Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Kurt Knispel, Portrait of a Warrior

Kurt Knisped
Kurt Knispel.

You Must Go Where the Iron Crosses Grow

Moe: Alright Mutton head, let's get this straight. Are you German? 
Curly: "Sudetanly!" 
Larry: So you ARE German? 
Curly: Czech!
If you are fair-minded, you can honor former enemies who performed to high standards without reference to the cause for which they fought. The famous "Red Baron" Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen from World War I is an example, as are Robert E. Lee from the American Civil War and Erwin Rommel from World War II.

Kurt Knisped

While you might quite rightly condemn their causes, which a soldier loyal to his country or region doesn't usually have much control over anyway, there is nothing wrong with admiring that individual's soldierly qualities and bearing. Learning more about some individuals of note from both sides provides a handy wedge into the overall combat situation and the reality of war than mere recitations of battles and casualties and Generals will miss. It adds an essential human dimension.

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Knispel could look as heroic as anyone - when he wanted to. He didn't want to very often.
German tank ace Kurt Knispel (20 September 1921 – 28 April 1945) did not outlive the war. He did not have the opportunity to write fancy memoirs or serve in the post-war Bundeswehr or do all the things that soldiers can do to establish their names in the popular memory. Kurt Knispel is pretty much forgotten except by students of the war.

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This is a colorized capture from a late-war propaganda film.
However, Knispel is justly legendary among true war historians, if not the general public. It is true that Knispel did not die heroically in a major battle that acquired notoriety; he did not command large armies and lead them to their glorious doom; he did not receive a state funeral or have Goebbels fabricate some heroic fantasy about his passing. Instead, Kurt Knispel died in a meaningless confrontation in the middle of nowhere, when people across an entire continent were in turmoil. It was a time when there was no one left to care, and Knispel wound up in an unmarked mass grave.

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Not just men, but entire nations were dying, and that is a sure ticket to obscurity unless you were a propaganda hero like Rommel. Knispel was just a guy like anyone else, a tiny cog in a great machine; but what a guy he was. They wrote 'The Fanfare of the Common Man' for the forgotten men like Kurt Knispel. Here, he is going to be remembered, but he represents all the unknown grunts on all sides who fought like lions and bled and died and then were forgotten.

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Note that Kurt Knispel (red dot) may have been the shortest man in the entire outfit. However, his fellow soldiers proudly had him stand in the dead center. That is the highest honor a grunt like Kurt Knispel can ever hope to get, the true respect of his comrades. They were proud to know him.
Knispel is reputed to have destroyed more enemy tanks - Soviet, British and American, in his case - than anyone else in history. How many? Nobody knows exactly. It really doesn't matter. It was a lot. Quite a lot. And likely more than anyone thinks. You don't fight constantly for years against overpowering odds, in close combat day after day with each enemy determined to blow you up, without destroying your share. Knispel spent most of his career on the Russian Front, the hardest zone of the war.

Kurt Knispel Tiger Tanks

Sometimes, people underrate the quality of combat in the East; with the Luftwaffe, for instance, victories against the Soviets were considered second-rate. However, in the German Army (Heer), Soviet tanks were the state of the art of the enemy, not American or British tanks. Soviet soldiers were fanatical and fearless. Against the Soviet tanks, against the Soviet masses, Kurt Knispel excelled above all others.

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Veterans of a tough war. Knispel is loaded with ammo and ready for anything. I believe he is talking to his friend and CO Hans Fendsack, but my source does not provide his name.
Kurt Knispel was born in the heavily German Sudetenland (Zlaté Hory (Zuckmantel)) region of Czechoslovakia. This basically was a lost part of Germany after World War I, and folks there had a somewhat confused or murky status. Many considered them entirely German despite their nationality, and, if truth be told, they often acted like it. Knispel was a common fellow who followed his father, which was customary, into the automotive manufacturing trade. After its long status as part of Czechoslovakia, the region reverted to Germany again after the Munich agreement of 1938.

Kurt Knispel Tiger Tanks

At first, this didn't affect Knispel, who continued with his attempts to work in an auto factory. Upon completing his apprenticeship, though, Knispel applied to join the armored forces of the German Heer. It was not a time for normal trades, and Knispel likely was just one step ahead of the draft board anyway. He chose tanks, perhaps because of his training in motor vehicles. Knowing how engines worked and so forth certainly would come in handy in the armored service.

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That is Knispel (right) with his tank commander Hans Fendsack. Fendsack fell in Normandy. Obviously, they were great friends, a friendship forged in blood and steel.
Basic training was at Sagan in Lower Silesia, then part of Germany and now part of western Poland not far from the Oder River. After learning the basics of German ordnance such as the machine gun MG 34 and Pistole, and receiving practical training on Panzer I, II and IVs, Knispel was accepted on October 1, 1940, mustering into the 3rd Company of the 29th Panzer Regiment, which was serving in the 12th Panzer Division. He trained as a loader and gunner in a Panzer IV, the main German battle tank of the time, until June 11, 1941. This was propitious timing, as shortly after his graduation the Germans were about to begin something big.

