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Take Budapest

The Struggle for Hungary, Autumn 1944 by Kamen Nevenkin, The History Press, 2013, Softcover, 288 pages
Review Type: 

Piggybacking upon my recent review of Tomb of the Panzerwaffe is another well done work covering the tank heavy battles in Hungary that occurred in the final year of the Second World War. In this case Kamen Nevenkin’s Take Budapest ably documents the first Soviet drive on Budapest during the fall of 1944, and in that process provides a firm foundation for those interested in this particular aspect of the Second World War.

The first four of the book’s eleven chapters detail the political, economic, and strategic underpinnings of the Hungarian campaign. This is done from both the German and Soviet perspective.  What is notable here is that these early chapters provide the reader with a base of understanding as to why Hungary became such an important battlefield during the war's closing months. The grandiose scope of Stalin’s plans are revealed, as he envisioned a quick seizure of Budapest followed up by a thrust through Austria and deep into southern Germany. This further assists the reader’s comprehension as to just how much the often panned Axis resistance denied Stalin his political objectives. On the flip side, Take Budapest, offers the reader deeper insight into what Hitler was hoping to accomplish as he streamed ever more resources to the Eastern Front’s flanks, and why his goals, and that of the woefully overrated OKH/OKW bifurcated military command apparatus, had devolved even more pathetically into the realm of fantasy.

With the stage set the book then moves into a detailed operational history of the Soviet attempt to follow up its successful fall 1944 sweep through the Balkans and take Budapest off the march. Though the 2nd Ukrainian Front carried the main thrust of the Soviet drive on Budapest its spearhead, and the book’s focal point, is on the offensive operations of the Front’s left wing. The Soviet 46th Army, deploying four rifle corps as well as the 2nd Guards Mechanized Corps and 4th Guards Mechanized Corps, carried this main load. In opposition a number of Axis formations bore the brunt of the Soviet assault, and finally ended up stopping it just short of the Hungarian capital. Most prominently these included the 1st, 13th, 23rd, and 24th Panzer Divisions as well as the Panzer Grenadier Division “Feldherrnhalle” along with the Hungarian 1st Huszar Division and 1st Armored Division. A veritable blizzard of other combat formations also participated (including in the air, which Nevenkin nicely covers as well).

This is a “specialist book” for the educated reader. That said, one of the things it does quite well in terms of further educating the average Second World War enthusiast is in its ability to show exactly what it meant when a panzer division faced off against say a mechanized corps. To that end Nevenkin’s work includes a number of nicely done tables providing clear visual representations of the opposing forces orders of battle at various points during the October 29th to November 6, 1944 fighting that this book analyzes in detail. This provides the reader with a better understanding of not just the organization, but also the state of the opposing forces in the war’s final year and on one of the most important fronts.

Take Budapest also offers several salient examples regarding the importance of combined arms warfare to both Germans and Soviet battlefield success. In this book the focus is on the operational down to the tactical level. For an example of the latter pp. 92-93 of the book provide clear evidence as to the role of combined arms in the 46th Army’s ability to achieve its objectives and as follows:


‘The enemy tried to convert every settlement or farmstead into a strongpoint’ Shlemin recalls. But 46th Army quickly found a remedy: each regiment formed an assault detachment comprised of a rifle battalion supported by tanks and artillery. The heavy guns engaged the targets with direct fire. Under their cover the infantry and the armour approached the buildings and then stormed them. Often part of the detachment (a company or platoon) bypassed the makeshift bunker and simultaneously attacked it from the flanks and the rear. Thus the strongholds were eliminated one after another and before long the last pockets of resistance were silenced.

In addition Nevenkin amply documents how Germany’s complete refusal to integrate the Hungarian armed forces into fighting as a team alongside German units handicapped Army Group South’s response to the Soviet 46th Army’s initial penetrations. To that end Nevenkin offers Hungarian intelligence reports that survived the war and identify the large scale scope of the Soviet assaults in their initial hours. Nevenkin contrasts these objective and level headed reports with abundant examples of German arrogance, including select quotes from the First General Staff Officer of the 24th Panzer Division denigrating and ignoring Hungarian reconnaissance efforts.

Take Budapest is a treasure trove of information for the armored warfare enthusiast. Not only are there detailed appendices, charts, orders of battle, and analysis of the use of German and Soviet armored formations (including through each side’s use of ad hoc kampfgruppen) but also coverage of rare or unique late war weapons. These include the 13th Panzer Division’s deployment of SdKfz 251/21 half-tracks with triple mount 15cm auto cannon, and the Hungarian army’s employment of its new Szalasi-rocket. This Hungarian anti-tank rocket went into production in the summer of 1944 initially modeled on the German panzerschreck. It possessed a powerful warhead capable of penetrating 300mm of armor. Unfortunately for the Hungarians it proved an unwieldy weapon that best worked when affixed on truck beds, but most often found usage on captured Maxim or Degtyarev machine gun mounts.

The maps provided are detailed, and generally do a good job of tracking with the text. They help to provide a reading experience bringing some order to the process of flipping back and forth from map to text that accompanies any such book drilling down to the town or hamlet level of fighting as this book does. As mentioned above Take Budapest features a number of highly detailed appendices. In fact the book’s text ends on page 187. The following one hundred of this nearly three hundred page book are filled with statistical information most of it of great interest; including combat losses on each side in terms of men, machines, and, in regards to air combat, even claimed kills and the date they occurred.

One complaint involves Appendix 8 entitled “War Crimes” and its inclusion of high command orders from each combatant involving attempted control over looting and rape by their soldiers. This extended treatment implies the army commands were actively involved in attempting to stop the crimes committed against civilians. In reality these orders proved the exception rather than the rule, and were far from aggressively or consistently enforced. Though the German genocide against Hungarian Jews is discussed in detail early in the book, on the battlefield the reality is that German soldiers did quite a bit of looting. For their part Soviet soldiers not only looted but committed rape on such a massive scale that it rose to the level of being endemic.

Take Budapest is an enjoyable read, and a valuable research aid that this reviewer recommends for any Eastern Front or armored warfare aficionado.

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