VERITAS Research Institute and Archives

“This is Imre Nagy speaking, the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Hungarian People's Republic. At dawn today, Soviet forces began an attack on our capital...”

Thus began Imre Nagy’s radio address to the Hungarian nation on November 4th, 1956. Although the Soviet Union’s attack and response came as a surprise to many, they were nonetheless foreseeable.

With two overriding factors being taken into account, the decision by Soviet leadership to employ force against the Hungarian revolutionaries was made at the end of October. The first factor was that the events in Hungary had gone too far, which was unacceptable to the Soviets, and the second was that their people in Hungary had shown themselves incapable of handling the situation on their own.

The operation, however, firstly had to be politically and militarily formulated. The Soviets found an ideal collaborator in János Kádár, who had enjoyed popularity among lower-level party leadership in the recently dissolved Hungarian Working People's Party. At the beginning of November in Moscow, Kádár drew up two possible outcomes for the Soviet leaders: the Communists would be just one political party out of many if the Soviet Union chose not to intervene in Hungary or they could ensure one-party rule by smashing the revolution by force. As we know, the Soviets chose the latter option, with Kádár accepting the role that the Soviets had planned for him.

In the meantime, military preparations were underway. Contrary to their assurances, the Soviets sent a growing number of troops to Hungary, a move against which the Nagy government continuously protested. The groundwork for the November 4th invasion was laid by Soviet special forces occupying strategic points in Hungary. The Soviets also decapitated Hungarian military leadership when they deceived Pál Maléter and several other officers into visiting the Soviet Military Command in Tököl, where the Soviets violated international law by arresting them.

Having thus made adequate preparations on the “political and military fronts”, the Soviets launched Operation Whirlwind against Hungary on the dawn of November 4th. Over the next several days, the Soviet Special Mechanized Corps, the 38th Army and the 8th Mechanized Army were tasked with occupying and disarming local resistance in the central, western and eastern parts of the country, respectively. Although we regard November 4th as the day the Hungarian Revolution was crushed, civil resistance continued and in some cases intensified until finally ceasing at the beginning of 1957. In the meantime, massive numbers of people fled the country in the Hungarian Exodus. Some 200 thousand people left for Austria and then Yugoslavia once the Austrian border had been sealed on both sides.  The stationing of Soviet troops in Hungary between 1955 and 1957 was sanctioned by no treaty and was by no means permissible by international law. 

by Dávid Kiss

Source of Image: soviethistory.msu.edu