THE 2nd MOUNTAIN FIGHTER BRIGADE IN THE ÁRPÁD-LINE.
After the events taking place at the Army Headquarters let us have a look at the everyday life of the commander of a larger army unit. Staff Colonel Lajos Rumy, the commander of the 2nd Mountain Fighter Brigade writes about the fights in the Eastern Carpathian in his memoirs. He often quotes the statements of A. A. Grechko’s work: “Across the Carpathians”, and disputes them. His notes expand on the picture we have of the Árpád-line and of the Hungarian defenders of the Eastern Carpathians:101
“The I. operational period. 25th September – 30th October 1944.
On 25th-26th September I visited our fighters still in the Hunyadi-position with Staff Colonel Sándor Vályi, who was posted to my mountain fighter brigade for practical instruction on army corps leadership with Colonel General Béla Dálnoki Miklós, Commander of the First Hungarian Army in the third week of August.
I found perfect order, discipline and safety in the well-constructed positions. After getting an order from our higher command, we gave up our positions at Turka without any interference from the enemy, and we marched back on to the two sides of the Uzsoki-pass, and moved into a new defensive position there.
We arrived in the St, László line (at the frontier of the country) stronger than we had been before.
After the successful fights in the first half of August, we decided to form a mountain division from our mountain brigade. The Army Headquarters accepted our suggestion.
The II. operational period lasted from 28th September 1944 to the noon of 15th October until the broadcasting of the radio speech of the Governor.
After the withdrawal of our III. Corps the 2nd Mountain Fighter Brigade was on the eastern, right wing, and the 6th Division in the western, left wing of the defence sector of the corps. The leadership, probably the Army Headquarters, considered it a good idea that the combat group of the 2nd Regiment Headquarters should get back to the 13th Division. At the same time, the 2nd Mountain Fighter Brigade (the combat group of Staff Colonel Vályi) and the battalions arriving from the Tatár-Pass would relieve the 101st German Mountain Jaeger Division and the left wing sector of the 6th Division.
So the 6th Division became the right wing (eastern) and the 2nd Mountain Fighter Brigade the right (western) wing of the III. Corps. Here I must stress that the Hungarian troops were able to occupy the ridges of the Carpathians after the withdrawal but the 101st German Mountain Jaeger Division was held down from the ridge and tried to recapture it from a more subordinated position.
I placed my command post from Uzsok to Malomrét, into the neighbourhood of the Headquarters of the 101st German Mountain Jaeger Division. When we were talking over the relief, Major general Assmann repeated several times that he would recapture the ridgeline before it. But as it turned out in reality even the existing situation could not have been held had not my mountain fighter battalions supported the battle line of Assmann at the endangered places.
III. operational period.
The essence of the order of the Army Corps Headquarters was the following:
The withdrawal is postponed by one day, so it begins on the evening of 16th October.
The 2nd Mountain Fighter Brigade takes over the defence of the whole extent of the corps’defensive zone together with one regiment of the 6th Division, subordinated to the brigade.
The headquarters of the 6th Div. and its remaining 6 battalions would be the corps reserve, deep in the valley of the Ung river, at Nagyberezna. It is an astonishing idea. It does not take into account the current situation, it is without any calculation of distance and time. I telephone Major General Karácsony, the commander of the 6th Div., and we discuss that we go to the headquarters of the corps together at dawn.
I directed the attention of the Corps Headquarters to the fact that, in spite of the heroic resistance of the western neighbour, the 101st German Mountain Jaeger Division, we are in danger of being outflanked, that the brigade reinforcements are not enough to hold a defence zone over 50 km. wide. In order to reach the distant places of the previous order I had already ordered the transfer of some units. The Corps Headquarters did not take our remarks into account. They objected to my arbitrary orders for the premature start of the withdrawal
We returned with Major General Karácsony in the same car to discuss everything we had to do. I asked Karácsony for some other unit than the exhausted 22nd Regiment to be sent to my support, and he agreed. In Alsórosztoka we issued our command for the pullback into the Árpád position in the evening. We transferred our command post to Csontos. The withdrawal began in this case too without the interference of the enemy, but the occupation of the new defence post did not go so well as with the withdrawal to the ridges of the Carpathians.
While the already outflanked western wing managed with good fortune to get back to the dominating heights of the Árpád-line, even managing to move into the assigned defensive posts on both banks of the Ung river, the enemy arrived at the Viharos–Javasköz defensive sector, overtaking the 22nd Regiment which had to defend there. In spite of my request, this regiment was sent to support our mountain brigade. The fortress of Havasalja fell too. The commander of the 11/11 fort company was missing and his deputy, a reserve lieutenant could not offer resistance against the Russian attack.
