Take Budapest! The Struggle for Hungary, Autumn 1944 by Kamen Nevenkin.
I recently had the pleasure of reading Kamen Nevenkin’s book “Take Budapest! The Struggle for Hungary, Autumn 1944”. This book explores the initial Soviet attempt to take Budapest in October and November 1944. The Soviet attempt to seize Hungary in 1944 is initiated when the coup of Arrow-Cross party led by Szalasi ended the possibility of Hungary negotiating an armistice and leaving the war. What Mr. Nevenkin does particularly well, is focusing in on the actions of the 2nd Ukrainian Front, in particular the 46th Army spearheaded by the 2nd and 4th Guards Mechanized Corps in their attempt to seize Budapest from the march. He balances the Soviet actions and reports with the responses by Army Group South, in particular the 1st, 13th, 23rd, and 24th Panzer Divisions, and Panzer Grenadier Division “Feldherrnhalle”, and the Hungarian Armies 1st Huszar Division and 1st Armored Division in their attempts to counterattack and halt the Soviet offensive. Kamen Nevenkin does an excellent job juxtaposing the two adversaries’ attempts to gain control and seize the initiative in a balanced manner. His efforts bring to light this neglected action.
“Take Budapest” commences with an introduction of the economic and political reasons that the Germans would want to fight over Hungary. These reasons, oil, food, industry, and their last remaining ally remain valid and are a root cause as to why the Germans continue to invest resources into defend Hungarian territory until 1945. These reasons are contrasted with the strategic and political reasons the Soviets would want to seize control of Hungary, to assert control over the Balkans, divert German forces from the central sector, and provide an avenue to quickly seize Austria, the only country that had not been divided into a post war sphere of influence between the allies. Hungary was a central focus for Germany and a secondary theatre for the Soviets, a deliniation that Mr. Nevenkin unfortunately, does not fully explore.
The majority of the book, and its great strength, is the focus on the conflict that occurred from 28 October to 6 November 1944. Kamen Nevenkin goes into detail about the planning of the operation from the Soviet perspective, in particular providing background and context behind Stalin’s call to Malinovskii on the 28th of October and the differing reports that would have influenced Stalin’s decision. With Stalin’s order the attack begins and the actions of each corps, division, and in some instances brigades or battalions are reported. Where this action is covered in “The Road to Berlin” by John Erickson in 3 pages, it is the enhanced view of this action enables Mr. Nevenkin to explore the importance of flak units defending Kecskemet, the introduction of the 4th Guards Mechanized Corps, and the Attila lines are all given amazing coverage.
My primary issue with this book is a weak conclusion which leads me questioning whether or not the Soviets, and Stalin in particular made the correct call in trying to seize Budapest from the march. I would also have liked to have read a summary of the effort that was required by the Germans and Hungarians to halt this advance. Finally, and it is a minor point, I wish the tables and charts were slightly clearer in explaining what was being defined.
“Take Budapest” provides a cut and thrust history of panzer divisions and mechanized brigades on the road to Budapest. For any historian interested in tactical to operational level history I highly recommend this book. It would also be great for war gamers looking for late war scenarios of armoured combat as, especially after the first day when the German Panzer Divisions entered the fray to stop the Mechanized Corps in a series of meeting engagements. It compliments very nicely “Tomb of the Panzerwaffe” describing the final spasms of Nazi Germany in the dying months of the 2nd World War.
This book leaves me with some outstanding questions, in particular:
- While not explicitly stated, it could be argued, that Hungary was a critical front for the Germans due to the economic factors but a secondary theatre for the Soviets. To confirm this I would have to examine the disposition of German and Soviet formations commencing in October 1944;
- What information did Stalin have on the night of the 28th? While he orders Malinovskii to attack immediately vice waiting 5 days before commencing the assault (which would have resulted in an assault date of 3 November) was this because he was aware of the German troop movements or the actions to further fortify the Hungarian capital? Both reasons would have been cause to push for an immediate assault to catch the enemy off guard;
- What was the lasting impact of this operation? How does this leave the situation in Hungary between November 1944 and January 1945?