EVENTS TAKE A SHARP TURN
The occupation of Hungary by the Germans and the forced offensive of the First Hungarian Army for the re-establishment of the front line of the German “South” Army Group which had been cut in two turned upside down all the earlier plans and also meant that the country had lost its political independence. Hungarian military history after World War II often mentioned that there would have been enough military forces to oppose the Germans, but there was no political will for it. However, an army carries out orders, waits for orders. The German occupation of 19 March 1944 resulted from a complete failure of any political decisions. The sarcastic telegram of the commander of the III. Army Corps, Szilárd Bakay to the Headquarters can make us feel this situation: “The Russians in front of us, the Germans behind us, the English (bombers – authors note) above us, send a command!” 90
Hungarian independence ceased to exist after the German occupation, but this fact was not easy to recognise for the simple soldiers on the front line. Governor, Government and Parliament were in place, - the soldiers were waiting for orders, and the orders sometimes arrived, sometimes not. The First Hungarian Army got subordinated to the German “Northern Ukraine” Army Group. According to the order of Marshal Mannstein, the Commander of the “North Ukraine” Army Group, the First Army had to begin an offensive in order to close the gap which had developed between the “Northern Ukraine” and the “Southern Ukraine” Army Groups. Colonel General István Náday, Army Commander, insisted upon fulfilling the original order: he was instructed by the Headquarters of the Hungarian Royal Army to move into position for the defence of the Carpathians. He therefore asked for a Hungarian political decision, but to no avail. Politics, metaphorically speaking, “shrugged its shoulders” - they were helpless. The Army Commander was an experienced soldier, he understood that the order of Mannstein could lead to the annihilation of the First Army. He could not do anything else but to resign from his post.
His successor, Colonel General Géza Lakatos, was not so sensitive, he launched an offensive. The offensive closed the gap between 17-30 April, but at what a price! 15,000 Hungarian troops were lost. 80% of the tanks of the single armoured division of the First Army, which carried the burden of the fight on its shoulders, were destroyed. The front line of the First Army stiffened on the Kuty-Kosov-Pistyin-Pecsenycsin-Kolomea South-west-Ottynia-Tlumacs terrain sector, where the army took up a stationery position. They continued successful defensive fights up to the middle of July 1944, but the Soviet offensive which began on 23 July 1944 broke through their front line and the Hungarian troops began their withdrawal into the defensive lines constructed in the Eastern Carpathians.
RETREAT INTO THE HUNYADI POSITIONS
The Hungarian units retreating into the Hunyadi positions were arrayed within a short time by the new commander, Colonel General Béla Miklós who was appointed on 1st August. The First Army were already defending on the front line of the planned Carpathian defence. The Hungarian military leadership treated the three defensive lines constructed in the Eastern Carpathians as one system. It can be well seen from the instruction of Colonel General János Vörös, the Chief of Staff of the Hungarian Royal Army:90
“Instruction for the defence of the Eastern Carpathians.
I order the following for the defence of the north-eastern Carpathians:
A) First Army.
1.) Implementation shall be planned according to the following directives of mine, in the framework of the tasks received from the supervising German command and in the given zone (Huszt, Majdánka, Dolyns, Klusz, Halicz):
The “Árpád” defensive position shall be defended to the last ditch. It is the most sacred obligation of all Hungarians.
The valley blocks of the “Hunyadi” block settled in the North-eastern foothills of the Carpathian Mountains should be occupied by strong combat groups. In case the occupation forces cannot hold these valley blocks any longer, they shall delay the enemy’s advance towards the Árpád-line by their actions as long as possible. This is the only way to ensure the full construction of the Árpád-line which is currently being undertaken, the arrangements of the troops for stalwart defence there, the refreshment of the exhausted divisions, the reinforcement of their ranks, and finally, only this way can we assure that our divisions can develop a possible offensive from the Carpathians. Weaponry advanced from the Árpád position into the Hunyadi position shall be subordinated to these combat teams.
The less exhausted troops should be used in the Árpád-line. The reserves shall be created from the more exhausted troops, in order to provide a possibility for the arrangement, supplementation and reinforcement of their units. Report immediately the human and material losses when the arrangement of he units has taken place so that I can take measures for supplementation as soon as possible.