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You can tell that when Knispel meant business, he meant business.
Knispel's first commander in a Panzer IV was a Lt. Hellman. Their division was part of Panzergruppe 3, LVII Army Corps. This corps was part of Army Group Center during the first season of Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia, which opened on June 22, 1941. Panzergruppe 3 formed part of the northern pincer around Moscow during Operation Typhoon, the attempt to capture Moscow. It was the part of the attack which came the closest to success. The capture of Klin and Solnechnogorsk, northern suburbs of Moscow, by Panzergruppe 3 on November 25 were among the last German successes of 1941. Resistance suddenly stiffened and the German axis of attack shifted to the center, but that soon failed as the Russians counterattacked. The Panzergruppe (renamed Panzerarmee on January 1, 1942) then had to fall back steadily from the city, battling out of encirclement to form river lines further west.

Kurt Knisped
Ask front-line soldiers what they fight for, and they'll often say they fight for their mates. Knispel looks quite comfortable and relaxed with his mates. Notice that almost all are clean-shaven with short hair but him - the excuse that there was no time or hot water with which to shave appeared to extend only to Knispel, the man who didn't care about the fuss.
Knispel suffered through the brutal winter of 1941-1942 on the front lines with everyone else, avoiding the frostbite and death from an enemy action that awaited many of his comrades. He won the Iron Cross 2nd Class sometime during this period. Third Panzer remained in the northern stretches of the front, and Knispel steadily accumulated kills, having 12 credited to his name by the end of 1942. The Germans were positively anal about requiring confirmation of kills, giving proper credit where due and withholding it were there was no proof. The entire promotional system was based on this, so there was intense pressure to be accurate. Thus, any such number of kills is a minimum figure and most likely represents a great deal more "actual" combat successes than the number indicates. Knispel also personally acquired a reputation for being uninterested in claiming credit that wasn't absolutely certain and gladly deferring to others for kills that likely were his. He was a great guy to have in your outfit.

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Top German tank aces. Kurt Knispel had more victories than anyone else. You don't top a list like this by accident.
Just a note about the Wehrmacht in general: there were two separate tracks for gaining status, the promotion system, and the medal route. Your rank, of course, was always important. However, for true status - the kind that made ordinary guys look at you with true respect and not just salute - the second track actually was more important. While more nebulous, it included more than just medals. For instance, being mentioned in a Wehrmacht communique - read out over the radio to the entire Reich and singling out only a few men each night of the millions serving - was one of the highest honors any soldier of any rank could receive.

Kurt Knispel, for reasons mentioned elsewhere in this article, was denied the medals he deserved. However, he was the only non-commissioned officer of the German tank arm to be named in a Wehrmacht communique. The only one.

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Knispel belongs in the company of the true legends. Here is Hans-Ulrich Rudel at the time of the Luftwaffe's surrender. Behind him is Adolf Galland, another legend.
I am going to hammer this point home about status because it is so important. To prove it, I will give a couple of on-point examples from the life of another legend. Luftwaffe pilot Hans-Ulrich Rudel was an Oberst (Colonel), which was no big deal in terms of rank. However, Rudel also happened to be the greatest ground-attack aviator of all time, setting all sorts of records that will never be broken, and everyone knew it. He lost his right leg on a mission... and went right back to flying missions during the Reich's last days because he could make a difference. Rudel was so honored by his comrades that in 1976, long after Germany had turned against Hitlerism in spirit as well as law, Rudel was invited to speak at a veteran's event. This invitation created a huge scandal that cost some Bundeswehr Generals their jobs. This did not diminish Rudel at all in the eyes of those who admired him.

Kurt Knisped

Then, years later, at Rudel's funeral in December 1982, German pilots made a covert (and highly illegal) fly-by in Phantom jets during Rudel's funeral - once again at high risk to themselves and their careers. The simple rank and file, who never had even served with Rudel or likely fully understood his achievements, wanted to honor a legend, and they did. I doubt they would have done that for just any General or Field Marshal.

Simply having a rank is not going to make people go the extra yard for you, to show true respect. Kurt Knispel earned that kind of admiration. You can't buy it, you can't have it awarded to you. Instead, you must earn it where it counts. You must go where the Iron Crosses grow.

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Kurk Knispel receiving some kind of award. Everybody had lots of medals now, time was growing short.
Ok, back to Knispel's life. New tanks were being introduced, so Knispel and other successful tankers were sent back to school at Putlos to learn about them. The main addition was the Tiger 1. Knispel's training group was designated the 1st Company of the 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion, with "Heavy" a designation for Tiger tank formations. A talented gunner, Knispel is said to have knocked out an enemy tank at 3000 yards - an almost magical feat. Knispel, now a tank commander, then took part in Kursk, where he reputedly destroyed 27 Russian T-34 tanks in 12 days. This won him the Iron Cross 1st Class for having a total of 50 enemy tanks destroyed. Contrary to popular belief, Kursk was not a German defeat due to enemy action. However, it turned into one after major German tactical victories due to the sheer preponderance of forces and the need for defenses elsewhere, both to the north and south.

