Monday, February 15, 2016

Festung Budapest - through Hitler's Eyes

When the German drive into the Caucasus stalled in the late summer of 1942, Hitler ordered that his military conferences be recorded, word for word, by military stenographers. Hitler had various 'Table Talks' recorded beginning in July 1941, and the order to record the daily military conferences extended this past practice. There was a desire to preserve decisions for posterity, but the deciding factor seems to have been an argument between Hitler and the Chief of the Operations Staff of the Armed Forces High Command, Colonel-General Jodl. Fearful that his officers might make false appeals to words he never uttered, Hitler began recording the military conferences in September 1942.

The complete set of transcripts at war's end amounted to 130,000 single-sided sheets of paper. All copies of the manuscript were burned following the defeat of Germany, but portions of one copy were rescued from an ash heap in May 1945. What survived the war has been translated into English. The book Hitler and his Generals: Military Conferences 1942-1945 (Enigma Books, New York, NY, 2004 ISBN 1-929631-28-6) reproduces the text as edited and with detailed footnotes by Helmut Heiber and David M. Glantz.

Players of Festung Budapest may find some interest in a conversation recorded on January 10, 1945. The participants included:

  • Adolf Hitler, Führer of Nazi Germany 
  • Reischsmarshal Hermann Göring, head of the Air Force 
  • Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Chief of the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces 
  • Colonel General Alfred Jodl, Chief of the Operations Staff of the Armed Forces High Command 
  • Major General Eckhard Christian: Chief of the Luftwaffe Command Staff 
Note that the original transcripts were in rough shape when they were recovered, and missing or unreadable tracts are noted by [--] in the book. 

From the midday situation report on 10 Jan 1945 at Adlerhorst.(1) 
LIEUTENANT-COLONEL HERMANI: The situation at the Budapest bridgehead is very serious. Here's where the attacks against the Eastern front took place. (Presentation.) Because there's no place to land, the supply is very strained, and an airfield absolutely must be built up somewhere in this area. I have a city map of 1:25,000, which we can use today to review the blocks of houses that have been lost, my Führer. (Presentation.) This is a fortification on the outskirts of town; it's not shown on the map because the map unfortunately doesn't reach that far. That was the position on January 8, and this morning we got a radio message with the position of the current main battle line. I drew it in quickly here. The occupying forces are pushed together in this area.

THE FUEHRER, ADOLF HITLER: There's no airfield there anymore.

HERMANI: No. The one was over here in this area, and the second was built up on Czepel Island...(2)

THE FUEHRER: That doesn't help; there's no airfield in this area anymore.

HERMANI: No, there's no airfield anymore. [--] I'd like to present the figures that the Russian Army reported regarding the battle in the Budapest area: "several residential areas" were taken on December 30, 1944, "several residential areas" on December 31, 1944, and from January 1 to 8 - taken together - 1,761 city blocks. ... the outer suburb.(3) It is generally correct, while in detail ... I just received a radio message about the daily report from yesterday, which says: ... heaviest defensive battles at the eastern bridgehead because of the shortening of the main battle line ... led to deep penetrations ... heavy street fighting and sustained ... heavy casualties on both sides; on the western bridgehead sudden concentrations of fire. [--] The supply situation forces us to be extremely economical. Air supply ... up to now 3 tons in the castle ... from the ship, which is on the Danube ... food secured ... How it came to that, I don't know either. [--]
Festung Budapest map.
Google Map satellite view of the same area in Budapest today.
THE FUEHRER: How long is this here, anyway?

HERMANI: The scale is 1:25,000.

FIELD MARSHAL KEITEL: One centimeter equals 3 kilometres.(4)

HERMANI: Yes, that's 3 kilometres.

THE FUEHRER: Is this ice?

HERMANI: There's ice on the Danube, yes.

THE FUEHRER: That's too bad! This is 1-1/2 kilometres. Can you land a seaplane on 1-1/2 kilometres?

