János József Szabó:
The defence-system of the Hungarian Royal Army in the Eastern Carpathians
(Transleter: Mihály Benkő)


The book of Colonel-General Grechko A. A., Commander of the First Guards Army: "Across the Carpathians", gives detailed pictures about the fights of the 4. Ukrainian Front in the Eastern Carpathian Mountains from August to October 1944. So, I can introduce the operation of the Árpád-Line, this forgotten Hungarian fortification system from the point of view of that Army Commander who wanted to capture it.
Let us see, how general Grechko saw that theatre of war, where he had to attack:
"…There are many smaller or larger rivers and streams in the valleys and ravines of the Eastern Carpathians, which divide the mountains in different directions. Because of this dismemberment several blocks of mountains came into being, their length may be 10-12 kilometres. Although the Carpathian rivers are usually shallow, their large number, their steep banks, and the separate mountain ranges, valleys and ravines made the Carpathian Mountains almost inaccessible for troops and mechanised military equipment. The majority of the slopes of the mountain ranges and the forests covering the mountains also made the movements and activities of the troops extremely difficult. (Page 65.)
So, the Carpathian Mountains meant enormous and complicated natural obstacle for our troops on the routes of advance. The possibilities of passing them were restricted by the fact that there were comparatively few passes with routes for trucks, coaches, or railway. The infantry could cross the Carpathians in almost all directions on the mountain paths with its arms - even with machine-guns and with mine throwers transported on pack animals. But the trucks, jeeps, tanks and artillery could advance only on the roadways. These corps of arms could advance on other kind of routes only in dry weather. In certain sections the light and middle calibre artillery followed the fighting order of the infantry not only across the most important passes.. Their units surmounted the natural obstacles of the mountains by the help of the infantry and engineer troops, advancing on earth roads and on tracks (Page 107).
This difficult terrain provided very favourable conditions for the defending side and made the situation of the attacking troops very difficult. The Árpád line was constructed in the narrow valleys of the Carpathian Mountains, running towards the inner parts of the country. In 1944, when the Red Army was approaching, two other defence lines were built in the Carpathian submountain region in order that the enemy could not close on the main defence line with an attack from the march column.. This way the full depth of the defensive system was even 40-50 kilometres at some places. The Hunyadi post was a chain of strong localities1, and field fortifications built up for infantry troops connected them. The St. László post was marked out at the border of the country. It consisted trenches, dug still in the First World War and obstacles. This was the first defensive line which should have been broken through from march column by the left wing of the First Ukrainian Front and by the Fourth Ukrainian Front which pursued the retreating Hungarian-German troops. They would have had to do it with those forces and combat equipment which were just at their disposal in the given time. Colonel-General Grechko remembers about these events as follows:
"As our troops advanced among the foothills of the Carpathian mountains the resistance of the enemy became always stronger and stronger. The broken terrain helped the enemy's preparation for a strong defence on the advance routes of the Fourth Ukrainian Front. But our hard strike forced the enemy to pull back its troops slowly even in this exceptionally difficult situation to the Carpathian Mountains between 6-12 August. In spite of this the efforts of our troops for continuing the advance was not successful between 12-15 August. The higher units of the Fourth Ukrainian Front stopped their advance in the terrain sector reached till then. (Page 149)
...By the middle of August the troops of the Fourth. Ukrainian Front took up contemporary stationary positions. The operational break was used by the commanders, staffs and political organs to reinforce the staff, the armament, the means of transport and the technical equipment for the execution of the new offensive tasks in the wooded-mountainous terrain conditions. (Page 83.).
Thus the advance of the troops of the Fourth Ukrainian Front was halted. (They did nit stop by themselves! J. J. Sz.) at the Hunyadi posts, so still at the outer defensive line of Hungary. Of course, General Grechko, the learned professional army leader knew well, why the Soviet army leadership stopped the useless offensive efforts of the Red Army. However, he keeps silent modestly about the facts that the Fourth Ukrainian Front had not enough forces to overcome the defensive system of the Carpathian Mountains and meantime the Second Ukrainian Front launched the so-called Iasi-Kishinev operation which led to the outflanking of the Carpathian Mountains. Because of these events, series of slow, scrupulous operations were necessary to contain those Hungarian and German forces which were fighting in the Eastern Carpathians. The Red Army already passed the Eastern Carpathians from the North on the territory of Poland, in the main theatre of the war, so a German blow from southern direction into the back of the Soviet armies advancing towards Berlin could have been very unpleasant. Thus of the Fourth Ukrainian Front had a really very important task. It was not sufficient to launch operations with only defensive character, the Fourth Ukrainian Front had to continue offensive activity. This was not a simple task, because:
"Advancing in mountainous terrain is one of the most difficult type of all military activities. The order of battle, extremely restricted and deeply divided, and the extended supply lines sometimes make the frontal manoeuvres almost impossible, or even impossible. The organisation of the signal-system, the co-operation and the combat safeguarding becomes very much complicated. The enormous fortifications in the narrow valleys of the mountain rivers excluded the frontal attacks. Continuing the offensive is possible only by outflanking manoeuvres, which avoid the fortified sectors, through pathless regions.." (Page 78.).
