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The German army command realised in good time what the Soviets had in mind. The Department of Foreign Armies East (Abteilung Fremde Heere Ost) signalled the planned Soviet offensive as early as 12 December. 63 The Germans had already sent substantial reinforcements to Transdanubia, with the intention of regaining the lost territories and creating a solid battle line along the Danube which could be held with a smaller combat strength. Guderian’s ultimate reason for so doing was to save troops, for he had always regarded Hungary as a secondary theatre of war.
An improvised company laid down its arms and surrendered. The 8/I Battalion, which had only recently been replenished with civilian prisoners and had not received any food for two days, was destroyed, and the surviving units of the 9th Infantry Regiment scattered by continuous Soviet attacks. On 5 December the Soviet and Romanian forces launched a general offensive in the region surrounding Isaszeg and penetrated the lines of the Hungarian 10th Infantry Division and 12th Reserve Division at several points.
Friessner signalled: In view of the fact that the battle is now raging in the suburbs of Budapest, he [Szálasi] stresses that these developments are not his fault but a legacy of the previous regime … He regrets that the German leadership intervened so late in Hungarian affairs. At this point his present government can only engage in damage limitation in an attempt to prevent the collapse of the nation; really constructive work is no longer possible. 71 If Szálasi did not insist on defending Budapest this was not so much because of the likely devastation, but because he believed that the population (in his words, the ‘metropolitan mob’) might try to stab the defenders in the back, and there would not be enough forces to suppress it.