The Soviet Offensive Operations in Western Hungary and Austria
March - May 1945
Peko Publishing of Hungary has earned a quite good reputation among military historians and military modelers with it's fine line of " On the Battlefield " books of military vehicle studies. They have also published quite a few interesting titles on various campaigns on the Eastern Front during the latter stages of the war. This book under review is one those titles.
Some of the most bitter armored combat of WWII took place in 1945, on the Eastern Front as the Red Army ground it's bloody way west towards the Reich. The fighting on the southeast flank of greater Germany / Austria exhausted much of what remained of German combat effectiveness, as the Soviets took Budapest and then set its sights on Vienna, Austria. This book largely examines the period from mid-March 1945 and 13 April, 1945 when Vienna fell to the victorious Red Army. The loss of both Hungary and the old Austro-Hungarian capital Vienna was a crushing economic blow to the Nazis. The much longer lasting results of this campaign were that this ensured that most of old Central Europe would remain under Soviet control until the end of the Cold War. After the fall of Vienna, the Third Reich's remaining lifespan was less than a month.
Format - hardcover, landscape format
Page Count - heavyweight, glossy paper, 212 pages
Size - 8.75" x 11.75"
Photos - 200+ all black and white
Tables / Drawings / Diagrams - 1 map
All text and photo captions are in English
What's in the Book?
This book opens with quite brief Introduction giving the reader a short overview on the immediate and longer term importance of the operation that took Vienna from the Germans. In just 4 concise paragraphs, the author manages to convey many key points to the reader.
Note - there is a typographical error in the above table of contents. The volume's final chapter begins on page 195, not page 293 as stated.
The chapter describing the Soviet's intentions, plans, and preparations is very well presented, and the text is augmented with many informative tables which show the strengths in manpower and equipment of Russian and German formations engaged in this operation ( as seen in the image above ). In the case of the Axis ( German and Hungarian ) units involved, this level of detail extends down to divisional units, with Russian formations being described mostly at Corps / Army level, but down to Regiment / Brigade level in some instances. These tables are extremely well detailed on the German units ( probably due to the German passion for meticulous record keeping ), and are fascinating to look over.
Preparations and actions on the part of the Axis forces prior to the Soviet offensive are very well described in this chapter as well, with good information and background on the German actions aimed at reclaiming Hungary that had taken place prior to the Red Army resuming it's march towards Vienna.
The complexities, actions and results of the general situation in south - central Europe are quite well described by the author, in a very methodical and descriptive manner, with no trace of being overly dry.
Above - a simple, yet effective overview map of the Vienna Operation
The combat that took place between Lake Balaton in Hungary, and the gates of Vienna is covered very well by the author in big picture terms, as well as by fascinating ground level anecdotal accounts. This combat is well documented by many interesting photos, many of which well illustrate the damage inflicted on Axis forces by the Red Army.
Above and below - terrific images of Hungarian Turán tanks. The range of vehicles ( both Axis and Soviet ) seen in this volume is impressively wide.
Photo captions are a bit of a mixed bag in this volume, some are very descriptive and give a great amount of detail, others not quite so much. This is honestly no surprise to me, given what must have been somewhat chaotic conditions when the photos were first taken.
Text quality and "readability" is quite good throughout this volume, making it easy to understand the what's, when's and why's of the campaign.
Above - it's really difficult to tell, but the image above is of a completely obliterated Hummel self propelled gun.
Above - Bulgarian officers inspecting a nice example of an abandoned Hetzer tank hunter.
Bulgaria had reluctantly been "press-ganged" into joining Germany, and fighting on the German side in 1941. When the Red Army entered Bulgaria in Sept. 1944, the Bulgars wound up fighting alongside the Soviets, following a brief period of attempted neutrality. That more or less explains the presence of Bulgarian troops fighting with the Red Army during the operations to take Vienna.
Above - Soviet artillery entering Vienna suburbs. Note the American trucks, as well as horse drawn artillery still in use in 1945!
This book is far from a simple photographic study of the campaign to take Vienna, there is far too much quite well done text for that. But this volume IS quite photo heavy. The photos in this book generally range from quarter page sized to full page sized. Very good detail can generally be made out in the majority of the images, even the smaller ones, which can be seen by the images above. There are a very large number of full page sized photographs in this book, which is very welcome.
A Note on Photo Quality - given the conditions under which many of these images were made, most of them are really pretty good. Some are amazingly good in fact. There are a few here and there that may be just a bit grainy, dark or washed out looking, but not many. And as always, a less than perfect image is preferable to no image at all. Particularly when the subject matter is as interesting as this is.
Above - an iconic image if ever I saw one...a column of T-34s entering Vienna.
Above - this book has page after page of fascinating images, such as the one above. Use of so many full page images makes close study of these great images easy. Red Army Shermans, refugees....this image says it all about the taking of a major city by the Red Army.
The Red Army battered its way into Vienna, and American made Sherman tanks made a big contribution to that effort. Just look at all the detail visible in the above photograph; M4A2 Shermans, anti-tank guns, a horse-drawn carriage, Soviet trucks....the author made it quite difficult for me to select just a few images in this review. There are just too many to pick from.
In it's final chapter, the book addresses the contributions of other Allied forces in wresting Austria away from the Nazis, notably the US and British forces.
The above image is yet another fascinating one just filled with interesting detail, taken just days before Nazi Germany surrendered and the war in Europe ended.
Above - yet another iconic image, this one of Yanks and Soviets linking up.
This book is a highly fascinating look at one segment of the final spring of World War II, a segment with more lasting significance than I for one had previously considered.
The author uses a very fluid, easily read manner in writing, making the complexities of this campaign easy to grasp and understand. Not that easy, given the scope of this book, but in fact done very well by the author. I liked the inclusion of the tables detailing the manpower and materials present in the combat formations of both sides, I found them very interesting. The single map provided a good overview of the campaign, but more detailed maps ( particularly of actions in and around Vienna itself ) would have been very welcome.
As good as the text is in this book, the photographs are perhaps even better. The wide range of equipment and situations pictured is superb. Image quality varies somewhat, but it is more than acceptable in my opinion. The selection of photos for this book is quite good in terms of interest, with the copious use of full page images a real plus.
This is a very nice reference work for any interested in the Eastern Front, or WWII's final days. I genuinely like this book quite a bit.
Thanks to Casemate Publishing for the review copy
Reviewed by Chuck Aleshire, AMPS Chicagoland
AMPS 2nd Vice President, Midwest Region
If you liked this review, consider joining AMPS. Your annual membership
includes six copies of AMPS's magazine, Boresight,
and helps to support our ongoing reviews.
Click here for more information about joining AMPS