Archaeological research of First World War trenches in Eastern Slovakia

This project is supported by Visegrad Fund

Realisation of the project

The goal of this project was to connect First World War researchers from Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia with modern battlefield archaeologists from Czech Republic (and - if possible - Poland) and examine, how can modern archaelogical research help historians of this period, wha are usually wokring primarily with archive documents. During the preliminary stage of the project, Czech and Hungarian partners have conducted archive research in Wien and Budapest war archives and have chosen localities (each of the partners one), where archaeological research should be done.

Czech partner (Signum belli 1914) have chosen battlefield near Stebnická Huta, where Prague Infanterie Regiment Nr. 28 was captured by Russians during local attack on 3rd April 1915. There are ongoing disputes among Czech historians and professional public about this event, which date from 1915 until today. Czech partner localised position of machine guns of 28th Regiment, which occupied critical part of the front and should have stopped Russian attack through valley between Stebnická Huta and Stebník. Archive documents offer contradicting information about the fighting - Czech soldiers later stated, that they did not shoot on attacking Russian soldiers with their machine guns, but on the other hand, one particular Russian soldier was awarded war decoration for capturing the machine gun. The goal of the research was to find out, if there are any traces of machine gun fighting on the place.

Hungarian partner (Nagy háború blog) have chosen battlefield near Medzilaborce, where soldiers of 20th honvéd division were attacking retreating Russians in first days of May 1915. Their local attack lasted whole day and was unsuccsesfull, honvéd units suffered heavy causalties and Russian units left their positions only after the darkness had fallen. The goal of the research was to find out, what exactly happened during the honvéd attack, why was it not succsefull and whether the Russians retreated voluntarily, or because of pressure from another auxiliary attack of honvéds from their flank.

With the help of Slovak partner (KVH Beskydy), we organised 5 days long common expedition to both localities in Eastern Slovakia, which took place between 26th and 30th May 2017. During this expedition, terrain research based on archive materials was conducted by Czech and Hungarian partners and archeological research based on this terrain research was conducted by group of 7 archaeologists (led by Jiří Zubalík from Masaryk University of Brno). Research on both localities showed some success.

On Stebnícka Huta locality, we were unable to find any archaeological evidences of machine gun fighting, which supports the theory stating that machine guns of IR 28 remained silent on 3rd April 1915. Morover, we were able to localise part of the positions of III. battaillon of the regiment on the right flank beneath the Suchý vrch hill, which was our secondary goal. Here, we were able to conduct only some preliminary archaeological research, which showed, that this locality would be suitable for further research. Even more interesting could be future archaeological research of the positions of I. battailon of the regiment on the left flank, where Russian penetration of defensive line of the regiment started.

On Medzilaborce locality, we were able to identify very clearly Russian defensive line, showing signs of being bulit in haste (Russian units had only 1 day to build their defensive lines before the honvéd units attacked). We were also able to recognise, that Russian defensive line on the main defensive point was built more strong than on the secondary defensive point (which was during the battle indeed lost to honvéd attack). Archaeological research showed signs of heavy fighting - infantery and artillery as well - on the main defensive point. In what we consider the most interesting single result of this research, we were able to find the line which had been reached by attacking honvéd soldiers before they were stopped by Russian defensive fire. This line is not visible in the terrain today (there were no trenches) and can be found only by archaeological prospection of the area. Especially this line would be suitable for further research, as well as the part of the defensive Russian line which is situated against the secondary defensive position conquered by honvéd units, because based on the intensity of the fighting here, we could try to answer the question of whether the Russian units left the position voluntarily or forcefully.

Unfortunatelly, we were not able to connect Polish archaeologists to our work. Although we contacted two groups of modern battlefield archaelogists in Poland, none of them was able to join us on the expedition. It would be very useful to cooperate with Polish archeaologists though, beacause both chosen localities lie on the Slovak-Polish border and parts of them extend to the Polish territory. It means that for conducting archaeological research, permission from Polish authorities - which both contacted groups of Polish archaeologists have available - is needed. Therefore, we will continue with the effort to connect some Polish partner to our research.

At the end of the expedition, all participating organisations agreed, that such combination of archive and archaeological research, which we attempted during this project, could reveal new information about examined historical events and that they will try to find ways how to continue this research in the future in cooperation.

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