Kurt Knisped
Tank duty was cold and lonely. Your tank was your home. It was better than sleeping in the open, but not by much. And they had to be run every four hours during the night.
After Kursk, the Wehrmacht was in full retreat. However, Adolf Hitler refused to accept this fact and insisted on his troops "holding fast" on indefensible lines. One such occurrence was at the Korsun-Cherkassy pocket, the last part of the Dneiper line that Hitler had envisaged as an impenetrable wall beyond which the Soviets would not advance. It turned into nothing of the sort. In the middle of winter, after Kiev had fallen, a large part of Army Group South was encircled there. These forces under General Wilhelm Stemmerman, some 50,000 troops, faced another Stalingrad. Soviet Commander Georgy Zhukov was well aware of that precedent and rushed in heavy armored forces to form two rings around the trapped Germans. He basically dared the Germans to attempt a hopeless rescue attempt, as at Stalingrad. The Germans obliged.

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Knispel with his crew. Clearly a propaganda shot.
Knispel's Tigers were attached to III Panzer Corps for the relief attempt and attacked toward the pocket from the southwest, with a separate group coming from the northwest. They made extremely slow progress, but the other relief attempt failed completely and Knispel's group turned into the only chance for the trapped men. The ground was muddy, and the tanks were burning up exorbitant amounts of fuel, which had to be hand-carried to them by men struggling through knee-deep mud. The Tigers finally managed to get within a few miles of the trapped men, just as Hoth had done at Stalingrad. There were vicious firefights for hilltops, with Knispel's men taking key ground but then unable to hold it. This time, though, unlike at Stalingrad, the German Generals and Hitler allowed the trapped Germans to break out. Some 35,000 men escaped (a figure disputed by the Soviets), and that was only possible due to some ferocious duels between Knispel and his comrades against heavy Soviet tank and artillery defenses. The Soviets were humiliated at seeing their presumably cornered prey escape and have denied the German success ever since.

Kurt Knisped

After that, there were many other similar actions, forgotten battles in places such as Vinnitsa (the linchpin of northern German forces in the Soviet Union), Jampol, and Kamenets-Podolsk/Kamianets-Podilskyi (another successful German breakout from an encirclement, this time of First Panzer Army under General Hube). The Generals such as Walter Model gained fame with nicknames such as the "Fuhrer's Fireman," but it was grunts such as Knispel who put their lives on the line every day. He was the pro who was called in to get it done time after time, and he did.

Kurt Knisped

Knispel kept racking up the kills. At some point during all of this, he received the Tank Assault Badge in Gold for participating in 100 tank battles. That's a lot of battles.

Sometime after the Kamenets-Podolsk success in late March 1944, Knispel was transferred to the western front and given command of a new Tiger II, the most fearsome tank in any army. He participated in the defense of Caen, the German strongpoint that held open the lifeline for retreating German forces after the Allied breakout at Avranches. While forgotten by historians now, the determined defense of Caen was a huge success. After that situation was secure, Knispel returned to the East and fought in the Budapest area, scene of some of the hardest fighting of the last year of the war. Knispel was out there in his tank for every battle, and the Soviets were not being gentle to him: he reported 24 hits on his tank during one battle alone. There were some wild melees on the approaches to Budapest, including a major failed relief attempt that came much closer to success than it had any right to. By 1945 only the toughest German tanks stood a chance of success against the overwhelming forces arrayed against them. They gave the Germans a chance where otherwise there was none and kept craftsmen like Knispel alive. Those who like to argue that the heavy Tiger tanks represented wasted resources should ponder that.

Kurt Knisped
You don't allow pictures of yourself like this to be taken when you are in the Wehrmacht if you have any airs about you. Knispel probably willingly posed for this. "This is me, take it or leave it." The Germans took it.
Kurt Knispel fought in the front lines until the end, but the front was collapsing all around him and he wasn't one to just give up. Knispel was fatally wounded during the final battles in Southern Czechoslovakia after Budapest and Vienna had fallen.

Knispel was in the legendary 503rd Heavy Tank Battalion (Schwere Panzerabteilung 503, usually abbreviated: "s.Pz.Abt. 503"), commanded by Nordwin von Diest-Körber. In mid-April 1945, the battalion command post of the 503rd was at Zingendorfu. The unit then moved to Wostitz (Vlasatice) on 26 April 1945. The next day, heavy combat resumed which lasted until 30 April. Knispel apparently fell on the 28th. The heavy tank unit destroyed six enemy tanks during this battle. Von Diest-Koerber's diary reads:
... On 30 April at Nová Ves to Vlasatice, we repulsed several attacks of Russian and Soviet tanks and destroyed ten. Sadly, however, we lost two royal tigers with their commanders - FELDWEBEL Knispel and FELDWEBEL Skoda...
And that is the only official record of Kurt Knispel's death.

Kurt Knisped
Waiting for the Russians...
There are only confused accounts of what happened during these last, frantic days. Here is an attempt to piece together Kurt Knispel's last day from different sources, including first-hand witnesses and evidence from Knispel's corpse.

