It was a movement that shocked the post-war world. A spontaneous uprising of democratic forces within Soviet-occupied Hungary that briefly put the mighty Red Army on its heels.
While the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was swiftly crushed by Soviet tanks and secret police — the rebellion’s leaders executed or sent to labor camps — the insurgents’ early success exposed a crack in the Iron Curtain that would force the Soviets into a program of firmer control over its client states and deeper repression of its people.
And in one of history’s greatest ironies, some of the most diabolical tactics used by the Hungarian militants to cripple the Soviet war machine were the same ones they’d been taught by Moscow to resist the Nazis during World War II.
Though the revolution lasted just a few days in late October, 1956, before the Soviets mobilized 60,000 troops to crush resistance, nearly 700 Red Army soldiers were killed, including hundreds of tanks and armored personnel carriers destroyed.
According to multiple reports at the time, in several battles between the Hungarians and Soviet tanks in Budapest, the rebels poured liquid soap on the streets of Moricz Zsiground Square to bog the armor down before disabling it. Rebels would then attack the tank with Molotov cocktails (another insurgent tool with Soviet origins) and put it out of commission.
In an attack on Red Army armor in Szena Square, Hungarian rebels reportedly used pilfered bales of silk to coat the road and covered it in oil to create an improvised tank trap.
“The tanks spun helplessly, unable to move forward or back,” according to one account.
Then the insurgents would use items from their breakfast tables to confuse the tank gunners.
“As the tanks became immobilized, daring youngsters darted forward below the arc of fire and daubed jam over the tanks glass panels,” one account said.
Despite the nearly 13 days of fighting and a brief Soviet withdrawal, a reinforced Red Army descended on Budapest and drove the rebels into retreat. An estimated 3,000 Hungarians were killed in the 1956 revolution, with 12,000 arrested and nearly 450 executed.
Most accounts claim over 200,000 Hungarians fled the country as the Soviet Union strengthened its hold on the East European nation and never let go until the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.