Operation Frühlingserwachen Part II

A powerful anti-tank region, which had been set up in the Cece – Simontornya area on the morning of 9 March played a major role in repulsing the enemy’s attack in the direction of Cece with the aim of seizing crossings over the Sárviz Canal. Colonel Shpek, the commander of the 49th Destroyer Anti-tank Artillery Brigade, was appointed as the anti-tank region’s commandant. In addition to two of his brigade’s regiments, the 1008th and 1249th, the region included a battalion of the 407th Light Artillery Regiment, the 1089th Anti-aircraft Artillery Regiment, the 227th Separate Anti-aircraft Artillery Battalion, the 117th Destroyer Anti-tank Artillery Regiment, the 1953rd Self-propelled Artillery Regiment of the 209th Self-propelled Artillery Brigade, the “Avenger” Battalion (which had been formed between 6 and 10 January 1945 as part of the 4th Anti-aircraft Division at the order of the artillery commander of the 3rd Ukrainian Front in order to combat enemy tanks, and was armed with captured German 88mm anti-aircraft guns), and the 268th Guards Anti-aircraft Regiment. Altogether, this anti-tank region possessed more than 100 guns and self-propelled guns. With the assistance of units of the 11th Guards Cavalry Division, which had been hastily shifted to this sector, this anti-tank region in the course of 9 and 10 March repulsed all of the German attempts to seize crossings over the Sárviz and Kapos Canals in the Cece and Simontornya area.

However, in spite of this, by the evening of 9 March the situation of the 3rd Ukrainian Front had become precarious. East of the Sárviz Canal, units of the I SS Panzer Corps and the I Cavalry Corps had fully breached the primary defensive belt. Units of the 26th Army’s 35th Guards Rifle Corps were with great difficulty holding back the enemy in an intermediate position. In the sector of defense of the 135th Rifle Corps, the Germans had penetrated to the army-level belt of defenses, thereby creating a real threat to break through it. The troops of the 26th Army by this time had suffered significant losses and were exhausted by the heavy fighting, while the defensive front they were trying to hold had stretched to 90 kilometers.

By this time, too, the Front’s main reserves had already been committed. In particular, by the evening of 9 March 1945, the entire 18th Tank, 1st Guards Mechanized, and 5th Guards Cavalry Corps had already entered the fighting, as well as all the units and formations of the Front’s artillery reserve, including its anti-tank artillery reserve.

The Front commander Marshal of the Soviet Union Tolbukhin appealed to the Stavka of the Supreme High Command with a request to authorize the use of the 9th Guards Army, which was located in the Front’s reserve, in the defensive fighting. However, the Stavka reaffirmed its prior decision – the 9th Guards Army would not be drawn into the defensive fighting, and the Front no later than 15-16 March would go over to the offensive. As a result, the 3rd Ukrainian Front command had to seek out so-called “internal resources” in order to liquidate the threat of the enemy breakthrough to the Danube, and initiated a force reshuffling.

To take the pressure off of the 26th Army, Tolbukhin decided to insert the 4th Guards Army’s second-echelon 31st Guards Rifle Corps into the sector between Lake Velence and the Danube along a previously prepared line. He then assigned responsibility for the defense of the Front’s sector between Lake Velence and the Sárviz Canal, and further along the eastern bank of that canal to Cece, to the 27th Army. The 1st Guards Fortified District and the 30th Rifle Corps with all their attached assets, as well as the 1st Guards Mechanized Corps and the 18th Tank Corps, which had been committed into the fighting from the Front’s reserve, thereby passed to the control of the 27th Army.

Meanwhile, the 26th Army assumed responsibility for a shorter sector between Cece and Lake Balaton and took command of the 33rd Rifle Corps and the 208th and 209th Selfpropelled Artillery Brigade. The 23rd Tank Corps together with the 207th Self-propelled Artillery Brigade and the 5th Guards Cavalry Corps were pulled back into Front reserve. In the process, the 33rd Rifle Corps, reinforced with the two self-propelled artillery brigades, replaced the units of the 5th Guards Cavalry Corps and moved into the defenses on the line Sáregres, Simontornya, Ozora.

