Known to the Soviets as the 'Apatin-Kaposvár Offensive Operation' within the 'Budapest Strategic Offensive Operation', this was a Soviet and Yugoslav operation by General Leytenant Nikolai A. Gagen’s Soviet 57th Army of Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Fyedor I. Tolbukhin’s 3rd Ukrainian Front and the Yugoslav 51st Division of General-major Danilo Lekic’s XII Corps of Marshal Josip Broz Tito’s Yugoslav National Liberation Army army against General Hellmuth Felmy’s LXVIII Corps on the Danube river front in the area of Batina and Apatin for the liberation of Baranja and to secure a breakthrough to Donji Miholjac on the Drava river from Osijek (6/29 November 1944).
The allied order of battle included the 57th Army with the LXXV Corps (74th, 233rd and 236th Divisions), LXIV Corps (73rd Guards Division and 19th and 113th Divisions) and VI Guards Corps (32nd Guards Motorised Brigade and 9th Breakthrough Artillery Division), General Leytenant Sergei S. Biriuzov’s Soviet 37th Army moving up from Bulgaria, General Leytenant Georgi F. Zakharov’s Soviet 4th Guards Army arriving in the second half of November, and the Soviet IX Mixed Air Corps of General Leytenant Vladimir A. Sudets’s Soviet 17th Air Army; and Lieutenant Colonel Sreta Savić's Yugoslav 51st 'Vojvodina' Division with the 7th Vojvodina Brigade (four battalions totalling 2,154 soldiers), 8th 'Vojvodina' Brigade (five battalions totalling 2,775 soldiers), 12th 'Vojvodina' Brigade (five battalions totalling more than 2,500 soldiers), and 14th 'Vojvodina' Brigade of Slovenian soldiers which arrived on 11/12 November but did not become involved in the operation.
The order of battle of the LXVIII Corps of General Maximilian de Angelis’s 2nd Panzerarmee, totalling some 30,000 men at the start of the operation, included Generalmajor Hermann Schulte-Heuthaus’s Panzergrenadierdivision 'Brandenburg' holding the front from the Drava river to Batina, and SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Gustav Lombard’s 31st SS Grenadierdivision holding the front from Batina to Baja with 14,000 men, of whom 8,000 were unarmed, including the Hungarian 11th Reserve Regiment, a number of Hungarian units (39th Security Regiment, 16th Border Regiment, 9th Regiment, 54th Border Battalion, one battalion of field gendarmerie, and the River Fleet Battalion), the Ustase Home Defence Regiment 'Baranja', one regiment of Serb collaborators, and sundry police units.
Some 30,000 more German troops, who arrived between 12 and 29 November, comprised the 92nd Grenadierbrigade, 3/668th Artillerieregiment of the Artilleriegruppe 'Snel' on the Syrmia front, 13th SS Aufklärungsabteilung of the disbanded 13th SS Gebirgsdivision 'Handschar' (kroatisch Nr 1) which was already moving from eastern Bosnia toward the Drava river, elements of the LXVIII Corps from the Syrmia front (parts of the Korpsgruppe 'Kibler' including some 20 company-, battalion- and regiment-sized units including the 1/668th Artillerieregiment, 505th SS Werferabteilung and 1007th Sturmgeschützabteilung), and Generalleutnant Hans-Günther von Rost’s 44th Reichsgrenadierdivision 'Hoch- und Deutschmeister' from Istria and north-eastern Italy.
After the liberation of Belgrade and Vojvodina, the formations of the Soviet army which had fought along these two axes began to regroup for their planned advance on Budapest and Nagykanisza in Hungary. So units of Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Rodion Ya. Malinovsky’s Soviet 2nd Ukrainian Front, which had been involved in the liberation of Banat and Bačka, moved north toward Budapest and in their place arrived units of the Soviet 3rd Ukrainian Front, which had participated in the liberation of Belgrade. After regrouping in the early part of November 1944, in the Vojvodina (Bačka) were the 57th Army, 17th Air Army and a large number of artillery, engineer and other units of the 3rd Ukrainian Front. The 57th Army’s LXXV Corps assumed responsibility for the defence of the left bank of the Danube river between Baje in Hungary and Bačka Palanka in Yugoslavia, and here the corps was joined by the 7th, 8th and 12th 'Vojvodina' Brigades of the newly formed 51st Division.
