Hungary 1848: Europe’s Biggest Unknown War

By Chris Pringle

1848 is known as the year of revolution. Yet the Hungarian War of Independence (“the ‘48”), the largest and most violent revolution of that turbulent year, is almost unknown outside its home country. This conflict involved over half a million men and lasted a whole year. It encompassed a dozen major battles, many smaller actions, and some epic sieges, but is largely ignored.

The major focus of my own interest is on European wars of the nineteenth century, and particularly the large battles of the period from the point of view of strategy, generalship and grand tactics. In attempting to learn about the Hungarian battles of 1848­-1849 it became apparent that sources in English were almost non-existent, and those that did exist were limited or flawed. Given the scale of the war, this is a huge and unfortunate gap.

Since 2015 I have been collaborating with Professor Nicholas Murray of the US Naval War College on a series of English editions of previously untranslated military histories by that giant of military theory, Carl von Clausewitz. Consequently, my German translation skills are quite well honed. In addition, for other personal projects over the years, I have learned enough rudimentary Hungarian to use sources in that language as well. In order to learn about the 1848-1849 battles in Hungary, I became very familiar with some of the main Hungarian histories as well as the Austrian ones. Having established myself as a translator by publishing Clausewitz’s history of 1796, it seemed a natural progression to build on that and on my growing knowledge of the ’48 by publishing Hungary 1848: The Winter Campaign – an English edition of the Austrian (semi-)official history of the first half of the war – to fill this void in the English-language literature. Helion was kind enough to oblige.

I was first attracted to the ’48 through a general interest in Eastern Europe and particularly in that period of warfare. I’ve always found it appealing to explore obscure and esoteric corners of history, and this one is certainly well-hidden. Once the quest was begun, it turned out to be incredibly rewarding because the campaigns are so richly complex and varied, there is a colourful cast of characters, and it offers all the fascinating episodes and drama you would expect from a war of this extent and duration. Furthermore, the battles provide some great tabletop challenges for the wargamer.

I was struck by some signal feats of generalship. On the Hungarian side, General Artúr Görgei performed astonishing feats to bamboozle and out-manoeuvre his opponents, both in attack and defence; among the mountains of Transylvania, the veteran Polish revolutionary Józef ‘Papa’ Bem conducted a campaign of lightning manoeuvre and aggressive attacks worthy of the Bonaparte of 1796. For the Austrian monarchy, Field Marshal Windisch-Grätz’s ‘McClellanesque’ caution in the Winter Campaign contrasts strongly with Haynau’s ruthlessly determined and ultimately victorious Summer Campaign.

If the original narrative history of the events of the war is not fascinating enough, I hope my editorial annotations have enhanced it further. I have added a lot of commentary on and analysis of the operations, both tactical and strategic, which I hope will help readers reflect on the commanders’ decisions and reach their own conclusions.

Biographical notes reveal which Hungarian generals then went on to fight for the Ottoman Empire in the Crimean War, or who found the Hungarian crown jewels at the end of the war, or who got beaten up by angry brewery workers when he visited England. Footnotes include little nuggets like the importance of floating ship-mills on the major rivers, or the Hapsburg salt monopoly.

I am particularly proud of the large set of maps I created for the book. Each of these includes a text panel that summarises the action they portray. The idea is that, simply by reading through the maps and following the action, the reader can get a clear picture of the shape of what was a very complex war on several fronts.

Like any major war, the Hungarian War of Independence has other dimensions than the purely military. There is international great power politics in play; there is also the intense factionalism in the Hungarian camp between the radical revolutionaries and their more conservative, constitutionally minded rivals. The tensions and personality clashes in the Hungarian hierarchy are matched among the Austrian commanders by the entertaining sight of Windisch-Grätz trying to control his subordinates, the excessively aggressive Schlik and the erratic Jellacic. At the socio-economic level, there is the friction among the different ethnic groups in the Kingdom of Hungary, showing itself at its most bitter in the Serb and Vlach (Romanian) insurrections in southern Hungary (now northern Serbia) and Transylvania. For modern military professionals, there is contemporary resonance in the asymmetric nature of the campaign as an exercise in counterinsurgency.

I therefore hope that publishing this book will help the Hungarian War of Independence to be recognised as the epic struggle it was.

Miracles in 6mm! The Hungarian army of 1848-1949 in 1/300 scale.

Figures by Baccus (mostly adapted from Baccus’s American Civil War and Risorgimento ranges); flags by Maverick Models; painting by Richard Morrill. Photos by kind permission of Richard Morrill.

