Informatie van internet over de slag om Budapest. Weet niet meer waar ik dit heb gevonden, staat al enige tijd op mijn PC. Ben de link met de desbetreffende site verloren. Vandaar hieronder de gehele tekst.
The Battle for Hungary
The Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes, also billed as Hitler’s Last Offensive, has been described as the last great battle of the Second World War. According to historians, the tens of thousands of casualties on both sides mark the bloody full-stop on Nazi Germany’s major offensives on the battlefield. What most historians overlook is that Hitler subsequently staked everything on one last throw of the dice in Hungary.
In Germany’s view, Hungary became the main theatre of war after the crushing Ardennes defeat in 1944. Between September 1944 and February 1945, the Third Reich pulled out all the stops and deployed its most modern and expensive weapons in Hungary.
Fifteen panzer divisions, four panzer guard divisions, four cavalry divisions and eight infantry divisions, all joined the fray, with much of this firepower going to the Army Group South, which would play a vital role. Using these troops, the Wehrmacht threw everything they had at the Russians in five major offensives.
The deployment of Tiger tanks clearly illustrates the importance Germany attached to the Hungarian battleground. On January 1, 1945 only 79 of Germany’s 471 Tigers were based in Hungary, but by March 15 that number had increased to 122 tanks out of a total Wehrmacht strength of 205.
In early January, even before the failure of the Ardennes offensive had been officially admitted - when it must have been clear to everyone that that the Ardennes offensive would not bear fruit - Hitler was already coming to the decision to withdraw the 6th SS Panzer Army from the Ardennes and move it to the eastern front.
The predicted failure in the Ardennes meant that it was necessary to preserve the remnants of the army for another offensive. At this time, the Soviets had approximately 78,000 German and Hungarian troops penned into Budapest. The Red Army loomed before Tata and Várpalota in western Hungary, while Soviet soldiers had already penetrated Southern Transdanubia as far as Nagykanizsa.
After the Soviet offensive began on January 12, Colonel General Guderian, the chief of the German High Command, wanted to withdraw the panzer army from the Ardennes, along with other rearranged divisions from the West and deploy them on the Oder River.
His goal was to attack the Russian flanks before their attack built up too much strength. The Oder formed the only barrier worth speaking of between the tank divisions under the command of Marshal Georgi Zhukov, which were inexorably rolling towards Berlin. However, Hitler insisted on dividing his forces and settling the situation in Hungary first. He believed that the German troops on the Oder front would be able to repel the attack.
In the face of Guderian’s objection, Hitler ironically replied: “You want to attack without oil? We’ll see what comes of that.” His generals knew nothing of fighting a war, he later said to his inner circle about Guderian’s objections.
Hitler was making the point that the Reich’s oil reserves were all in Hungary. Transporting fuel to other theatres of operations would have been very difficult at that point. Rail transport had collapsed and the Allies had almost complete air supremacy, reducing the Wehrmacht to living hand to mouth and taking oil directly from the point of production. Hungarian oil reserves were at that point not insignificant: the Army Group South was fully supplied by Hungarian oil refineries, while the Army Group Centre was partially supplied.
The oil supply problems meant that the only army group capable of attacking distant targets was the Army Group South. Although Hungarian oil production - which had grown to 838,000 tonnes of crude oil in 1943 - was nowhere near sufficient to keep the Wehrmacht on the move, it did offer the only chance to continue the war at all.
The German hydride works had been the targets of repeated Allied air attacks since May 1944 and production sank so drastically that, in the view of the German commanders, “the Wehrmacht itself would one day come to a standstill.” The German army used the Hungarian fuel to good effect until it was dealt a dreadful blow on March 14, when the refinery at Komárom (north-west Hungary) lost 70% of its capacity during an American air raid. Two days later the refinery at Pét was also destroyed in an aerial attack.