Having been informed about the actual combat situation I drove out by car in the company of the German liaison officer across Alsórosztoka towards Viharos. The barrage fire of the enemy was so strong that it was almost hopeless even to approach the places we wanted to go to. Fortunately, getting through that fire, I observed the back and forth fight from an observation post at Alsórosztoka K. It was paying dividends now, that I had sent occupying forces there at the dawn of the15th.
I was just giving the order to attack to a lieutenant colonel, a battalion commander of the 22nd Brigade, when a mine from the mortar fire raining in at us landed in our immediate vicinity. We were wounded. The commander of the battalion was seriously hurt (a mine fragment hit his spine, it seemed to be broken). The German liaison officer was wounded by three smaller mine fragments. I got a splinter into my thigh. It burned, but it did not affect my mobility. I still gave out the order for the execution of the attack, then I was carried away by the stretcher-bearers.
How could it happen that the enemy was already fighting in the region of Viharos-Havasköz in the morning of 17th October? There was only one possibility. The Headquarters of the 6th Div. might have had the same ideas as I had had, when, getting the order from the I. Corps and without leaving rear guards behind, they began the withdrawal into the left wing of the Árpád-position assigned to them. Thus it may have happened that having defeated the weak rear guards, the attack which the enemy launched in order to take possession of the ridge of the Carpathians gained so much ground that they managed to seize Uzsok village on the 16th. In that way they would have been able to lead significant forces against the Árpád-line on the 17th..
Lacking sufficient forces, it became necessary to employ the 6 battalions from the rear in order to improve the situation which had come about in the centre of the western defence sector of our corps. This movement took place, and we succeeded in slowing down the enemy’s attack and forming a defensive line. At this moment I could only enjoin the fight by attacking the enemy flank, employing for this task the battalion of the wounded Lieutenant colonel.
Returning to my combat post, I still found it necessary to inspect the fort company defending the fort on the elevation on the western side of the Ung river, despite the protests of the German liaison officer. The 25th Mountain Fighter Battalion was defending on the eastern bank of the Ung river. I was convinced that they could hold firm. The enemy attack was taking place against both of them. The defence sector of the fort company was only approachable by climbing in several places. There was an unforgettable smile on the face of the captain. The appearance of the commander on the battlefield gives strength in difficult or critical situations. These are my most beautiful memories.
The main theme of our talk was that Colonel General Miklós, the Commander of the First Army, together with his staff, had gone over to the enemy’s side. My judgement was unfavourable. I found his action improper, that a commander could so leave his troops in the lurch.
The following days were burdened by serious complications. The enemy wanted to open its way towards Ungvár by any manner or means. Our army corps not only resisted heroically but riposted as well. In spite of all the enemy efforts we were able to move into the Árpád-line and hold it. Of course, there were critical situations too. For example the enemy managed to force a small opening in the positions of the 10th. Mountain Fighter Battalion. The commander of the battalion, Major Csikós, was killed in action. The senior company commander, stepping into his place, also fell. Then the staff officer of the infantry commander, Captain Rezső Tomor, took over the post of battalion commander. He also fell. Then the infantry commander himself, Colonel Rózsa, took their place. He succeeded in closing the gap.
There was also a critical situation at the 25th Mountain Fighter Battalion. The lack of ammunition endangered a successful continuation of the hard struggle. Transport of ammunition to the troops alone was solved at that time by the use of the wagon train. Alas, there was no map showing the Árpád-line in detail in my possession.
Remembering the preventative and defence battles, I must mention that I was constantly on the move amongst our various endangered defence points. It transpired that I had just been at the tactical headquarters of the infantry commander when I got a report from my chief of staff that a negotiator was going to cross the battle line with a letter addressed to me from Colonel General Miklós.
As I was not in a position to have returned to my own command post, I gave the order to escort the messenger to the Corps Headquarters and that he should hand the letter over there. By the way, I never saw this letter…
It is not true what Colonel General Grechko wrote in his work (p. 157.) that the defence forces of Turka were “driven out” from their positions. The truth is that the 2nd Mountain Fighter Brigade gave up its positions in line with my order, without the interference of the enemy, on 26th September (The commander of the brigade still visited Turka on that day). However, it is also true that – apart from the general situation – the headway and outflanking manoeuvres of the 18th Guard Rifle Corps provided an immediate reason for the order to withdraw.