The first task of the combined Soviet and Yugoslav forces in the 'Batinska operacija' was to force the Danube river and create bridgehead, and this task was allocated to elements of the 57th Army. On the right bank of the Danube river the Germans had two divisions, the Panzergrenadierdivision 'Brandenburg' from the point at which the Drava river flows into the Danube river to Batina, and the 31st SS Grenadierdivision, reinforced by Hungarian fascist units, from Batina to Baja.
The plan created by the 57th Army’s staff called for only the LXXV Corps to force the Danube river with its main strength in the area of Batina and support forces in area of Apatin. Tp secure the left flank south of Apatin the 299th Division was used, and on the right flank north of Bezdana, the 734th Rifle Regiment of the 233rd Division and the 8th Brigade of the Yugoslav 51st Division were deployed.
The role entrusted to the first echelon of the assault forces was to cross the Danube river and press forward without pausing to join forces between Batina and the Apatin bridgehead, and by 15 November to reach the line linking Topolje, Knezevi Vingoradi and Belje. Here the second-echelon formations would take over from the first-echelon forces and drive forward to the line between Batasek, Herog Tetes and Bolman.
These Soviet second-echelon formations included the VI Guards Corps and 32nd Motorised/Mechanised Brigade, which were to continue the advance in direction of Pécs and Nagykanisza and so secure the operation of the 4th Guards Army which, using the Batina bridgehead, was to advance in the direction of Székesfehérvár with the aim of encircling Budapest, the Hungarian capital, from the south-west.
The Yugoslav force involved was the 51st Division of the XII 'Vojvodina' Corps, which co-operated with the 3rd Ukrainian Front. The primary operational task set by Tito’s headquarters and general staff was the liberation of Baranja and an advance to the Drava river where, on reaching this waterway’s left bank, the elements of the XII 'Vojvodina' Corps were to attack the flank and rear of the Axis forces deployed between the Sava, Drava and Danube river in co-operation with the I Proletarian Corps in the Srem and Srigen parts of Syrmia, and with the Yugoslav VI and X Corps in Slavonia and also to cover the flank of the 3rd Ukrainian Front in Hungary and Yugoslav formations on the Syrmia front.
At the point selected for the crossing of the Danube river at Batina there gathered the Soviet 233rd and 73rd Rifle Divisions and two brigades of the Yugoslav 51st Division, which was to capture Batina, and expand the Allied bridgehead toward the villages of Draz and Zmajevac with the Soviet 236th Division while the 8th Brigade of the Yugoslav 51st Division forced the Danube river in the direction of Zlatna Greda, captured this, and expanded the bridgehead in the direction of the villages of Zmajevac and Knezevi Vinogradi.
To support this major effort, a smaller river-crossing operation was undertaken at Apatin by the 74th Division.
The reinforced artillery of the LXIV and LXXV Corps was able to saturate the Axis defences round Batina and Apatin with 1,236 pieces of artillery and mortars, while the Germans could muster a mere 200 weapons in their sector facing the LXXV Corps.
On 27 November, the 3rd Ukrainian Front launched the 57th Army in a decisive offensive, and on this first day broke through the defence of the Hungarian troops, who were totally exhausted. The Axis forces' unified defence system was destroyed, many of its formations and units were isolated from each other and began an indiscriminate retreat. The pace of the offensive was now 12.5 to 18.5 miles (20 to 30 km) per day. The troops of the 57th Army liberated the large city of Pecs on 29 November: as the Soviet troops approached, an uprising of Hungarian miners took place. On 2 December, the city of Kaposvar and the southern tip of Lake Balaton were reached. In its attempt to halt the Soviet offensive here, the German command was forced as a matter of urgency to commit General Maximilian de Angelis’s 2nd Panzerarmee. After advancing more than 60 miles (100 km), formations and units of the 57th Army reached the 'Margarethe-Linie' defences between Lake Balaton and the Drava river, and there went over to the defensive. On the southern bank of the Drava river, near the town of Barch, which was liberated on 7 December, Soviet and Yugoslav troops established as major bridgehead, which posed a serious threat to the rear of Heeresgrupppe 'F'. As a result of the unsuccessful actions of von Weichs, the [w]2nd Panzerarmee and the entire defensive zone of the German forces in this direction were transferred to Heeresgruppe 'Süd'.