Before this happened, though, the importance of Hungarian oil was brought home to the German leadership in January, when an Allied bombing offensive put almost all German hydride plants out of production. Throughout the rest of January, the Zala and Zisterdorfer oilfields supplied 80% of the Wehrmacht’s entire fuel production. Hitler used this to justify the offensive in Hungary to General Jodl and Admiral Dönitz. Hitler based his decision on the assumption that the continuation of the war was possible by local successes, although in reality he was clutching at straws.
Hitler had always unyieldingly insisted on holding Budapest, constantly denying requests for a breakout by German forces. On December 24, 1944, before Budapest was completely locked-down by the Soviets, he sent the 4th SS Panzer Corps and the 96th and 711th Infantry Divisions to Hungary: 260 tanks and 70,000 soldiers in all.
The High Command entrusted the relief of Budapest to SS Obergruppenführer (Lt. Gen.) Gille and his 4th SS Panzer Corps. Gille had won the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster for his breakout from the encirclement at Cherkassy in the Ukraine, and he was chosen to lead the relief troops to Budapest because of this experience. Gille had the greatest understanding of the fate of surrounded soldiers and his army corps had proved its worth on the eastern front, said Himmler in a telegram. Guderian himself travelled to Budapest for a few days to check the defensive measures.
The first Soviet tanks reached Buda around noon on January 24, 1945, heading south from Budakeszi. Until the beginning of January neither the Soviets nor the German-Hungarian defenders had sufficient troops in the Buda area to form anything like a contiguous front line, but small units were now taking up positions in the villas of Rózsadomb and Sashegy.
The front ran north-south along the Lágymányosi railway embankment, onto Sashegy, through the Farkasréti cemetery, Orbánhegy, Mátyáshegy and Kiscelli utca. Despite ambitious attacks by the Soviets during the first weeks of its offensive on the city, the Red Army had failed to significantly penetrate the German front line, and following counter-attacks by German relief troops starting on January 18 a relative lull in the fighting was seen until January 25.
The Germans’ commanding officer, SS General Karl von Pfeffer-Wildenbruch, was hoping to gain Hitler’s permission to break out, putting together a mobile group from his last available reserves. Hitler however forbade a breakout and the mobile force was redeployed to shore up the Germans’ crumbling defences.
On January 25 the Soviets mounted a new offensive on the central segment of the German defences, while the battle for Margit Island, which had raged since January 18 with terrible loss of life on both sides, was finally won by the Soviets on January 28.
The Soviet advance also saw gains in the Városmajor and Rózsadomb districts between January 26 and 28, with Red Army troops reaching as far as Csaba utca near Moszkva tér. Rózsadomb, the northernmost point of the German front line, was soon abandoned due to serious threat of encirclement. “Provisions situation alarming. State of the wounded deeply shocking,”
Pfeffer-Wildenbruch radioed to his superiors. He never once left his command post in the Alagút (tunnel) running under Castle Hill during the battle.
Despite Pfeffer-Wildenbruch’s warnings of impending doom, Hitler insisted that forces continue to hold position and defend the city until counterattacks by German reinforcements reaped success.
But it was a success that never came. The front was soon pushed very close to Castle Hill by the Soviets, and by January 30 the leading Soviet tanks had reached the northern edge of Vérmezõ (literally meaning “field of blood”) at the western foot of Castle Hill and began firing directly on the makeshift landing strip set up by the Germans for troop gliders. Often flown by very young and poorly trained Hitler Youth pilots, many still managed to land, guided with pocket torches held by local children aged between 13 and 16 drawn from the Budapest Section of the Nazi-run “German Youth” organisation. Often the only chance for survival on this incredibly dangerous landing site was to set down on the southern end and exit the glider as quickly as possible before it was destroyed by Soviet guns.
By January 30 the Soviets and pro-Soviet Hungarian forces had managed to capture the first building on Castle Hill, a school at Attila utca 135. The Soviet advance continued in four days of ferocious house-to-house fighting which saw the flats at Vérmezõ utca 18 transformed into a sea of flame and buildings on Attila utca change hands up to four times in as many days.
Meanwhile, Soviet flamethrower units took control of the streets at the foot of Sashegy and overran the 8th SS mounted division a kilometre to the west at Farkasréti cemetery.