Jägers, Polish Legion, scythe-armed militia, grenadiers, German Legion, Tyrolean Jägers
Assorted honvéds, including the famous 9th battalion in their red kepis.
Colourful national guards flanking former imperial line infantry in their old white tunics.
Various hussar regiments escorting the artillery, including a rocket launch stand and crew.
The high command: Görgei, Bem, Klapka, et al.

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Hungary 1848: The Winter Campaign will soon be followed by its natural sequel, Hungary 1849: The Summer Campaign (also from Helion). Together these will provide a complete history of the war. At the time of writing this blog post, the translation is finished and the editorial annotations almost complete. The maps will be a substantial task, but the work will be delivered to Helion later this year for publication in 2022.

I am also preparing a Bloody Big BATTLES! campaign volume on the Hungarian War of Independence for publication in 2022. This will include 15 wargame scenarios for the most important battles of the war.

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Chris Pringle’s previous three books are all Clausewitz translations:

Napoleon’s 1796 Italian Campaign

Napoleon Absent, Coalition Ascendant: The 1799 Campaign in Italy and Switzerland, Volume 1

The Coalition Crumbles, Napoleon Returns: The 1799 Campaign in Italy and Switzerland, Volume 2

He is also responsible for a popular wargames ruleset, Bloody Big BATTLES!, for refighting nineteenth-century battles.

He lives in Oxford, UK, and is an academic publisher. His time as a junior officer in the Territorial Army left him with an abiding interest in the challenge of making soldiers do things they don’t particularly want to do. A lifelong wargamer, his focus is on recreating large historical battles. He maintains the Bloody Big BATTLES Blog to report his exploits in that domain.

The Rescue They Called a Raid

‘NOW HE HAS RUINED ME!’[1]

By David Snape

It was with these words Rhodes that the arch-imperialist, Cecil Rhodes reflected on the consequences of the failure of Dr Leander Starr Jameson’s attempt to overthrow the Government of the South African Republic in 1896. Towards the end of the 19th  Century the desire of European Governments to exploit the African Continent had never been stronger, nor the competition to do so fiercer. Cecil Rhodes was  described as the ‘Colossus’ because of this desire and few believed the claim that Jameson’s incursion into President Paul Kruger’s  South African Republic was a ‘Rescue and not a Raid’; hence the title of the book which was derived from a less than memorable poem by the then Poet Laureate, Alfred Austin.

I have always been fascinated with the events surrounding the Boer War and there are many who think that the Jameson Raid was its precursor. Jameson, with Rhodes’ backing, attempted, but failed, to overthrow the Government of Paul Kruger with only 500 men. The political fallout of his  failure  almost caused Salisbury’s Unionist Government to fall. Chamberlain, the Colonial Secretary, had to fight for his political life and Jameson and his officers together with many of the most influential men in Johannesburg were tried and imprisoned. Britain’s international reputation was sullied and she became a laughingstock in the capitals of Europe.

The origins of the book derived from a dissertation which I submitted for a MA degree at the University of Wolverhampton in 2015. I had recently retired from a career in Education and the spare time which my retirement gave me allowed me to make a serious study of Military History. I used the records of the two Select Committees into the Raid which both the Cape and the British Governments were forced to hold in order to determine responsibility. Both of them pointed the finger at Rhodes but it was Jameson and his officers who were imprisoned.

‘Rhodes must fall’ has been on many people’s lips in recent years, but the Jameson Raid had the effect of bringing him to his political knees. There is no doubt that he believed in the British Empire and its ‘civilising’ qualities. In this belief, he was not very different from the many  missionaries and explorers who went to Africa to bring ‘the advantages‘ of Europe’s culture and laws. Rhodes also had his eye on the main chance of increasing his fortune and that of his shareholders in the British South African Company which, with the Government’s permission, controlled huge swathes of Africa. It is perhaps less known that many of the Chiefs of African tribes in Rhodes’ sphere of influence sent emissaries to meet Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle  to complain at their treatment, and they were well received.

The involvement of Americans, such as John Hays Hammond, in the  promised uprising in  Johannesburg had repercussions in the United States and the efforts made to improve their  conditions in prison and Hammonds rehabilitation back into American Society is less well known. All  this at a time when Anglo-American relations over British Colonies were strained.

