Tolbukhin and his staff had correctly predicted the German avenues of attack. The 3rd Ukrainian Front commander instituted measures designed to further strengthen the defense in the direct path of the German assault. He regrouped his artillery and shifted elements from the XVIII Tank Corps into the second defensive belt. In addition, the 27th Army’s XXXIII Rifle Corps was repositioned to block the I SS Panzer Corps, which had made significant progress on the first day of the operation given the weather conditions.
Rain mixed with light snow greeted the combatants at daybreak on March 7. The Germans renewed their attack across the entire front. Along the Drava River, Army Group E was unable to significantly enlarge its bridgeheads due to the mud. For the rest of the offensive, its divisions stayed on the defensive. Farther north around Nagybajom, the Second Panzer Army benefitted from captured enemy plans that detailed Soviet defenses. Based on the intelligence gleaned from the plans, the Second Panzer Army shifted the focus of its attack to its right wing.
A stubborn Soviet defense permitted little gain, and a stalemate ensued for the next few days. Between Lake Balaton and Lake Valence, the main attack pressed on as worsening terrain conditions trapped more German tracked vehicles, putting a strain on the already weakened infantry. Against the layered defense, the I Cavalry Corps made few gains. To its left the SS panzer divisions enjoyed some success. For example, the 1st SS Panzer captured Kaloz, and the 12th SS Panzer drove six kilometers into the Soviets lines. The II SS Panzer Corps, which was able to attack in force, also made significant headway, advancing six kilometers.
But the adjacent III Panzer Corps did not make any attempt to attack. Dietrich severely criticized its commanders for their lackluster performance. The IV SS Panzer Corps, though, did capture ground near Stuhlweissenburg that strengthened its defensive position.
An early morning frost on the third day of the offensive saw some road improvement. This was lost as temperatures rose, exacerbating the muddy conditions. The offensive finally looked like it might have a chance when the I SS Panzer Corps made the first real gains across a wide front when the 1st SS Panzer Division breached the enemy’s second defense line. Exploiting this momentum, the I Cavalry Corps also gained significant ground. The II SS Panzer Corps failed to follow up the gains of the previous day and became bogged down in heavy fighting near Sarosd. Orders were given for the 23rd Panzer Division to assemble behind the 44th Grenadier Division to be ready for a possible breakthrough. The 3rd Panzer Division was brought forward to attack Adony on the Danube River while the III Panzer Corps captured Seregelyes and an additional couple of kilometers.
These advances continued to be contested by the Soviets. Tolbukhin brought forward more of his reserves beginning on March 8, especially artillery and Katyusha rocket batteries. With the exception of XVIII Tank Corps, most of the Soviet mechanized forces had been held back. The following day major developments occurred between Lake Balaton and the Sarviz Canal.
The I Cavalry Corps made a surprisingly deep penetration with its 3rd Cavalry Division overcoming several defensive lines. These gains were assisted by the success of a night attack by the 1st SS Panzer Division. By the end of March 9, Dietrich had two corps through the Soviets’ primary defensive line. But the localized success had a drawback. The III Panzer Corps also enjoyed considerable success as its units advanced along the southern shore of Lake Valence before being stopped by Soviet forces at Gardony.
With his infantry suffering heavy attrition, Bittrich became deeply concerned over the losses suffered by his troops from combat and exposure to the elements. The 9th Panzer Division had lost more than a third of its strength by that point in the offensive.
Tolbukhin also became increasingly worried about the losses his units were incurring. The tempo of battle on March 9 compelled him to commit all of his reserves, except for a few small units. He informed Stavka that the situation was critical, and he asked if they would release to him the 9th Guards Army. His superiors flatly refused the request. They instructed him to make do with the forces at hand. As a result, Tolbukhin began to alter areas of responsibility along the front. He reduced the length of front for which the 26th Army was responsible. The result was that the 27th Army had to take up the slack. Its commander was startled to find that he was suddenly responsible for a critical portion of the front line. Tolbukhin also shifted units from the 4th Guards Army in the second echelon and placed them directly in the path of Dietrich’s advancing Sixth Panzer Army in an effort to slow the enemy’s momentum.
