Operation Spring Awakening
Operation Frühlingserwachen ("Spring Awakening") (6 – 16 March 1945) was the last major German offensive of World War II. The offensive was launched in Hungary on the Eastern Front. This offensive was also referred to in Germany as the Plattensee Offensive, in Soviet Union as the Balaton Defensive Operation (6 – 15 March 1945), and in English as the Lake Balaton Offensive.
The offensive begun by the Germans in great secrecy on 6 March 1945. They launched attacks in Hungary near the Lake Balaton area. This area included some of the last oil reserves still available to the Axis. The operation involved many German units withdrawn from the failed Ardennes Offensive on the Western Front, including the 6th SS Panzer Army and the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH). Almost inevitably, Operation Spring Awakening was a failure for the German Army.
After the Ardennes offensive failed, in Hitler’s estimation, the Nagykanizsa oilfields southwest of Lake Balaton were the most strategically valuable reserves on the Eastern Front. Hitler ordered Sepp Dietrich's 6th SS Panzer Army to take the lead and move to Hungary in order to protect the oilfields and refineries there.
The Germans planned to attack against Soviet General Fyodor Tolbukhin's 3rd Ukrainian Front. The 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 Balaton on a wide front. They were to push east through the Soviet 27th Army and to the Danube River. After reaching the river, one part of the 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, which had been captured on 13 February 1945. Another part of 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, which was to thrust north through Mohács. 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.
German 6th Army would keep the Soviet 27th Army engaged while it was surrounded. Likewise, the German 2nd Panzer Army would advance from an area south of Lake Balaton towards Kaposvár 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.
By the second half of February Soviet intelligence identified large German tank formations in western Hungary, and soon realized that preparation for a major offensive was underway. Using the experience gained in the Battle of Kursk, Soviets built multi-layer anti-tank defense using 65% of available artillery to create 66 anti-tank ambush points over 83 km of front in Lake Balaton area. The depth of the defense zone reached up to 25–30 km. To ensure sufficient supply of war materials and fuel, additional temporary bridges and gas pipelines were built on the Danube River.
On 6 March 1945, the German 6th Army, joined by the 6th SS Panzer Army launched a pincer movement north and south of Lake Balaton. Ten panzer and five infantry divisions, including a large number of new heavy King Tiger tanks, struck 3rd Ukrainian Front, hoping to reach the Danube and link up with the German 2nd Panzer Army forces attacking south of Lake Balaton. The attack was spearheaded by the 6th SS Panzer Army and included elite units such as the LSSAH division. Dietrich's army made "good progress" at first, but as they drew near the Danube, the combination of the muddy terrain and strong Soviet resistance ground them to a halt.
By 14 March, Operation Spring Awakening was at risk of failure. The 6th SS Panzer Army was well short of its goals. The 2nd Panzer Army did not advance as far on the southern side of Lake Balaton as the 6th SS Panzer Army had on the northern side. Army Group E met fierce resistance from the Bulgarian First Army and Josip Broz Tito's Yugoslavian partisan army, and failed to reach its objective of Mohács.
Soviet counterattack and subsequent operations
On 16 March, the Soviets forces counterattacked in strength. The Germans were driven back to the positions they had held before Operation Spring Awakening began. The overwhelming numerical superiority of the Red Army made any defense impossible, yet Hitler somehow had believed victory was attainable.
On 22 March, the out-numbered remnants of the 6th SS Panzer Army withdrew towards Vienna. By 30 March, the Soviet 3rd Ukrainian Front crossed from Hungary into Austria. By 4 April, the 6th SS Panzer Army was already in the Vienna area desperately setting up the city's defenses against the anticipated Soviet Vienna Offensive. 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. The Soviet's Vienna Offensive ended with the fall of the city on 13 April. By 15 April, the remnants of the 6th SS Panzer Army were north of Vienna, facing the Soviet 9th Guards Tank Army and 46th Army.
By 15 April, the depleted German 6th Army was north of Graz, facing the Soviet 26th and 27th Armies. The remnants of the German 2nd Panzer Army were south of Graz in the Maribor area, facing the Soviet 57th Army and the Bulgarian First Army. Between 25 April and 4 May, the 2nd Panzer Army was attacked near Nagykanizsa during the Nagykanizsa–Körmend Offensive.
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. Between 16 and 25 March, the Hungarian Third Army had been destroyed about 40 kilometres (25 mi) west of Budapest by the Soviet 46th Army which was driving towards Bratislava and the Vienna area.
Operation Spring Awakening was a failure for Germany. Given the timing of the offensive and the relative strength of German forces compared to the Red Army, the plan was doomed from the start.
This failure is known for the "armband order" that followed. The order was issued to the 6th SS Panzer Army commander Sepp Dietrich by Adolf Hitler, who claimed that the troops, and more importantly, the Leibstandarte, "did not fight as the situation demanded." As a mark of disgrace, the Waffen-SS units involved in the battle were ordered to remove their treasured cuff titles. Dietrich did not relay the order to his troops.
Order of battle
The Axis forces:
- Elements of the German Army Group South (Heeresgruppe Süd)
- Elements of the German Army Group E (Heeresgruppe E)
The Soviet forces:
- Elements of the Soviet 3rd Ukrainian Front
- History of Germany during World War II
- Hungary during the Second World War
- Military history of Bulgaria during World War II
- Battle of Budapest – 1944/45
- Battle of the Transdanubian Hills – 1945
- Nagykanizsa–Körmend Offensive – 1945
- Prague Offensive – 1945
- Soviet 3rd Ukrainian Front
- German 6th SS Panzer Army
- German Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler Division
- Hungarian Third Army
- Bulgarian First Army
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