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|Born||13 March 1920
Brixen im Thale, Austria
|Died||4 September 2002
|Years of service||1937–1945|
|Unit||2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
|Awards||Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
Iron Cross 1st Class
German Cross in Gold
Close Combat Clasp in Gold
Josef Lainer (13 March 1920 – 4 September 2002) was a Hauptscharführer (master sergeant) in the Waffen-SS during World War II who was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, to recognize extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership by Nazi Germany during World War II. He was also awarded the very rare Close Combat Clasp in Gold, one of only 631 awards. Near the end of the war, he twice escaped from captivity.
Josef Lainer, was born on the March 1920 at Brixen im Thale in Austria, in his early years he was a baker's apprentice until after his eighteenth birthday when he volunteered to join the SS-VT, taking part in the occupation of the Sudetenland in 1938.
World War II
Lainer was not involved in the Polish Campaign, but by 1940, he was part of the 2nd Company, SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment Der Führer, Das Reich Division and participated in the invasion of the Netherlands and the Battle of France as a Rottenführer (senior corporal) in command of a machine gun group.
At the beginning of 1941 Lainer had been promoted to Unterscharführer (sergeant) and took part in the invasion of Russia (Operation Barbarossa) in June 1941. He received his first wound on 8 July, being hit by shell splinters. He also received his first medal: the Iron Cross 2nd class.
In the autumn battle outside of Moscow, Lainer was wounded three times in two hours, twice shot in the arm, which was also fractured, which resulted in Lainer being admitted to hospital; the surgeons were sufficiently skilled, they did not have to amputate the arm.
These injuries gained Lainer the Wound Badge in Silver and the Infantry Assault Badge. After his release from hospital, Lainer was assigned to a training company in Germany, returning to the Das Reich Division, which was still in Russia, in the spring of 1943.
Lainer was awarded the Iron Cross 1st class in the defensive battles at Kiev and days later was again shot in the arm, refusing to leave the front. Lainer was promoted to Oberscharführer (technical sergeant) and given command of a platoon in the 2nd Company, a position normally held by an officer.
Knight's Cross award
In August 1943, Lainer was involved in the Battle of Kharkov.
In the village of Korotich, Lainer's unit came under attack by the Russians. His unit had taken over an abandoned Russian tank, which they used to counterattack the Russian positions. During the assault, Lainer was again wounded by shrapnel from a Russian hand grenade, but they did manage to stop the Russian attack. That night, they were attacked by a company of Russians, but managed to hold them off. The Russians attacked again and again, for five days. On the sixth day, the Russians mounted an attack in strength, using tanks. Lainer had deployed his men in the minefield in front of the German line to fight off this attack. During these battles, Lainer was twice slightly wounded, for which he received the Wound Badge in Gold.
For these actions, Lainer was awarded the Knight's Cross in October 1943, and was congratulated by Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein, the commander of the Army Group. He was also awarded the Close Combat Clasp in Gold for having spent 54 days in combat; he was the seventh person to receive the Gold award and only the third NCO.
Lainer was promoted to Hauptscharführer (master sergeant) in January 1944 and moved with the Das Reich Division to France, where he would lead his men against the British and American forces in Normandy.
In August 1944, in the battles around Avranches, Lainer was captured by the Americans, but escaped three days later through a gap in the barbed wire fence surrounding the prisoner-of-war camp. After two days spent evading Allied forces, he reached the front line, but was discovered trying to cross into German territory and again was sent into captivity.
In 1946, Lainer was released by the Americans, but was re-arrested by the French and made to carry out dangerous de-mining operations. At the end of 1946, he escaped again and returned to his hometown in Austria.
Josef Lainer died on 4 September 2002.
- Iron Cross (1939)
- Infantry Assault Badge
- in Bronze (15 June 1942)
- in Silver
- Wound Badge (1939) in Gold
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 8 October 1943 as SS-Oberscharführer and Zugführer (platoon leader) in the 1./SS-Panzergrenadier-Regiment "Der Führer"
- Close Combat Clasp in Gold (15 October 1943)
- German Cross in Gold
- Eastern Front Medal
- Sudetenland Medal
- Kurowski, p.129
- Kurowski, p.137
- Kurowski, pp. 156–157
- Kurowski, p.177
- Kurowski, p,155
- Kurowski, p.166
- Kurowski 2002, p. 189.
- Kurowski 2002, p. 190.
- Fellgiebel 2000, pp. 282, 496.
- Scherzer 2007, p. 489.
- Berger, Florian (2004). Ritterkreuzträger mit Nahkampfspange in Gold [Knight's Cross Bearers with the Close Combat Clasp in Gold] (in German). Vienna, Austria: Selbstverlag Florian Berger. ISBN 978-3-9501307-3-7.
- Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000) . Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 — Die Inhaber der höchsten Auszeichnung des Zweiten Weltkrieges aller Wehrmachtteile [The Bearers of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939–1945 — The Owners of the Highest Award of the Second World War of all Wehrmacht Branches] (in German). Friedberg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 978-3-7909-0284-6.
- Kurowski, Franz (2005). Infantry Aces. Stackpole Books. ISBN 0-8117-3202-9.
- Mattson, Gregory (2002). SS-The realm. The History of the Second SS division, 1939–45. Staplehurst. ISBN 1-86227-144-5.
- Scherzer, Veit (2007). Die Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945 Die Inhaber des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939 von Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm sowie mit Deutschland verbündeter Streitkräfte nach den Unterlagen des Bundesarchives [The Knight's Cross Bearers 1939–1945 The Holders of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939 by Army, Air Force, Navy, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm and Allied Forces with Germany According to the Documents of the Federal Archives] (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2.