In order to reinforce the 27th Army, which was now defending the critical sector, the 4th Guards Army transferred to it a destroyer anti-tank artillery brigade, a mortar brigade and an artillery brigade, as well as four artillery regiments. In addition, the 26th Army turned over to the 27th Army a breakthrough artillery division, an anti-aircraft artillery division, a destroyer anti-tank artillery brigade, five artillery and mortar regiments, as well as a breakthrough artillery division out of the Front’s reserve.

On 10 March, fighting flared up with new intensity along the entire front. The Germans committed the 3rd Panzer Division into the area north of Seregélyes. Taking advantage of the heavy snow, the enemy tanks and infantry, attacking to the northeast out of the area north of Seregélyes, at dawn on 10 March managed to close on the Soviet positions unnoticed, and with a sudden attack began to drive back the elements of the 1st Guards Fortified District and the 3rd Guards Airborne Division. On other sectors, the Germans also stubbornly attempted to breach the defenses, and made advances in spite of their losses.

The 3rd Ukrainian Front command was compelled to throw its last reserve into the fighting in this sector – units of the 23rd Tank Corps and the 207th Self-propelled Artillery Brigade. The artillery and tanks of these formations, which deployed on the line Agárd – Csirib, substantially strengthened the 27th Army’s defense.

Despite this, by the evening of 10 March, German tanks reached the second defensive belt, which was occupied by a division of the second-echelon 35th Guards Rifle Corps. The 3rd Guards Airborne Division of this rifle corps took up a cutoff position with its front facing to the north.

In the fighting for the intermediate position on 10 March, once again the main burden of the struggle against the enemy tanks lay upon the units of the destroyer anti-tank artillery, the selfpropelled artillery and the anti-aircraft artillery. For example, the artillery regiments and battalions that were operating in the sector of the 30th Rifle Corps threw back 16-18 German attacks each day.

Combat operations didn’t cease once the sun set. Thus, in the sector of the 155th Rifle Division, savage fighting for possession of the commanding height Hill 159.0, where the command posts of the corps and the division were located, went on without pause in the course of 9-10 March. On 9 March, the enemy attacked the hill five times, but all of these attacks were successfully repulsed by defending units of the Red Army, which were supported by massed artillery fire.

Having no success with frontal assaults, the Germans attempted to outflank the hill. A group of German tanks managed to penetrate into our defenses in the Aba area, but it was ambushed and destroyed by tanks of the 110th Tank Brigade.

With the onset of darkness, the attacks on the hill didn’t cease. Slowly advancing, enemy tanks enveloped the hill in a semi-circle, and then opened machine-gun fire with incendiary-tracer bullets at the group of homes and outbuildings on top of the hill. The buildings began to burn, and some of the Soviet guns and tanks that were positioned near them were caught in a difficult situation: their crews were blinded by the flames, but they themselves became clearly visible to the Germans. The German tanks opened a heavy fire and began to approach. In their turn, the guns of the 155th Rifle Division fired at the muzzle flashes of the German tanks, but the fire of the enemy tanks (which had among them vehicles with infrared optics) proved to be more accurate.

At a critical moment of the battle, the commander of the 1964th Destroyer Anti-tank Artillery Regiment ordered one battery to move out onto the flank of the attacking tanks. Having quickly deployed, the guns opened fire at the moment when the lead enemy tank had approached to within 50 meters of the position. Aiming down the barrel alone, the artillerymen managed to knock out three tanks, which slowed the attack somewhat and gave the defending Soviet elements the opportunity to make an organized retreat from the hill to new positions.

Meanwhile, the 27th Army command committed its reserve 363rd Heavy Self-propelled Artillery Regiment (6 ISU-152 and 11 ISU-122) into the fighting. It moved into a line 1 to 1.5 kilometers east and southeast of Hill 159.0 and by its fire halted the advance of the German tanks. Taking advantage of this, the commander of the 1964th Destroyer Anti-tank Artillery Regiment withdrew his batteries from the hill. In this night action, batteries of the regiment knocked out up to 10 tanks and halftracks, while losing 8 guns in the process.

