THE FORTIFICATION HEADQUARTERS
The memoirs of Gyula Laborcz were closed when his company was pulled back from the valleys of the Tisza and Tarac rivers because of the tension appearing between Hungary and Roumania. It is true that the Hungarian-Roumanian relationship became stretched to breaking point in the summer of 1940. At that time the Soviet Union sent an ultimatum to Roumania to hand over the territories of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina. Seeing the serious plight of Roumania the Hungarian political leadership believed that the time had come to get Transylvania back completely. As Roumania stoutly rejected all Hungarian demands the Hungarian government ordered partial mobilisation of the Hungarian Army and its march towards Roumania. Hitler did not allow any armed conflict among his allies and suggested negotiations. The views of the two negotiating parties did not get any nearer during the negotiations held in Turnu Severin, so both parties accepted the German-Italian arbitration, which had already been successful once. So it happened that “the Second Vienna Award” was concluded and signed on 30th August 1940. Northern Transylvania, together with Székelyföld, Nagyvárad and Kolozsvár became part of Hungary again. The Fortification Department got the burden of the task of fortifying another thousand year old frontier section on the main ridge of the Carpathian Mountains. This organisation of the department, however, could not handle the task. The numbers of the mountain engineer companies could not be increased, and the use of fighting combat engineer companies for carrying out unskilled work meant a large shortfall in combat training. The significant increase in the territory of the construction works demanded the reorganisation of the department. For then the majority of the Subcarpathian fortifications seemed to have been completed. Most of the planned reinforced concrete armour piercing emplacement and pillboxes were ready. The construction of the field-fortification systems waited not for the combat engineer troops but for troops moving into position with the help of worker companies.
But in May-June 1940 the events of the war forced the leadership of the Hungarian military engineers to think over the whole existing system. By then both “impregnable” Western fortification lines, the French Maginot-line and the Belgian Dyne-line, had been broken through and also outflanked by the German army. So those elements which did not work in the case of the French and German fortification system had to be filtered out from the already constructed parts of the Eastern Carpathian fortifications. And also, after the reannex of Northern Transylvania one had to think about a united, uninterrupted defence-system from the Uzsoki-pass down to the Ojtozi-defile.
A Hungarian inspection committee was sent to study both the Maginot-line and the Belgian fortification system captured by the Germans. The leader of this committee was Lieutenant Colonel Géza Paleta, the five members were the experts of the 7/m (Engineering) Department of the War Ministry and those of the Fortification Department of the Military Engineering Institute. Several articles were published on this survey. The pierced large fortification lines were discussed in detail on the pages of the Hungarian Military Review. Hectic work had been begun by the planning team of the fortification department. In autumn-winter 1940 the plan of the uninterrupted fortification system was made. This plan already included the fortification of the whole Eastern Carpathians, which was in a state of preparation, and took the official name of “Árpád-line” in those days. The Árpád-line did not resemble the Maginot-line, which was planned for passive, stationary defensive combat. The concept of defensive fighting was built on a series of counter-attacks and surprising manoeuvres by the defenders. We have already talked about this theme above, when we discussed the concepts of fortifications, with the help of the studies of Teofil Hárosy.
The Fortification Department of the Military Engineering Institute had gone through a significant transformation by 1941. Up to then the Department had employed the experts of other departments and organisations. The Chief of the General Staff of the Hungarian Army gave instruction for the establishment of the so-called Fortification Headquarters in its Organisational Provision for 194152. The headquarters was subordinated to the Chief of the General Staff of the Army, through the 7/m Department of the General Staff. Apart from those defensive works which were already under construction, the Fortification Headquarters also supervised the works of the same type of “fortresses” in the Eastern Carpathian Mountains. The aim of this work was to construct an uninterrupted active defensive system, which would not run along the frontier but would be based on valley-blocking redoubts alongside the reannexed Carpathian frontier section.
In spite of the financial constraints on the Hungarian budget, the military leadership supported the budget of the Fortification Headquarters with millions of Pengős.53 We can examine the financial background to the fortification system construction. The War Ministry spent 14.2 Million Pengős on constructions between 1st July 1939 and 30th December 1940. This is one and a half years. This amount of money is just 10 million Pengős more than the full amount of the funds which had been spent on constructional purposes in the same period in 1937-193854. The conversions cannot give a clear picture but we must take note that 1 Dollar was equivalent to 4,4 Pengö according to the exchange rates in 1938. The expenses spent on the constructions tripled in one year. In 1940 the Parliament voted only 6.8 million Pengős for military constructions. Of course, the first wartime year had its effect on the budget too. As the majority of allocated investments for the reannexed territories was realised, the volume of the voted budget for these investments diminished. That year the Hungarian Royal Army had no chance even to buy new armament so the full budget was spent on the continuation of the fortification works.55 There was a sharp rise again in 1942 because 19 million Pengős were assigned for the continuation of the fortification constructions.56 However, inflation began to make its effect felt in the last two years of the war too, because the amounts spent on fortification and military constructions rose to exorbitant heights. At that time the Árpád-line began to be transformed into an uninterrupted defensive system. The construction of the Hunyadi and St László positions was also commenced at the foothills of the Eastern Carpathians. 67 Million Pengős were spent on this purpose in 1943, and 67.5 million Pengős, in 1944.57 As most of these amounts were spent on the construction of the Árpád-line, these numbers reveal how much money was spent by the state on the fortification of the frontiers of the state as a whole.