Elements of the 4th Guards Army, commanded by General Georgi F. Zahkarov since 29 November as successor to General Leytenant Ivan V. Galanin, was also successful as it advanced to the north. On 30 November, the city of Szekszard was liberated. To the north, the German command threw a motorised division into the battle, but thus was swiftly outflanked and forced into a hasty retreat. On 1 December, with the support of a river landing by vessels of the Danube Military Flotilla, the city of Gerjen was taken, and on 4 December, having fought its way more than 80 miles (130 km) in the last several days, the 4th Guards Army reached the northern tip of Lake Balaton and into the area between Lakes Balaton and Velencei. Asa result of its heavy losses, the Hungarian 2nd Army was disbanded, and against the 4th Guards Army, Altábornagy Károly Beregfy’s Hungarian 3rd Army, which was defending along the line of the Danube river, was redeployed to the area. By the beginning of December this army had also been defeated: according to Friessner’s later account, two infantry divisions and one brigade of river sailors were completely destroyed.
Only on the hastily prepared defensive line between Lake Balaton and Lake Velencei did the German troops finally manage to check the Soviet offensive. To achieve this, Heeresgruppe 'Süd' had been compelled to transfer four German divisions, including Panzer formations, from Budapest to this area. As in both directions the Soviet forces reached the German and Hungarian defence lines, their breakthrough required a major accumulation of forces, a regrouping and the replenishment of ammunition. On December 10, the Soviet troops went over to the defensive, and the operation was deemed complete.
The whole undertaking had proceeded as planned, the 51st Division suffering 1,456 casualties (416 killed, 850 wounded and 190 missing) and the Soviets suffering the loss of 1,397 men killed (from 25 October to 10 December) and several thousand wounded. While there are no exact German casualty figures, these were in the order of 2,500 killed and wounded and 140 taken prisoner.
The Panzergrenadierdivision 'Brandenburg' was for all practical purposes destroyed, for it emerged from the battle with a mere 130 effectives, while the 31st SS Grenadierdivision disintegrated despite draconian measures (including mass executions) during the fighting, so the remnants were sent under punishment to move on foot to the area of Maribor-Celje. The Hungarian units were mostly dispersed.
Thus, in the 'Apatin-Kaposvari Offensive Operation', the 3rd Ukrainian Front had managed to pin down and weaken significant forces of the Hungarian 2nd Army, and in the final stage of the operation, defeat this Hungarian formation. The security of the 2nd Ukrainian Front as its troops advanced on Budapest had been ensured. Moreover, the 3rd Ukrainian Front had provided deep cover for the entire Budapest defensive area from the south and created conditions for its encirclement. About 10 towns and more than 500 smaller settlements, as well as important industrial areas, had been liberated, and a major launch area for the encirclement of Budapest had been secured.
At the beginning of December 1944, the Soviet command came to the conclusion that the forces of the 2nd Ukrainian Front would not be able to solve the task of defeating the Axis forces which were arriving to strengthen Budapest’s defenders, so it was decided to combine the efforts of both fronts in a single operation and significantly strengthen the 3rd Ukrainian Front at the expense of the 2nd Ukrainian Front. After a corresponding regrouping and replenishment of troops from 20 December, both fronts again went over to the offensive as a combined formation within the context of the 'Budapest Strategic Offensive Operation'.
During the 'Apatin-Kaposvarskoy Offensive Operation' tion, the losses of the 3rd Ukrainian Front were 6,790 men deemed irrecoverable, and 25,460 other men had been wounded or taken to hospital.