Simultaneously with the night attack on Hill 159.0, up to two battalions of German infantry with tanks launched an attack in the direction of Sárosd and seized the Csillag strongpoint between Sárosd and Aba. The 27th Army command committed the 68th Guards Rifle Division on this axis. At 4.00, this division’s 200th Rifle Regiment (which had a two-battalion table of organization) drove the Germans out of Csillag with a surprise counterattack. All of the division’s artillery was used to support this counterattack. Curiously, the 2nd Battalion of the 320th Howitzer Artillery Regiment throughout the battle fired illumination rounds, which constantly lit up a sector of 5 kilometers of the front and up to 3 kilometers into its depth. Over two hours, this battalion expended approximately 1,000 illumination rounds.

On the morning of 11 March, units of Armeegruppe Balck and of the II SS Panzer Corps again went on the attack, this time with broad Luftwaffe support for the ground units. As a result of repeated attacks, the Germans managed to shove back units of the 27th Army by 2 to 4 kilometers, and reached the line Kis Velence – Sándor.

The tenacious resistance of the units of the 3rd Ukrainian Front forced the enemy frequently to alter both the tactics and the direction of his attacks, undertaking them after a heavy artillery barrage or air strikes, or unexpectedly, with no preliminary preparation. For example, on 12 March the Germans attacked to the northeast toward Kis Velence, but on 13 March, they changed the direction of their attack – toward Pusztaszabolc and Adony, which is to say, toward the southwest. Up to four regiments of infantry and up to 100 tanks and self-propelled guns were concentrated on a narrow sector of the front in the attacks toward Pusztaszabolc and Adony. The tanks were advancing in packed combat formations, and coming under the massed fire of Soviet artillery they suffered large losses. In the end, the Germans managed nevertheless to make a shallow penetration into the defenses, but their further advance was stopped by units of the 23rd Tank Corps, supported by three artillery regiments.

On the evening of 13 March, approximately 90 German tanks and self-propelled guns with the support of infantry attacked out of the area of Tükres, but running into a powerful anti-tank defense here, the attack had no success. Thus, by the end of 13 March, Armeegruppe Balck only managed to push back units of the 163rd Rifle Division and to cut the Kis Velence – Adony road.

Considering the looming threat of a breakthrough by the German panzer divisions to the Danube River, the command of the 3rd Ukrainian Front and the 27th Army took all possible measures to halt the enemy’s advance. In addition to the 23rd Tank Corps, between 10 and 12 March the 207th Self-propelled Artillery Brigade and three artillery and mortar regiments the were shifted to the 35th Guards Rifle Corps’ sector of defense. Altogether over the course of three days, the Soviet command committed 14 artillery and mortar regiments and more than 150 tanks and self-propelled guns into the fighting in the sectors of the 78th Guards Rifle and 163rd Rifle Divisions, which significantly augmented the defense.

Simultaneously with the attacks by Armeegruppe Balck, the Germans undertook an offensive with the forces of the II SS Panzer Corps against units of the 30th Rifle Corps, having concentrated their main assault forces in the sector of the 68th Guards Rifle Division. After stubborn fighting, which continued through the entire day, the enemy managed to seize the Heinrich Estate.

That night, muffling the sound of the tank engines with artillery salvoes, 20 German tanks stealthily approached the left-flank elements of the 36th Guards Rifle Division and launched an attack. The German tanks advanced slowly, firing incendiary shells intensively, in order to set fire to any of the buildings they met on their path. Simultaneously, a specially assigned group of soldiers of the 36th Infantry Division illuminated the area with flares, but batteries of the 1249th Destroyer Anti-tank and 1821st Self-propelled Artillery Regiments that were positioned here instantly opened fire and knocked out three tanks. Meanwhile, Soviet artillery, having opened fire with incendiary shells, set fire to two structures on the path of advance of the German tanks, and two howitzer batteries opened fire with illumination rounds. This enabled the placement of concentrated artillery fire on the attacking German elements, and the attack faltered. Later that night, the Germans attempted three more attacks on this axis, but each ended in failure.

