World War II: Spring Awakening – Hitler burned out his last SS divisions in a crazy offensive

In the spring of 1945, the situation for Germany on the Eastern Front was almost catastrophic.

World War II: Spring Awakening – Hitler burned out his last SS divisions in a crazy offensive

In the spring of 1945, the situation for Germany on the Eastern Front was almost catastrophic. The Red Army was only 70 kilometers from Berlin. The defensive positions on the Seelow Heights were the only obstacle to the German capital. The Third Reich's last major offensive began on March 6, 1945. In the collapsing structures of the Wehrmacht and war economy, the Germans managed to once again gather a large armed force. Operation Spring Awakening involved 430,000 soldiers, about 800 tanks and assault guns, 6,000 heavy guns and mortars. They had even scraped together 800 aircraft.

The 6th SS Panzer Army under Colonel General Josef "Sepp" Dietrich was the battering ram that was supposed to break through the Allied lines. But the offensive was not intended to throw the Russians back from Berlin or to prevent US troops from entering Reich territory. The last German offensive began in Hungary. There the Red Army was to be thrown back across the Danube. The goal of Operation "Spring Awakening" was to encircle and destroy all enemy forces on the Danube and Drau as well as on Lake Balaton. The aim was to secure the last major oil fields in western Hungary and Austria.

The 6th SS Panzer Army consisted of two corps with a total of four SS Panzer divisions: the 1st (Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler), 2nd (Das Reich), 9th (Hohenstaufen) and the 12th (Hitler Youth). After the Battle of the Bulge, the units were replenished. But the personnel were different from the fanatical volunteers with whom the divisions had once been formed. The replacement of the former elite divisions consisted of drafted recruits, the remnants of collapsed units and large numbers of Luftwaffe ground personnel.

Only the 3rd Ukrainian Front with around 400,000 men faced the immediate attack; after the hard fighting around Budapest, tanks were in short supply. But the Russian high command had several large units in the area as reserves. It was therefore unlikely from the outset that the company would be successful beyond a temporary slump.

In addition, Moscow had seen through the German plans despite strict secrecy. 14 days before the start of the German attack, three deeply echeloned defensive lines were set up. At the beginning of March 6th, the Germans achieved at least local success. The main forces were concentrated between Lake Velence and Lake Balaton. They were favored by bad weather: fog and snow. The German tanks appeared out of nowhere just a few hundred meters from the Soviet positions.

“At Balaton, our regiment suffered colossal losses,” wrote Lieutenant Eduard Melikov of the 877th Artillery Regiment. "Two hundred German tanks rolled towards our division at once, our howitzers were firing from all cylinders... The fighting was cruel. In the entire war, the regiment did not lose as many men as in Hungary."

But the Red Army was a master of defense and mastered the art of building covered defensive positions for anti-tank weapons. In the endangered zones there were 65 guns and grenade launchers spread over a kilometer of front, plus 28 anti-tank guns. In addition, mines were laid. Then there was the weather. Deep mud hampered German movements. Much of the heavy equipment could not be brought into the battle line at all. The German command ignored warnings that the area around the Sárvíz - the mud lake - was not suitable for armored units in the spring.

The Germans offer their best equipment for the offensive: Panther, Tiger and King Tiger tanks. Plus the dangerous “Jagdpanthers” and the extremely heavy “Jagdtigers”. For the first time, the Germans used tanks with night vision devices. The loss and clearance reports show that only very few tanks actually fought. Most of them remained lying because of the mud and the artillery fire.

During the counterattack, entire columns of abandoned German chariots fell into the hands of the Red Army. Already on the evening of March 6th, the commander of Army Group South, General Otto Weller, reported: "The tanks can hardly move in the terrain because of the heavy mud, and all roads are blocked by minefields and enemy artillery. The infantry units were unable to achieve a quick breakthrough , and the fierce fighting consumed large amounts of ammunition, leaving the soldiers in short supply. The enemy was clearly expecting our offensive and had prepared for it, although they did not know exactly when and where the main attacks would take place."

After several days of heavy fighting, the Germans had broken through two of the defense lines. But this “success” meant little. The Soviet high command sacrificed the troops on the first line and waited until the German forces were exhausted before deploying the reserves.

The Germans, on the other hand, had still massed enough troops for a first strike, but now lacked fresh units to continue the fighting. There was not enough strength to continue the offensive. The Germans got 30 kilometers and then it was over. Heinz Guderian wrote in his memoirs: "The previously high fighting morale of the SS divisions was now lost. Under the cover of the stubbornly resistant tank crews, entire units withdrew against orders. These divisions could no longer be relied on."

Hitler threw a fit of rage. He flew into a terrible rage and ordered the ribbons with the regimental names to be torn from the soldiers' sleeves. Guderian, on the other hand, knew the troop's casualty figures and knew that the crazy last offensive had not failed because of the soldiers' lack of commitment.

In addition, he also knew that the SS people had removed the tapes with names like "Reichsführer SS" themselves so that they would not be shot immediately in the event of capture.

The Soviet counteroffensive began on March 16th. The Stavka released the reserve army of the 3rd Ukrainian Front and was also assigned another Guards Tank Army. The “Vienna Offensive” began. In just one month the capital of Austria was taken.