Operation Südwind (v)

south wind

'Südwind' (v) was the German offensive on the Eastern Front in a part of Slovakia annexed by Hungary in 1938 and, in preparation for 'Frühlingserwachen' (ii), during this undertaking the Germans succeeded in eliminating the Soviet bridgehead on the west bank of the Garam river in one of the last successful German offensives of World War II (17/24 February 1945).

The 'Budapest Strategic Offensive Operation' was the Soviet general assault on Hungary, and lasted from 29 October 1944 until the fall of Budapest on 13 February 1945 at the end of the 'Assault on Budapest Operation'. By that time, in the thinking of Adolf Hitler, the Nagykanizsa oilfields in Hungary were in strategic terms the most valuable oil reserves on the Eastern Front, and accordingly he ordered the movement of SS-Oberstgruppenführer und Generaloberst der Waffen-SS Joseph Dietrich’s 6th SS Panzerarmee to Hungary in order to protect the oilfields and refineries there. The 6th SS Panzerarmee was to be the spearhead 'Frühlingserwachen' (ii), and its formations and units were to be redeployed into Hungary with the utmost care and secrecy in order to maintain complete operational secrecy. Each formation therefore received a cover name.

A potential threat to this planned German operation was the Soviet bridgehead on the west bank of the Garam river. This bridgehead had been established during January 1945, and the Oberkommando des Heeres decided that the elimination of this bridgehead was an essential prerequisite for 'Frühlingserwachen' (ii).

The planning for 'Südwind' (v) was carried out by General Hans Kreysing’s 8th Army, whose staff could call upon two Panzerkorps for the attack: these were General Ulrich Kleemann’s Panzerkorps 'Feldherrnhalle', already present in the area, and SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS Hermann Priess’s I SS Panzerkorps, diverted from the preparation for 'Frühlingserwachen' (ii). These two formations' armoured strength was high, totalling 282 tanks and self-propelled guns including 44 PzKpfw Tiger II heavy tanks of two schwere Panzerabteilungen.

The Soviets were defending the bridgehead with General Major Dmitri P. Onuprienko’s XXIV Guards Corps and the XXV Corps of General Polkovnik Mikhail S. Shumilov’s 7th Guards Army within Marshal Sovetskogo Soyuza Rodion Ya. Malinovsky’s 2nd Ukrainian Front. The most powerful formation, General Polkovnik Andrei G. Kravchenko’s 6th Guards Tank Army, had been withdrawn from the area to the eastern bank of the Garam river for rest and rehabilitation. German aerial reconnaissance revealed that the Soviets had established a deeply echeloned system of defences, based on trenches supported by tank blocking positions. A relatively small number of Soviet tanks and self-propelled guns (totalling 26 and five machines respectively) was available in the bridgehead, but some armoured reinforcements were to arrive later.

The German plan called for the infantry of the Panzerkorps "Feldherrnhalle' to attack from the north in the direction of Magyarszögyén and Bart. The divisions from the I SS Panzerkorps were then to take over, cross the Párizs Canal, and drive farther via Muzsla toward the final objective, which was Esztergom. Finally, bridgeheads were to be gained on the eastern bank of the Garam river.

Kreysing had under command the I SS Panzerkorps with SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Otto Kumm’s 1st SS Panzerdivision 'Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler', the 501st schwere SS-Panzerabteilung and SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Hugo Kraas’s 12 SS Panzerdivision 'Hitlerjugend'; the Panzerkorps 'Feldherrnhalle' with Generalmajor Erich Reuter’s 46the Division, Generalleutnant Hans-Günther von Rost’s 44th Reichsgrenadierdivision 'Hoch- und Deutschmeister', Generalmajor Johann-Heinrich Eckhardt’s 211th Volksgrenadierdivision, Oberstleutnant Hans Schöneich’s Kampfgruppe 'Schöneich' with the schwere Panzerabteilung 'Feldherrnhalle' and the 208th Panzerabteilung; and Oberst G. Anton Staubwasser’s Kampfgruppe 'Staubwasser' with three battalions of Generalleutnant Josef Rintelen’s 357th Division. Also available to the 8th Army were elements of General Hermann Balck’s 6th Army in the form of units of General Gustav Harteneck’s I Kavalleriekorps such as Oberstleutnant Joachim-Friedrich Hupe’s Kampfgruppe 'Hupe' of Generalmajor Hermann Harrendorf’s 96th Division and Generalleutnant Josef Reichert’s 711th Division.