Considering that the enemy, having seized Heinrich, might encircle units of the 36th Guards Rifle Division, the Front commander ordered it to withdraw from the Aba area. At the same time, the commander of the 1st Guards Mechanized Corps received an order: “By the morning of 12 March, assemble [your] main forces on the line Sárosd – Sárkeresztúr, where in cooperation with the rifle divisions, organize a firm defense and don’t permit an enemy breakthrough to the southeast.”

All this time, artillery units had been moving up to the area of the Heinrich Estate. They were all grouped together under the direction of the commander of the 170th Light Artillery Brigade, which had arrived from the Front reserve. The commander of this brigade was ordered to take command of all the anti-tank artillery units in the 68th Guards Rifle Division’s sector and to create a strong anti-tank area there.

As a result, by the morning of 12 March, a powerful artillery grouping, which numbered more than 400 guns and mortars, was ready to meet the German units that had broken through at Heinrich. In the fighting on 12 and 13 March, this grouping, exploiting its advantageous position for conducting flanking fire, inflicted heavy losses to the units of the II SS Panzer Corps, as a result of which all the attempts to penetrate the defenses on this axis had no success.

On 14 and 15 March, the command of Armeegruppe Balck made one more attempt to breach our defenses in the Sándor area. For this purpose, the 6th Panzer Division was thrown into the attack on a narrow sector of 2 kilometers after a preparatory artillery barrage and air strikes. However, units of the 3rd Guards Airborne Division and the 18th Tank Corps managed to repulse three German attacks in succession. Once again, the main role in this success belonged to the artillery units that had been shifted to this sector. As a result of the adopted measures, in the sector of the 3rd Guards Airborne Division, the density of anti-tank artillery guns alone on 14 March amounted to 35 guns per kilometer.

On the morning of 15 March, the Germans made their final attempt to attack the positions of the 35th Guards Rifle Corps with major panzer forces. However, this attack brought no success, and by the evening, the enemy attacks on the entire front of the 27th Army were halted.

In the sector of the 26th Army in the period of fighting between 11 and 15 March, the main events unfolded in the triangular area between Sáregres, Simontornya and Cece, where units of the 11th Guards Cavalry Division were holding a small bridgehead across the confluence of the Sárviz and Kapos Canals. Striving to seize crossings in this area, the I SS Panzer Corps relentlessly attacked both day and night. In the course of 48 hours alone – 10 and 11 March – the Germans undertook up to 20 attacks with the involvement of major tank and infantry forces.

The situation of the units of the 26th Army from the very beginning was complicated by the fact that the enemy had launched its attack against the bridgehead on the night of 10 March at a time when units of the 202nd Rifle Division were in the process of replacing the units of the 11th Guards Cavalry Division in the bridgehead. With a sudden attack, the Germans broke into the northern outskirts of Simontornya, and with the coming of dawn, after a strong artillery preparation attempted to break through to a bridge across the Kapos Canal. In the repulse of this attack, Guards Major Mrukalo’s 227th Separate Anti-aircraft Artillery Battalion, which was equipped with 85mm anti-aircraft guns, played the decisive role. Engaging the attacking enemy tanks and infantry, it knocked out 10 armored vehicles.

Considering the situation that had emerged the 26th Army command decided to leave the units of the 11th Guards Cavalry Division within the bridgehead. In fighting on 11 March, these units restored the situation in northern portion of Simontornya; the group of German infantry from the 1st SS Panzer Division’s 2nd Panzer Grenadier Regiment that had broken into the town was encircled, and the Germans were either killed or taken prisoner. The M-13 rocket launchers of the 45th Guards Mortar Regiment played a large role in this. Their fire blanketed the bulk of the enemy’s tanks and infantry that had broken through.

The SU-100 tank destroyers operating in this sector were particularly effective. Concealed in ambush positions, they inflicted large losses on the German tanks with their surprise fire. For example, in combat on 11 March, the 2nd Battery of the 1953rd Self-propelled Artillery Regiment, which had taken up firing positions in a densely wooded area southeast of Sáregres, repelled an attack by 14 German tanks, of which three were knocked out by six shots from a range of 1,500 meters.