The overwhelming mystery about the Raid is how much did Joseph Chamberlain, the Colonial Secretary, know about it and to what extent was he involved. On hearing about Jameson’s impetuosity, whilst Chamberlain was dressing for the New Year’s Eve Servant’s Ball at his Highgrove home, one of his first thoughts was to resign. He quickly changed his mind and fought to save his career even appearing as a witness at the Inquiry which he had set up and was a member of. The Inquiry’s conclusions were the subject of furious debate in the House of Commons which exposed that the procedure for examining the Raid was flawed. and its conclusions were inconclusive.

This is the first full length book I have written and I have learned much about the process of writing through the support of the folks at Helion. My previous experience apart from academic  dissertations has been producing articles for variousMilitary Societies such as The Victorian Military Society, The Indian Military Society, and the Western Front Association. The VMS  was kind enough to award me the Howard Browne Medal in 2019 for a paper on Kitchener’s Indian Army reforms.

I am currently researching the Shangani Patrol and the massacre of Major Allan Wilson’s men during the Matabele War of 1893. This  was another of Rhodes’ and Jameson’s schemes to gain more land for the Empire and improve the share price of the British South Africa Company. Like the Jameson Raid, it is hard to know which motive, wealth or Empire, was their strongest. I hope this book will be published towards the end of 2021.


[1] E.A. Walker W.P. Schreiner: A South African (London: OUP, 1969), p. 91.

Bazaine 1870

A Miscarriage of Justice

By Quintin Barry

My first book, published by Helion in 2007, was a two volume history of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871, a subject in which I have always had a profound interest. In volume 2 of that book I was particularly interested to explore the second phase of the war, after the battle of Sedan and the fall of the French Second Empire. That period has been covered much less thoroughly than the campaign that led up to Napoleon III’s surrender at Sedan. As the war began thereafter to spread to the rest of France, there immediately followed the siege of Metz, where the French Army of the Rhine, under Marshal Bazaine, was surrounded by the besieging Prussian army under Prince Frederick Charles.

   I went on to write a number of other books, some on the Franco Prussian war, and some on other subjects, but then came back to the history of the Army of the Rhine and the subsequent trial of its commander. As a lawyer, that trial interested me enormously, and so I began to research the book which has now been published by Helion under the title Bazaine 1870. Working on the book, it was not long before I realised that in my original history I had not done him justice, having in some instances followed the prevalent opinion of a number of other historians; as a result my analysis of him was unpardonably superficial.

   This became very apparent to me when I read Bazaine: Coupable ou Victime? This, written by Generals Edmond Ruby and Jean Regnault, was published in Paris in 1960. It is a hugely impressive demolition of the popularly held view of Bazaine. In now publishing my own account of the course of his career as it progressed towards the events of 1870, I hope that I have made good my previous lapses of judgement. Much of the contemporary literature about Bazaine, and his trial, was ill informed, politically motivated and unremittingly hostile. Some later historians, such as Sir Michael Howard, have produced a more balanced account; but not all, as for instance the American historian Geoffrey Wawro, previously the author of a brilliant history of the Austro Prussian War, who in his history of the war of 1870-1871seems to have swallowed the anti-Bazaine narrative hook line and sinker.

   The only comprehensive account in the English language of the tragic story of François Achille Bazaine was that written by Philip Guedalla in his vivid dual biography of Marshals Bazaine and Petain, published in 1943 under the title The Two Marshals. Guedalla succeeded in bringing to life the career of a man whose motivations remain to this day difficult to discern with any clarity. What was overwhelmingly clear, though, was just how unfairly Bazaine was treated. France needed a scapegoat for her shattering defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, and in Bazaine one was found ready to hand. For surrendering Metz he was tried for his life on military charges devised by the first Napoleon, enraged by the surrender by General Dupont at Baylen in 1808 during the Peninsular War. The transcript of the lengthy proceedings, held in the Grand Trianon at Versailles, is of absorbing interest. Looking at Bazaine’s decisions during his command, I have no doubt that his conviction (the death sentence was commuted to one of imprisonment) was monstrously unjust, and I am glad to have had the opportunity of setting the record straight.

‘Bazaine 1870. Scapegoat for a Nation’ is now available to buy here.

https://www.helion.co.uk/military-history-books/bazaine-1870-scapegoat-for-a-nation.php

Kitchener: From Pariah to Hero

By Anne Samson

The name Lord Kitchener might not mean much to many today, however his face as the poster ‘Your country needs you’ is almost internationally recognised. At the turn of the 20th century Henry Horatio Kitchener was the British Empire celebrity of the day, yet for those of us growing up in South Africa, his name was (and for some still is) synonymous with butcher, scorched earth, and concentration camps. In Britain, for many he’s linked with ammunition shortages, and sending young men to be needlessly slaughtered on the battle fields of the Western Front.

