Friessner commanded the XXIII Army Corps from January to December 1943 and was promoted to General der Infanterie (U.S. equiv. lieutenant general) in April 1943. He briefly had charge of Army Group Friessner in February 1944 and Army Detachment Narva later that month before assuming command of Army Group North at the beginning of July 1944, when he was promoted to colonel general. As with Army Group Center, Friessner's forces soon came under heavy Soviet attack; the manpower odds against it were as great as eight to one. His sensible request to withdraw his exposed forces angered Adolf Hitler. Colonel General Heinz Guderian, chief of army General Staff, then proposed that Friessner and Colonel General Ferdinand Schörner, a favorite of Hitler, switch assignments.
On 25 July 1944, Friessner went south to command Army Group South Ukraine. Although Guderian's calculated move helped shield Friessner from Hitler's wrath, Friessner received the worst of the deal. Army Group South Ukraine consisted of four armies: the Sixth and Eighth German (23 divisions) and the Third and Fourth Romanian (23 divisions). Together they totaled about 600,000 men, of whom some 340,000 were German. Twenty-one of the German divisions were infantry, however, and the Romanian units lacked the will to fight.
The massive attacks by the 2nd and 3rd Soviet Army Ukrainian Fronts on 20 August quickly smashed the two Romanian armies, isolating the German Sixth Army under General of Artillery Maximilian Fretter-Pico in the Kishinev area. As with its predecessor at Stalingrad, the reconstituted Sixth Army suffered a disastrous encirclement. Soviet spearheads penetrated miles behind the German lines before Hitler gave permission for a withdrawal. It was far too late. Within a few days the Romanian government, headed by Ion Antonescu, was overthrown, and Romania left the war—its armies opening their remaining lines to the advancing Soviets. Very few German units, many of them rear-area troops, escaped. The new Romanian government declared war on Germany on 25 August, and Romanian troops joined the Red Army against the Germans. German casualties (killed and captured) numbered about 250,000 men. By the end of September, the Germans retained of Romanian territory only a part of Transylvania, and by the end of October the Red Army had cleared the mountains and entered the Hungarian plain, overrunning the major eastern Hungarian cities of Debrecen and Szeged.
Friessner several times reconstituted his forces and stabilized his lines, even launching a successful counterattack at Nyiregyháza in late October. By late December, the Red Army was approaching Budapest. On 23 December, Friessner recommended its abandonment to Hitler, whereupon the Führer sacked both him and Fretter-Pico that same day. Friessner did not again have a command. He briefly served as chairman of the Verband Deutscher Soldaten (German Soldiers Association) in 1951 and wrote his memoirs, Verratene Schlachten, in 1956. Friessner died at Bayrisch-Gmain, Bavaria, on 26 June 1971.
Jon D. Berlin
Friessner, Johannes. Verratene Schlachten: Die Tragödie der Deutschen Wehrmacht in Rumänien und Ungarn. Hamburg, Germany: Holsten-Verlag, 1956.; Gosztony, Peter. Endkampf an der Donau 1944/45. Vienna: Verlag Fritz Molden, 1969.; Mitchum, Samuel W., Jr. Crumbling Empire: The German Defeat in the East, 1944. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2001.; Ziemke, Earl F. Stalingrad to Berlin: The German Defeat in the East. Washington, DC: Center of Military History, 1984.