By February 6 the Soviets had successfully pushed back the German front and managed to surround Sashegy. Conditions for the defending German troops were catastrophic - at this point they were existing on one slice of bread and some horsemeat per day, with most supplementing their diet with food taken from the local civilian population. Distribution of supplies was wellnigh impossible, fuel was scarce, the streets were only passable at night and only on foot, as rubble and shell craters had made roads impassable to vehicles.
The Germans’ situation was deteriorating fast. The hungry population attempted to plunder the supply canisters dropped by German aircraft, an act for which summary execution was quickly imposed. Hungarian and German soldiers frequently fought amongst themselves for access to supply canisters - although only those containing food. In field hospitals soiled bandages were reused on the newly wounded.
Despite such intolerable conditions, the Germans still managed to repeatedly stage counter attacks. The Soviets’ Budapest Group suffered such high losses that from the end of January it began recruiting Hungarian POWs, promising not to send them to Siberia if they joined up. By February 13 twenty independent companies had been formed from 3,100 Hungarians, most of them during the last three days of the siege. Losses among these "volunteers" were appallingly high - especially among those who signed up early in the siege when Soviet losses were at their most frightening. Their survival rate was less than 30%.
Between February 6 and 9 a battle still raged for Déli Pályaudvár (Southern Railway Station) at the edge of Vérmezõ, but one unmistakable sign that the end had come was the dishing out of medals by the Red Army.
Only in the extreme south was the Soviet offensive unsuccessful - the three-kilometre-long railway embankment between the Danube and Sashegy remained in German hands until the last day despite repeated attacks by the hardiest of the Soviet battalions.
Near the frontline, locals were brutally exposed to the merciless killing along with the wholesale destruction of all they had worked over generations to build. In Mészáros utca near Déli railway station László Deseõ, 15 years old at the time of the siege, kept an hourly diary of the destruction that raged around him:
January 30. At two in the morning horses were brought into the flat. Everything shook in our cellar. My parents are horrified to the extent that they have lost all interest...It is said that after a few days the ceiling will be soaked through with manure. Then there will be something in the cellar for us to get our noses around.
February 2. The front is here. Machine guns have been mounted on both balconies on the upper floor. They wanted to put an automatic weapon in my room. I was speaking with a German in the hall when a mine exploded in front of the door and the German collapsed. A splinter had sliced his finger clean off. The poor man is screaming. The firewood in the garden is being carried off to be made into barricades for the windows. Pieces of furniture are also being put in the windows. While they put it up in one room I take it down in another and carry the furniture back.
February 8. Numerous wounded. There are Russian snipers positioned in the house opposite and when someone allows themselves be spotted in the window they shoot at them.…Wagner [a forcibly recruited Hungarian SS soldier from Budakeszi] has been seriously wounded. Two hours ago he laughingly admitted that the destruction of the whole house had been his responsibility because he could have led the horses to a neighbouring empty cellar. Heavy fighting all night.
February 9. Half past eight in the morning. I'm standing on the cellar steps. A short time ago 17 Germans defending the house were hit. An SS soldier of English origin is also among them. There are five of them standing near me. We don't speak. They are very jittery. They smoke one cigarette after another. Their hands are shaking...They've already asked for civilian clothes twice. Another horse has died a terrible death in the house. The walls are smeared with horse blood up to the height of a man.
February 10. Quarter past nine. One of the soldiers looked out of the living room window (So curious!) there was a puff - headshot! When I was in the living room and wanted to crawl under this window (I wasn't in the mood to show myself) I accidentally touched the bloody mass of brains which had flowed out onto the floor. At lunch it occurred to me that I hadn't washed my hands since then, but despite this I carried on eating. Hand washing is a luxury.
On February 3, 1945 the German-Hungarian defensive line stretched from the Buda bridgehead of Margit bridge to Széll Kálmán tér, then to the northern corner of Vérmezõ on the short section of Krisztina körút to the beginning of Kékgolyó utca, from where the attacking Soviet forces now posed an immediate threat to Déli railway station. The post office building as well as the southern blocks of Krisztina körút were still in German hands, whereas the Russians, who had come through Bors utca (today’s Hajnóczy utca) had established themselves in both houses on the northern edge of Vérmezõ.
