Hungarian Battles That May Decide the Fate of the War
[Current Opinion, June 1915]
Tremendous as was the scale upon which, last month's battles in Hungary between the. Austro-Magyar-German forces on one hand, and the Russians on the other were fought out, and important as must be the result upon the fortunes of the war, there is still, apparently, no method of deciding finally which of the two sets of "facts'" in the rival official dispatches corresponds closest to reality. What seems to have happened, in the light of comment by the military experts of the allied press, was a dash down the Carpathians into the Hungarian plain by the Russians. The plan of the Grand Duke Nicholas, as outlined in the London Post, was to get from the foot of the mountains as far as Karsa, the independence, city, and its county. At the worst, the Russians ought to have reached the lower Hungarian counties and the historic Rakoczy towns. What encouraged the Grand Duke, observes the expert of the Paris Temps, was his knowledge that the general staff in Berlin regards the line in the west as of far greater importance than the line in the east. France must be settled with and disposed of before decisive action against Russia can be logical or imperative.
Hungary, indeed, has all along protested against this strategical conception and has even, it is alleged, warned Emperor William of her purpose to make peace if the Berlin general staff will not modify its idea. The German rush to defend Hungary implies, therefore, to the French press, an important change either in the face of affairs or in the "conception."
Economic Importance of Hungary to Berlin.
Assuming the accuracy of Vienna dispatches, the forward progress of the Russians into Hungary has been at least checked. The Berlin tale has it that the forces of the Grand Duke have been driven not only back to the Carpathians with slaughter on an unprecedented scale, but permanently halted. An entrenched line makes any further invasion out of the question, as the Berlin Kreuz-Zeitung reports. The risk incurred by the Berlin general staff in dispatching a force adequate to such an achievement must have been considerable, the expert of the London Post thinks. The line in the west must have been denuded here and there. Nevertheless, the Germans are claiming victories in the west no less decisive than those they won or think they won in Hungary. All this is, we are told, more "bluff." The Germans rushed into Hungary, as the British daily last named infers, because Hungary is now the granary of the Teutonic allies. Upon the Hungarian plain grows at this moment the seed of those crops upon which the fatherland is dependent to a greater extent than her optimists have confessed hitherto. This view is supported by comment in German papers like the Neueste Nachrichten. They nave been saying recently that if the Hungarian crops be ruined through the vicissitudes of military operations, or if they fail or should they fall into enemy hands, the fatherland must endure something very like half rations if not starvation.
Significance of the Coming Struggle in Hungary.
So furious was the fray in the Hungarian plain and so completely did the Germans associate themselves with the destinies of the contest, notes the expert of the Paris Débats, that the food supply was evidently a vital consideration. That suggests a shortage of food in the fatherland itself. The outlook is not so rosy as original calculations indicated. This impression is confirmed by what the Berlin Vorwärts says of the grain supply. There is no actual starvation in Germany today, from the latest and best accounts. The calculations for the immediate future, however, may turn out erroneous, says the Paris Temps, a suggestion repudiated by the Kölnische Zeitung. This German daily admits that the supply of potatoes must form the subject of more rigorous regulation and it concedes that the modified agriculture of a war period leads to friction with the rural population. Meanwhile, a serious difference has arisen between Vienna and Budapest over the grain supply. Count Tisza has set his face against any reduction of the Hungarian supply for the benefit of Austria. The one comforting circumstance is said to be the prospect of an excellent crop in Hungary if the Russians can but be kept far enough away from it. But Hungarian pressure upon Austria, in view of the invasion, says the London Post again, became so, strong that Vienna passed the burden on, to Berlin. The general staff took it up. The only inference can be that the granary had become a vital consideration.
Renewal of Russian Pressure upon Hungary.
Undaunted by the rebuff he sustained, the Russian Grand Duke began preparations for a renewal of the invasion of Hungary on a greater scale than ever. "Every hill is a miniature Przemysl and every yard is contested with the utmost energy." Thus runs the report in the British daily, which admits that the Russian advance is slow, contested at every step, but on the whole steady. If there be a revival of peace talk, from that clearing-house of war reports, Vienna, we may be sure that things are going badly for Germany and Austria in the Hungarian plain, whatever official dispatches may say of the tactical results. The prevailing view among the allies is well set forth in this extract from the London Post:
"Austria knows quite well that her fate depends on the attitude of the Hungarians, particularly on their few Independence leaders, who are the only men the people trust and follow. They admire the Germans, but do not trust them, and as to Austria they despise her now more than ever. Austria knows very well that Hungarian's would be easily persuaded to leave her to her doom as soon as their national ambitions and aspirations were satisfied, and that nothing in the world would suit the Russians better when established on the plains than to begin negotiations with the leaders of the people and detach Hungary from her neighbor. There is no Hungarian living who would care a jot as to the fate of Austria. It is not only foreign to their sentiments, but the very idea of Dualism is painful to them. A good peace for Hungary and dissolution from Austria is absolutely the thing for them as soon as it can be effected without danger to themselves."
Count Tisza Sees the Hour of Fate Arrive.
