Siege of Budapest


Siege of Budapest

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Siege of Budapest


caption=A Soviet soldier writing "Budapest" in Russian on a signpost after the siege.
partof=the Eastern Front, Budapest Offensive of World War II
place=Budapest, Hungary|date=29 December, 194413 February, 1945
result=Soviet & Romanian victory
combatant1=flag|Nazi Germany|name=Germany
flagicon|Hungary|1940 Hungary
combatant2=flag|Soviet Union|1923
flagicon|Romania Romania
commander1=flagicon|Nazi Germany Pfeffer-Wildenbruch
flagicon|Hungary|1940 Iván Hindy
commander2=flagicon|Soviet Union|1923 Rodion Malinovsky
flagicon|Soviet Union|1923 Fyodor Tolbukhin
flagicon|Romania Feodor Tulas
strength1=180,000 (90,000 for city defense)
strength2=500,000+ (170,000 for city assault)
casualties1=99,000-150,000 dead and captured
casualties2=70,000-160,000 dead
240,056 wounded and sickGlantz, David M., and Jonathan House. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. (Lawrence, Kansas: UP of Kansas, 1995. ISBN-0700608990) p. 298]
casualties3=40,000 civilian dead|

The Siege of Budapest was a siege of the Hungarian capital city of Budapest, fought towards the end of World War II in Europe, during the Soviet Budapest Offensive. The siege started when Budapest, defended by Hungarian and German troops, was first encircled on 29 December, 1944 by the Red Army. The siege ended when the city was unconditionally surrendered on 13 February, 1945. The Soviet forces besieging the city were part of Rodion Malinovsky's 2nd Ukrainian Front. Arrayed against the Soviets was a collection German Army ("Wehrmacht Heer"), Waffen-SS, and Hungarian Army ("Honvédség") forces. The Siege of Budapest was one of the bloodiest sieges of World War II.

General situation

By 1944, Hungary remained very much an [http://historicaltextarchive.com/books.php?op=viewbook&bookid=7 "unwilling satellite"] of Germany. In March 1944, Hungary was attempting to quit the war, and was seen by Nazi Germany as reluctant to take sufficient measures against the Jews. Germany needed Hungarian oil wells located around Lake Balaton. On 19 March, the Germans launched Operation Margarethe and the German armed forces ("Wehrmacht") entered Hungary. The Hungarian Regent, Admiral Miklós Horthy, put Hungary's attempts to quit the war on hold.

In October 1944, Horthy was caught negotiating peace with the Allies. On 16 October, the Germans launched Operation Panzerfaust, and forced Horthy to abdicate. Horthy and his government were replaced by Fascist Ferenc Szálasi, from the Arrow Cross Party.

The Siege

Encirclement of Budapest

On 29 October, 1944, the Red Army started its offensive against the city Budapest. More than 1,000,000 men split into two operating maneuver groups rushed towards the city. The plan was to cut Budapest off from the rest of the German and Hungarian forces. On 7 November, 1944, Soviet troops entered the eastern suburbs of Budapest, 20 kilometers from the old town. On 19 December, after a necessary break, the Red Army resumed its offensive. On 26 December, a road linking Budapest to Vienna was seized by the Soviet troops, thereby encircling the city.

As a result of the Soviet link-up, nearly 33,000 German and 37,000 Hungarian soldiers, as well as over 800,000 civilians, became trapped within the city. Refusing to authorize a withdrawal, German dictator Adolf Hitler had declared Budapest a fortress city ("Festung Budapest"), which had to be defended to the last man.

Budapest was a major target for Joseph Stalin. Indeed, the Yalta Conference was approaching and Stalin wanted to display his full strength to Churchill and Roosevelt. Therefore, he ordered General Rodion Malinovsky to seize the city as quickly as possible. [Deak, István, "Endgame in Budapest", Hungarian Quarterly, Autumn 2005]

On 29 December, 1944, Malinovsky sent two emissaries in order to negotiate the city's capitulation. The emissaries never came back. This particular point is widely disputed by the Soviet Union, with some German and Hungarian historians arguing that the emissaries were deliberately shot. Others believe that they were in fact shot by mistake on their way back. In any case, Soviet commanders considered this act as a refusal and ordered the start of the siege.

The start of the siege and first German offensive

The Soviet offensive started in the eastern suburbs, advancing through Pest, making good use of the large central avenues to speed up their progress. The German and Hungarian defenders, overwhelmed, tried to trade space for time to slow down the Soviet advance to a crawl. They ultimately withdrew to shorten their lines, hoping to take advantage of the hilly nature of Buda.

In January 1945, the Germans launched a three part offensive codenamed Operation Konrad. Operation Konrad was a joint German-Hungarian effort to relieve the encircled garrison of Budapest.