Even more fragmented was the situation between Kékgolyó utca and Sashegy: there, the main defensive line bulged even further westwards, with the Germans holed up in Farkasréti cemetery and holding the streets at the eastern foot of Orbánhegy and on Istenhegyi utca as far as Nárcisz utca. Meanwhile, Soviet troops had occupied Németvölgyi út, and Böszörmenyi utca running parallel to it. They were now at the walls of Farkasréti cemetery and had already reached Hegyalja út. Only south of Sashegy did a continuous defensive line exist.
It was on that day that Papal Nuncio Angelo Rotta sought out the German commander, SS General Karl von Pfeffer-Wildenbruch and asked him in the name of the Budapest diplomatic corps to ask the Nazi high command to finally heed the suffering of the local population and the destruction being wrought on the city. Hitler’s response was that his orders were intractable and Budapest had to be held until the last man.
Major clashes took place in the battle for Sashegy. In Hegytetõ utca house to house fighting raged, corpses were strewn across the area and most houses were uninhabitable.
The attacking Soviets penetrated the German defences on February 4 and from Nagyenyed utca and Kékgolyó utca attacked Déli railway station. With that, the encirclement of Sashegy had begun.
The German supply situation was nothing short of disastrous: troops were down to a slice of bread and a little horsemeat per day and bandages from corpses continued to be reused.
“Because of hunger, relatives of soldiers and other civilians are overcoming every sense of shame and are looking for the kitchens of the commanders and the Honvéd [Hungarian Army] units and are begging for food,” reported the First Hungarian Army Corps.
Early the next day on February 5 the last of the German supply gliders landed on the makeshift landing strip at Vérmezõ. Two landed on Kõmüves lépcsõ [staircase], three crashed in the southern edge of Vérmezõ, the sixth landed on the ruins of the Szarvas restaurant and the seventh crashed into the attic of Attila út 37.
Despite these losses, however, February 5 proved to be one of the most successful days for the German and Hungarian air forces: the gliders and parachuted-in supply canisters delivered 97 tonnes of ammunition, ten tonnes of fuel, 28 tonnes of food and four of motor oil and spares.
Once the Soviet troops had made it as far as the northern corner of Vérmezõ on Krisztina körút, the Germans could no longer hold the post office building. They evacuated through an emergency exit which is still visible today in the tram tunnel on Moszkva tér running beside the building.
On February 6 the most ferocious battles took place around the area of Déli railway station and Hegyálja út where the Soviet command deployed battle groups armed with flame throwers. The counter-attack on Sashegy carried out by the Eighth SS Cavalry Division from the south-east and north-west after initial successes ground to a halt under Soviet defensive fire.
The Hungarian battle group on Sashegy gave up after reaching the conclusion that further fighting would be senseless - their food and ammunition were exhausted anyway. The German units decided on making a break for it in the direction of Castle Hill.
Soviet troops broke into the western and northern parts of Déli railway station on February 7 and south from there they reached Gömbös Gyula utca (Alkotás utca today). Of the 32-strong Hungarian volunteer unit fighting in Márvány utca only two remained unwounded at the end of the day. All the others were wounded or killed. Soviet units also destroyed the last intact machine gun emplacement in Farkasréti cemetery.
On February 8 Soviet units attacking from the Farkasréti cemetery reached Avar utca running parallel to the southern railway line. During the day a Hungarian battle group broke into the post office building and occupied part of it. On this day four tonnes of supplies were air dropped - the very last to arrive.
On the evening of February 9 Little Gellérthegy fell. Soviet troops also captured Déli railway station. Soviet troops along with Hungarians who had volunteered to fight for the Soviets fought the Germans from room to room in Avar utca. Some 40-50 of the Hungarian volunteers fell.
