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The Battle for Torda 1944

Stalin's Europe

The Battle for Torda 1944

In late August 1944 the Hungarian command decided to make a push towards the Southern Carpathian Mountains to seize the passes before the Red Army could move through them. They faced the Romanian First Army, which was made up of a mix of units still rebuilding after the campaign in the Crimea and training units. The Romanians soon added the reforming Fourth Army to the troops gathering in Transylvania. The campaign was to be entirely conducted by Hungarian troops with the Germans still withdrawing from Romania or committed to fighting further north.

The Hungarian Second Army, under General Lajos Veress, was mobilised for the task with the IX and II Corps. While the IX Corps was to hold Northern Transylvania, it was up to the II Corps to push south. Initially the II Corps had just the 7th and 9th Field Replacement Divisions, but more experienced troops were transferred from the north to take part and the 2nd Armoured Division and 25th Infantry Division arrived in early September. 

The attack was finally launched at dawn on 5 September 1944. By this stage the Hungarian command had given up on their initial plan to push to the Southern Carpathian passes and instead simply wanted to establish a more defensible line along the Maros River. Veress decided to straighten out the salient between Marosvásárhely (Targu Mures) and Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca).

Meanwhile Soviet units of the Second Ukrainian Front moved through Vulcan Pass in the Southern Carpathians and captured Brassó (Brașov) and Nagyszeben (Sibiu). The Soviets then intended to capture Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca), and expected little resistance. The Romanians had also been building up their force in the area and had assembled some 11 divisions, though not all of them were up to full strength.

General Lajos Veress

Hungary 1944

During the first five days of the attack the 9th Field Replacement Division had advanced along the Kolozsvár-Tordá main road. To their right units of 7th Field Replacement Division move down the road from Magyarlóna (Luna de Sus) to Borrév (Buru) on the Aranyos (Arieş) River. On the left flank in the area of Vasasszentgotthárd (Sucutard) the 2nd Armoured Division’s attack moved towards Nagysármás (Sărmaşu) and surprised the Romanian border guards, who either retreated or surrendered. The only Romanian resistance encountered was from the outposts of the 20th Infantry Training Division, but their resistance was weak, and the Romanians soon broke off.

By the evening of 5 September the 9th Field Replacement Division had taken Tordá and the 3rd Tank Regiment of the 2nd Armoured Division had reached Marosludas (Luduş). On the 7th Field Replacement Division’s line there was little or no resistance and they took Borrév without a fight. The first battalions of the veteran 25th Infantry Division also joined the attack at Nagyvárad (Oradea).

Hungarian Bicycle Scout

On 6 September the German reconnaissance troops observed Soviet tanks in the area of Nagyszeben (Sibiu). General Veress did not halt his troops, he considered a defeat of the Romanians as good for the soldiers’ morale. The armoured troops attacking on the left flank reached Dicsőszentmárton (Târnăveni) on 7 September, in the centre 9th Field Replacement Division troops took Marosújvár (Ocna Mureş) and Felvinc (Unirea), and the 7th Field Replacement Division stood before Nagyenyed (Aiud). The appearance of Soviets and General Rozin’s Romanian Armoured Division halted Hungarian attacks on 9 September and the Hungarian troops on the Aranyos - Maros line withdrew back to where defence would be made easier by the terrain, especially at Tordá and Aranyosegerbegy (Viişoara). This line, which was already held by three battalions of the 25th Infantry Division, was particularly good for defence with the Maros River running in front of it. It was also protected by north bank of the river valley, which was flanked by steep hills slopes 60 to 80 metres high.

The Hungarian attack had taken the Soviet command by surprise and they decided to reinforce with area with more troops as well as launching an attack of their own towards Tordá in cooperation with the Romanian Fourth Army. The Hungarians were able to hold this line against attacks by the Romanian Fourth and Soviet 27th Armies for the next few days.

The 25th Infantry Division had started taking up positions on 12 September, first taking up defensive positions at the river crossing points before Tordá and Aranyosegerbegy. Of the division’s nine battalion only three were immediately available to fight at Tordá, four others were deployed with the 7th and 9th Field Replacement Divisions in rearguard actions while two more were still on route to the front by train and expected to arrive on 13 September. Another battalion arrived by foot from the rear the same day.
Battle of Torda

On 13 September the Soviet 5th Guards Tank Corps appeared behind the retreating Hungarian troops near Alsószentmihály (Mihai Viteazu) west of Tordá, causing some panic. An ad hoc defensive battle developed in the evening and into the next day, with Colonel Géza Böszörményi, commander of the 25th Infantry Regiment, holding off the Soviet thrust with III Battalion/25th Infantry Regiment, 59th Pioneer Battalion and the 25th Heavy Anti-tank Company. By the next day the Hungarians had knocked out seven Soviet tanks.

