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A scramble for the Carpathian ridges

Author : 🕔03.10.2012 📕22.804
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The territory of interwar Czechoslovakia long resembled a caterpillar, which was stretched in the east by the territory of Subcarpathian Russia. We used to perceive this area as an integral part of the Masaryk Republic. However, the connection of Subcarpathian Russia to the new territorial unit was far from easy and did not take place in the first months of the existence of the state unit.

The fact that already during the First World War the representatives of the Ruthenian emigration concluded an agreement with T.G. Masaryk, on the basis of which this hitherto Hungarian territory as an autonomous part was to be annexed to Czechoslovakia, does not change anything. On the first day after the official end of the war, on November 12, 1918, the American National Council of Hungarian Ruthenians approved the above plan. Even before the end of the year, two-thirds of the delegates supported the idea of joining Czechoslovakia in a plebiscite. At that time, this intention was also interpreted to the Hungarian government.


Picture from the first line of the fighting against the Hungarians

However, the situation directly in Subcarpathian Russia was somewhat more complicated. In addition to this possibility, there was some support for the possibility of connecting to Ukraine, Hungary, or. creation of an independent state. Budapest tried to blow up the embers while they were hot: in December 1918 it declared the autonomy of Subcarpathia. In January 1919, the National Council promoted a leaning towards Ukraine. The Uzhhorod Council, on the other hand, was in favor of autonomy within Hungary. Thus, the final meeting of the Central Russian National Council on May 8, 1919, decided in Uzhhorod to join Czechoslovakia. This choice was mainly due to the fear of Bolshevism. Independent Ukraine no longer existed at that time - its territory was annexed to Soviet Russia. The Communists were also in power in Hungary. This Uzhhorod memorandum became part of the documents for the peace conference. Legally, this step was definitively confirmed in September 1919, when it became part of the peace treaty in Saint Germain.

Occupation by the Czechoslovak army

Czechoslovak troops reached the territory of Subcarpathian Russia in January 1919 during the securing of the Slovak border. Then they reached Uzhhorod and occupied the line along the river Uh. A group of Czechoslovak troops under the command of Gen. Hennocque, concentrated in eastern Slovakia, began occupying Subcarpathian Russia on the morning of April 27, 1919. The reason for this order was concerns that as a result of a massive Romanian offensive against units of the Hungarian Communist Republic, the Council could lose this promised territory. Romanian troops approached Chop at that time.

However, there have already been minor clashes between our border units and the Hungarian army. The operation proceeded without any problems according to the prepared plan. The Third Brigade fought minor battles with the Hungarians, seized Vojan, Palovce and a nearby crossing of the river Uh. The next day, she grouped in Velké Kapušany and prepared to cross the Latorice River.


Czechoslovak soldiers in Perečín near Uzhhorod

The Sixth Brigade advanced through Uzhhorod to Strumovka. The next day there was fighting with the crew of the Hungarian armored train. The 5th Brigade was also successful: Its reconnaissance unit occupied two bridges over the Latorica River. The other units then crossed the river and occupied Čop. Then they continued to advance westward and merged with the 6th Legionnaire Division. The area east of Čop was meanwhile occupied by the 6th Brigade. Mukachevo was provided by the 1st Brigade. At the end of April, the occupation of Subcarpathian Russia was completed without major problems. The Hungarian troops, who were threatened with siege by Czechoslovak and Romanian troops, preferred to withdraw.

Republic of Hucul

The line of contact with the Romanian army proved to be a much bigger problem. She did not intend to clear the already occupied territory. There was a danger that a new conflict might break out. This time between Czechoslovakia and its current and future ally, Romania. Fortunately, this problem was averted by an expedited intervention at the commander of the Allied forces, Marshal Ferdinand Foch.  The future chief of our General Staff, Gen. Pellé determined a new demarcation line on May 9, 1919. Czechoslovak troops authorized the occupation of Subcarpathian Russia to the railway, which led from Uzlovoy through Sighet to Jasina. The railway remained in Romania because it needed it for planned joint operations with Poles and the creation of a new front against Bolshevik Russia. This period also includes the establishment of the so-called Hucul Republic. This small state unit was created in the territory of Subcarpathian Russia, occupied by the Romanian army. However, he literally had a poppy life.

Diplomatic skirmishes

Even at this stage, however, the struggle for Subcarpathian Russia did not end. They only moved from the army's operational area to the diplomatic fields. The closer the peace conference talked to the finals, the more frantically Hungary tried to avert the unfavorable text of the final treaty. He had considerable hope in the elections that took place in France at the end of 1919. And, above all, in the person of the new Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alexander Millerand, who emerged from them.


