Kurt Knispel – how the rebel lived and how he died. We doubt its result
In the troops of Hitlerite Germany there were many tank aces with large combat scores. The most productive tanker and hero of the Wehrmacht and the entire Second World War is called Kurt Knispel. On his official account there are 168 damaged enemy armored vehicles, and taking into account unconfirmed victories, the score is close to two hundred. However, such outstanding successes raise certain doubts and leave questions to the hero of the Third Reich. How did Feldwebel Knispel manage to defeat so many enemies and set a record? Let’s figure it out in this article.
Kurt Knispel’s Biography
Our hero Kurt Knispel was born on September 20, 1921 in the small village of Salisfeld (Sudetenland), at that time these lands belonged to Czechoslovakia. Kurt Knispel’s ancestors from the time of the German emperors lived and worked here, he was an ethnic German with a Czechoslovak passport. According to the Munich Treaty, the Sudetenland withdrew to Germany without a single shot, although, in truth, the population who lived here was ready for a military invasion, ethnic Germans in every possible way helped people from the Abwehr and the Wehrmacht.
At the time, Kurt was only 17 years old, and had little interest in politics, he was, like many of us in his years, head off. The guy was famous for his violent character and willful disposition, for which the representatives of the law did not like him and local girls adored him. The guy was short, about 160 centimeters, and was rather wiry.
Despite Kurt’s indifference to the conflict flaring up in the world, as a result of the annexation of the Sudetenland, he became a full citizen of the Third Reich with all the ensuing consequences. His duty was to join the German army. The young man did not hide and did not run away from his duty, as he considered military service his duty.
On May 15, 1940, Kurt was enrolled in the 4th company of the 15th reserve tank battalion based in the town of Zagan, until September 20, he was trained on the main types of Wehrmacht armored vehicles: from Pz.I to Pz.III, and on October 1 he was enlisted in the 3rd company of the 29th tank regiment, having received the specialty of a gunner and loader on the Pz.IV. The training was over, and the future hero of the Second World War was ahead of combat everyday life.
The character of Kurt Knispel
Knispel’s character can also be judged by the many adventures that his comrades had to go through with him. For example, on the way to the Eastern Front by rail while waiting at a station near Krakow, he witnessed the scene of a local concentration camp warden leading an escaped prisoner and hitting him with the butt of a rifle on the way. Knispel jumped up to him and demanded that he stop, but the warden called him an overgrown robber and dismissed him. Knispel pulled out his pistol, snatched the rifle from the overseer’s hands and smashed it on the rails, and kicked the overseer away. At the next station, the field gendarmes were already waiting for Knispel, and only the company commander saved him from arrest.
Combat path of Kurt Knispel and 168 destroyed tanks
By the beginning of Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941, Kurt was a loader in the Pz.IV crew of NCO Helman. The crew successfully passed two months of fighting on the Eastern Front, as at the end of August a gunner was wounded, Knispel was appointed in his place, in a new position in the Leningrad region, he will destroy his first tank – it was the T-34. By January 1942, Kurt had replaced the next crew, entering under the leadership of Feldwebel Rubell, who later recalled:
“Knispel’s attention has never waned. Day or night, he controlled the entire battlefield in sight. Even before I gave the order, Knispel was already firing and destroying the enemy with one armor-piercing round. Kurt instantly assessed the situation and reacted very quickly. I have never met anyone else with such a combination of confident reaction and absolute precision. He was unique! “
Until mid-May 1942, Kurt, along with his 12th Panzer Division, was in the Leningrad Region, operating in the Mga and Tikhvin areas, after fierce battles in this direction, the unit was sent to Germany for replenishment and reorganization. After a short stay at home, he returned to the Eastern Front as part of the 4th Panzer Regiment of the 13th Panzer Division, which was under the operational control of the 1st Panzer Army, leading an offensive into the Caucasus as part of Operation Edelweiss. After long exhausting battles in this direction, by the winter of 1943, German troops retreated under the onslaught of the Red Army to Ukraine, completely failing the command’s plan to control the oil fields in the Caucasus.
His first known battle
Meanwhile, Kurt’s personal score increased slightly, and the tanker himself received a vacation, followed by a retraining for the Pz.VI “Tiger” heavy tanks. Having tested new combat vehicles, the crews of the 9th company of the 4th tank regiment were sent to the 1st company of the 503rd heavy tank battalion for further participation in Operation Citadel. The training was not in vain, later Alfred Rubell recalled:
“My friend Kurt Knispel has proven that he has not only a keen eye, but, above all, outstanding volumetric vision. Later, this allowed him to win many victories in hundreds of battles. ” During fierce fighting in July-September 1943, the following episode occurred with Knispel’s company; three “Tigers”, including Kurt’s tank, were attached to the retreating infantry in good order as tank cover.
