Saturday, 29 April 2017

Kurt Knispel 1920-1945

This weekend 72 years ago the greatest German tank ace of them all was killed in action in Czechoslovakia, just a week before the end of WW2.
He was born on September 20, 1921 in Czechoslovakia in a small town called Salisfled. When he was of age he joined his father in an automotive factory, but this didn't suit him so volunteered for the Wehrmacht in April, 1940.
Knispel began  his basic training at the Panzer Replacement Training Battalion at Sagan. After his basic training he went on to Panzer training, learning to operate the PzKpfw I, II and IV. In October he went to the 3rd Kompanie of the 29th Panzer Regiment, 12th Panzer Division to finish his training as a gunner/loader on the PzKpfw IV. Although demonstrating exceptional abilities as a gunner at the training school at Putlos (he had a gift of three-dimensional vision as well as extraordinary reflexes, but alas he was to remain a loader.
Knispel got his first taste of action in August, 1941 in a PzKpfw IV, and during Operation Barbarossa he quickly rose up to be gunner under the command of Leutnant Hellmann. In January, 1942, Knispel returned to Putlos for training to be a gunner on the new Tiger tank, and also at this time he already had 12 enemy tank kills to his credit.
He then went to the 1st Kompanie of the 503rd Heavy Panzer Division, which was equipped with the Tiger. He took part in the Battle of Kursk as flank cover to the 7th Panzer Division. From there he went on to command a Tiger II with the 503rd.
Four times Knispel was recommended for the Knight's Cross, but was to never receive it. Although awards did not bother him as he was not driven by fame or decorations. Knispel's records list 168 confirmed tank kills, but when unconfirmed victories are included, the total adds up to 195, which still makes him the most successful tank ace of WW2.
One of these kills was against a Soviet T-34 at a range of 3,000 metres.
Knispel was awarded the Iron Cross First Class (15 kills), and also the Tank Assault Badge in Gold for more than 100 tanks destroyed. After destroying 126 tanks he received the German Gold Cross, and was the only NCO to be mentioned in the Wehrmacht communique in WW2.
Knispel also credited other people with kills which had been his own. He also shied away from this kind of argument and was known for his affable nature.
Knispel was a natural tank commander, and at times he faced superior numbers alone so as to give the units he was supporting the best chance to advance or retreat.
Knispel when he was on the field of battle never abandoned anyone whatever the situation was.
His final battle was in Wostitz, where he was fatally wounded on April 28, 1945 at the age of just 23.
Due to his lack of authority to higher ranks his progression through the ranks was slow. He even slapped an officer who was mistreating Soviet PoW's. He had longer hair and a goatee beard and a tattoo on his neck. But above all he was well liked by his fellow comrades in arms.

On April 10, 2013 Czech authorities discovered Knispel's remains (he had been identified by the tattoo on his neck).