Kurt Knispel (20 September 1921 – 28 April 1945) 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 aces of all time.
Knispel was born in Salisfeld (Salisov), a small settlement near the town Zuckmantel in Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia. He spent most of his childhood in the near by Niklasdorf. 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, and Panzer IV. On 1 October 1940, he was transferred to the 3rd Company of the 29th Panzer Regiment, 12th Panzer Division. 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.
World War II
Knispel was the gunner of 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-Friedrich 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 I tanks. At this time, Knispel was credited with 12 kills.
From Putlos, a group of men was sent to the 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 Panzer Division (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 was re-equipped with Tiger IIs and fought around Caen and in the retreat from Normandy. From there, the unit was transferred back to the Eastern Front and saw action around Mezőtúr, Törökszentmiklós, Cegléd, Kecskemét and the Gran bridgehead, Gyula, Nitra, Bab Castle (In one action, Knispel reported 24 enemy hits on his Tiger II), Laa and finally Wostitz, where he was killed in action.
With 168 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 (1.86 mi.). 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 Tiger II, Knispel destroyed another 42 enemy tanks.
Though he was recommended for it four times, Knispel never received the coveted Knight's Cross, a standard award for most other World War II German tank aces. Unlike some 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.
- Iron Cross 1st and 2nd Class
- Tank Destruction Badge in Gold
- German Cross in Gold (20 May 1944)
- Mentioned in the Wehrmachtbericht on 25 April 1944
Regardless of the side he fought on, he has my warrior respect.I have read that Knispel was denied access to the Knight's Cross due to an "Unnnational Socialistic Attitude" and frequent run-ins with military police authorities. It is documented that he severely beat and injured an einstatzgruppen man whom he thought was mishandling POW's in 44 and also was arrested for looting a wrecked supply train (german). Though looking for materials for his vehicle he ended up with food and booze which was shared with his platoon of tigers. Intervention of company and battalion commanders sved him from severe punishments but it was decided that he would NEVER receive the Knights Cross
Nothing more awesome than tank battles. Thanks for the info Hollywood!
We'll keep the politics out of this one...
"sore throat" slang for medal chasers.
I like that.
Good post, thanks.
It's very obvious this was a good man.
Are you two idiots illiterate?
I have to admit, the concept of "tank aces" is a bit strange to me. There are no dog fights in armored warfare (and if there are, they are exceptions, not a rule), you always fight as part of your unit and always against enemy units. There is simply no such freedom of maneuver for an individual tank on the typical battlefield to let it to stand out dramatically from the rest of the unit. He had a great crew, especially gunner - sure, more hits, but still... I can imagine that tank warfare back then differed from the modern one, and in the course of that very long war, when tanks got separated from their units he had more opportunities to stand out as an "ace", maybe that...
Tiger battallions had more single tank or small unit actions than other tank units, as they were usually employed in support of other units and usually in company or plattoon size.