By evening the front line stretched along Karácsony utca (today Kuny-Domokos utca) - Gyõzõ utca - the upper section of Mészáros utca - Hegyalja út - Harkály utca - Alsóhegy utca. Between the Lágymányósi railway embankment and Villányi út chaotic fighting raged.
On February 10 Soviet tanks managed to make it as far as Döbrentei tér and threatened the connection between the Citadella, Lágymányós and the Castle. Parts of a degraded Soviet battalion comprised mainly of officers advanced as far as the Danube near Elizabeth bridge after ferocious fighting. The battalion was however crushed by the artillery of a German counter-attack.
More heavy fighting continued in the upper stretch of Kelenhegyi utca near today’s “Búsuló Juhász, restaurant” where many Hungarian volunteers were killed in the infantry attacks on the Germans defending the Citadella.
The groups still defending the Lágymányósi railway embankment in the morning hoisted the white flag. South of Gellérthegy, defence was only piecemeal and a greater number of the Germans withdrew to the Castle.
In the afternoon the guns in District XI had mostly fallen silent, although a Soviet jeep drove carelessly across Horthy Miklós (today Móricz Zsigmond) körtér and was destroyed by an anti-tank weapon used by someone determined to keep on fighting their own private war.
A Soviet lorry driving past the Gellért Hotel in the early hours of the morning met a similar fate.
At 7pm the Soviets took the cave church in the Gellérthegy which was in use as a field hospital. Resistance had by then ceased all over District XI. The end for the German occupiers and their supporting German forces was drawing near.
From February 13, 1945 the guns in Budapest fell silent, but in the forests near Nagykovácsi fighting broke out, with the overwhelming majority of those fleeing taking refuge in the upper half of the Nagykovácsi forest.
Ernst Schweizer remembered the scene: "There are civilians in our column who are carrying all of their belongings on their heads. A wounded soldier, whose leg has been ripped off above the ankle and who is not bandaged has joined the column sitting on a horse without a saddle."
Those trying to fight their way back to the German lines could move relatively easily in the forest, apart from during Soviet air attacks. But problems arose when they ventured from under cover - only individuals had a chance of making it back to the main German lines, which lay beyond the Zsámbék stream, without being noticed by the Soviet cavalry and patrolling Soviet tanks. The Russians often shelled the small groups of Germans which emerged at the edge of the forest, or simply chased them back into the trees.
Many German and pro-Nazi Hungarian soldiers tried to avoid this fate by moving southwards. Discipline broke down among the freezing, starving troops whose morale was now on the verge of collapse. Many broke down mentally: "…the Germans marching in front of us stopped suddenly at which point we stopped, too. We didn't know what was wrong so I went ahead with the Captain. Ahead the most senior German in rank Lieutenant-Colonel Flügel was lying in the snow, shouting that he had had enough of this nightmare and wouldn't take another step further. His men were standing around him in silence…," reported 15-year-old soldier Gyula Kokovay.
Survivors testified that after two or three days almost everyone was on the verge of insanity, experiencing mirages of houses, kitchens and food before their eyes on the snow-covered fields or believing that they were back at Déli railway station in Budapest.
The hardest part for all came when they reached the western edge of the forest. Anyone who wanted to get to the German lines at Mány behind Zsámbék,and at Szomor had to cross the flat partially deforested area near the Zsámbék stream, where the barrier of Soviet tanks was becoming ever thicker.
Barely more than 700 soldiers reached German lines out of the approximately 28,000 who had attempted the breakout into the hills.
The first group to succeed was led by Lieutenant László Szilási Szabó of the reserve - who was an actor in civilian life. On February 13 they reached the hill between Szomor and Máriahalom near Anyácsa-Puszta. A few hours later the largest group, some 3,000-4,000 strong, were led by Helmut Wolff and Wilhelm Schöning, the commander of the 66th Panzer Grenadier Regiment who had been decorated with the Oak Leaf Cluster. They had earlier formed smaller groups of 15-25 men which made advancing in this way easier.
