Published: 08/08/2023 | Last Updated on 29/11/2023
Panzer Aces of the Largest War: in the disastrous times of World War II, these successful German Tank Aces dominate the battlefield. Top tier vehicles of the war industry, the Pzkpfw V Panther or Pzkpfw VI Tiger tanks was manned by the top of German soldiers – who proved their mettle in the thick of war.
From the brutal battles of the Wehrmacht across Europe, from the Eastern Front to the fierce encounters in Normandy, these German Panzer Aces showed mastery of their vehicle. Their impressive tank kill claims and relentless determination earned them a place in history as extraordinary heroes.
Now, Tracks of Steel take you on a journey of these Top Panzer Aces, narrating their bravery and results!
Kurt Knispel – Best Panzer Ace in German Military History
Kurt Knispel, the Sudeten German tank commander, holds the title of the top Tank Ace of World War II, with an astonishing total of 168 confirmed kills as his score. His remarkable journey began in the small settlement of Salisfeld (Salisov) near Zuckmantel in Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia.
Spending most of his childhood in Niklasdorf, Knispel pursued his passion for moving warfare by joining the German Army, the Wehrmacht after completing his apprenticeship in an automobile factory in 1940.
Knispel’s training took him to the Tank Replacement Training Battalion at Sagan in Lower Silesia, where he received both basic infantry training and specialized training on many tanks like Panzerkampfwagen I, Pz II, and Pzkpfw IV.
After completing his training as a loader and gunner, he was transferred to the 3rd Company of the 29th Panzer Regiment, 12th Pz Division.
With the outbreak of World War II, Kurt Knispel, the Best German Tank Commander of WW2, saw many tank combats as the gunner of a Panzerkampfwagen IV, under Lt. Hellman during Operation Barbarossa. He participated in the initial assault with German tank units against soviet tanks, as part of Panzergruppe 3, LVII Army Corps (later LVII Panzer Corps), engaging in battles from Yarzevo to the gates of Stalingrad and in various locations such as the Leningrad-Tikhvin area and the Caucasus under Eberhard von Mackensen.
Following his return to Putlos in January 1943, Knispel familiarized himself with the new Tiger I tanks, and his fresh skill on the battlefield earned him 12 kills. Subsequently, he became part of the 1st Company of the 503rd Heavy Tank Battalion, which fought at Kursk with high number of tanks as flank cover for the 7th Panzer Division (Armee Abteilung Kempf).
He continued to see action during the relief attack on the Korsun-Cherkassy Pocket, Vinnitsa, Jampol, and Kamenets-Podolsk.
Knispel’s unit was later re-equipped with the formidable Tiger II tanks and fought in battles around Caen and the Normandy retreat. Transferred back to Eastern Europe, he participated in engagements around Mezőtúr, Törökszentmiklós, Cegléd, Kecskemét, the Gran bridgehead, Gyula, Nitra, Bab Castle (where he reported 24 enemy hits on his Tiger II), Laa, and finally Wostitz.
It was in Wostitz that tragedy struck. Knispel, alongside another tank commander, Feldwebel Skoda, was fatally wounded. Knispel was transported to a field hospital in Urbau, where he succumbed to his injuries. Ironically, the war in Europe ended just ten days after his death.
Knispel’s outstanding record made him the most successful tanker of World War II, with possibly as high as 195 kills. His skill and bravery earned him the Iron Cross, First Class, the Tank Assault Badge in Gold, and the German Cross in Gold. Despite being recommended for the Knight’s Cross multiple times, it was never awarded to him.
Unlike some other commanders, Knispel did not seek personal glory or believed nazi propaganda, and always attributed success to his comrades when there were conflicting claims for a destroyed enemy vehicle.
His slow promotion was attributed to conflicts with higher Nazi authorities and high command, such as assaulting an Einsatzgruppen officer for mistreating Soviet POWs, and his unconventional appearance, sporting a goatee and longer hair than regulations permitted. However, his unparalleled track-record saved him from ending up in a military prison.
Otto Carius – The Eastern Front Panzer Ace
Oberleutnant Otto Carius, a successful tank chief and German Panzer Ace during World War II, left an indelible mark on moving warfare with his exceptional battlefield prowess. Born on 27 May 1922, he had an intriguing journey to becoming one of Germany’s most formidable Tank Heroes.
Before embarking on his military career, he faced challenges with his weight, causing him to be sent home twice when initially drafted. However, his determination led him to finally join the 104th Infantry Replacement Battalion in May 1940.