Shumilov had under command elements of his own 7th Guards Army in the form of General Major Appolon Ya. Kruze’s XXIV Guards Corps (General Major Anatoli I. Losev’s 72nd Guards Division, Polkovnik M. A. Orlov’s 81st Guards Division and General Major Mikhail N. Smirnov’s 6th Guards Airborne Division); General Leytenant Z. V. Ivanovich’s IV Guards Mechanised Corps (Oberst N. A. Nikitin’s 14th Guards Mechanised Brigade and Colonel P. S. Zhukov’s 36th Guards Tank Brigade); General Leytenant Gani B. Safiulin’s XXV Guards Corps (General Major Vasili D. Karpukhin’s 375th Division, General Major Yevstafi P. Grechany’s 409th Division, elements of Polkovnik David V. Vasilevsky’s 53rd Division, Polkovnik Nikolai M. Brishinev’s 27th Independent Guards Tank Brigade and Polkovnik P. M. Marol’s 93rd Guards Division.

The German attack began on 17 February, and it start began on the previous day by a diversionary assault as a reinforced regimental group of Generalmajor Martin Bieber’s 271st Volksgrenadierdivision launched an attack across the Garman river in the area to the north-west of Léva.

'Südwind' (v) proper began at 04.00 on 17 February with a two-hour artillery preparation. The temperature was 5°C (41° F) and the weather was clear. The roads with solid surfaces were passable and the earth roads were passable for tracked vehicles, but wheeled vehicles moved only with difficulty. The 44th Reichsgrenadierdivision 'Hoch- und Deutschmeister' attacked the positions of Soviet forces in the sector around the villages of Für and Kürt, and met strong resistance by the men of the 6th Guards Airborne Division. After initially suffering heavy casualties, most of them to Soviet artillery fire, the Germans beat back the Soviets in this sector thanks to the strong support of the Tiger II heavy tanks of the schwere Panzerabteilung 'Feldherrnhalle', and the division then moved forward on the villages of Magyarszögyén en Németszögyén, and reached the Párizs Canal late in afternoon. The 46th Division, in the centre of the German assault, surprised the Soviet units opposing it and made good headway towards the Párizs Canal. The 211th Volksgrenadierdivision attacked in the direction of the village of Bart, its leading elements reaching the valley to the south-west of Bart. Soviet resistance then began to stiffen and the division’s advance was eventually checked and then halted by a surprise Soviet counterattack. The 1st SS Panzerdivision 'Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler' moved up in the wake of the assault elements of the 46th Division. The grenadiers were soon brought to a halt to the south-east of Németszögyén in a reinforced anti-tank sector. SS-Obersturmbannführer Jochen Peiper ordered five Tiger II tank to take position at the top of the hill whence, although under heavy Soviet anti-tank fire, they neutralised these guns without suffering losses. The SS grenadiers of the Kampfgruppe 'Hansen' now arrived on the scene, and the tanks and half-tracks, firing with everything they possessed, overran the Soviet positions. The Kampfgruppe 'Peiper' and elements of the 4th Division reached the Párizs Canal in the area to the east of Sárkányfalva during the evening.

The 12th SS Panzerdivision 'Hoch- und Deutschmeister' launched its attack in the afternoon, on the right of the 1st SS Panzerdivision 'Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler', with the 25th SS Panzergrenadierregiment on the right and the 26th SS Panzergrenadierregiment on the left. At 21.00, the 1/26 SS Panzergrenadierregiment managed to establish a small bridgehead across the canal immediately to the south-east of Párizs-Puszta. Operating together with the 2/26th Panzergrenadierregiment, the 26th Panzergrenadierregiment then enlarged the German bridgehead. The Germans now possessed small bridgeheads over the Párizs Canal and found a crossing point to the north-east of Köbölkút, and here the German armoured fighting vehicles were also able to cross.

In the evening of 17 February, the Germans took advantage of the fact that the Soviets had ordered the 93rd Guards Division, until then defending the northern bank of the Danube river, to launch a counterattack against the German forces that had broken through, though this also had the effect of weakening their defence in that area. The Kampfgruppe 'Hupe', supported by the fire of Hauptmann Günther Bundesmann’s 239th Heeres Sturmartilleriebrigade with 20 StuG III and StuH 42 self-propelled guns and howitzers, started to cross the Danube river just to the south of Ebed on the northern bank.

