With Adam Brooker
When I think of Hungarians AFVs in Flames of War I think of the Zrínyi Assault Gun!! For me this is the quintessential Hungarian WW2 vehicle, and is without a doubt it’s most successful locally produced design. It came about because of the great success of the German Assault gun design, the StuG III. The Hungarians originally wanted to purchase these off the Germans in 1942 so they could have some sort of modern vehicle capable to combat the increasingly modern soviet designs they were facing like the T-34 of KV-1 tank on the Eastern Front, with an obsolete vehicle like the Czech designed T-38. But the Germans refused, probably rightly so, as they could not even keep up production for their own needs, let alone the additional output that would be required to equip an ally. The Germans did eventually provide them with some 50 StuG IV assault guns, but only when the Soviets were pushing at the Hungarian borders in 1944, and the Hungarians had very little else to stop them with, but their experienced crews did put them to good use.
The Zrínyi was based on the Hungarian designed medium tank the 40M Turan, which was a decent tank in of itself, but the design process was initially started in 1940, and the quick advancement and up-gunning of tanks in this period meant that it was obsolete when it was produced in numbers. The Turan I had a 40mm gun, which was upgraded to a short 75mm gun in the Turan II by 1943, which was an improvement, but the short 75mm on the Turan II could only penetrate the T-34 if within 500m. A Turan III prototype with a long 75mm gun was designed and made in 1944, but it no longer exists except in photos, it is possible it did actually fight in the defence of Budapest, but there are no records of this, and nothing remains, so it is lost in the fires of battle.
Two variants were required by the Hungarian army, a 75mm tank destroyer variant, and a 105mm infantry assault gun version. The Zrínyi I was the 75mm assault gun variant that would act in a similar role to the StuG III, so an anti-tank focused assault gun, rather than a dedicated infantry assault gun the StuG was originally designed to be. The prototype was armed with the Hungarian produced 75mm 43M tank gun, only two were produced, one put in the single Turan III prototype, and the other in the single Zrínyi I prototype. This would have been of similar performance to the German Pak 40 7.5cm KwK anti-tank gun, but was a different gun, locally produced by Hungary. The Zrínyi I prototype was tested and accepted for production, but none were made for a few reasons, a lack of materials (main gun), the US flattened the Manfréd Weiss factory meant to produce them in a July 1944 bombing run, and when the Germans occupied Hungary in May 1944 they stopped all unnecessary Hungarian tank production, and only allowed spare parts to be made for the vehicles they currently had in service. Like the Turan III, it has been said anecdotally that this also saw combat in the Siege of Budapest in October 1944, but there are no official records, and no vehicle left to see, so it is more than likely it was destroyed in the fighting around Budapest.
But the good news here is that you can upgrade one of your Zrínyi assault guns in your force using the Zrínyi I 44M command card, either from a platoon or the HQ vehicle. I personally recommend upgrading the HQ vehicle, as the Zrínyi I 44M can no longer bombard, but it does have an extra 6” range on the 105mm armed Zrínyi II, and an extra AT, with reduced firepower of 3+. I think this is an excellent little hobby project as a relatively easy conversion, and also adds a bit of flavour (and AT) to the unit, to hopefully give the red hordes a bloody nose. It’s interesting to think how many more Soviet tanks the Hungarian assault gun batteries would have knocked out if they had of acquired enough 75mm guns to make this design feasible. They certainly knocked out a lot with the 105mm gun the Zrínyi II was armed with, they would have knocked out even more, at a greater range, with most likely less casualties with the long 75mm gun.
The other infantry support variant, the Zrínyi II 43M, used the same modified Turan medium tank chassis, but was armed with the locally produced 105mm MAVAG 40/43M Howitzer. This gun was similar to the 10.5cm leFH 18 howitzer that is found on the German StuH III assault guns, with a comparable shell weight and muzzle velocity. This variant was also tested and approved for production in mid 1943, and because there was locally made guns available, by July 1944 only 63 Zrínyi II were produced, and started to be distributed to the waiting Hungarian Assault Gun Battalions (Rohamtüzér Osztály).
The Zrínyi II had a rate of fire of about 5 to 6 rounds per minute, this was due to the two part ammunition that every howitzer armed cannon fired. During development the test crews suggested changing this to fixed ammunition, to increase the rate of fire, and this was approved, but was never implemented, the same happened with the AA machinegun that was supposed to be mounted on the roof. Each Zrínyi II carried 52 rounds of ammunition, 30 HE frag round, 16 HEAT rounds, and 6 smoke rounds, but crews found with battlefield experience they could carry an additional 30 rounds if they reduced other equipment internally.
