THE PROBLEM OF THE SZÉKELY LAND
Northern Transylvania demanded special military defence because of the special form of the reannexed territory after the establishment of the new frontier line in line with the Second Vienna Award in 1940. The originally narrow, sack-like territory between the north-western and the southern frontier shrivelled to 70 kilometres because of the protrusion of the Kosna neck at the Borgói-pass and another protrusion in the zone of Kissármás. It was more than risky to transfer troops into this narrow territory in the southeastern corner of Székely Land – the so-called Háromszék - and supply them with food and ammunition. The defence plan of the territory was defined by the open frontier towards the South and by the Carpathian Mountains, where the fortification construction was still being continued in an easterly direction. The Russian advance had to be stopped in the East and at the same time it was also necessary to stand guard against the Roumanians to the South. The defence of the Székely land was under the aegis of the Székely frontier guard forces stationed in Marosvásárhely. Defence of the reannexed Transylvania was the task of the IX. Corps of Kolozsvár.
The conception of the establishment of the Székely Frontier Guard came up in the Lower House of the Hungarian Parliament in 1942. Gábor Pál, MP, made the following proposal:
“The Eastern fringe of Transylvania was the Székely military frontier district under Austrian administration, with this administration causing pain and suffering between 1763 and 1848. This military frontier district and its organisation made it possible for the Székelys to fight with enormous force against those who forced them into such a fight.
Our present plight, with the Székelys being pushed into a cul-de-sac, demands that the War Minister should consider the new organisation of the Székely military frontier district which is on Hungarian soil because there would have been no Székelys in the Eastern frontier zone of Transylvania had we always lived according to unified rules. We must create extraordinary rules in respect of national defence there; ammunition, rifles, clothes must always be to hand like in Switzerland so that all able-bodied people can leap into action without taking into account service obligations or age limit.” 71
The ranks of the units were filled by older Székely men who served in World War I. The age limit was 50 years. 20 battalions were established this way. Training went on in each village for 1-2 days a week, and it was continued in training camps at two week courses from 1942, when the youngsters, having finished their paramilitary training, – the grandsons – were called up too.
This new element of the army’s battle order – as it is referred to – was organised for the purposes of frontier defence because of the deterioration of the military situation. It was believed that in this way an armed force would be organised in the regions of Transylvania inhabited by Hungarians, which could effectively resist both the Soviet army and the Roumanian troops. The Székely frontier guard forces were assembled from 9 frontier guard brigades and five frontier defence groups, divided into 6 frontier guard battalions, 20 Székely frontier guard battalions, 8 marauding companies, and 36 fort companies.
Each frontier guard battalion had 3 rifle companies and 1 machine gun company; the rifle companies were supplied by 12 light machine-guns, 2 heavy machine-guns and 2 trench mortars, the machine gun companies were supplied by 12 heavy machine-guns and 4 mine launchers. The battalions also had combat engineering companies and signalling platoons as direct units subordinated to the commander of the battalion. 1 field artillery division, 1 air raid protection artillery division, 1 Hussar squadron, 1 combat engineer battalion and 1 signal battalion were subordinated to the headquarters of the Székely Frontier Guards as direct units.72
The frontier defence was reorganised in October 1943 by establishing the Székely Frontier Defence Forces. Frontier guard battalions were organised, and formed from the Székely frontier guard battalions and from the fort companies; the signal units and the logistical units became subordinated to these groups. Fifty percent of the over-age rank and file soldiers were relieved by 18-20 year old youngsters. The Székely Frontier Defence forces had to defend a c. 200 kilometre long sector of plain and mountains in the east and an equally large territory in the south and west. Their provision number was about 40-50,000. One frontier guard battalion had to defend about 70-80 kilometres, and one battery defended a 50 km long frontier section.
We can obtain some information on the situation of this not very significant force and maybe, on the whole Hungarian Royal Army from the Information Bulletin of the 5. Training Department of the Headquarters:73
“The Székely frontier guard force (22 battalions+2 batteries+ accessories) organised according to the principle of militia was trained by us from 1942-43. We made special courses for the leading cadres (officers, non-commissioned officers). In 1944 we also gave advanced training courses to the leading cadres and we arranged the first armed exercise for the whole frontier guard force. The battalions are on holiday at present. The Chief of Staff will decide whether the battalions should be remobilised.
As the members of the frontier guard force are over-age men (III age group), it became necessary to put young men in the most important positions gunners, etc). So 8 infantry and two artillery training camps were set up in the Székelyföld in October 1943. The number of youngsters waiting for training (2 courses) was about 8000. The youngsters were 18-19 years old, just under the age for compulsory military service.74 The training personnel was instructed to come here from all regions of the country.
