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Song in the Throat of Death: the Last German Offensive in the East to Hold the Russians 'Operation Spring Awakening'

A senior air warrior, graduate from the Staff College, and a PG in military studies. He is qualified to write on war and allied matters

song-in-the-throat-of-death-the-last-german-offensive-in-the-east-to-hold-the-russians-operation-spring-awakening

Background

By the middle of 1943, the top generals of the German army and many others were convinced that the war had been lost. However, the supreme leader Adolf Hitler was looking for divine intervention, and especially after the failure of the July 1944 assassination attempt he was convinced that providence was on his side. That was the reason that right up to April 1945, he never gave up hope of victory. He continued to launch counter-attacks both in the west and the east.

In December 1944 he launched his famous thrust through the American held areas in the Ardennes. Known as the "Battle of the bulge" it was an audacious plan but it had many imponderables. One of the reasons for the failure of the plan was that the supreme commander appointed by Hitler Field Marshal Von Rundstedt was himself diffident about the entire plan. He had presented his less ambitious plan but Hitler had rejected it. The German attack slowly ground to a halt but in the process, they captured nearly 400 mi.² of territory.

Sitting in his bunker under the Reich Chancellery Hitler turned his attention to the eastern front. He was perturbed that the Red Army was advancing towards Berlin. On January 12, 1945, Hitler received intelligence reports that the Red Army had commenced its winter offensive through Poland which was named the Vistula-Oder offensive. At that time he decided to make a thrust to the east to try and stop the Red Army. The Red Army had greater numerical strength and Hitler planned to counter that with a better plan and better marshaling of resources. He conceived of another plan to not only stop the Russians in their tracks but also to capture much-needed oil fields in Romania which were vital for the further prosecution of the war.


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The plan

Hitler sent a message to the overall commander Western front Field Marshal Von Rundstedt to withdraw several divisions and units from the Western front which had been active in the battle of the bulge and put them under the command of General Sepp Dietrich. The effect of this order was that I SS Panzer Corps along with 4 Panzer divisions were withdrawn from the Western front. Hitler had decided that this operation in the east would be spearheaded by the Panzers. He appointed General Sepp Dietrich to command the coming operation which he termed ' Operation Spring Awakening.'

General Dietrich was a loyal follower of Hitler and had been a member of the Nazi party for many years. He had a dubious record and was responsible for war crimes. Before 1929, he was Hitler's chauffeur and bodyguard. He was inducted into the SS and despite having no formal staff Officer training rose to become a general in the Waffen-SS. He had commanded the 6th Panzer Corps during the Battle of the Bulge and was responsible for the Malmedy massacre when he ordered the execution of US prisoners of war captured in 1944. He was tried as a war criminal by the Americans and given life imprisonment.

Hitler put his faith in this fanatical General. The Panzers were refitted but it took time and thus delayed the battle. One of the main aims of Hitler was to secure the extremely vital Nagykanizsa oil fields of southern Hungary as this was the last strategic asset in the east and essential for the Nazi war machine to continue to grind. The entire operation was kept secret and great care was taken not to reveal the content and aim of this operation.

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Battle

As refitting of the Panzers was taking time Hitler thought of a preliminary offensive.An operation titled "Operation Conrad III" was launched on January 18 and within five days of its launching, the Germans had captured the towns of Dunapentle and Adony which are on the western shore of the river Danube. The operation was swift and decisive and showed that the German army had lost none of its professionalism and fighting ability. It is on record that the Soviet 7th Mechanized Corps was destroyed.

So swift was the onslaught that for some time the Russian high command contemplated withdrawing the Russian army east of the river Danube. The Germans however could not persist with their attacks as their troops were getting exhausted. It was decided at a meeting in the Chancellery attended by Goering and other leaders including General Guderian that the attack must commence on the 28th of February.. The date was pushed back to 1st March.

There was a further delay in marshaling the Panzers and finally, on 6th March 45, the German sixth army joined by the 6th SS-Panzer division launched a pincer movement north and south of Lake Balaton. The offensive was led by the 6th Panzer division and the Germans also threw in elite units such as the NSSAH division. Initially, the division made good progress. However, as the Panzer division drew near the Danube river a combination of muddy terrain and strong Soviet resistance ground the Germans to a halt.

By 14th March the operation was at risk of failure. The 6th Panzer division had been unable to move forward and link up with the other troops. The 2nd Panzer Army was also short of goals and Army group E1 had met deep resistance from Joseph Broz Tito's Yugoslav partisan army.

The German losses were heavy and out of nearly 1000 tanks thrown into battle, only 332 were active. There were over 15,000 casualties and the operation was coming to an end. Despite the odds, the Germans had occupied nearly 400 mi.² of area.

