THE NECESSITY FOR THE HUNGARIAN FRONTIER FORTIFICATION
Teofil Hárosy summarised the importance of the fortifications in his article “Permanent fortification in the present war”. He writes as follows:
“If we want to safeguard the possession of a garden, a ground-plot, or any other valuable part of land permanently we put up a fence around it. However, the fence itself never means complete safety. Thieves, robbers and vandals can cross it at will, but even so, the fence will never be indifferent to them. Merely its existence commands some respect in the eyes of the stranger, and it is an obstacle against any illegal entry. If it stands between us and our invader, its defence is relatively easy, and even if the enemy is stronger we are inaccessible to him! The more massive and impenetrable the obstacle is, the more this statement applies.
Fortification was always a type of obstacle in its ancient form. Irrespective of whether it was a fence, a mound, or a cave with impenetrable walls in all directions but at the entrance, it offered perfect safety. It could also be a larger water surface, or a construction in the middle of a forest or on the top of a high mountain which the enemy could not approach, or if they could, at least only with difficulty.” 4
However, Teofil Hárosy noted that man had never created any insurmountable obstacles. Invaders usually found methods to pierce through the walls and get their prey. Defenders were searching for more and more perfect systems. The modest mounds of early times rose to become high castle walls, and later they sank to become deep ditches. Defenders drilled huge caves which were able to offer resistance even against the most powerful offensive arms. The fortifications became extensive obstacles, then finally thin bulkheads, but all this was in vain. In the end the besieger overcame the defenders, nearly always and nearly everywhere.
Fortification was an important addition and in many cases an essential requirement of defensive fights. It could also be applied for offensive operations, but only when invaders were forced into temporary defence. Fortification is emphatically a defensive measure, its essence is that it is limited to one place. Basically it is nothing other than a profound utilisation of terrain and defensive equipment for the sake of success in the foreseeable combat. All those who expect more from fortifications make the same mistake as those who believed that the huge Stalin line or the Maginot-line was impregnable, together with its offsprings; the Belgian-Dutch fortification system; the Czech and Serb fortifications and the Metaxas-line. These proved efficient for a long time, but later were torn to pieces with surprising speed. A storm-proof fortress – concluded the writer wisely – does not exist and never existed, but it is possible to supply well-selected terrain with such engineering equipment that increases to an almost infinite degree the fighting ability of the occupying human forces. In the first place, the value of the fortification depends on strategic and tactical factors, and only in the second place on engineering and financial possibilities.
“With regard to strategy, the final purpose of fortification is to hold with minimal manpower certain territories which are considered important for future operations. The concept that manpower should be reduced is possible and necessary. It is necessary so that more resources should remain free for crucial operations. And it is possible because the material force of the small staff is supplemented by effective engineering equipment.
On the other hand, a reduced staff precludes the possibility that we could construct fortification on lines with large geographic dimensions or in extensive deep zones because, apart from limited financial means, even the great powers who had a very favourable geopolitical position did not have enough occupation forces for such fortifications. But it is not even necessary.
In the course of history it often happened that larger battles on strategic key points settled the fate of whole geographic areas: Stalingrad, Leningrad, Orel, the Cuban bridgehead, Gibraltar, Malta, Alexandria, Tunis and the Dardanelles were such key points, but any point can get into the same situation if we are able to paralyse the enemy’s operations from it either immediately or by gradually thinning out the strong point’s forces until it can become the basis of our own offensive operations.
Those who recognise well and with great foresight these strategic key points, and who equip them - reinforce them - with combat equipment, thereby satisfying the requirements of modern defence battles, those people will obtain advantages which cannot be underestimated by any military leadership. So, in essence history repeats itself; the “detached fortress” of the World War I returns, even if in a different form.
As they are currently, modern strongholds must be constructed in such a way that they can resist attack from any direction even if the enemy has already partly broken through or even if the larger part of them has been overrun by the enemy, because all their individual parts are independent, separate and stand-alone. The modern principle of territorial fortification, or strong point-like fortification, has taken over the role of the old fortification line. The occupation plan of territorial fortification is a system of defensive block set up from cell-like parts. Its basic cell is capable of and obligated to perpendicular defence in itself.
The arrangement of each strong point is irregular. They are only effective for their defined task and terrain. At the same time, they must be positioned economically. Three tactical points of view are decisive: command, fire and movement.”
Apart from all the tactical concepts and engineering work, the morale of the unit defending the fortification is the third crucial factor. The defender’s forces must not be kept closed in and left to their own devices because their spirit would break very quickly.
“Even if it sounds strange, the defending troop must be inspired by an offensive spirit in order to fulfil its defensive task. The defender who simply closes himself in his defensive constructions is irretrievably lost. Besides, the most effective means of stout defence is to nip the preparations of the attacking forces in the bud. This goal can only be attained by our will to attack. For all these reasons - air efforts, heavy artillery fire, false attacks from stronger units, lighter but well-placed fire concentration while developing combat sectors, and, in the end, the destructive activity of our patrols - all are indispensable conditions of any successful defence.
Regardless of how large the enemy’s preponderance of forces is, from time to time his units must have a break in combat, if only to protect, re-group and fill his human resources. These occasions must always be used by the defenders for enormous counter-strikes in order to frustrate the decisive offensive of the enemy.
In doing so the defender attracts resources to himself and the enemy will not have these forces at its disposal in other places. Of course, because of such attacks troops will then assault with overwhelming force and the defence will have to contract, but in this case the fortified territory of the defensive troops which they are able to hold - and which they are obliged to hold - will be very useful for them”.