The duration of the training course was one year. Having finished the training, these frontier guard battalions went into reserve, and they would stay in reserve until they reached the age of compulsory military service. Then they would serve still more two years at one of the conscript units.”
An other interesting document represents the difficulties of the organisation of the Székely Frontier Guard Force. The standard of the material supply tells us a lot:75
“Budapest, 29th April 1942.
1. The 900,000 Pengő credit limit at our disposal should be used in such a way that most of it, about 500,000 Pengős, are for the training and retraining according to the 693/M 1. A. 1942 order.
200,000 Pengős can be used for the actual rental and construction costs of armament and equipment storage and the remaining 200 000 Pengős can be spent on other assignments stated in the above quoted order. If you can manage the rental payments and construction of stores from the allocated amount of 200,000 Pengős and assume full responsibility for this, then I assure you can have 100 000 Pengős more at your disposal.
2. I took measures for the issue of the armament under No 7211/Praes. 3a. – 1942, and for the issue of the ammunition under No 9092/eln. 3. –1942.
This ammunition is issued when a real need is identified, so it cannot be used during training and retraining.
Requisition the ammunition necessary for training from the 5. Department and use only the quantity issued by them.
3. In spite of the fact that I see the significance and advantages of a uniform for the Székely Frontier Guard force, I cannot provide uniforms for the Székely Frontier Guard Force while we ourselves do not have the necessary stock of uniforms in our stores.
Soon the uniforms of the forced labour units of common interest will cease to exist, so these units will not be in any better a situation than the Székely Frontier Guard Force.
I do not agree with the Székely frontier guards’ wearing uniforms during the closing manoeuvre partly because the dress supply of the corps would decrease in value and I cannot supplement it; and partly because it would be strange to issue them with uniforms in peacetime if we cannot do it in wartime.
With regard to service in civilian suits, for wearing their own we have to pay daily fees, according to the following principles:
1 civilian jacket: 4 fillers ( translator’s note: 1 Pengő=100 fillers),
1 civilian waistcoat: 1 filler,
1pair of civilian trousers: 4 fillers,
1 civilian overcoat: 3 fillers,
1 set of underwear (1 vest, 1 pair of underpants, 2 pairs of socks or foot-cloth) 2,5 fillers,
1 pair of shoes or boots 5,5 fillers,
1 civilian hat or cap 0,5 fillers.
The establishment of new amounts is under consideration.
Wearing-out fees can only be paid for really worn-out civilian dressing and only for those days when they were really worn. After the last payment the frontier guards must sign a declaration that they have no demands against the Treasury.
If it were necessary to re-sole the really worn-out shoes of the Székely frontier guard, or if they could be heeled (or mended) I give permission to put the necessary material at the frontier guard’s disposal against compensation.
But the repair material provided should be deducted from the wearing-out fee and should be paid to the account of the global sum for dress maintenance.
According to the departmental order:
Major General “vitéz” Heszlényi”
This instruction well illustrates the “ad hoc” character of the Székely frontier guard battalions. Both material and personal conditions were missing and both of them could only be created slowly and with considerable difficulty. In 1944 the Székely frontier guards still had outdated, old arms from World War I. The frontier guards did not even have belts, they were replaced by a white strap.
The military defence of Székelyföld also meant serious problems for the Fortification Headquarters. The southern wing of the fortification system was completely open, no mountains hindered operations there, so the special plight of Székelyföld demanded perpendicular fortifications.
It was not possible to build the Árpád-line further in the Southern Carpathians, so a temporary solution had to be found. As Székelyföld is surrounded by the Háromszéki, Csíki and Gyergyói Alps from the East, and by the Hargita and the Görgényi Alps from the West, it seemed possible that Székelyföld could have been applied as an enormous bastion on the open southern wing of the Árpád-line. For this purpose all-round defence was necessary because it enabled two important aims to be realised. Firstly, the southern wing of the Árpád-line could be closed off safely. Secondly, military defence could be ensured for the Hungarian nationalities who lived en bloc in Székelyföld.
