Author: Vitéz Max Thimmig, Lieutenant of the Order of Vitéz
[Note: It has been 80 years since the Soviet troops broke through the Hungarian front line in the Don Bend on January 12, 1943. In commemoration of this, Vitéz Max Thimmig, lieutenant of our a legitimate Order of Vitéz, created an article, which can currently only be read in English.]
Today, the 12th of January, marks the day of remembrance of the Don Disaster and the downfall of the Hungarian Second Army on the Eastern Front in the winter of 1943. In Hungary, this day is commemorated by many, especially within the Hungarian Armed Forces and is also an official holiday of the Order of Vitéz. This year marks the 80th anniversary of these fateful events at the Don Front in January 1943.
On the 12th of January 1943, the Soviet Union launched the Ostrogozhsk–Rossosh offensive as the Soviet 6th Army and 3rd Tank Army attacked the Italian (Italian Eigth Army) and Hungarian (Second Army) forces on the Voronezh Front. The men of the Second Army, under the command of Colonel General vitéz Gusztáv Jány had endured a ferocious winter on the Eastern Front after the encirclement of the German 6th Army at Stalingrad in late November 1942. As winter set in, the Second Army’s transportation collapsed leaving front line units without basic necessities such as food, winter clothing, fuel, and building materials. The cold and starving Hungarian soldiers of the Second Army still had to defend even longer and longer stretches of the front line as more and more German units were sent into Stalingrad. The Soviet offensive was expected as Hungarian soldiers could observe the amassing Soviet forces on the opposing side of the front.
As the Soviet forces attacked, the weakened Hungarian forces fought proudly and bravely against an overwhelming enemy. On many sectors of the Front, the Hungarians fought off many waves of the Red Army before being forced to retreat. As the fighting continued, temperatures dropped to -40 – -45 ° C leading to weapons jamming and the inability to start tanks, not to mention the countless cases of severe frostbite that tormented many soldiers. During the fighting, there were many cases of exceptional bravery both on individual and unit levels. But bravery alone could not stop the endless waves of the Red Army attacks. At several places, Hungarian units repelled eight-nine Soviet attacks before running out of ammunition and being forced to retreat. Many Hungarian units, such as the 12th Light Division, were surrounded while others retreated. Several counterattacks were initiated and although many managed to uphold the Red Army, these successes were temporary. Many units were virtually wiped out during the fighting. Along with the many cases of bravery were countless cases of suffering, sacrifice and death.
After several days of fierce fighting, Colonel General vitéz Gusztáv Jány ordered the retreat of the Hungarian Second Army toward the Oskol river. Many units had suffered tremendous losses, for example the 1st Armored Division was reduced to a single operational tank within a few days, and most of the personnel of the 1st Air Group died on the ground when their airfields were overrun by Soviet tanks. The Hungarian III Corps under Lieutenant General Marcel Graf Stomm held their positions on the Don River until the 26th of January 1943 before covering the German retreat fighting the Soviet onslaught which led to the complete disbandment of the Corps. Stomm himself lost both his legs due to frostbite and was captured by the Soviets. The Soviet offensive ended in mid-February 1943 and was then followed by Operation Zvezda (Ru. Star) aimed at Kharkov.
The losses suffered by the Hungarian Second Army were the highest losses ever suffered by a Hungarian Army. Of the 200,000 soldiers and 50,000 forced laborers the battles of January 1943 led to 100,000 killed, 35,000 wounded and 60,000 prisoners of war. These 60,000 Hungarian prisoners of war faced an uncertain future and only 40,000 would ever return to Hungary, the last of which returned as late as 1955.
Today, as members of the Order of Vitéz, we commemorate the memory of the sacrifice, suffering and bravery of these Hungarian soldiers on the Eastern Front 80 years ago. All over Hungary, this memory is commemorated in different ceremonies and gatherings. Even abroad, international members of the Order of Vitéz commemorate the soldiers of the Second Army at the Don Front by lighting candles.
The soldiers who never returned gave their uttermost, they gave their lives for Hungary! We will remember them!