6th Army (Wehrmacht)

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Armee-Oberkommando 6
German 6th Army
Active10 October 1939 - 3 February 1943
5 March 1943 – 6 May 1945
Country Nazi Germany
TypeInfantry
EngagementsWorld War II
Stalingrad
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Friedrich Paulus
Insignia
Identification
symbol
6th Army Logo.svg
Identification
symbol
Army insignia

The 6th Army was a designation for a German field army that saw action in World War II. The 6th Army is best known for fighting in the Battle of Stalingrad, during which it became the first entire German field army to be completely destroyed. After the battle of Stalingrad, approximately 107,800 soldiers of the 6th Army entered Soviet captivity; only about 6,000 survived.

Western campaigns

Originally numbered as the 10th Army, this combat unit was formed on October 10, 1939 with General Walther von Reichenau in command. Its primary mission was to guard the western defenses of Germany against British and French attacks during the Polish campaign. During the invasion of the Low Countries the 6th Army saw active service linking up with paratroopers and destroying fortifications at Eben Emael, Liège, and Namur during the Battle of Belgium. The 6th Army was then involved in the breakthrough of the Paris defences on June 12, 1940, before acting as a northern flank for German forces along the Normandy coast during the closing stages of the Battle of France.

Eastern campaign

The 6th Army began its involvement in the Russian Campaign as the spearhead of Army Group South. Shortly after being promoted to Field Marshal, von Reichenau died in an aircraft accident while being transported to a hospital after a heart attack in January 1942. He was succeeded by his former chief of staff, General der Panzertruppen Friedrich Paulus. Paulus led the 6th Army to a major victory at the Second Battle of Kharkov during the spring of 1942. This victory also sealed the 6th Army's destiny because it was selected by the OKH for the attack on Stalingrad.

On 28 June 1942, Army Group South began Operation Blau; the German Army's summer offensive into southern Russia. The goals of the operation were to secure both the oil fields at Baku, Azerbaijan, and the city of Stalingrad on the river Volga to protect the forces advancing into the Caucasus. After two months, the 6th Army reached the outskirts of Stalingrad on 23 August. On the same day, over 1,000 aircraft of the Luftwaffe's Luftflotte 4 bombed the city, turning it into a massive inferno. Destroyed in a matter of hours, Stalingrad was now a charnel house; defended by the weak Soviet 62nd Army under the command of General Vasily Chuikov.

Despite having the initiative, the 6th Army failed to obtain a quick victory. The Red Army put up determined resistance, taking the fight to the rubble-clogged city streets. Though having almost complete air superiority over Stalingrad, and with more artillery pieces than the Soviets, progress was reduced to no more than several meters a day. Soviet casualties in the ghastly urban fighting were horrendous, while German casualties were just as appalling. Eventually, by mid November, the 62nd Army had been pushed to the banks of the Volga; holding only three small bridgeheads along the riverfront. However, despite continued fighting, the 6th Army was unable to eliminate the remaining Soviet troops in Stalingrad in time.

On 19 November, Operation Uranus, the massive attack by Soviet forces on the flanks of the German corridor between the Don and Volga rivers, began. The 6th Army's flanks were protected by Romanian troops, who were ill-equipped to deal with the attack. Very quickly, the Romanians were shattered, and on 23 November, the pincers of the attack met at Kalach-na-Donu.

The 6th Army was encircled, and a major relief operation, which quickly failed, was undertaken by Field Marshal Erich von Manstein on 12 December. After an additional month of fighting, the 6th Army was almost decimated. Paulus was promoted by Hitler to the rank of Generalfeldmarschall on 31 January 1943, ostensibly in part because until that day no German Field Marshal had ever surrendered. In other words, Adolf Hitler expected Paulus to commit suicide, but Paulus soon surrendered to the Soviet forces, contrary to orders by his political chief. The remaining forces of the 6th Army, under the independent command of General Karl Strecker, surrendered two days later in the Tractor Factory, just to the north of the prominent hill Mamaev Kurgan. Although this was not the definitive end of the 6th Army, the Battle of Stalingrad was one of the worst military disasters in German history. For the first time, an entire German field army had been completely destroyed.

Reformation – Battles in the East

During the last days of the Stalingrad encirclement, Hitler, in denial of events, had one man from every division in the 6th Army flown out in order to 'reconstitute' a new 6th Army (A.O.K. 6). This new formation became active on 5 March 1943, and was commanded by General Karl-Adolf Hollidt and based on Army Detachment Hollidt. It later fought in Ukraine and Romania as part of Army Group South and Army Group South Ukraine. The army was again largely destroyed in a large encirclement during the Iassy-Kishinev Operation, but this time the army HQ survived. The 6th Army was the only German army to be encircled and destroyed thrice (including the final capitulation).

Army Group Fretter-Pico

In October 1944, under the command of General of Artillery Maximilian Fretter-Pico, the 6th Army encircled and destroyed three Soviet tank corps of Mobile Group Pliyev under the command of Issa Pliyev in the Battle of Debrecen. During this time, the 6th Army had the Hungarian Second Army placed under its command, and it was known as "Army Group Fretter-Pico" (Armeegruppe Fretter-Pico).

Command passed to General der Panzertruppen Hermann Balck in December 1944. In January 1945, one of the 6th Army's subordinate units, the IX SS Mountain Corps, was encircled in Budapest. SS-Gruppenführer Herbert Otto Gille's IV SS Panzer Corps was transferred to the 6th Army's command and a relief attempt, codenamed Operation Konrad, was launched during the 46-day long Siege of Budapest.

Army Group Balck

After the failure of Konrad III, the 6th Army was made part of "Army Group Balck" (Armeegruppe Balck). This army group fell back to the area near Lake Balaton. Several units, including the III Panzer Corps, were involved in Operation Spring Awakening, while the rest of the Sixth Army provided defence for the left flank of the offensive, in the region west Székesfehérvár. After the failure of the offensive, the Sixth Army held the line until a major Soviet offensive, the Vienna Operation on 15 March 1945. This offensive tore a gap in the 6th Army between the IV SS Panzer Corps and the 3rd Hungarian Army (subordinated to Balck's command), shattering the formation.

By the end of March 1945, the 6th Army was involved in a retreat towards Vienna. The shattered remnants of 6th Army surrendered to the Americans on 9 May 1945.

Commanders

The 6th Army was commanded by the Oberkommando der 6. Armee (AOK 6) (English: "Supreme Command of the 6th Army"). Its commanders-in-chief were:

Chiefs of staff