As we mentioned earlier the fortification of flat countryside is quite expensive and demands a large number of defensive forces because of the necessarily large extension of the fortifications. As we saw, none of these factors was at the disposal of the Hungarian Army. The southern part of the Háromszéki Basin was cut in two by the new border established in 1940. This meant that Székelyföld would have been easy prey for a possible Roumanian invasion northwards from the valley of the Olt river. In addition, the enemy could have outflanked the valley blocks constructed on the southern flank of the Árpád-line. That is why they decided to fortify the Olt defile between Tusnádfürdő and Sepsibükszád. This way the Csíki and Gyergyói basins still remained defensible even if the enemy had occupied Háromszék. Székelyföld had also been protected against an outflanking operation from the south. That is why perpendicularly defensible strongholds were constructed on the passes of the Hargita and the Görgényi Alps. The Háromszék Basin also, open southwards, could only have been closed by such fortifications. As the Red Army approached the frontiers, there was no time left to build reinforced concrete fortifications, so the valley blocks already existing were supplemented by field (log) pillboxes. These posts were not permanent defensive constructions but if there were enough troops for their defence, they were suitable for their purpose. The Chief of the Headquarters of the Hungarian Royal Army often sent inspection committees for the control and for continual repairing of the Transylvanian fortifications. They did everything to do their best with what they had. In order to get a correct picture of the goals, let us see some inspection reports. Here is for example the report of the Chief of the Operational Group of the Hungarian Royal Army about the his inspection tour between 13-17 September 1942:76
“I inspected the following working sectors of the Fortification Headquarters between 14-17 09 1942:
1.) The permanent fortifications settled on the Prislop.
2.) The permanent fortifications settled on the Radnai-pass.
3.) The valley block under construction in the Nagyilva valley.
4.) The valley block at Borszék.
5.) The valley block in the Székpatak valley.
6.) The valley block at Reczefalva.
7.) The independent antitank obstacle south of Marosfő.
8.) The valley block settled in the valley of the Tatros stream and the field fortification at the mound of the Hidegség stream.
9.) The independent antitank obstacle in the valley of the Maros, at Szalárd, which will be developed to be a valley blocking fortification in 1943.
My general view on the works I saw is as follows:
I totally agree with the settlement locations of the inspected valley blocks from an operational point of view. They are all suitable for further development according to operational circumstances and the increase of the defending forces.
From a tactical point of view: The open firing positions and the obstacles should be further examined and supplemented beside a careful and thorough consideration of the tactical requirements because they are still not perfect in their present form.
I suggest establishing one more valley block or at least a field fortification reinforced by permanent fortification elements. The closing of the way leading from Nagyilva to Óradna is also necessary in connection with these works.
I find it necessary to establish a valley block at Gyergyótölgyes in order to close the Tölgyesi defile better (Reczefalva, in other words, the Borszék direction). Besides, I also find necessary some supplement of the Reczefalva valley block. The details of this work are already registered by the Chief of Staff of the Fortification Headquarters.
My considerations and suggestions about the fort companies:
I find it necessary to raise the peacetime footing of the fort companies assigned to move into the valley blocks. The valley blocks only have real value if they can be occupied safely and with the appropriate strength.
It is a significant disadvantage that the valley blocks are supplied by seized arms, so I find it necessary that we should change the accessories from seized arms to our own arms. It is justified from the point of view of training and also because of the supply problems. I find insufficient the present 5 ammunition allowances of which only 3 will be at the company.
The present situation whereby the fort companies do not have training ammunition at their disposal should be terminated immediately so that in case of war the fort companies should not use their arms for the first time in their lives.
It deserves consideration and I would find it very advisable to reinforce the sub-divisions by artillery (at least by some batteries).
Moreover, it is necessary to find the range of the environment of the valley blocks and the possible advancing and assembling positions of the enemy and prepare the reference points and the references containing the firing positions even in peacetime.
I consider that the unified direction of the training of the fort companies is an important problem. Being aware of the opinion of the Corps Headquarters, the Fortification Headquarters suggest that they (the Fortification Headquarters) should prepare the principles of the training for the fort companies and generally the evaluation of the problems arising in connection with the fort combat for the time being, especially in the 1942-1943 training period. An infantry staff officer is assigned for this task.
My observations and suggestions connected with the assignments of the Fortification Headquarters for 1942 are the following:
IV…The Fortification Headquarters have already begun preparation for the execution of the assignments received for 1943. The inspection of the permanent valley blocks will be finished with the cooperation of the Corps Headquarters and the relevant battalion headquarters of the Hungarian Royal Army. The construction of the fortifications in the direction of Brassó and on the south-western slope of the Hargita can be planned by the Fortification Headquarters only with extensive knowledge of the factual measures for the frontier defence. The implementation of these measures is underway.”