On 18 February, the conditions began with a mild frost before the temperature rose to 6° C (43° F) during the day, which was sunny with light cloud at times. The road conditions remained unchanged as the German attack continued. The Kampfgruppe 'Staubwasser', operating on on the right flank of the Panzerkorps 'Feldherrnhalle', occupied Óriás-Puszta ad advanced in the direction of Bátorkeszi. The 44th Reichsgrenadierdivision 'Hoch- und Deutschmeister' crossed the canal at Kisújfalu and occupied Köbölkút. Together with the schwere Panzerabteilung 'Feldherrnhalle', it then took Point 129. The 1st SS Panzerdivision 'Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler' enlarged its bridgeheads at Gyiva in the morning, and at 12.50 armoured vehicles began to cross the canal. The Waffen-SS armoured units then rounded Béla from the left and readied a 'hedgehog' defence position round the road linking Köbölkút and Párkány. At the break of day the 12th SS Panzerdivision 'Hitlerjugend' felt the impact of a Soviet counterattack, but repulsed it. Subsequently the Waffen-SS regiments, supported the 44th Reichsgrenadierdivision 'Hoch- under Deutschmeister', occupied Köbölkút. The 46th Division headed to the east with one column to the south of the canal towards Libad and the other to the north of the canal toward Kéménd. Despite support by parts of the 208th Panzerabteilung, the 211th Volksgrenadierdivision was unsuccessful in its attempt to move farther toward Bart, and was heavily attacked by the 36th Guards Tank Brigade, which destroyed or disabled several of the German armoured vehicles.

On 19 February the weather was similar to that of the previous day but with less cloud, and the earth tracks were becoming drier. The situation of the Soviet forces in the southern sector of the Soviet bridgehead was disastrous. Early in the morning the Kampfgruppe 'Staubwasser' captured Búcs and Bátorkeszi, and scoured area to locate and destroy the remnants of the Soviet forces. The 44th Reichsgrenadierdivision 'Hoch- und Deuterostome' attacked to the south from the Köbölkút area toward the Danube river to eliminate the last Soviet forces from this area. The Kampfgruppe 'Hupe' was still fighting in the Ebed area, and repulsed a Soviet counterattack at 06.00. The 46th Division seized the heights to the south-east of Libád in a perfect manoeuvre, and so gained an excellent observation point above the Garam river. The 208th Panzerabteilung attacked toward Kéménd, but ran into difficulty around Bibit-Puszta, lost most of its armoured strength, and played no further part in the operation.

The 1st SS Panzerdivision 'Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler' had a successful day. The Kampfgruppe 'Hansen' cleared Béla, while the Kampfgruppe 'Peiper' attacked toward Párkány. Despite encountering mines, and suffering attacks by Soviet aircraft and T-34 medium tanks, all of which caused considerable losses, the Kampfgruppe 'Peiper' reached the Párkány railway station at about 13.00. In the meantime, the 12th SS Panzerdivision 'Hitlerjugend' had advanced from a point toe the south of Köbölkút to Muzsla, captured this village and advanced farther toward Párkány, where it arrived at about the same time as the assault guns of the Kampfgruppe 'Hupe' from Ebed. Additionally, a Kampfgruppe of the 711th Division crossed the Danube river from Esztergom and forced its way into Párkány. Heavy street fighting followed, including tank actions. Párkány was taken. One battalion of the 2nd SS Panzergrenadierregiment attacked toward Nána and cleared the village. The surviving troops of the XXV Guards Corps, now in total disarray, fled to the eastern bank of the Garam river after abandoning most of their heavy weapons.

The situation was now unclear to the Germans, for they had to decide whether the Soviets would succeed in holding the residue of their bridgehead, or would they reinforce it, for aerial reconnaissance had revealed 3,600 vehicles moving to the north from Budapest, and what was the task of the 6th Guards Tank Army as elements had already been identified in the bridgehead. In order to clear the situation to the west of the Garam river, three Kampfgruppen attacked the southern portion of the bridgehead during the night of 19/20 February. A Kampfgruppe of the 1st SS Panzerdivision 'Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler' attacked from the south toward Köhidgyarmat, as did another of the 46th Division from the west. The Kampfgruppe 'Schöneich', together with parts of the 46th Division, attacked north of the Párizs Canal toward Kéménd. None of these attacks was successful as a result of the sturdy resistance of the XXIV Guards Corps, artillery and warplanes.

On 24 February the temperature rose from frost in the night to 7° C (45° F) during the day, there was slight cloud, sun and fog in certain areas, and unpaved roads were passable only by night. This was a day of regrouping for the final attacks. The 12th SS Panzerdivision 'Hitlerjugend' was gradually relieved by the 44th Reichsgrenadierdivision 'Hoch- und Deutschmeister' and departed for its new assembly area to the north-west of Bart. the Kampfgruppe 'Hupe' was withdrawn to the southern bank of the Danube river to rejoin its parent division.

The fifth day of the German offensive was 21 February, when again the night-time frost yielded during the day to a maximum temperature of 5° C (41° F) during the day under a bright sky, and the road conditions improved steadily. At the break of day, the 1st SS Panzerdivision 'Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler' and the 46th Division pushed into the southern and western sectors of Köhidgyarmat, in the process suffering considerable losses, and captured the town only after fall of dark at about 21.00. What was left of the Soviet bridgehead was now 6.1 miles (10 km) wide and 2.5 miles (4 km) deep, defended by the 81st Guards Division, 72nd Guards Division, 6th Guards Airborne Division and 93rd Guards Division).

