Photo of Knispel taken during World War II by Alfred Rubbel
20 September 1921|
Salisfeld (Salisov), Czechoslovakia
|Died||28 April 1945
|Years of service||1940–45|
|Unit||12th Panzer Division
503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion
|Battles/wars||World War II
|Awards||German Cross in Gold|
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; the actual number, although unconfirmed, may be as high as 195. He is counted with Johannes Bölter, Ernst Barkmann, Otto Carius and Michael Wittmann as being one of the, if not the, greatest tank ace of all time.[Note 1]
Knispel was born in Salisov (Salisfeld), a small settlement near the town of Zlaté Hory (Zuckmantel) in Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia. He spent most of his carefree childhood in nearby Mikulovice (Niklasdorf) where his father worked in an automotive factory. After completing his apprenticeship in an automobile factory in early 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, learning the use of the Karabiners 98k, the Pistole 08, and the MG 34, 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. As of November 1942, a photograph show the now Gefreiter Knispel with the Panzerkampfabzeichen, the E.K.II, and the Verwundetenabzeichen in black.
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, led by Oberfeldwebel Hans Fendesack, was to become the 1st Company of the 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion which fought at Kursk as flank cover for the 7th Panzer Division (Armee Abteilung Kempf). As per his biography, "Kursk hatte den Namen von Kurt Knispel im Battalion bekannt gemacht". Knispel saw further action during the relief attack on the Korsun-Cherkassy Pocket, Vinnytsia, Yampil, and Kamianets-Podilskyi. 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 fatally wounded together with another tank commander Feldwebel Skoda (Skoda was buried in Socherl). Knispel died in a field hospital in Urbau and was buried at a local cemetery. Ten days after his death, the war in Europe ended. On April 10, 2013 Czech authorities confirmed that Knispel's remains were found among 15 other German soldiers behind a church wall in Urbau. He was identified by his dog tag. It is likely that he will be reburied at the military cemetery in Brno.
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 3000 meters, as well as the destruction of over 70 enemy Pak (anti-tank guns), and countless bunkers and field works. 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 army 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.
Knispel's slow promotion is attributed to several conflicts with higher Nazi authorities (for instance, he assaulted an Einsatzgruppen officer whom he saw mistreating Soviet POWs) and a perceived view by some historians of his general lack of military bearing, sporting a goatee and hair longer than regulations. As per Lt Colonel Alfred Rubbel, Kurt was always willing to help (immer gewillt zu helfen...) and friendly (freundlich).
- Iron Cross E.K.II (2nd Class)
- Iron Cross E.K. I awarded after actions at Kursk July 1943. He destroyed 27 T-34's in 12 days during this battle.
- Winterschlacht im Osten The so-called 'Order of the Frozen Flesh'.
- Wound Badge (silver)
- Panzerkampfabzeichen Panzer Assault Badge (silver)
- Panzerkampfabzeichen 100 assaults.
- German Cross in Gold on 20 May 1944 as Unteroffizier in the 1./schwere Panzer-Abteilung 503
- The only NCO in the German Army mentioned in the Wehrmachtbericht on 25 April 1944 for the destruction of 101 enemy tanks, which was submitted by RKT Dr. Franz Baeke.
Reference in the Wehrmachtbericht
|Date||Original German Wehrmachtbericht wording||Direct English translation|
|25 April 1944||Der Unteroffizier Knispel in einer schweren Panzerabteilung im Osten schoß in der Zeit von Juli 1942 und März 1944 101 Panzer ab.||The non-commissioned officer Knispel in a heavy tank detachment in the east destroyed 101 tanks in the timeframe from July 1942 and March 1944.|
The online game, World of Tanks names a gunnery award after him.
Knispel's Medal (IV–I class) Awarded for the total amount of damage caused and received in four classes: Class IV - 10,000 HP, Class III - 100,000 HP, Class II - 1,000,000 HP, Class I - 10,000,000 HP.
- This raised his total to 168 enemy tanks destroyed, making him the world's top "tank killer", "With 168 acknowledged kills, Kurt Knispel was the most successful tank soldier of the Second World War.
- Kurowski Pg 125
- Picture of the dog-tag - Nr. 812, 4. Kompanie Panzer Ersatz Abteilung 15
- Kurowski Pg 12
- Patzwall and Scherzer 2001, p. 238.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939-1945 Band 3, p. 88.
- Kurowski, Franz (July 2007). Feldwebel Kurt Knispel (Flechsig ed.). ISBN 3-88189-734-8.
- Kurowski, Franz (15 Oct 2004). Panzer Aces: German Tank Commanders of WWII (Stackpole Books ed.). ISBN 0-8117-3173-1.
- Patzwall, Klaus D.; Scherzer, Veit (2001). Das Deutsche Kreuz 1941 – 1945 Geschichte und Inhaber Band II [The German Cross 1941 – 1945 History and Recipients Volume 2] (in German). Norderstedt, Germany: Verlag Klaus D. Patzwall. ISBN 978-3-931533-45-8.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939-1945 Band 3, 1. Januar 1944 bis 9. Mai 1945 [The Wehrmacht Reports 1939–1945 Volume 3, 1 January 1944 to 9 May 1945] (in German). München, Germany: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co. KG. 1985. ISBN 978-3-423-05944-2.
- "Tiger Aces". Tiger I Information Center. Retrieved 10 January 2012.
- "Kurt Knispel". World War 2 Awards. Retrieved 10 January 2012.
- "Archeologové nalezli ostatky největšího tankového esa II. světové války". Archeologové nalezli ostatky největšího tankového esa II. světové války 2 Awards. Retrieved 7 May 2013.