Siege of Budapest in WWII (29 December 1944 – 13 February 1945)
The Siege of Budapest or the Battle of Budapest was the 50-day-long encirclement of the Hungarian capital of Budapest by Soviet forces near the end of World War II. Part of the broader Budapest Offensive, the siege began when Budapest, defended by Hungarian and German troops, was first encircled on 26 December 1944 by the Red Army and the Romanian Army.
For Adolf Hitler, Budapest was vital. It was the capital of Germany’s last remaining ally in Europe and the gateway to Vienna and southern Bavaria. In addition, the Axis’ only remaining crude oil plant was in southwest Hungary. Hitler believed that strong counteroffensives in Hungary coupled with a stout defense in Poland would keep the Soviets off-balance and prevent them from massing their forces against Berlin.
Josef Stalin also viewed Hungary’s capital city as a key political prize. The Allied summit at Yalta was just three months away, and the swift seizure of Budapest and Vienna would greatly increase his bargaining power. He ordered Marshal Rodion Malinovsky, a future Soviet minister of defense and commander of the Second Ukrainian Front, which was spread throughout southeast Slovakia and north-central Hungary, to seize Budapest ‘in the shortest possible time — in days even.’
The fighting was so intense that Soviet troops quickly found themselves in the same situation as the Germans had in Stalingrad. Their men were nonetheless able to take advantage of the urban terrain by relying heavily on snipers and sappers to advance. Fighting broke out in the sewers, as both sides used them for troop movements.
During the siege, about 38,000 civilians died from starvation and military action. The city unconditionally surrendered on 13 February 1945. It was a strategic victory for the Allies in their push towards Berlin.
The cost of the campaign to the Soviets has never been confirmed, although estimates range from one hundred thousand to as high as 160,000 casualties. Postwar Soviet statistics claim that more than 180,000 German and Hungarian ‘fighters’ were trapped in the pocket, of which 110,000 were captured. Immediately after the siege, thousands of Hungarian civilians were rounded up and added to the prisoner of war count, allowing the Soviets to validate their previously inflated figures.