Lieutenant-General Sándor Szurmay arrived to the headquarters of the army group that was later to bear his name, at Nagyberezna (today: Velyky Berezny, Ukraine) on 25 November 1914. The composition of his “army group” was rather mixed; only the 38th Honvéd Infantry Division (“my heroic Transylvanian lads, as he affectionately referred to them) and the so-called “Wallner Detachment” (two battalions of the joint 33rd Infantry Regiment) were of first-line value. The rest – depending on the conditions of the unit’s assembly – were of weaker combat value due to their headcount, equipment or training standards. A further problem was caused by the lack of mountain artillery, vital for an attack against the Russians.
Upon his arrival, he was faced by a critical situation. The enemy had protruded into the territory of the Kingdom of Hungary, with Russian forces holding both the Uzsok Pass and the so-called “Homonna Sack” (modern-day Humenné, Slovakia). The 3rd Army was in constant retreat; in an indication of the seriosity of the crisis, the possibility of pulling back to the “Budapest bridgehead” was raised. However, Minister of Defence Samu Hazai and Count István Tisza, the Prime Minister, left no stone unturned and hurriedly sent a 70 000-soldier reinforcement led by Szurmay to avert the worrying situation. An enticing possibility had fallen into the hands of the new “army group”: were Szurmay’s troops to succeed in advancing along the Carpathians, they could have encircled significant Russian forces. The enthusiastic Szurmay began this operation immediately upon his arrival.
After initial difficulties, troops reached the valley of the Ciróka (Cirocha) brook from the east on 27 November 1914; however, recognising the dangers of the situations, the Russians had started evacuating the Homonna area to avoid being encircled. Once this had taken place, the Szurmay Group could set out to liberate the town of Bártfa (today: Bardejov, Slovakia).