REICHSMARSCHALL GOERING: Yes, it depends, my Führer.

THE FUEHRER: With the Ju!?

GOERING: We've landed on the Danube with a Ju before.

Ju-52 transport aircraft, fitted as a seaplane.
GENERALMAJOR CHRISTIAN: In principle it needs only ... with heavy bombs ...

GOERING: But the area is very short, ...

GENERALOBERST JODL: Now, Guderian has developed this idea.(5) --

HERMANI: General Wenck will come this evening. The Colonel General has just spoken with the Führer - he called him.

JODL: -- the idea to go to the west bank and then get more space up here to create an airfield.

THE FUEHRER: Impossible! All these airfields are just ideas that can't be employed because every location is under artillery fire.

JODL: I don't know if the idea was developed internally.

THE FUEHRER: It doesn't matter who had the idea, but every airfield ..., which is not set back 4 to 5 kilometres, ... when they fire on it with mortars, they can't land; it is impossible. They see every plane that arrives at night, ...

CHRISTIAN: The report from yesterday, which claimed that four aircraft landed -- I don't know where -- must be confirmed.

THE FUEHRER: Perhaps they landed on the troop training ground.

HERMANI: That was here on the ...

CHRISTIAN: Here it was still possible yetersday. [--]

THE FUEHRER: Could you find out what's happening with the ice floes here? If the ice is breaking up, nothing will work - that is clear - but it could be that the ice is not flowing. [--] We don't have light planes or anything like that? [--]

GOERING: But we do that with the piggy-back plane, too.(6)

THE FUEHRER: Yes, and do we have gliders?

GOERING: We have gliders.

THE FUEHRER: Gliders - they could land. There are enough of them.

GOERING: We brought them in quickly. They were in Graz.

THE FUEHRER: Gliders can always land.

GOERING: They could certainly land here.

THE FUEHRER: There are countless places for gliders. They're the only ones. Send the gliders here at once - all that we have!

GOERING: There are areas here and here for gliders. They just have to avoid the tall houses.
Current Google Map of Budapest. Area of Festung Budapest map outlined in red. Andrassy Street is indicated by the red pointer.
THE FUEHRER: Gliders can go anywhere. If worst comes to worst, we could land them on streets like this one - Andrassy [street]. [--] How wide are the gliders?

GOERING: That varies.

THE FUEHRER: They have to open up a street like Andrassy, by tearing out the streetlights and everything. [--]

GOERING: But a glider is always more or less lost.

CHRISTIAN: He has 200 gliders.

THE FUEHRER: (How much will they carry? [--] One ton?)

CHRISTIAN: One ton, yes. [--]

CHRISTIAN: ... but actually only in limited numbers.

GOERING: We still have them, but I always say: if something is broken, adjustment a half year later it comes ..., when we need it.

THE FUEHRER: For gliders I don't need a lot of stuff.

GOERING: No, that's not a major concern. The Hitler Youth do it. The Hitler Youth have gliders at their schools.

THE FUEHRER: And then we don't risk the expensive tow planes.

GOERING: No, they release.

THE FUEHRER: They will float down in the night.

LIEUTENANT-COLONEL WEISS: There is a parade ground below the castle - 900 metres long, as smooth as glass..., open area ... landing and starting again.(7)

THE FUEHRER: Gliders can definitely get in?!

WEISS: We'll have to examine it again, to be sure.

THE FUEHRER: We have to try everything, anyway! [--]

HERMANI: Right now there are attacks here.

GOERING: You know that area, Weiss?

WEISS: Yes, Herr Reichsmarshal. In the spring I saw it with General Schmundt - I drove there. At least one regiment was being drilled on it. It's as smooth as glass. There are no barracks or ...

JODL: I'm familiar with it, too. It's the best anyway, because the castle is right next to it, with all the cellars.

GOERING: I can confirm it with a radio message.

