The Budapest Offensive was the general attack by Soviet and Romanian armies against Nazi Germany and their Axis allies from Hungary. The offensive lasted from 29 October 1944 until the fall of Budapest on 13 February 1945. This was one of the most difficult and complicated offensives that the Soviet Army carried on in Central Europe. It resulted in a decisive victory for the USSR, as it disabled the last European political ally of Nazi Germany and greatly sped up the ending of World War II in Europe.
Having secured Romania in the summer Iasi–Kishinev Offensive, the Soviet forces continued their push in the Balkans. The Red Army occupied Bucharest on 31 August, then swept westward across the Carpathian Mountains into Hungary and southward into Bulgaria, with parts joining the Yugoslav Partisans in the Belgrade Offensive. In the process, the Red Army’s forces drew German reserves away from the Warsaw-Berlin central axis, encircled and destroyed the German 6. Armee (for the second time) and forced Army Group South Ukraine’s shattered 8. Armee to withdraw west into Hungary.
From October 1944, the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Ukrainian Fronts advanced into Hungary. After isolating the Hungarian capital city in late December, the Soviets besieged and assaulted Budapest. On 13 February 1945, the city fell.
According to the historical documents, the Budapest Offensive can be divided into five periods:
- The First (29 October 1944 - 3 November 1944) and Second Periods (7 November 1944 – 24 November 1944) were marked by the two large offensives of the 2nd Ukrainian Front, led by Rodion Malinovksy. The battles in these two periods were exceptionally bloody and fierce, since the Germans offered strong resistance against the Soviet onslaught. Though the Red Army managed to gain considerable territory, they failed to capture Budapest, due to the fierce German resistance and their own lack of offensive strength.
- In the Third Period (3 December 1944 – 26 December 1944), the 3rd Ukrainian Front of Fyodor Tolbukhin reached the Danube river after liberating Belgrade, and thus greatly enhanced Soviet offensive power in Hungary. Now with adequate forces, the Soviet fronts launched a two-pronged attack north and south of Budapest, finally encircling the city and trapping about 79,000 German and Hungarian troops inside the Budapest pocket.
- The Fourth Period (1 January 1945 – 26 January 1945) was marked by a series of strong counter-offensives launched by German reinforcements in an attempt to relieve the siege of Budapest. Some German units managed to penetrate deep into the outskirts of the city, with the most successful ones only 25 km away from the Hungarian capital. However, the Soviets managed to withstand all the German attacks and maintain their encirclement.
- Finally, in the Fifth Period (27 January 1945 – 13 February 1945), the Soviets mustered their forces to eliminate the besieged defenders in the city. The German troops fought for about half a month more before surrendering on 13 February 1945, ending four months of bloody fighting in the Budapest area. Out of the estimated 79,000 defenders less than 1,000 managed to avoid death or captivity.
After the Budapest offensive, the main forces of Army Group South virtually collapsed. The road to Vienna, Czechoslovakia and the southern border of Germany was widely open for the Soviets and their allies.
According to Soviet claims, the Germans and Hungarians in Budapest lost 49,000 dead soldiers, with 110,000 captured and 269 tanks destroyed.
As most of the German forces in the region were destroyed, troops were rushed in from the Western Front and, in March, the Germans launched the ill-fated Operation Spring Awakening (Unternehmen Frühlingserwachen) in the Lake Balaton area. The expansive goals of this operation were to protect one of the last oil producing regions available to the Axis and to retake Budapest. Neither goal was achieved.
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