THE ELEMENTS OF THE FORTIFICATION
Following the introduction of the fortification branches’ work, it may be useful to follow the elements of the work as prescribed for the fortification branches in the instructions of the Fortification Headquarters. In practice this work was more a professional consulting handbook than a set of instructions.68
The real work began by marking the concrete construction. If the combat post were planned to have loopholes, then the placing and direction of these loopholes had to be established first.
The direction was determined by the operational officer in each case. The frontier guard battalions placed qualified infantry- or artillery officers - at the disposal of the commanders of the branches. The officers joined the staff of the Fortification Headquarters for a predetermined time. A simple crater radius spectator, shaped like a square frustum pyramid and made of wood or sheet iron, was used for the exact determination of the loophole. The horizontal and vertical interspace of this instrument had to be equal to the horizontal or vertical shooting angle of the arm from the loophole. The placing of the loophole was marked by strong, numbered spikes and a 1:10,000 sketch was made of it.
So the shelter was built around the loophole. Parallel with marking the loopholes, the operational officer also determined the manpower, armament and space requirements of the posts and shelters. The following standards were used to determine the space requirements: one heavy machine gun post - 4-5 square metres, 1 observer post - 1 square metre, 1 person - 1-1,5 square metres, 1 officer - 3-4 square metres.
In order to be well hidden, the concrete shelters were sunk as deep as possible below ground. 4 cubic metres per personof air was uusually calculated, this being enough for an inactive man for 4 hours. The inner height of the combat posts was 2 metres, that of the shelters 2.5m, so that where necessary bunk beds could be placed in them. An outlined sketch, the so-called “preliminary operation plan”, was made about the planned fortification and valley block. Later this became the basis for the exact design.
Preparation for the detailed technical construction design did not cause any real trouble because standard reinforced constructions were applied, and hardly ever had there been deviations from the plans. The detailed construction design of a fortress was composed of the following plans:
a) The ground plans and cross-sections of the planned fortification with a scale of 1:20, 1:25 or 1:50;
b) the detailed plans of the construction pit, the filling and other earthworks;
c) wooden framework plan;
d) ironwork plan.
Special attention was focused on the ironwork of the overhead covers. Shells hitting the overhead covers might crack pieces off the inside wall and could have been hazardous for the defenders. For this reason the overhead covers were supported by an iron cover without intermediate clearance. This iron cover might be made of 14 or 20 “I” beams placed at 20cm gaps, or else from iron rails. If this were not possible, they left inside the inner framework. Due to possible cracks of the inside wall, flattening the wall surfaces or repairing possible flaws was prohibited. Only the very solid Portlandian cement was used for the preparation of the concrete. The other component, the gravel, was usually transported by train from Nyékládháza. It was a very important condition that the gravel be very clean and sandy. Instead of gravel, hard crushed rock – granite, porphyry, andesite, basalt, very hard sandstone or limestone - was also used very often. But sand was the sine qua non for concreting in these cases. Another important factor was the quality of the water. There were many acidic springs in the Eastern Carpathians, with large mineral, carbon dioxide, sodium- or magnesium chloride, and sulphate content. The use of such natural mineral waters for concreting was strictly prohibited. The reinforcing iron was transported to the construction branches in packs, cut to measure and bound by wire and placed on wooden pallettes. A small wooden board marked the destination place of each pack. The loopholes arrived at the branches ready-made, these were mainly armoured loopholes dismantled from the Czechoslovakian or from the Roumanian fortification system. The armoured doors were also prefabricated elements and were transported centrally.
There was a predetermined workflow for the construction of concrete fortresses, partly because the work had to be continuous and partly because the fortress had to be prepared to meet the special solidity requirements. The most important requirement was that the concrete block of the construction should be monolithic (one single unit). This requirement could be only met if the concrete fabrication were undertaken in a single process. For this reason it was prohibited to hold up the work of concrete construction casting during binding. Otherwise the layers did not bind and the danger of breaking alongside the less solid surfaces was evident. The following workflow had to be strictly adhered to, so that the preparation of the concrete should be continuous:
The preparation of the construction pit.
The casting of the working base and that of the concrete columns holding the inside framework parallel to it. (It was necessary to take care that the iron crusher block [the bottom of the shelters] should not reach beyond the framework of the side walls)
The construction of the reinforcement of the boards, and of the inner framework.
The construction of the reinforcement of the sidewalls and the outside framework.
