20 September 1921 – 28 April 1945
(29 pictures below biography)
Kurt was born in Salisfeld (Salisov), a small settlement near the town of Zuckmantel in Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia. He spent most of his childhood in nearby Niklasdorf. After completing his apprenticeship in an automobile factory in 1940, Knispel applied to join the armoured branch of the German Army .
During the war he was a German tank gunner and ultimately commander during World War II, notable for a documented 168 tanks destroyed, making him the most successful fighter in armored warfare.
Another 37 kills were shared or unconfirmed.
He did not have the opportunity to write fancy memoirs or serve in the post-war Bundeswehr or do all the things that soldiers can do to establish their names in the popular memory.
Even thought he is the world's top Tank Ace, Kurt is pretty much forgotten except by students of the war.
"Kurt Knispel died in a Tiger Tank in a meaningless confrontation in the middle of nowhere, when people across an entire continent were in turmoil. It was a time when there was no one left to care, and Knispel wound up in an unmarked mass grave with 14 of his comrades.
They wrote 'The Fanfare of the Common Man' for the forgotten men like Kurt Knispel. Here, he is going to be remembered, but he represents all the unknown grunts on all sides who fought like lions and bled and died and then were forgotten. "
Something Happened on the Way to the Eastern Front
Kurt Knispel was his own man. He had aggressively intervened on the behalf of a Russian prisoner who was being mistreated by a guard. It turned out to be a real issue. His commander stuck up for him but, henceforth, he was repeatedly denied the medals he easily deserved.
Just a note about the Wehrmacht in general: there were two separate tracks for gaining status, the promotion system, and the medal route. Your rank, of course, was always important. However, for true status - the kind that made ordinary guys look at you with true respect and not just salute - the second track actually was more important.
While more nebulous, it included more than just medals. For instance, being mentioned in a Wehrmacht communique - read out over the radio to the entire Reich and singling out only a few men each night of the millions serving - was one of the highest honors any soldier of any rank could receive.
He was the only non-commissioned officer of the German tank arm to be named in a nationwide Wehrmacht Radio communique.
The only one.
Simply having a rank is not going to make people go the extra yard for you, to show true respect. Kurt Knispel earned that kind of admiration. You can't buy it, you can't have it awarded to you. Instead, you must earn it where it counts.
Eventually, the sands of time ran out. The enemy was about to enter Kurt's homeland, and he was all that stood between them and his family.
According to his radio operator, Rudolf Barth, Commander Knispel was severely wounded on 28 April 1945 by shrapnel from a mortar to his head when his Tiger II was hit in a pitched battle with a swarm of Soviet tanks and artillery. His tank survived commanded by his friend Feldwebel Skoda who also suffered the same fate as Kurt two hours later. The last two King Tigers slain in the area.
Kurt Knispel died one week before the war ended.
At the age of 23, he died in Wostitz (Vlasatice) 100 miles from his home.
(Pictures of Kurt and forgotten background info below)