The Fight Continues to Continue: Hungary 1944
October 17 Tuesday
The German High Command had issued its withdrawal order and for the Russians it was clear that Debrecen would soon be theirs. Many of the Russian troops celebrated as they entered into the city fringe, firing their weapons wildly for no reason. The German engineers busily were destroying their manufacturing, stores, railways, etc. Overhead, Russian aircraft buzzed over. German rearguard units contested when they could. Black smoke filled the air towards Nagyverdo. This was not a Stalingrad or Breslau situation, the Germans were not determined to hold Debrecen, in fact, they were too weak to do so. The local populace struggled with the lack of food and the Red soldier who committed numerous rapes and other killings upon them.
The Russian Pliyev mechanized and cavalry group was ordered to send the 7th Mechanized Corps from Derecske-Sarand-Mikepercs area into Debrecen. The 4th Guards Cavalry Corps was ordered to attack towards Hajdúszováton and through it to occupy the countryside adjacent to the city. The 6th Guards Cavalry Corps was ordered to advance from Hajdúszoboszló towards Debrecen ending on the northwest side of it.
The 3rd Panzer Corps withdrew in safety as did 1st Panzer Division that also received orders to withdraw at around 0900.
During the day, the German situation went into critical care, when the Russian Gorskov cavalry and tank group busted through east of Debrecen and advanced towards Mihályfalva. This was a smart Russian to outflank the German defenses surrounding Debrecen. It was a serious issues for between the German 6th and 8th Armies some 40-50 km was NOT defended at all!
Such a threat was that some Russian units had reached the 3rd Panzer Corps rear positions sending non-combat troops into a frenzy. Quickly, supply issues arose for the Germans and called upon air supply drops for those units isolated.
This emergency actually created a situation where elements of the 24th Panzer Division and the newly arrived 503rd Tiger Tank Battalion were now committed to join the struggling 4th SS PG Division attacking east from Sznolok.
The 24th Panzer left from the DuklaPass on the 11th and arrived in Budapest to quell the potential Hungarian betrayal. The 503rd had also arrived from France for the same purpose. When the 24th Panzer departed from DuklaPass, it had an assortment of tanks in the armor regiment, only 20 Pz IV and StGs. Its 2nd Bn\21st PG and 2nd Bn\26th PG were carried in various types of trucks. Like most of the panzer divisions in Hungary, it was threadbare. Some sources indicate the 24th Panzer Division actually had only three Pz III, 18 StG III, and 22 Pz IV. Its actual strength was a full company. Operationally speaking, on Oct.1, the division could deploy:
14 Pz IV
4 StG III
3 Pz III Command
7 Armor Cars with 150mm
The 503rd Tiger Battalion arrived from France. While in France, the unit fought the British near Caen in July. At that time it contained 33 Tiger I and 12 Tiger II. It fought there until September when it was transferred to Paderhorn for refurbishment. There, it received 45 new Tiger II, and arrived in Hungary to help suppress the Hungarian “coup d’etat” on Oct 13-14.
It arrival at the 4th Panzer Corps near Budapest was welcome but none of the troops had trained together. It was decided to have the Tiger unit support both the 4th SS PG and 24th Panzer Division in German counterattack.
The 6th Army was informed that both the 24th Panzer and 503rd Tiger would attack with the 4th SS PG in an effort to relieve the struggling and weakened 3rd Panzer Corps commanded by Breith. The Germans were confident they could bust through a Russian line consisting mostly of infantry. But the Germans were already withdrawing from Debrecen, so any success would be useless.
As the German counterattack force gather, the real battle continued with the Russian 23rd Tank Corps breaking through towards Mihaly—unobstructed. The only German forces around were weak reconnassiance forces.
The downside for the Russians with the numerous breaks in the German lines was that now the Russian units also needed to be resupplied and fueled. This was not easy as the Germans were weak but daring. The Russian spearheads had fragile supply lines, which tenuously stretched farther and farther. While the Russians created havoc for the 3rd Panzer Corps units trying to flee and fight, by the same token, because of supply, the Russians did not take advantage of the gaps between Kába and Derecske,n Sáránd, or Nagylétát. The Russian success was now starting to hinder them. This allowed some breathing space for the Germans to regroup. Both the German FFH PG and 1st Panzer Divisions needed this.
Terrain and conditions played heavily in favor of the weakened Germans. In the Derecske vicinity was an area that was marshy and small lakes dotted the area. This force the tanks and mechanized troops to stick to roads, which were narrow. Muddy countryside also contributed the Russians inability to exploited across a vast area. All these events forced them to stay close to the main paved roads. The Germans deployed small groups and tanks at all the crossings and in all towns an villages, especially along the main roads. The Russian advance was fast until it was halted at one of the strongpoints and stopped until cleared. German troops were daring and struck back and their skill showed it. The Germans would resist until they were in a dangerous position and then withdraw. This made the advance slow. At one time, the Russian 2nd Cavalry Division and other mechanized forces attempted to out maneuver the Germans at Derecske and wasted much of the day dealing various small German counterattacks. Pliyev ordered his troops to remain close to the roads and concentrate their strength cauisng him major traffic jams.