Non-Commissioned Officer Otto Kutscher belonged to this group: "…then suddenly two green flares went up. That had to be our own troops and the main battle line. At a distance of 500 to 1000 metres along the German lines likewise two green flares were launched. We had reached the Russian defensive trenches when we were called. We immediately opened fire on the Russians with our weapons and anyone who still had hand grenades threw them into the defensive trenches right away. We jumped over the trenches as fast as our legs would carry us and then the Russians started to shoot. A hand grenade landed right between Schöning and me. Schöning's right foot was severely wounded and I got shrapnel in my upper left thigh. I went forward a bit crawling and hobbling when I met two soldiers lying in position and was carried to our own main battle line. At the casualty station the tears of salvation started to flow."
Schöning remembered it thus: "Suddenly I had the feeling that my leg was being torn off. Division doctor Major Seeger, who was lying near me, wanted to help me. He bent over me and in so doing was himself wounded. Right at the start of the breakout he was shot in the leg which exposed his Achilles tendon and was then hit by another bullet which tore away his backside. As my pistol was empty I ordered my lieutenant to finish me off because I didn't want to be taken prisoner. He was himself wounded in the arm. He then called to me: “Only another 2,000 metres, Lieutenant Colonel. We have to make it!'” I crept through the snow up a hill with the major...Two wounded grenadiers from our battle group picked us up under the arms under the heaviest fire and stood us upright and I dragged myself with several wounds to the feet the two kilometres to the German position."
Of the overwhelming majority of the soldiers who broke out and made it through to the German lines, 624 of them arrived before February 16. Later only a few followed - at the most some 80-100 men. Lieutenant Ernst Schweizer was one of the last to make it and with his three comrades he chose to take the route to the north. They only had a school atlas to guide them on their way. In their desperation they ate snow and five-week-old mouldy ration bread which they had found in an abandoned flat.
Thanks only to the help from Hungarian civilians who gave them food were they able to find their way, reaching their own lines in a wretched physical and mental condition on February 20.
The breakout ended for a few soldiers after weeks, even months. German soldiers who feared being taken prisoner hid in the forests until the spring or summer. There were some who managed to even hide temporarily in the capital. One Hungarian family which had previously hidden Jews offered refuge to a German soldier until May. After several days in hiding some especially determined German soldiers tried to get out of Buda in civilian clothing. Witnesses related how a clean-shaven man in an elegant suit asked passers by the way to Budakeszi in German. SS Second Lieutenant Fritz Vogel, who was assigned to the university attack battalion, was hidden by his Hungarian university comrades until April. Vogel lay low until the fall of Vienna and then made his way to the city of his birth from which he regularly sent letters and parcels to his rescuers until the Iron Curtain descended.
After February 15 a new offensive was brewing. As reinforcements Hitler sent a whole SS panzer corps, soon to be followed by the complete 6th (SS) Panzer Army.
The last offensive of the Third Reich
Hitler made the decision to attack in Hungary as early as January 1945 when he ordered the 6th (SS) panzer army to deploy to Hungary. The impression was created that the panzer army was deploying to Frankfurt/Oder-Fürstenwalder using faked radio messages. Hitler’s confidante, Sepp Dietrich, who was at the same time the commander of this panzer army made conspicuously appearances at all office in and around Berlin. The regrouping trains were however sent via Dresden, Prague and Brno to Vienna. First to arrive was the 1st SS Panzer Corps (1st and 12th SS Panzer Division in the area of Gyõr-Komárom. The advance of their army was significantly delayed by the breakdown in rail transport caused by the allied air forces. Before the beginning of the relief offensive Hitler had in mind a “small” solution and a “large” solution. The former he understood as the relief of the capital city, the latter in terms of the complete reconquest of Transdanubia. During the third relief attempt the 2nd Panzer Army operating Lake Balaton and the Drava river received instructions to prepare an extensive attack against the area around Kaposvár under the codename “Icebreaker”. The southern flank of the 3rd Ukrainian flank had to be attacked from the south-east between Osijek and Donji Mihojlac. The Balck army group was to attack from Székesféherár to the south. The expected result of the success of this twin pronged attack was the encirclement of two Soviet armies. The operation received the name “Spring Awakening”. Hitler issued several “Führer’s orders” concerning the camouflaging and keeping secret of the advance of both SS corps. Sleeve and shoulder markings had to be reoved from uniforms and licence plates on vehicles were covered. The death penalty was threatened as the punishment for the slightest contravention of these orders. The divisions of the 1st SS Panzer Corps were disguised as the IV panzer Corps and the divisons of the 2nd SS Panzer Corps camouflaged as the “training group,” and the Supreme Command of the 6th Panzer Army as the “Higher Pioneer Leader of Hungary”.
