starting February 1919, enough Romanian troops were present in Bessarabia to thwart most attack attempts. The situation was further eased by the fact that the Bolsheviks lacked the resources to seriously threaten Bessarabia. At that moment they had to deal with the advancing Armed Forces of South Russia led by Anton Denikin. Furthermore, a French–Greek army of five divisions (three French and two Greek) under the command of the French general d'Anselme and with support from some Polish, Ukrainian and Russian volunteers, attacked near Odessa in western Crimea. All these events led to a calm-down of the situation in Bessarabia over most of the next two months.

In support of the allied attack, Romanian troops of the 39th regiment occupied Tiraspol on the 21 of March. Fighting at the same time in Transylvania, the Romanian Army could not provide more soldiers. In April, however, the army under general d'Anselme was defeated at Berzov by the Soviet 3rd Army and forced to retreat towards Odessa. With the change of government in France the allied forces were ordered to withdraw from Odessa later that month. Most of the Entente forces retreated by ship abandoning part of their heavy equipment. Some troops, together with their Russian and Ukrainian allies, retreated through southern Bessarabia. At the same time, the Romanian Army started fortifying its positions in Bessarabia in preparation of a possible Bolshevik large-scale attack.

On the 1st of May, the Russian Bolshevik foreign minister Georgy Chicherin issued an ultimatum to the Romanian government, asking it to evacuate Bessarabia and threatening with the use of force in case of non-compliance. At the same time more Bolshevik troops were concentrating along the Dniester. Anotonov-Ovseyenko planned for a massive charge on May 10, 1919. By this they tried to ease the pressure against the Hungarian Bolsheviks, forcing the Romanian Army to prepare for an attack in the East. This is why the Romanians brought the 7th division as reinforcement from the Tisza front into Bessarabia.

After the ultimatum, the attacks on the Romanian troops in Bessarabia intensified, peaking on 27–28 May when a few hundreds of Bolshevik troops attacked Tighina. In preparation of this attack, they threw manifestos out of a plane, inviting the allied troops to fraternize with them. However, only 60 French soldiers switched sides and supported the Russians crossing the Dniester. The Bolsheviks managed to enter Tighina, but were repulsed later that day by the Romanians with the help of some French troops in town.

To counter the Bolshevik threat, two more Romanian divisions were sent into the area: the 4th and the 5th infantry divisions. Furthermore, a territorial command was organized in southern Bessarabia, consisting mainly of the 15th infantry division. Starting from the end of June the situation calmed down in Bessarabia.

Phase III: July 1919 – August 1919

The Allied council was deeply displeased by the Romanian advance to the Tisza without Allied approval. There were even voices blaming the Romanians for the troubles in Hungary and asking for an immediate retreat to the original demarcation line, concomitantly with a downsize of the Romanian Army. The Council tried also to persuade the Romanians to start talks with the Kun government. However, the Romanian government stood by its decision, and argued that the Tisza line was the sole military meaningful demarcation line until the final border line between Romania and Hungary was established and internationally recognized.

The Council put pressure on Kun to stop its advances into Czechoslovakia, under the threat of a coordinated attack of the French, Serb and Romanian troops from the South and the East respectively. They also promised a favorable attitude towards Soviet Hungary in the peace talks to follow, and in delineating Hungary's new borders. On the 12th of June, these borders were brought to the attention of the governments of Romania, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Hungary. Under these circumstances, Hungary signed an armistice with Czechoslovakia on the 23rd of June and by July 4, the Hungarian troops retreated 15 km south of the demarcation line. The Council demanded that the Romanians leave Tiszántúl and retreat also to their new borders, but the Romanians replied that they would comply only after the Hungarian Army would have demobilized. Upon hearing the Romanian demands from the Council representatives, Kun answered that from now on he would rely solely on the might of his army.

This new turn of events swung the Council against Kun, and on the 11th of July it decided to start a coordinated attack of the Serb, French and Romanian troops against Soviet Hungary. The planning for this attack was entrusted to Marshal Foch. However, immediately after the Czechoslovak armistice, as Romania was unwilling to withdraw its army from Eastern Hungary, Kun ordered military operations against the Romanian troops. Hungary started to mobilize its army against the Romanians along Tisza and on the 17th of July the Hungarians were the first to strike.[22]

The opposing forces

The Romanians were facing the Hungarians on a front of some 250 km, along the Tisza, from south of Szeged, where they were neighboring with French and Serb troops, up to north of Tokaj, where they were neighboring with Czechoslovak troops.

