THE MAGYAR MINI-MAGNUM
Rifle|July - August 2021
The name Fegyver és Gépgyár is not one that rolls easily off the non-Hungarian tongue; its acronym – FÉG – is not widely known, and Budapest is never thought of as a hotbed of riflemaking on a par with Steyr, Oberndorf or Liège. But for two decades between the wars, the city and the company were involved in some serious military rifle innovation.
Terry Wieland

Some Hungarian Mannlichers are marked “Steyr,” while others are marked “Budapest.” The latter may have been manufactured by FÉG or by the Steyr factory in Budapest. The ’S’ denotes the M31 cartridge (8x56R) with its spitzer bullet.

In 1918, with the splintering of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Hungary became a completely independent state and, like any central European power in the rather fraught decades of the 1920s and 1930s, was seriously concerned with arming itself to defend its borders.

The events of those years in the countries that came into being in the dissolution of the empire – notably Austria, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia – are skated over in many history books, overshadowed by events in Germany. But the division of territory and the agreed-upon borders were highly contentious issues, to the point of armed conflict.

Hungary was an ancient state, but within the empire, its borders were rather vaguely defined. With that empire gone, it found itself beset by Romania, Czechoslovakia, and, to a lesser extent, Austria. Romania had been on the Allied side in the Great War (albeit briefly), but regarded huge chunks of historic Hungary as a legitimate war prize; Slovakia, which became the eastern portion of Czechoslovakia, had been known as North Hungary, and Hungary was eager to keep it rather than cede it to the Czechs. As for Austria, it had gone to war with Hungary as recently as 1848; after 1867, they were separate kingdoms under one monarch, and there was little love lost.

To make things worse, in 1919, Hungary endured a short-lived Marxist regime under Béla Kun, who was acting as an acolyte of V.I. Lenin in Moscow and at one point asked for Red Army intervention to combat the Romanian and Czech invaders. Altogether, it was a bloody period of political and social turmoil.

Not surprisingly, when stability was restored, deep suspicion remained. Surrounded by potential enemies, the new state of Hungary set about rearming.

Like its political system, the structure of the Austro-Hungarian Army was puzzling to an outsider. Just as the empire consisted of two monarchies, Austria and Hungary, plus the rest (Czechs, Serbs, Slovaks, Ruthenians, Croats, etc.), the army consisted of three parts: The Royal Hungarian Honved (army), an army of Austria and a third part drawn from across the spectrum. The Hungarian Honved was paid for and equipped by its government in Budapest. The convoluted system of financing and equipping the respective armies resulted in some wildly disparate levels of quality in training, weapons, and even uniforms.

In 1918, the Austro-Hungarian Army as a whole numbered nearly 8 million men, of whom the Hungarian Honved totaled about 1.4 million. Compared to the main body, they were well equipped and should have been in a strong position to defend themselves. Unfortunately, hoping for peace, they disarmed unilaterally – a big mistake, since none of their neighbors followed suit.

The disarming resulted in a huge stockpile of weapons. The main infantry weapon was the Mannlicher Model 1895 straight pull long rifle, the short (stützen) rifle, and the carbine, all chambered for the 8x50R (Austrian) cartridge. The Austro-Hungarian Empire had possessed a formidable array of armaments manufacturers, with Steyr-Mannlicher in Austria, and Skoda and Brno in Czechoslovakia being the main ones. After 1919, all of these facilities were in what Hungary saw – with justification – as hostile territory. A country can hardly depend on neighbors with whom it might find itself at war, over either boundaries or ideology, for the weapons needed to defend itself.

Steyr had a subsidiary factory in Budapest, as well as FÉG, which was founded in 1891, and the latter became the locus of Hungary’s rearmament efforts.

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