Saka Light Cavalry

Saka Light Cavalry

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Battle For Budapest - 100 Days in World War II Book Review



Driven by recently playing a couple of the scenarios from Festung Budapest (the latest Historical Module from MMP for ASL) I revisited this book. It's been a few years since I first read it and my view of it really has not changed much with a second reading.
The Author lays out a fairly clear account of the events leading up to the encirclement of Budapest and then breaks down the stages of the battle leading with the Pest side of the siege first (Budapest was effectively two cities astride the Danube). This actually helps focus the reader on set parts of action, the time line can be slightly blurred but Krisztian Ungvary references key events to help keep track of events. With Pest falling before Buda it also made sense to use the reverse order of the cities name. The translation is for the most part very good making the reading of the book somewhat smooth. However the extensive use of Russian Names for the lesser part and the greater use of Hungarian place names around Budapest and extensive use of the names of Hungarians makes for a challenge in both reading them and remembering some of the people cropping up occasionally. Given that this is a human story as well as a history this makes it harder to empathise with the lesser characters.

Ungvary strives to put forward his view that this was the longest and bloodiest siege of WWII. To make this true he turns the siege of Leningrad into a blockade which in my eyes reduces the achievements of this book a little. The battle of Budapest is unique enough without fighting over the crumbs to be the biggest and worst. He also compares Budapest against the almost none existent battles for capitals of the rest f Europe. Berlin lasting two weeks, Vienna a whole 6 weeks. The western capitals failing to make a week and such as Paris none a single day. Only Warsaw suffered a major battle with the failed uprising. What made Budapest so bloody, even forcing Stalingrad into it's shadow was not the military deaths alone, but the civilian population were not able on the whole to get out of the city before it was encircled such was the propaganda and the residents ability to fool themselves. For this they paid dearly, 38,000 of them died, similar in number to the Hungarian and German military losers combined. Add the Russian 80,000 dead and you get a butchers bill of 160,000 dead. Whilst Stalingrad supplied a large number of German, Romanian and Italian prisoners Budapest supplied as a percentage and actual numbers far fewer. Of course if you look at how many of those prisoners from both battles survived to see home again Stalingrad would come out as the greatest cost in human life of any single campaign. This of course was not Ungvary's goal so this fact is ignored.

I point out these things not to lower the quality of his work but to put it into context, if you are like me and are aware of the bigger picture you could be put off the book early as he tries to manipulate the battles position to number one. The simple truth is that it was a dirty, bloody battle that even saw Hungarian troops switch sides and fight with the Russians, Civilians and even troops sabotage the defence in the hope of bringing the siege to an early end and the continued persecution of the Jews and politically unreliable (By the Arrow Cross) even as the siege was coming to an end. In fact the execution of the Jews was stepped up at the end, rather amazing as ammunition for the break out was in short supply and was a factor in how few were successful in breaking through the cordon around Budapest.

The book itself has lots of detail and uses many small events to get the reader into the conditions. Many times I felt myself asking why such and such would put up with what was happening and why at this late stage did so many Axis troops and commanders not take the easy way out. Part of this is explained by the fact that Hungarians hated the Russians and a large part of the German forces were both SS and in many cases ethnic Germans from what were Russian controlled states at the outbreak of the war on the Eastern Front and could expect (or receive) little mercy. If you are looking or something uplifting or glorious look elsewhere. This book deals with the gritty side of life in a siege, I found it difficult not to dislike the people sabotaging the defences such as steeling the dwindling supply of shells for the AT guns or whole Battalions dodging the fighting for the whole siege! Though curiously I had less trouble with Hungarians deserting to the Russians and then fighting against their former comrades.

A error in the pictures possibly a translation issue? The picture above was captioned as being a anti-tank gun when it clearly is a Panzershreck. Just struck me as funny.

Is the book worth reading? If you are into general WWII battles and campaigns possibly not. It's difficult to get your head round some of the names within the book and whilst he strives not to fall into the trap of each small section of the action sounding the same as the previous as most battles tend to be) it still has a feel of repetition though not excessively so. How ever if you have a keen interest in the east front, especially towards the end or want something different then yes this book is for you. Amazon.UK has this book in paperback for just over £8 at the moment with second hand copies under £5 so what are you waiting for?

10 comments:

  1. Thanks for the review. I am Hungarian.

    Cheers and boogie boogie.

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  2. Thanks for the review. I am Hungarian.

    Cheers and boogie boogie.

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  3. PS: I don't know why my comment doubled like that.

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  4. @ Happy

    I did not know that (obviosly) how many generations back?

    Ian

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  5. I am first generation American on my father's side. He is the Hungarian. Came over on the big boat.

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  6. That must be why the cooking force is strong in you LOL

    Ian

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  7. That's very true. Learned much from my Hungarian grandmother.

    Think we're headed off to grab lunch somewhere for the day.

    Enjoy the close of your weekend.

    Cheers and boogie boogie.

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  8. Ian,

    I agree with your assessment that the author overstates his case to some degree, in so far as the scale of the siege vis a vis those that occurred elsewhere. Breslau was another devastating siege. However, the siege of the Hungarian capital was a defining moment in Hungarian history. It reignited old divisions within the country (between the "whites" and "reds," as well as those between religious and ethnic groups (Jews, Swabians, Magyars, etc.). The fact that the siege was a direct result of Hitler's desire to stall for time, makes it all the more senseless, at least from the Hungarian perspective.

    The city was destined to fall. Hitler wanted to prolong the siege regardless of the cost to Budapest and the people trapped inside it. The so-called relief attempts (Op Konrad I-III) were more about keeping the Soviet steamroller away from Vienna and Germany than attempts to relieve the Hungarian capital.

    At bottom, the book is a primarily a social history of the battle. As an (amateur) historian, I find it frustrating to reference military events, etc. The index is clearly not intended to aid military historians. Moreover, there is a certain vagueness about military operations, and so forth. While the author goes to great lengths to underline what he argues was a lack of cooperation (and mutual) respect among the German and Hungarian defenders, he does not support this very well. If this were the case, we would not have seen German troops and AFV supporting Hungarian counterattacks. Be that as it may, the book provides the uninformed with an understanding of the scale and nature of the siege, especially its impact upon the civilian population.

    As with all histories, it must be read critically. I have yet to read Svamveber's work on Op Konrad. But I suspect that his work would be more appealing (and useful) to students of Hungarian military history.

    Thanks for sharing your views on Ungvary's work.

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  9. Chris, thanks for the in depth responce. The book does well with reading the tragic part, and whilst he clearly states upper levels lacking cooperation clearly as you stated at lower levels they did work a great deal tobether

    Ian

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