In comparison to April 1919, the Hungarian Army facing the Romanians now along the Tisza river had greatly improved. It was better organized and equipped, and it had a high morale as it fought for its motherland. The morale was further boosted by the successes against the Czechoslovak Army. The communists held control of the army command through their political commissaries, but they were supported by experienced professional officers. At division level and below mostly professional officers were in command. The Hungarians mustered 100 infantry battalions, with some 50,000 men, 10 cavalry squadrons with 1365 men, 69 artillery batteries of calibers ranging up to 305 mm, and nine armored trains. The troops were organized for attack into three groups, North, Central and South, with the Central group being the strongest. They planned to cross the Tisza with all three groups, and then advance towards Satu Mare, Oradea and Arad respectively, expecting to ignite a communist revolt in Romania, as well and counting on some form of support from the Soviet Russia, which they hoped would launch an all-out attack into Bessarabia, on Romania's eastern border.

The Romanian Army had some 92 battalions with some 48,000 men, 58 cavalry squadrons with 12,000 men, some 80 artillery batteries of calibers ranging up to 155 mm, two armored trains, as well as some support units. They were positioned along three lines. The first line included the 16th division in the north and the 18th division in the south. In the second line more powerful formations were located, the 2nd Vânători division in the North, concentrated in and around Nyíregyháza, and the 1st Vânători division in the south, concentrated in and around Békéscsaba. The third line included the most powerful Romanian formations and had to be used as maneuvering mass; it was composed of the 1st and 6th infantry divisions, 1st and 2nd cavalry divisions, as well as some support units. These troops took positions along the railway link stretching from Carei, through Oradea, up to north of Arad. The 20th and the 21st infantry divisions were tasked with maintaining the security and public order behind the third line.

The first line was rather thin, as it was supposed to fight delay actions until the true intentions of the attacking Hungarians were revealed. After that, together with the troops in the second line, they were to hold the attackers until the counterattack of the troops in the third line could commence. For such maneuvering actions, the Romanian command planned to make use of the railway links under their control and had prepared a sufficient number of trains for that purpose. The Romanians were also highly motivated, fighting for their dream to unify (into a single country) all the lands inhabited by ethnic Romanians. This long yearned for dream was now supported by Woodrow Wilson's principles of self-determination and nation state. In addition, most of her soldiers were experienced World War I veterans.

The Hungarian attack

Operations of the Hungarian and Romanian Armies during the battle of the Tisza river in the third phase of the Hungarian–Romanian War.

Between the 17th and the 20th of July, the Hungarians bombarded the Romanian positions and conducted reconnaissance operations. On the 20th of July, around 3:00 AM, after a violent bombardment, the Hungarian infantry of all three groups crossed the Tisza and attacked the Romanian positions.

Fighting on the flanks

In the North, on 20 July, the Hungarians took Rakamaz and some villages around it. Troops of the Romanian 16th division took back the villages but only managed to retake Rakamaz the next day, with the help of the 2nd Vânători division. However, the Hungarians renewed their efforts and, supported by their artillery, retook Rakamaz and two villages around it, but could not break out of the bridgehead. Therefore, they tried to outflank the Romanian positions and cross the Tisza further south at Tiszafüred with troops of the 80th international brigade but they were stopped there by troops of the Romanian 16th division. The Romanians also brought forward some troops of the 20th infantry division into this combat and managed to clear the bridgehead at Tiszafüred on 24 July. Not being able to break out of Rakamaz, the Hungarians started fortifying their positions and redeployed some troops elsewhere. There was a lull in fighting in the north, as the Romanians followed suit. Only on 26 July did the Romanians attack again and after some violent fighting that held until 10:00 PM, managed to clear the Hungarian bridgehead. After this, the Romanians were in complete control of the northern part of the Tisza's eastern bank.