In the afternoon the Romanian 20th Infantry Training Division arrived in the area of Aranyospolyán (Poiana) lying east of the city and began to attack through the Szent János valley in the direction of Sósfürdő (the salt baths). 

Hungarian infantry learn about the Panzerfaust

The area was only held by I Battalion/1st Infantry Regiment. After heavy fighting, in which the battalion’s commander was killed, the enemy pushed into the east of Tordá. The situation was finally restored with a counterattack by I Battalion/25th Infantry Regiment.

The Soviet 6th Guards Tank Army was not only attacking the left of the city on 13 and 14 September, but was also attempting to out flank to the west of the city. By then the 25th Infantry Division had deployed to the right of the 2nd Mountain Reserve Brigade, and they were able to halt the Soviet attack launched towards Tordátúr (Tureni). However, they were only able to stave off the attack at great loss. They deployed a weak battalion at the most critical points in small German style blocking groups with high firepower and anti-tank support. Thus, the encirclement of the city was stopped.

Soviet T-34.85 tank The motorised 75mm anti-tank guns (PaK40) of the 25th Assault Artillery Battalion’s 1st Battery, under Captain Vilmos Vértes, also played an important role in halting the Soviet armour. The previous two days, while under very heavy mortar and artillery fire, the battery knocked out three tanks, a rocket launcher, and a few other weapons, and seven more Soviets tanks were immobilised. The next day while fighting off an infantry assault on his gun’s positions Captain Vértes was killed. He was later awarded Officer’s Gold Medal for Bravery.
On 15 September the Soviet High Command directed Marshal Malinovsky to advance on the Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca) – Beszterce (Bistriţa) line, crush the Hungarian and German forces in Transylvania, and then attack in north-easterly direction and unite in the Carpathian Mountains with the Fourth Ukrainian Front. The operation’s ultimate aim was to outflank the German Sixth, Eight and Hungarian Second Armies, in short to destroy the entirety of German Army Group South Ukraine. The Battle of Tordá quickly evolved in an effort to prevent this. It would prove to be one of the war’s most successful operations for the Royal Hungarian Army.

On 15 September the Soviets launched the first big attack on Tordá. This was again in the direction of Sósfürdő (the salt baths), but only after a massive artillery preparation. At the same time, an overwhelming attack was launched against the 26th Infantry Regiment’s bridgehead at Aranyosegerbegy. The 25th Infantry Division commander , a brave man with a reputation as a tough nut, requested support from the II Corps when it became clear that the weight of the enemy attack was north through Sósfürdő in the direction Tordá.

Hungarians march to the front
Major-General László Hollósy-Kuthy

The attack proved too powerful for the 26th Infantry Regiment to hold the eastern edge of Tordá. However, they managed to slow the attack before withdrawing.

With the situation becoming critical the 2nd Armoured Division counterattacked. The division, positioned northeast of the city, launched a counterattack to the south. However, the enemy proved stubborn and the attack stalled against strong resistance. The Soviets and Romanians were able to hold the plateau stretching to the east of the Tordá bridgehead.

On 16 September the 2nd Armoured Division and the 25th Infantry Division made preparations for their next counterattack, aimed south between Sósfürdő and Point 367 to eliminate the enemy bridgehead. The following day, the counterattack was launched by the 25th Infantry Regiment supported by a battle group of the 2nd Armoured Division. They were hit by incredibly heavy enemy artillery and rocket fire, and their progress was halted before they could reach their targets.

Another Hungarian attack began at 1100 hours on 19 September after a strong and coordinated artillery preparation. The 25th Infantry Regiment and supporting 10th Assault Artillery Battalion captured the northern river embankment, but the 2nd Armoured Division’s 6th Motorised Infantry Battalion was blocked before Point 367. Together they could not eliminate the Soviet bridgehead. The enemy’s extremely tough resistance was characterised by one particular Red Army infantry battalion of 300 men of the Soviet 4th Guards Rifle Division that was encircled, but kept fighting. At the end of the battle 200 men lay where they had fought and died. During the day the capable Colonel Geza Boszormenyi died heroically at the head of his troops on the eastern edge of the Tordá cemetery, just a few hundred yards from the tomb of his parents, when he was hit by rocket fire. However, the tenacious defence of the Soviet Guardsmen had halted the Hungarian thrust and the Red Army still held the bridgehead.