Showing an aptitude for Blitzkrieg warfare, he volunteered for the Army to be tank crew and honed his skills as part of the 7th Tank Replacement Battalion at Putlos in Holstein.
Soon, he found himself integrated into the newly formed 21st Panzer Regiment, which was deployed to East Prussia in June 1941. During Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, Otto tasted his first battle as a loader in a Pz 38(t). Tragically, he was wounded when his tank was hit by enemy fire, but this didn’t deter him.
In ’43, his journey took another turn as he transferred to the German Army’s prestigious Schwere-Panzer-Abteilung 502 (502 Heavy Tank Battalion). This elite unit fought valiantly on the Leningrad front and later in the Battle of Narva in Estonia, under the command of the illustrious Hyacinth Graf Strachwitz von Groß-Zauche und Camminetz.
It was on 24 July 1944 when fate dealt a cruel blow to him. While reconnoitering a village ahead of his tanks on a motorcycle, he was severely wounded. Despite his injuries, his determination and leadership abilities shone through, and he was unofficially running the 2nd company of the 502nd.
On the very day of his injuries, he officially became the commander of the 2nd company.
Ever resilient, he continued to demonstrate his prowess in tank warfare. He later assumed command of a Jagdtiger company in the 512th Heavy Antitank Battalion (Schwere-Panzerjägerabteilung) in the Western theater at the beginning of 1945. Remarkably, even with little training, his 2nd company was deployed to the front line near Siegburg on 8 March 1945.
They involved in the defense of the River Rhine as the war neared its end. Ultimately, on 15 April 1945, they surrendered to the US Army, ending their journey through the Second World War.
Throughout his service, Otto achieved extraordinary feats on the battlefield, claiming approximately 100-110 enemy kills, most of which were recorded on the Front on the East. His accomplishments and valor were rightfully acknowledged, and he was decorated with the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves.
Greatest Tank Commanders: Michael Wittmann, The Panzer Ace
Born on April 22, 1914, was a formidable, highly decorated German Waffen SS tank commander, who left an indelible mark on the battlefields of World War II.
Rising to the rank of SS-Hauptsturmführer (Captain), he became a Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross holder, cementing his place among the elite.
Michael Wittmann’s prowess as a Panzer Ace was legendary, credited with an astonishing 138 tanks and 132 anti-tank guns destroyed, along with an unknown number of other vehicles.
One of the most iconic moments in his career was the battle of Villers-Bocage, during the invasion of Normandy, on June 13, 1944. Leading a single Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger, he masterminded a devastating ambush against elements of the British 7th Armoured Division.
In a mere 15 minutes, he hit the target 14 times (including severe Sherman tanks) – and adding 15 armored vehicles, and two anti-tank guns to his scores.
Despite his remarkable achievements, controversy surrounded his death. While it was long believed that Trooper Joe Ekins of the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry was responsible for destroying his tank, some historians now suggest that members of the Canadian Sherbrooke Fusiliers Regiment might have played a part.
Michael’s journey began in the early stages of the war when he experienced action in the Polish Campaign and the Battle of France, commanding the new self-propelled assault guns, Sturmgeschütz III Ausf. A. The invasion of Greece during Operation ‘Marita’ followed, showcasing the might of the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH) as they secured victory.
Deployed alongside other German units to the East during the invasion of the Soviet Union, Wittmann initially served as a low silhouette StuG III assault gun commander. His skills earned him both officer ranking and tank training, leading to his assignment to the SS Regiment 1 as a Pzkpfw III tank leader.
As the war raged on, he rose to the rank of SS-Untersturmführer (Second Lieutenant) and eventually commanded the greatest tank: a Tiger.
His brilliance reached its zenith during the Battle of Kursk (Operation Citadel), where he led a platoon of four Tigers attached to the 1st SS-Panzergrenadier Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler. His Tigers proved instrumental in countering Soviet forces, destroying numerous enemy vehicles.
For his outstanding achievements, Wittmann was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross and Oak Leaves in January 1944.
In North France’s arduous terrain, during the battle of Villers-Bocage, Obersturmführer Michael Wittmann would showcase his audacious tactics once more. In the span of minutes, with his tank’s feared 88 mm main gun, he executed a devastating blitz against Shermans, destroying a large number of enemy tanks and assault guns, anti-tank guns, and transport vehicles.