As far as close support weapons, they had one co-axial machine gun, and the crew had multiple personal weapons, one light machine gun, three sub-machine guns, eight hand grenades, and a flare pistol. They also tried to get extra weapons, so crews would often ‘acquire’ extra German light machineguns and Panzerfausts for close actions. It also had a form of side skirts called ‘Thoma side skirts’ which were lighter wire mesh side skirts that still deflected the anti-tank rifles rounds they were initially designed to stop, causing them to tumble when they strike the wire. So this is the unique side skirt design you see on the wonderful Battlefront model.
The Assault gun was painted either in a plain olive green with the late war Hungarian cross on the side, or a Hungarian 3-tone, of Olive Green, Khaki and a red-brown. Either would be suitable depending on your preference, but I think the plain olive green is an earlier paint scheme and that the 3-tone was adopted more in mid to late 1944 onwards.
It should be noted that due to production difficulties, material shortages and bombing by the Allies, vehicle production was slow, with only 5 or 6 assault guns produced a month. The same Manfréd Weiss factory that was levelled to the ground in July 1944 and halted the production of the Zrínyi I, also produced the Zrínyi II. From the hulls trapped under rubble and other parts stored in nearby warehouses, another 9 or 10 were assembled by November 1944, making around 72 vehicles in total. I have heard anecdotally that Zrínyi II, were still slowly being produced and repaired by the Manfréd Weiss during the Siege of Budapest, much like the T-34 factory in during the Siege of Stalingrad from firsthand accounts.
An Assault Gun Battalion (Rohamtüzér Osztály) was originally planned to have 31 vehicles, the Battalion Commanders assault gun, and 3 Batteries (Rohamágyús Üteg) of 10 Assault Guns (one company commander vehicle, and 3 troops of three assault guns), also the first 2 Batteries were planned to have the 75mm Zrínyi I, with the third Battery using the 105mm Zrínyi II infantry support variant. But this was rationalised to all Battalions using the 105mm Zrínyi II, as they felt it could do just as good of a job as the 75mm Zrínyi I, and they also had no choice, as they could not produce any 75mm Zrínyi I anyway.
Due to a lack of sufficient 105mm Zrínyi II produced, some Assault Gun Battalions were only partially equipped with 105mm Zrínyi II, with 50 German StuG IV finally given over to the Hungarians in late 1944 to fill out some of the Battalions, others were equipped with the Czech produced Hetzer Assault guns based off a converted Panzer 38t chassis, or a mix thereof. Some Battalions also had the German produced 7.5cm Pak 40 anti-tank guns initially, instead of assault guns, when they started to run out of vehicles, or even Turán II or Toldi II tanks. When the units lost vehicles and had no replacements, the crew often fought on foot similar to German panzergrenadiers, and were very effective from reports, they seemed to be very motivated, often playing hide and seek with Soviet T-34s and Panzerfausts…
There were 8 Assault Gun Battalions in total, numbered the 1st, 7th, 10th, 13th, 16th, 20th, 24th and 25th. Only the 1st and 10th Battalions received their full complement of 31 Zrínyi II, and the 20th only got one Battery of 10. The 7th Battalion received 31 StuG III, and the rest received the Hetzer, or as noted before some 7.5cm Pak 40 anti-tank guns, or Turan II’s or Toldi II’s. There is some excellent information about each Battalion specifically in the Bagration Axis Allies book, and it also expands on some of the brave assault gun commanders and famous actions, that you will see represented by Command Cards as warriors.
When Budapest was under siege in late 1944, many Assault Gun Battalions already ravaged by advancing Soviet forces, amalgamated into Group Billnitzer, commanded by General Erno Billnitzer or ‘Uncle Bill’, this was made up of 2000 infantry, around 30 assault guns from the 1st, 7th and 10th Battalions, as well as parts of the 13th, 16th and 25th Battalions. This contained Zrínyi II, StuG III, Hetzers, as well as 7.5cm Pak 40s, and dismounted assault gun crews, they fought hard, stopping many Soviet assaults on the surrounding suburbs, and as noted above was reinforced by new Zrínyi II produced in the Manfréd Weiss while the Siege was in progress. They eventually lost all of the assault guns, but held back the Soviet forces for 50 days, before finally breaking out before the city was encircled.