The task of the Italian legions after returning to their homeland was to cover the Slovak-Hungarian border

As early as January 1920, it played a diplomatic game aimed at representatives of the Agreement in Budapest. Its essence was Hungary's offer that its army was ready to fight Soviet Russia. In the following months, these proposals expanded to include very supportive offers for economic cooperation. It has been rumored that Budapest has the support of certain circles to acquire purely Hungarian territories, which were originally to be separated from Budapest.


The first governor of Subcarpathian Russia, Grigory Zhatkovich ( resigned in protest of the failure to grant the promised autonomy ) with the commander of the provincial headquarters, Gen. Paris

But the reality was somewhat different: In early June 1920, the Hungarian delegation signed a peace treaty in Trianon. The affiliation of Subcarpathian Russia to Czechoslovakia has not been questioned. The border copied the line created in the summer of 1919. The only thing the Hungarians managed to enforce was the cover letter to the peace conditions, indicating the possibility of possible changes.

Activities of gen. Hammelin

The activities of the head of the French military mission in Hungary, Gen. Hammelin. In June 1920, he visited Subcarpathian Russia and probed there how the local population treated Hungarians and what it would say about their country's annexation to Hungary. In a telegram received at the end of July 1920 by the Bratislava Provincial Military Command, Gen. Mittelhausser, he went even further. It stated that the Paris Ministry of Defense had informed him of the difficult situation in Poland. The Hungarian government is said to be afraid that the Czechoslovak army does not want or cannot defend the passes in eastern Slovakia and Subcarpathian Russia. If they fell into the hands of the Red Army, the gates of Hungary would open.The next part was almost in the form of an ultimatum: " It is possible that the Hungarian government will ask either Czechoslovakia or the Supreme Council for permission to occupy the four passes with its four divisions. "

The telegram also included a request for the general to answer the following three questions:

1. Has Czechoslovakia done or will it do everything necessary to prevent the Red Army from crossing the Carpathians?

2. Is he able to handle this task?

3. What is your opinion on possible help from the Hungarian army?

Pellé's successor as chief of staff gen. Mittelhausser was upset by the arrogance and skepticism of the question so much that he answered even before he had consulted with his superior. He immediately telegraphed back that the Czechoslovak government had taken all measures to prevent entry into its territory through the passes from Poland and Galicia to Slovakia and Subcarpathian Russia. At the same time, he also objected to doubts about the effectiveness of these measures. He concluded: "I am not competent to appreciate the political benefits of Hungarian aid, which has no chance of being accepted."

Preparation of the communist coup

The chief of staff of the Czechoslovak army, Gen. Maurice Pellé, reacted to this unprecedented step with even greater irritability. In an immediate telegram addressed to the Minister of War, Lefevre, and the commander of the Allied troops, Marshal Foche, he suspended the activities of Gen. Hammelin. "It is inappropriate and dangerous to address similar questions to my subordinates," he wrote, recalling that during his last visit to Paris, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Millerand persuaded him of the French government's will to respect the border set out in the peace treaty. "I am convinced that this integrity would be called into question if the Hungarian army occupied Subcarpathian Russia, albeit allegedly temporarily."


Gene. Pellé bends over the map around Uzhhorod

In the following days, the Yugoslav prince-regent Edvard Beneš warned that the Hungarian government intended to use communist-minded Hungarians living in Slovakia to provoke a left-wing revolt. This would then become a pretext for the intervention of the Hungarian army and the occupation of at least part of the territory.

Polish-Russian War

Here it is necessary to turn a little and explain the realities of the then policy in Central and Eastern Europe. From February 1919, the Polish-Russian War raged in the northeast of our territory. While the Russians wanted to extend the communist regime to Europe, the Poles, on the other hand, dreamed of occupying the eastern territories, which they controlled until the 18th century. At the beginning of 1919, the newly formed Soviet Western Army marched to Vilnius and Minsk. Her troops then advanced to the Neman-Shchara line. The Socialist Republic of Lithuania and Belarus were created on the newly occupied territory. The Polish army marched in two streams on February 9, 1919. They gradually conquered Vilnius, Lido, Novogrudok, Baranovichi and Minsk. The Red Army was forced to retreat and take the defensive line on the rivers Dvina and Berezina. In January 1920, the Poles, in cooperation with the Latvian National Army, occupied the city of Danaburg.

