You Must Go Where the Iron Crosses Grow
German tanks on Autobahn early in World War II.
German tanks on Autobahn early in W...
Moe: Alright Mutton head, let's get this straight. Are you German?
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.
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.
|Knispel could look as heroic as anyone - when he wanted to. He didn't want to very often.|
|This is a colorized capture from a late-war propaganda film.|
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.
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.
|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.|
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.
|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.|
|You can tell that when Knispel meant business, he meant business.|
|Top German tank aces. Kurt Knispel had more victories than anyone else. You don't top a list like this by accident.|
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.
|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.|
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.
|Kurk Knispel receiving some kind of award. Everybody had lots of medals now, time was growing short.|
|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.|
|Knispel with his crew. Clearly a propaganda shot.|
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.
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.
|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.|
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.
|Waiting for the Russians...|
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.
|Kurt Knispel school photo, he is in the first row on the far left. Note that he is one of the shortest boys.|
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.
|Kurt Knispel's dog tags, re-discovered in his grave in 2013.|
|The ultimate posthumous award for Kurt Knispel: his own action figure.|
|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).|
Kurt Knispel would have made an awesome auto factory worker.
|Ich hatt' einen Kameraden.|
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).