Knispel, Kurt, born 20-09-1921, near the town of Cukmantel, Zlaté Hory in the Sudetenland Chechoslovakia, a farmer’s son. His parents were among the Sudeten Germans. After Germany’s annexation of Sudetenland in 1938, Knispel left his parents’ farm and went to work in a car factory. He did not like the boring work in the factory and to satisfy his desire for adventure he volunteered to join the Wehrmacht in April 1940. Kurt here on the left in white shirt at the school in about 1934.. 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. He received basic infantry training, learning to use the Kar 98 rifle, the PO8 pistol, and the MG 34 machine gun, From May 1940 to January 1941, he served as an infantry soldier, but was hardly deployed at the front. Knispel applied for a transfer and was trained to be a tank loader. From August 1941, with the start of Operation Barbarossa, Knispel really took action for the first time. After followiing a tank training on the Panzer I, and Panzer II and Panzer IV, he on 01-10-1940, was transferred to the 3rd Company of the 29th Panzer Regiment, 12th Panzer Division under Generaloberst Josef Harpe. Knispel completed his training as a loader and gunner in a Panzer IV. This lasted until 11-06-1941 and consisted of courses at Sagan and Putlos.
Knispel was the gunner of a Panzer IV under Leutnant. Hellman during Operation Barbarossa, where he participated in the initial assault as part of Panzergruppe 3, LVII Army Corps (later LVII Panzer Corps), commanded by General der Panzer Adolf Friedrich Kuntzen .. Kuntzen died age 74 on 10-07-1964 in Hanover. Kurt 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. During the firefights there, Knispel won one victory after another. A photograph of November 1942 shows Gefreiter Knispel with the Panzerkampfabzeichen, the E.K.II, and the Verwundetenabzeichen in black. 305/5000Knispel received remarkably few awards: he did receive the Iron Cross I and II and the German Cross in gold, but was not awarded the Knight’s Cross. Knispel, however, was known for his little orthodox behavior towards Nazi directives and had multiple conflicts with authorities.
Soviet troops, almost always more numerous in size, but technically weaker equipped. The unprepared Russian tank drivers in their obsolete tanks often had no chance against the well-trained German soldiers in their heavily armored Tiger tanks. Knispel destroyed 112 tanks, 178 armored vehicles and 165 smaller vehicles during this period. Many colleagues saw him mainly as a good strategist and a good shooter, not so much as a brave soldier. Knispel was known for camouflaging his tank well and waiting for the unsuspecting enemy to drive by. He often destroyed his opponents from a great distance. In October 1943, he reportedly even destroyed a tank at 3,000 meters, the longest recorded tank shot from World War II. Knispel himself said of his tactics: the last thing a soldier wants is a fair fight.
A group of men from Putlos were sent to the 500th Panzer Battalion at Paderborn. These men, led by Oberfeldwebel Hans Fendesack, would become the 1st Company of the 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion, under command of Hauptmann Nordwin von Diest-Körber which fought at Kursk as flank cover for the 7th Panzer Division , Armee Abteilung Werner Kempf. Oberfeldwebel Hans Fendesack, died in battle on 16-08-1944, age 30 in France. Hauptmann Nordwin von Diest-Körber survived the war and died old age 91 on 10-09-2003 in Eilenriedestift.
During the Battle of Hungary, which lasted 7 months, Knispel destroyed some 23 tanks, increasing his total victories to 145. In August of that year, he was ambushed by Russian tanks. Knispels tank was hit by 24 grenades, but managed to escape in the nick of time. Shortly after, Hungary was completely conquered by the Russians.
According to his biography, “Kursk hatte den Namen von Kurt Knispel im Battalion bekannt gemacht“ , Kursk has made the name Kurt Knispel famous in the battalion, Knispel saw further action during the relief attack on the Korsun-Cherkassy Pocket, Vinnytsia, Yampil, and Kamianets-Podilskyi.
Death and burial ground of Knispel, Kurt.
Transferred from the east, the company was re-equipped with Tiger II and fought around Caen and in the retreat from Normandy. Then 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 Carl 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 ended in Europe.
According to many historians, Knispel was very modest and many of his victories were not claimed by him, but Knispel destroyed 168 Russian army tanks as a tank commander / gunner. 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 general lack of military bearing, sporting a goatee and hair longer than regulations. Only his impressive track-record saved him from ending up in a military prison.
On 10-04-2013 Czech authorities confirmed that Knispel’s remains were found with 15 other German soldiers behind a church wall in Urbau and a formel field hospital. He was identified by his dog tags. When it comes to the cause of death, the information differs. While Franz Kurowski reports in his work that the entire German tank crew fell, others explain that only Knispel fell, the crew survived, the last member of the crew was still alive as of 2017. The shelling of the Soviet T-34 had not been able to penetrate Knispel’s “Tiger II” battle tank, so there was no explosion inside. Kurt Knispel was hit by a shrapnel, the grenade exploded next to the tank, and since, contrary to regulations, Knispel commanded his tank from the open driver’s hatch and without a steel helmet, he was badly hit and died in the hospital. When his grave was discovered, the splinter was still in the skull (he was hit in the forehead). On 12-11-2014 his remains were reburied at the military cemetery in Brno together, with 41 other German soldiers who fell in various places in Moravia and Silesia. Radek Hroch kindly sent me the grave photo.