In the south, the Hungarian 2nd division needed two days to take Szentes, which was being held by the 89th and the 90th regiments of the Romanian 18th division. On 21 and 22 July, Hódmezővásárhely changed hands several times between Hungarian troops and Romanian troops of the 90th infantry regiment supported by the 1st Vânători brigade. Then on 23 July, the Romanians finally reoccupied Hódmezővásárhely, Szentes and Mindszent, thus throwing the Hungarians back over the Tisza and ending the fighting in this sector of the front. This allowed the Romanians to move the 1st Vânători brigade from the south front and use it in the center, where the Hungarian attack was progressing very well.

Fighting in the center

On the 20th of July, the Hungarians managed to establish a solid bridgehead on the east bank of the Tisza across Szolnok, despite the opposition of the Romanian 91st regiment of the 18th infantry division. The attackers brought the entire 6th and 7th divisions across the Tisza, formed up within the bridgehead, then attacked, overwhelming the Romanian troops in the first line of defense. The Hungarian 6th infantry division attacked to the east and took Törökszentmiklós, while the 7th division advanced towards Mezőtúr. While this was happening, the 5th division was brought over the Tisza and it attacked towards Túrkeve. On the 22nd of July, the Hungarians advanced towards Kunhegyes, after crossing the Tisza some 20 km north of Szolnok and defeating the Romanian 18th Vânători regiment. The Romanian troops of the 18th division were reinforced with formations from the second line, including some troops from the 1st cavalry division, and the entire 2nd Vânători brigade. On the 23rd of July, the Hungarians manage to take Túrkeve and Mezőtúr. On the night of the 23rd of July, the Hungarians controlled an 80 km-wide, 60 km-deep chunk of the right bank of the Tiza, opposite of Szolnok. Facing them to the east and to the south were the troops of the Romanian first and second line. To the north, a Romanian maneuver group was forming with troops from the third Romanian line, including the 1st infantry division of Gen. Obogeanu in the center, the 6th infantry division under Gen. Olteanu to the left and the 2nd cavalry division of Gen. Davidoglu to the right of the group, along the Tisza.

The Romanian counterattack

The Romanian maneuver group attacked on the morning of the 24th of July. Elements of the 2nd cavalry division, supported by troops of the 18th infantry division took Kunhegyes. The Romanian 1st infantry division attacked the Hungarian 6th infantry division head-on and pushed them back, managing to take Fegyvernek. The Romanian 6th division was less successful, being counterattacked on the left flank by the Hungarian reserve formations. In total, on the 24th of July, the Romanians managed to push the Hungarians back some 20 km and retake the initiative. They reinforced the maneuver group with troops from the North, which became available when the fighting decreased in intensity there. These included the 2nd Vânători division and some cavalry units. The Romanian troops along the entire front received the order to attack the enemy the next day. On the 25th of July the fighting continued, being particularly violent on the front of the Romanian 1st infantry division, in and around Fegyvernek, where the Hungarians chose to counterattack. Towards the end of the day, the Romanians maneuver group started breaking through the Hungarian positions in the north. Also, Hungarian positions in the south were overrun. The Hungarians started a general retreat towards the Tisza bridge in front of Szolnok, which they blew up on the 26th of July in order to stop the Romanians from following them. On the evening of 26 July, the entire east bank of the Tisza was again under firm Romanian control.

The Romanians cross the Tisza

Troops from the 2nd Vânători Division crossing the Tisza in the presence of King Ferdinand and Queen Marie.
Romanian troops entering Budapest

After repulsing the Hungarian attack, the Romanians started making plans to cross the Tisza in order to deliver the final blow to Soviet Hungary, despite some opposition from the Allied council. They brought the 7th infantry division back from the Bessarabian front, where the Russians were holding still, and also brought along the 2nd infantry division as well as some smaller infantry and artillery units. For crossing the Tisza the Romanian command prepared 119 battalions with some 84,000 troops, 99 artillery batteries with 392 guns and 60 cavalry squadrons with 12,000 men. During the build-up, the Hungarians made efficient use of their artillery, attacking the Romanian concentration areas. Between 27 and 29 July, the Romanians tested the strength of the Hungarian defense with small attacks. They finally decided to cross the Tisza in the vicinity of Fegyvernek, where the river makes a turn. On the night of 29th to 30 July, the Romanians crossed the Tisza. The main crossing at Fegyvernek was covered by decoy operations on other points of the front, where intense artillery duels took place. The Romanians managed to surprise the Hungarians at Fegyvernek, who then decided on the 31st of July to abandon the Tisza line and retreat towards Budapest.

