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The Siege of Budapest was a siege of the Hungarian capital city of Budapestmarker, fought towards the end of World War II in Europe, during the Sovietmarker Budapest Offensive. The siege started when Budapest, defended by Hungarian and German troops, was first encircled on 29 December 1944 by the Red Army and the Romanian 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 of 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 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 Balatonmarker. 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 "Hungarist" Ferenc Sz√°lasi, from the Arrow Cross Party.

The Siege

Encirclement of Budapest

Soviet tanks and infantry pressing on the Germans near Budapest in 1944.
On 29 October 1944, the Red Army started its offensive against the city of 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, Sovietmarker and Romanian 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 Viennamarker was seized by the Soviet troops, thereby encircling the city. "Leader of the Nation" (NemzetvezetŇĎ), Ferenc Sz√°lasi, had already fled the city on 9 December.

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. Waffen SS General Karl Pfeffer-Wildenbruch, the commander of the IX Waffen SS Alpine Corps, was put in charge of the city's defenses.

Budapest was a major target for Joseph Stalin. Indeed, the Yalta Conferencemarker 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.

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 Unionmarker, with some German and Hungarian historians arguing that the emissaries were deliberately shot by the Soviets. Others believe that they were in fact shot by mistake on their way back. In any case, Sovietmarker 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 Pestmarker, 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 Tatamarker 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 west 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 Esztergommarker 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 Ferihegymarker 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 Castlemarker as landing zones for plane and glider, 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 Stalingradmarker. 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 sewer, as both Axis and Soviet troops used them for troop movement. Six Soviet marine 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 Islandmarker was taken, along with its military factories, which were still producing Panzerfausts and shell, 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 agreed 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 Pestmarker, 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 Hillmarker 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 Islandmarker, 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. From the Soviet side in fights on the island 25th Gds rifle division operated (losses see below).

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.

The experience of Joseph Szentkiralyi illustrates the privations experienced by many. Szentkiralyi had worked in the United States prior to World War II and had been deported back to Hungary. During the Siege of Budapest, he and his family endured constant artillery bombardment and street-by-street tank and infantry battles between the Germans, the remnants of the Royal Hungarian Army, and the attacking Ukrainian and Russian forces. Szentkiralyi, along with others, risked their lives by leaving the bomb shelters to butcher frozen horse carcasses in the streets in order to prevent starvation and help keep their families alive. At the end, daily rations consisted of melted snow, horse meat, and 150 grams of bread. Szentkiralyi narrowly escaped arrest and likely execution by the Soviets after the war's end, escaping to Switzerland. Eighty percent of Budapest's buildings were destroyed or damaged during the siege. About 40,000 civilians died during the battle. When the Russians finally claimed victory, they initiated an orgy of violence, including wholesale theft of anything they could lay their hands on, random executions, and mass rape.

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. The Hungarians fighting for the Soviets were known collectively as "The Volunteer Regiment of Buda."

After capturing the southern railway stationmarker 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

A street in Budapest after the battle.
still forbade the German commander, Pfeffer-Wildenbruch, 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. The German commander did not typically consult much with the Hungarian commander of the city. However, Pfeffer-Wildenbruch now uncharacteristically included the Hungarian commander, General Iv√°n 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.

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 numbers allowed many to escape. The second and third waves were less fortunate than the first. Soviet artillery and rocket batteries bracketed the escape area, with deadly results. But, despite heavy losses, five to ten thousand people managed to reach the wooded hills northwest of Budapest and escape towards Vienna. 600-700 German soldiers reached the main German lines from Budapest. Roughly a third of these soldiers belonged to the "Feldhernhalle" Panzergrenadier Division, and 170 to the Waffen-SS. The number of Hungarian escapees is unknown.

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 Buildingmarker and the Castle in ruins. All five bridges spanning the Danube were destroyed.

Aftermath

German and Hungarian military losses were high with entire divisions destroyed. 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 I Corps was completely destroyed. Hungarian divisions destroyed included the 10th Infantry Division, the 12th Infantry Division, and the 1st Armored Division.

Civilian deaths and mass rape

Some 40,000 civilians were killed, with an unknown number dying from starvation and diseases. During the seige, an estimated 50,000 women and girls were raped , though estimates vary from 5,000 to 200,000. Hungarian girls were kidnapped and taken to Red Army quarters, where they were imprisoned, repeatedly raped, and sometimes murdered. Even embassy staff from neutral countries were captured and raped, as documented when Soviet soldiers attacked the Swedish legation in Germany.

Some losses of Soviet and Romanian forces

VII Romanian Army Corps: (for all January, in second half of January it has been deduced from structure of attacking forces)
  • Corps staff - 7 killed, 3 missed, 19 wounded, 3 sick.
  • 2nd Infantry Division - 147 killed, 29 missed, 654 wounded, 149 sick.
  • 19th Infantry Division - 181 killed, 12 missed, 936 wounded, 42 sick.
  • 9th Cavalry Division - 79 killed, 272 wounded, 6 sick.


18th Soviet Rifle Corps (66th Gds, 68th Gds, 297th, 317th rifle divisions, 1-10 January) - 791 killed, 50 missed, 2568 wounded, 72 sick.

25th Gds rifle division (20-31 January) - in all 452 men, incl. 29 killed.

All besieging force (1-10 February) - 1044 killed, 52 missed, 3411 wounded, 276 sick.

With the exception of Operation Spring Awakening (Unternehmen Fr√ľhlingserwachen), 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 the Naphegymarker and Krisztinav√°rosmarker neighborhoods of Budapest are told in a few remaining diaries and memoirs. L√°szl√≥ DeseŇĎ, a 15 year old boy in 1944, lived in 32 M√©sz√°ros Street with his family. This area was heavily attacked because of its proximity to the Southern Railway Stationmarker and the strategic importance of the hill. DeseŇĎ kept a diary throughout the siege. The memoirs of Andr√°s N√©meth also describe the siege and the bombing of the empty school building which he and his fellow soldiers used as an observation post. The memoirs of Heinz Landau, Goodbye Transylvania, present a German soldier's view of the battle.

See also



Additional Reading

  • John F. Montgomery, Hungary: The Unwilling Satellite. Devin-Adair Company, New York, 1947. Reprint: Simon Publications, 2002. Available online at Historical Text Archive and at the Corvinus Library of Hungarian History.
  • Gosztony, Peter: Der Kampf um Budapest, 1944/45, M√ľnchen : 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‚Äď1945. Past and Present 2005: 188: 133-161 (Oxford University Press).
  • Kriszti√°n Ungv√°ry, 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


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