The event of 20th September was repeated in the last days of September and in the first days of October. The western neighbour, the first German Tank Army, needed the 101st German Mountain Division again and it was again the 2nd Mountain Brigade, already defending the two sides of the Uzsoki-defile and anyway in an unfavourable situation, which had to take over the defence sector of the 101st Mountain Division.
The bulk of the 6th Division was able to seize the ridge of the Carpathian Mountains to the Bescid-Wolosachi triangulation point, but there it was repulsed from the ridge together with the 101st German Mountain Jaeger Division. Having arrived from the Tatár-pass, the combat group organised from the 2nd Mountain brigade and from the 25 Mountain Fighter Battalion made an attempt under the command of Staff colonel Sándor Vály to reoccupy the further, Western part of the Carpathian ridge, between the Bescid 1104. Triangular point and Patakófalu (Staraja Stuzhica).
The Soviet plan made for outmanoeuvring the forces of the Turka defence junction, i.e. the 2nd Mountain Fighter Brigade, from its positions was successful in practice. However, their further plan to mop up the Uzsok sector of the Carpathian ridge did not succeed in the same way.
“The task of the 18th Guards Rifle Corps was to attack the Uzsoki-pass by outflanking.” (Page. 205, first section).
The attack of the 18th Guards Rifle Corps was launched on 3rd October. The 100th and 101st German divisions defended successfully, and the 2nd Mountain Fighter Brigade launched an attack through the Soviet front line at Wolosachi into the depth of the enemy.
“The advance was insignificant in some sectors on the first day”. (Page 206, section 3.)
“At the same time with the insignificant advance of the right wing divisions of the corps, the left wing divisions were not only unable to fight down the resistance of the enemy, but were forced into a marginal retreat because of the strong counter-thrusts. This fact showed that the enemy had decided to hold the terrain sector of the main mountain region by any means” (Page 207, 3-4 sections)
The Soviet command decided to arrange a hidden regrouping of the forces of the 18th Guards Rifle Division, with the following task:
“To cut the main road (the Uzsok-Nagyberezna road) fighting from the Ustrzycki Gorné-Volosat sector Southward, towards Stavnoje (Fenyvesvölgy). (Page. 213, section 3.)
The regrouping into the Ustrzycki Gorné-Wolosat sector (for the 151st, 317th divisions and the 66th Guards Rifle Division) was finished by the evening of 14th October.
“On 16th October, after 30 minutes of preparatory fire, the troops of the corps launched an attack, and they defeated the enemy rearguard…” (Page 215.)
In this way they could observe that we ourselves had decided to give up our positions on the main ridge of the Carpathians. I have already put down in my account about the Árpád-line my opinion about the conceptual confusion of the advancing 18th Guards Rifle Corps in awareness of victory.
The radio broadcast of the Governor around midday of 15th October caused confusion and hesitation among the commanders of our army and the order for withdrawal to the Árpád-line was modified. We had to start it not on the 15th but on the 16th , and alas, not in the same grouping as had been ordered for the 15th. This delay and modification was the cause of the fact that the pullback into the Árpád-line, the moving into the position and the formation of the defence were not without confusion. Heavy fights followed, but finally our corps stopped the advance of the reinforced 18th Guards Rifle Corps, triumphantly pushing forward, on the Árpád-line. So, the III. Hungarian Corps successfully fought against the 18th Guards Rifle Corps in the Árpád-line, offering stout resistance.”
Another memoir, the manuscript of Engineer Captain Esze Jenő, also analyses the fights around the Uzsoki-Pass. He looked for the explanation of the Hungarian military successes there in the period after the war. He was able to glean from the Soviet memoir literature a fact recounted there only reluctantly: the Árpád-line fulfilled its assigned task, the First Army stopped the advance of the Red Army in the Eastern Carpathians. He writes about these events in his work, the “Fortification in the Uzsoki-Pass”, as follows:102
“Alas, I cannot establish the exact timing of the events of that situation and that period from my remaining notes. I got an order from the I. Fortification Group Headquarters that I should make the road passable from the engineering point of view for the German troops moving on the Ungvár-Uzsok high road. My working group also got the task of dismounting the permanent concrete tank obstacle and the iron barrier closing the frontier.
As the antitank fortification element, which we had to dismount, was an organic part of our Árpád fortification system aimed forward to the frontier, the execution of this instruction mad me feel bad. So I made a written counter-suggestion. I suggested that the obstacle should be left intact and an evading corduroy road should be built, the construction of which had already begun. The Headquarters of the I. Fortification Group refused my suggestion and forcefully demanded the execution of the original instruction. From the mechanical point of view resolving of the task was not a serious problem, there was a winch in our equipment and we could do the job quite easily by using the holdfast fix points.