In addition to the infantry, a huge number of the civilian Russian population left, driving large herds of cattle. The tanks crept slowly from behind, closing the retreat. In the evening we stopped near the village of Osevets. It got dark quickly. The growing hum of the approaching T-34 diesels was heard. The Tigers’ crews developed special tactics for night combat. While the gunners were roughly aiming the guns at the sound, the tank commanders launched flares. In their light, Kurt immediately noticed the T-34. Aim and fired. His friend Rubbel’s “Tiger” shot a fraction of a second later. Two T-34s broke out. A second later, a group of 12 T-34s opened fire. As they approached, their silhouettes became visible in the light of the burning tanks. Then 8 more T-34s were destroyed, the rest retreated.
During the fierce battles at the Kursk Bulge, the “keen eye” was able to knock out another 27 tanks. In the battle on the Kursk Bulge, another episode happened to our hero, after which he almost ended up under a tribunal. During the offensive, the company’s tanks rolled out onto flat terrain, pursuing the retreating Soviet troops, the gunner’s view was excellent. Kurt’s car was one of the first on the line of fire, but noticing civilians on the armor of Soviet tanks, he climbed out of the tower and lit a cigarette. At this moment, an SS officer jumped to the tank, demanding to open fire on the outgoing enemy. A short skirmish ensued, the SS man had already managed to draw out his pistol, but Knispel sat him down on the ground with a couple of blows.
The battalion commander saved him from the field trial. In the period from the fall of 1943 to the spring of 1944, the 503rd battalion took part in bloody battles on the territory of Ukraine, during which time Kurt had 101 tanks in different crews, and on the chest of the young tanker were Iron Crosses of two degrees and a Gold German Cross. It is him who flashes on the footage of the famous German newsreel, the commander of the “Royal Tiger”, whose award is covered by an eagle with a swastika on his tunic, which was, to put it mildly, unacceptable.
Pz.VI “Royal Tiger”
On May 9, 1944, the battalion was sent to Germany to the Ordurf training camp for rest and replenishment, and new Pz.VI “Royal Tiger” tanks were immediately received. On June 26, the battalion was sent to Normandy to repulse the Allied forces, by the end of August the battalion was deprived of any combat capability, having lost all its tanks, the remaining combat-ready personnel were sent by an echelon to Germany. A month later, having received new “Royal Tigers”, the battalion was transferred to Hungary to stop the tank armada of the Red Army.
In the rank of tank commander, Kurt was at the forefront of tank attacks and rearguard battles along with his unit. “The success of Knispel, which never left him, accompanied him in the battles between the Tissa and Danube rivers. It seemed to everyone a miracle that, being always in the thick of battles, he was never wounded. Under the command of Captain Fromme, on October 21, the 1st Company of the 503rd Battalion fought heavy street battles in Mesetura. Knispel destroyed three anti-tank guns and one T-34.
On October 22, the battalion attacked in the Terekzhent-Miklos area. The first was the 3rd company, with five tanks. Behind her is the 1st company. During this battle, Lieutenant Furbringer’s tank broke through the Russian anti-tank positions, was fired on from all sides, but nevertheless returned back on his battered tank, which received 24 hits. At the end of October, the battalion was located in Szeged.
From November 1, he took part in battles between Szeged and Kecskemet. On this day, the battalion for the first time dealt with the new Soviet IS-2 tanks with a 122 mm gun. Several of them were destroyed by the Royal Tigers. In the days and weeks that followed, Feldwebel Knispel increased his number of tanks destroyed. In some cases, he achieved success from a maximum distance of 3000 meters. Everyone expected his official win list to reach 200 soon. “
1945 The Year and Death of Kurt Knispel
It was 1945, the German army was constantly retreating under the blows of the Red Army and the Allied troops. Part of Knispel was retreating in battle across the territory of southern Moravia. On April 28, units of the 503rd battalion entered a combat clash near the village of Vlasatice, then Kurt destroyed his 168 tank, which turned out to be the last in his career.
