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Baptism of Fire

Baptism of Fire Book Review

By David L. Veres

Date of Review March 2014 Title Baptism of Fire: The First Combat Experiences of the Royal Hungarian Air Force and Slovak Air Force, March 1939
Author Csaba B. Stenge Publisher Helion
Published 2014 ISBN 9781906033934
Format 128 pages, softbound MSRP (USD) $39.95

Review

Among World War II's "dress rehearsals" stands 1939's nasty little war between Slovakia and Hungary.

That's, at least, what Slovakia calls it: the "little war".  Now it's the subject of a truly superb study from Helion: Baptism of Fire – available in North America from Casemate.

Subtitled "The First Combat Experiences of the Royal Hungarian Air Force and Slovak Air Force", it deftly dissects – and doggedly details – the full sequence of events.

And I do mean details.  With most wartime Hungarian records missing or destroyed, author Csaba B. Stenge methodically reconstructs accounts from surviving documentation and eyewitness testimony.  He then reconciles inevitable discrepancies from multiple international sources – and probably produces the most accurate assessment to date.

Stenge catalogues all known personnel and equipment used by both sides during the brief, bitter fighting.  He names names.  And where available, he charts all aircraft operations by crew, serial and unit.

Contents include:

  • Occupation of Sub-Carpathia
  • 23 March, 1939 – Slovak air raids against Hungarian ground troops
  • 24 March, 1939 – Air Battles and Slovak air raids against Hungarian ground troops
  • The Hungarian air raid against Spisska Nova Ves
  • Epilogue
  • Conclusions

Major combat spanned only two days – 23-24 March.  And Stenge notes that, in that period, Hungarian Fiat CR.32s achieved decisive supremacy over "technically superior" Slovak Avia B.534s, scored a number of kills and suffered no losses.

The Slovak Air Force, by contrast, lost nine aircraft – with 23 more damaged.  Severe personnel casualties also accompanied Slovakia's equipment losses.

Stenge further reveals that Hungary actually captured two B.534s – not one, as usually reported.  The first saw lengthy service.  But the second, although in "very good condition", never flew again.

Over 100 photos spice Helion's solid saga.  Seventeen color aircraft profiles further flavor this fulsome feast.  Nine appendices and a selected bibliography conclude coverage.  And the whole thing is annotated!

I absolutely loved this book.  It's wonderfully researched, lucidly written and potently provocative.  And I hope it bodes similar Helion titles.

Rabidly recommended!

My sincere thanks to Casemate Publishing for this review sample!

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