4 – Siege of Budapest (29 December 1944 – 13 February 1945)
At under 50 days, the Siege of Budapest doesn’t go down as one of the longest in history but it was certainly one of the bloodiest. Approximately 170,000 (from a force of 500,000) Soviet and Romanian forces surrounded German and Hungarian forces who were trapped in the city of Budapest. It was part of the Budapest Offensive and defeating the Axis powers was to represent a major strategic victory for Allied forces as they continued their march to Berlin.
By the beginning of 1944, Hungary no longer had an appetite for war but its ally Germany was not prepared to let them go. Instead, Germany invaded Hungary and prevented its reluctant partner from entering into peace talks with the Allies. Axis forces started getting pushed back from southern Ukraine in June 1944 and its longtime allies Romania switched sides in August. Budapest now assumed immense importance to the Nazis as it was the capital of its only remaining ally in Europe and a crucial obstacle on the road to Vienna and southern Bavaria.
The initial Soviet advance towards Hungary began on 29 October 1944 and the Red Army planned to keep the Hungarian capital isolated from Axis forces. By early November, the Allies were just 20 kilometers from Budapest but elected to pause and recover after previously grueling engagements. For Soviet leader Josef Stalin, Budapest was a major prize that would increase his bargaining power at the upcoming Yalta conference. He ordered Marshal Rodion Malinovsky to immediately attack Budapest and rebuffed the Marshal’s request for a brief break.
By Christmas Day, the Russians were virtually on the outskirts of Budapest and on 29 December, Malinovsky sent two officers into the city to offer surrender terms which were quickly rejected by the Germans. Both officers were accidentally killed on the way back but the Russians accused the Germans of killing their men on purpose. In January 1945, the Germans launched their three-part counter-offensive called Operation Konrad. Part I was launched on 1 January 1945 but was halted by 12 January. Part II was launched on 7 January but was also quickly stopped.
The Axis troops offered strong resistance but began to run out of food and water and soldiers even started eating their horses. By the middle of January, the important landmark Csepel Island was taken by the Soviets and on 17 January, the Germans withdrew troops from Pest to try and defend Buda. The following day, the Germans destroyed all five bridges over the Danube River. Operation Konrad III was launched on the same day and made some progress in the following 8 days.
Stalin the ordered his troops to maintain their position no matter the cost and the German offensive began to dwindle due to lack of resources and fatigue. Hitler rejected a request from the defenders to surrender and on 28 January, the Germans abandoned most of their territory in the city. After a final stand at Buda, the Soviets finally took control of the city on 11 February. Three waves of German and Hungarian troops tried one last desperate escape and while most of the first wave was successful, the majority of the remaining troops were killed or captured. The last defenders surrendered on 13 February. When the dust settled, over 130,000 people died (including 38,000 civilians) and over 60,000 Axis troops were captured.