As a precondition for further offensive operations Hitler wanted to exclude the danger of a Soviet offensive being staged out of the Esztergom bridgehead. At any time the Soviet Pliev group could threaten the oil refineries in Komárom and Bratislava and the way to Vienna. For that reason two panzer corps had to destroy the bridgehead and establish a German bridgehead across the Hron river. The 1st Panzer Corps and the Panzer Corps (Feldherrnhalle?) were to attack the bridgehead from the north and the north-east respectively. The operation was favoured by the exceptionally large number of infantry available. In total the Army Group South had 260 serviceable tanks available for the attack. A few weeks earlier Malinovsky had withdrawn the Pliev Group and the 6th Guard Tank Army from the bridgehead to the east for refreshment so that the defence consisted of only the 24th and 25th Rifle Corps and two tank brigades.
Because of the weather the attack could only start on 17 February at 4am. Despite the thawing weather it succeeded in breaking through the front and to reduce the size of the bridgehead by 30% within the first 24 hours. The Soviets however quickly managed to build a deeply organised defence. In order to ease the offensive the 96th Infantry Division staged its own landing operations across the Danube from the south to the north and formed its own bridgehead at the rear of the defenders.
The division was all the more trusted with this task because a few weeks earlier had amassed experience in this from the receiving end. Despite the high level of the river – one day the Danube was 3.3 metres above its normal level – the battle group that made the crossing managed to take 20 artillery pieces across to the other bank. Soviet air superiority caused numerous losses. After the first three days the defence stiffened up although the 7th Guards Army evacuated its southern flank at considerable loss. The soldiers of two divisions had to jump from ice floe to ice floe to cross the Hron river near Esztergom to reach the safety of the other bank. In the middle section of the bridgehead the Soviet artillery held their positions. The last defended positions could only be taken on February 24.
The result of the operation was the destruction of several soviet divisions and two infantry corps lost almost all of their heavy weapons. The Wehrmacht reported it had taken 700 prisoners, confirmed 4000 soviets dead, destroyed 90 tanks and captured 334 artillery pieces. German losses were also high: 6,471 soldiers killed, wounded or missing, Losses of matériel – temporary or permanent – came to 156 tanks and artillery pieces. The divisons of the 1st SS Panzer Corps returned to the positions after the Ardennes offensive. Even more seriously the camouflaging of the advance of the 6th Panzer Army was largely sacrificed.
The success of the operation “South Wind” was an almost essential precondition for all offensive operations in Transdanubia: a lasting Soviet bridgehead could threaten Komárom, Bratislava and Vienna at any time and stall the attack group in action south of the Danube which had happened once at the beginning of January when the 6th Guards Tank Army almost conquered Komárom and Érzsekújvár.
Whilst both armed themselves for the last offensive in Hungary the terror regime of the Arrow Cross raged. The leader of a larger death squad was the former water polo player Olympian Márton Hommonay.
The Hungarian leader Ferenc Szálasi at this time controlled only a few counties in the north west of the country. Holed up I his command headquarters he worked feverishly on his “Book of Hungarianism”. Every week he undertook a “state inspection” with his close staff and visited villages in the Kõszeg, Szomathely and Zalaegerszeg. On these occasions the inhabitants were allowed to put questions to Szálasi which he answered immediately. At this time there were posters everywhere about the summary execution of those guilty of “disheartened behaviour”. For that reason on these occasions no one dared to doubt the victorious end of the war.