The debacle of the Hungarian Army

After the bulk of the Romanian troops crossed the Tisza, they started advancing towards Budapest. The Romanian cavalry covered the flanks of the main body of troops and tried to discover the points of concentration of the Hungarian Army. At the same time, it probed and severed the links between the different corps of the Hungarian Army. On the 1st of August, most fighting took place in the south, in and around Szolnok, the town having been severely affected by the fighting. At the end of the day, the Hungarians sent representatives to negotiate their surrender. In the center and in the north, the Hungarian troops were completely surrounded by the evening of the 3rd of August and the units start to surrender or to disintegrate. The 3rd of August saw the end of the Hungarian Red Army.

The Romanians occupy Budapest

Romanian Army in front of the Hungarian Parliament, Budapest, 1919.

The Romanians continued their push towards Budapest. The first Romanian units to enter Budapest on the evening of the 3rd of August were three squadrons of the 6th cavalry regiment of the 4th brigade, under the command of Gen. Rusescu. The 400 men with two artillery guns were the only forces to occupy the city until midday on the 4th of August, when the bulk of the Romanian forces entered Budapest and a parade took place through the center of the city in front of their commander, Gen. Moşoiu. The Romanian troops continued their advance into Hungary until they stopped in Győr.

Casualties, prisoners and war booty

The third phase of the Hungarian–Romanian War saw the most intense fighting of the entire conflict. Total Romanian casualties were: 123 officers and 6,434 soldiers; of which: 39 officers and 1,730 soldiers dead, 81 officers and 3,125 soldiers wounded and three officers and 1,579 soldiers missing. In operations up until the 8th of August 1919, Romanian forces captured 1,235 officers and 40,000 soldiers, seized 350 guns, including two with a caliber of 305 mm, 332 machine guns, 52,000 rifles and 87 airplanes. These figures do not include Hungarian casualties. The Romanians also seized large quantities of ammunition, and means of transportation.


On the 2nd of August 1919, Béla Kun fled Hungary towards the Austrian border and eventually reached the Soviet Union. A socialist government under the leadership of Gyula Peidl was installed in Budapest with the help of some representatives of the Allies, but it was short-lived. Power was taken then by the counter-revolutionary White House Fraternal Association trying to instate Archduke Josef as head of state and István Friedrich as prime minister. However, the Allies would not accept a Habsburg as head of state and hence a new government was needed.

The Romanians occupied all Hungary, with the exception of a piece of land around the Lake Balaton. There, a group formed around Admiral Horthy, and supplied with arms by the Romanians,[23] was organizing the new Hungarian Army, preparing to take over after the Romanians would eventually leave. Horthy's supporters included some far-right nationalist elements,[24] the semi-regular white guards, who were the main perpetrators of persecutions, including violence, against former bolsheviks and against the Jewish-Hungarian population, whom they perceived as communist en masse, due to the disproportionate participation of its members in the communist administration.[25][26] This prompted Horthy's National Army[27] and the Romanian troops to take steps towards protecting the Hungarian Jews. On the other hand, in the occupied territories, the Romanian troops also launched punitive actions against the revolutionaries.[28]

Initially, the Romanians also took over police and administration duties in the regions under their control. Later, under Entente pressure, they relinquished these tasks to the reorganized Hungarian administration and police, but obstructed them, for example by failing to return enough weapons to arm the police,[29] as it happened in Budapest, where only 600 carbines were returned to arm 3700 policemen. The Romanians took care of feeding the population of large Hungarian cities in the first month after the fighting ceased, as their supply infrastructure collapsed because of the war.[30][31][32]

Reparations or looting?