The reconnaissance data at the disposal of the Red Army about the fortification system constructed on the Hungarian border were quite assorted:
At the beginning of our offensive the Carpathian fortification system of the enemy was set up from an advanced defence line running through the northwestern slopes of the foothills, from several internal defence zones constructed for the defence of the most important strategic directions, and from a permanent fortification system positioned on the main range of the Carpathian mountains. This latest line was the main defence line of the enemy in the Carpathian Mountains. (Page 79.).
In practice, "the most important fortification system on the main range of the Carpathian mountains" was the so-called St. László position, constructed by the help of the posts remaining from the First World War. This was designed to be only contemporary defensive position, in order that there would be still an intermediate line where the retreating troops could hang on for a while. The most important fortification line was the Árpád line which was constructed in the narrowing valleys running inside the country, at 15-25 kilometres from the border. These valleys were closed by valley blocks.
The valley block created for all-round defence was usually set up from 15-20 reinforced concrete shelters. The shelters were purposely built without loop-holes, for the sake of the safety of the personnel and the armament. Trenches led from the shelters, covered by 60-100 cm thick overhead protection to the open firing positions. The basic cell of the valley block, made up from cell-like parts was the squad defence post, able and obliged to independent perpendicular defence. The valley block were defended by the so-called fort companies, which did not differ much from the infantry companies but they had more automatic weapons, trench-mortars and armour piercing weapons then them. The defence sectors of those frontier guard battalions which supervised these fort companies were constructed 4-10 kilometres behind the strongholds of the fort companies.
Marauding frontier guard companies held the communication posts on the ridges between the valley blocks. In case of war field fortifications, built and defended by infantry troops, so-called "bastion posts" run on the ridges. The frontier guard battalions did not mean alone the rear border of the fortification system. In case of necessity mountain fighter troops or infantry units were also prepared to repulse the enemy's attack.
The troops of the Fourth Ukrainian Front did not reach the Árpád line in the course of their operations in September-October 1944. They only captured a part of the passes, the above mentioned St László positions.
" The main defence line of the enemy which was facing the Fourth Ukrainian Front run on the state border, alongside the main range of the Carpathian Mountains. The mountainous terrain made it possible to construct a system of permanent line of fort fire emplacements and tank obstacles, reinforced by field-type accessories. All mountain passes usable for advance of the troops were closed by defensive posts. The antitank obstacles, pits and ditches, barriers, bars, the creation of strong defence on the mountains slopes beside the roads, on the river flats and in the river beds, the dense mine belts on the approaching routes, the artillery and machine gun fire of the permanent equipment made the fortified sectors unapproachable for frontal assaults. The so-called Árpád-line could be broken through only by outflanking manoeuvres. (Page 81.).
Colonel-General Grechko also describes why the many times mentioned outflanking manoeuvres were necessary. He believed the Árpád line to be a strong defensive system, in spite of the fact that it was only a torso. There were hardly any fortifications on the mountain ridges between the valley blocks, and there were not enough Hungarian troops to close all the gaps.
"The enemy set up altogether 99 strongholds, 759 permanent reinforced constructions, 394 earth covered structures, 439 open firing posts, 400 kilometres of trenches and ditches, 135 kilometres long antitank and anti-infantry obstacles (ditches, mounds and dug-outs, barricades). The weak side of the enemy's Carpathian defence was that the cuttings of positions were missing and there were interim sectors without fortification alongside the main mountain range, between certain important directions"
I emphasise one more description of the General Grechko's detailed reports. The 17th Guards Infantry Corps, being active in independent direction on the left wing of the Fourth Ukrainian Front pushed forward across the Tatár pass, in the direction of Kőrösmező-Rahó-Máramarossziget. So, beside the pass, the corps had to occupy or outflank the valley blockades of Kőrösmező and Rahó as well.