III. Army Corps (6th and 13th Div.)
The Army Corps defends the area connected to the northern boundary of the First Army zone up to the Hungarian-Slovakian frontier. For the time being the Corps still remains under my direct command.
Its main resistance line is the Árpád-position, its advanced positions are the valley blocks of the Hunyadi position. The goal and tasks of the advanced position occupation force are the same as those of the First Army. The commanders of the combat teams of the forward positions should take command of the units and arms found in advanced positions.
The Corps will move into position from 1st August as per my special orders.
The corps should use as reserve the parachutist battalion which has already settled in the Uzsoki-defile. I shall give an other order about the disposition of corps reserves and the line of other direct commands.
Budapest, 28 July 1944.
Colonel General Vitéz János Vörös.”
In the course of the battles of 23rd July 1944, some units of the First Army suffered significant human and material losses. The headquarters of the army took measures to reorganise the army and use the detachment on the 5th August. They wanted to reinforce the 16th And 20th Infantry Division with the remaining staff of the 18th and 19th Reserve Divisions, and they planned to reorganise the 24th Infantry Division by drawing on the units of the 7th Infantry Division.
The Headquarters of the First Army supported the defence and the anti-armour fight on the natural communication lines in the Hunyadi-position. The Hungarian divisions held their positions heroically for days, so the actions of the enemy ceased.
The other corps of the First Army were also replenished from the disbanded divisions and from the reserves of the hinterland. The front line became stabilised between 15-20 August, and the protagonists used this break for the deployment of assault troops and also for preparation of the defence.
The supreme command of the Red Army established the Fourth Ukrainian Front for operations, firstly in the North-eastern Carpathians, and later in Slovakia and Hungary. According to the directive of the Supreme command issued on 30th July 1944, the Fourth Ukrainian Front was composed of troops drawn from the First Ukrainian Front: the First Guards Army, the Eighteenth Army, the Eighth Air Force Army and the independent 17. Guard Rifleman corps. The Soviet military leadership did not underestimate the obstacles produced by the Eastern Carpathians. The commander of the new front was selected carefully, in the person of Colonel General Ivan Efimovich Petrov, who was known as a specialist in battles on high mountains.92
As we already mentioned, the Hunyadi position was not a complete defensive line, it qualified only as a zone prepared for defence. Its firing positions and shelters were constructed only at the ends of the more important road lines and streams. The formation of the defensive sectors was determined by the features of the terrain, by the elevations and the dense forests. Staying in the Hunyadi positions meant for the troops a “quiet” trench position war again. No greater hostile assault was led against the line, they had combat contact only with the Ukrainian partisan groups active in the high mountains. Those groups which took up arms in order to establish an independent Ukraine did not show hostile behaviour against Hungarian troops. As a first priority they were fighting against the German and Russian occupation forces, but the Polish partisan groups were also their enemies.
90 Magyarország hadtörténete. II. (The Military history of Hungary). Budapest, 1985, 375.
90 Jolsvai, 1/20 supplement.
92 Ivan Efimovich Petrov, Soviet military leader. (30th September 1896 Trubchevsk – 7th April 1958, Moskva. He took part in the defence of Odessa as a cavalry division commander in 1941, from 5th October to 1st July 1942 as commander of the independent Coastal Army. Later he was appointed commander of the North-Caucasian Front. He was commander of an operational group in the Battle of Stalingrad, then again he directed the reoccupation of the Taman’ Peninsula as commander of the Northern Caucasian Front from May 1943. On 4th February 1944 he was relieved from his post and was demoted to the rank of colonel general from the rank of army general by Stalin. He was commander of the newly formed Fourth Ukrainian Front from 3rd August 1944. He took part in the subjugation of the Eastern Carpathians, in the operations in the Subcarpathian Region, in the operations in the Northern regions of Hungary, in the fights in Slovakia and Moravia. He was relieved of his post by Stalin on 26th March 1945, and was appointed to be the Chief of Staff of the 1. Ukrainian Front. He took part in the siege of Berlin. He was again promoted to the rank of an Army General on 26th October 1946.