MI6 trained rebels to fight Soviets in Hungarian revolt

Cold War games: From a rendezvous on a rainy street, agents smuggled volunteers to school for revolution
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Some of the rebels who took on the Soviet Union in the Hungarian uprising, 40 years ago this week, were trained by the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) - popularly known as MI6 - according to the author of a new book on the history of the organisation.

Last night, the Foreign Office said it would not comment on "operational intelligence matters". However, Michael Smith, the author of New Cloak, Old Dagger, to be published by Gollancz on 7 November, said: "The officers I spoke to said there was an intention to cause an uprising in Hungary." But he added: "There is no evidence that this was specifically sparked by MI6 because there was another series of events".

An estimated 15,000 mainly young, working-class Hungarians took up arms in the 1956 uprising, defying the might of the Soviet military for almost two weeks. An estimated 3,000-4,000 Hungarians died in the revolt, which represented the most serious challenge to Soviet rule in Eastern Europe since it was imposed following the Second World War.

In 1955 the reformist Hungarian prime minister, Imre Nagy, was forced to resign, and in 1956 the Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev, denounced Stalin and his legacy. The clamour for reform began to grow. The revolt broke out on 23 October after more than 100,000 students took to the streets to call for free elections, the withdrawal of Soviet forces and the reinstatement of Mr Nagy. Small bands of fighters established pockets of resistance and demobilised scores of Soviet tanks.

Some of the weapons used were American, and others almost certainly British. Mr Smith says MI6 and the CIA had buried arms caches in the woods around Prague and Budapest for use by "stay-behind" parties or fifth columnists in case of war.

The mid-1950s were regarded by the British and the United States as the last chance to challenge Soviet dominion over eastern Europe. The Eisenhower administration had been elected on a platform of "liberating" the Soviet satellite states, but in the 10 years since the Allied victory in Europe, the Soviet Union hadstrengthened its hold over the central and eastern part of the continent.

The name of Mr Smith's main contact - a military officer working for MI6 - has been withheld under a D-notice. However, he recalled "picking up agents on the Hungarian border" to take them across in to the British-occupied zone of Austria in 1954. "We were taking them up into the mountains and giving them a sort of ... crash course. I would be told to pick somebody up from a street corner at a certain time of night in the pouring rain. Graz was our staging point. Then, after we'd trained them - explosives, weapons training - I used to take them back ... We were training the agents for the uprising."

In return, the British received information. Paul Gorka was one of a group of students recruited in the early 1950s to gather intelligence on Soviet activity in Hungary. "In due course we received coded messages from Vienna asking us for information about Russian troop movements ... We replied with information written in invisible ink in innocuous letters to special addresses."

Unfortunately the Budapest students met in a coffee bar to discuss their activities and were swiftly rounded up. Mr Gorka was interrogated for several weeks, strung up from a beam and immersed in icy water. Under torture, he confessed, and was sent to prison for 15 years.

Laszlo Regeczy-Nagy, the President of the Committee for Historical Justice, representing the interests of the veterans, said: "There were thousands of Hungarians living in Austria at the time and some were undoubtedly organised and trained by the British." He believes that foreign intervention played a modest role, and "the vast majority of those taking part [in the revolt] were locally trained and led". He added: "Even without training, they pretty quickly learned how to fire machine guns and hurl Molotov cocktails."