May 13-19, 1919. Inspecting the Red Army units

Torma Galina

In 1919 mid-May, Commander-in-Chief Vilmos Böhm and Chief-of-Staff Aurél Stromfeld inspected the Eastern front fleet and units to check the reorganized Red Army.

Inspection on the Eastern front

The following article on Vörös Riport Film's news was published in the May 21st issue of Népszava: „Vörös Riport Film recorded interesting footages of the proletarian army fighting on the front. The well-armed red soldiers marched in exemplary discipline for Commander-in-Chief Böhm, who was accompanied at the Cegléd, Kecskemét and Abony inspections by commissars Béla Vágó, Tibor Szamuely and comrade Móhr. The movie is now screening at all cinemas.”  

Those who only read about the May 14 inspection in an earlier issue of Népszava were provided with even fewer information on the locations. Readers and viewers were not given any specifics on the locations and movements of the troops on purpose, as those were confidential information. Even the soldiers' relatives were kept in the shadow, as soldiers were forbidden to reveal their location in the letters they sent home. An order was issued in newspapers: „Disclosing information regarding military transfers in papers, letters and telegrams or via telephone is strictly forbidden. Whoever violates this command will be brought to the Revolutionary Court. The Military Commissary"  

The proletarian leaders and the Commander-in-Chief had to authorize the disclosure of any military actions, and they were only allowed to be revealed days after they actually took place. The Governing Council wanted to achieve a centralized and verifiable information flow by shutting down public newspapers in order to prevent the spreading of "fake news" once and for all, which they stigmatized as counter-revolutionary actions. By mid-May there were only a few newspapers left in which the public could read news about the front. Communists kept their mouthpiece, Vörös Újság and the Social Democrat's newspaper, Népszava was still published - both of them became official papers of the Hungarian Socialist Party in the Soviet Republic. People could read about the army in the newspaper Proletár Hadsereg and the magazine, Érdekes Újság was also allowed to be published in the Soviet Republic, although they quickly disassociated themselves in the foreword of their first issue after the Dictatorship of the Proletariat fell: „The Bolshevism expropriated Érdekes Ujság. (…) Now we are free to share with the public that we had nothing to do with the phony issues of Érdekes Ujság published in the Dictatorship.”  

The proletarian army. Commander-in-Chief Böhm with others at the inspection  

It was important for leaders of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat to prove with pictures that recruitments were indeed important, that the Red Army troops are able to push back the enemy and that the Tisza is protected by fully prepared and heavily armed soldiers. However, Commander-in-Chief Vilmos Böhm stated that only a few photographers and cameramen are allowed to document the army: „Only the HQ may allow photographers on the battlefield as the HQ oversees the filming and photographing of the army. Only those are allowed to document, who have the necessary IDs and orders. These individuals shall be supported in all respects by all commandants and troops.”

Inspection of the Budapest fleet

Cameraman Olivér Turchányi from Vörös Riport Film was assigned to accompany Commander-in-Chief Böhm on his Eastern front inspection. Their route was reconstructed from information found in the May 16th Népszava article, the film news teaser and the film news' subtitles. The Commander-in-Chief left the Gödöllő HQ (undisclosed location at the time) on the morning of May 14. He was accompanied by Chief-of-Staff Béla Vágó and commissar Tibor Szamuely in Cegléd and they inspected the reservists in Kecskemét together, and then left to the most important location, Szolnok. The military leaders met fighting units here while visiting the frontline, where the enemy was visible on the other side of the river Tisza. Several false news were spreading at the time on the occupation of Szolnok and the Romanian troops crossing Tisza, so it was particularly important to show that Szolnok was protected by the Red Army. There was one other stop for the delegation on their way back: a city behind the front - most probably Abony - where the Commander-in-Chief visited the reservist Székely regiment. He spoke to them about the importance of cooperation, as they were labeled traitors after they made a separate armistice agreement with Romanians. Some of them fled to the Tisza when the capitulation was announced and joined the Red Army. Vilmos Böhm told them that the enemy is determined by their social positions and not their nationality, and tried to encourage the soldiers with the following words:  

