Operation Panzerfaust

Operation Panzerfaust

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Operation Panzerfaust, known as Unternehmen Eisenfaust in Germany, was a military operation to keep the Kingdom of Hungary
Kingdom of Hungary (1920–1946)
The Kingdom of Hungary also known as the Regency, existed from 1920 to 1946 and was a de facto country under Regent Miklós Horthy. Horthy officially represented the abdicated Hungarian monarchy of Charles IV, Apostolic King of Hungary...

 at Germany's side in the war, conducted in October 1944 by the German military (Wehrmacht
The Wehrmacht – from , to defend and , the might/power) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer , the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe .-Origin and use of the term:...

). When German dictator Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 received word that Hungary's Regent
A regent, from the Latin regens "one who reigns", is a person selected to act as head of state because the ruler is a minor, not present, or debilitated. Currently there are only two ruling Regencies in the world, sovereign Liechtenstein and the Malaysian constitutive state of Terengganu...

, Admiral
Admiral is the rank, or part of the name of the ranks, of the highest naval officers. It is usually considered a full admiral and above vice admiral and below admiral of the fleet . It is usually abbreviated to "Adm" or "ADM"...

 Miklós Horthy
Miklós Horthy
Miklós Horthy de Nagybánya was the Regent of the Kingdom of Hungary during the interwar years and throughout most of World War II, serving from 1 March 1920 to 15 October 1944. Horthy was styled "His Serene Highness the Regent of the Kingdom of Hungary" .Admiral Horthy was an officer of the...

, was secretly negotiating his country's surrender to the advancing Red Army
Red Army
The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army started out as the Soviet Union's revolutionary communist combat groups during the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922. It grew into the national army of the Soviet Union. By the 1930s the Red Army was among the largest armies in history.The "Red Army" name refers to...

, he sent commando leader Waffen-SS
The Waffen-SS was a multi-ethnic and multi-national military force of the Third Reich. It constituted the armed wing of the Schutzstaffel or SS, an organ of the Nazi Party. The Waffen-SS saw action throughout World War II and grew from three regiments to over 38 divisions, and served alongside...

 Lieutenant-Colonel Otto Skorzeny
Otto Skorzeny
Otto Skorzeny was an SS-Obersturmbannführer in the German Waffen-SS during World War II. After fighting on the Eastern Front, he was chosen as the field commander to carry out the rescue mission that freed the deposed Italian dictator Benito Mussolini from captivity...

 to Hungary. Hitler feared that Hungary's surrender would expose his southern flank, where the Kingdom of Romania
Kingdom of Romania
The Kingdom of Romania was the Romanian state based on a form of parliamentary monarchy between 13 March 1881 and 30 December 1947, specified by the first three Constitutions of Romania...

 had just joined with the Soviets and cut off a million German troops still fighting the Soviet advance in the Balkan peninsula.

Hitler sends in Waffen-SS

Having anticipated Horthy's move, Skorzeny had been instructed to remove Horthy from power. Horthy's son Miklós Horthy, Jr.
Miklós Horthy, Jr.
Miklós Horthy de Nagybánya II was the younger son of Hungarian regent Admiral Miklós Horthy and, until the end of World War II, a politician.-Biography:...

 was meeting with Soviet representatives. Miklós Jr. was informed by the German Security Service through intermediaries that envoys of Marshal Tito
Josip Broz Tito
Marshal Josip Broz Tito – 4 May 1980) was a Yugoslav revolutionary and statesman. While his presidency has been criticized as authoritarian, Tito was a popular public figure both in Yugoslavia and abroad, viewed as a unifying symbol for the nations of the Yugoslav federation...

 of Yugoslavia wanted to meet with him. Miklós Jr. had failed to keep a prior meeting when he observed suspicious individuals near the proposed meeting place. A second meeting was set for early 15 October at the offices of Felix Bornemisza, the Director of the Hungarian Danube ports. He hoped that the Yugoslavian representatives might have important news, but upon entering the building, Skorzeny and his troops attacked and beat him into submission. They then kidnapped Miklós at gunpoint, trussed him up in a carpet, immediately drove him to the airport and flew him to Vienna. From there, he was transported to the concentration camp at Mauthausen
Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp
Mauthausen Concentration Camp grew to become a large group of Nazi concentration camps that was built around the villages of Mauthausen and Gusen in Upper Austria, roughly east of the city of Linz.Initially a single camp at Mauthausen, it expanded over time and by the summer of 1940, the...


Horthy declares armistice

Working through his trustworthy General Béla Miklós
Béla Miklós
Knight Béla Miklós de Dálnok was a Hungarian military officer and politician who served as acting Prime Minister of Hungary, at first in opposition, and then officially, from 1944 to 1945.-Early career:...