On 16th March the Red Army attacked in strength and the Germans were driven back to the same positions which they were at the start of the offensive. 'Operation Spring awakening' had ground to a halt.



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Denouement

A point to be noted is that though the German army fought very well yet the overwhelming numerical superiority of the Red Army made any defence impossible. On 22nd March remnants of the Sixth SS Panzer Army withdrew towards Vienna. Hitler was extremely angry with his protege Sepp Dietrich and he issued the famous order banning the SS troops from wearing the cuff titles as a mark of disgrace. Hitler felt that the SS troops "did not fight as the situation demanded."

If figures have a meaning the German threw in 25 divisions that is roughly 260,000 men and over 1200 tanks. They were able to marshal nearly 3200 assault guns and 850 aircraft. They were opposed by a total of 37 divisions numbering 465,000 men and 407 thanks. The Russians had nearly 6600 assault guns and mortars and 965 aircraft. The Russian suffered much heavier casualties than the Germans but they were able to take 125,000 soldiers as POW.

After this battle, the days of the thousand years old Reich were over inside 12 years and within another month Hitler would commit suicide and Berlin would fall into the hands of the Red Army.

Comments

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 08, 2020:

Hi Flourish, not understood.

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 07, 2020:

Mark this as an example of what happens when you select someone based on loyalty or some other political motive rather than experience or qualifications. A certain American President should take heed of this historical example, if he could sit down to read a history book. However, that’s asking too much.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 07, 2020:

Neville Chamberlain is a person I am unable to understand. He had spent donkey's years in politics and yet he got completely fooled at Munich. His comments after coming back from Munich that we have 'won peace for our time' must be the silliest statement in world history. Finally, he had to make way for Churchill. England has always considered itself superior to the continent I wonder if one can use that term because everything the English did was different, like even the traffic moving in a different direction on the road. The UK's break from the EU was inevitable. The EU doesn't appear to be very homogeneous because of the economic disparity between the countries. I don't think Germany is going to share is its wealth with the eastern block but then they have achieved complete domination something which Hitler wanted all the time. All this is achieved without firing a shot.

In historical terms Tito must be regarded as a failure he could not bring nationalism to the door in all the states of Yugoslavia, even now the Slavs are close to Russia. Another point that bugs me is Karl Marx everybody must say that his economic theory is all B but he did talk about Decadent West and Europe to my mind is heading that way. The crucial point the EU has tried to brush under the carpet is the birth rate and the fertility of the woman. Their birth rate is so low below 2.1 that the population of younger people is declining and enough workers are not available to do menial jobs. To help out things that have an influx of Muslims in the workforce and outsourcing of manufacturing activities to China. I wonder what was the thinking in the minds of these countries like say Italy when they resorted to outsourcing all manufacturing activities to China. The repercussions have been terrible and the Muslim workforce as we have seen in many places even in Sweden and Norway, is a law of its own. There is ethnic and religious strife. Karl Marx talked of the decadent West and maybe he has a point.

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on September 07, 2020:

Owing to Neville Chamberlain's naivety - and remember he'd only ever been Chancellor, with no outside dealings to 'steel' him to the likes of the liar (Von) Ribbentrop and his master - Poland suffered twice, first under the Germans and then the Russians. Chamberlain declared war on Germany without a clue as to how we'd get near enough to Poland to protect the Poles against the Germans; followed by the chaos of Norway without suitable winter fighting equipment. We'd not been prepared for another war because neither Baldwin nor Chamberlain had taken the threat seriously that some in Parliament - like Churchill - had warned against. Additionally the prospect of an appeasing government under the pro-German Lord Halifax threatened our defences. We could neither adequately carry out a defensive nor offensive role against Germany on the ground. Luckily someone had foreseen something was about to fall on us and begun building monoplane fighters and bombers, the latter not being fast enough to outstrip the Germans' fighters but still able to pack something of a punch. The comedy of errors that formed Parliament in the early stages of WWII also deemed that the RAF shouldn't bomb German aircraft and armaments factories "because they were private enterprises" also caused ripples of amusement here and abroad.

'Warmonger' Churchill was eased into No. 10 by default, the aim being rather to sideline him to the House of Lords and "out of harm's way".

You couldn't make it up.

Tito on the other hand was very well organised, his only drawback being the Croatian government was on the side of the Nazis (they'd previously been part of the Austrian empire and - being Roman Catholics - received funds from the Vatican to fight the Serbs, an amalgam of Eastern Orthodox and Communist interests. The Slovenians were fairly disinterested either way but hankered after being with Austria. So much so, that when Yugoslavia disintegrated after Tito's death they approached the Austrian government to rejoin 'the club'. Had the decision been in the hands of the Carinthians in the south and the Styrians in the south-east, Slovenia would have been back with Austria by the time membership of the EU was accepted.