Frontline troops on both sides shivered in their positions on March 10 as the skies opened up and snow and freezing rain fell in western Hungary. This exacerbated the already poor road conditions. Nevertheless, the Second Panzer Army south of Lake Balaton experienced considerable success when the 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division exploited the seam between the Soviet 57th Army and the First Bulgarian Army. The panzergrenadiers advanced five kilometers, reaching the village of Kisbajom.
Meanwhile, the 25th Hungarian Infantry Division entered battle in the I Cavalry Corps’ sector. After a full day of savage house-to-house fighting, the understrength Hungarians captured the high ground around Enying. The 3rd Cavalry Division and the 1st SS Panzer Division reached the Sio Canal and secured sections of its bank in preparation for a crossing.
Elsewhere, the 12th SS Panzer, 2nd SS Panzer, and 44th Grenadier Divisions all made gains. In the Sixth Army’s sector, the 3rd Panzer Division surprised a pair of Soviet divisions by attacking amid a heavy falling snow. The panzer troops fought their way into the enemy’s second echelon of defense near Seregelyes. Its fellow division, the 1st Panzer, captured several villages. The pressure of battle compelled some of the German commanders to point fingers of blame at each other. Balck was accused of having misinformed Guderian about the status of the IV SS Panzer Corps. Balck reported that the corps had enough reserves to deal with a Russian counterattack when it no longer had such capability. As for Tolbukhin, he shifted units from relatively secure areas to critical ones to limit the enemy’s gains.
The weather improved on March 11, which enabled both Luftwaffe and Red Army ground attack aircraft to fly multiple sorties. With the support of their aircraft, Soviet troops were able to push back elements of the 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division around Kisbajom. The Second Panzer Army requested a change in the direction of its attack, but this was rejected by Wohler.
Instead, Wohler ordered the Second Panzer Army to renew its attack within the next 48 hours to keep Tolbukhin off balance and take the pressure off the Sixth Panzer Army. The Hungarians continued to advance along Lake Balaton, but they ground to a halt at Siofork. The German divisions that reached the Sio Canal spent the day securing its north bank and continued to search for crossing locations. While forward elements of the 12th SS Panzer Division were able to locate an intact bridge over the Sio, they were unable to exploit their discovery because it was blocked by burning vehicles.
The 23rd Panzer Division attacked Sar Egres, but it could not control the village. Despite the good weather of March 11, Dietrich sent a direct request to Hitler asking him to temporarily halt the offensive due to the rain and mud. Not surprisingly, Hitler rejected the request. Elements of the II SS Panzer Corps and the III Panzer Corps nevertheless managed to drive four kilometers into the Soviet 27th Army in some places.
The German armies involved in the offensive faced a determined, veteran commander. As Dietrich’s and Balck’s panzer divisions sought desperately to punch through the Soviet defenses, Tolbukhin masterfully shifted his resources in ways that prevented a decisive breakthrough. The Soviets’ defenses forced the Germans to make tactical adjustments. To catch the Red Army units by surprise, the Germans refrained from conducting preliminary artillery barrages before making an assault.
On the seventh day of the offensive, Army Group E ran out of steam. From that point forward its units did nothing more than hold their ground and fix the enemy units arrayed against them so that they could not be shifted to other sectors.
Tolbukhin, who already was deeply concerned over the condition of the 26th Army, watched in dismay as the German 4th Cavalry Division and 1st SS Panzer Division established bridgeheads across the Sio. These bridgeheads were approximately three kilometers deep and three kilometers wide. In addition, elements of the 1st SS Panzer Division entered Simontornya. On the opposite bank of the Sarviz Canal, most of the units of the II SS Panzer Corps could make no progress, although the redoubtable soldiers of the 44th Grenadier Division cleared the village of Aba. To the north, the three panzer divisions of the III Panzer Corps advanced two kilometers mainly because they benefited from the support of a heavy panzer battalion that used its King Tigers to blast Soviet positions. Despite the impressive gains made by the German forces that secured the Sio Canal bridgeheads, the soldiers of the 3rd Ukrainian Front had succeeded in preventing a breakthrough.