Sadly, his extraordinary journey was cut short. On August 8, 1944, during a counterattack near Saint-Aignan-de-Cramesnil, he fell while trying to retake tactically significant high ground, which had been captured by Anglo-Canadian forces during Operation Totalize.
Johannes Bölter – Panzer Ace Against The Red Army
Johannes Bölter – Born on February 19, 1915, in Mülheim an der Ruhr, Bölter’s journey from a young apprentice roofer to a legendary “Panzer Ace” is one of bravery, determination, and unwavering leadership.
Having completed his vocational training, Bölter volunteered in the Reichswehr, the German Armed Forces of that time, and was assigned to the Panzer Troops, a newly established tank division.
With the rise of the tank divisions, he found himself in the 8th Company of the 2nd Division of Panzerregiments 1 (1st Panzer Regiment) in October 1935.
As the flames of World War II engulfed Europe, Bölter faced fire in the Polish Campaign. Deployed as a Zugführer (platoon commander) in the heavy 8th Panzer Company, he demonstrated remarkable battlefield prowess, earning him recognition and admiration.
On October 14, 1941, Bölter’s courage knew no bounds as he continued to lead his men into combat, but he was wounded in action. After recovering from his injuries, he was posted to the Genesendenkompanie of the 1st Panzer Regiment in Erfurt.
In April 1942, Bölter’s name was etched in the annals of valor when he volunteered for a special mission – preparing the Tigerabteilungen for the German forces. His skills and dedication led him to be transferred to the renowned Schwere-Panzer-Abteilung 502, a Heavy Tank Battalion equipped with Pzkpfw VI Tigers.
Assigned as the Zugführer of the 1st company in this esteemed unit, Bölter found himself facing the brutal reality of the Soviets. South of Leningrad on Lake Ladoga, Schwere Panzer-Abteilung 502 stood as the “Feuerwehr” (firefight brigade). They stood ready to counter the relentless assaults of the Russian army equipped with numerous Soviets against Heeresgruppe Nord.
In the midst of battles against Soviet T-34 armour, Bölter’s determination and leadership were unwavering. His 1st Company was equipped with the formidable Pzkpfw VI Tiger I tanks, and together with Panzerkampfwagen III, they formed an indomitable force.
He earned the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves for outstanding bravery and successful military leadership.
In early ’43, Bölter was granted a brief leave to visit his family in Erfurt, but duty called him back to the frontlines. As the Schwere Panzer-Abteilung 502 received new reinforcements, they returned to the Leningrad front to face the daunting challenges ahead. Despite the fierce artillery and air attacks during the Russian offensive, Bölter’s resolve remained unshaken.
Tragically, in September, same year, Bölter’s remarkable journey met a poignant end. Johannes Bölter archieved 139 tank scores, however some sources mention his scores to 144.
Walter Kniep – One of the Best German Tank Commanders of WW2
Walter Kniep, one of the top tank commanders of the Second World War, was born on December 13, 1909, in East Prussia, voluntarily joined the SS in 1934 and was chosen to become an officer.
Initially, he commanded the 3rd Company, SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment Der Führer in 1941.
On 12 November 1941, SS-Brigadeführer Wilhelm “Willi” Bittrich, the commander of SS-Division “Reich”, submitted the initial documentation for Kniep’s nomination for the German Cross in Gold. SS-Sturmbannführer Ehrath, Kniep’s battalion commander, endorsed Kniep for the award, expressing his recommendation:
“Already in the west SS-Hstuf Kniep showed special bravery and personal commitment as commander of a 2cm Flak Company. SS-Hstuf Kniep’s mission in the east saw him leading 3./SS-Rgt “Der Führer”. To his company SS-Hstuf Kniep was always an example of personal bravery. In addition to his personal commitment, SS-Hstuf Kniep always acts prudently and led his company very well.
During the hard and heavy fighting near Jelnja SS-Hstuf Kniep led from the front of his company, on 27.7.41, storming the height west of Panteleff with special momentum. The attack advanced so fast that the Russians, who were just about to occupy the height with a regiment, reacted too slowly to the attack. The machine guns of the 3rd company fired into the enemy units, as the height west of Panteleff was very important for the continuation of the heavy fighting at Jelnja. Kniep was the farthest eastward with his company in the following combat section assigned for the defense. Again, Kniep was the soul of his company’s resistance. Despite the constant heaviest artillery fire, which fell on the thin line – due to the width of the section – of the 3rd company, Kniep was almost fanatical in his desire to hold the defensive position. The importance of the height for the Russians could be seen from the fact that they sent everything they could assemble in their assault against the 3rd company and supported these attacks with tanks. Where the Russians managed to reach the 3rd Company line at hand grenade range or where the Russian artillery fire broke through the 3rd Company’s thin defensive line, Kniep appeared without regard for his life and helped restore the situation. Thus the 3rd company held its position under the careful leadership and energy of SS-Hstuf Kniep and caused the Russians severe losses.
