Gerjen Landing Operation

The 'Gerjen Landing Operation' was a Soviet amphibious assault by the Danube Military Flotilla on the Hungarian village of Gerjen in support of the 'Apatin-Kaposvár Offensive Operation' (30 November/1 December 1944).

While developing the 'Belgrade Offensive Operation', General Leytenant Nikolai A. Gagen’s 57th Army pf Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Fyedor I. Tolbukhin’s 3rd Ukrainian Front advanced to the west along the southern bank of the Danube river. After breaking through the Danube river’s waters at the Iron Gate, armoured boats and minesweeping boats of the Danube Military Flotilla, which were supporting the ground forces, concentrated on the approaches to the Yugoslav city ​​and the river port of Smederevo.

At the end of November 1944, General Georgi F. Zakharov’s 4th Guards Army, also part of the 3rd Ukrainian Front, launched an offensive: at the same time, the XX and XXI Guards Corps launched an offensive along the southern bank of the Danube, and the XXXI Corps was on the northern bank of the Danube river with the task, as the main part of the offensive developed, of crossing to the Danube river’s southern bank and, together with the other two corps, continuing the offensive to the west and north-west.

The operational reason for these movements were the Soviet desire to complete a deep outflanking advance, round the German and Hungarian forces holding Budapest, from the south-west, but the Soviet forces were unable to achieve their objectives in a timely manner as a result of the Germans' and Hungarians' stubborn resistance on pre-prepared defensive lines. In order to accelerate the offensive, Tolbukhin ordered the commander of the Danube Military Flotilla, Vitse-Admiral Sergei G. Gorshkov, to deliver a tactical amphibious assault on the village of Gerjen on the southern bank of the Danube river. More specifically, the undertaking was to capture the German strongpoint on the riverside flank of the defensive system, to create a threat to the Germans from the rear, and then to move the whole of the XXXI Corps across the river to the Soviet bridgehead, from which it could speed the progress of the offensive.

For the landing, Gorshkov allocated nine armoured boats of Kapitan 2 ranga Pavel I. Derzhavin’s 1st Brigade of the riverine craft of the Danube Military Flotilla. Another three armoured boats were used for a decoy raid to draw the Germans' attention, and especially the artillery, away from the area of the main assault. The landing force comprised 475 men of the 83rd Marine Brigade, and at the time, 402 paratroopers were to land in Gerjen. The main party was carried in six armoured boats, and the decoy for the 75-man attack on Doromlashi was carried in three armoured boats.

The comparatively small number of men allocated to the landing force resulted from both the Soviet shortage of appropriate craft and the Soviet appreciation that the German troops in this sector were almost completely absorbed in fighting the Soviet forces advancing along the entire front. The steady increase in the number of men in the initially small landing came from the repeated crossing of the armoured boats.

On the night of 30 November, the landing detachment departed Bahia, moved quietly upstream along the Danube river and approached Gerjen without being detected. The decoy force squad accomplished its task by drawing the attention of the German defenders to itself. The gunboats of the flotilla’s escort detachment and the armoured boats of the support detachment delivered a light but intense artillery preparation, after which at 0.15 on1 December the main landing party came ashore. To achieve surprise, the ordained crossing route was not along the river’s fairway (the southern bank was still in German hands) but between a string of river islands and the northern bank held by Soviet troops. The crews of the Soviet boats showed considerable ingenuity: the boats were artificially heeled, and in the most dangerous areas the boats proceeded on just the single engine on each boat’s flooded-down side, which meant that the exhaust gases were discharged below the water’s surface. As a result, the landing came as a complete surprise to the Germans, and in a three-hour night action the landing force drove the German out of Gerjen.

In this battle, the paratroopers killed 200 Germans and captured another 120, while their own losses were very small.

The object of the 'Gerjen Landing Operation' was fully achieved: the Soviets now possessed a bridgehead in the n rear. The threat implicit in this fact compelled the Germans to begin a withdrawal. The XXXI Corps, the 83rd Marine Brigade, and then additional units of the 4th Guards Army were hastily transferred into the bridgehead by the flotilla’s craft. By the end of 1 December, the landed units had linked with the advancing ground forces after these latter had broken the German resistance. Building on the success, the 4th Guards Army made a deep outflanking movement and closed the encirclement of the German and Hungarian forces in Budapest from the south.