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Indulás: 2005-12-26
 
AFTER THE ROUMANIAN “DEPARTURE”

AFTER THE ROUMANIAN “DEPARTURE”

A brief rest ensued for the Hungarian troops in the Eastern Carpathians after the unsuccessful efforts of the First Ukrainian Front at the beginning of August 1944. The Red Army directed its main effort in the direction of Roumania. The large-scale operation to outflank the Eastern Carpathians began. The strategically significant operation of two Soviet Fronts: the Second and Third Ukrainian, with the Soviet Black Sea Fleet and the Soviet Danube Fleet took place around two Moldavian towns, Iasi and Kishinev, between 20th and 29th August 1944. The aim of that strategic operation was to crush the German-Roumanian “South Ukraine” Army Group and to outflank the Eastern Carpathians.

The forces of the Soviet troops were 4-8 times larger than those of the “South Ukraine” Army Group. The offensive of the Red Army started on 20th August. They broke through the tactical depth on the first day alone, and one after the other surrounded 18 German divisions, some parts of the Eighth German Army, and the Eighth Roumanian Army. The Roumanian “passing over” also took place on that day. The first phase of the operation ended by the capture of Kishinev on 24th August.  A part of the Soviet forces (34 divisions) eliminated the encircled forces between 27th and 29th August. The majority of the forces of the Second Ukrainian Front – about 50 divisions – advanced further in the direction of Havaselve, Serbia and Bulgaria. They captured the town Focsani (Foksány) on 26th August and reached the region of Bucharest-Ploesti on 29th August. The first battle took place between the Soviet and Hungarian troops in the Úz-valley, on the Transylvanian sector of the Árpád-line on 26th August. Thus the almost seven month combat for Hungary had begun.

After the desertion of Roumania from the German alliance on 23rd August the armies of the Soviet Second and Third Ukrainian Fronts overran the German Sixth and Eighth Armies and then advanced towards the re-annexed Transylvanian territories and towards the southern frontiers of Hungary. The situation became dangerous again for our First Army acting outside of the thousand year old frontiers.  Some of its army corps were transferred to the immediately endangered southern frontier sector. Because of this, the withdrawal of the army into the positions of the north-eastern Carpathians had to be done as soon as possible. These positions were inside the frontier of the country, were better constructed and could be even defended with smaller forces. After the “quiet” positional fights of the previous month, the September of 1944 became eventful again for the First Army.

The Fourth Ukrainian Front started their offensive on 9th September after several delays. The First Army retreated fighting into the St. László position between the Toronyai-Pass and the Tatár-Pass.  The offensive of the First Ukrainian Front had begun against the First German Tank Army at that time with the intention of breaching Slovakia. Because of the Battle of Dukla, which had begun then and lasted for one and a half months, the First Army also had to take over the front line section running from the Uzsoki-Pass to the Lupkowi-Pass. Moreover, the German divisions, defending there up to then, were withdrawn from this front line section one after the other. The withdrawal into the well-defensible Árpád-position was not an easy task because of the rigid behaviour of the German military leadership which was against giving up any territory. As I mentioned, the First Army was subordinated to the “Northern Ukraine” Army Group after the German occupation of Hungary.93 For this reason the Hungarian Chief of Staff could not issue orders for the withdrawal of the front line independently. The memo prepared for the Chief of Staff, Colonel General János Vörös by the Operational Department of the Headquarters illustrates well this ambiguous situation:94

“ The large-scale offensive of the Russians on the Balkan and in Galicia together with their gain of territory, caused the beginning of a military and political situation on the southern wing of the eastern front line which led the German Supreme Command to make crucial decisions regarding the defensive fights in this region.

As the Chief of the General Staff of the Hungarian army, which is Germany’s only European ally after the departure of Rumania, I personally find it obligatory to let the German military leadership know my views on the developing military situation. I wish to emphasise here that I was not influenced by special Hungarian interests in forming my opinion, but I kept in mind only the general European interests represented by the German Empire.

Looking at the southeast European strategic situation from this point of view and considering the further developments to be expected, it can clearly be seen that the Danube-basin is a crucial point and its possession has a crucial significance for further operations and for the defence of Germany.

The ranges of the Carpathian Mountains are the only natural geographic factors in this area – in fact in the whole Eastern theatre of war -  which enable a more tenable defence even with proportionally smaller forces. Giving up the Carpathian ranges because of other interests, or because of its insufficient defence – apart from the fact that it would cause irreplaceable loss of territory – could cause the disintegration of the whole Eastern front line. If the enemy overruns the Danube-basin, the defence possibilities of the south-eastern frontiers of Germany will become very dubious.  In other words, such an incursion would demand the deployment of much larger German forces here than for the Carpathian defence.

The Carpathian ranges can be divided into two parts from strategic point of view: southern and eastern. The ranges of the Southern Carpathians, and their natural western continuation, the mountains of Serbia and Montenegro, demand only the defence of the passes and defiles, which can be closed easily and can be held firmly until the expected settlement of the war in the west.

