6th Army (Germany)

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The Sixth or 6th Army (German: 6. Armee) was a German field army which saw action in World War I from 1914 until 1918 and World War II from 1939 until 1945. It is perhaps best known for its involvement in the Battle of Stalingrad. It surrendered to the U.S. Army in 1945.

History

Flag of the Staff of an Armee Oberkommando (1871–1918)
Insignia of the 6th Army (1939–1945)

World War I (German Empire)

Command of the 6th Army (German: 6. Armee / Armeeoberkommando 6 / A.O.K. 6) of the Imperial German Army was given to Kronprinz Rupprecht von Bayern. During the execution of Plan XVII, it was stationed in the Central sector, covering Lorraine.

In August 1914, in the Battle of Lorraine (Reichsland Elsaß-Lothringen), Rupprecht's Sixth Army managed to hold against the French offensive, using a feigned withdrawal to lure the advancing armies onto prepared defensive positions.

After the Western Front turned to stalemate and the opposing forces formed lines of trenches, the Sixth Army was based near Loos in Belgium. On 24 September, 1915, the Sixth Army was the target for the British Army's first chlorine gas attack of the war. Despite the horrific casualties inflicted, the British offensive became bogged down after several days.

In March 1917, the Sixth Army was the target for the assault of the British and Canadian forces at the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The Sixth Army, under the command of General Ludwig von Falkenhausen, suffered over 20,000 casualties in the ensuing fighting and were pushed back from the ridge by the Canadian Corps.

World War II (Wehrmacht)

Originally numbered as the Tenth Army, this combat unit of the Wehrmacht was formed on 10 October 1939 with General Walter von Reichenau in command. The primary mission of the 6th Army (German: 6. Armee / Armeeoberkommando 6 / AOK 6) was to guard the western defences (Westwall) of Germany against British and French attacks during the Polish campaign. During the invasion of the Low Countries the Tenth Army saw active service linking up with paratroopers and destroying fortifications at Eben Emael, Liège, and Namur. The Tenth 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.

Renamed as Sixth Army, it 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 Sixth Army to a major victory in Kharkov during the spring of 1942. This victory sealed the Sixth Army's destiny because the OKW designated it for the attack on Stalingrad. The Sixth Army failed to obtain a quick victory; winter came and with it Operation Uranus – the massive attack of Soviet forces on the flanks of the German corridor between the Don and Volga rivers in November 22-23.

The Sixth Army was isolated and a major relief operation, (Operation Wintergewitter), which eventually failed, was undertaken by Field Marshal Erich von Manstein. Paulus was promoted by Hitler to the rank of Generalfeldmarschall on January 31, 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 he eventually surrendered to the Soviet Forces, contrary to orders by his political chief. The remaining forces of the Sixth Army, under the independent command of General Strecker, surrendered three days after in the Tractor Factory, at the north of Stalingrad. That was the definitive end of the Sixth Army, and one of the worst military disasters in German history. For the first time, an entire German field army had been completely destroyed/captured. Those not killed during the Battle of Stalingrad surrendered, with most the POWs then dying in the Gulag camp system.

Hitler later ordered a new German Sixth Army (A.O.K. 6) to be constituted on March 5, 1943, 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. Sixth Army was the only German army to be encircled and destroyed twice.

In October 1944, under the command of General of Artillery Maximilian Fretter-Pico, the Sixth 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 Sixth Army had the Hungarian Second Army placed under its command, and it was known as Armeegruppe Fretter-Pico.

Command passed to General der Panzertruppen Hermann Balck in December 1944. In January 1945, one of the Sixth Army's subordinate units, the IX. SS-Gebirgskorps, was encircled in Budapest. SS-Gruppenführer Herbert Otto Gille's IV. SS-Panzerkorps was transferred to the Sixth Army's command and a relief attempt, codenamed Operation Konrad, was launched.

After the failure of Konrad III, the Sixth Army (as part of Armeegruppe Balck) fell back to the area near Lake Balaton, and several units, including the III.Panzerkorps, were involved in Operation Frühlingserwachen, while the rest of the Sixth Army provided defence for the left flank of the offensive, in the region near Stuhlweissenburg. 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 Sixth Army between the IV. SS-Panzerkorps and the 3. Hungarian Army (subordinated to Balck's command), shattering the formation.

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

Commanders

Rupprecht von Bayern.jpg

German Empire

From Commander Previously Subsequently
2 August 1914 Generaloberst Rupprecht, Crown Prince of Bavaria IV Army Inspectorate (IV. Armee-Inspektion) Heeresgruppe Rupprecht
23 July 1916 Generalfeldmarschall Rupprecht of Bavaria
28 August 1916 Generaloberst Ludwig von Falkenhausen High Command of Coastal Defence Governor General of Belgium
23 April 1917 General der Infanterie Otto von Below Heeresgruppe Below 14th Army
9 September 1917 General der Infanterie Ferdinand von Quast Guards Corps

Wehrmacht