"The Soviet combat forces had to breach the defence stronghold of Kőrösmező which was one of the strongest mountain fortification of the Árpád line. The locality named Kőrösmező lies alongside the White Tisza and the Black Tisza rivers. Three roads lead to the village from Mikulichin, Brustura and Vorochta… The enemy left this locality out of its defence line, and built only four pillboxes to control the road. The defence junction was organised at the southern edge of Kőrösmező, where the terrain was narrow and there was only one road leading into Radó.
The defence junction of Kőrösmező was set up from 19 strong points lined up without interruption just beside each other. Each of them consisted two or three opened firing posts and reinforced concrete and log pillboxes. Besides all these, many strong posts had also battery emplacements and tactical headquarters. All strong points were made suitable for perpendicular defence, defiled entrenchment connected the accessories, and open trenches assured the connection with the neighbouring posts. The fire system was also organised perpendicularly, the barbed wire entanglements followed the lines of the strong point. Each stronghold had mutual connection with the neighbouring posts ,and they assured that the roads approaching the forward edge of the battle area would be kept under fire in the front area of the obstacles. Besides, the positions also got fire-support from mine throwers. The posts of the mine throwers were set up as follows: the first post was alongside the railway, the second one was eastward from the first one, behind the opposite slope of the foothill; and the third one was on the right bank of the Tisza river, in the flood area.
A cart road led through the territory of the Kőrösmező junction, which was lying on the left bank of the Tisza river. Bridges were built for the connection with the right bank of the river across the flood area and the river.
There were also barbed wire entanglements in the other sections of the defensive line. They formed a tent-like net fixed to two rows of piles. Our advance forces found even wires filled with electricity. There were bare wires stretched between reinforced concrete columns supplied by rubber insulation. The defenders placed here two high powered generators and let 3000 voltage electricity into the wires". (Page 166).
Reading over the book of Colonel-General Grechko we get information about the successful advance of the Soviet troops, about repulsing of the enemy's counter-strikes, and also about energetic attacks, about the bitter, obstinate resistance of the enemy, But we get an astonishing result if we pay more attention to the list of the localities and topographic points liberated, captured end then re-captured by the enemy, re-establishing by this the original situation after a contemporary pullback. It is not necessary to make any counting because the author always summarise the results of the battles and also his experiences. Thus:
"The most important result of the 18 days' (9-28 September) offensive of the First Guards Army, of the Eighteenth. Army and of the 17th Guards Infantry Corps was that their troops crossed the main range of Carpathian Mountains and occupied the zone of the passes. The troops of the two armies advanced into 4-7 kilometres depth. In the course of their advance they used the few mountain tracks and they often had to build new roads using the forces and equipment at their disposal (Page 218.).
4-7 kilometres advance in a month's time. This cannot be told to be a really energetic offensive operation. And the attacks were led not only for appearance. The Soviet troops were well prepared for the combats among the mountains. Their supply lines were also very well organised, during the operational breaks the troops were reinforced and brought up to full strength. It was not an exhausted and battle-weary army which could not get across the front line of the defending troops of the First (Hungarian) Army. Then why the Soviet troops were not able to get inside Hungary from East-Northeast? General Grechko gave an answer for this question too by keeping modestly in silent about the successes of the Second Ukrainian Front in the Rumanian direction. He betrayed himself only in the summaries sometimes.. It happened so in this case too.
"The enemy got exhausted during the hard fights in the sectors westward and southward from Kőrösmező They suffered heavy losses, that's why they could not hold the fortified sector of Kőrösmező. Because all of these facts and because of the successful operations of the troops of the Second Ukrainian Front - their troops outflanked the First Hungarian Army from the South - the enemy was forced to pull back its troops from the sector of Kőrösmező towards Rahó and further on, towards Máramarossziget. The units of the 17th Guards Infantry Corps began to pursue the enemy by 15 October… On the 18th October, in the course of pursuing the enemy, the 17th Guards Infantry Corps seized Máramarossziget lying on the bank of the Tisza river (in Northern Transylvania). It happened in this sector that 17th Guards Corps got into immediate contact with its neighbours, with the right wing troops of the Second Ukrainian Front. (Page 218).
Before these events the centre of the Second Ukrainian front occupied already even Debrecen, and its left wing reached the Danube River at Baja. So, even General Grechko himself admitted that the Hungarian and German troops, the defenders of the Árpád line in the Carpathian Mountains retreated only when the Second Ukrainian front threatened them with surrounding from the South. Earlier the offensive of the Fourth Ukrainian Front could not develop and did not gain ground. In other words, the Fourth Ukrainian front could not break through the Árpád line, it occupied it, only following that First Hungarian Army, which retreated because of the danger of being surrounded.
