In December 1939, Wöhler, then a colonel, was appointed chief of staff of XVII Corps. In early 1942, he was transferred to the Eleventh Army as chief of staff to Generalfeldmarschall (general field marshal) Erich von Manstein. In April 1942, Wöhler became chief of staff of Army Group Center, commanded by Generalfeldmarschall Günther von Kluge.
Wöhler received a corps command under General der Panzertruppen (U.S. equiv. lieutenant general) Werner Kempf in April 1943. That August, Manstein relieved Kempf and placed Wöhler in command of Armeeabteilung Kempf (Army Department Kempf), a group of divisions in the Ukraine that were later redesignated Eighth Army of Army Group South. Charged with the defense of Kharkov, Wöhler cited shortages of artillery ammunition and overextended lines and pulled Eighth Army out of Kharkov. On 25 August 1943, two divisions of Eighth Army launched a successful counterattack against the Red Army, stabilizing the German lines.
On 23 December 1944, Wöhler replaced Colonel General Johannes Friessner as commander of Army Group South, giving him command over much of the Hungarian Front. Wöhler's immediate concern was preventing the Soviet encirclement and capture of Budapest. He proposed defending the city from the west bank of the Danube River, citing it as the city's historical strong point. Adolf Hitler overruled this plan and ordered Budapest held in its entirety. Wöhler was able to withdraw some of Eighth Army before the city was encircled and eventually taken.
Wöhler commanded the last major German counteroffensive of the war, code-named fruenlingserwachen ( awakening spring). This operation called for the Sixth SS Panzer Army to attack and push the Soviets away from the Nagykanizsa oil fields. The assault was doomed because of inadequate supplies and overwhelming Soviet numbers. Soon after this failure, Wöhler was forced to retreat from Hungary into Austria, prompting Hitler to relieve him from command on 7 April 1945.
In 1948, Wöhler was tried by the U.S. Military Tribunal for war crimes committed by his subordinates while he was chief of staff of the Eleventh Army Group. Found guilty, he was sentenced to eight years in prison but was released in autumn 1951. Otto Wöhler died in 1987 at Grossburgwedel, Germany.
Macartney, C. A. History of Hungary from 1929 to 1945. New York: Praeger, 1957.; Mellenthin, F. W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Trans. H. Betzler. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1956.; Quarrie, Bruce. Hitler's Teutonic Knights: SS Panzers in Action. Wellingborough, UK: Patrick Stephens, 1987.; Ziemke, Earl F. Stalingrad to Berlin: The German Defeat in the East. Washington, DC: Center of Military History, 1984.