WEISS: It is very easy to find; it's below the castle.

Buda Castle, in relation to the Festung Budapest map.

GOERING: The castle protects it from the wind, which is very good. [--] Could you arrange for that whole area to be cleared of every obstacle - trenches, etc., so that it's leveled off?

THE FUEHRER: Flak is definitely [--]

CHRISTIAN: I'd like to report the following. We have gliders in four locations: in the southeastern area around Linz and Wels - they have already been ordered here, but the others are in Wittstock, and they must be driven to southern Germany...

THE FUEHRER: At first we can use those that are in the East already; the others will be brought by train, by priority transport.(8) [--] They don't have much there, so it would be good if they were actually to get the Tiger detachment brought in for the attack, because there's no sense in having Tigers, etc., here! [--]

HERMANI: At least you can drive them around.

THE FUEHRER: And further north?

HERMANI: North of the Danube, the 20th Panzer Division began its attack early this morning and pushed through to Ogyalla.

Ogyalla was renamed after the war to become Hurbanovo. Its relationship to Budapest is shown on this current Google Map.
Another group from the 20th Panzer Division is attacking Perpeto. Parts of the 208th [Infantry Division] that pushed ahead from Komoram [Komorn according to the book, most likely Komárom as on the map above] forced an enemy tank group to turn away. We took Naszdav and Imely yesterday. They are attacking further to the southeast now. An attack - which has been held off thus far - against the front of the 211th [Volksgrenadier Division], which has built up a blocking front again, ... At this time there are enemy attacks against Kürt from the southeast and east.

THE FUEHRER: It's a mystery where this guy brings these tanks from again. 
 On January 27th, a mid-day situation conference in Berlin contained the following report:

GENERAL HEINZ GUDERIAN: In Budapest the situation is intensifying because the enemy has shifted his focal point to the center of the western sector and has reached the so-called Blutwiese [Blood Meadow], which, until now, was the main drop point for supplies brought in by air. The counterthrust has begun. Whether it's possible to do it with the available forces - to clean this thing up - is uncertain, because the casualties have increased significantly. He is trying to build a bridge here over the Danube to Margaret Island. The situation is visibly intensifying... 

Location of Margaret Island. The Blutwiese (Blood Meadow, or Vérmező) is visible at lower left.
1. Adlerhorst was Hitler's forward headquarters, established for control of the Ardennes Offensive - not to be confused with the Eagle's Nest in Berchtesgaden: Wikipedia article on Adlerhorst
3. According to Heiber and Glantz, the Russians reported on city blocks taken daily. Their figures are slightly different than that presented here. On 8 January, according to Glanz, 2,000 of 4,500 city blocks were in Russian hands. 
4. According to Heiber and Glantz, Keitel is either referring to a 1:250,000 map, or was incorrectly transcribed (10cm on a 1:25,000 scale map is about 3 kilometres (actually 2.5).) 
5. General Heinz Guderian, Chief of Staff of the Army, visited Budapest January 5 to 8 to investigate the failure of relief attacks intended to relieve the city. Guderian's post (he was appointed a day after the Bomb Plot of July 20, 1944) was largely symbolic as Hitler had in effect become his own Chief of Staff.
6. A reference to the Mistel, any one of various combinations in which a piloted aircraft was physically attached to a glider, airplane or drone for delivery to a target. See Wikipedia article.
7. Almost certainly the Vérmező (Blood Field), as shown on the Festung Budapest map.The Hungarian Wikipedia has an article here (English translation by Google) which mentions the field being used for courier aircraft and glider landings.
8. Heiber and Glantz point out that "priority transport" was a specific term for a train going non-stop from loading point to destination, and carrying items of sufficient importance that other trains were removed from the track in order to ensure speedy passage. Generally reserved for shipments of ammunition, tanks, etc., for planned attacks or blocking movements to prevent enemy penetrations of the front.