The conditions of the all-round defence of the Székelyföld were being dealt with in another inspection report. As it had been cleared by the report, the fortification of the frontiers had just begun at that time, and in addition there was no detailed concept, so a lot of improvisation was necessary to attain an acceptable result. However, the outstanding professional achievement of the Fortification Headquarters was always admitted in the valuation of the inspection tours:
“ Headquarters of the Hungarian Royal army, Chief of the Operational Group.
609 pres. op. gr. 1943.
Object: Inspection report about the Székelyföld.77
9th September 1943, Budapest.
I report that I made an inspection of the permanent fortifications, the field fortifications and the fort units of Székelyföld between 29th August and 3rd September this year.
Inspected the following establishments:
The valley blocks in Borszék and Gyergyótölgyes on 30 08 1943;
31 08 1943: The fortified locations under construction in the neighbourhood of Sepsiszentgyörgy, the valley block under construction in the valley of the Kászon stream and the valley block at Sepsibükszád.
01 09 1943: The valley block in the Úz-valley and the strong point under construction at Szentegyházasfal.
09 02 1943: The valley blocks in the Gyimesi- and Békás-defiles and the battalion strong point in Parajd.
09 03 1943: I had talks at the IX Corps Headquarters.
On the basis of the places inspected, I can evaluate the present situation of the fortifications as being sufficient.
The Fortification Headquarters can perhaps meet the requirements for 1943 except for the construction of the strong points in Hargita, where most probably it will not be possible to construct the strong points by the end of the year due to the lack of manpower.
So we can reckon with being prepared for 1944 from the point of view of fortifications. Of course, the enormous extension of the frontier and the relatively good traffic conditions of the terrain demand a permanent supplementation and development of the fortifications. All this is underway, using the possibilities at our disposal, or else will be ascertained according to the directives for the following year.
I have to stress the excellent operation of the Fortification Headquarters relating to the above-mentioned problem. This organisation of ours has become a large organisation within 3 years, having started from more or less nothing, and they already have modern instruments at their disposal to execute such large-scale work.
I also have to emphasise the excellent work of Staff Major Ernő Pacó and Staff Captain László Varró, who proved their outstanding readiness in staff and engineering affairs.
3. My observations about the fortification works:
a) The part of the instruction “Fortification principles for 1944 (number: 6 k. 1. Vkf. – 1943) referring to the splinter-proof battalion strong points should be modified as follows, according to the results of the survey and the request of the commander of the 9th Brigade:
aa) Three company strong points should be built for perpendicular defence in place of the battalion strong points for perpendicular defence (for two battalions) at Akloscsárda, as follows:
At Akloscsárda (one company)
On Gyürketető (one company)
On the territory of the vertical control point 881 in the Csobánpatak valley (1 company).
Moreover, both wings of the valley block in the Úz-valley should be reinforced by one platoon strong point.
bb) The strong point for perpendicular defence on the territory of Szépvíz and Csíkszentmiklós (under construction) should be built not for two battalions but only for one battalion. Instead of this:
cc) Strong points for all-round defence for one-to-one battalions should be built on the territories of Csíkszentlélek, Boroszló, Zsögöd and Marosfő. (According to the suggestion of the 9th Brigade Headquarters strong points should also be built on the territories of Csíkszentmárton K, Pongráctető and Hegyestető.)
b) The Fortification Headquarters should have started construction of 4 battalion strong points for all-round defence in the neighbourhood of Kézdivásárhely. I agree with the argument of the 9th Brigade Headquarters that the construction is not necessary there for the time being because of the small force designated to that territory. One battalion strong point is sufficient, and using the material and working power freed up this way one-to-one battalion strong points for perpendicular defence should be constructed in the Gyimesi, Gyergyótölgyesi and Bérbori valleys. The Headquarters of the IX Army Corps agree with this suggestion.
c) Referring to the construction of the individual fortification elements I report that all the firing positions were opened according to the requirements up to now. Based on the Russian war experiences the Fortification Headquarters covered a part of the firing positions by so-called “concrete rings”, and a part of the firing positions will be built with cover in the future. The interchanging positions remain open.
d) The strong location constructed in the neighbourhood of Sepsiszentgyörgy has no background depth. Because of this construction, combat supported by engineering work can only develop beside the anti-tank ditches there. The depth of the defence could be increased by the reinforcement of some houses from the strong locations.
e) The 75 mm short barrelled guns should be used together with cupolas in the valley blocks because the valley blocks can only defend against modern tanks by antitank blocks constructed by engineers. A general wishrelates to the increase of heavy armament, especially of mine throwers for the fort companies.
f) Problems of accommodation:
The unreliable inhabitants of the territories of the fortifications (valley blocks) should be relocated as soon as possible.
bb) In general, the slow and complicated solution to accommodation seems to be a subject for complaint. For example, the accommodation of the fort companies is as yet not resolved at all. I have the impression that the 11th. Department of the War Ministry cannot solve these problems alone. It would be useful to initiate the Fortification Headquarters at least partly into the construction of the barracks in the forts.