On 1 January, Operation Konrad I was launched. The German IV.SS-Panzerkorps attacked from Tata through hilly terrain north of Budapest in an effort to break the Soviet siege. Simultaneously, Waffen-SS forces struck from the west of Budapest in an effort to gain tactical advantage. On 3 January, the Soviet command sent four more divisions to meet the threat. This Soviet action stopped the offensive near Bicske less than 20 kilometers north of Budapest. On 12 January, the German forces were forced to withdraw.

On 7 January, the Germans launched Operation Konrad II. The German IV.SS-Panzerkorps attacked from Esztergom towards the Budapest Airport. They tried to capture the airport in order to improve air supply of the city. This offensive was halted near the airport.

On 17 January, the last part of Operation Konrad was launched - Operation Konrad III. The German IV.SS-Panzerkorps and the III. Panzerkorps attacked from the south of Budapest and attempted to encircle ten Soviet divisions. This encirclement attempt failed.

Combat intensification

Meanwhile, urban warfare in Budapest increased in intensity. Supplies became a decisive factor because of the loss of the Ferihegy airport just before the start of the siege, on 27 December, 1944. Until 9 January, 1945, German troops were able to use some of the main avenues as well as the park next to Buda Castle as landing zones for planes and gliders, although they were under constant artillery fire from the Soviets. Before the Danube froze, some supplies could be passed on barges, under the cover of darkness and fog.

Nevertheless, food shortages were more and more common and soldiers had to rely on finding their own sources of food, some even resorting to eating their own horses. Extreme temperatures also affected German and Hungarian troops.

Quite quickly, the Soviet troops found themselves in the same situation as the Germans had in Stalingrad. Still, their troops were able to take advantage of the urban terrain by relying heavily on snipers and sappers to advance. Fights broke out even in the sewers, as both Axis and Soviet troops used them for troop movement. Six Soviet marines even managed to get to the Castle Hill and capture a German officer before returning to their own lines - still underground. But such prowesses were rare because of ambushes set up by the Axis troops using local inhabitants as guides in the sewers.

In mid-January, Csepel Island was taken, along with its military factories which were still producing Panzerfausts and shells, even under Soviet fire. Meanwhile in Pest, the situation deteriorated, with the garrison facing the risk of being cut in half by the advancing Soviet troops.

On 17 January, 1945, Hitler accepted to withdraw all the remaining troops from Pest to try to defend Buda. All of the five bridges spanning the Danube were clogged with traffic, evacuating troops and civilians. On 18 January, 1945, German troops destroyed the five bridges, despite protests from Hungarian officers.

The second German offensive

On 20 January, 1945, German troops launched their second major offensive, this time south of the city, blasting a 20 km hole in Soviet lines and advancing to the Danube, threatening Soviet supply lines.

Stalin ordered his troops to hold their ground at all costs, and two Army Corps that were dispatched to assault Budapest were hastily moved south of the city to counter the German offensive. Nevertheless, German troops who got to less than 20 kilometres from the city were unable to maintain their offensive due to fatigue and supply issues. Budapest's defenders asked permission to leave the city and escape the encirclement. Hitler refused.

On 28 January, 1945, German troops could no longer hold their ground and were forced to withdraw. The fate of the defenders of Budapest was sealed.

The Battle for Buda

Unlike Pest, which is built on flat terrain, the city of Buda is built on hills. This allowed the defenders to place artillery and fortifications above the attackers, greatly slowing Soviet advance. The main citadel, Gellért Hill was defended by elite Waffen-SS troops that successfully repelled several Soviet assaults. Nearby, Soviet and German forces were fighting for the city cemetery. Fights on the shell-opened tombs would last for several days. Fighting on Margaret Island, in the middle of the Danube, was particularly merciless. The island was still attached to the rest of the city by the remaining half of the Margaret Bridge and was used as parachuting area as well as for covering improvised airstrips set up in the downtown.

On 11 February, 1945, the Gellért Hill finally fell after a vicious Soviet attack launched from three points of compass simultaneously, after six weeks of fighting. Soviet artillery was finally able to dominate the entire city and to shell the remaining Axis defenders, who were concentrated in less than two square kilometres and suffering from malnutrition and diseases. Daily rations were reduced to 150 grams of bread and meat from slaughtered horses. Nevertheless, the defenders refused to surrender and defended every street and house, fighting Soviet troops and tanks. At this time, some of the captured Hungarian soldiers defected and were fighting on the Soviet side against the Germans and the Fascist Hungarians. The Hungarians fighting for the Soviets were known collectively as "The Volunteer Regiment of Buda."

After capturing the southern railway station during a two-day bloodbath, Soviet troops advanced to the Castle hill. On 10 February, 1945, after a violent assault, Soviet marines established a bridgehead on the Castle hill, while almost cutting the remaining garrison in half.

The third German breakout and surrender

, to abandon Budapest or to attempt a breakout of the encirclement. But the glider flights bringing in supplies had ended a few days earlier and the parachute drops had also been discontinued.

