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The defence system of the Hungarian Royal Army in the Eastern Carpathians
The defence system of the Hungarian Royal Army in the Eastern Carpathians : FOREWORD

FOREWORD

  2008.01.07. 16:45

In 1990 when I took up my post of a lecturer at the Department of Art of War of the Zrínyi Miklós Military Academy I did not begin to give lectures immediately. At first there was a period of thorough preparation.

My experienced colleagues helped me a lot in this work. I studied the themes given according to the schedule, prepared lecture-plans, and I had to support them against the teaching staff.  In this way I could go to the classes sure of myself. The themes especially interesting to me were those which dealt with the battles of the Hungarian Royal Army during World War II.  It was in 1990, the beginning of the system change, when there were no taboo themes any longer, anything could be discussed openly. We teachers also had to learn, because the majority of our study-books were written with an out-of-date “class-struggle” oriented attitude. This was the reason why we had been teaching the art of military science instead of military history to the officers studying in the academy.  There was much less of a role for politics and propaganda in this theme. But even so, the curriculum and the professional literature at our disposal gave rather a distorted picture. We had only few classes about the art of war of the Ancient and Classic Ages, and also of the Medieval Ages and the Modern Ages as part of the schedule. We also had to shorten the time we could spend with the operations of World War I.  70% of the curriculum was an indepth analysis of the activities of the Soviet troops in World War II.  Apart from these elements we could also deal with the periods of development of the Hungarian Royal Army, and with those reasons and circumstances which led to the perishing of the Second Hungarian Army. We could analyse the operations of World War II in the territory of Hungary in more precise detail. With great enthusiasm we were able to read  recent monographs, memoirs which also told about the art of war from the other (not Soviet) side. We found it especially important to demonstrate the real activity of the Hungarian Royal Army.  Earlier we met only stereotypes causing disgrace to our national pride: “not sufficiently trained, poorly armed”, “Fascist, hireling of the Germans”, “impotent, coward, sacrificed army”, “the Danube-bend”, “the last satellite”, etc.

When I became teacher in the department, my colleagues had already been deeply concerned with the work of forming acceptable proportions from this distorted curriculum.  New study-books were written on the operation of the Third Army in the South, about the operation of the Carpathian Group and the Fast Corps against the Soviet Union.  However, there were also scientific controversies against us.  Some “serious” military scientists opposed our activity, saying that there was nothing to learn from the strategy of the Hungarian-German military leadership in World War II, because the Germans and their Hungarian allies lost the war.  Let us teach the Soviet operations further - it is always better to learn from the victor.  We did not argue with them, they confessed  that they had never learned military history and, in their opinion, they never needed it either.  They argued about the art of military sciences with the “bravery of the innocent”, in other words, without any arguments.  Nor did they  even want to understand our message. We answered  these people by continuing the work we had already started. Our students attended  our lectures with especial attentiveness and they read the professional literature hitherto unknown but which was being  published in growing  quantities.

Once I happened to have been studying material for a seminar which was to deal with the operations of World War II on the territory of Hungary.  I had the intention of preparing a sketch-map about the operations of the Fourth Ukrainian Front, in order to demonstrate the periodic nature of the offensive, meaning that the Russians had introduced a 5 to 10 day break  during  the 15-20 days’ operation time so that they could prepare their troops for the next offensive.  For my sketch I obtained the data from the book written  by General Grechko  “Across the Carpathians”.  I had already read  this book, I liked it,  it was good reading, and in addition it gave a certain respect and honour to adversaries. I tried to draw up the results of the three large operations with different colours.  The result, much to my surprise, was that there was a very little difference among the lines after three Soviet offensives.  I began to read the book again, with more attention, and I set up each movement on the map.

That was the first time I started to think about dealing scientifically with the defence-system of the Eastern Carpathian Mountains.  I went through all works written about war operations in that area, but could find only general information on the Árpád-line, the Hunyadi and Saint László positions.  There was almost nothing about these defence lines in the professional literature of the period between the two world wars either. It is quite obvious, because at that time the existence of these fortification lines was a state secret, the positions were disguised as much as possible, and no precise description was made of them.  After World War II they were not even mentioned any longer.  The ruling system of those times could stand only the praise of the victor.

