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Indulás: 2005-12-26
 
THE OJTOZI-DEFILE

THE OJTOZI-DEFILE

Former lieutenant Ferenc Kovács was the deputy commander of the 24/1. Fort Company.  Now he lives in Cleveland, in the United States. He sent me his memoirs by letter in November 2000.

“I got to the fort company at around the end of 1943. By that time the construction of the valley block had been finished and partly equipped. The so-called “not concrete positions”, the stores of material, the stables and the posts of the Székely Frontier Guard Battalions were being finished on the wings. Many Walach (Roumanian) forced labourers were employed.  In my opinion, it was a serious mistake to employ them: it was an unreliable gang.

These posts were neither ever completely finished nor completely occupied by our troops.  The trenches, the light- and heavy machine-gun emplacements etc. were reliable but they were not prepared for bad or winter weather and this fact could have caused problems.  Later the Russians could even have approached the fort company on bicycles.  They did come later, albeit not on bicycles.  Those brave Székely frontier guards held on grimly while they could.  The massed fire of their rifles and heavy and light machine guns could easily be heard, especially at dawn.  The Russians did not attack there at night.

The supply of ammunition and other material for the Székely frontier guards was not too well organised.  When they were on the verge of running out of ammunition, they retreated.  Many of them went home into the neighbouring villages where they lived.  The others joined the fort company with their rifles and with some ammunition.  The Fortification Construction Headquarters were at Gyergyószentmiklós, and our supervisor headquarters were based at Csíkszereda.

Having got wounded, I was taken to the hospital of Csíkszereda.  After the first medical examinations I was lying in the room of the janitor.  There I was visited by Engineer Lieutenant Colonel “Vitéz” Érchegyi, who was responsible for the construction of the fortresses.  He wanted to get to know what the resistance ability of the forts was like.103  Somebody had accused them, saying that the fortification elements had no real resistance against armoured shells.  I let him know that the forts were very hard, their resistance ability was 100%.  The fort element supplied by loophole under my command was hit twice by a Russian armour-piercing gun, but it didn’t harm the shelter.  It made a loud noise, but nothing else;  the shell did the fort no harm.

As I already mentioned, I had been transferred from the staff of the 24th Battalion of the Hungarian Royal Army to the fort company in Ojtoz as deputy commander.  There was such a post at the fort companies too.  I was the training officer of the fort company.  The task of the company commander was to deal with everything regarding the fort company or the fortification system apart from the training of the soldiers: filling the units, ammunition, food, organisation of the supply, etc.

At the time of the mobilisation, I took over command of the so-called machine platoon.  Sergeant Molnár, selected for promotion, who was an electrical engineer, directed the professional electrical service.  The use of the electric lock was never ordered because of safety reasons. (The moving of our own forces.)  Furthermore, the armour piercing gun platoon and the heavy gun platoon belonged to me too.  I was responsible for about 100 people.  The sector of my platoon included almost the half of the valley block.

The commander of the company was Senior Lieutenant Sándor Megyeri (Milkovics, of Slovakian origin).  He was a taciturn man, very good at paper work.  His spirit was not particularly combative.  As far as I know, he was commander of paramilitary youth organisation groups some time in the 20’s.  He may have been over thirty.  The second platoon commander was Ensign János Vác, from Budapest.  He was a good, clever, brave  soldier, full of endeavour. He held on in Ojtoz and also after the fights of Ojtoz.  Ensign Virágh, Commander of the 3rd Platoon was a brave man.  After the fights in Ojtoz, he got into Háromszék, and he was killed in action in the fights over there.  The commander of the company, Senior Lieutenant Megyeri, was wounded there too.  Apparently he was hit in the stomach and was taken to a hospital in Vienna.  The commander of the 4th  Platoon commander, Ensign Polgár, was also killed in action defending his country after the battles of Ojtoz.  He was a good soldier.

Ensign Kovács was the commander of the trench mortar platoon.  We did not use him too much in the fort company.  He was an older man of about 40-45 years.  The commander of the reserve platoon, Ensign Soós, was also an older man, but he was a stout, brave soldier.

I was responsible for the training of the company - shooting, the use of had grenades in woods, fort combats, close combat, trench combat, forest combat, etc.  The composition of the rank and file was very mixed.  The majority of them were from Transylvania, but there were lads from Budapest, Transdanubia, and even from the Upper Hungarian highlands.  Only the trumpeter of the company was Roumanian.  He was quite stupid but a good soldier - he shot his own people very diligently, I even praised him for it.