On 22 February the weather included a nocturnal frost with the temperature rising to 6° C (43° F) during the day as the skies alternated between sun and cloud with a little rain, and the roads continued to dry. The Soviet forces now put up extremely heavy resistance in the part of the bridgehead they still held. The 1st SS Panzerdivision 'Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler' and the 46th Division continued to clear Köhidgyarmat and the area round it, and a Waffen-SS Kampfgruppe occupied the road junction between Kéménd and Köhidgyarmat on the bank of the Párizs Canal. The 46th Division, reinforced by the Kampfgruppe 'Schöneich', occupied Bibit-Puszta and pushed on a further 0.6 miles (1 km), but in the evening the Soviets counterattacked and regained the area. At 04.45 the 12th SS Panzerdivision 'Hitlerjugend' started its attack on Bart, with the two SS Panzergrenadier regiments abreast of each other, followed by the armour. There was heavy fighting, but a high-speed advance by the halftrack units, some of whose vehicles carried a single- or three-barrel 20-mm cannon mounting, saw the grenadiers into the town. A small number of T-34 tanks resisted, but when the Soviet tanks were abandoned by their supporting infantry, they fell back toward Bény. The Soviets did manage to deliver some counterattacks, but these were repulsed. Elements of the 211th Volksgrenadierdivision attacked Bart from the south, and in the course of the morning the village was completely cleared.

During the day, the 6th SS Panzerarmee asked for permission to withdraw its armoured units from the bridgehead, but the request was rejected by Heeresgruppe 'Süd'.

Conditions on 23 February took the form of a night frost followed by a temperature of 6° C (43° F) during the day, cloud clearing at about 12.00, but no further improvement in road conditions. The Germans used the whole day for regrouping and preparing for the final blow, and for the latter a night attack seemed to offer the best chance of success. The attack was set for 02.00 on 24 February. The weather was a frost during the night rising once more to 6° C (43° F) during the day, thick clouds and rain in some places, while the unpaved roads and the open terrain were muddy and hardly passable even for tracked vehicles because of the sudden thaw. Round the perimeter of Kéménd, the Soviets had created a deeply echeloned defensive system which included an anti-tank front with 37 heavy anti-tank guns. Together with a Kampfgruppe of the 44th Reichsgrenadierdivision 'Hoch- und Deutschmeister', the 1st SS Panzerdivision 'Leibstandarte broke through the anti-tank front after fierce fighting and forced its way into the town. House-to-house combat in Kéménd continued until late in the afternoon, when the Germans finally secured the town. The Soviets demolished the bridge at Kéménd to prevent its seizure by the Germans. What was left of the Soviet troops crossed over the ice and through the ford to the eastern bank of the Garam river. The Soviet artillery put down heavy harassing fire during the whole day from the eastern bank, concentrating on the area of Kéménd and Bény, without regard for their own retreating troops, in order to impede the German attempts to cross. The attack at Bény was carried out by the 26th SS Panzergrenadierregiment of the 12th SS Panzerdivision 'Hitlerjugend' with tank support. The attack was swift, and at 08.30 the town was largely under German control and completely clear at about 12.00. The Soviets destroyed the bridge at Bény even as the Waffen-SS Panzergrenadiers were approaching it. The 211th Volksgrenadierdivision took advantage of the success at Bény and captured Leand-Puszta during the morning of the same day.

The 8th Army reported to Heeresgruppe 'Süd' at 17.20 that the Soviet bridgehead had been completely eliminated, and this report was forwarded to the Oberkommando des Heeres at 17.45. 'Südwind' (v) had ended. This was one of the last successful German offensives of World War II, and saw the complete elimination of the Soviet bridgehead and threat it had posed. According to the Soviets, their 7th Guards Army had lost 8,194 men, 54 tanks and self-propelled guns, and 459 other pieces of artillery. The German casualties were also high, a result in part of the fact that it was not the armoured fighting vehicles but the Panzergrenadier units which had borne the brunt of the fighting. The manpower loses were 6,471 (969 men killed, 4,601 men wounded and 901 missing. The German matériel losses were in the order of 130 tanks and tank destroyers, though many of these were recoverable and repairable. A good example is the Tiger II force: at the start on 17 February, there were 44 such tanks operational; on 20 February there were 13 operational, and just seven operational at the end of the offensive. Of the 'missing' 37, only one was a total loss and just two had to be sent back to Germany for factory repair. Although the operation itself was a success, the most significant operational disfavour was the fact that the Soviets had now become aware of the presence of the I SS Panzerkorps in Hungary at a time which allowed them to include the fact in their planned response to 'Frühlingserwachen' (ii).