As far as I know, nobody worked out or evaluated the military engineering role of our Árpád fortification system and its advance defence positions: the St. László and the Hunyadi positions, or their effect on the military operations. The fights in the defence sector (fortification system) of the Subcarpathians are less known parts of our military history.
The troops of the Fourth Ukrainian Front under the command of Army General Petrov had approached the advance positions of our fortification system in the Subcarpathian Region (between the Tatár-pass and the Uzsoki-Pass and already made contact with the fortification system in the first weeks of August 1944. This was after the withdrawal of the defeated units of the First Army to these positions, and he moved into them in the general zone of the Tatár-Pass. After the completion of the “Bagration” operation the Soviet military leadership placed the direction of the main offensive operation from the west towards South-eastern Europe.
Army General Petrov sent the following report to the Soviet General Staff in connection with the operational planning of the Iasi-Kishinev battle: “He cannot ensure the rapid advance of the Fourth Ukrainian Front in this region. The Front he directed needs a rest and to form strong reserves. He can only endeavour to break through the Carpathians afterwards.”
The main attack of the Fourth Ukrainian Front against our fortification system constructed in the Subcarpathian Region did not take place until 6th -28th October 1944. Parallel to the Roumanians’ defecting to the Anglo-Saxon–Soviet alliance the “diverting effect” of our Carpathian fortification system also had a certain influence on the change of the Soviet operation direction. Because of the “blocking effect” of our fortification system on the attacking troops of Army General Petrov (they) could not engage in the operation of the Second Ukrainian Front around Debrecen-Nyíregyháza. This was the reason why these battles did not get on to the pages of Soviet military history as decisive battles, annihilating the enemy. The Second Ukrainian Front could not annihilate the German army in a pocket and General Wöhler was able to regroup his 200,000 German fighters on the left bank of the Tisza river. It is also a fact that our system of fortification fulfilled its assigned duty even without the minimal required number of occupying forces (standing barrage) to provide the necessary effective range of resistance for the fortifications!
The missing written material about the fort combats in the Subcarpathian Region was supplied for me in part by oral information which I got at a chance meeting on the street. It was my good luck to arrange a meeting with the commander of the fort company defending the valley block in the valley of the Ung river at Malomrét. According to the story of the former Captain of the Hungarian Royal Army, his fort company was able to resist for four days even after being surrounded on all sides by the storming Soviet forces. Having run out of ammunition he and his surviving fighters broke out of the blockade. They had been wandering across mountains and forests for two weeks before making contact with the units of the Hungarian Royal Army. Alas, I do not even remember the name of this comrade of mine. (Author’s note: it was Captain Siegfried Torday). At the time of the breakout, he was wounded in one arm by a rifle shot. During their wanderings his gunshot wound became gangrenous and his arm had to be amputated above the shoulder.
We know from the fort company’s battle that the heavy armament of the valley blocking forts was composed of heavy armament from the Yugoslavian army and disarmed by the Germans (guns, heavy machine-guns, machine-guns, trench mortars), and there was only three days of ammunition for each weapon.”
This is true. There was neither enough time nor enough money to prepare the Árpád-line properly against the Red Army, which was attacking in large numbers and with overwhelming force. The above-mentioned valley blocks were in the Subcarpathian Region, where they were used for only a short time during the withdrawal of the troops. They had practically no function, as the troops providing the counter-attacking force of the defence had already been withdrawn; the evacuation of the pocket was going on. There was only one small gap between Csap and Ungvár where it was possible to get back behind the Tisza river.
The successful defence of the valley blocks constructed in Northern Transylvania is proof that the Red Army could not break through the fortification system at any point. The valley blocks were surrendered by the defending troops only after receiving orders from the top. There are more detailed reports on the battles in the valley blocks of Northern Transylvania since the fighting was going on in the valleys and not on the passes there. After the Roumanian defection the right wing of the Second Ukrainian Front was able to close up to the southern valley blocks of the Árpád-line in Transylvania without delay. Let us see what happened in those fortresses, advancing northwards from the South!
101 Military Archives, Tgy. 3161. sz. Rumy Lajos: A m. kir. 2. Hegyi dd. Hadműveletei a Kárpátokban. (Lajos Rumy: The operations of the 2. Hungarian Royal Mountain Fighter Brigade in the Carpathians). 22-36.
102 Military Archives, Tgy. No. 3144, 184-187.