Operation Frühlingserwachen ("Spring Awakening") (6 – 16 March 1945) was the last major German offensive launched during World War II. The offensive was launched in Hungary on the Eastern Front. This offensive was also known in German as the Plattensee Offensive, in Russian as the Balaton Defensive Operation (6 – 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 Balaton area. This area included some of the last oil reserves still available to the Germans.
Order of battle
The Axis forces:
- Elements of the German Army Group South (Heeresgruppe Süd)
- German Sixth SS Panzer Army – Included the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler
- German Second Panzer Army
- German Sixth Army ("Armeegruppe Balck")
- Hungarian Third Army
- Elements of the German Army Group E (Heeresgruppe E)
The Soviet forces:
- Elements of the Soviet 3rd Ukrainian Front
The German plan of attack against Soviet General Fyodor Tolbukhin's 3rd Ukrainian Front was ambitious. German General Sepp Dietrich's Sixth 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. The city had fallen on 13 February 1945. Another part of Sixth 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 Mohács and, moving north, meet up with the southern spearhead of Sixth 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.
German Sixth Army would keep the Soviet 26th Army engaged while it was surrounded. Likewise, the German Second 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 west 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, including 66 anti-tank "killing zones" over 83 km of front in Lake Balaton area containing 65% of available artillery. 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 pipeline were built on the river Danube.
The offensive got under way on 6 March. It was spearheaded by the German Sixth SS Panzer Army. The spearhead included elite units like Adolf Hitler's personal unit, the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler Division.
However, due to well-prepared defense and rapid movement of tank reserves by the Soviets, over a period of 10 days and after suffering heavy casualties, German troops only managed to advance 15–30 km.
By 14 March, Operation Spring Awakening was in serious trouble. At that time, Joseph Goebbels wrote in his diary that failure of the offensive was likely. The advance of the Sixth SS Panzer Army, while impressive, was well short of its ambitious goals. Second Panzer Army did not do so well south of Lake Balaton as the Sixth 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 ultimately failed to reach its objective of Mohács.
Soviet counterattack and subsequent operations
On 16 March, the Soviets counterattacked in strength. Within 24 hours of the Soviet counterattack, the Germans were driven back to the positions they held before Operation Spring Awakening.
On 22 March, 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 overrun.
On 30 March, the Soviet 3rd Ukrainian Front crossed from Hungary into Austria.
By 4 April, Sepp Dietrich's Sixth SS Panzer Army was 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. The Soviet's Vienna Offensive had ended with the fall of the city on 13 April. By 15 April, the remnants of the Sixth SS Panzer Army were north of Vienna, facing the Soviet 9th Guards Tank Army and 46th Army.
By 15 April, the remnants of the German Sixth Army were north of Graz, facing the Soviet 26th and 27th Armies. The remnants of the German Second 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 Second Panzer Army was badly mauled near Nagykanizsa during the Nagykanizsa–Körmend Offensive.
Between 16 and 25 April, the Hungarian Third Army was destroyed about 40 kilometres (25 mi) west of Budapest 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 Second Panzer Army as late as 30 April.
Almost inevitably, Operation Spring Awakening was a failure for Germans. Despite early gains, the operation was a prime example of Hitler's reckless military judgement towards the end of the war; its key flaw was that the offensive was too ambitious in scope. Not only were the Germans supposed to retake Budapest, but the Nagykanizsa oil fields south of Lake Balaton were to be defended. In addition, Hitler expected 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.
Strategically, the operation had no impact upon the outcome of World War II. On a tactical level, it highlighted the fighting qualities of the German army that still existed; however, within 24 hours of the Soviet counterattack, the Germans were driven back to the positions they held before the operation.
This debacle is famous for the "armband order" which followed. The order was issued to the commander of German Sixth 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.
- G.F. Krivosheyev, 'Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses in the twentieth century', London, Greenhill Books, 1997, ISBN 1-85367-280-7, Page 110
- Frieser, Karl-Heinz; Klaus Schmider, Klaus Schönherr, Gerhard Schreiber, Kristián Ungváry, Bernd Wegner (2007) (in German). Das Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg – Vol. 8: Die Ostfront 1943/44 – Der Krieg im Osten und an den Nebenfronten. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt München 2007, ISBN 3421062358, Pages 942-943
- Page 182, The Decline and Fall of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, Hans Dollinger, Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number 67-27047
- Page 198, The Decline and Fall of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, Hans Dollinger, Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number 67-27047
- Eastern Front (World War II)
- 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
- Vienna 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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