In desperation, Pfeffer-Wildenbruch decided to lead the remnants of his troops out of Budapest. Typically, the German commander did not consult much with the Hungarian commander of the city. Uncharacteristically, Pfeffer-Wildenbruch included the Hungarian commander, General Iván Hindy, in this last desperate breakout attempt.

On the night of 11 February, twenty-eight thousand German and Hungarian troops began to stream down from Castle Hill. They moved in three waves. With each wave were thousands of civilians. Entire families, pushing prams, trod through the snow and ice. Unfortunately for the would be escapees, the Soviets awaited them in prepared positions.

The troops, along with the civilians, used fog to their advantage. The first wave managed to surprise the waiting Soviet soldiers and artillery, and its sheer number allowed many to escape. The second and third waves were less fortunate than the first. Soviet artillery and rocket batteries bracketed the escape area to deadly result. But, despite heavy losses, five to ten thousand people managed to reach the wooded hills northwest of Budapest and escape towards Vienna. Roughly seven hundred German troops escaped.

The majority of the escapees were killed, wounded, or captured by the Soviet troops. Pfeffer-Wildenbruch and Hindy were among the captured.

On 13 February, 1945, the remaining defenders finally surrendered. Budapest lay in ruins, with more than 80 percent of its buildings destroyed or damaged, and historical buildings like the Hungarian Parliament Building and the Castle in ruins. All five bridges spanning the Danube were destroyed.

German and Hungarian military losses were high. Whole divisions were destroyed. At a minimum, the Germans lost all or most of the 13.Panzer-Division, the 60.Panzergrenadier-Division "Feldherrnhalle", the 8.SS-Kavallerie-Division "Florian Geyer", and the 22.SS-Kavallerie-Division "Maria Theresa". The Hungarian 1st Corps, including the 10th Infantry Division, the 12th Infantry Division, and the 1st Armored Division, was completely destroyed.

Some 40,000 civilians were killed, with an unknown number dying from starvation and diseases. Mass rapes of women between ages of 10 and 70 were common. ["The worst suffering of the Hungarian population is due to the rape of women. Rapes - affecting all age groups from ten to seventy are so common that very few women in Hungary have been spared." Swiss embassy report cited in Ungváry 2005, p.350.] In Budapest alone 50,000 are estimated to have been raped by Red Army and Romanian soldiers.Fact|date=May 2008

Aftermath

With the exception of Operation Spring Awakening ("Unternehmen Frühlingserwachen"), launched in March that year, the siege of Budapest was the last major operation on the southern front for the Germans. The siege further depleted the Wehrmacht and especially the Waffen-SS. For the Soviet troops, the Siege of Budapest was a final rehearsal before the Battle of Berlin. It also allowed the Soviets to launch the Vienna Offensive. On 13 April, 1945, exactly two months after the Budapest surrender, Vienna would fall.

Memoirs and diaries

The events of World War II in parts of the Budapest, Naphegy and Krisztinaváros, can be followed from the diaries and memoirs of its inhabitants. László Deseő, who was 15 years old in 1944, lived in 32 Mészáros Street with his family. This area was one of the most attacked ones because of its proximity to the Southern Railway Station and the strategic importance of the hill. Deseő kept a diary throughout the siege. [ [http://www.rev.hu/html/hu/tanulmanyok/1945elott/bpostroma.htm Deseő László naplója] (Hungarian)] The memoirs of András Németh also describe the siege and the bombing of the empty school building which he and his fellow soldiers used as an observation post shortly before. [ [http://mek.oszk.hu/02800/02801/02801.htm#7 Németh András – "Mostohafiak"] (Hungarian)]

ee also

* Budapest Offensive
* Soviet occupation of Hungary

References

*John F. Montgomery, "Hungary: The Unwilling Satellite". Devin-Adair Company, New York, 1947. Reprint: Simon Publications, 2002. Available online at [http://historicaltextarchive.com/books.php?op=viewbook&bookid=7&pre=1 Historical Text Archive] and at the [http://www.hungarian-history.hu/lib/montgo/ Corvinus Library of Hungarian History] .
*Gosztony, Peter: Der Kampf um Budapest, 1944/45, München : Schnell & Steiner, 1964.
*Nikolai Shefov, "Russian fights", Lib. Military History, M. 2002.
*James Mark. Remembering Rape: Divided Social Memory and the Red Army in Hungary 1944–1945. Past and Present 2005: 188: 133-161 (Oxford University Press).
*Krisztian Ungvary, "The Siege of Budapest: One Hundred Days in World War II" (trans. Peter Zwack), Yale University Press, 2005, ISBN 0-300-10468-5
*Source about soviet casualties, estimated at 80,000, not 160,000: http://www.victory.mil.ru/war/oper/15.html

Notes

External links

* [http://www.historynet.com/magazines/mhq/3033336.html World War II: Siege of Budapest]


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