Blood and Armor on the Hungarian Plains, Oct. 1944
The Russian Army Comes Knocking
Friday, October 6, 1944, south of Debrecen, Hungary
October 6th began like many mornings for this time of year. There was the usual morning mist rising from the ground creating a fog. This would diminish early on. The Hungarian 3rd Army during the previous night had repulsed numerous small Russian reconnaissance attacks all across its front lines. The Hungarian 8thCorps at Mezokovac and Kunagotanal seemed to bear the brunt of most of these attacks. Everyone was waiting for the opening salvoes.
At 0430, it began. Thunderous and massive Russian artillery fire saturated the area. Russian units invaded Ketegyhazat and Gyula supported by tanks. At Antnal and Gyula, the German 22ndSS Cavalry Division repulsed many of the initial attacks. However, Russian infantry and armor quickly busted through the thinly defended lines in a western direction near Nagyszalonta. Near Biharugrara, the German 6th Army’s right flank was pierced by the Russians.
First to attack were the 4th Guards Cavalry Corps of Pliyev’s massive cavalry-armor group comprising of the 4th and 6th Guards Cavalry Corps, 7th Mechanized Corps.The 7th Mechanized Corps and the 4thGuards Cavalry Corps struck towards to Vasar area. These forces sliced and diced the Axis front lines from Lökösháza –Breda-Elek- Kétegyhaza – Békéscsaba- Mezoberény, Körösladány advancing towards Püspökladány. The 6thGuards Cavalry Corps moved as quickly towards Siklo-Simand-Gyulavári-Doboz-Veszto-Darvas and Foldes. The Russian 53rd Army attacked around 0500, as did the 18thTank Corps, which had been subordinated to it. These forces advanced towards Orosháza, as one tank brigade and motorized infantry units struck further south from Kunágota—Magyarbánhegyes. A hurricane was blowing towards the Hungarian front lines.
Russian units by 0600 had hacked through many of the Hungarian positions stretching from Arad-Békéscsaba. The 20thHungarian Division offered little effective resistance and soon a 40 km gap appeared. The Russian offensive continued to rapidly unfold in the area Békéscsaba-Bekes.The 8th Hungarian Division, defending a 20 km front, followed suit, the 23rd Hungarian Division, covering a front of 20 km failed as well. Everything fell to the Red tsunami.
Lt. Gen Heszlenyi, commander of the Hungarian 3rd Army issued orders to fall back at 0700, but already the Russian spearheads had encircled some Hungarian units. The Hungarian 23rd Division, 1stHungarian Armor Division defended and counterattacked Red forces in the Szolnok area, but the soon sought refuge on the other side of the wide Tisza River.
The communications between the Germans and Hungarians had been totally ripped apart. The German 57th and 3rd Panzer Corps did not learn of the Hungarian retreat until Noon! The 8th Hungarian Division in the Orosházá area dispersed into many splinter groups as they fell back to the city, by noon, the Russian 18thTank Corps had arrived. The division was surrounded by 2200. The bulk of the Russian divisions continued toward Orosházá, while Hungarian units sporadically attacked any gaps. Some of the gaps were breached by scattered and brave Hungarian forces, but the breaches did not last long.
Russian armor and mechanized infantry and cavalry fell upon numerous Hungarian groups and quickly devoured them. By the afternoon, one tank brigade (30-40 tanks) had already reached and taken Orosházát. The 7thMechanized Corps had reached Kondoroson by Noon, turning northwards. The German 57th Panzer Corps barely escaped. By 1700, the Russian advance had slowed and the Hungarian 3rdArmy was able to gather whatever remnants and form a weak defense line along the Sebes-Koros River.
For much of the day, the German High Command had been in the dark regarding the fast moving Russian offensive. At 2230, additional information had arrived indicating the Russians were moving northwest from Gyula towards numerous key crossing points along the Tisza River. What was left of the Hungarian 3rd Army immediately came under the 6th Army command. The 3rdPanzer Corps, General Beith, grappled with the fluidness of the battle attempting to key his 1st, 13th and 23rdPanzer Divisons intact and from being swept away. Breith had hoped to attack the Russian eastern flank, through Békéscsabán towards the north-west to reach Fehér-Körösön. Breith knew his three panzer divisions were threadbare, some divisions had only 30 tanks (when there was suppose to be 100)! The divisions were fatigued. No reinforcements were coming. The only thing going in the German favor were the numerous rivers the Russians had to cross and how clumsy they were in battle, relying on numbers to prevail rather than technique and skill.
The second portion of the Russian offensive was also launched, this codenamed, “Debrecen”. The Pliyev Group was ordered to seize the city. The Russian 53rd Army and the 18th Tank Corps had busted the German-Hungarian front wide open –over 40 km! The attack front alone was 100 km. During the first day, over 100 Hungarian villages and towns had been taken. There was a 150 km gap between the Hungarian 3rd Army and the German 6thArmy. One of the main objectives for the Russians was Sznolnok on the Tisza River. The river was a major barrier and few good bridges existed across it. It was critical to both sides. If the Russians were successful, their plan to trap the retreating German 8th Army and cut Hungary in half would spell doom to the German positions. They would have to fall back to Budapest.
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