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Operation Spring Awakening (Unternehmen Frühlingserwachen) (6 March 194516 March 1945) was the last major German offensive launched during World War II. The offensive was launched in Hungarymarker on the Eastern Front. This offensive was also known in German as the Plattensee Offensive, in Russian as the Balaton Defensive Operation (6 March 1945 - 15 March 1945), and in English as the Lake Balaton Offensive.

The offensive was launched by the Germans in great secrecy on 6 March 1945. The German attacks were centered in the Lake Balatonmarker area. This area included some of the last oil reserves still available to the Germans.

Operation Spring Awakening involved many German units withdrawn from the failed Ardennes Offensive on the Western Front including the 6th SS Panzer Army.

Order of battle

The Axis forces:

The Soviet forces:

German plan

The German plan of attack against Soviet General Fyodor Tolbukhin's 3rd Ukrainian Front was ambitious. German General Sepp Dietrich's 6th SS Panzer Army was responsible for the primary thrust of the German attack. The army was to advance from an area north of Lake Balatonmarker on a wide front. The 6th SS Panzer Army was to push east through the Soviet 27th Army and to the Danube River. After reaching the river, one part of the 6th SS Panzer Army would turn north creating a northern spearhead. The northern spearhead would advance through the Soviet 6th Guards Tank Army and move along the Danube River to retake Budapest. The city had fallen on February 13, 1945. Another part of the 6th SS Panzer Army would then turn south and create a southern spearhead. The southern spearhead would move along the Sio Canal to link up with units from German Army Group E. Army Group E was to thrust through Mohácsmarker and, moving north, meet up with the southern spearhead of the 6th SS Panzer Army. If successful, the meeting of the southern spearhead and of Army Group E would encircle both the Soviet 26th Army and the Soviet 57th Army.

The German 6th Army would keep the Soviet 26th Army engaged while it was surrounded. Likewise the German 2nd Panzer Army would advance from an area south of Lake Balaton towards Kaposvar and keep the Soviet 57th Army engaged. The Hungarian Third Army was to hold the area north of the attack and to the west of Budapest.

German attack

As planned, the offensive got under way on 6 March 1945. It was spearheaded by the German 6th SS Panzer Army. The spearhead included elite units like German dictator Adolf Hitler's personal unit, the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler Division. Despite the extremely muddy conditions, the Germans managed to attack effectively and take the Soviets by surprise. Impressive gains were made for an offensive launched at such a late date in World War II.

However, once the Soviets realized that elite SS units were involved, they took the German offensive seriously. They ground the German advances to a halt.

By 14 March Operation Spring Awakening was already in serious trouble. At that time, Joseph Goebbels wrote in his diary that failure of the offensive was likely. The advance of the 6th SS Panzer Army, while impressive, was well short of the ambitious goals. The German 2nd Panzer Army did not do as well south of Lake Balaton as the 6th SS Panzer Army did north of Lake Balaton. Army Group E, met fierce resistance from the Bulgarian First Army and Josip Broz Tito's Yugoslavian partisan army and eventually failed to reach its objective, Mohácsmarker.

Soviet counterattack and subsequent operations

On 16 March 1945, the Soviets counterattacked in strength. Within twenty-four hours of the Soviet counterattack, the Germans were driven back to the positions they held before Operation Spring Awakening.

On 22 March 1945, hopelessly out-numbered and with few armoured vehicles remaining, the surviving German forces withdrew to prepared positions elsewhere in Hungary. The Soviet counteroffensive continued and these positions were soon over-run.

On 30 March 1945, the Soviet 3rd Ukrainian Front crossed from Hungary into Austria.

By 4 April 1945, Sepp Dietrich's 6th SS Panzer Army were already in the Vienna area desperately setting up the city's defenses against the anticipated Soviet Vienna Offensive. Already approaching and encircling the Austrian capital city were the Soviet 4th Guards Tank Army, the Soviet 6th Guards Tank Army, the Soviet 9th Guards Army, and the Soviet 46th Army.

By 15 April 1945, the remnants of the 6th SS Panzer Army were north of Vienna. They faced the Soviet 9th Guards Tank Army and the Soviet 46th Army. The Soviet's Vienna Offensive had ended. The city fell to the Soviets on April 13.

By 15 April 1945, the remnants of the German 6th Army were north of Graz. They faced the Soviet 26th Army and the Soviet 27th Army.

By 15 April 1945, the remnant of the German 2nd Panzer Army were south of Graz in the Maribor area. They faced the Soviet 57th Army and the Bulgarian First Army. Between 25 April and 4 May, the 2nd Panzer Army was badly bloodied by both armies near Nagykanizsamarker during the Nagykanizsa–Kermend Offensive.

Between 16 April and 25 April 1945, the Hungarian Third Army was destroyed about forty kilometres west of Budapest. They were destroyed by the Soviet 46th Army which was driving towards Bratislava and on to the Vienna area.

Some Hungarian units survived the fall of Budapest and the destruction which followed when the Soviets counterattacked after Operation Spring Awakening. The Hungarian Szent László Infantry Division was still indicated to be attached to the German 2nd Panzer Army as late as 30 April.

Aftermath

Almost inevitably, Operation Spring Awakening was a failure for the German Army (Wehrmacht Heer). Despite early gains, the operation was a prime example of Hitler's reckless military judgement towards the end of the war. Its chief flaw was that the offensive was much too ambitious in scope. Not only were the Germans supposed to retake Budapest but the Nagykanizsamarker oil fields south of Lake Balaton were to be defended. In addition, Hitler expected this German offensive to push the Soviet 3rd Ukrainian Front back to the Danube River and prevent Soviet General Rodion Malinovsky from continuing his army's advance into Hungary.

Hitler's senior commanders thought that the elite troops and the sizeable amounts of equipment and supplies committed to Operation Spring Awakening could have been put to better use elsewhere. They pleaded with Hitler to use these assets to protect the German homeland. However, Hitler insisted on pursuing his fantasy of destroying the whole of the Russian Southern/Ukrainian Front without air support or sufficient reserves of fuel. For weeks preceding this offensive, trainloads of men and tanks rolled out of the Rhineland and into Hungary, taking with them the Nazis' last hopes of avoiding complete defeat in the east.

Strategically, Operation Spring Awakening had no impact upon the outcome of World War II. On a tactical level, the operation highlighted the fighting qualities of the German army that still existed. But within 24 hours of the Soviet counter attack the Germans were driven back to the positions they held before the operation.

Armband order

This debacle is famous for the notorious "armband order" which followed. The order was issued to the commander of German 6th SS Panzer Army, Sepp Dietrich, by Adolf Hitler, who claimed that the troops, and, more importantly, the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, "did not fight as the situation demanded." As a mark of disgrace, the Leibstandarte units involved in the battle were ordered to remove their treasured "Adolf Hitler" cuff titles (German: armband). In the field, Sepp Dietrich, was disgusted by Hitler's order and did not relay it to his troops.

See also



References

  1. Page 182, The Decline and Fall of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, Hans Dollinger, Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number 67-27047
  2. Page 198, The Decline and Fall of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, Hans Dollinger, Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number 67-27047



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