The Struggle for Hungary, Autumn 1944
These are interesting times on the Eastern Front. The opening up of the Soviet Archives has spread from just the works of David Glantz to other authors, and to more varied topics on the four year struggle. This book covers the first attempt to knock Hungary out of the war and take the capital, which came up just short of the city. The Soviets would have to regroup and try again in the winter, this time with success.
In the summer of 1944, the Soviets had crushed Army Group Center, driven to the Baltic Coast, and swept into the Balkans, forcing the Romanian and Bulgarians to switch sides. The Germans were reeling, but the Soviets were tiring as well. Could they knock out Hungary too, and possibly break out into Austria and points west?
The first part of the plan to take the country quickly was to get the government to change sides and take its defending units out of the line. Unlike the earlier attempts, though, this was foiled by the Germans backing a coup in their favor and installing a more radical government under Sztojay. With the enemy at the gates, this new government’s first act was to attack the local Jewish population.
With the chance of an easy win scuttled, the Soviets tried to win by force, using the last reserves for a lunge to Budapest before German reinforcements might arrive. It was a good try, and they made it to the suburbs before the front firmed up and the weather broke. As a side benefit, the forces moved here would be missed when the Soviets attacked on the Polish front and drove nearly to Berlin – reaching the Oder.
The book has good information of the unit actions for both sides in the campaign, and it was interesting to get full details over actions usually dismissed in a sentence or so in the books on the whole East Front that was all we had thirty years ago. The author is fair to each side, even defending Stalin from some of the usual “If Stalin had listened to me, Budapest would have fallen!” claims make by old generals after the war, when it was safe. He examines Malinovsky’s claim, but doesn’t find it too convincing when the true situation is understood.