THE HUNYADI AND THE ST. LÁSZLÓ POSITIONS
The fortification of the operational foreground of the Árpád-line was decided at the time of the creation of the “Defence of the Carpathians” conception in 1943. The terrain was especially suitable for this purpose because the passes of the main ranges of the Carpathian Mountains, in other words: the Hungarian frontier could be approached only from a few directions.
As the given territory was already an operational area, no civilian labour force could be used for the construction; only engineer troops and special forced labour troops were allowed to work there. The General Headquarters of the Engineer Troops subordinated directly to the Hungarian Supreme Headquarters assigned the closing of the most important directions on the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains to the 101st Engineer Headquarters. In the meantime the Fortification Headquarters was proceeding at high speed with the reconstruction of the Árpád-line into a defensive position. Two positions were constructed for the reinforcement of the operational foreground. The Hunyadi position was the outer line of those fortifications, which closed the passes of the north-eastern Carpathians. It was not an uninterrupted defence line, but composed of strongholds, valley blocks, and blockades and from the system of log pillboxes, locking positions. The Hunyadi position closed the roads leading to the Eastern Bescidy and to the Máramaros Alps at the entrance of the valleys. Its southern final point was the zone of Zabie, Mikulicsin and Jaremcsa villages, in he foreground of the Csorna Hora. Its more important strongholds were constructed at Deljatin in the foreground of Javorin and Gorgan, on the road leading towards the Tatár-Pass; at Zielona in front of the Toronyai-pass, and at Sztrij on the road leading up to the Verecke-pass. Its northern final point was Turka, at the foots of Magura mountain, in the valley leading towards the Uzsoki defile.
Until 1943 no name was given to the St László position. It was not considered a separate line but a dispatch position marked alongside the thousand year old frontiers in the Eastern Carpathians. It closed the passes of the Eastern Bescidy and the Máramaros Alps on the Hungarian frontier. Construction was started at the same time as the Árpád-line. The thousand year old frontiers had a special role in the conception of “the defence of the Carpathians”, so the St László position was marked as a dispatch position, so that there should be one more terrain sector between the Hunyadi line and the Árpád line where the defenders could hold on for a while during a possible retreat. It was composed of perpendicular company or battalion strongholds and locking positions.85 It made easier the retreat of the First Hungarian Army into the Árpád line in August of 1944, but it was not held for a longer period.
The fortification lines of World War II were based upon the elements of the field fortification, with the exception of the Árpád line in Hungary. The different elements of the blockades were widely used on these fortified lines, namely:
1.) The obstacles (systems) keeping back the advance of the enemy temporarily, furthermore:
2.) The obstacles and combat engineer equipment settled on the terrain (on the battlefield ot its surroundings) for the above-mentioned purpose.
The obstacles could be pull-down or settled locks (systems) according to their character and explosive or non- explosive locks according to their operation. The elements of the explosive locks are the mines. There were anti-infantry, anti-tank, anti-transport, anti-dessant, demolition and other mines. Anti-infantry, anti-tank or mixed mine fields were developed by mine-laying. Directed mines, minefields, and mine-traps were also applied. The non explosive blockades could be fortified, hydro-technical, electric locks, mounds or demolitions. The antitank ditches, antitank walls, thresholds, barbed wire entanglements and the obstacles belonged to the group of the fortification locks. The wire entanglements could be stationary or removable (concertina, knife rests, hedgehogs). The active (or passive) water obstacles could be: inundations, icings. The elements of the electric locks were fences, barbed wire entanglements filled with high voltage electric current. We can also mention threshold obstacles, shark-fin obstacles, barriers against the tank cupolas, abatis, barriers, snow- or ice- obstacles. Damage could be to roads, railways or traffic control nets.
The technical lock systems were created by the planned, uninterrupted application of obstacles deployed by engineer troops for the most part, together with units belonging to other armed branches. The barrage fight was one of the methods of closing the gaps in the course of the defensive battles. The obstacles without fire cover generally could not fulfil their task against stronger attack.
The most important part of the fortified lines was the main resistance belt. It was composed of the main resistance line, of its locking positions, and the safety belt86, as an uninterrupted zone, divided in depth, composed of the strongholds and forts, i.e. locks, positions, approach trenches and shelters, connected by ditches of fire system. In ideal cases the main resistance belt was able to stop the enemy’s breakthrough while still in the forward zone of the battle area, and to restore the original defence system.
Colonel General Szombathelyi visited the Supreme Headquarters of the Wermacht in the last days of December 1943. Hitler held out the prospect of the deployment of new German forces, the repulse of the Soviet offensive. He made no comment on the plans of the Hungarian “Carpathian defence”, but he gave no permission for the Hungarian occupation divisions to return home.
The Hungarian government had a clear conception about 1944. As the then Hungarian prime minister, Miklós Kállay, wrote in his memoirs published in New York in 1954:
“When the Read Army gets to the Carpathian Mountains and finds that the Hungarians have no hostile intentions, then they will think twice in Moscow before leading a frontal attack against the defensive positions of the Hungarian Royal Army. It would be much simpler for them and they would lose much less time by continuing their offensive against the main enemy, the Germans, north of the Carpathians, on the Polish plains, or in the south, on the Roumanian plains. Why should the Russians lose time by breaking through the Carpathians, on a second range front, if they can avoid Hungary in a wide circle and save time and blood by doing so.” 87
The former Chief of Staff of the First Hungarian Army, defending the Carpathians, Staff Colonel Jolsvai Győző remembers those days as follows:
“The Chief of Staff of the Hungarian Royal Army ordered the higher commanders to the planned base of operations assigned to them: into the Árpád position, for survey and inspection, according to the following:88
10th Division. (Kaposvár) Kőrösmező-Tatár-pass,
7th Division (Sopron) Királymező-Pantyr-pass,
16th. Division (Szolnok) Szinevér, Ökörmező, Toronyai-pass,
1st Mountain Fighter Brigade (Beszterce) Huszt, and the second echelon east of these places.
The following units would be part of the First army.
6th Division (Komárom) Volóc, Beszkid-Pass,
20th Division (Eger) Vezérszállás, Vereckei-Pass,
24th Division (Ungvár) Fenyvesvölgy, Uzsoki-Pass,
2nd Mountain Fighter brigade (Monkács) Perecseny, the sector of Szolyva, as second echelon.
These units would have been part of the Third Army. Behind the two armies under the command of the commander of the I. Armoured Army Corps:
1st Armoured Division (Budapest) in the region of Munkács,
2nd Armoured Division (Kecskemét) in the region of Ungvár,
1st Cavalry Division (Nyíregyháza) in the region of Szobránc, each as tactical reserve;
The following troops remain in peacetime positions:
13th Division (Szabadka) for the control of partisan activities in the south,
25th division (Nagyvárad,) and the
27th Light Székely division (Marosvásrhely) because of uncertain Roumanian behaviour and to counter a possible Roumanian crossover.
According to this plan, the forces would have been more than enough for the defence of the Carpathians. The probable main strike of the Soviet forces was to be expected on the territories north of the Carpathian Mountains, westward. This defence could have deprived significant Soviet forces of protection for the flanks of the attacking forces in the direction of the main strike and could have prevented a possible counter-attack.” 89
The mobilisation of such forces was possible only by an order of mobilisation. For this reason the mobilisation of the First Army was ordered in January 1944. The mobilisation of the Third Army was delayed because the withdrawal of the defending divisions to the line of the Carpathian Mountains was considered to create enough forces for the solution of the original task.
EVENTS TAKE A SHARP TURN
The occupation of Hungary by the Germans and the forced offensive of the First Hungarian Army for the re-establishment of the front line of the German “South” Army Group which had been cut in two turned upside down all the earlier plans and also meant that the country had lost its political independence. Hungarian military history after World War II often mentioned that there would have been enough military forces to oppose the Germans, but there was no political will for it. However, an army carries out orders, waits for orders. The German occupation of 19 March 1944 resulted from a complete failure of any political decisions. The sarcastic telegram of the commander of the III. Army Corps, Szilárd Bakay to the Headquarters can make us feel this situation: “The Russians in front of us, the Germans behind us, the English (bombers – authors note) above us, send a command!” 90
Hungarian independence ceased to exist after the German occupation, but this fact was not easy to recognise for the simple soldiers on the front line. Governor, Government and Parliament were in place, - the soldiers were waiting for orders, and the orders sometimes arrived, sometimes not. The First Hungarian Army got subordinated to the German “Northern Ukraine” Army Group. According to the order of Marshal Mannstein, the Commander of the “North Ukraine” Army Group, the First Army had to begin an offensive in order to close the gap which had developed between the “Northern Ukraine” and the “Southern Ukraine” Army Groups. Colonel General István Náday, Army Commander, insisted upon fulfilling the original order: he was instructed by the Headquarters of the Hungarian Royal Army to move into position for the defence of the Carpathians. He therefore asked for a Hungarian political decision, but to no avail. Politics, metaphorically speaking, “shrugged its shoulders” - they were helpless. The Army Commander was an experienced soldier, he understood that the order of Mannstein could lead to the annihilation of the First Army. He could not do anything else but to resign from his post.
His successor, Colonel General Géza Lakatos, was not so sensitive, he launched an offensive. The offensive closed the gap between 17-30 April, but at what a price! 15,000 Hungarian troops were lost. 80% of the tanks of the single armoured division of the First Army, which carried the burden of the fight on its shoulders, were destroyed. The front line of the First Army stiffened on the Kuty-Kosov-Pistyin-Pecsenycsin-Kolomea South-west-Ottynia-Tlumacs terrain sector, where the army took up a stationery position. They continued successful defensive fights up to the middle of July 1944, but the Soviet offensive which began on 23 July 1944 broke through their front line and the Hungarian troops began their withdrawal into the defensive lines constructed in the Eastern Carpathians.
85 The locking position is a preliminary constructed, or marked defensive position where the defender must stop the attack of the enemy which had broken through the front line. It is part of the main belt of resistance. Magyarország a második világháborúban (Hungary in World War II). 385.
86 The main resistance line – in contemporary military terminology, the main battle line – was the connecting line of the defensive positions of the main resistance belt facing the enemy. Ideally it was made up of the fire system of the infantry (and supporting shock troops) and from irregularly divided nests and strongholds in width and depth. Its front position was the forward edge of the battle area. (Magyarország a második világháborúban. (Hungary in World War II.) 117.
87 Péter Gosztonyi: Magyarország a második világháborúban. (Hungary in World War II). Róma, 1986. 183.
90 Magyarország hadtörténete. II. (The Military history of Hungary). Budapest, 1985, 375.