In game the Zrínyi is a very good assault gun, it has a front armour of 7, and a side of armour of 2 (with Bazooka skirts), so it would be beneficial not to have these flanked, as almost all side shots will penetrate. It has decent mobility and a cross check of 3+, and a machine gun to attempt to drive of infantry assaults. Stats wise it is very good, with a Careful 4+ to hit rating, and a Veteran skill of 3+, and a Fearless Motivation of 3+ as well, this will mean in most cases it will hang around, but being a self propelled gun, it does not do well in Assaults, so should only do so if there is no other option.
The best attribute of this vehicle is its main gun, this can bombard as artillery, with a decent, AT3, 3+ firepower bombardment, but crucially it has a RoF 2 10.5cm gun, with 24” range, HEAT and a 2+ Firepower with Brutal. So it will be excellent at digging out dug in infantry, and as far as I know, it is the only RoF 2 10.5cm armed tank, so will still be very handy at taking out tanks at range. So a very versatile unit, that can be useful in both attack and defence, it will be hard to take out at range, and has the hitting power at range due to the HEAT rounds as well.
The formation itself is also very versatile, with a HQ of one Zrínyi assault gun, and being made up of three platoons of 3 assault guns, one of which must be Zrínyi platoon. But it also allows you the option of taking a StuG III platoon, a Hetzer platoon or a 7.5cm anti tank gun platoon. Additionally you can use the Assault Artillery Command Card to turn a Zrínyi platoon into a large veteran rifle platoon, which is a cheap option of getting veteran Hungarian troops to support your Assault Gun Battery.
I have written up a Zrínyi Assault Gun Battery list below, focusing on taking more Zrínyi, rather than German vehicles in Hungarian service, so the two Zrínyi Assault Gun Battery Formations, but I have taken 3 StuG III, for the extra firepower and range on the 7.5cm StuK 40 L/48 gun. I have also liberally taken the Assault Artillery Rifle Platoon Command Card, which gives you a veteran rifle platoon that also has the Huzr rule, so an improved Follow Me roll, which is well worth it. Also I have included the 7.5cm anti-tank gun platoon of 3 guns, which is slightly different to the support choice, being a point cheaper, as it does not have the improved last stand roll of 3+ from the Home Defence rule.
The Hungration Bagration Axis Allies also has a great variety of Hungarian warriors based off brave historical figures that were members of the various Assault Gun Battalions. Leaders like Lt General Erno Billnitzer from Group Billnitzer that were encircled in Budapest, Jósef Barankay the well-loved Commander of the 1st Battalion who was involved in creating the Assault Gun Battalions, who died when Soviet planes strafed his vehicle. Sándor Hanák, from the 10th Battalion who led an attack driving over and knocking out 15 anti-tank guns in the fighting around Budapest, or Barnabás Kőszeghy leading the 2nd Battery of the 7th Battalion (StuG) that knocked out 12 T-34s in an attack but lost all 9 of their own vehicles (6 were recovered the next day), that gave the Battery the nickname “The Battery of the Dead”.
The warrior I’ve chosen to use in my force is János Bozsoki also from the 10th Battalion that was fighting around Torda, Romania in September 1944, attempting to stop attacking Soviet and Romanian forces pushing through Transylvania into Hungary. A battery of six Zrínyi helped halt a soviet counter-attack from a Soviet Tank Brigade supported by elements of four Divisions. They knocked out 18 T-34 tanks, and Janos even returned the next day to help rescue wounded comrades and recover damaged Zrínyi assault guns. In game he allows any unit leader with 6” and in line of sight to pass a Tactics roll on 2+. So very very handy for the RoF 2 Zrínyi to get the best from its howitzer.
I think this list will be fun to play, having the StuGs to sit back and provide overwatch, the smaller infantry platoon to hold an objective, and the larger to assault, hopefully deployed forward a bit with the spearheading Csaba armoured cars. The two Zrínyi platoons will be used to support the assault and to help knock out any anti-tank guns or machine guns that will make it hard for the Assault artillery rifle platoons. They can also bombard positions if needed to help suppress before an assault.
Overall a decent list, but it is lacking some high AT weapons if I come up against heavy tanks, my best AT is the 7.5cm anti-tank guns (12), so if I do face them it may be best to take a defensive stance to get an ambushing unit, or choose attack and just play defensively and use my mobility to flank them. I just could not afford Panthers, but if either the StuGs or the Zrínyi get the flank of any heavy tanks they will make a mess of them.
Well I hoped you learned a few things from this, and found it as interesting as I did. I strongly recommend you take a look at the Hungarian lists in the Bagration Axis Allies book, lots of very cool options and forces to try out.