"The Revolutionary Governing Council and the Budapest proletariat send you their greetings. They are sending battalion after battalion to the front, the most disciplined men to drive out the Romanian Boyar thieving troops from Transylvania and liberate you alongside all the other proletarians of the country. Hungarian proletarians and proletarians of Budapest are your brothers and you also have to make sacrifices to liberate the Hungarian Soviet Republic. Look at Szolnok, where the Hungarian bourgeoisie is fighting alongside the Romanian Boyars against us, because they don't care about our country. They just want to keep their lands, keep you chains and keep on exploiting everyone."  

The Red Fleet was built from the ex-imperial and royal navies' Danube military units the country was left with after the armistice agreement. The following ships of the Danube flotilla that served on the Lower Danube during the war arrived to the Óbuda port on November 6, 1918:

8 monitors: Bosna, Enns, Sava, Temes, Bodrog, Körös, Szamos, Inn
8 pinnaces: Viza, Barsch, Compó, Wels, Fogas, Csuka, Lachs, Stör
1 mine-layer: Balaton 2 minesweepers: Baja, Bácska
5 armed steamers: Álmos, Sámson, Helene, Una, Vág
1 command ship: Hebe 1 hospital ship: Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand
1 motorized boat: Tulln  

There were also two outdated and previously demilitarized monitors in Budapest: Leitha and Maros, three Russian motorboats, and a small outdated submarine from the Lower-Danube, the UB 3 - also brought from Russia with two barges.  

People were working on getting these ships ready and armed at the shipyard day and night

Such a fleet would have put the Hungarians in a dominant position on the Danube, so the country had to hand over six monitors to the Entente Commission in Belgrade according to the armistice agreement (however they asked for two pinnaces instead). The remaining ships were disarmed by English marines on the Entente's order, and the Soviet Republic was left with the following fleet:  

Monitors: Újvidék (Inn earlier and later Marx) not ready, Szamos, Leitha, Maros disarmed
Pinnaces: Pozsony (Lachs earlier), Komárom (Stör earlier), Viza, Compó, Csuka, Fogas
Armed steamers: Una, Sámson (later Proletár)
3 armored motor boats, 4 mineships and support ships  

Most of the ships were almost useless, and none of them was ready for combat. Only Újvidék had its original artillery equipment, probably because the monitor's machinery was not working.  

After the Romanians' and Czechs' attack the Red Army needed all their power, which included setting up and arming the Red Fleet. The Military Commissary's 14th department started working on said task immediately. Shipyard workers of the Újpest and Óbuda shipyards worked on arming the ships at the Óbuda shipyard day and night, and most of them were ready by early May. Two of the six pinnaces, Pozsony and Komárom were turned into cannon boats while the other four remained on machine gun duty. On May 19, 1919 all units were ready for battle when Chief of Staff Aurél Stomfeld tested them during inspection.  

Surveillance aircrafts were also part of the Red Army's fleet, as they had an important role in protecting Budapest by observing the enemy on the river. The HQ issued the following order in connection:

„The river scout squad is part of the Danube Guard, therefore falls under the supervision of the army fleet HQ. For technical requests please contact the Military Commissary's 37th dept. and for weapon and ammunition requests contact the Hünb. 62nd dept., who shall give their fullest support. The scouts are tasked with observing both shores of the Danube between Baja and Apatin every single day. All gathered intelligence shall be disclosed with us immediately after landing, and the squad shall also report on the number of available planes, pilots and scouts.”

On the day of the inspection (on May 19), the Red Army's leadership gave the final order on the organization of an army fleet, precisely describing the division of units and their subordination. Aside from minor changes, the order stayed the same until the end of World War II.