Considerable construction works had been carried out also on the reannexed territories which became part of Hungary again between 1938-1940. Many roads, railways and bridges had to be reconstructed. However, these expenses burdened not the budget of he Military Ministry but that of the Ministry of Commerce and Communications. For example, the State Construction Bureaux received 138 million Pengős for the construction of public roads and bridges58, and 36,7 Million Pengős had been spent on the construction of transport lines in 1942.59
Summing up the above mentioned data we can draw the conclusion that the military and political leadership of the country was convinced that the Árpád-line had key importance from the point of view of the defence of Hungary. They were also convinced that this fortification system could increase the security of the country considerably and make a substantial contribution to the protection of the reannexed territories.
The Fortification Headquarters grew gradually and became an enormous organisation with a staff numbering several thousand people. There was a real need for such a large apparatus because superhuman tasks had to be complied with. The organisation of the Fortification Headquarters was vast, it changed very often, it was enlarged and supplemented by new elements. The organisation of the Fortification Headquarters was not properly documented officially in the period from April 1941 to 9th March 1942, but there would have been no point anyway because nobody could have estimated what kind of institutes would still be necessary. The Headquarters was based in Honvéd street after its separation from the Military Engineering Institute. All those officers and experts who could have been useful and necessary for the planning and construction of the fortifications were at the disposal of the Fortification Headquarters through the 7/m Department of the War Ministry. The 7/m Department had “double subordination”, which meant that the Department could give instructions on matters which belonged to the Supreme Headquarters, but also on those matters, which were within the competence of the War Ministry.
This is the reason why it was not even necessary to establish an exact organisation frame for the Fortification Headquarters. Even after setting its organisation frame in the official book “Constitutional decisions for the Fortification Headquarters ”, (mark: A-102), dated to: 9th March, 1942 this frame was modified twice in 1943, and the modifications rearranged its organisation thoroughly. As the works were more important than the constitutional changes, the modifications were not written down from 1944 onwards. I do not think that it is my task to describe the exact history of this office in particular detail, so I explain the constitutional organisation of the Fortification Headquarters only on such level that the reader can better understand it.
Only a small staff of the Fortification Headquarters were working at Honvéd street. Its commandant remained Military Engineer Staff Colonel Pál Molnár. In accordance with the military organisation of those times, the Headquarters had the following departments:
These departments had only a few workers, and no sub-departments. They practised only policy-making and gave general principles of work to the fortification teams, they supplied them with all regulations, documents, plans and printed matter necessary for the constructions. Moreover they controlled the works continuously. The Fortification Headquarters in Budapest was very far from the construction sites, but it was very near to the central leadership. Because of this, a Fortification Group Headquarters was established for practical co-ordination in order to direct the Subcarpathian constructions, supply the working places with the necessary materials, machines, and settle the accounts. Nine local Fortification Branches belonged to the Fortification Group Headquarters. These offices organised the works on the sites of constructions, at first by the help of constructional enterprises, later independently, employing experts and unskilled workers.
The structure of the Group Headquarters was not complicated:
Local fortification offices.
In reality these organisational units did not always cooperate with each other, right to the end. Each local office organised and directed the constructions at one working site. The work area was not always the same as where valley blocks were because the number of the workplaces was determined by accessibility. The Subcarpathian constructions slowly got neared completion in summer 1943, so the work emphasis was transferred to Transylvania. Then the Fortification Headquarters expanded further. Two other Fortification Group Headquarters were established, and these even got numbers. Number I remained in Csap, Number II was established in Dés, and the Number III Fortification Group Headquarters was established in Gyergyószentmiklós.