Apparently, there were only two panzers left in Knispel's unit on the day of his death (a full complement being 45). The other panzer got hit and Knispel helped its wounded leader, a Feldwebel Skoda, another tank ace. During this rescue, Knispel sustained injuries from machine-gun fire. This wasn't playtime - you had to fight to survive, and Knispel kept fighting despite his wounds. According to Knispel 's radio operator, Dr. Rudolf Barth (still living in Germany as of 2015), Knispel then was leading his tank from the panzer turret as usual when he was hit and killed by shrapnel from a mortar blast. (Knispel's autopsy conducted in 2013 revealed mortar shrapnel under his skull). The Tiger II itself, however, remained operational. After that, the same panzer was commanded by Feldwebel Skoda. After only a few hours, though, Skoda also was killed in exactly the same way, while leading the panzer from the turret.

The scene must have been of true butchery and savagery, with bombs and shells falling everywhere and death in the air.

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Kurt Knispel school photo, he is in the first row on the far left. Note that he is one of the shortest boys.
So, Kurt Knispel fell in Wostitz on April 30, 1945, long after the war had been lost but the bullets still flew anyway. He was buried (a mark of respect by itself at that stage of the war) along with 21 other bodies (some sources say with 14 other soldiers, perhaps the other corpses were civilians) in an unmarked grave in a local cemetery. Knispel's remains were rediscovered decades later by historians of the Moravian Museum behind a church wall in Vrbovec/Urbau Village, Znojmo County. Two eyewitnesses from Vienna came forward to identify the spot. Knispel was identified by his dog tags and a tattoo on his neck - the tattoo that was against regulations. On 12 November 2014, the German War Graves Commission reburied Kurt Knispel's remains at the military cemetery in Brno with 41 other German soldiers who died in Moravia and Silesia.

A Man like Kurt Knispel, a true Warrior, was not going to survive the war in a losing cause no matter how close to the end he made it. He worked like a maniac to save the situation when he could - and he did save it at times, his carefree attitude belying his pride in doing his duty. However,  no man can alter the hands of fate. Eventually, the sands of time ran out. The enemy was about to enter Kurt Knispel's homeland, and he was all that stood between them and his family. He fell 100 miles from his home. There was to be no more retreating, no more fallback positions, and Kurt Knispel made his stand and bought his very own plot of ground. That is what it means, what it takes, to be a Warrior.

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Kurt Knispel's dog tags, re-discovered in his grave in 2013.
Knispel always was out there fighting - somebody had to do it. He undoubtedly would grimace at anyone who brought up how many enemy tanks he had destroyed or how many battles he had participated in. There was no end but death, and each tank destroyed and each battle stripe he earned just brought that day nearer. He wore his hair long and detested any authority that got in the way of his job, but he was the best at what he did and they left him alone. There is some irony in the fact that his remains were finally identified by a tattoo that was only there due to his independent spirit, a rebellious nature that made him immortal. He quite rightly didn't care about silly things like foolish regulations, and that is what made him great and an inspiration to others.

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The German propaganda ministry and officers much preferred honoring the clean-cut Michael Wittmann. He "played the game." Isn't that so often the case? It is no slur on Michael Wittmann to say that, fine tank ace that he was, he was no Kurt Knispel - nobody was except for Kurt.
Supposedly, Knispel was recommended for the Knight's Cross four times but was rejected each time due to his eccentric ways. The German brass much preferred the likes of Michael Wittmann, another tank ace who didn't last as long as the bearded Knispel but who "looked the part." There is no need to besmirch Wittmann, a truly bold (too bold, in the end) tank man, in order to praise Kurt Knispel. Knispel is credited with many more kills, but then, Knispel lasted eight months longer during a period of constant combat and so had more opportunities. The two simply had vastly different personal styles and backgrounds, and so one became a propaganda hero and one did not. It was asking a bit much for the Propaganda Ministry to make someone who technically was a Czech, and a wayward one (by their standards) at that, into a war hero.

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Otto Carius was another highly recognized tank ace. He received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub), an award denied Kurt Knispel. Carius, a fine tank man, generally is credited with fewer tank kills than Kurt Knispel. Carius was born in the Palatinate in the Weimar Republic. He survived the war with massive wounds and wrote a classic, "Tigers in the Mud," published not long before his death in January 2015.
While overall German records were relatively accurate, there are some reasons to believe that Knispel's achievements are a little more worthy of respect than some others. There are rumors that many tank "victories" earned by an entire armored formation would be awarded to the propaganda heroes in order to create a great "story" in the despatches and in the Wehrmachtbericht (daily propaganda summaries). Since Kurt Knispel was not a propaganda favorite, we can assume that his impressive kill totals were relatively accurate and possibly even under-counted (as some might have been given to his own commander). I am not trying to inflate Knispel's ability, merely provide some context of how the real world works; too many historians take war records as the Gospel truth. If you ever review the list of top German tank aces, you will quickly notice that they are all officers mostly of the rank of Captain (Oberst) or higher - except Kurt Knispel.

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The ultimate posthumous award for Kurt Knispel: his own action figure.
Awards were not Knispel's goal, he simply wanted to do his job and survive. While there is no indication that this is the case, the fictional figure of Oberst (Colonel) Steiner of "The Eagle Has Landed" could easily have been derived from Kurt Knispel - with parts of Oddball from Clint Eastwood's "Kelly's Heroes" mixed in. Knispel himself is said to have once assaulted a senior officer whom he saw mistreating Soviet POWs. War hero or no war hero, that easily could have gotten him shot or, like the fictional Steiner, sent to a punishment unit where death was a virtual certainty. He did it anyway, and he got away with it because the Germans needed him. That is what warriors do. When was the last time you risked your life on principle?

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Donald Sutherland seemed to be paying a covert homage to Kurt Knispel in "Kelly's Heroes," though he may not have realized it. The film was made in Yugoslavia, no doubt people there were familiar with Knispel (courtesy MGM).
There is no need to glorify Kurt Knispel, and that is not the intent. He was a simple working stiff who was extremely talented and lucky for a very long time. Kurt survived when other perished, and only because of his skills. His luck, too, finally ran out, but only when his back was to the wall and further retreat was impossible. The bottom line is that Kurt Knispel had a natural talent for killing while abiding by the rules of war, and that's a fact. That does not make Kurk bad or good... just unique. Men like Kurt Knispel who do what must be done are what makes any army work, and indeed they are the life's blood of any organization, not just a military one.

Kurt Knispel would have made an awesome auto factory worker.

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Ich hatt' einen Kameraden.

Tank Aces.

1.Kurt Knispel –168 Kills (sPzAbt. 503)
2.Martin Schroif-161 Kills (sSSPzAbt. 102)
2.Otto Carius – 150+ Kills (sPzAbt. 502)–Tiger I--Knight's Cross 5/4/44, Oak Leaves 7/27/44.
3.Johannes (Hans) Bolter-- 139 Kills (possibly 144) (sPzAbt. 502) Tigers– Knight's Cross 4/16/44, Oak Leaves 9/10/44.
4.Michael Wittman – 138 Kills (sS.S.PzAbt. 101 Liebstandarte)–Tiger I–Knight's Cross 1/14/44, Oak Leaves 1/14/44 with Swords, 6/25/44.
5.Hans Sandrock – 123 Kills (assorted AFV last unit HJ )
6.Paul Egger – 113 Kills (s SS Pz. Abt. 102)–Tigers– Knight's cross 4/28/45
7.Fritz Lang– 113 Kills (StuG. Abt. 232)8.Arno Giesen – 111 Kills (Das Reich)
9.Oberfahnrich Rondorf—106 kills (sPzAbt. 503)–Tigers
10.Feldwebel Gaetner ( Gartner?)– 103 Kills (sPzAbt. 503)–Tigers
11.Karl Koener – 100+ Kills (sS.S.PzAbt. 503)–Tigers–Knight's Cross 4/29/44.
12.Albert Kerscher – 100+ Kills (sPzAbt. 502)–Tigers–Knight's Cross 10/23/44.
13.Balthazar (Bobby) Woll–100+ Kills, 81 as Gunner (sSS Pz. Abt. 101)–Knight's Cross–1/16/44.
14.Helmut Wendorff—84 Kills (sS.S.Pz Abt.101)–Tigers–Knight's Cross 2/12/44.
15.Ernst Barkmann—82+ Kills (Das Reich)—Panther–Knight's Cross 8/27/44.
16.Eric Litztke—76 Kills (sPzAbt. 509)--Tigers– Knight's Cross 10/20/44
17.Hermann Bix – 75+ Kills (4th Panzer Division)–Knight's Cross 3/22/45.
18.Hans Strippel – 70 Kills (4. / II/ PzAbt. 1, 1st Pz. Division)–Pz. IV–Knight's Cross 6/4/44.
19.Emil Seibold – 69 Kills (Das Reich)–Pz IV+ Captured T-34s
20.Wilhelm Knauth—68 Kills (sPzAbt. 505)–Tigers–Knight's Cross 11/14/43.
21.Hugo Primozic– 68 Kills (StuG Abt. 667)–Knight's Cross 9/25/42, Oak Leaves 1/25/43.
22.Karl Bromann – 66 Kills (sS.S.PzAbt. 503)–Tigers.
23.Josef William (Sepp) Brandner – 61 Kills (StuG Brigade 912)–Knight's Cross 1/17/45, Oak Leaves 4/30/45.
24.Hans-Bobo von Rohr – 58 Kills (25 Pz. Abt., 7th Pz. Division)–Knight's Cross 11/15/44, Oak leaves 4/8/45 (Posthumously).
25.Karl Heinz Warmbrunn-- 57 Kills, 44 as gunner (s SS Pz. Abt. 101)–Tigers
26.Albert Ernst–55 Kills–(s.Pz. Jgr. Abt. 519)--Nashorn–Knight's Cross–2/7/44.
27.Richard Engelmann—54 Kills (StuG Abt. 912)–Knight's Cross 7/22/44.
28.Heinz Kling–51 Kills (s SS Pz. Abt. 101)--Tigers.
29.Johann Muller–50 Kills ((sPz. Abt. 502)--Tigers–Knight's Cross 10/23/44.
30.Josef Dallmeier—50 Kills (Fhr. PzJager Kp.1183)–Hetzer–Knight's Cross 4/3/45(?).
31.Walter Feibig—50+ Kills (StuG Brigade 301)
32.Heinz Kramer – 50+ Kills (sPzAbt. 502)–Tigers–Knight's Cross 10/6/44.
33.Alfredo Carpaneto – 50+ Kills (sPzAbt. 502)–Tigers–Knight's Cross 3/28/45.
34.Oberleutnant Mausberg – 50+ Kills (s.Pz. Abt. 505)–Tigers.
35.Wolfgang Hans Heimer Paul von Bostell–48 Kills–( Pz. Jgr. Kp. 1023, Pz. Jgr. Abt. 205)–Knight's Cross 9/2/44, Oak Leaves 4/30/45.
36.Jurgen Brandt—47 Kills (sS.S.Abt. 101)–Tigers.
37.Heinz Deutsch – 44 Kills (Fsch. StuG Brigade 12) Knight's Cross 4/28/45.
38.Fritz Amling—42+ Kills (in 48 Hrs. with StuG Brigade 202) Knight's Cross 12/5/42.
39.Heinz Scharf—40+ Kills (StuG Brigade 202) Knight's Cross 9/5/44.
40.Walter Oberloskamp – 40+ Kills (StuG Brigade 667) Knight's Cross 5/15/43.
41.Fredrich Tadje—39 Kills (StuG Abt. 190) Knight's Cross 10/24/42.
42.Rudolf Roy—36 Kills (12 S.S. PanzerJager Abt. HJ)–JP IV–Knight's Cross 10/16/44.
43.Gottwald Stier—30+ Kills (StuG Brigade 667) Knight's Cross (date unknown).
44.Josef Trager – 30+ Kills (StuG Brigade 667) Knight's Cross (date unknown).
45.Richard Schram—30 Kills (StuG Brigade 202) Knight's Cross 12/12/42.
46.Karl Pfreundtner—30 Kills (StuG Abt. 244) Knight's Cross 9/18/42.
47.Karl Heinrich Banze – 24 Kills (13 on one day StuG Abt. 244) Knight's Cross 5/27/42.
48.Felix Adamowitsch –23 Kills (in an 8 day period, StuG Abt. 244) Knight's Cross 10/20/44.
49.Eugen Metzger—23 Kills (StuG Abt. 203) Knight's Cross 9/29/41.
50.Hauptmann Rade –23 Kills (StuG Abt. 244)
51.Heinrich Teriete – 22 Kills (in one engagement, sPzJgAbt. 653) Knight's Cross 7/22/43.
52.Franz Staudegger—22+ Kills (sS.S.Pz Abt. 101) Knight's Cross 7/10/43.
53.Franz Kretshmer – 21 Kills (sPzJgAbt. 653) Knight's Cross 12/17/43
54.Horst Naumann—21 Kills (StuG Abt. 184) Knight's Cross 1/4/43
55.Klaus Wagner – 18 Kills (in two days, StuG Abt. 667)
56.Hermann Feldheim—16 Kills (sPzJgAbt. 654)
57.Heinrich Engel –15 Kills (StuG Abt. 259) Knight's Cross 11/7/43
58. Rudolf von Ribbentrop– 14 Kills (LSSAH+ HJ) Knight's Cross 7/20/43.59. Wachtmeister Moj–12 Kills (StuG Abt. 190)
60. Siegfried Freyer– 11 Kills in one engagement (Pz. Abt. 24) Knight's Cross 7/23/43.
61. Alfred Reginitor–10 Kills (StuG Abt. 279) Knight's Cross (date unknown).

Kurt Knisped

Kurt Knisped



  1. Respect to a true warrior, no matter what side

  2. Dear james: just discovered your site father entered the war at 17 years old: all my uncles were in too. Thanks for the great stories and for all the hours of research that you must have put in to bring us all this great history. They are almost all gone now, and unfortunately most of their was stories died with them without ever being told. They were heroes who didnt brag about themselves or their accomplishments. They just did what they had to do. Sad that this generation of youngsters have no idea the debt they all paid. I find that sad. God bless, Steve

    1. You are welcome. My father served as well. He seldom talked about it, but when he did, the stories were amazing. I'm sure that was the case with your father, too.

    2. I am a high schooler who is also a history nerd
      im one of the few people my age who know all of the great debt those who fought in the second world war have paid, and i agree that its sad so many my age are not the same, as it is really interesting stuff and really shows the sacrafices people have made to make our lifes today

  3. Very nice article. Thaks for it. Just one small thing. Vrbovec/Urbau is the same village. In czech/german. And Znojemsko is county of the town of Znojmo. And that small cemetery in Znojmo county was in Urbau village. But these are only a details. The article itself is very good. Thanks.

    1. Cool, thanks for the detail. I would never know that, that's why is is great to have someone familiar with the region like you contributing. Thanks!

  4. I would like to correct some details. But only small ones. Dont worry. Urbau/Vrovec is the same village. In german/czech languages. Znojemsko is the county or region of the town of Znojmo in czech. And finally that small village in Znojmo county is the Urbau village.
    But these are only small details. Thanks for very nice article. It was pleasure to read it.

    1. I made some corrections, I think it is accurate now according to what you said. I really appreciate it.

  5. Nice article James, thank you. War heroes trascend nationalities and lost causes. Honor to the braves who died in their youth fighting for survival.

  6. Nice article James, thank you. War heroes trascend nationalities and lost causes. Honor to the braves who died in their youth fighting for survival.

  7. Thanks for the well documented article. The war is definitely a competition, but a dirty competition. The ability of fighting was always, from the Medium Eve up to our days, well appreciated, independent of the motivation.This is probably coming from our primitive genes that are responsible for saving the species.However such stories fascinate us, and names like Kurt Knispel or Erich Hartmann (top scoring fighter ace)will remain forever in our memories. I am just waiting for some other articles, with the same topic. You are a master in doing such job.

  8. The picture of the crew in the snow is not correct. It is a Panzer IV, not a Tiger.
    Good articl ethough

  9. Nice article but the tank in the picture entitled "Knispel with his Tiger 1 crew" is not a Tiger - it is a Panzer IV

    1. Good catch, J Boz. I took the Tiger reference out. I just didn't look hard enough at that one.

  10. All tank crews on the Eastern Front were heroes even if they never had a kill!No one but them could ever understand the feeling of intense artillery bombardment or facing down a T-34 goliath before the coming of the Panthers or Tigers.Any man who survived even one large battle there saw things no one else can even imagine.They were all heroes to me especially the Knipsels and Carius's and Wittman who fought til the bitter end in a losing effort.It had to be disheartening to destroy so many enemy tanks only to see hundreds more on the horizon......true heroes in every sense

  11. Thank you very much for your time and research to make this forum! I'm an American and 39 years old. My grandfather and grandmother raised me. With that said my grandpa fought in the infantry with the 45th Infantry Division. Like some of you guys post he didn't talk about it ever, until I was about 15. Only then did he tell me some amazing stories, I always felt that he was holding back on many of his experiences. In the 45th Inf. Div. he fought his way up thru Sicily, Italy, France, and finally Deutschland. His unit fought the Wehrmacht for most of the battles/firefights and he said the Germans were extremely well trained, very disiplined, and had great equipment. He told me they fought until they fired their last round many times and then escaped. But he made it very very clear his company went up against the much feared Waffen SS a couple of times and that's when they always took the most casualties!! He told me they were unbelievablely tough as nails soldiers, that showed no quarter and none was to be expected on their part. But I agree with everyone on here a damn good soldier no matter who their fighting for is a good soldier! Like I said i'm an American and a patriot and by no means some type of neo-nazi freak.But I greatly, tremendously admire many of the brave,dedicated, loyal German NCO's up to officers. Knipsel was one hell of a soldier, that didn't care about awards, many of his kills he knew he knocked out, he would give his fellow comrades credit. ONE of the GREATEST SOLDIERS in my opinion was a WAFFEN SS TANK Commander of the 1st SS panzer division, Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler. His name was Obersturmbannfuhrer Joachim Peiper!! I believe in February 1945 Peiper was promoted to Standartenfuhrer (full colonel) at the age of 29! But he was murdered in 1976 by some cowardly French Communist. And their are many other fantastic German soldiers like Kurt "panzer" Meyer, Michael Wittmann, Kurt Knispel, and Peiper of course! Sorry for the rambling, but I had to comment, forgive me. It won't happen again. Great forum by the way! Meine Ehere heist Truhre (spelling)!

    1. Thank you for the long post, Bradley. As I write in the article, you can admire soldierly qualities without embracing the cause - ordinary soldiers do not have the luxury of choosing the country for which they fight and the actions of their leaders. Looking solely at his record of achievement, and leaving aside all other questions, Kurt Knispel was a tremendous warrior.

    2. If I May Kurt Meyer... The Abby De Ardennes (If I spell it correctly), and the murder of prisoners of war by troops under his command in the courtyard of his own headquarters.......

    3. Yes, Kurt Meyer was convicted of some war crimes at Ardennes Abbey for his role as commander of the men who committed the massacre. That was when he was in charge of the 12th SS Hitlerjugend Panzer Division. I mention the massacre here in m discussion about the Hitler Youth Division:


      I thank you for pointing that out. It is important to always remember the dark side of these characters who in some quarters get blown up into heroic figures that they really weren't.

    4. On the killing of Allied prisoners in and around this time or anytime in WW2 it needs to be remembered the Allies were killing just as many German prisoners as well as at this time also using them as human shields on their vehicles etc.
      D Day's now verified Allied orders of "no prisoners until the landing zones are secured" and following on from there with further killing of German POW within the European theatre (not to even mention the Eastern front). There is plenty now about these atrocities committed by Allied soldiers coming to light if you take time to research it. Difference is, the Germans lost the war, they got prosecuted for it.

      On the topic of this post by the author, great work. He was definitely a remarkable tanker. I enjoyed reading this article. It is a shame that Germany does not truly recognise its people who sacrificed so much during that time. No other nation has ever carried so much guilt going forward as has Germany for WW2. Articles like this help remember and put in perspective just a fraction of the great achievements some of these people made.
      I do not envy that generation and what they lived through, something most armchair critics can’t comprehend.

  12. Great article. I don't understand that he was also identified by the tatoo on his neck. I saw some pictures when they discovered his grave and only remains were dog tags and bones.

  13. Yep tatoo also seems hard to believe isue for me. BTW great work. Thanks

  14. Absolutely,fantastic synopsis on a true Panzer ace and all around hero Kurt Knispel! Many great facts and other small information that I didn't know about. I'm an American, but I respect any great warriors like Herr Knispel who gave it all, especially with a outlaw flair!!!

  15. Really enjoyed reading this, great article. He was an excellent soldier.

    How disappointing that Kurt Knispel was denied his Knights Cross, there is no doubt he certainly deserved it.

    Can you shed more light on how exactly he met his death ?. Did his tank crew perish with him ?.

    1. Thanks for the compliment. I have worked on this article about as much as any I have written here, so I am glad to hear some folks appreciate it.

      I haven't been able to find out much about Knispel's final action. Even the date is disputed, some place it on either 29 or 30 April. Knispel was in the 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion, and his commander was Hauptmann von Diest-Körbera. Korbera noted in his diary that "ON 30 April 1945, between Nová Ves and Vlasatice, we held firm against several Russian attacks and destroyed 10 Russian tanks. Unfortunately we lost 2 Konigstigers with their commanders – Feldwebel Knispel and Feldwebel Skoda.“ Another soldier mentions in his diary that Knispel was taken to an aid station in Feld Lazzaret in Urbau (Vrbovec), where he died. Other than that... it likely was just another of an endless series of tank battles in the last days.

      Perhaps a shell hit the same spot on his Tiger II that another shell had struck. Perhaps it was just a lucky shot. I don't think anyone knows how it actually happened. That two men noted what happened to Knispel in their own diaries once again shows how much respect he had earned.

    2. Hi James thanks for your reply. The amount of facts given in the article on Kurt Knispel is truly amazing. I really commend you for it.

      I intend reading, and commenting on other articles you've posted, on WW2, as you certainly know your subject.

      Have you done anything on individuals, such as Joachim Pieper, or Kurt Mayer ?. Both controversial characters, but fascinating to read about, and discuss.


    3. Thanks. I do write profiles of soldiers on both sides of the war. On the Wehrmacht side this includes, among others:
      Joachim Peiper: //
      Erwin Rommel: //
      Reinhard Heydrich: //

      I don't try to do an exhaustive biography on anyone. That's been done, and a blog isn't the place for that. I just try to give the casual reader some flavor of who the person was and what they stood for. Since I do adopt a point of view, not everybody agrees with my assessment, and that's okay: there are plenty of authors on each of these people, and someone, somewhere no doubt will portray them the "right way."

      If you poke around with the labels and the table of contents, you will find some more of my profiles on WWII soldiers, such as Adolph Galland, Hermann Goering, Pappy Boyington, Chuck Yeager, and others. I will be writing about others that I haven't gotten to yet as well, such as Panzer Meyer. Regards.

  16. well done..Glad to see Kurt getting some attention he surely deserves...also glad his remains were found and this brave warrior now has a resting place. thx for the time you put into this

  17. Very nice article indeed! So many german brave soldiers wich have their stories forgotten, just read Tigers in the mud from Carius, a great book wich shows how human the wermacht soldiers were, in the contrary to what they teach us at school.

  18. Really enjoyed reading this article,just recently got done reading tiger in the mud so been looking for other material to read,thanks for the time and effort you put in to creating this

  19. Really good artical any more info on Kurt? Im trying to find more info on him as you know the web is lacking alot of info. Thank you Kyle W. Knispel

    1. Thanks! As I come across information, I add it. There hasn't been much written about Kurt Knispel - in English, at least. It's a shame, because he did a lot more than people who got a lot more attention. I'm always on the lookout. James

  20. have truly captured the heart of a warrior in what I've just read. My son is in the Welsh guards and so captures all you've said about this great warrior Knispel. Thank you for a tremendous article.

  21. "the determined defense of Caen was a huge success. After that situation was secure"

    I beg to differ sir. Caen was overrun by the Allies. The Wehrmacht got ground up defending Caen. There was no "success" for the Germans in the Battle of Caen.

  22. Fascinating history, especially as you only hear of the officer class' victories, regardless of country. What a pity there's no way to posthumously award this principled warrior with the Knights cross, if it was awarded to him from the public, rather than the "authorities" 75 yrs on I would imagine his spirit would appreciate the gesture.

  23. Great info on one of the many unknown heroes of the war it's always amazing to read stories of German defensive resilience in the latter stages of the war. Think of the mental toughness required to be able to keep on fighting against overwhelming odds day after day knowing that your only way out was either capture, serious wounds or more likely death!! P.s. talking about tough hard bastards take a look at the New Zealander Charles Haslett Upham the only British Empire soldier to receive two Victoria crosses!! Another relatively unknown WW2 soldier!! Cheers all