BAPTISM OF FIRE: Review by Mark Barnes

During the early spring of 1939 the tragic consequences of Appeasement began to bear fruit. Following the Nazi dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, the Hungarian regime led by the fascist Admiral Horthy launched an attack against her neighbour the fledgling Slovak Republic intent on a land grab. There followed an event known as the Little War. It lasted just over a week and a number of people were killed but the merits of it were minimal to say the least.

This intriguing book tells the story of the air combat that took place between countries who; within two years, would be allied against the Soviet Union with all the nightmares that would yield.

We get a detailed account of the air operations and biographies of many of the interesting pilots and other characters involved. Archive photography is presented in a clear and extremely attractive style accompanied by detailed captions. I really liked the colour profiles of aircraft made by GyulaPozsgay. They added an extra dimension to an already interesting package.

The author has spent well over a decade researching the conflict and his attention to detail is apparent. He attempts to give us the story in an even-handed manner, but his obvious pride in the Hungarian aviators pours off the pages. How he gathered all the images and the background information would make for an interesting feature by itself.

The image of Hungarian Junkers Ju86 bombers setting out to attack a Slovak aerodrome defended by Avia biplanes is not difficult to appreciate. The mixture of aircraft in various states of obsolescence is borderline quaint when we consider bigger events to come. I would suggest the book offers solid material for model makers. I am not sure how many living history buffs are moved to recreate the period, but again, the images of uniforms and equipment are very useful.

This is one of those important books recording an event most of us have never heard of and helps broaden our picture of the Second World War. It is difficult to imagine a war lasting a week – I suppose we might also think of odd events like the Football War between Honduras and El Salvador in 1969 that had a similar sort of duration. This is not to denigrate the events as being silly. Things have to be pretty serious, in my book, if countries are prepared to start shooting at each other.

There is a short account of how when nominally allied against the Russians, a Slovak pilot couldn’t resist having a go at some Hungarian aircraft. It shows however small the conflict the animosities and anger can be huge even after a cooling off period.

I was keen to see this book and have been repaid with something quirky – of the same manner as the Cypriot armour title I reviewed a while back. The publisher is to be commended for bringing us books like these. They expand the mind, giving food for thought… and I really love the pictures.Great stuff.


The First Combat Experience of the Royal Hungarian Air Force and Slovak Air Force, March 1939
By Csaba B Stenge
Helion& Company
ISBN: 978 1 906033 93 4

Reviewed by Mark Barnes for War History Online

Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is a longstanding friend of WHO, providing features, photography and reviews. He has contributed to The Times of London and other publications. He is the author of The Liberation of Europe (pub 2016) and If War Should Come due later in 2020.