German tank aces

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A Tiger I tank during the Battle of Kursk in June 1943. Most of the successful German tank commanders served in units equipped with Tigers during this period.[1]

German tank aces, or German Panzer aces, were successful tank (Panzer) commanders of the Wehrmacht or the Waffen-SS of Nazi Germany during World War II. These tank commanders were credited with the destruction of large numbers of tanks and other armoured vehicles.

While the concept of "panzer aces" generally received little attention during World War II, beyond its use in Nazi propaganda, it has become more prominent following the war, especially as part of the perception of the Waffen-SS in popular culture. The British, Soviet and United States armies did not recognise any of their tank commanders as being "aces", though some were responsible for destroying a large number of enemy tanks.

Overview[edit]

Wartime perceptions[edit]

During World War II the concept of "panzer aces" received little attention. To the extent that the concept existed, it was mainly advanced by the Waffen-SS as part of its contributions to Nazi Germany's propaganda campaigns. Most Wehrmacht units did not recognise "panzer aces", with soldiers generally receiving awards for mission performance rather than tank kills.[1]

Most "panzer aces" were soldiers who served in units equipped with Tiger I or Tiger II tanks between mid-1943 and mid-1944. The Allies did not have any tanks capable of easily defeating the Tigers during this period. Few soldiers who operated Panther tanks at this time achieved "ace" status as these tanks were more vulnerable to Allied tanks and less mechanically reliable than the Tiger.[1]

The United States Army did not adopt the concept of tank aces during World War II, with proposals to do so being rejected. However, some US Army tank commanders such as Lafayette G. Pool and Creighton Abrams were responsible for the destruction of large numbers of German tanks and other armoured vehicles.[2]

Similarly, the British Army did not recognise any tank aces.[3] Opportunities for British commanders to destroy large numbers of enemy tanks were limited as the various tanks operated by the Army generally did not outclass German tanks. Some British Sherman Firefly tank commanders were responsible for destroying multiple German tanks.[4] The Soviet Red Army also regarded destroying tanks as not being an act of particular heroism for its tank commanders. This was because the main role of its armored units was to support infantry.[5]

Modern perceptions[edit]

The grave of "panzer ace" Michael Wittmann and his tank crew in 2007

The concept of "panzer aces" has received considerable attention in recent years.[1] The German author Franz Kurowski presents the topic of "panzer aces" in one of his many "laudatory texts", the 1992 book Panzer Aces which describes the "exploits" of the German soldiers during World War II.[6] A veteran of the Eastern front (as a member of a propaganda company), Kurowski is one of the authors who "have picked up and disseminated the myths of the Wehrmacht in a wide variety of popular publications that romanticize the German struggle in Russia", according to the historians Ronald Smelser and Edward Davies.[7]

Kurowski credits Kurt Knispel with 168 tank kills, supposedly making him the top scoring "panzer ace" of the war. The most famous German "panzer ace" and "the hero of all Nazi fanboys",[8] Michael Wittmann, is credited by Kurowski with the destruction of 138 tanks and 132 anti-tank guns.[9] The book also describes the "heroic actions" of another "panzer ace" Franz Bäke in the Cherkassy Pocket. In Kurowski's retelling, after fighting unit after unit of the Red Army, Backe was able to establish a corridor to the trapped German forces, and then "wiped out" the attacking Soviets. In another of Kurowski's accounts, while attempting to relieve the 6th Army encircled in Stalingrad, Bake destroys 32 enemy tanks in a single engagement.[10]

The historian Sönke Neitzel questions the "tank kills" attributed to various tank commanders. According to Neitzel, numbers of successes by highly decorated soldiers should be approached with caution as it is rarely possible to determine reliably in the heat of the battle how many tanks were destroyed and by whom.[11] The military historian Steven Zaloga has also noted that "tank kill claims during World War II on all sides should be taken with a grain of salt" as multiple crews often claimed to have destroyed the same tank, and the German intelligence service on the Eastern Front routinely halved the number of tanks which were reported destroyed to compensate for this double counting.[1]

Zaloga uses the term "tank ace" in quotation marks in his 2015 work Armored Champion: The Top Tanks of World War II. He notes the "romantic nonsense" of the popular inclination to imagine a tank versus tank engagement as an "armoured joust" – two opponents facing each other, – with the "more valiant or better-armed [one] the eventual victor". In reality, most tank to tank combat involved one tank ambushing the other, and the most successful tank commanders were generally "bushwhackers" with "a decided advantage in firepower or armor, and often both".[12]