With 53 biographies on the man, what more could there be to write about him? Most of them recount the same story in different words or focus on a particular encounter he had with individuals such as his five-year conflict with Viceroy of India Lord Curzon, his reliance on sword-arm Ian Hamilton, disagreements with Lords French and Haig and his failure at the War Office. The most comprehensive, detailed and balanced biography has to be that by John Pollock. So where does Kitchener: The Man not the Myth fit in? Especially as there’s a book similarly entitled, Kitchener: The Man Behind the Legend by Philip Warner. While Warner has tried to understand the personality behind the man known as Kitchener, K of K or simply K, he has kept to the traditional themes covered in previous studies, none of which answered a question I had stumbled upon when completing my thesis between 1998 and 2004: why did Kitchener not want to go to war in East Africa in 1914 and 1915?

Cyprus Survey Staff 1883

Superficially, this question was answered for my thesis using Pollock and a few others: Kitchener owned a coffee farm in, what is today, Kenya and had been involved in Zanzibar Boundary Commission having actually walked the land. A subsequent discovery of correspondence with General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien about his appointment to command the forces in East Africa suggested there was far more to Kitchener’s anti-war position than self-preservation of his farm. Trying to reconcile my perceptions of Kitchener with the man who stood his ground on the East Africa campaign resulted in the discovery of a personality hitherto unexposed and unexplored in the existing biographies.

While most biographers tend to regard Kitchener as a complete man, that is the same at the end of his career as at the start of his career showing a consistency of action and behaviour over time, in Kitchener: The Man not the Myth, I have explored the development of the man, how he learnt from past experiences, the challenges he faced in being a British citizen but not of the establishment or culture. It is only in understanding how much of an outsider Kitchener was in the British Army that one can appreciate his decision-making and actions. As with all human beings, he had faults but it’s how he managed these to achieve what he did that turned him from being a pariah in my books to a hero.

War work

Researching Kitchener, although straightforward in the sense of reading as many of the existing biographies as possible and focusing on the ‘glossed over’ statements alongside some archival investigation to clarify earlier interpretations of statements and views, presented some difficulties in terms of insight. While most biographers infer Kitchener’s dislike of women and insistence on having unmarried men on his staff, the sources presented a different picture. The result is a section on Kitchener’s women to compliment that on Kitchener’s ‘band of boys’. His encounter with Millicent Fawcettt in South Africa over the concentration camps and his relationships with his nieces, one being Fanny Parker, sheds interesting light on his attitude to the suffrage movement and use of women in war. Another challenge was presented by his seeming aloofness and sulking when things did not go his way contrasted with the number of occasions subordinates were surprised by tears running down his cheeks. His foresight in using and embracing technology was an unexpected discovery as was his linguistic ability, and attitude towards religion and the use of indigenous forces. Kitchener’s clear sense of priority and allegiance to his monarch and his views on how an army should be run led to him being misunderstood on many an occasion, sometimes with unfortunate and sad consequences such as the death of Hector MacDonald.

It’s worth saying this book is not a military study. While the Sudan campaigns and the 1899-1902 war in South Africa including Paardeberg are mentioned, they are not discussed in detail as other more qualified authors have done this. Whether Kitchener was right in reforming the India Army and his ensuing conflict with Curzon has also been left to others more qualified. What Kitchener: the man not the myth does is provide alternative interpretations for his actions and extract from these events what Kitchener learnt on his route to being asked to fill the role of Secretary of State for War. His anomalous position as a civilian in authority alongside not relinquishing his military role, in what Prime Minister Herbert Asquith described as an ‘experiment’ provides evidence of the breadth of skill and knowledge Kitchener was seen to have in Britain’s time of need, yet his very strengths led to his fall from grace despite this experiment and his achievements.

A relaxing golf

As with all studies, more questions have been raised. For myself, these concern the East Africa campaign of World War One and the role of railways in the African campaigns. For others, I hope this new insight into Kitchener will lead scholars to consider his and other senior military officials of the time’s military actions in new lights.

Kitchener close up – Horse Guards

Dr Anne Samson is a specialist of World War One in Africa, with a particular focus on British East, Central and Southern Africa. She runs the Great War in Africa Association (https://gweaa.com) and has numerous publications to her name on the African campaigns. These, together with talks she’s presented, are listed on her website http://www.thesamsonsedhistorian.wordpress.com

You can buy ‘Kitchener: The Man not the Myth’ here.