THE VALLEY BLOCKS
We have already quoted the article of Staff Captain László Varró about the operation of the valley block. It seems his most important thought was that the valley block should be capable of all-round defence. The size of the fortification group blocking the valley changed according to its role and task. As practice had shown, the company was the smallest unit which could fight against an all-round attack on the terrain, isolated, but using all elements of defence technique. The company had to be reinforced by armour piercing weaponry, machine-guns, mortars, mine throwers and batteries. This way the number of the soldiers of the infantry company, which created the nucleus of the defence, was often doubled. The nomenclatures “company” or “battalion” showed only the size of the force applied in the fort combat group, and for this reason the “fort company” name was not willingly used. The official name was fort sub-division or fort troop. Generally, the terrain and the grade of danger decided the measure and composition of the defence force and the extension of the system in practice. The strong point sector of a reinforced company was usually 1 square kilometre, a battalion defended a territory of 4-5 square kms. But even this was never cast in stone.
An authentic memoir worth reading regards the fortification. Staff Colonel Győző Jolsvai had served in different posts at the Headquarters prior to being appointed to Chief of Staff of the First Hungarian Army. He writes in his extensive and very detailed memoirs about the Árpád-line as follows:
“As the frontier ran on the ridge of the Carpathian Mountains and it was not possible to build up the bases of the defence just there, it had to be done on a line lying to the rear. This meant in effect that we usually closed the main communication lines (valleys, roads, railways) leading into the Tisza valley, so the task of the valley blocks was to protect against shock and armoured enemy troops storming, and to gain time for the action of our own forces.
The settlement of the valley blocks took place on the locations nearest to the frontier and most suitable for defence or blocking, and they ran approximately on the line of Borsa, Havasmező, Tiszabogdány, Kőrösmező, Brusztura, Németmokra, Alsókalocsa, Szinevér, Ökörmező, Volóc, Alsóverecke, Havasköz and Fenyvesvölgy.
Each valley block closed the roads and valleys leading east-west or east-south for a width of 1-2 kms. Essentially, a valley block was a system of about 10-20 concrete pillboxes with antitank obstacles, minefields, and barbed wire entanglements – partly with high voltage electricity - in front of them.
The occupation force of a valley block was a fort company, permanently on war footing, with about 200-300 soldiers. Later, in order to ensure the proper depth of the valley block, a second one was set behind, similar to the first, at a distance of 5-10 kms. A fort battalion commander defended the two valley blocks standing behind each other. His task was to synchronise the valley defence.
As is clear from the details above, these valley blocks did not create a connected line, there were large gaps between two strong points which gave an opportunity for enemy infiltration, so it could only mean some defence against armoured and mechanised units. But it did give time for our own forces to plan their own actions. This meant that the Hungarian military leadership did not think of a solid defence but wanted to combine defence with attack depending on the situation.78
So the Árpád-line was a system of valley blocks by which the Hungarian military leadership wanted to build up an uninterrupted system divided in depth to a position. This concept was never meaningful to the military leaders, as the terrain sections between the valley blocks could not be closed everywhere.
“In 1943 the inflexible Hitlerist command committed a lot of mistakes and the front line gradually approached the North-eastern borders of Hungary. This fact forced the Hungarian command to construct defensive positions from the line of the valley blocks mentioned above. After a detailed survey made by the students of the War Academy, the construction of the so-called “Árpád-position” was begun using the combat engineer units and forced labour companies. The character of this work was that of field fortifications, and it was confined to the construction of smaller groups, platoon-posts, shelters and observer posts, so that the line was developed into a defensive position by installation of field fortifications between the existing concrete fortresses (valley blocks). Not even this was a completely uninterrupted line, but barrage fire could be applied everywhere.” 79
There were no exact plans, or concepts either, but it could not have been due to lack of time. The planners and builders were authorised to decide about the form of the construction of the field fortifications built in different directions. There was only one reservation: the field fortifications were not allowed to hinder the mobile character of defence, based on a series of counter-attacks. The Fortification Headquarters ensured quality work by continual monitoring via the fortification groups.
This way a new fortification element: the “bastion position” appeared. It is impossible to know who the innovator was. In the first place, these positions were developed in the central section of the front line, within the effective range of the batteries of the fort companies set up on the dominating elevations. The combat of the units defending in the bastion positions was supported by the artillery of the fort companies and this fact increased the efficiency of the defence significantly. However the defenders of the “bastion positions” were not staff members of the fort companies, they belonged to frontier guard units, infantry or mountain fighter troops.
At that time further defensive positions were constructed in the valley blocks of the fort companies and on their flanks. The fort companies did not have enough forces to occupy these positions, so infantry or frontier guard platoons and companies were also assigned to this task. As a result of these measures the actual staff of the fort companies remained unchanged, but as happened many times, a force larger than a battalion was active in the valleys and the necessity of unified command arose. That was the time when the fort battalion commanders were appointed, but this assignment was often temporary and rarely appeared in the official battle order. Such an appointment meant nothing more than that a senior commander or an officer appointed by him took command of the valley. This event may have been the result of an order of appointment, but not necessarily.
As mentioned above, infantry of frontier guard units had been fighting beside the fort companies in the field fortifications constructed in the valleys. These units were also mentioned as fort companies in the different instructions and reports because besides their own battle order number they also used the name of the fort company. For this reason it is almost impossible to trace back the defence system which developed during the fighting from the summer of 1944. Here we introduce only the original fort companies which were divided into the battle order, in other words the fort companies of the Árpád-line, because their fate can still be traced back exactly and we can learn a lot about their everyday life, their arms and their training.
The following valley blocking fortifications were established (from north to south) in the Eastern Carpathians: Malomrét, Havasköz, Vezérszállás, Alsóverecke, Volóc, Ökörmező, Felsőszinevér, Alsókalocsa, Királymező, Oroszmokra, Kőrösmező, Rahó, Tiszabogány, Vasér, Havasmező, Borsa (Priszlop), Óradna, Kisilva, Nagyilva, Marosborgó (Tihuca), Gyergyótölgyes, Borszék, Palotailva (Szalárd), Gyergyóbékás, Gyimesfelsőlok, Kászonújfalu, Sepsibükszád, Úz-völgy and Ojtoz-telep.
78 Military Archives. Tgy 3480/1. Viktor Jolsvai: A m. kir. 1. honvéd hadsereg története (The history of the First Hungarian Royal Army).