The Entente was discontented with the Romanian conduct during much of its conflict with Hungary.[33] The reason for this was that on many occasions Romania acted out of its own free will, following what it considered to be its best interest. However, in doing so it placed itself outside the framework the Entente tried to established in its agreements with Hungary. The Entente was deeply displeased with the Romanians advancing up to the Tisza river during Phase II of the conflict and even though happy to get rid of the Hungarian communists,[34] it did not sanction the Romanian occupation of Hungary proper,[35] nor the Romanians imposing war reparations and requisitioning these on their own. The Entente thought that Hungary should pay war reparations in common with the Central Powers and pressured Romania to accept the supervision of an Inter-Allied Military Mission to superintend the disarmament of the Hungarian army and to see that the Romanian troops withdraw.[35][36]

Romanian soldiers feeding the civilian population in Hungary
Romanian infantry patrol in Budapest.

The committee of this mission included Generals Harry Hill Bandholtz for the US, who wrote a detailed diary about the events,[37] Reginald Gorton for Great Britain, Jean César Graziani for France, and Ernesto Mombelli for Italy, whose secretary[38] and former military representative of the Supreme Council in Budapest[35] Lieutenant-Colonel Guido Romanelli was accused of being biased against the Romanians and replaced.[25] In general, the relationship between the Romanians and at least some[39] of the Allied representatives in Budapest was poor from the very moment the Hungarian capital fell. It was plagued by mutual distrust and lack of understanding, being even described as hostile by some modern scholars.[40] For example, one of the first things the Mission did was to ask the Romanians, among others, not to conduct any requisitioning on their own and return what they have already taken, including also military assets that were captured from the Hungarian army on the field of battle.[41]

The tensions between Romania and the Entente run even deeper. The Entente was no longer sympathetic towards the wishes of the Romanians to be awarded territories far beyond the line of the towns Satu Mare (Szatmárnémeti) - Oradea (Nagyvárad) - Arad (Arad) and up to the Tisza river. These were promised to Romania upon entering the war in the Treaty of Bucharest (1916), mainly for military reasons, the Tisza constituting a natural obstacle. However, the promises were irreconcilable with Wilson's policies of self-determination, because the territory between these towns and the Tisza river had an almost-homogeneous Hungarian population, and thus their fulfillment would have led to the inclusion of a very large region with a clear majority of Hungarians into Romania.

Under the leadership of prime-minister Ion Brătianu, the Romanians, besides continuing their requisitioning, also insisted on the promised Tisza border and refused to sign the peace treaty with Austria. In response, the Entente practically eliminated Romania from the set of countries receiving reparations from Germany and on 15 November the Supreme Council of the Peace Conference sent the Romanians a note asking them to stop the requisitioning return the goods already taken and leave the Hungarian territory. At the same time, it started applying more pressure for a change in the Romanian attitude, by threatening in the same note with the exclusion of Romania from the group of allied countries[42] upon non compliance.

In the end, Bratianu had to leave, Romania received virtually no reparations (i.e., only one percent of the total) from Germany[43] and limited amounts from Bulgaria and Turkey. However, it signed the peace treaty with Austria and was allowed to keep everything it took from Hungary, while it renounced its claims for getting all the land it was promised in 1916 and accepted a new agreement that lead directly to the borders as we know them today.

The Romanians requisitioned goods in self-imposed quotas, which they regarded as war reparations, on the basis of the armistice they'd signed with the Hungarians, and, as already pointed out before, without the blessing of the Entente. The Hungarians considered this to be looting, since from their point of view, the seizures were arbitrary and were only post factum secured by a peace treaty. The terms of the Romanian-imposed armistice were harsh on Hungary. In imposing such severe clauses, the Romanians followed two objectives:[36] they tried to ensure that Hungary will be in no position to become a threat militarily at least within the near future and they sought retribution for what had been taken from them when Romania was plundered by the Central Powers during World War I.[11][44] As the situation evolved, a role was also played by the fact that since Romania was being denied access to what the Germans paid as war reparations towards the Entente and in light of their receiving very little from Bulgaria and Turkey, the Romanians sought compensation for their entire war effort in what they would take from Hungary. Also, in the end, by the treaties of St. Germain and Trianon, Romania had to pay a "liberation fee" of 230 millions gold francs towards Austria and Hungary respectively and had to take over a share of the public debt of Austria-Hungary corresponding to the size of the former Austria-Hungary territories it now incorporated.[43]