, who was in contact with Soviet forces in eastern Hungary, Regent Horthy attempted to negotiate the end of the war, seeking to surrender to the Soviets while preserving the government's autonomy. The Soviets willingly promised this. But the Germans were aware of Horthy's behind-the-scenes maneuvering and set in place Operation Panzerfaust which would remove him from power and replace his government with forces loyal to the German cause, effectively occupying Hungary. Horthy governed from Castle Hill in central Budapest, an ancient and now well-guarded fortress. He blamed the German government for "forcing" Hungary into war, and during a meeting of the Crown Council declared that:
At 2:00 p.m. on 15 October 1944, Horthy's declaration that Hungary had signed an armistice with the Soviet Union was announced over the radio. With Nazi help, the Arrow Cross Party
Arrow Cross Party
The Arrow Cross Party was a national socialist party led by Ferenc Szálasi, which led in Hungary a government known as the Government of National Unity from October 15, 1944 to 28 March 1945...

 seized the radio station. A party member wrote a counter-proclamation and used the name of the Hungarian Army's Chief of the General Staff, General Vörös. The commanding officer and his assistant of the two remaining Hungarian army units in Budapest were arrested or disappeared, and their soldiers fell in line with the Arrow-Cross party.

Failure of the Hungarian Army to respond

Given that many Hungarian units were controlled by the German army, it is unclear whether orders, if issued, ever reached most of the line troops. There had also been considerable propaganda about the harsh, punitive treatment of prisoners by the Soviets.

Germans take Buda Castle

Skorzeny then brazenly led a convoy of German troops and four Tiger II
Tiger II
Tiger II is the common name of a German heavy tank of the Second World War. The final official German designation was Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf. B,Panzerkampfwagen – abbr: Pz. or Pz.Kfw. Ausführung – abbr: Ausf. .The full titles Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf...

 tanks to the Vienna Gates of Castle Hill
Buda Castle
Buda Castle is the historical castle and palace complex of the Hungarian kings in Budapest, first completed in 1265. In the past, it was also called Royal Palace and Royal Castle ....

. Horthy recognized that he had no means to fight the German armor and superior forces. He issued orders that "no resistance should be made." One unit did not get these orders, and fought the Germans for about 30 minutes. The Germans quickly and with minimal bloodshed captured Castle Hill. Only seven soldiers were killed and 26 men were wounded.

Horthy captured

Horthy was taken into custody by Edmund Veesenmayer
Edmund Veesenmayer
Edmund Veesenmayer was a German politician, officer and war criminal. He significantly contributed to The Holocaust in Hungary and Croatia...

 and his staff later on the 15th. Kept overnight in the Waffen SS offices, he returned to the Palace to collect his personal belongings. There he was confronted with a demand to sign a typewritten statement handed to him by Premier Géza Lakatos
Géza Lakatos
Knight Géza Lakatos de Csíkszentsimon was a general in Hungary during World War II who served briefly as Prime Minister of Hungary, under governor Miklós Horthy from August 29, 1944, until October 15,...

. Surprised that his loyal friend would encourage him to sign the document, Horthy was told by Lakatos that his son's life was at stake. When Horthy asked Veesenmayer if this was true, Veesenmayer confirmed the threat. The regent understood that this was an effort to put the stamp of his prestige on a Nazi-sponsored Arrow Cross coup, placing Ferenc Szálasi
Ferenc Szálasi
Ferenc Szálasi was the leader of the National Socialist Arrow Cross Party – Hungarist Movement, the "Leader of the Nation" , being both Head of State and Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Hungary's "Government of National Unity" for the final three months of Hungary's participation in World War II...

 and the Arrow Cross
Arrow Cross Party
The Arrow Cross Party was a national socialist party led by Ferenc Szálasi, which led in Hungary a government known as the Government of National Unity from October 15, 1944 to 28 March 1945...

 in control of the country.

Horthy later explained his capitulation: "I neither resigned nor appointed Szálasi Premier, I merely exchanged my signature for my son’s life. A signature wrung from a man at machine-gun point can have little legality."

Despite Veesenmayer's solemn promise to obtain Horthy's son's release from the German concentration camp, Miklós Jr. remained a prisoner until the war's end on 8 May 1945. Horthy himself was transported to the Schloss Hirschberg near Weilheim, Germany, and guarded by 100 Waffen SS men at all times. On 1 May 1945, Lt. Gen. Alexander Patch
Alexander Patch
General Alexander McCarrell "Sandy" Patch was an officer in the United States Army, best known for his service in World War II. He commanded Army and Marine forces during the invasion of Guadalcanal, and the U.S...

, the commander of the US 36th Division, visited Horthy in his castle prison. Because Hungary had fought on to the end defending Germany, Horthy was considered a prisoner of war. Seven months later, on 17 December 1945, he was released from the Nuremberg penitentiary and was reunited with his family in a private home in Weilheim.