On 12.8.41, when the battalion was the divisional reserve, the 3rd company was deployed to close the gap between the SS-Rgt. “D” and the 15th ID, into which the Russians had penetrated. The Russians had taken up position in a wood with dense undergrowth and fought tooth and nail to retain the position. In close combat, SS-Hstuf Kniep cleared the forest at the head of his company and completed the mission with energy and daredevilish regard for his life.
On the night of 7/8.41 the Makoshin bridgehead was extended. Here also the 3rd company played a large part, since it succeeded in making the connection with the Kradschutzen strongly pressed by the Russians on the south bank. Here too, SS-Hstuf Kniep was at the head of his company crossing the Desna and penetrating the dense Kussel area occupied by the Russians on the bank without regard for his life.
On 20.8.41 SS-Hstuf Kniep showed his personal bravery and good, prudent leadership of his company in the fights for Romny. Kniep was commissioned to lead a night attack and clear the the Russians from the southern part of Pustowejtowka with his company and then to seal it off to the east. SS-Hstuf Kniep advanced into the village at the head of an assault group and cleared it in close combat with hand grenades. In these actions the Russian suffered great losses of men and material.
A few days later at Ssakunowo SS-Hstuf Kniep, again at the front of his company, cleared the local area against overpowering numerical superiority. The subsequent massive counter-attacks of the Russians broke again and again on the exemplary defensive line of the 3./SS-Rgt “DF” under the leadership of SS-Hstuf Kniep.
In summary, it can be said that SS-Hstuf Kniep is an exemplary company commander, who will always be an example of soldierly duty and personal commitment. The men of I./SS-Rgt “DF” believe SS-Hstuf Kniep is worthy of the award of the German Cross in Gold.”
Later, he assumed command of the III. Battalion, SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment Deutschland, both of which were part of the Das Reich Division. In 1942, he took over the command of the 2nd SS Sturmgeschütz Battalion, where he gained recognition as the most notable Waffen SS Stug commander.
During the period from July 5, 1943, to January 17, 1944, his unit successfully destroyed approximately 129 Russian tanks, with only two Stugs lost. In recognition of these achievements, Kniep was awarded the Knight’s Cross.
Subsequently, he was appointed as the commander of the 17th SS Panzer Regiment, 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division name “Götz von Berlichingen”.
Tragically, Walter Kniep met his demise on April 22, 1944, in Thouars, France, due to an accidental shooting during training. The incident occurred when a soldier was unloading a Luger pistol.
Top Tank Ace Against British Tanks – Karl Mühleck
Born July 27, 1920, in Weinsberg/Baden-Württemberg, Germany, died on December 26, 1944, at Hauptverbandsplatz Lazarett Saint Vith, Belgium.
He was a skilled Pzkpfw V Panther Tank Hero, credited with 7 kills.
- November 1, 1941, to March 31, 1942: SS-Junkerschule Braunschweig.
- April 1, 1942: Became SS-Standartenoberjunker, Panzerkommandant, 2. Kompanie, SS-Panzer-Abteilung 2, 2. SS Panzer Division “Das Reich.”
- April 1943: Promoted to SS-Ustuf d.R., served as Pzkpfw V Nr. 211’s Zugführer, 2. Kompanie, SS-Panzer-Regiment 2, 2. SS Tank Division “Das Reich” during the Battle of Kharkov, Staraja Ljubotin, and Komuna.
- June 1944: Participated in the American and British Offensive of D-Day – British and Canadian tanks were lost by the Allied Forces by the help of Karl Mühleck.
- September 1944: Became SS-Ostuf d.R., leading as Führer, 1. Kompanie, SS-Panzer-Regiment 2, 2. SS Pz-Division “Das Reich” during the Battle of the Bulge/Ardennes.
- December 25, 1944: Severely wounded in Panther Nr. 199 (or 221) near Lamormenil, Belgium.