When the Romanian troops finally departed Hungary at the beginning of 1920, they took extensive booty,[45] including food, ore, means of transportation, and factory equipment. The Hungarians had to cede all war materials, excepting those weapons necessary for the troops under Horthy's command. Furthermore, they had to hand over to the Romanians their entire armament industry, 50% of the rolling stock of the Hungarian railroad (i.e., 800 locomotives and 19,000 cars), 30% of the livestock, 30% of all agricultural tools, and 35,000 wagons of cereals and fodder. Also, all the goods identified as booty taken from Romania after the Peace of Bucharest in 1918 were confiscated. Hungary had to pay as well for the expenditures of the occupation troops.[46]

Because Romania acted outside the will of the Entente and because of the sheer volume of goods it requisitioned, several modern scholars and contemporary members of the Allied Committee[47] describe this as looting.[44][48] They emphasize as well the indiscriminate nature of the Romanian seizures with the example of them confiscating the telephones and typewriters from the government office in Budapest[46] and requisitioning private automobiles.[49] Although public enterprise in occupied Hungary bore the brunt of the Romanian-imposed reparation quotas, where these were not enough, the Romanian occupation authorities requisitioned the rest from privately owned enterprises, including farms[50] (as for example in the case of cattle, horses and even grain) either directly[36] or by constraining the Hungarian authorities[41] to do so. This deteriorated the popular opinion of many Hungarians towards the Romanian occupation forces, whose incursion was previously seen in a favorable light by those Hungarians who were opposed to the communist government.[30] The requisitions of the Romanian occupation authorities also led to a large number of complaints filed by the Entente-imposed supervision body,[25] which further afflicted the relationship between the Romanians and the Inter-Allied Military Mission.


The entire Hungarian–Romanian War of 1919 was waged over a period of nine months. The Romanians lost 188 officers and 11,478 soldiers, out of which 69 officers and 3,601 soldiers died. The Romanians started withdrawing from Hungary in November 1919. Between February 14 and March 28, 1920 all Romanian Army units left Hungarian territory.

Order of battle

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Hungarian-Romanian War of 1919.


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  2. Alan Sharp (2008). The Versailles Settlement: Peacemaking After the First World War, 1919-1923. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 156. ISBN 9781137069689.
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  25. 1 2 3 C. Kiriţescu: Istoria războiului pentru întregirea României, Vol. II, ed. Romania Noua, 1923, pp. 616
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  27. Major General Harry Hill Bandholtz: An Undiplomatic Diary, AMS Press, 1966, pp. 120
  28. Peter F. Sugar, Péter Hanák, A History of Hungary, Indiana University Press, 1994, p. 310
  29. Major General Harry Hill Bandholtz: An Undiplomatic Diary, AMS Press, 1966, pp. 52
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  35. 1 2 3 Major General Harry Hill Bandholtz: An Undiplomatic Diary, AMS Press, 1966, pp. xxviii
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  37. Major General Harry Hill Bandholtz: An Undiplomatic Diary, AMS Press, 1966
  38. Major General Harry Hill Bandholtz: An Undiplomatic Diary, AMS Press, 1966, pp. 32
  39. Major General Harry Hill Bandholtz: An Undiplomatic Diary, AMS Press, 1966, pp. 45
  40. Peter Pastor, , Revolutions and interventions in Hungary and its neighbor states, 1918-1919, Social Science Monographs, 1988 p. 313
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  44. 1 2 A Country Study: Romania. Federal Research Division, Library of Congress.
  45. Louise Chipley Slavicek, The Treaty of Versailles, Infobase Publishing, 2010, p. 84
  46. 1 2 Cecil D. Eby, Hungary at war: civilians and soldiers in World War II, Penn State Press, 2007, p. 4
  47. Major General Harry Hill Bandholtz: An Undiplomatic Diary, AMS Press, 1966, pp. 131 pp. 38
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  49. Margaret MacMillan: Paris 1919, Six Months that Changed the World, Random House, New York, 2002, pp. 268
  50. Major General Harry Hill Bandholtz: An Undiplomatic Diary, AMS Press, 1966, pp. 128


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