November 4, 1956: Hungarian revolution meets a brutal end as Soviet tanks roll into Budapest

A movement to free Hungary from Moscow's influence ended in tragedy as Khrushchev's patience gave in and the Red Army descended on Budapest.

The Cold War belied its name on this day in 1956 as Soviet tanks rolled into the Hungarian capital to crush "the forces of reactionary conspiracy".

As the video above recalls, Moscow's bloody "counter offensive" stamped out an uprising that sprang from student-led protests and grew into a popular revolt that saw Budapest's pro-Soviet regime buckle and fall.

Keen to distance himself from the excesses of his predecessor Joseph Stalin, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had initially dismissed Hungarian temerity as an inert riposte to the process of "de-Stalinisation" that had ushered him into power.

He didn't flinch at the elevation of reformist Imre Nagy to Prime Minister, even though the former premier had been dismissed from the Hungarian Working People's Party for falling out with the Soviet Politburo. And he even agreed to withdraw Soviet troops from Budapest as its inhabitants began to cut the Communist coat of arms from the Hungarian flag.

[August 21, 1968: Tanks roll into Czechoslovakia as Dubcek’s Prague Spring comes to a bloody end]

The Kremlin's apparent lassitude emboldened the rebellious Hungarians, as did overtures from US leaders which spoke of support for the “captive peoples” of eastern Europe.

With the wind of change at his back, Nagy sought the abolition of one-party rule and announced that Hungary was withdrawing from the Warsaw Pact.

Moscow finally responded. The Kremlin had heard enough. Khrushchev's velvet glove fell away to reveal the iron fist of old. 

[August 13, 1961: Berlin Wall divides a city as East German rulers raise barbed-wire border]

Operation Whirlwind began in the wee hours of November 4, 1956. With the light of dawn still hours away, Soviet fighters began to bombard Budapest from the air as artillery units pounded the capital from the surrounding hills.

Nagy took to the airwaves at 4.20am local time as Soviet tanks began to rumble through the city. Speaking in English, he sought to "notify the people of our country and the entire world" of his country's predicament.

His broadcast on Radio Budapest was followed by a repeated SOS signal which fell silent at 7.25am. When transmission resumed at 8.15pm it was in the hands of the Red Army. Hungary's tilt at freedom had met its end.

[May 14, 1955: Cold War deepens as communist states sign Warsaw Pact]

[November 9, 1989: Berlin Wall falls, taking much of Communist Eastern Europe with it]