In order to illuminate the battlefield during night actions, anti-aircraft searchlights that were deployed on the eastern bank of the Sárviz Canal in the Cece area were successfully used. Acting in concert with the searchlights, the artillery of the 26th Army successfully repulsed four German night attacks with the participation of tanks in the Sáregres area. In one of these attacks, three tanks that were caught in the beam of a searchlight were destroyed by several artillery rounds. Flares, as well as fires lit from flammable materials, were used to illuminate the ground when repelling German night attacks in the Simontornya area.

With the onset of darkness on 12 March, units of the I SS Panzer Corps again drove out the Soviet elements that were defending the northern portion of Simontornya, and that night they forced a crossing of the Kapos Canal and passed up to two companies of infantry over to the southern bank. That same night, up to two battalions of German infantry with 14 tanks outflanked the anti-tank area from the south and penetrated into the southwestern section of Simontornya.

The 2nd Battalion of the 407th Light Artillery Regiment, which had taken position on the northern outskirts of Simontornya on 9 March, fought heroically on these days. On the night of 10 March, the battalion had fought for the northern portion of the town, and in the daytime had taken part in repelling three German tank attacks. By the evening of 12 March, the battalion had 10 knocked out or destroyed tanks to its credit.

In the evening twilight on 12 March, a group of German submachine gunners numbering up to 100 men infiltrated along a balka and closed upon the positions of the 2nd Battalion’s 5th and 6th Batteries. That night, fighting without infantry protection, the battalion knocked out 7 tanks, but lost all of its materiel in return. The battalion’s survivors swam across to the southern bank, because the bridge had already been blown up.

On 12 March, the 11th Guards Cavalry Division was withdrawn from the bridgehead. The artillery that had been attached to it, which was in defensive positions on the line Sáregres – Simontornya, was subordinated to the commander of the 202nd Rifle Division.

Simultaneously with the attacks in the Sáregres – Simontornya sector, the enemy also launched attacks against the bridgeheads at Ozora and Mezökomárom on the right flank of the salient they had created in the Soviet defenses, in the sector of the 104th Rifle Division. Units of the 104th Rifle Division in the course of 11 March alone repelled 17 German attacks, but were nevertheless compelled to fall back to the southern bank of the Sió Canal. On the morning of 12 March under the cover of a smokescreen, and the suppressing fire of tanks and artillery as well, the enemy forced a crossing of the Sió Canal in the sector of the 74th Rifle Division and crossed up to a battalion of infantry to the southern bank, where it dug in. The struggle for the bridgeheads on both sides of the canal became savage.

In the fighting on 13 March, the main forces of the I SS Panzer Corps concentrated on liquidating the Soviet bridgehead on the northern bank of the Kapos Canal and on expanding its own bridgehead on its southern bank. The combat was extremely fierce; on the Soviet side, every artillery unit, including the anti-aircraft artillery, was drawn into the struggle against the German tanks and infantry. Thus, the 227th Separate Anti-aircraft Battalion of 85mm guns alone on 12 and 13 March repelled six tank attacks, destroying 14 tanks and self-propelled guns in the process. By the end of 13 March, only three guns remained in the battalion.

On the afternoon of 13 March, after 20 aircraft twice bombed the positions of the 26th Army’s 202nd Rifle Division up to two regiments of German infantry with 25 tanks attacked elements of the rifle division on the Sáregres axis from the west and north. The struggle for this village continued until nightfall and didn’t cease even then. In order to facilitate the conducting of fire at the German tanks, Soviet aircraft every 20-30 minutes dropped illuminating flares, while the infantry and artillery set fire to previously prepared piles of flammable materials and structures. However, the dense fog that developed that night strongly reduced the effect of the attempts to illuminate the area, and hindered the artillery fire. In the end, the Germans managed to fight their way into Sáregres, after which the units of the 202nd Rifle Division at the order from command withdrew to the Cece area, having first blown up the bridge across the Sárviz Canal.

On 14-15 March, units of the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler made a last attempt to expand the division’s bridgehead on the southern bank of the Kapos Canal at Simontornya. They managed to make some progress, but this was the only achievement by the I SS Panzer Corps. By the evening of 15 March, the German offensive on the front of the 26th Army was halted.