Tuesday, 10 March 2015

World of Tanks History Section: Spring Awakening

In early spring of 1945, the Soviet Union and Germany resembled boxers at the end of a long match. The winner was decided, but the loser still retained strength for some blows, perhaps not knockout blows, but painful ones.

One of these blows was the March offensive in Hungary. The goal of operation "Spring Awakening" was to encircle and destroy all enemy forces at the Danube and Drava rivers and Lake Balaton. Hitler should have made his plans more carefully by spring of 1945. The Wehrmacht was not the same as it was at the start of the war. Nevertheless, it's easy to understand the motivation: Hungarian oil fields were Germany's last large source of oil.

Strategic Opportunism

The 6th SS Tank Army and 2nd Tank Army were supposed to perform this operation, even though the title of the latter unit did not match its composition. In reality, it consisted of the 71st Infantry Division, 1st Volksgrenadier Division, 118th Jager Division and 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division "Reichsfuhrer". It is evident that there was a deficit of tank divisions in the 2nd Tank Army. In additon, the SS units were bloodied from winter attempts to take Budapest.

Not even the most fanatical soldiers were happy about this offensive. The commanders of the 6th SS Tank Army rightfully assumed that they will carry the weight. Their flanks would be poorly protected due to a shortage of manpower, and its supply lines will be stretched. One strong counterattack from Budapest, and it would be the Germans who would be trapped.

Soviet forces were also not at their best after taking Budapest and brutal combat in January. There was a lack of people, vehicles, and the lack of artillery was further accented by a lack of cars, which made maneuvering and supplying them difficult. Tankers had it just as bad: for instance the 23rd Tank Corps, out of its required strength of 207 tanks and 63 SPGs only had 21 tanks and 7 SPGs on March 6th, 1945.

Beginning of the Awakening

The last major German offensive of WWII started on March 6th, 1945. The main forces were concentrated between lakes Velence and Balaton. They were aided by bad weather: fog and snow. When German tanks appeared from nowhere only hundreds of meters from Soviet positions, it was very hard to stop them.

In certain directions, the Germans defeated the infantry that was covering anti-tank guns. The crews defended as long as they could. In some sectors, enemy progress was limited to 3-4 km that day.

The 68th Guards Division, hit by the SS tank army, took the biggest losses on March 6-7th. They lost many men, all of their AT guns, and were forced to withdraw to the eastern shore of the Sorviz channel.

It's worth mentioning that the 6th SS just received a company of Panther tanks equipped with night vision devices. There is no concrete evidence of successful employment, only mentions that due to the snow and illumination made the devices ineffective. The Panthers were used as regular tanks, with both sides relying on traditional means: flares and illumniation shells, as well as setting buildings or haystacks on fire.

The Germans aimed to swiftly take the triangle formed by the cities Shar Egresh, Shimontornia, and Tsetse, at the crossing of Sorviz and Kalosh channels. Having knocked the Soviet divison off their foothold, the Germans moved South-East. This was far from a victory march. The Germans had to commit all their reserves, which were far from numerous. For instance. the 23rd Tank Division only had about 50 tanks and SPGs remaining.

On our side of the front, all was far from perfect. By the evening of March 9th, Marshall F. Tolbukhin, commander of the 3rd Ukrainian Front, was forced to commit most of his reserves to stop the offensive. An entire Guards Army remained, but Stavka deemed that it was too early to commit it to a defense.

Wehrmacht's Failure

Of course, the 3rd Ukrainian Front was far from helpless against the German tank hammer. It was reinforced with armour whenever possible, including a brigade of new SU-100 SPGs, which could be used to defeat enemy attacks. The powerful guns allowed them to knock out German tanks from over 1500 meters.

The SU-100s showed themselves well. For instance, in battles for Shar Egresh and Shimontornia, two regiments (about 40 vehicles) knocked out and destroyed 29 German tanks.

By March 12th, SS units managed to squeeze out Soviet units from the northern part of Shimontornia, and then cross Kalosh, capturing a small foothold on the other side. The tank division achieved much less. After the first attacks on March 11th, the commander warned against attacking face-first into a Soviet AT gun defense. His HQ overrode his orders, and the city was taken, if at a great cost. The bridge over Sharviz was destroyed in time by Soviet sappers.

By March 15th, the offensive stalled completely. Some lukewarm attemps to enlarge the foothold were made, but they were easily deflected. Tolbukhin was finally allowed to use not only his reserve army, but another Guards tank army, transferred from the neighouring front. An operation later called the Vienna offensive began. In just one month, Soviet tanks completed it on the streets of the Austrian capital.

Article authors: Andrei Ulanov and Aleksandr Tomzov.

Original article available here.

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