|Thursday, 27 November 2008 10:32|
Born: 20 September 1921 Salisfeld (Salisov), Czechoslovakia
Died: 28 April 1945, Wostitz, Eastern front.
Cause of death: Killed in tank explosion.
Notable because: Possibly the most remarkable tank warrior ever. 168 confirmed tank kills before dying in his Tiger Tank in 1945 aged just 23.
Kurt Knispel was a Sudeten German Heer panzer loader, gunner and later commander, and was the highest scoring tank ace of World War II with a total of 168 confirmed tank kills with the actual number of tanks destroyed, although unconfirmed, being as high as 195. He is counted with Johannes Bölter, Ernst Barkmann, Otto Carius and Michael Wittmann as being one of, if not the, greatest tank commander of all time
Knispel was born in Salisfeld (Salisov), Czechoslovakia. After completing his apprenticeship in an automobile factory in 1940, Knispel applied to join the armoured branch of the German army.
For his basic training Knispel went to the Panzer Replacement Training Battalion at Sagan in Lower Silesia. There he received basic infantry training before tank training on the Panzer I, Panzer II & Panzer IV. On 1 October 1940 he was transferred to the 3rd Company of the 29th Panzer Regiment, 12th Panzer Div. Knispel completed his training as a loader and gunner in a Panzer IV. Training lasted until 11 June 1941 and consisted of courses at Sagan and Putlos.
Knispel was a gunner in a Panzer IV under Lt. Hellman at the time of Operation Barbarossa, where he participated in the initial assault as part of Panzergruppe 3, LVII Army Corps (later LVII Panzer Corps) commanded by General Adolf Kuntzen. Knispel saw action from Yarzevo to the gates of Stalingrad, in the north around the Leningrad-Tikhvin area and also in the Caucasus under Eberhard von Mackensen. Knispel returned to Putlos at the end of January 1943 and became familiar with the new Tiger tanks, at this time, Knispel was credited with 12 kills.
From Putlos, a group of men was sent to 500th Panzer Battalion at Paderborn. This group was led by Oberfeldwebel Fedensack and it was to become the 1st Company of the 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion which fought at Kursk as flank cover to 7th PzDiv (Armee Abteilung Kempf). Knispel saw further action during the relief attack on the Korsun-Cherkassy Pocket, Vinnitsa, Jampol and Kamenets-Podolsk. Transferred from the east, the company re-equipped with Tiger IIs and fought around Caen and the retreat from Normandy. From there the unit was again transferred back to the Eastern Front and saw action around Mezotúr, Törökszentmiklós, Cegléd, Kecskemét and the Gran bridgehead, Gyula, Neutra, Bab Castle (In one action, Knispel reports 24 enemy hits on his Tiger II), Laa and finally Wostitz, where he was killed in action.
With 168 (all confirmed, possibly as high as 195) kills, Knispel was by far the most successful tanker of the Second World War and is even credited with knocking out a T-34 at 3,000 m. He fought in virtually every type of German tank as loader, gunner and commander. He was awarded the Iron Cross, First Class after destroying his fiftieth enemy tank and the Tank Assault Badge in Gold after more than 100 tank battles. When Knispel had destroyed 126 enemy tanks (with another 20 unconfirmed kills) he was awarded the German Cross in Gold. He became the only non-commissioned officer of the German tank arm to be named in a Wehrmacht communique. As commander of a Tiger I and then a King Tiger Knispel destroyed another 42 enemy tanks. This raised his total to 168 enemy tanks destroyed, more than any other tank ace. Though he was recommended for it four times Knispel never received the coveted Knights Cross, a standard feature of most other WWII German tank aces.
Unlike other commanders, Knispel was not consumed by the pursuit of decorations and did not suffer from a "sore throat", Heer slang for those who lusted after the Knight's Cross. When there were conflicting claims for a destroyed enemy tank, Knispel always stepped back, always willing to credit success to someone else.
|Last Updated on Thursday, 19 March 2009 11:56|