The world was introduced to the concept of Tank or Armored Warfare during the First World War, a time when Trench Warfare was still considered a strategy that could guarantee victory.
Commanders had to think of innovative ways to get past the tactical, operational and strategic stalemate and this kicked off the development of the tank.
Tanks first made their way onto the battlefield in 1915 when Britain and France jointly came up with the idea of such a weapon. At that time, such a machine was considered extraordinary because the automobile industry was by no means mature. British Mark I tanks were put to task at Somme but couldn’t break through the trenches put up by the Germans.
However, just two years later, they broke through the famous Hindenburg Line. Still, the world was skeptical about this invention and the Germans didn’t widely approve of this idea until after the war was over. The victory of the Allies was because the Germans had less than 50 tanks during the entire conflict compared to over 6000 Allied tanks!
The development and production of tanks and armored weapons kicked off in the 1930’s when tensions began to rise. The Germans were quick to adapt to the idea of mechanized warfare this time and so started to mass produce and heavily invest in armored units. Modern Armor Warfare Doctrines were developed by the major global players, each having their own strategies and tactics. The Germans particularly excelled in the process and managed to produce remarkable tanks as well as commanders, both of which would heavily damage the Allies in World War 2.
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The German Army introduced the title of “Panzer Aces” during World War 2, given to commanders who managed to inflict heavy damages and destruction on a massive scale to the Allies. At that time, it was considered part of Nazi propaganda by the Allies, but the concept received widespread attention in recent years when the world’s militaries started studying every aspect of warfare in great detail.
Here are some of the most notorious German Tanks Aces who became nightmares for the Allied forces on both fronts.
1. Kurt Knispel
Born in Czechoslovakia on 20th September 1921, Kurt was one of the best tank commanders in history, often credited as the best during World War 2. He joined the armored branch of the German Army in 1940 and received his training at the Panzer Replacement Training Battalion, Sagan. He thoroughly learned the Panzer I, II and II and on October 1st, he was transferred to the 3rd Company of the 12th Panzer Division.
He quickly climbed the ranks after Operation Barbarossa and was sent for training in the Tiger Tank because of his skills. By 1942, he was credited with 12 tank victories. After his training, he was sent to the 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion where he actively participated in the Battle of Kursk. He decimated Soviet tanks by the dozens and all in all had 168 confirm tank kills. He also holds the incredible record of targeting a Soviet T-34 at a range of 3000 meters!
Among many awards, the most notable one he was awarded was the German Cross on 20th May 1944.
2. Michael Wittmann
Known for his tactic of surprise attacks, Wittmann was a member of the Waffen SS and served during the Second World War. He was a member of the premier regiment, Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler and personally took part in the occupation of Austria and Sudetenland with an armored platoon, an act that showed his interest towards mechanized units.
On the Eastern front, Wittmann was assigned to the SS Panzer Regiment I and was the commander of a Panzer III tank. By the battle of Kursk, he was commanding a Tiger Tank and with the help of just 3 other tanks repulsed several attacks by the Soviets, destroying them by dozens. On the Normandy coast, he is still remembered for his ambush of the British 7th Armored division, destroying over 14 tanks, 15 gun carriers, and 2 anti-tank guns in just 15 minutes!
During the entire war, he destroyed almost 130 tanks and was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords among many other awards.
3. Otto Carius
An extremely brave and decisive commander, Otto Carius served the German Army during the Second World War, after getting rejected twice during medical tests. He volunteered for the Panzer branch and in 1943 was transferred to the 502nd Heavy Panzer Battalion. His regiment, the 21st Panzer Regiment saw substantial action against the Allies which even wounded Otto several times.
He was made the commander of a Jagdtiger Company, a division that specified in anti-tank warfare. Some of the most advanced anti-tank destroyers were put under his wing and soon he was wreaking havoc through Soviet, British and American tanks. He was particularly notorious in the Soviet Union where even scores of T-34 and T-85 couldn’t stop his advance.
He decimated 17 confirm Russian tanks within 20 minutes during one battle and 10 during another. Dozens of others were targeted and destroyed during skirmishes at the Rhine River bringing the total to over 60. He fiercely defended his domain until defeat was imminent and surrendered to the US Army on 7th May 1945.
4. Walter Kniep
A Major in the Waffen-SS during the Second World War, Walter was a successful Tank Ace during the war and was able to put up with harsh conditions and get out of all kinds of situations using his skill sets.
His was put in the SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment in 1941 and because of his abilities went on to command the III Battalion of the Das Reich Division, which was an elite division that took part in some of the harshest and most unpleasant battles during the war.