Covering the overhead covers with iron.
Building the working platform.
Handling the concrete, cribbing, the completion of the earthwork, facing.
The armour of the loophole determined the location of the stronghold in relation to the terrain. The designer, the constructor and the controller of the construction were separately responsible for the placing of the armour exactly where the operational officer marked it. For this reason the most exact placement possible of the armoured loophole was very important. If it could not be fixed on the framework, a separate iron platform had to be welded for it. Later this platform remained in the concrete.
The solidity of the concrete was continuously tested by the Fortification Group Headquarters. They used two different indices. The prescribed solidity for concrete mixed manually was 400 kg/square cm, for concrete prepared in a mixer it was 500 kg/square cm., although 300 kg/square cm was still acceptable. For performing the test, a concrete cube with 20cm edges was prepared and cast in an iron mould from the concrete material of each shelter. This concrete cube was mixed in the same way as the construction in question. The breakdown-test was made after 28 days. If the test proved that the concrete was inadequate, nothing could be done with the shelter constructed already, but eventual defects could be eliminated later. When the overhead protection of the shelters was cast, more cement was portioned to the last but one layer (500 kg /cube metre), and the last 5cm thick layer contained only sand and 700 kg cement/cubic metre. Otherwise, the quantity of the cement was always determined by the grain mixture. So the quantity of cement used varied between 200-400 kg.
The setting time of concrete always depended on the weather. The framework was dismounted only 9 days later. If the daily average temperature was 10 C or higher, it was regarded as a complete day, when the average temperature was between 2-10 C it was counted as a half day, the days with lower temperature were discounted. The fresh concrete was sprinkled for 14 days, and was covered against direct sunshine. Having dismounted the framework, the defects on the outer surface were repaired. The roof and the side walls had been painted over in bituminous material against moisture before the shelter was covered by the camouflaging earth cover. Simultaneously with the burying of the stronghold the inner surfaces were painted. The walls were whitewashed, only the surfaces opposing the loophole and the door were painted dark. The unit of the working organisation was the working sector (fortification branch) under unified leadership and control. 3-5 working sectors created a fortification group. The commander of the fortification group synchronised the work of the sectors, controlled by their own commanders. The arrangement of the working sectors depended rather on the transport possibilities (road and railway network) than on the number and size of the constructions of the defence position (valley block).
In most cases civilian employees worked on the constructions. Due to counter-intelligence aspects, each civilian worker was given only the absolute minimum information for him to complete his own work. All civilian workers were registered and they also had to take a vow not to give information to anyone about their work. They had to sign the document.
The employment of civilian workers was gradual: it was arranged by profession and not according to construction. The majority of the workers were ground-men and unskilled workers. The skilled workers were employed as follows: 1 mason with 5-6 aids, 1 carpenter with 5-6 aids, 1 ironwork master with 3-4 aids, 1 wall painter with 2-3 aids. The commanders of the fortification branches who employed the people had at their disposal previously drawn up and printed work contracts; only the names of the employees had to be written on them. In order to avoid further labour rights disputes, each branch commander received the corpus of the acts and regulations in force, which was edited just for this purpose.69
Pál Zágon remembers those times as follows:
“We had planned the fortification elements of the valley blocks, as I have already mentioned. They were usually 8-10m long and 4-5m wide. But there were smaller ones too. We planned five types of shelters. Their structure changed according to whether there were firearms inside or were only shelters, resting places. The usual form of the walls was not cubic, but they were broken towards the enemy so that they would not present a rectangular form in that direction. Neither were the other walls angled: their overhead protection was arched. All the overhead protection was almost flat, but not horizontal, a bit sloping. There was a 30-40cm earth cover on the roofs, only for disguise, because it was not the roofs but the overhead protection structures which were capable of resistance. The floor structure was not strong, it only had to be made to meet static requirements. The separation walls were needed only for static reasons too. The outer walls were planned to offer strong enough resistance. All overhead protection wase planned to be hard enough to resist bombing. These elements had to protect those inside even if there was no earth above them. The shelters supplied by loopholes were planned with different criteria. The Fortification Branches could select from these shelters. We sent them the designs and materials that were most suitable for them. How and in which form they set up the fortification elements depended only on the branches. We handled the places and the plans of the shelters secretly, no photos were made of them.”
