On Christmas Eve 1944, the men of the IV SS-Panzerkorps were preparing to celebrate the occasion as best they could. Taking advantage of the pause in the fighting around Warsaw, they looked forward to partaking in that most German of holidays, including the finest Christmas dinner their field kitchens could still prepare in this fifth year of the war. They had earned it too; after five months of unrelenting combat and the loss of many of their friends, troops from the corps headquarters, headquarters troops, and its two divisions—the 3rd SS Panzer Division “Totenkopf” and the 5th SS Panzer Division “Wiking”—were eagerly anticipating what the holiday would bring, including presents from home and perhaps sharing a bottle of schnapps or wine with their comrades.
This was not to be, for that very evening, the corps commander, SS-Obergruppenführer Herbert Otto Gille, received a telephone call notifying him that the 35,000 men of his corps would begin boarding express trains the following day that would take them from the relative quiet of the Vistula Front to the front lines in Hungary, hundreds of kilometers away. Their mission: Relieve Budapest! Thus would begin the final round in the saga of the IV SS-Panzerkorps. In Hungary, it would play a key role in the three attempts to raise the siege of that fateful city. Threatened as much by their high command as by the forces of the Soviet Union, Gille and his troops overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles in their attempts to rescue the city’s garrison, only to have their final attack called off at the last minute. At that moment, they were only a few kilometers away from the objective towards which they had striven for nearly a month. After the relief attempt’s failure sealed the fate of hundreds of thousands of Hungarians and Germans, the only course of action remaining was to dig in and protect the Hungarian oilfields as long as possible.