In principle the fort companies should be accommodated on the territory of the valley blocks. Based on the surveys, the place of the barracks was marked at many places behind the forts.
However, there are also difficulties connected with the accommodation because of the reorganisation underway. By the 1st October 80 officers and 1,800 soldiers will arrive at Csíkszereda. Their placement is not guaranteed at all, not even the construction of the barracks has begun. As usual, the barracks built this way should be used for the placement of army forces.
Accordingly, the barracks of the 32/1 Company (in the Úz-valley) should be used for the accommodation of the 32/1 Fort Company, and new barracks should be built for the 32/1 Company on the territory of Akloscsárda.
g) Personal issues:
aa) Not all the commander positions of the Székely battalions are filled. Filling these positions is a prerequisite from the point of view of the training and fighting abilities of the troops.
bb) The commanders of the fort companies are usually specially selected people. We could help this problem by initiating volunteering and offering some incentives.
cc) There is no paymaster in the organisation of the Székely Army Headquarters. One should be appointed.
h) The supplementary allowance did not rise in line with the general payrise, it is still 15 Pengö even now. I suggest doubling the supplementary allowance and I also suggest raising the benefits of the officers and soldiers of the fort companies.
i) The problem of the technical obstacles which are planned to be settled on the territories of the forts is not finally established yet. The drawing up of these plans is very important, as they are substantial elements for the success of the expected fights in the forts.
j) The fort companies should be drawn into the activation of the planned demolitions. Up to now this was the task of the army units.
k) The field of organisation: The commander of the 9th Brigade (Staff Colonel Szász) suggested that the 27th Székely Light Division should be disbanded as an operational unit; its battalions should be re-organised as army battalions, and its other units should become direct units of the Székely National Army Forces.
(In the report it is suggested that one new brigade headquarters and two operational group headquarters should be set up, namely the 10th Brigade Headquarters in Marosvásárhely, the 63rd Operational Group Headquarters in Teke, and the 64th Operational Group Headquarters in Kézdivásárhely.)
It can be observed that the suggestion for the new organisation above is in contrast with the approved Szabolcs battle order. In other words, the 27th Székely Light Division is being filled as a complete division with three regiments from the staff of the frontier guard battalions already stationed in Székelyföld in peacetime according to the Szabolcs battle order. At the same time, this battle order places the immediate frontier defence on the shoulders of the operational groups composed from Székely frontier guard battalions and batteries. In contrast with this, the 9th Brigade Headquarters suggest that battalions should be formed from the operational army unit of the central reserve stationed in Székelyföld and that these battalions should also be subordinated to the defence groups for the purpose of immediate frontier defence.
The mood and the fighting spirit of the troops settled in the valley blocks are very good.
However, I must report that I did not experience the same good morale everywhere in civilian circles. Our passive behaviour against the recently insolent behaviour of the Roumanians can be regarded as a sign of weakness, and the weaker characters are already doing their best to insinuate themselves with the Vlachs.
Major General Ferenc Bardóczy.”
71 Lajos Sylvester: Az Úz-völgyi hegyomlás (Landslide in the Úz-valley). Sepsiszentgyörgy, 1996, 19.
72 Ravasz István: Székelyföldi harci események 1944 augusztus vége – szeptember közepe. (Military events in the Székelyföld. The end of August – the middle of September, 194.) Acta 1997 I, Sepsiszentgyörgy 1997, 291.
73 Military Archives, Documents of the Headquarters. 277/ 3100 microfilm page.
74 At that time military service was compulsory from the age of 20.
75 Military Archives, H. M. eln. csomó, 23-444. M. kir. honvédelmi miniszter 3819 sz. M. III. Csfség – 1942, Székely határőrség megszervezésével kapcsolatos anyagi intézkedés. (Material instructions connected with the organisation of the Székely Frontier Defence Forces) H. M. 6 k. osztálynak. (For the 6. Department of the W. M.)
76 Military Archives, VKF 277/2736 microfilm page.
77 Military Archives, VKF 277/3023 microfilm page.