The „Vienna Offensive“ of the Soviet armed forces of March/April 1945

Markus Reisner

The Soviet armed forces had learned the lessons of the bitter and heavy losses in the war-years of 1941 and 1942. For this reason, they had increasingly become capable of conducting more successful operations from 1943 until 1945. Resulting from the Soviet victories of 1943 and 1944, near the end of the Second World War the general staff of the Red Army defined the dimensions of an offensive operation according to two dimensions: the „width of the frontline“ and the „depth of the deployment“. The concept of „width of the frontline“ expressed that by an attack along the entire frontline the adversary simultaneously was to be worn down, thus achieving the collapse of the weakest adverse section. There, or at best on two places, high readiness and highly maneuverable (armoured) forces equipped with striking and firing power were to attack and to achieve a penetration („attack for penetration“) into the depth („principle of unity and interoperation of weapons“). The following „deep attack battle“ then defined a concentrated wide strike of these attack forces („principle of concentration“) into the operational depth of the enemy. Possible operational reserves of the enemy were to be either simultaneously suppressed („principle of simultaneousness“) or beaten in an encountering battle. The eventual result was the total collapse of the enemy structures. The offensive by the German troops in the course of the Lake Balaton Offensive („Operation Spring Awakening“) had imposed a defence operation on the Soviet forces of the 2nd and 3rd Ukrainian Front for the time being. From the beginning until the middle of March 1945, especially the troops of the 3rd Ukrainian Front were bound in stopping the German offensive. When it became foreseeable that the attacking armies of the German Army Group South would loose their force and momentum, the Soviet plannings for a further thrust towards the west were laid down in detail. Originally it had been determined that the 2nd Ukrainian Front was to perform the thrust towards the west, thus in the direction to Bratislava and Vienna. Both towns were situated in the direct offensive direction, and in the beginning of March 1945, the 2nd Ukrainian Front was not engaged by a German counter offensive. Opposite, in substance only the German 8th Army of the Army Group South was deployed. The 6th Army as well as the 6th Armoured Army, representing the bulk of the German Army Group South, however, together with the 3rd Hungarian Army, were deployed opposite the 3rd Ukrainian Front north of Lake Balaton. The opportunity to defeat the German large formations decisively induced the Soviets to shift their centre of gravity south of the Danube. Thus, the 3rd Ukrainian Front was tasked with executing the „Vienna Offensive“. The battle for the Austrian capital was characterized in some cases by fierce urban combat, but there were also parts of the city the Soviets advanced into with little opposition. Defending in the Prater Park was the 6th Panzer Division, along the south side of the city were the 2nd and 3rd SS Panzer Divisions, and in the north was the Führer-Grenadier Division. The Soviets assaulted Vienna's eastern and southern suburbs with the 4th Guards Army and part of the 9th Guards Army. The German defenders kept the Soviets out of the city’s southern suburbs until 7th April. However, after successfully achieving several footholds in the southern suburbs, the Soviets then moved into the western suburbs of the city on 8th April with the 6th Guards Tank Army and the bulk of the 9th Guards Army. The western suburbs were especially important to the Soviets because they included Vienna's main railway station. The Soviet success in the western suburbs was followed quickly by infiltration of the eastern and northern suburbs later the same day. North of the Danube River, the 46th Army pushed westward through Vienna's northern suburbs. Central Vienna was now cut off from the rest of Austria.