The Serbs had long been part of the Pan-Slavic bloc and would have welcomed the Russians with open arms.

The Hungarians belonged to neither entity, Slav nor German, and had taught the Austrians a lesson or two in mastery in days gone by, but their sentiments - since Austria had been absorbed into the Reich in 1938 - were with Austria and therefore joined the axis, to be rewarded with Russian occupation in 1945.

The Slovaks had been loyal to the Imperial Crown (Austrian), and were - like the Croats - decidedly anti-Semitic, unlike the Czechs who wished to stand against the Germans. Without Chamberlain's unwitting acquiescence Hitler would have ben stumped because the Czech armaments industry was better than theirs and the Czechs were better equipped for war than the Germans at the time.

Central and south Eastern Europe was and still is a political quagmire to the uninitiated, old loyalties running deep and transcending modern EU ideology. A house of cards waiting for the wind to blow it away.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 06, 2020:

This was a tortuous period for Germany. Hitler's earlier genius when he planned the battle of France and the landings in Norway in the teeth of opposition from the Royal Navy seem to have evaporated. Perhaps it might have been due to his illness. Then the very fact that general Guderian was called for the meeting in the Fuhrer bunker before the operation was a clear sign that the main thrust would be by the Panzers. The Russians had preponderance in numbers and so the offensive failed Remnants of the sixth Panzer division retreated towards Vienna. Despite it being a stronghold of the Nazi's it fell pretty easily to the Russians and there was hardly any street fighting like in Berlin.

Tito fell foul of Stalin when he met the Soviet leader in Moscow and complained about rapes by the Russian army. Stalin gave an astonishing reply. He rejected Titos complaint and said that a soldier fighting for many months needs to have some relief. Meaning that non-consent sex was acceptable. Tito held Yogoslavia together so long as he was there but once he went from the scene we have seen what happened and now a number of states have been formed. The entire area was accepted by the Americans as the Soviet share of influence at the Potsdam conference. But the Russians burnt their own hands when they imposed a communist dictatorship in the Balkans and East Europe and completely alienated the local people. No wonder these countries broke away from the Soviet influence moment communism collapsed. All these countries including Poland have very sad memories of the Russian army. An example is a Russian decision not to support the Warsaw uprising leading to hundreds being shot dead by the German army. As far as Scotland is concerned there seems to be an undercurrent to break away from England. Even in the referendum, a large number of Scots had opted for a separate country. I wonder if it's going to happen sometime.

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on September 06, 2020:

Ideal tank territory, emge, flat as a pancake (a man could stand in the middle of Lake Balaton with his chest and shoulders above water), and it's wide open across to Hungary across the 'puszta' the open plain. Not the best place to pick a fight with an enemy that not only outnumbers you, but outguns you. Then again the 'Bohemian Corporal' as Von Rundstedt called Hitler, was in the early stages of Parkinsons, hence the shakes he demonstrated when he awarded the boys of the Hitler Youth their medals for bravery months later before he went into the Fuehrer Bunker for the last time... Downhill all the way to after his birthday and marriage to Eva Braun.

And Tito wouldn't have spared the horses to put paid to the Germans' dreams. He'd had to put up with his fellow Croats' national socialism. Driving the last nails into Hitler's coffin would've helped him crush the Croats. One last act: in the 1920s, when the newly created Yugoslavia laid claim to Alpine Carinthia over the border from Slovenia, their resistance caused the Yugoslavs led by the Serbs to swear revenge for their failed attempt after a plebiscite in Carinthia brought a 'No' vote to the area being absorbed into Yugoslavia on an 'ethnic' ticket *(many borderland Austrians were of Slovenian ancestry and helped in the vote for southern Carinthia to stay in Austria). The Austrian government in Vienna weren't bothered which way it went (a bit like the British government in Westminster being willing to let Scotland claim Cumbria in England after a Scottish claim being made that Cumbria had once been part of the Kingdom of the Strathclyde Britons). Vengeance was taken the night before the British Army moved over the Alps into Carinthia, when they crossed the mountains and left with several hundred of the native population. They were never seen again.

Hungarian leader Admiral Horthy was relieved of his position in Budapest by the SS and Gestapo before the Russians closed on them. Eichmann was quick to leave, having tried to eke several thousand more Hungarian Jews for Auschwitz even at that late hour, and after himmler had ordered him to 'ease off' on the Jews with a view to using that as a 'bargaining chip' with the Allies.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 06, 2020:

Thank you, Liz, your comment is so welcome.

Liz Westwood from UK on September 06, 2020:

You give a well-researched and interesting account of the decisive battle in the east. I appreciate especially the diagrams which you have included.