At more than one conference of Count Tisza with the leaders of various groups in the parliament at Budapest, the Prime Minister took pains, according to the Tribuna of Rome, to deny that Austro-Hungarian policy is now dictated by Berlin. The Count was striving to check that sentiment in favor of an independent Hungary which, if some British dailies say truly, occasions alarm in German military circles. Official organs in Berlin, in Vienna and in Budapest have come to the conclusion that England is manufacturing an independence movement in Hungary which as yet is intangible and imaginary. Nevertheless one of the largest towns in Hungary memorialized Count Tisza on the subject of the national independence, and even the inspired Az Est (Budapest) has some scornful references to the subject. The whole issue appears to have been discussed candidly by Prime Minister Tisza with the Hungarian political leaders. They represented to him that Russia pours her hordes into the plain from the crests of the Carpathians. By the capture of the main Austrian position on that part of the Carpathians which is known as the Beskid, to follow a Petrograd version, the Russians mastered "the top of the flight of steps leading down to Budapest" and the snow has melted into the bargain. Austria attends only to Italy. Might not the time be at hand for "the Hungarian solution"?
A Hungarian Solution of the War.
Independence is not the ideal just now of the more responsible leaders of Hungarian opinion, especially as Count Tisza, the Prime Minister, is so warm an advocate of the union with Austria. He feels confident of the good faith of Germany because, she needs the food supplies available in Hungary. He is forced, none the less, to reckon with an element in Magyar opinion which finds expression through an indignant writer in Az Est. The daily does not agree with the sentiments expressed, but it gives them space because an agitation among Hungarians based upon such ideas is attaining consequence:
"Who is the traitor, the one who protests against the wholesale murder of his brethren for the sake of Franz Ferdinand, who never deemed it worth his while even to spit on us, the one who protests against the wheat being given to Austria and Germany, while his mother can not get a loaf of bread? Or is he the traitor who urges Hungarians to grasp the opportunity and realize a dream of our fathers and break away from our lifelong enemies? Are not those the traitors who abandon the ideals of Kossuth and sacrifice our best and dearest, fighting on the side of our oppressors? Are not they the traitors who thrust the nation into this unending misery in order to flatter those who give them personal power to rule us?…
"The Hungarian people will find out sooner or later that they have been deceived and that it was not to the interest of Hungary but to that of Austria and Germany to drag her into this war."
Widespread Distress of the Hungarians.
Panic has been spread through Hungary by a report that the Grand Duke Nicholas is again ready to descend upon a nation which Emperor William is unable to defend. This is an utterly preposterous view of the situation to the Vienna Neue Freie Presse, which reminds the Hungarians that the German ally has never failed them yet. Hungarians reply that their country is denuded of food supplies to feed the ally in Berlin. Emissaries from Germany go through the land buying up crops and cattle, altho Budapest and Szeged, the second largest city in Hungary, are on the verge of famine. To quote the comments of Az Est:
"Decrees and orders have for their aim the drilling of the people into systematic starvation, a chaos of cautions, threats and warnings invests us. State, city and county bodies rush on us in all their official authority and everyone plays his own game, while the stomachs of the people remain, wofully empty.…
"The leading tendency of these warnings is that we are to save our meals, reduce our wants, and then we shall always have plenty to eat. They are enacting laws for compulsory economies, but the very necessaries of life they can not procure for the people. The government has issued an assurance that we are well supplied with maize, but we ourselves have thousands of complaints by letter, telegraph and telephone that no maize can be bought in town or country, from warehouses or bakers. It seems we have the maize and yet, we have it not. Before it can reach the consumer they stop it on the way. The hungry people rightly ask: If there is maize where is it to be had? Nowadays we are in the dire position that when you eat a meal in a restaurant you must do without bread unless you bring it with you. We ought to use Rontgen rays to find out just what man is displaying all this incapacity in ruling a people. In Germany they supply seventy million people with food; but here in Hungary we can not give them even bread. What is the cause of all this? Is there no man in our land who can administer anything or must we share the popular impression that the only Hungarian now alive who knows anything or can do anything is Count Tisza?"
Spread of the Russian Scare In Hungary.
Tisza was forced to make some concession to patriotic sentiment in Hungary, says a correspondent of the Paris Débats, by pledging himself to reconsider his position should the Russian movement now in progress suggest the possible capture of Budapest. Not less than two million men, mostly young, were under the Grand Duke's orders for this descent into the Hungarian plain. By the middle of this new month another clash will have come. The general staff in Berlin regards it as a test of its own efficiency. That is Count Tisza's idea. He was but slightly impressed by the fall of Przemysl, seeing that the army of the enemy and not any one fortress or city is the true objective of an invader.
The end of the siege liberated so many Russian soldiers that reinforcements were hurried to the Carpathians. The desperate battle that ensued forms the theme of the usual contradictory despatches; but it did not shake the determination of Count Tisza to hold aloof from the independence movement. If, however, the Russian advance pushed so well across the Hungarian plain that the Cossack appears before Budapest, there will ensue such a crash that Count Tisza himself would have to fall unless he consented to a separate arrangement. Thus is the position set forth in the press of the allies.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
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THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald