THE THEORETICAL BASE OF THE OPERATION OF THE ÁRPÁD-LINE
Contemporary specialists worked out the state fortification in detail and published their works for professional public opinion, first of all in the Magyar Hadtörténeti Szemle (Hungarian Military Review), in 1940-41. Initially they directed the attention of the readers to two important factors.
The first was the problem of the justification of state fortification. Many experts were already convinced that the defensive abilities of the country were not in adequate proportion to the considerable expense invested in defence, others took up this position having superficially evaluated the experience of the campaigns of 1939-40. However, apart from a few examples which supported the views of the opposition, there were also cases mentioned which were not against but in favour of the country’s fortification. For example, the Italians could not break through the French frontier fortifications in the Alps, and in spite of the huge superiority of the invaders, the frontier section remained almost unblemished in the hands of the defenders up to the armistice.
The fate of the Albanian section of the Greek Metaxas-line is well known: It was easily swept away by the German strike forces. However, it was a lesser known fact that the German forces could not break through the valley blocks lying north-eastward from Saloniki alongside the Bulgarian border, even after a two day battle. For this reason the Germans stopped their offensive and outflanked the Greek defence from the northwest, advancing across Yugoslavia.
The other important factor to take into account was that the financial situation of the country should not be disregarded when plans are being made, because this would lead only to a waste of funds with no meaningful results. The planning of the fortification had to be carried out in such a way that it should only be constructed after significant improvement of the country’s financial standing.
The discussion revolved around three fundamental problems connected with the permanent fortifications:
1. What should the task of the permanent fortifications be?
2. Where should the permanent fortifications be built and how much money should be spent on them?
3. What kind of tactical concept should direct the engineering work?
At the end of the discussion, Staff Captain László Varró, member of the Operational Department of the Fortification Headquarters summarised the accepted points of view in the Hungarian Military Review:44
“The task of state fortification is two-sided. First of all, we must protect the main part of the state territory against invasion. We must make possible the mobilisation and advance of all the forces which are still not, either because of governmental mistakes or because of the lack of opportunity, ready to fulfil their tasks during the political tension. This task requires the support of the frontier defence to the degree that it can block the offensive of the enemy forces over a longer period, especially the strong offensive of armoured forces following their arrival at our border. The other task is the defence of the country. If we have to envisage such an overwhelming invasion that we cannot counter it with enough forces, either because of tactical considerations or because of political machinations, we must increase the ability of our forces to resist, inferior in number though they may be, with the help of fortification systems constructed in peacetime.
Of course, it is difficult and usually not expedient to separate the two above-mentioned tasks from each other. This is especially so in the case of a middle-sized state, which has not so large an area that it can organise its permanent defence at a significant distance from the frontier after giving up large territories, and has not enough financial means to build up a strong fortification system for both tasks separately.
I have already touched on the problem of where we should build fortification systems and how strong they should be. Three factors must be taken into consideration: the military political situation, the geographic position and the financial possibilities of the given state.
The permanent factors of the military political situation show which the frontier sections are where the neighbouring state may have hostile intentions because of policy based on its geopolitical situation. In case the enemy is disproportionally smaller, it is not worth building fortifications (Russians against the Finns), but it can be necessary even on a territory bordered by a friendly state if the enemy might break through it easily. (The French on the Belgian border).
Geographic possibilities restrict the territories where fortifications can or cannot be constructed. It is obvious that a fortification increases the strength of the defence on any kind of territory, but the gain can only be in adequate proportion to the financial sacrifices if the defence possibilities of the country are increased considerably by the construction of the fortification. This is the case because the defender must make each defending sector strong – especially in the case of permanent fortifications constructed during peacetime, where even intelligence cannot provide information because the war plans of the enemy are still under development - while the enemy only has to break through the defence line at the place of his choice. If we want to construct fortifications all around the country irrespective of cost – as happened in the case of Czechoslovakia – but the terrain is only suitable for them at some places, then the system will not offer enough resistance. What is more, there will not be enough troops for the occupation of the fortification lines, and in the meantime I will have deprived the mobile army of the money which was targeted at the defence of the country, and I will have kept the army’s striking abilities at a low level.”
There are only a few countries in Europe which can easily be fortified. One is Spain, where the three most important passes of the Pyrenees could be fortified as well as the coastal zones so that the country is safely defended against any invasion from the European mainland. As it would only be necessary there to fortify five quite narrow sections, the system could be made safe at relatively small expense. Also, there the specific terrain conditions do not render it possible for the invader to attack with superior force at the place selected for breakthrough. On well passable places the enemy can advance with as large a force as he wishes. But in the case of strong fortification systems built on high mountains, the invader can throw into the fray only so many forces as can advance and move during the operation after evaluation of the terrain potential. The eastern frontiers of Hungary have such terrain features, so that particular territory must be the starting point if we want to decide about the character of our home fortification.
So what should the Hungarian fortification system be like? We quote Captain Varró again, because his concept became the basis of the fortification system whose construction was begun in the Eastern Carpathians and which was continuously adjusted to the experiences of World War II, so that the best possible system should protect the Eastern borders of Hungary.
“We shall close only the defile-like territories with permanent fortifications so the tactical and engineering requirements should be reviewed on this basis. For the construction of counter-measures we must imagine an attack against a valley block. The forward units of the armoured reconnaissance units appear first. They must be forced down, or at least forced to turn back with bloody noses. So roadblocks and antitank blockades are necessary, and also armour piercing arms, together with arms effective against humans also.
It is possible that based on incorrect intelligence data the enemy will try to storm the valley block with heavily armoured groups. Here the antitank weapons must reach a significant depth, and the firing system of the infantry weapons should be made continuous and also safe against blockade assault, so that they can repel the attacks of the armoured infantry and combat patrols. Now the heaviest tanks will be in the first echelon of the assaulting armoured columns. Against them even the 35-40cm armour-piercing guns can only be effective from close range and with flanking fire. So 8-10.5cm calibre batteries with low trajectory should also be placed into the antitank system.
Defence against armoured units does not cause special difficulties and does not require the establishment of large-scale defensive accessories. The reason is because tanks can only advance in depth separately and with very small width, so the armour piercing weapons can annihilate them one by one. The armed infantry who leave the armoured vehicles cannot develop their advance over a larger distance from the approaching road because of the unfavourable outlying terrain.
A methodical assault using all combat means demands the greatest endurance from the blocking fortifications. The defenders must be protected against bombing by well-proportioned, diffuse, perfectly disguised elements. These regulations also protect against artillery fire.
We do not expose the defenders to direct fire from light and armour piercing batteries. We do not apply loop-holed positions unless they can be based clearly on a flanking range, and the enemy brings into position an arm able to fire into the loophole after capturing most of the fortification system.
We defend against infantry and field engineer units partly by the establishment of open firing positions, thereby giving the fort troops the chance of close combat, and also by increasing the defence’s ability to repel with a large-scale adaptation of obstacles and blocks. The fort troop must be abundantly equipped with submachine-guns, flame-throwers and hand grenades so that they can face the attacker with sufficient force.
In the case of a methodical siege we must take into account that if the enemy has fought off our mobile forces between two valley blocking forts, they will try to defeat the valley blocks with smaller units, with mountain batteries, attacking from the flanks and from the background. It is also possible that the enemy will drop paratroops behind the valley block, or on the territory of the fort. The valley block groups should therefore be established in such a way that they can thwart attacks from both background and flanks. In other words, they must be capable of all-round defence.
Of course, the emphasis of the defence must be on the front line facing the enemy, and we must protect our flanks with mobile forces and extensive obstacle systems. But the majority of our firearms must be set in such a way that their effective range would also cover the flanks and the background of the fortification system. Some arms should be used exclusively for this purpose. The obstacle system must be constructed to be equally strong in all directions…”
The construction of such a system is quite costly. In respect of expenses large differences are to be expected between the forts because the cost of each construction depends on the transport opportunities. The construction costs of the two valley block fortress groups sketched in detail in this article were estimated at around 2.5 million Pengős in the first case and around 10 million Pengős in the second. As we can see, therefore, state fortification consumes enormous sums. It is hardly imaginable that a small state could realise such a plan in one or two years. The Hungarian military engineering experts had been planning the implementation of the system for ten years. Continuous modernisation of the constructed part was also ensured by melding experience and new technical achievements. They agreed in principle that the state fortification system would never be finished, new arms and new combat methods would appear, and the completed system would always have to be modified and developed partly in order to adapt, partly to repel these new methods and arms.
44 László Varró. Országerődítés (Fortification of the country). MKSZ, 1940, 1., 67-72.