Although I have no clear ideas about the size of the German forces applied in the Southern Balkans, I am convinced that German divisions fighting on the Balkans at present, together with the substantial Hungarian troops, can defend this line without the deployment of new forces. There is no doubt that this solution would demand the abandonment of the Southern part of the Balkans.  But in my opinion it is worth nothing if the German defensive forces hold Greece and Albania safely, and in the meantime the Russians come across the passes of the Southern Carpathians, assemble in South Transylvania, and, by breaking through the strategically indefensible Hungarian Roumanian frontier, occupy the Danube–Basin.

If that happens, a total loss of the Balkans is unavoidable irrespective of how large the groups are which are defending the Greek and Serb territory – but it will also become impossible to defend either Eastern Carpathians or the line of the Tisza or Danube rivers.

As it is my firm conviction that we have no other opportunity than defending the Carpathian ranges, I strongly suggest that all the German forces on the Balkans should re-group for the Eastern-Carpathians – Scutari Lake general line and settle there for firm defence.

Regarding the defence of the Eastern Carpathians, I must use the opportunity again to emphasise the decisive importance of the Dukla depression. This is the only sector of the Carpathian ranges which is suitable for the development of geographically larger scale operations. What makes the situation even more serious is that to the rear of this territory is Slovakia, already totally unreliable, which is drifting further and further towards internal upheaval.  The Dukla depression leads just into the Danube basin, and in the case of a larger breakthrough of the enemy there, the whole range of the Carpathians and the Balkans becomes indefensible. A genuine organisation and stabilisation of the situation there is one of the most urgent problems of the Eastern front.

To sum up, and pointing out that it is not the defence of Hungarian territories that I am trying to convince the German military leadership of, I ask that you take into consideration the strategic defence of the Carpathian ranges specifically based on an objective consideration of the whole European strategic situation and prospects because, in my opinion, it might be the only expedient decision about the given area.

31st August”

Another memorandum was written at the Hungarian Headquarters on the following day; its initial thoughts were the same as those of the memorandum written on the previous day. The need to reoccupy the Southern Carpathian Mountains, and the Hungarian steps taken for that purpose up to then, were made clearer in the second memorandum. The occupation of the passes of the southern Carpathians would be crucial from the point of view of the defence of the Árpád-line because if those passes got into Soviet hands the Hungarian forces defending on the line of the Eastern Carpathians would be threatened by encirclement:

“The tactical precondition for the realisation of the previous strategic conception is above all the capture of the passes of the southern Carpathians, and the occupation and pacification of Southern Transylvania. The Hungarian leadership – disregarding everything else - collected all the forces at its disposal for this purpose and began the offensive for the occupation of the Southern Carpathians on 3rd September.  But as there were only supplementary forces and educational units with weaker weaponry and artillery at our disposal from the Hungarian side,  it was necessary to get sufficient support from the German side, especially in terms of armoured and air forces, in order to upgrade the striking ability of the Hungarian troops and thereby to increase our weaker advancing force.

Without this we cannot exploit the advantage offered by the strategic opportunity, and what is worse, we risk a counter-attack which would change the whole South-Transylvanian offensive into a needless sacrifice, and as a consequence the defence of the Eastern Carpathians would also be given up.  However, if we leave the built-up fortification line of the Carpathians, we can only speak about unprepared – ad hoc – defence, because there are no other earlier prepared defensive positions in Hungary.

If we get the German support outlined above, the Hungarian element would participate in the offensive with full strength and with all our heart, but we ask for guarantees from the German leadership that Germany will support us absolutely until the end, will not give up Hungarian territories for other interests, and will not sacrifice Hungarian armed forces to cover a possible German retreat.

If the German leadership is unable to guarantee the unconditional holding of the line of the Carpathian Mountains and the Drave river, then we must think of gradually withdrawing the Eastern Carpathian front line because of the danger of being outflanked from two sides.  In other words, the precondition for holding the East Carpathian line is a staunch defence of the Southern Carpathian passes and the territory of the Dukla depression.  All this is only possible with strong German support.”

Both documents were edited by Captain Szörényi and some others whose signatures were illegible. The following note was written carefully on the lower part of the second memorandum: The Chief of Staff agrees with this opinion! 3rd September.  However, as the offensive of the Hungarian Third Army, which was composed of auxiliary units, had already started out for the reoccupation of Southern Transylvania, most probably all this was too late.95 The Hungarian military leadership knew well that the Germans were ready to sacrifice Hungarian units to cover of their withdrawal.  It is not known what kind of guarantees they expected from the German leadership in this regard.  What kind of honesty could they still expect after the German occupation of the country?



93 The “Northern Ukraine” Army Group (Heeresgruppe Nordukraine) was reorganised as “A” Army Group on 24th September 1944.

94 Military Archives, VKF 277/3117 microfilm page.

95 The offensive of the Hungarian Royal Army with the purpose of the reoccupation of southern Transylvania is best introduced in the work of István Ravasz: “Erdély mint hadszintér, 1944” (Transylvania as theatre of war, 1944), Budapest, 1997.and in its extended edition “Erdély ismét hadszíntér, 1944 (Transylvania as theatre of war again, 1944), Budapest, 2002.

 

 
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