In contrast with the fairly disadvantageous position of the attacking force on the fortified territory, the defender can always establish a large local preponderance of forces there. The defender is able to harmonise the three basic conditions of battle: command, fire system, and movement. These means are not at the disposal of the offender. He may only obtain information on the operational mechanism of the defender by a series of long lasting attacks, causing heavy losses.
“The attacker will certainly stop before the fortified area, because in order to be able to start his decisive assault he has to make many kinds of time-consuming preparations not only to equal the above mentioned local superiority of the defender but also to suppress it: initially only some times and in some places; but when the moment of truth comes, then all the time and everywhere.
Considering all this, while the defender must be equally prepared for all possibilities, the great advantage of the initiative is always on the side of the attacker. So the defender should always attack, in contracted positions too; he has to attack, even if only with short lasting sorties, because only this way can he avoid surprises”.
The most important task is to hinder the reconnaissance of the besieger in any way. To reach this goal, the development of the enemy must be delayed however possible in the foreground, on the approaching roads. The enemy should not be allowed to get close to the valley block from its march column. Even if the besieger were already able to get close, the storm must not be awaited passively: the enemy must be drawn by fire and movement to such places where the defender might even annihilate him.
“So the fortress is not only the shield of the defender. The shield may protect temporarily against the heaviest blows of the enemy, but it has to be left immediately when the combattant knows it is necessaey. On the other hand, the defender is not allowed to leave his fortified zone without the superior’s command; he must not even do it with offensive intention, because in doing so he would deprive himself of ways to offer defence. So the defended position must be occupied, even if by few soldiers and even if it is not exposed to attack.
If some part of the defended position were lost, reoccupation must be attempted immediately. However, the other parts of the position must be held, even if already endangered by the enemy from the flanks or even from the rear. The aim is that the offender should only be able to chip at the unshakeable block of the position, and even then only with time-consuming and small, bloody attacks.
The defender just contracts still more in these cases in order to try to expand again at a favourable time, just until the counter-offensive of our own forces begins or until the end comes to seal the fate of even the last position.
This is the basic condition of successful defence throughout time, now. It is a difficult type of fight, much more difficult than a well based offensive, but it is still easier and above all more glorious and more successful than a forced retreat.”
The most important task of fortification is to establish the most favourable conditions for a defensive fight, which can only be successful if we afford much time, work and financial means. Teofil Hárosy was not only a theorist, he also knew the practice of fortification construction. The most up-to-date concept of the theory of fortification is connected with his name. He worked out his theory, adopting it to Hungarian conditions, for the fortification of the Eastern Carpathians. The lack of time, the necessity for quick action, can be felt behind his thoughts. Besides describing his theory, he gave lots of practical advice to the experts, based on his own military engineer experiences.
“If leadership wishes to increase the fighting abilities of its human resources by fortification it should declare its intention in time, sooner rather than later, because an equal amount of thought and material preparation is necessary for the establishment of a substantial fortification. If leadership still wishes to keep its intentions secret, at least some measures should be taken for alternatives in the preparation. Ad hoc work cannot be successful. The basis of good and quick work must be a specially elaborate and thorough fortification plan. To prepare such a plan one must take account of the local features of the particular area as extensively as possible.
So spend enough time on field surveys. The adaptation to the terrain is also important both from a tactical and an engineering point of view, because only this way can we minimise the set-up work for the terrain in the most efficient way. The existing roads, the larger natural obstacles, and other favourable features must be used in accordance with the defensive plan.
The geological features of the field of work might also be worthy of note. We need totally different types of equipment and skilled labour for different types of construction. We may work in rock or in sand, not to mention swamps. Water or flooding of the defensive work is even more unpleasant than the enemy’s artillery fire.
Consider thoroughly the local building materials when making detailed plans of a defensive position. Otherwise huge transit requirements can only be decreased this way. However, this kind of economy must not degrade so much that the fortification is not useable for its purpose. If not enough suitable material is found on the spot take care of the supply in good time. Always create the best possible construction efficiently, economically, and within time constraints. This is the art of the engineer construction commander.
Hárosy described in detail the selection of staff to be employed according to their professions. But his most important idea for us is that the engineering staff must build only the concrete constructions, the most important blockades. The open battery emplacements, the connecting trenches, the interchanging battery positions, must be constructed by the defending troops themselves, or at least they must participate in that work, in order to become totally familiar with the fortifications they had to defend. The more the defender knows his defending sector, the better he will trust it.
“The border-line between easier and more difficult work changes according to the particular situation. At times the fighter must also grasp the nettle, realising that his work is necessary for no one else but himself. Once the siege begins, the difference between a soldier and the combat engineer becomes irrelevant in practice. They have to endure the heaviest strikes of the enemy together. Of course, real armed combat is the soldier’s duty, but there are known cases when workers, or even prisoners of war, repulsed the storming units, armed to their teeth with only their axes and spades.”
The author summarised his thoughts at the end of his study. I am convinced that his thoughts merit consideration even now, at the dawn of the 21st century.
“We have summarised briefly the most important factors of modern fortification. We did it not as a plea for the defence; much rather to direct the attention to a branch of war science which has suffered quite a harsh fate up to now. Storm clouds are building up all over the sky of Europe. Maybe we shall be need all this soon!”
43 Teofil Hárosy: Állandó erősítés a jelen háborúban (Permanent fortification in the present war). MKSZ, 1941. 11. 281-289.