This photograph of a King Tiger with a torn off turret and Soviet officers standing on the hull is known to many fans of WW2 history. It can often be seen in various publications describing the Battle of Balaton in March of 1945, although none of the authors seem to have attempted to discover where this image came from. A number of clues reveals that this tank came from the 503rd Heavy Tank Battalion and the photo was made in December of 1944 during the Budapest Offensive Operation. It has nothing to do with the battles in March of 1944. Let us try to figure out where this headless tank came from.
Having completed the Debrecen Offensive Operation in late October of 1944, forces of the 2nd Ukrainian Front almost instantly began the Budapest Offensive Operation. The second stage of this operation was conducted in November of 1944. Elements of the 6th Tank Army, 7th Guards Army, and 47th Army reached the outer defensive ring established around Budapest. Here Soviet forces were forced to pause their advance to regroup, resupply, and prepare for the assault on the Hungarian capital.
The offensive resumed in early December. Elements of the 7th Guards and 6th Tank armies reached the Danube north and north-west of the city. At the same time, units of Lieutenant General I.A. Pliev's cavalry-armour group moved north towards the important transport and railway hub of Balassagyarmat which lay on the river Ipoly running between Hungary and Czechoslovakia.
Hungarian forces were forced to retreat in the north-western direction, covering their retreat with rear guard units. In addition to the scattered Hungarians, the 2nd Ukrainian Front was opposed by German units: the 357th Infantry Division as well as the 4th and 18th SS Panzergrenadier divisions. The 4th SS Panzergrenadier division had 24 StuG IV assault guns (only four of which were operational) and two Pz.Bef.Wg.IV command tanks. The division's anti-tank battalion received 31 new Jagdpanzer IV tank destroyers in early November, but it was still located at its training grounds and had not arrived by this time. The 18th SS "Horst Wessel" division had four StuG III assault guns and four tank destroyers (likely Jagdpanzer IV or Hetzer) as of December 6th.
|Fragment of a German map showing elements of Army Group South near Erdőkürt-Beckse, December 5th, 1944.
|A column of vehicles from the tank battalion of the 4th SS Division in Hungary. A Pz.Bef.Wg.IV tank leads several StuGs.
|Map fragment showing Erdőkürt, Bercel, and Beckse with locations of Soviet rifle divisions as of December 7th, 1944.
|Path of the 4th Guards MC in the vicinity of Bercel.
|Fighting of the 4th Guards MC's brigades around Beckse.
|Map fragment: Beckse-Balassagyarmat.
|Top: frame from the "Liberation of Hungary" newsreel that shows the same King Tiger tank as the photo below. The film reveals that there is another tank of the same type left behind the first one. Balassagyarmat, December 1944.
|This King Tiger tank was demolished behind the first one. The right track is missing and the barrel was blown off. This is most likely the result of the demolition by mechanics of the 503rd Heavy Tank Battalion.
|Photos of the third King Tiger demolished in Balassagyarmat. The top photo was made in the spring or summer of 1945.
|The same location in Balassagyarmat today.
|Report with characteristics of a King Tiger tank captured at Nagykőrös, 10 km north-east of Kecskemét.
|Locations of units of the 3rd Guards MC in the Kecskemét-Nagykőrös area on November 1st, 1944.
|A Pz.Kpfw.IV tank with tactical number 1012 from the 10th company of the 24th Tank Regiment of the 24th Tank Division lost in Hungary. These tanks were often confused for Tigers.