We had some platoon-size reconnaissance in the late summer and autumn of 1943 and in the spring of 1944.  I was the commander of one of them.  The Germans did not like it, they defended their Roumanian ally and tried to behave unpleasantly.

In my opinion the supply system was weak.  We should have got food, ammunition, medicine and bandages from Kézivásárhely or else from Bereck.  The Ojtoz stream gave water, but this water became dirty and putrid by the fourth day of the fight.

After a few days of unsuccessful siege, the Russians set fire to the Ojtoz-defile with flame-grenades.  We also got strong artillery fire with many hits but it was not dangerous at all, the shelters withstood it well.  The flame grenades set the pine-trees on fire but the trees in leaf did not catch fire. The fallen leaves were wet and the grass fresh and very green, so they did not catch fire either.  Apart, therefore, from the unpleasant steam covering the valley there was not too much effect from the flame grenades.

The first attack of the enemy took place on 24th August, on the day of the Roumanian defection.  A smaller Roumanian troop – about 30-40 men – came up to the first fort elements, covered by blankets, with submachine guns around their necks, without reconnaissance.  They surrendered after a short fight.  We led our first war prisoners to the frontier guard battalion, to Bereck.

A few hours later a larger Roumanian unit appeared under the command of a Roumanian lieutenant colonel on horseback.  I don’t think he knew that he was riding in the middle of a valley block.  Not much later the “march in” of the lieutenant colonel was followed by a Roumanian mechanised troop in German amphibian cars, equipped with German lightning machine-guns.  After a short skirmish, they also surrendered and followed their compatriots to Bereck.  That was the last Roumanian attempt.

The Russians began their attack with very large forces from the south, Sósmező, on the second or third day after the Roumanian defection.  The commander of the officers’ post,104 Senior Lieutenant György (he was a very good friend of mine) held on heroically together with his 30-40 people and with one exception they all died in action.  The Sós platoon commander was the only one who could get back to the fort company.  This officers’ post was the outpost of the fort company.

We had two other outpost groups with machine-guns and light machine-guns in the foreground of the fort company, between Sósmező and Ojtoz.  They already belonged to my platoon.  They marched fighting, covering each other into the fortress as we had practised not long before.  They suffered heavy losses, almost half of the two advance guards were killed in action.

The Russians attacked on the eastern side of the Ojtoz stream in a northerly direction.  They advanced to the foot of the mountains in the forest and used many mine throwers and submachine-guns.  They responded to the fire of the fort with trench mortar fire.  They shot very accurately but they could not cause damage to the fort. Our first wounded soldier was Corporal Illés, the heavy rifle squad commander.  He got a sniper’s bullet right in his throat.

The defence system of the fort company was successful.  The loss of the company was minimal in the fights inside the fort.  We used a large number of hand grenades (of the Vécsey-type).  It seems that they were the most effective weapon in the fort fights.  Luckily, we had enough of them.

There were several individual acts of valour.  Corporal István Császár, machine-gun commander of one of the fortress elements, cleared up the situation by hand grenades and spade, and repulsed the Russian assault four times.  Corporal Bartha, light machine-gun commander, repelled the assault in close combat on several occasions.  The Russian group attacking my machine-gun post also had a taste of the battle with hand grenades and spades.

In spite of the assaults by day and night, the Russians could not capture the 24/1. Fort Company.  They kept the valley block under continuous mortar fire and artillery fire.  This fire came from the flanks, where the Székely frontier guards had been repulsed.  The defence of the flanks was weak.  It was not the fault of the frontier guards defending there.  They could do nothing without supplies.  There were not enough people or ammunition. So the fort company was surrounded from three sides, the way was open only northward, towards Bereck. However, at that time there were also battles in Bereck.

I got the order to retreat from Senior Lieutenant Megyeri, the company commander, by telephone on the fourth day of the fighting.  We had to retreat northward, across the Magyaros-tető towards Bereck.  It was night time, around 1 or 2 am.  Only the burning forest gave light in the darkness.  Russians were strolling on the road and in the yards of the houses, they were plundering the barracks.  I saw several Russians in the helmets of the armoured units, but without tanks.