The memoirs of Kálmán Bajor:
“It was a fundamental marking requirement that the proper firing position of the firearms should be guaranteed. Each valley block was made for one fort company. So firstly the main positions of the main firearms – armour piercing weapons, heavy and light guns - were marked. These were open positions and the place of the shelter was marked in realtion to them. There were no loopholes on the shelters, they were mounted with armoured doors only. Infantry officers marked the places of the firearm emplacements; they established the place of the shelter only approximately, its exact marking was my responsibility, it was engineering work.
The shelters were built in pits dug deep under the ground, they were surrounded by crushed stones, covered by earth and disguised. The purpose of the crushed stone was that if the shelter were hit, then the shell would explode on this stone and not on the concrete wall. Connecting trenches ran from the shelters to the firing positions, the operators of the firearms approached the open firing emplacements via these trenches. The open positions were built in such a way that they could give each other supporting fire.
When the firing positions were made ready, we closed the valleys and the roads with shark-fin obstacles. These were reinforced concrete pyramids with a 1 square metre basic surface. We put them down in 3-4 rows and reinforced their bases well. The tanks of those times could not turn these pyramids upside down. We built such pyramids even into the bed of the Ilva at Nagyilva. Before this, the stream had to be diverted.
We used a very interesting method for closing the roads. Nothing else was necessary than two very strong barriers on the right and left side of the road. They covered each other, and crossing was only possible by meandering around them very slowly. I think the valley blocks operated well. After the war I met a man who had taken part in the fighting. He told me that sometimes it had happened that they had been in the shelter at night, the Soviet soldiers were jumping over them back and forth, but they were always repelled in the daytime. The walls of the shelters were thoroughly covered with iron, and if I remember well the solidity of the concrete had to be 320 kg. The actual solidity was continually checked, we had to send in test cubes for break-down tests.
Several types of shelters were set up in the valley block. There was the tactical HQ post, the commander could survey the whole terrain from it. Most of the shelters were standard ones, without loopholes. The fort company soldiers could retreat into them if enemy artillery was being set up. We built about 18-20 such shelters on Nagyilva. Only one of these shelters had loopholes. It was built right at the junction of the Ilva river and the Szamos. Both valleys could be strafed from it very well. We also constructed a second line, the defence line of a battalion at Kisilva. Here a sanitary shelter was built too, this shelter did not resemble the others, it was larger and was built in a well accessible position.
The construction of the valley block at Nagyilva was a one-year programme, so we had to get ready within that timeframe. When the fort company took over the valley block there was still a lot to build on it, for example the telephone network, but these works were already being carried out by others. Nagyilva lies between two steep mountain ranges. The 10-15m wide - and very cold - Ilva river flows through the valley. The road runs along one bank of the river and the railway goes along the other. There was a flat area in the valley which I selected for setting up the camp. Unfortunately the camp was prepared before we began to build the valley blocks. Then it became clear that the whole barracks camp lay in front of the valley block. I looked for a good place for the camp and later it turned out to be no use to the fort company because it had to be demolished when the front was approaching.
The shelters and the artillery positions were constructed on the slopes and this was not easy work. We had trucks for the transport. As I had to travel a lot, and there were no other communications possibilities, I also had a car. The concrete mixer was still not very well known at that time, so the ground-men mixed all the concrete by hand. The transport of this concrete to the spot was the most serious problem because it had to be carried up a steep mountain slope. In the end this problem was solved in the following way: we had power winches, mine cars and mine rails. We built elevators from them. If the transport went up very high, we inserted a revolving platform, built a side-road and another winch drew up the mine car to its destination. So the transport was solved in a wonderful way. I do not remember how much concrete was needed for such a shelter but I know that it was a very large quantity.
As we used huge quantities of materials, I agreed with the MÁV (Hungarian National Railway) that they would shift the carriages to the section of the open track nearest to the construction site because the station was very far. We used the German supply lines for the transport of our materials, so using opportunities offered by transport interruptions the carriages were shifted to the place of preparation and there we offloaded them quickly. We managed to save much time and work this way.
The entrenchment connected with the shelter was not made of concrete. We were worried that they might have slipped down the slope, so we just dug them out. If the quality of the soil was such that it might have collapsed then it was reinforced by wickerwork. As each shelter had an armoured door, the starting depth of the trench was given. The trench was deeper than a man’s height, but the depth of the firing positions was normal. The shelter was high enough even for the tallest man to find room in it comfortably.