The new Group Headquarters became necessary because local offices could neither be directed and supplied, nor controlled alone from Csap due to the great distances. 5-6 local branches belonged to each group, but it is almost impossible to be exact. The work accelerated when the front approached in 1944, and there were even local branches with several numbers at the same time. The reason for this confusion could have been that a local branch sent a preparatory group from its staff to the new working place, the new place got a new number because of the settlement of the accounts, and after the joining of the two local branches only one of the numbers was registered. As the documents of the Fortification Headquarters were annihilated during the war it is not possible to count the number of local branches exactly, but it is not so important from the point of view of understanding the operational mechanism.
We can acquaint ourselves with the operation of the I. Fortification Group Headquarters (Csap) with the help of Captain Pál Zágony, leader of the Logistical Department in Csap60
“The Fortification Headquarters, established in the spring of 1941, moved into Honvéd Street. Then our department got an order to move down to Csap as local fortification bureau [Author’s note: Fortification Group Headquarters – at that time it had no exact nomenclature, it was also named Local Office, Local Department, Centre. Only the 194th Constitutional Decision gave an instruction about its name]. The Frank coffee-roasting workshop was just beside the railway station in Csap. It was a big warehouse and we moved in. It was our task to establish a base from which we could supply the local fortification branches with all the necessary materials and food. So we had our centre there. We had an office building and two huge depots. We fitted them out as joiner, blacksmith and locksmith workshops, and as car repair service.
We had 30-35 cars and 80-90 trucks. We began to take out the issued material to the local fortification branches. The bulk of the material was transported by train, because we had a built-in double railway line. However, we could not transport all the materials by train and not everywhere was there a train connection. Our favourite means of transport was the Botond land-cruiser. In my opinion it was the best truck in the whole world at that time. We had 25-30 such trucks. We had German, Italian and Austrian types of car too.
We had installed a repair service where we could repair everything on these vehicles, with the exception of cylinder boring. We had an excellent mechanic brigade too. I was also the chief of the workshops. All stocks were in my hands, except the matters of the Finance Office. I did not work with money, only with stocks. Sometimes some workers try to cheat the chief where there are so many cars and drivers, but as I became more and more experienced in these matters, they could hardly ever deceive me.
Car drivers were mostly civilians, there were only a very few soldiers among them, and they tended to drive the official cars. As it was my duty and responsibility to ensure the good running order of the cars, first I had to learn to drive and repair cars. I dressed accordingly, lay under the car which had to be repaired and very soon I learned everything. So they could not deceive me. We developed a very good relationship with the drivers, we got along well with everybody.
We also had to learn the methods of loading. We had an unfortunate accident because of incorrect loading. Long beams were loaded on a truck, so its centre of gravity was not over the wheels but at the rear. When the car arrived at an uphill bend, the weight raised the front wheels, the driver could not keep the car on the road, and they came off it. Unfortunately, one of the local loaders was killed. The Fortification Headquarters paid damages and built a wooden house for his family there, in Csap. Because of the road conditions there were many places so difficult to access that we could not deliver. There were road sections not even passable by cart, let alone cars. What could we do? We had built roads. We carried up a stone-crusher, and all other instruments and machines necessary for road building. We simply went up, then smashed the stones by the stone-crusher, rolled it with steam–roller and built many macadam roads this way. One could move on the main roads in that district but not elsewhere.
In this way Csap became the supply base of the fortification constructions, beginning at Verecke to the Máramaros Alps, behind the Tatár Pass. We had nine local branches altogether. I was travelling for 2-3 days every week. I knew from my own experience that if I did not check if the ordered and delivered stocks were necessary then they would cheat me. Serious work cannot be done without control. Petrol was an especially touchy subject in this respect. We supplied the whole constructions site with many barrels of petrol. If one does not monitor events, no high quality work can be expected. God helped us, so there were no real problems. We got into a routine and learned the work routine. It took a lot of effort, but it was worth doing.
I always took my wife with me. Our temporary separation and many other things would have been paid for, but it is not a real life to live alone. By the way, I, the youngest officer, was for a long time the only married person at our Group Headquarters. So we were the host and hostess at all meetings. Once – I was already retired - we tried to remember and as far as we could tell, we had not been on holiday for 11 years. It did not even occur to me for 11 years to go on holiday. Luckily, I had assignments during which, if I had to go for inspection somewhere, I could take my wife with me, unless the purpose of the visit was a protocol event. I had my own company car, a FIAT 500. I took my wife everywhere, up to the snowy mountains. It did not occur to us to go on holiday or on an excursion, because all this was holiday, and we could do our jobs at the same time. So it was a life that included everything in the work: summer holiday, winter holiday, entertainment. It was a good feeling that everything was prepared, and prepared well: OK, God be with you, here is the signature, you may leave.