We cut our way through, fighting often.  In most cases the Russians did not know, who we were.  We had to take great care of our rearguard, which had started its retreat after us.  I got wounded by a round from a submachine gun on the eastern side of the fort company, in the valley of the Tölgyes stream.  A Russian soldier was shooting from a tree but I shot him in the next moment.  Two others of my people got also wounded from that Russian round.

We got to the Magyarós-peak where those parts of the company which  had already withdrawn were assembling. 1 was on horseback, supported from two sides.  There were many German military policemen there.  I do not know where they came from.  Up to then I had not seen even one German soldier, with the exception of those who were pouring back after the Roumanian defection.  A Captain of the military police had a look at me and said coldly: “Herr Leutnant, Sie sind kaputt.”  Soon after I fainted and only regained consciousness in the church of Bereck which had been set up as a hospital.  This was the end of the battles in Ojtoz for me.

After I had been wounded the hospitals were as follows: sanitary stations: Bereck, first aid station, Orbán sanitary ensign; Torja, public hospital, then military hospital, Kálmán Szőke medical captain; Csíkszereda, military hospital.  I woke up between two dead men; Székelyudvarhely, X/1 field hospital, my former grammar school, where I had graduated as commander: Captain Miklós Paál, surgeon. My wrist never recovered properly.  I travelled with the field hospital across Parajd, Szováta, Szeretfalva to Zalaegerszeg, to the military hospital.

I met people from the 24th Frontier Guard Battalion and the 9th Mountain Fighter Brigade at Szeretfalva.  I was informed about the fate of the fort company after Ojtoz by them.  I noted the details later, at Andráshida, in the neighbourhood of Zalaegerszeg.  That was the assembling spot of the 9th Mountain Fighter Brigade, of the 67th Combat Group, the 24th Battalion and of the 24/1 Fort Regiment.  There I got to know about the hard battles with their heavy losses.  My fort company and the 24th Battalion launched a counter-attack together with the 4th German Armoured Combat Group.105  They planned to recapture the Ojtoz valley block.  The fort company totally crumbled in those fights.  Many soldiers were also killed in action from the 24th Battalion.  There were heavy losses among officers.  However, the losses of the Germans and the Russians were also very large.  Just there it happened that the commander of the fort company, Captain Megyeri got a bullet in his stomach.

In my opinion that was the reason for the fort company’s heavy losses in the battles of Kézdivásárthely, Nyujtód, Alsó- and Felsőcsernát, and in the zone of Bereck  -  they were not prepared for offensive operations.  In spite of this, they fought very well.  The combat spirit, successfully drilled into them, bore fruit there too.  The Russians had very heavy losses, they had not reckoned with such stoic resistance.  The 9th Mountain Fighter Brigade fought, deserving all praise, at Idecs.  The commander of the 24th Battalion was Captain Tibor Schmindt there. He fell in action defending his country at Idecsfalva.

The wounded soldiers of Ojtoz were carried to the sanitary station set up in the Catholic church of Bereck.  I was there too.  The deceased were buried in the church yard of Ojtoz, and in its immediate vicinity.”

Out of the report of Lieutenant Kovács we may feel that the valley blocks of Székelyföld were never completed. Many temporary, hastily made elements had to be applied as the front approached, but the largest shortfall was in the number and the equipment of the defenders.  The military leadership had never reckoned with the possibility that the Roumanian Army would have launched such an offensive there - not alone but together with the Red Army.  In spite of the undermanned forces for the planned continuous counter-attacks and for the protection of the wings, the defenders of the defile fulfilled their task because they began their pullback only after having taken orders, when the evacuation of the whole of Székelyföld began.

 



103 Each shelter serving as refuge for a squad or half a squad got a serial number in the valley block.  According to military jargon of those days this shelter together with the firing emplacement belonging to it was named a fort.  They were numbered with Roman numbers painted on wooden boards over the entrance.  That is why the shelter was named “fortress” by the writers of the memoirs.

104 There were also frontier guard marauding companies in the staff of the frontier guard battalions.  They guarded the frontier in peacetime.  There were posts, officers’ posts and small posts, which belonged to the marauding companies in respect of the importance and extension of the guarded frontier section.  In the case of enemy attacks the marauding companies were usually the advance guard.

105 I.e. with the Fourth German Mountain Jaeger Division.  By the way, its units were thrown into battle one after the other, as they were unpacking on the railway stations.

 

 
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