WITHDRAWAL FROM THE ÁRPÁD-LINE
After the surrender of Debrecen (20th October), the German South Army Group regarded as its main task to pull back the Wöhler group to behind the Tisza river. Colonel General Friessner, who was worried because of the quick demoralisation of the Hungarian troops and because their combat value was decreasing to a minimum, disbanded the Second Hungarian Army on 20th October. He subordinated the troops of the army directly to German command and ordered the General Staff of the Second Army to take over the organisation of the defence of the Duna-line. On the same day, the German military leadership transferred command of the retreating First Hungarian Army from the “A” Army Group to the “South” Army Group. The aim of this instruction was to establish a new defensive line behind the Tisza river and to prepare for the formation of the unified German leadership.
The troops of the northward-advancing Sixth German Army drew on their own reserves and held up a unit of the mechanised cavalry group of General Pliyev, but they could not prevent the main body of the Pliyev group from seizing Nyíregyháza on the night of the 21st. The loss of the town deprived the Wöhler Group of the best crossing-places of the Tisza river. However, circumstances later developed unfavourably for the troops of the Pliyev-Group. They got split up. A 25-30 kilometre gap developed between their units fighting around Debrecen, Hajduhadház and Nyíregyháza. This fact offered the possibility of withdrawal to the German-Hungarian group which had remained in the pocket of Northern Transylvania.
The General Staff of the “South” Army Group recognised and took this opportunity. They ordered their troops fighting north of Debrecen that they should strike through Újfehértó towards Nagykálló in order to meet the Wöhler group. Also, the XXIX. Corps of the Wöhler group got an order to attack towards Nagykálló from the zone of Nyírbátor and Máriapócs. The two meeting strikeforces attained their goal: the majority of the Pliyev group was cut off from the main bodies of the Second. Ukrainian Front and from the Twenty-Seventh Army which was lagging behind the Wöhler group. Heavy combat continued around Nyírbátor, Nyíregyháza, Nagykálló, Újfehértó and Hajdudorog between 23rd-28th October. In the course of this fighting the forces of General Pliyev gave up Nyiregyháza as per the order of Marshal Malinovsky, and then in heavy combat they broke the resistance of the 27th Light Division, of the 9th Field Supplementary Division and of the 9th Frontier Guard Brigade, and broke out of the pocket. Having recaptured Nyíregyháza, General Wöhler succeeded in pulling back his remaining troops, about 150 000 men, behind the Tisza.
A certain fact has a significant role in this German success. Because of the failure of Horthy’s attempt to change sides, the Second Hungarian Army defending in Northern Transylvania and the First Hungarian Army defending in the North-eastern Carpathians did not go over to the Soviets. The Hungarian troops did not open the front line in front of the Second and Fourth Ukrainian Fronts. The two fronts had difficulties in overcoming the wooded, mountainous terrain and these difficulties caused them a significant loss of time. The exhausted troops of the disbanded Second Hungarian Army crossed the Tisza river. The 27th Light Division, the 9th Field Supplementary division and the 9th Frontier Guard Brigade crossed the river at the section of Tiszakeszi-Tiszafüred. The 25th Infantry division, the 2nd Armoured division, the 12th Reserve Division, the 4th And 7th Field Supplementary Divisions and the 1st and 2nd Supplementary Mountain Brigade executed the crossing at the Tokaj-Polgár river section between 26th-31st October.
The troops of the First Hungarian Army began withdrawal because of the developing offensive of the Eighteenth Army of the Fourth Ukrainian Front in the Subcarpathian Region after 17th October. On the right wing the 24th Infantry division retreated fighting into the valley of the Visó, into Huszt, where they could temporarily hold on. North of the 24th Infantry Division, the 16th Infantry Division defended the territory East from Bilke. The 1st. Mountain Brigade and the 13th Infantry Division, defending in front of the Verecke-pass, retreated skirmishing with the Soviet troops which were attacking towards Szojva. The 6th. Infantry Division and the 2nd. Mountain Brigade closed the road between Uzsok and Ungvár in the Árpád-line. On 24th October the Soviet offensive pushed the 2nd Infantry Division out of Huszt. The division retreated towards Nagyszőllős-Beregszász. They held on in Beregszász till the 28th, then they retreated behind the eastern branch of the Tisza into Vásárosnamény, where they established contact with the XVII. German Corps. The units of the 16th Infantry division retreated westward from Bilke through Ilosva and Beregkövesd. The 1st Mountain Brigade and the 13th Infantry Division fought on in the region of Szolyva and Munkács, almost completely surrounded, between 23rd-26th October. Then they ensured the possibility of a further pullback by a counterattack. Afterwards they took position on the elevations east of Munkács and in the region of Szojva-Polena. The Soviet troops occupied Munkács on 26th October; Csap and Ungvár fell on 28th October. The 16th Infantry Division reoccupied Csap on the following day so that the troops who were still coming back from East could get behind the Tisza river safely. The 6th Infantry Division was forced to pull back from the Árpád-line to Nagyberezna, and the 2nd Mountain Brigade into the sector of Mezőlaborc-Zemplénoroszi. The 66th And 72nd Frontier Guard Groups tried to close the mouth of the Szamos river and the Ung valley from the Russians.
The Hungarian troops, especially the 13th and 6th Infantry Divisions and the 1st Mountain brigade, suffered heavy losses in this fighting. The Headquarters of the “South” Army Group, Károly Beregfy, disbanded the two infantry divisions and reinforced the 4th German Mountain Jaeger Division with the remaining troops in agreement with the Minister of War. On 1st November Beregfy ordered a mountain fighter division to be set up from the 1st And 2nd Mountain Fighter Brigades which had retreated from the front line.
By 28th October 1944 the Debrecen operation of the 2. Ukrainian Front was finished. The result of this operation was a 150-270 kilometre advance in three weeks, and the Soviet occupation of the whole Hungarian region east of the Tisza. By this operation the Soviet troops could prevent the German military leadership from establishing a new strategic defensive line in Northern Transylvania and Eastern Hungary, closing the Budapest-Vienna direction and keeping back the Red Army for a longer time. However, they did not succeed in surrounding and annihilating the German-Hungarian army group with its 200,000 soldiers in Northern Transylvania.