What was the Battle of Pákozd?

Introduction

The Battle of Pákozd (or Battle of Sukoró) was a battle in the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, fought on the 29 September 1848 in the Pákozd – Sukoró – Pátka triangle.

It was one of the most important battles of the revolution, in which the Hungarian revolutionary army led by Lieutenant-General János Móga defeated the troops of the Croatian Ban Josip Jelačić.

Pretext

Austrian Empire’s Hungarian Policy in the Summer of 1848

The European Revolutions of 1848 affected the Austrian Empire as well. Nationalist and liberal sentiment across the Empire turned into protest and sometimes violent insurrection, both in non-German areas and in Vienna. Amidst this turmoil, Charles Albert of Sardinia intervened in Austria’s Italian possessions, beginning the First Italian War of Independence.

The multi-national Habsburg Empire was composed of many ethnic groups seeking independence. This threatened the existence of the empire. The most dangerous revolutions were the Revolutions in Italy and the Hungarian Revolution. The Empire did not have enough military power to overcome both of them. Their policy was to fight against the Italians and – to gain some time – to accept the Hungarian demands. This policy was effective: until the middle of summer the Empire stopped all other revolutionary attempts. Furthermore, Joseph Radetzky won the battle against Charles Albert at Custoza on 25 July 1848. The Habsburg Empire could then concentrate on the Hungarians.

The Hungarian attempt to be independent of the Habsburg Empire started to become serious. The Emperor swore allegiance to the Constitution of Hungary: officially the Empire’s army in Hungary was under the command of Lázár Mészáros and most of the Austrian soldiers, including the Emperor, swore allegiance to its Constitution. The Batthyány Government was very careful not to give an excuse to the Empire for attacking Hungary in this way.

The Empire wanted to use the rebellions as an excuse to achieve their will. Ethnic groups who lived in Hungary made demands against the Hungarian government, but the Battyhány Government refused them. The Empire realised their chance so they started to send money, weapons and materiel for Serbian rebels and Jelačić’s army, who was prepared to invade Hungary.

Jelačić’s Attack

Jelačić was violently opposed to the Hungarian revolution. This and his military experience helped him to get one of the main roles in Baillet von Latour’s military plans against Hungary.

On 10 June the Batthyány Government sent a petition to the Emperor to relieve Jelačić of his post. Unfortunately it was not successful as Jelačić started to prepare attacking Hungary and on 31 August Jelačić occupied Fiume.

The Hungarian government tried everything to avoid the conflict. Prime minister Lajos Batthyány and Minister of Justice Ferenc Deák travelled to the Austrian capital Vienna at the end of August. They wanted to negotiate with the Emperor, but it was a failure as the Emperor refused to entertain them. Furthermore, he confirmed Jelačić’s title as Ban. This was taken as an advance warning by both sides. Batthyány admitted his policy’s failure and resigned on 11 September. On the same day Jelačić crossed the River Drava with approximately 30,000 men.

After crossing the Drava, Jelačić issued a proclamation to the Hungarians. He made it clear that he arrived as the Habsburg-Lotharingia dynasty’s soldier and his aim was to defeat the nascent revolution. Jelačić implied that his authority came from the Emperor, but when Hungarian officers arrived he could not prove it.

Ádám Teleky became the new commander of the Drava legion. Their situation was delicate. Their oath to the Constitution of Hungary meant they should attack Jelačić, but the fact that they feared the Emperor’s army made them prefer not to fight. The Hungarian army instead retreated in the direction of Székesfehérvár.

Hungary’s leaders frowned on the retreat of their army. They relieved Teleki of his post and they followed Batthyány’s advice and asked Archduke Stephen, Palatine of Hungary to command the Hungarian army. That an Austrian Archduke commanded the Hungarian army fortified the Hungarian soldiers, who declared an attack on Jelačić. Archduke Stephen invited Jelačić to a meeting at Balatonszemes, but Jelačić didn’t attend. Archduke Stephen was superior in rank to Jelačić, so he interpreted Jelačić’s failure to attend as a sign that he was acting as the Emperor’s puppet. Later Stephen tried to contact Jelačić without success. On 22 September he left Hungary.

The Hungarian Government tried to help and reinforce the Hungarian army as soon as they could. On 13 September Batthyány announced an insurrection in Transdanubia. On 22 September Kossuth made a proclamation to the Hungarian soldiers, who were abroad, to return to their country. On 24 September he went to the Great Plain to recruit. These efforts were successful: there were about 16,000 men who were prepared to fight near Lake Velence at the end of the September.

On 28 September the Hungarian army had a court martial at Sukoró. At this council Móga promised that the Hungarian army would fight if Jelačić attacked them. It happened the next morning.

The Battle

The Hungarian order of battle was arranged thus:

  • Captain Joseph Kollmann was in command.
  • Right flank: General Joseph von Milpökh and General Ernő Kiss commanded about 3,000 men and 1 battery.
  • Central and left flank: Major General Franz Holtsche and Lieutenant Colonel Mihály Répássy commanded 8,500 men and three quarter battery.
  • Reserves General Teleki commanded 4,000 men and 2 batteries.

The Emperor’s policy failed, and caused Jelačić’s defeat.[citation needed] The Emperor gave no direct orders, so the Austrian army split and went which way they chose. It caused the battle to be held between the two prongs of the divided Austrian army. Both sides expected to follow the Emperor’s orders.

Jelačić’s plan was to destroy the right flank of the Hungarian army and then to move towards the central attack, and with a frontal attack he could then destroy the whole Hungarian army. Major general Kempen started to attack the Hungarians with about 8,000 men. After a short fight they made Guyon retreat from Pátka, but the right flank of the Hungarian army defended themselves. Because this attack was not successful, Kempen tried a pincer movement against the right flank, but the Hungarians won this attack.

Jelačić started to attack the centre and the left flank of the Hungarian army, but every attack ended with Hungarian victory. Jelačić gave up, under Kempen’s advice. The artillery fought into the evening, but Jelačić started to retreat and asked for ceasefire.

Aftermath and Legacy

On the whole, the Hungarian army won the fight against Jelačić, but Móga did not turn the victory on his advantage. He retreated to Martonvásár and made a 3-day ceasefire with Jelačić. Jelačić’s supply routes to Croatia were cut down, so he had to retreat to Vienna.

On 07 October the Hungarian army defeated Jelačić’s reserves, and took Generals Roth and Josip Filipović prisoner.

Although the Battle of Pákozd was one of the smaller of the Revolution, its consequences were very important for the other fights for independence. The battle became an icon for the Hungarian army because of it is influence on politics and morale. This battle was one of the reason for the Vienna Rebellion of 06 October.

After the battle the blockaded Croatian armies were redirected towards Austria, where they were given new orders from the Austrian government, but no reinforcements as they were promised.

In Hungary its anniversary (29 September) later became “National Defence Day” (Hungarian: “a honvédség napja”). In 1991 that day was changed to 21 May (the date of the recapture of Buda at the Battle of Buda (1849)).

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