At the beginning of 1920, however, the Bolsheviks broke out of the fighting on several other fronts and began to withdraw their troops against the Poles. In April, they already had 20 divisions and five cavalry brigades on the front line with Poland. But the Poles also strengthened. They were trusted by the support of the treaty powers, especially France, which provided them with a large loan and began to supply military equipment.In this situation, the commander-in-chief of the Polish army, Jozef Pilsudski, decided to attack Ukraine.

The Bolsheviks were taken aback. Their crisis deepened even more when two Galician divisions switched to the enemy. Together with Ataman Petljuri's troops, Polish troops entered Kiev on May 7, 1920.


Third from left: gen. Mittelhausser - he was the one trying to get involved in a strange game about Subcarpathian Russia

However, the Red Army was able to recover from its initial setbacks very quickly. At the beginning of June, it launched a massive counterattack, which ended in mid-August just 19 km from Warsaw. And it is in the period of a series of Polish failures that the activities of the head of the French military mission in Budapest fall.

Operational plan B

The Czechoslovak government, somewhat with regard to not very good relations and territorial disputes with Poland, declared neutrality in this conflict. In addition, the left-wing population protested against the supply of our weapons and the transport of military equipment through our territory. Above all, the railway workers tried to stop the trains with weapons material. The largest campaign was conducted against the production of weapons in Pilsen's Skoda. There were also protests in Kladno, Bratislava, Břeclav and Liptovský Mikuláš. In this situation, therefore, it is not surprising that a certain nervousness of Paris.

Although perhaps France did not perceive it too much, there were also some concerns in Prague about the progress of the Red Army. A few weeks before blunt diplomatic activities gen. Hammelina drafted an operational directive with the main staff of the Czechoslovak army marked " B " ( ie " Bolshevism " ). Its essence was the preparation of measures in case the Red Army attacks the Polish and Romanian cover units on the border of Galicia and Bukovina. In this case, a mobilization was to be announced in Subcarpathian Russia and a defensive line in the Carpathians was created. The armed forces were to be divided into eastern, western and reserve groups. While the first, under the command of gen. Fournier, will create a barrier front in the Carpathians and prevent the entry of the Red Army into the territory of Czechoslovakia, the Western Operational Group under the command of Gen. Syrovy was supposed to be a kind of insurance against a possible attack by Hungary. The last operational group consisted of 14 battalions, which were to be relocated to this area. At its head would be a gen. Podhajský and would be used as a backup as needed.

Diplomatic battle decided

The instruction also stated that the Provincial Military Headquarters in Bratislava would set up guards at the borders and maintain communication between them through patrols. The interior should be guarded and observed by reinforced patrols and moving columns. These were to be reinforced by border guards. All divisions were to avoid provocations from the warring parties and to detain armed divisions, deserters and refugees.

Part of this instruction was a handwritten French text called the Defense Plan Project against the Russian Bolsheviks. This is probably the background material for Plan B. It differs from it by certain detailed measures, which were eventually abandoned. The most exposed units were to be commanded by Russian legionnaires, who know both the Russian army and the Bolsheviks well.In Galicia, an intelligence service was to be organized and propaganda carried out, both within the army and among the civilian population.


The building of the Provincial Military Headquarters in Uzhhorod

Although this plan was worked on in the following months until 1923, it was never implemented. Stabilization of relations with France was managed not only thanks to the energetic efforts of the gen. Pellé, but mainly because the situation on the Polish-Russian front has changed in a fundamental way. Pilsudski literally performed a miracle: in five minutes to twelve he saved Warsaw, turned the Red Army into a chaotic retreat, and forced the Bolsheviks to accept less favorable peace conditions for them. The threat of the spread of Bolshevism to Europe has thus disappeared. In addition, there have been some changes in the French government: Millerand, who listened so much to Hungarian demands and did not hesitate to bomb Prague for allied military assistance to Poland from Czechoslovakia, resigned as both prime minister and foreign minister.

All indications were that the battle for Subcarpathian Russia was definitely decided in favor of the Czechoslovak Republic. However, fears of Budapest's unfair activities have not disappeared. Less than a year later, the former Austro-Hungarian Emperor Charles I, with his return to Hungary, tried to restore the monarchy. The Czechoslovak army responded by mobilizing. But that's another chapter.

Resources:
coll. of authors: Military history of Czechoslovakia, III. Part. Prague 1987;
coll. by General Maurice Pellé. Prague 2010;
Davies, N .: White Eagle, Red Star. Prague 2006

Published with the kind permission of the author.
Published in Military revue 12/2011 published by Naše Vojsko.

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Author : 🕔03.10.2012 📕22.804