I had more luck with finding data in the Archives of Military History. Although I did not find any exact description or outlines about the fortifications, there were many references, reports, orders among the documents.  I read over all theoretical articles on  fortifications, but in spite of all my efforts the Árpád-line did not want to unveil itself.  This came about by accident.  In 1995 I found a few copies of a newspaper published in Sepsiszentgyörgy with the headline “Háromszék”. There was a series of articles in it written by Lajos Sylvester.  The title of this series was “The landslide in the Úz valley”.  This story was also published in book-form soon after, and I was even able to see it in the form of a documentary film at the Hungarian Film Festival in 1996.  Former Székely frontier guards told about their fight in the Úz valley.  In this way I got into contact with Transylvania for the first time.  I met Lajos Sylvester, told him about the researches I had made up to then, and he promised that he would put at my disposal all the memoirs ha had collected with permission to use them after the publication of his own book.

During the same summer I travelled to Sepsiszentgyörgy with two of my friends.  Maybe they came with me only because of thirst for adventure, but later József Martinkó and Tamás Nagy took part in all my expeditions.  I was received by Dr. Dániel Szőts, a former corporal of cadets in reserve, now retired chief medical officer of Kovászna county, and by Lajos Sylvester in Sepsiszentgyörgy. They helped us to meet the veterans of the 11th  Székely frontier guard battalion.  Next day I went up to the Uz valley because the veterans assemble there every year.

The Úz valley, this one mile long and half-mile wide extended valley, became a real place of pilgrimage. Several hundreds of people visit the festival held on 26th August. They attend the ecumenical church service there, or they just relax on the bank of the Úz river. Many of them pitch tents, make excursions and indulge in nostalgia. The pilgrimage began in the seventies.  At that time it was still rather dangerous to visit any places with pious aims and commemoration as the ruling authorities of Roumania considered all such occasions organised not by themselves as threatening. The commemorations of Hungarians held by Hungarians were believed especially dangerous.  Even then, some former Székely frontier guards visited the Úz valley, defying the ruling powers. They laid a fire and remembered their comrades falling in the battles of 26th August 1944.  Participants were often dragged into the Securitate (Roumanian Secret Police) after such commemorations, and they were hardly ever able to avoid being beaten.  Even so, they took this risk because the reverence they felt for their fallen comrades-in-arms was more important to them than anything else.  Recently a memorial place has been erected on the site and a small military chapel, which was built by the 11th Infantry Regiment from Munkács during  World War I, is also being maintained.

 

There and then  I saw the first redoubt I had ever seen of the Árpád-line.

 

I had been studying it for days, having made sketches and photos of each element of it, while ‘those days’ were resurrected by the recollections of veterans and by old military songs sung at camp fires during those unforgettable nights.  I do my best to go to these commemorations in the Úz valley to commemorate with them on 26th August every year.

 

Later I hiked continally all over the valleys and made sketches about each valley block of Transylvania.  My photo documentation also accumulated.  However,  although the situation had become more consolidated, even in Roumania, by that time, we still had to be cautious with  local authorities as we could have met overzealous clerks at any time.  We were travelling as tourists, and did our best to avoid the appearance that we were out  searching for secrets.  We preferred not to take any photos in the neighbourhood of barracks.  In order to avoid attracting too much attention, we travelled to Transylvania by train or bus, and  visited the valleys in our friends’ cars.  We had to cover several hundred kilometres every day because we could only get from one defile into the other by traversing the snowy mountains.

In the first two years we had a ”follower”, who was dogging us and watched our activity from a certain distance.   He never harassed us or hindered our work.  Local people, no matter whether  Hungarian, Roumanian or Ruthene, did their best to help us.  Veterans passed information over to us in such a way that unknown people were waiting for me at each locality who would help me to discover the following valley block.  Every now and then we managed to find interpreters and car-drivers.  B. András Csibi, a teacher of geography from Ditró, was my guide when we left Transylvania towards the North.  He planned our itinerary, helped our travels, and provided accommodation for us.  He also helped us to meet the veterans who had been taking part in the former fights, and gave us correct data about the locality of the valley blocks, and about the fights.

It was Sándor Kovács who helped us to discover the valley blocks of the Sub-Carpathians.  He knows that district very well.  He wrote several books and edited a tourist map about this romantic segment of the Carpathian Basin. Many interesting, exciting events took place, and we became witnesses of numerous discoveries in the course of our expeditions. Even a guide-book might at some time be written about our expeditions, although the tracks we used did not follow the traditional tourist routes. The untouched, zigzagged valleys and deep defiles of the Carpathian Mountains, approachable mostly only on foot, hide many secrets.

And now, let us reveal the secret of the Árpád-line, the fortification-system built and defended by the Hungarian Royal Army in the Eastern Carpathian Mountains during the period of 1940-44!

 
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