During the battle, Knispel’s tank was damaged and immobilized by the fire of Soviet self-propelled guns; Knispel’s friend Feldwebel Skoda came to his aid. Trying to get out of the hatch of his “King Tiger”, Skoda was killed by a Russian sniper. Knispel climbed into the serviceable tank of his deceased friend, but as a result of a short battle with the reinforcements of Soviet tanks that arrived in time, this car was brought out of standing. Having dismounted, the tankers began to retreat to a new line of defense, during the retreat, the group came under mortar fire, Kurt Knispel was wounded by a shrapnel in the head and torso, but was able to move with difficulty. The seriously wounded tank ace was transported to the nearest field hospital, located in the building of the municipal school in the town of Vrbove, where he died in the evening of the same day.
Together with other soldiers and officers, he was buried outside the wall of the village cemetery, where a small burial site was organized. Some time later, fierce local residents razed the German cemetery to the ground. Years passed, this place was overgrown with grass and nothing else here reminded of the burial, the archives keeping the last records about it were consigned to oblivion.
Knispel was presented to the Iron Cross for the Knight’s Cross four times, but he never received it. This fact is associated with some properties of his character.
German Cross (20 may 1944)
Mentioned in the Wehrmacht daily report Wehrmachtbericht, 25 April 1944
How Kurt Knispel’s remains were found
Kurt and the other fighters would have remained lying in the unknown, if not for the efforts of many people of different nationalities, including Germans, Czechs and Russians. On April 9, 2013, a complete exhumation of the remains at this military grave was carried out.
After additional examinations, the identity of the German tank ace was finally confirmed. All the remains were transferred to the German side for reburial on their native land.
Big questions about the account of the tanks knocked out by Kurt Knispel
Velkischer Beobachter and Kurowski’s data on 168 confirmed victories raise big questions. You can question both, the number itself and the method of obtaining it. A careful study of the topic leaves a lot of questions, the answers to which destroy the whole harmonious picture.
First of all, you need to look at the base numbers. It is alleged that Knispel knocked out 168 (+30) enemy tanks. However, it is well known how the combat accounts of tankers could differ from real results. A number of objective factors make it difficult to evaluate the work of tankers during or after a battle. In addition, the specific attitude of the German command to the confirmation of victories was of great importance. As a result, the combat scores of the aces are often significantly overestimated and do not coincide with the real losses of the enemy.
Thus, the number “168” refers not so much to the real results of tankers as to the bureaucratic features of their service. What a real account should be is an unanswered question.
Kurowski’s method of counting victories looks extremely strange. In his book “Tank Aces of the Second World War,” the Russian historian Baryatinsky rightly notes that when counting victories, the emphasis was placed on Knispel’s personality, and this led to incorrect results.
When determining the success of tankers, it is customary to single out a crew commander, under whose leadership victories are won. In this case, of the 168 declared victories, the tank commander K. Knispel has only 42. He knocked out the other 126 tanks, being a gunner in the crew of various commanders. This means that when calculating according to the generally accepted method, the total score should be divided among several commanders, and Knispel accounts for only a quarter of the declared victories.
Incorrect counting creates a characteristic situation. Kurt Knispel with his 42 wrecked tanks cannot count on the title of the most effective tank ace of the Second World War. Even in the German rankings of aces, he wouldn’t be able to rise above 45-50 places. At the same time, the former loader and gunner “outshined” his commanders, who are now known only because of their service with him.
It should be noted that in the famous biographies of Kurt Knispel, the topic of the lack of awards is regularly raised: such an honored tanker should have been regularly celebrated. However, an examination of the known data on the adopted methods shows what could have caused the insufficient attention of the command. The iron crosses of the 2nd and 1st class, as well as the Military Order of the German Cross, are quite consistent with the achievements in various positions in the crew of tanks.
Not the best and not the worst
To date, a lot is known about Feldwebel Kurt Knispel. Based on the available data, it is believed that he was the best tank ace of the Second World War. However, the same information allows doubts about this version and offers a more balanced picture.
Apparently, K. Knispel really was a good gunner and tank commander, able to professionally do his job. And the crews with his participation or under his command really did noticeable damage to the Red Army. Moreover, K. Knispel was a dangerous enemy for us almost throughout the Great Patriotic War – until the end of April 1945.
Nevertheless, restoring pages of history and searching for unknown participants in World War II, one should not stoop to dubious counting methods – even if they give the desired result. Such cases call into question the value of research. In addition, they interfere with the restoration of a complete and real picture of past events. Finally, they leave uncomfortable questions: who needs new “heroes” to appear on the Axis many years after the end of the war, all the more so with “merit” dubious in all respects?