Reviews

Review of: Take Budapest!

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.

-A.R.-

This book leaves me with some outstanding questions, in particular:

  1. 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;
  2. 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;
  3. What was the lasting impact of this operation? How does this leave the situation in Hungary between November 1944 and January 1945?
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Historian

An Evening of History with David Glantz

A meeting with Colonel David Glantz (Rtd)

This past April, I had the distinct pleasure of spending an evening discussing history with Mr. Glantz.  Mr. David Glantz has studied the Soviet military for over the last 40 years, initially studying the Soviet military as an adversary during the Cold War and subsequently, through his work as a historian.  As an author of over 20 books, numerous articles, he has shared his knowledge of the Eastern Front with English readers, exploring this previously neglected field of history.  His access to, and use of primary source material, in particular Russian source material not previously seen has presented the English reader with a new perspective from which to study the battles that raged on the Eastern Front.

Needless to say, I was excited to meet him, but in addition to the traditional historical discussions, I wanted to ask Mr. Glantz about his transition from military officer to historian.  Currently serving in the military, I was keen to hear what advice he could provide to me?

We talked about the history of the Second World War.  The amount of history, stories, and studies left to be discovered.  We talked about how you can translate your experience in the military to the study of military history, using your knowledge of military documentation, units, and tactics to understand the documents written in the past.  However, the most important thing I could do to study the history of the Eastern Front, would be to learn both Russian and German as this would allow me to read the original primary documents.

On the subject of reading, I love libraries and his study, with four walls with shelves from floor to ceiling filled with books, and a desk in the middle, was, from my perspective beautiful.  His collection of books and primary documents, both in English, German, and Russian spanned unit histories, biographies, and after action studies and it is from this location, surrounded by information, that he writes each day.

As much as I wanted to learn about the transition from military officer to historian there were more than a few historical questions that I wanted to ask.  One of the questions I asked Mr. Glantz was his opinion concerning the controversy as to whether or not the Soviets could have liberated Warsaw in August 1944 prior to the Germans destroying the city.  One argument commonly made, states that the Soviet Army halted on purpose short of Warsaw, letting the Germans kill all the Polish rebels in the city.  Another argument is that the Soviet Army at the end of Operation Bagration did not have the strength to overcome the German reserves thereby preventing the Soviet forces from reaching the city.

Mr. Glantz’s response to this question amazed me both for its clarity, and his documentation readily available with which he was able to substantiate his opinion.  In his view, the Soviet Army was not in a position to liberate the city of Warsaw.  Both because of the movement of German forces from Army Group South north, but also significant German anti-tank forces transferred to halt the Soviet advance.  To illustrate the situation facing the Soviet forces, he pulled out the maps showing unit and formation locations from both the German, Soviet, and combined perspectives on a daily basis.  The Soviet militaries inability to reach Warsaw did not mean that politics did not factor into the Soviet considerations as the Soviets refused to permit allied aircraft from landing in their territory.  The restriction on western aircraft and by extension western aid was political, and this lack of aid accelerated the defeat of the Polish resistance.  While militarily, the Soviets could not have intervened, they could have provided greater support to the resistance.

Politics and military action were intertwined throughout the Second World War, not only concerning Warsaw but also Berlin.  We discussed the Vistula-Oder Offensive’s halt in February 1945.  Mr. Glantz theorized that the reason for the halt of Soviet offensive was actually the Yalta conference, as the question of Austria whose occupation was not yet agreed upon.  To ensure that Soviet forces were in possession of Austria when Germany surrendered, Zhukov’s forces were halted short of Berlin, and only upon seizure of Vienna was Berlin allowed to be seized.  It was an interesting discussion that provided greater context to the books I have recently read concerning Operation Spring Awakening and the requirement to hold back by the 3rd Ukrainian Front for the subsequent attack to Vienna.

It was a pleasurable evening, and during the drive home, I reflected upon the topics we talked about, from the situation outside Warsaw, to the latest activities in the Crimea, and the changes in to access of the Russian achieves.   I am very grateful to Mr. Glantz for the fact that he made time in his schedule to meet with me, to offer new insights and share his passion for history.  The lasting effect of the evening is that I will be looking to learn Russian in the new year.

With sincere thanks,

-AR-

Image source: http://www.glantzbooks.com/