The principle of marking the firing positions was geared towards their being able to defend each other. For example, if the enemy broke into one of the shelters, the firing positions of the other shelter could start firing at the enemy. By the way, the forest had to be cleared to ensure a good firing position. The Fortification Headquarters agreed with the Forestry Engineer Bureau and the Forestry Bureau, and after that the clearing strips were marked. This work was done by civilian experts. After clearing, areas existed which were open enough for a larger unit not to be able to penetrate them unnoticed.
The work could not go on the whole year. It could start on site at the end of March or at the beginning of April and we marched in to Budapest at the end of November, where we worked on the plans and on the organisation of the works for the following year. Different kinds of concrete exist nowadays but in those days there was only a type of concrete which froze below –5 C degree. The men had made the abundant earthworks before it was possible to place concrete. For example, such works were the construction of the roads, the transport lines and the excavation of the shelter locations. In order to build the shelters into the slopes, an enormous quantity of earth had to be dug out. Even placing the extracted soil somewhere was not always a simple business. Then the framework had to be carried up. 90% of these earthworks were made by hand. I had an air compressor, but too many machines could not be carried up to the slope. The officer in charge of live demolition, who really was an expert in his work, helped a lot. He blasted the shelter location, then the ground-men cut out the shape required. We used the blasted stones and soil to bury the shelter. Following this, we disguised the shelters and the firing positions as much as possible. This way they could be seen from the air but not from the ground except from very close up.
When the valley block wast ready at Nagyida, the fort company moved in and we began to construct the second line, the defence sector of a battalion.
As the activation of the system was designed for a later time, on finishing the valley block we did not lay mines or draw up barbed wire obstacles. We could not have imagined that fighing would begin here soon.
Not only was Nagyilva part of the valley block, but the fort of Óradna also. The position of the fort at Óradna was on a plateau, so there the construction was not really difficult. There was only one problem, Óradna could not be reached via railway, so everything had to be transported by trucks. As I have already mentioned, we constructed the defensive line of a battalion in Kisilva. The construction and its elements were the same as in the previous places but here we also built a tactical headquarters for the commander of the battalion. It happened that we also had special work there. There was a shelter which occupied a large area on one of the slopes. However, approaching it was very difficult, so we had to build a tunnel. It was the first opportunity I had had to build a tunnel in my life, but I think I was successful. First we dug out a mineshaft then we covered it with reinforced concrete and insulated it. It was a wonderful achievement for an engineering officer.
We had already prepared ourselves consciously for the reception of the battalion so we had also built the barracks camp in a good position in Kisilva. Having handed the defence line over to the battalion in 1944, we went back to Óradna, where we worked on implementing the already existing fortification line. When something new was invented, we constructed it.”
When the valley block was completed, they had to think carefully about proper accommodation for the fort company. The company usually used the buildings of the fortification branch but it was not always possible. The planning of the barracks of the fort company at Gyergyótölgyes is a good example of careful foresight. We can get an accurate picture of the contemporary situation from the minutes of a committee, written about the barracks construction in the summer of 1943:70
“Drawn at the office of the 11th Fortification Branch at Gyergyótölgyes, on 27th June 1943. Subject: The inspection, marking and the disposition of the plot of land for the barracks of the 21/5. frontier guard fort company.
Ministry of War, 35th Department: Colonel István Bencze
Ministry of War, 11th Department: Supply Lieutenant Colonel Kálmán Gyalókay
Headquarters of the IX. Army corps: Lieutenant Colonel Gyula Monoszlay, Engineer Captain József Kabdebó.
Fortification Headquarters of the Hungarian Royal Army: Lieutenant Colonel András Muzsai, Captain Ede Kosáry.
Construction Directorate of the Hungarian Royal Army: Lieutenant József Harkányi, Béla Bessenyei, civil employee.
Representative of the 21st Battalion of the Hungarian Royal Army, and of the 9th Székely Brigade:
Lieutenant Colonel György Józsa.
The committee selected the plot of land for the construction of barracks for the personnel of the 21st Frontier Guard Fort Company: for 4 officers, 239 rank and file soldiers, 15 horses, 12 national means of communications (carts with 2 horses), 4 batteries and 1 truck in such a way at the junction of the Putna rivulet and the Beszterce streams that it would partly be in close contact with the valley block, and partly embedded into the fire-safe background zone of the valley block. As the valley block of the fort company is composed of three strongholds settled on slopes and separated from each other, we had to mark out three groups of buildings.