My office was not at the base but in the store building in Csap. The workshops were on the ground floor and my office was on the first floor. My female secretary wept quite a lot at the beginning, because I gave her back or tore up documents which were not properly prepared. But she mastered her job within a month and then she became my right hand in the administration. I had eight sub-officers and two civilian employees besides her. The conveyance of materials was Considerable, and we had to prepare a huge amount of delivery notes and itemised statements. Furthermore, 75-80 people from the neighbourhood worked at the plant. At the beginning the civilian workers had to be made to get used to accuracy. I had a skilful local elder foreman, his name was Uncle Pék, he could handle local people well.
The commander of the Fortification Headquarters from beginning to end was Military Engineer Staff Colonel Pál Molnár. His Chief of Staff was Staff Lieutenant Colonel Ernő Paczor, but when he became the Chief of staff of the 2nd Mountain Brigade then Staff Lieutenant Colonel Attila Kőszeghy took over his post. The paymaster was Lieutenant Colonel István Gede. Colonel Teofil Hárosy, a nice old man61, and his subordinate, Major László Mikes, also belonged to the staff of the Fortification Headquarters. In Csap, the offices were in the stone building on the ground floor and the flats of the officers were on the first floor of the same building. Those who had arrived with their families, and the sub-officers, lived in the village. I also lived in the village, together with my wife, and went to work from there every day.
The organisation of the Fortification Group of Csap was not complicated. Its commander was an active officer, at the beginning it was Major László Mikes, but not for long, because later he got an order to return to Budapest. He was replaced by Major Puskás (I do not remember his first name). He had an adjutant, a paymaster, and one more subordinate officer. This was the Headquarters. Three officers, one official in charge of the car park, a civilian clerk whose task was to employ the civilian workers, and a counter-intelligence officer.
The bulk of the work was on our shoulders, at the material-transport department. Only I dealt with the transport, nobody else had a say in it, and nobody ever tried to interfere. I had close working contact with the paymaster because I gave him the railway transport invoices and the bills of delivery, and he arranged them. They were responsible for the provision of the people working on the fortifications too. 35 thousand people usually worked on the whole line. As the means of transport were at my disposal, I had to transport the working clothes and the bacon rations together with the building material to the local branches. Both we and the local branches were well supplied with food.
My small department dealt also with the material supply and inventory. We needed a huge amount of spare parts for the car service. We had a very large stock of spares, but not all were available on the spot. Luckily, there was a car spares shop in Ungvár. The owner was a Jewish man with a long lock of hair at his ear. He did not serve in the shop, but I arranged with him the larger orders. There were cases when they did not have adequate spare parts in Ungvár either, but if it was urgent, he could manage it so that the requested spares were delivered to us by plane. The material arrived within a few hours. The Jewish merchant had an enormous shop and service, such are rare even nowadays, so he could afford to do so.
When we had finished the majority of the work – Northern Transylvania was already reannexed that time – I went down to Dés from Csap. I still visited Csap a few times after this too, but only for the supplementary work and the accounts, and for material.
The local branches were completely independent, we transported only the materials and the plans for them. They had stores in the village nearby, we carried the allocated material to them: sand and gravel, shutter-boards, iron, everything needed for the work. The gravel we transported from Nyékládháza and we sent it to the last railway station. It had to be transported by truck to the local branch, that is to the working places, from the railway station. How they did it was their business. Each local branch had two trucks, transport workers and local deliverers. It was their business who did what and how.
All the trucks were Army property with Army registration numbers, only the drivers were civilians. There was no mobilisation that time, so we could not commandeer trucks from civilian life. Anyway, it was not even necessary - there were enough trucks.”
52 HL VKF B/237. 277/1948. Microfilm page 1988.
53 Although no exact calculations remained for us, there were millions in the budget of each local fortification department. The former local department leaders told me so unanimously.
54 State Budget 1937, 1938, 1939 and 1940. Quoted by: József Schaffer: Hungarian fortification systems in the Eastern Carpathians 1939-1944, diploma work. (Library of the Parliament) 17. (Further on: Schaffer)
55 The State Budget of 1941. Schaffer, 17.
56 The State Budget of 1942, Schaffer, 17.
57 The State Budget of 1943 and 1944. Schaffer, 17.
58 The State Budget of 1941, Schaffer, 17.
59 The State Budget of 1942. Schaffer, 17.
60 The author interviewed Pál Zágony (that time 90 years old) on 23rd September 1998. The former Captain served at the Fortification Headquarters and at the Fortification Group Headquarters from 1939 to 1944.
61 Staff Engineer Colonel Teofil Hárosy at that time belonged to the staff of the General headquarters and was brevet Commander of Country Fortification. In practice he worked at the Fortification Headquarters as consultant and his advice had to be obtained in all professional problems of fortification.