His individual record is still unknown but under his command, his unit scored over 129 Tank kills, mostly on the Eastern front. He was awarded the Knight’s Cross for his service, but before he could get promoted any further, he was accidentally shot while training a soldier in occupied France.
5. Karl Korner
Karl Korner, was a successful leader and a recognized SS military commander during World War 2. He started out as a volunteer in the Waffen-SS and was sent for training after getting commissioned in the SS Reserve Battalion. He started out as an ordinary reserve officer with little duties but his determination got him into the 503rd SS Panzer Division.
He was transferred to the Eastern Front in January 1945 and took part in heavy combat with the Russians. During combat in the Gdansk and Sopot, he destroyed over 65 tanks, 44 artillery pieces, and 15 armored vehicles.
Following his extraordinary feat, he was awarded the Knight’s Cross. He was recalled to Berlin when the surrender was inescapable and on his way destroyed over 100 tanks! During the defense of Berlin he often took enemy tanks by storm and scored against them when they least accepted.
He survived the war and died in August 1997.
6. Paul Egger
One of the more interesting Tank Aces, Paul Egger started out his military career as a German pilot, participating in both the Battle of Britain and the Battle of France. He flew over 112 missions and was shot down three times but never managed to become a fighter ace.
He was transferred to ground forces and in May 1941 joined the Waffen-SS. Trained as an anti-tank gunner, he was transferred to the 2nd Panzer Regiment soon after. He showed his skills during the Battle of Kiev when he decimated the Soviet ranks and took down 28 tanks, 14 anti-tanks artillery pieces and, 40 vehicles.
His unique strategies got him into the Tiger tank platoon of the 102 SS Heavy Panzer Battalion. He shot and destroyed dozens of tanks while in Normandy while slowly, but surely his battalion was destroyed. He was once again sent to the Eastern front and gave the Russians a tough time once again.
His final tally was 113 tanks destroyed.
7. Hans Sandrock
Hans Sandrock showed his prowess in over 4 major battles during World War 2 and fought on two continents, as part of the 3rd Panzer division and the famous Afrika Korps.
After getting enlisted in the army, he was posted to the panzer regiment. Within a few years, he was put to action during the Polish Campaign and started to carve out a name for his talents. He got the Iron Cross Second Class for his actions.
He was attached to the 5th Panzer Regiment after the Battle of France and from there got posted to North Africa. He took part in efforts to regain the stronghold of Tobruk, fought in Gazala and inflicted heavy casualties onto the Allies. After getting a callback from Africa, he was posted to an elite SS detachment and sent to Italy. He successfully took part in the destruction of the III Soviet Tank Corps near the city of Warsaw and after the war ended was credited with over 123 tank kills.
8. Ernst Barkmann
Only a few German commanders managed to carve out a name for themselves, one of whom was Ernst Barkmann. He was put to Normandy’s defense during the Second World War and performed his duties impeccably, halting a major US offensive in a region that is still called the “Barkmann’s corner”. He received praise and much-deserved attention for this.
His actions were once again priceless when he opened an escape route for trapped German forces after the launch of Operation Cobra. Initially, Barkmann was posted on the Eastern Front and during the winter of 1942/1943 he carried out large-scale attacks on Soviet forces both Armor and Infantry.
He successfully commanded a division and was sent back to the Eastern Front after the Normandy Campaign. He surrendered to British forces just outside Vienna.
9. Franz Bake
Franz Bake was a German officer who went on to become one of Germany’s most useful armored assets during the Second World War. He was involved in the Invasion of Poland, attached to the 1st Light Division. During the Battle of France, he tore through enemy ranks and left the French Tank Division in tatters.
After the initiation of Operation Barbarossa, his division took part in a strike towards Leningrad. His actions saw him promoted to a major. Soon he saw action in the Battle of Kursk where he wreaked havoc among Allied ranks. His regiment had a total of 46 Panther and 34 Tiger I tanks and took down dozens of Soviet tanks
He failed to show the same skills against the Americans but looking generally, he is one of the most ferocious tank aces history has ever seen.
10. Hermann Brix
Hermann Brix was a “Panzer Ace” who saw action in almost all major engagements during World War II. His military career started out with the Invasion of Poland and soon shifted fronts. He was posted to the Easter Front to take part in operations against the Allies at Normandy.
Soon after, he was posted to the Eastern Front and took part in Battles of Kiev, Moscow, etc. His notoriety as a tank commander in the 4th Panzer Division earned him the German Cross in Gold. He was best at destroying Soviet Tanks and in a total of 61 days destroyed 75 tanks, 16 in a single day!
He joined the newly formed German Armed Forces after the war ended.