As the frontier is only 2km from the strongholds which are easily noticeable and can quickly be attacked by the enemy without much preparation, the Committee emphasised that the buildings location should be marked immediately in the valley block or in its background, and should be distributed according to the strongholds. In line with this 2 buildings were settled for the rank and file soldiers behind the N. stronghold, 2 buildings for the rank and file soldiers behind the E. stronghold, and 1 building for the rank and file soldiers close to the foot of the W. stronghold at a place invisible to the enemy (the Putna valley). The barracks of the officers, the sub-officers, and the sentries, the battery levels and the stable were marked at about the centre of the bottom of the valley between the E. and W. strongholds. The connection roads between the building groups are assured by the road network of the village. The footpaths between the buildings are sufficient. Medium-sized earthworks will be necessary at the 2 buildings which are placed on the slope for the rank and file soldiers at the N group, and further at one of the buildings of the rank and file of the E. group, which could be settled on the c. 10m high resting place.
The building types planned by the 11th Department of the War Ministry and put at the disposal of our Committee process are usually suitable for their purposes. Taking into account that the N. group is 800m from the other buildings of the rank and file soldiers, and that the majority of this distance is easily observable from the enemy side, it would be advisable - and the Committee suggests - that a separate kitchen should be built for 100 persons from the two buildings for the rank and file soldiers of the Northern group. The kitchen being built for the other two groups should be designed only for 150 persons, and a storehouse should be constructed on the position remaining.
In order to obtain information on the ownership rights of the 3rd group of buildings, the committee made enquiries with the village magistracy but they could give neither data from the land registry, nor records about the land division, or even land registry sketch, because these all were destroyed in World War I. The chief notary of the village had told us that certain land registry data might be available in the Gyergyószentmiklós land registry office, where we could also examine the land registry sketch. So the committee will make this survey in Gyergyószentmiklós and the results will be recorded as an annex to these minutes.
The staff number of the fort company established on 1st October is described in the initial part of these minutes. This staff would be accommodated in the present lodgings of the workers hired by the fortification branch. These lodgings have already been renovated for this purpose.
From the W. M. 35. department:
When the set-up of the Tölgyes E. valley block takes place it has to be taken into account that the position of the barracks must be marked in the fortification zone because of the immediate neighbourhood of the border and the junction of 3 valleys. Consequently, the barracks of the rank and file soldiers planned by the M11. department have to be settled at the bottom of the valley, while the other barracks should be placed in the vacant lots alongside the inner road of the village. The barracks of the rank and file soldiers has to be painted dark green and the other buildings being erected has to be painted in the colours of the surrounding civilian homes for the purpose of camouflage against bombs. The roof of the new buildings of the fort company has to be covered by wooden tiles (usual custom in the village), and the roof has to be coloured different shades of dark grey. This procedure would serve as camouflage against air attack. Also, the buildings will have to have air-raid shelters to protect against light grenades.
The water supply of the barracks is being planned by the Committee as follows: the water supply of the N. group can be assured from the spring rising at the foothills of the Vöröskő by tapping into the spring and a gravitational water supply line. Supplemental well-sinking is also possible at about 100m from the barracks. The water supply of the E. and W. group can be resolved by connecting to the water supply line of the barracks of the 21st Frontier Guard Battalion, which is about 250m away from the centre of the group. By doing this it might become necessary to enlarge the water pump and the service basin for the barracks of the frontier guard battalion.
The electricity supply of the barracks can be resolved by the enlargement of the Diesel electric power station of the barracks of the 21st Frontier Guard Battalion with a low voltage electric cable.”
The construction of the barracks of the frontier guard units of the Hungarian Royal Army also demanded extraordinary efforts at that time. The barracks, which had been built then, are still intact to this day. Some of them remained barracks, in their original function, but they also became youth camps, hospitals, resting places, and housing estates.
68 Fortification instructions. Published by the Hungarian Royal Fortification Headquarters (date not marked). Manifold, without date.
69 Polgári alkalmazottak felfogadásával kapcsolatos rendelkezések gyűjteménye. M. Kir. Erődítési Parancsnokság, (The collection of instructions connected with the employment of Civilians. Hungarian Royal Fortification Headquarters) 3500/1941.
70 Military Archive, A Honvéd Építési igazgatóság iratai. (The Documents of the Construction Directorate of the Hungarian Royal Army). 96. Box, 87.