It happened during the rear-guard fights the of the troops which were retreating from the valley block and from the strong posts of the Árpád line that the Hungarian Home Defence Forces began to disintegrate. The Hungarian troops became really demoralised by the unsuccessful try of the break-away with the Germans, by the successful coup d'état by the Hungarian Nazi Party, by the loss of a significant part of the Hungarian lands, by the fact that the Hungarian troops got subordinated to German command. "The 4. Volume of "The History of the Great Patriotic War, 1941-19452 - this monograph cannot be accused of any inclination towards the Hungarians - summarises the Carpathian operations in the autumn of 1944 as follows:
"The Fourth Ukrainian Front and the Second Ukrainian Front closely co-operated in the period of the Debrecen operation. The troops of the Fourth Ukrainian front began the Carpathian-Ungvár operation on the 9th September. Having reached the Soviet-Czechoslovakian border, they occupied the Radnai-Pass and the Orosz-(Russian) Pass for the end of the month and then they continued their offensive. The task of the troops for October was to cross the Carpathian mountains, and reach the sector of Ungvár and Munkács.
However, the Fourth Ukrainian Front had only insignificant successes in the first half of October. The enemy offered hard resistance, taking advantage of the woody-mountainous terrain, and of the strong obstacles on the passes,. The First Guards Army (commander: Colonel General Grechko) was forced to abandon the offensive on the 18th of October. Meantime the right wing corps of the Eighteenth Army, advancing in the centre of the front-line (commander: Lieutenant General Zhuravljov).outflanked the Uzsoki-Pass and by dealing a blow to Stavnoje it cut the road to the pass and forced the enemy to retreat. The left wing corps of the army occupied the Verecke-Pass and advanced a few kilometres into southern direction. The independent l7th Guards Infantry Corps (commander: Major General Gastilovich) fought without success on the left wing of the front, in the sector of Kőrösmező, until 14th October. However, the troops of the Second Ukrainian Front reached the region of Debrecen and Nyíregyháza and this fact seriously endangered the supply basis of the first Hungarian Army. So, the enemy began to pull back its troops the on the 15th of October.
The 17th Guards Infantry Corps and later also the left wing corps of the Eighteenth Army began to persecute the retreating enemy. The operational situation significantly changed on the front line of the Fourth Ukrainian Front. On the 16th October Colonel General Béla Miklós, the Commander of the First Hungarian Army escaped to the Red Army and summoned his officers and soldiers to follow his example in a declaration. For this reason the German Headquarters accelerated the withdrawal of this army." (213-218 pages)
Yes. True, the Hungarian Royal Army was already at the point of getting disintegrated.. The soldiers, fighting on the front did not sense either the political vibrations or the sudden changes of directions. Everything went on its way until the commands were unambiguous. They hardly knew anything about the attempt of the Hungarian government for flight from the alliance with the Germans. Even if they got to know it they waited for the command for execution. The whole army, together with its generals! But such a command did not arrive, they got only the summon for continuing the fight and the news about the terror of the Hungarian Nazis. Many soldiers saw and felt that the war was lost. There was no more strength and faith in them for the continuation of the combat. The Armed Forces were pulled forward or rather backward by the inertia, because of the constraint of the Germans and of the fear from the Soviets. The running of gauntlet of the Hungarian soldiers for life began.
One can raise the question: why is that fact important for us that alone the Árpád-line was such a fortification system in Europe which was not broken through in the Second World War? The expert of fortifications does not pose such question, he only studies the problem with interest and draws consequences from it. The "old-timer" Communist veteran, with class-struggle minded view of history does not want to believe the whole story, and he does not understand at all, why should one had to fight against the Heroic Liberators? Why it was necessary to build fortifications at all? Anybody can settle this problem for himself according to his own competence. I use the opportunity to quote the words of Hárosy Teofil, Colonel of the Engineer Corps, the dreamer and creator of the Árpád line:
It is beyond dispute that defence only postpones the decision, even in the best case. Victory in other words: forcing our will on the enemy - is possible only by attack. Even so, it is an ancient tradition that the defender sets up fortifications. If he becomes the loser, it happens s not because of his construction of fortifications. He is in defensive position because he feels himself to be week. Without the defender's fortifications of the task of the invader' is even easier. We can hear only the voice of the victor after a settled combat, and nobody will wrestle with the problem: how much efforts were necessary for him to attain his victory?