The next few days passed relatively quietly as both sides took stock of the situation. However, heavy artillery fire continued to be exchanged between both sides.

At 0800 hours on 22 September hostilities continued anew. After unprecedented heavy artillery preparation, in the narrow space between Sósfürdő and the Szent János Valley, the Soviet 180th Rifle Division began an attack, with support from 5th Guards Tank Corps’ motorised rifleman and 30 to 40 T-34 tanks. At the same time east of the railway line the Soviet 4th Guards Rifle Division attacked with three regiments. On the 4th Guards Rifle Division’s eastern flank the Romanian 7th Infantry Division advanced. The attack first struck along the riverbank northwards, hitting the 2nd Armoured Division, before the full force of the attack hit the Sósfürdő and Szalonnás area against the 25th Infantry Division.
Romanian Infantry
Ensign János Bozsoki

The thrust towards Sósfürdő encountered the 10th Assault Artillery Battalion’s 1st Battery with six Zrínyi II assault howitzers under the command of Ensign János Bozsoki. Bozoki’s battery knocked out 18 T-34 tanks during the day’s fighting preventing the encirclement of Tordá. Later in the day Bozoki returned to the front line to rescue seriously wounded comrades and recover damaged assault howitzers. He was awarded the Officers’ Gold Medal for Bravery.

However, the Soviets also attacked the Tordá bridgehead from the west where the 1st Infantry Regiment and 2nd Reserve Mountain Brigade defended the front line. At 1200 hours to the south the 25th Infantry Division front was virtually split in two, the gap was only closed by the 3rd Motorized Infantry Regiment’s counterattack with supporting armour. In Egerbegyi and the northeastern sector of the city the defence firmly held, but could not hold the key high ground at Point 429.

The I Battalion/25th Infantry Regiment played a major role in the fighting, during which  also won the Officers’ Gold Bravery Medal for his leadership. He was almost always at the head of his troops with his rifle in hand. However, it became clear to the defenders that is was impossible to hold the city on their own against the overwhelming numbers the Soviets and Romanian could throw at them.

On 23 September, at Vaskapu (Iron Gate) and Sósfar in the east-northeast of the city, the German 23. Panzerdivision arrived with two panzergrenadier regiments and about 65 tanks. The German Panzertruppen attacked at dawn. This powerful counterattack was on a wide front, but narrowed when it hit Point 367 where a Soviet bridgehead remained. During the battle the Germans destroyed five Soviet tanks, a self-propelled gun, and 37 anti-tank guns. The panzergrenadiers took 35% losses. The situation was more severe in the west, where the Soviet 18th Guard Mechanised Brigade’s tanks reached Komjátszeg and the Tordá - Kolozsvár road. The situation was stabilised with the deployment of the German troops in the western sector.

Major László Siprák
Romanian Mountain Machine-gunner The next few days remained stable around Tordá, with no heavy attacks by the Soviets. However, the Soviet 18th Guards Mechanized Brigade, Romanian mountain troops and infantry continue to jointly probe in the northwest to encircle the Komjátszeg and Tordátúr area. The Soviets moved their focus from the west of Tordá on 2 October to the southeast in front of Aranyosegerbegy. They attacked the German-Hungarian line, but four Soviet rifle divisions were halted south of Tordá.

On 4 October repeated Soviet attacks from the west pushed the front line back east of the Tordá - Kolozsvár road. To the east of Tordá the Soviet-Romanian penetration was further exploited by tank forces, so that by the end of the day Tordá had been almost encircled. To prevent the full encirclement a counterattack was needed, so the Hungarian defensive line commander, General Veress, left just a small holding group on the southern edge of Tordá, and moved the bulk of his troops to the north of the city, withdrawing the defensive line. With this move Hungarian and German troops had effectively abandoned Tordá.

From 13 September the Hungarian Second Army together with German troops had obstructed attempts by 11 Soviet and Rumanian infantry divisions, a Soviet Guards Tank Corps and a Guards Mechanised Corps to breakthrough towards Kolozsvár.

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Last Updated On Thursday, May 26, 2011 by Wayne at Battlefront