Zaloga uses Wittmann's career to illustrate the point of the battlefield advantage. He credits Wittman with "about 135" tank kills, but points out that Wittmann achieved 120 of these in 1943, operating a Tiger I tank on the Eastern Front. Having advantages both in firepower and in armor, Tiger I was "nearly invulnerable in a frontal engagement" against any of the Soviet tanks of that time. Wittman thus could "kill its opponents long before they were close enough to inflict damage on his tank".[12] Zaloga concludes: "Most of the 'tank aces' of World War II were simply lucky enough to have an invulnerable tank with a powerful gun".[12] He has also written that "the considerable attention paid to German tank aces in recent years obscures the fact that they were an exception to the rule and that most of the anonymous young German tankers in late 1944 were thrown into combat with poor training".[1]

Successful commanders[edit]

Name Rank Unit Picture
Knispel, KurtKurt Knispel Feldwebel 503rd heavy tank battalion
Carius, OttoOtto Carius Oberleutnant of the Reserves 502nd heavy tank battalion Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1979-064-06, Otto Carius.jpg
Bolter, JohannesJohannes Bölter Hauptmann 502nd heavy tank battalion
Wittmann, MichaelMichael Wittmann Hauptsturmführer 101st SS Heavy Panzer Battalion Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1983-108-29, Michael Wittmann.jpg
Kniep, WalterWalter Kniep Sturmbannführer 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division Götz von Berlichingen
Körner, KarlKarl Körner Hauptscharführer 503rd heavy tank battalion
Woll, BalthasarBalthasar Woll Oberscharführer 501st heavy tank battalion
Sandrock, HansHans Sandrock Major Panzer Regiment 5
Barkmann, ErnstErnst Barkmann Oberscharführer SS-Panzer-Regiment 2
Bäke, FranzFranz Bäke Oberst Heavy Panzer Regiment Bäke Franz Bäke.jpg
Bix, HermannHermann Bix Oberfeldwebel Panzer-Regiment 35
Strippel, HansHans Strippel Leutnant 3rd Panzer-Regiment 1
1st Panzer-Division
Seibold, EmilEmil Seibold Hauptscharführer SS-Panzer-Regiment 2
Primozic, HugoHugo Primozic Oberleutnant Sturmgeschütz-Abteilung 667
Brommann, KarlKarl Brommann Untersturmführer 503rd heavy tank battalion
Brandner, JosefJosef Brandner Major Sturmgeschütz Brigade 912
Rohr, Hans-Babo vonHans-Babo von Rohr Oberleutnant Panzer Regiment 25
Kling, HeinzHeinz Kling Sturmbannführer 101st SS Heavy Panzer Battalion
Carpaneto, AlfredoAlfredo Carpaneto Unter-Offizier 502nd heavy tank battalion
von Bostell, WolfgangWolfgang von Bostell Oberleutnant Panzerjäger-Sturmgeschütz-Kompanie 1023
Panzerjäger-Abteilung 205
Amling, FritzFritz Amling Oberwachtmeister Sturmgeschütz Brigade 202
Roy, RudolfRudolf Roy Oberscharführer SS Panzerjäger Battalion 12
Sametreiter, KurtKurt Sametreiter Oberscharführer 3rd Panzer Battalion, SS Division "LSSAH"
Adamowitsch, FelixFelix Adamowitsch Hauptmann Sturmgeschütz Battalion 244
Staudegger, FranzFranz Staudegger Oberscharführer SS Heavy Panzer Battalion 101
Ribbentrop, Rudolf vonRudolf von Ribbentrop Hauptsturmführer SS-Panzer-Regiment 12 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler,
12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Zaloga 2008, p. 38.
  2. ^ Zaloga 2008, p. 46.
  3. ^ Perrett 2012.
  4. ^ Hart 2007, p. 49.
  5. ^ Forty 1997, p. 60.
  6. ^ Smelser & Davies 2008, pp. 175-176, 251.
  7. ^ Smelser & Davies 2008, pp. 5, 159.
  8. ^ Zaloga 2015, pp. 3.
  9. ^ Kurowski 2004, p. 125.
  10. ^ Smelser & Davies 2008, pp. 176.
  11. ^ Neitzel 2002, p. 413.
  12. ^ a b c Zaloga 2015, pp. 3-4.

Bibliography[edit]