Submitted for Knight’s Cross on January 5th 1944:
“SS-Untersturmführer Mühleck has repeatedly distinguished himself as a very brave and committed SS officer during the campaign in the East. His boldness in attack and staying power in defense is exemplary and has become directly proverbial in the Abteilung. On the 22.08.1943 in particular SS-Untersturmführer Mühleck demonstrated the highest personal bravery and prudent leadership, along with decisiveness and exemplary fighting spirit as a leader.
On the 22.08.1943 SS-Untersturmführer Mühleck and his Panther-Zug (4 Panzers) were positioned near Komuna (just east of Staraja Ljubotin) with the mission of preventing enemy armoured breakthroughs.
During the entire day the enemy attacked from the direction of Peressetschnaja with strong tank and infantry forces. Despite everything (including strong artillery fire, a Panther received a direct hit and burned out) SS-Untersturmführer Mühleck held his position and repelled all enemy tank/infantry attacks with repeated counterattacks of his own.
Due to the limited numbers of Panzers available, SS-Untersturmführer Mühleck had been given express orders by his commander to not advance across the German frontline on account of the enemy superiority and the partially unfavourable terrain conditions, things which created the danger of heavy friendly losses which in turn could compromise the completion of his defensive mission. Nonetheless, during the course of the combat, Mühleck would recognize favourable opportunities and launch these repeated counterattacks on his initiative as he saw fit.
Eventually 23 destroyed tanks, 2 Pak and 3 trucks would lay burning before his position. A large number of enemy dead covered the battlefield. Mühleck personally accounted for 7 tank kills in this battle.
SS-Untersturmführer Mühleck’s Panzer received an artillery hit on the muzzle brake that caused the main gun to be thrown back, and this broke Mühleck’s right forearm. Even so Mühleck remained with his Zug until the onset of dusk.
This singular act of valour can be exclusively attributed to the bravery and decisiveness of SS-Untersturmführer Mühleck. Through his actions he prevented the danger of an enemy breakthrough near Komuna.”
Alfred Großrock – World War 2 Hero with 24 Allied Tank Kills
Alfred Großrock was born on January 2nd, 1918 in Oßweil, Germany.
His commander career began in the SS-Leibstandarte in 1934. He served in various positions and campaigns:
- Joined 5. Kompanie, SS-Leibstandarte in 1934.
- Fought in Poland and the West in 1939 as SS-Oscha.
- In 1941, participated in campaigns in the Balkans and Russia.
- Became Chef of Pakzug in 1942 with 1. SS-Division LSSAH.
- Led 2. Schwadron, SS Pz Regiment 1 in ’43.
- Engaged in the France against US Army Tanks campaign in 1944.
Alfred Großrock was credited with 24 tank, 12 artillery gun, 31 anti-tank gun, 2 other vehicle, and 15 truck units overall. He was wounded multiple times and eventually died on April 5th, 1945, in a POW camp in Hungary.
Großrock’s recommendation for Knight’s Cross following:
“On the 08.07.1944, during the tank battle west of Kovel, SS-Untersturmführer Großrock and his Zug (of 5 Panther tanks) destroyed 23 Soviet T-34 in two hours without incurring any friendly losses. Through this action, done with outstanding boldness and bravery, he decisively contributed to the destruction of the enemy’s armoured breakthrough.”
Ernst Barkmann – Score of 82 Destroyed Enemy Tanks
Born August 25th, 1919 in Kisdorf, Germany, served in various roles during his career. He was part of the SS-Standarte ‘Germania’ in Hamburg and later in Radolfzell. Barkmann was wounded during campaigns in Poland and near Dniepropetrovsk in 1941.
Instructor duties followed in the Netherlands before he joined the SS Pz Regiment 2, 2. SS-Pz-Division ‘Das Reich’ in the battle for Kharkov. He received promotions, becoming an Waffen SS-Unterscharführer and later an SS-Oberscharführer.
He became to tank master during the Normandy campaign in 1944, Barkmann fought in Saint Lô, and later in the Ardennes during the Bulge. He was severely wounded on December 25th, 1944.
Barkmann continued fighting in Hungary, south of Wien in 1945, where he eventually became a British POW. After the war, he served as the Mayor of Kisdorf from 1976 to 1994.
Barkmann and his crew were credited with destroying at least 82 Soviet, British and US superior tanks and self-propelled guns, along with 136 other vehicles and 43 anti-tank guns.
This telex from 07.08.1944 explain why he received the Knight’s Cross:
“The 2. SS-Pz.Div. is reporting the names of 5 outstanding troop leaders and NCOs who have particularly distinguished themselves during the breakthrough from the Notre Dame area into the area south of Percy:
1.) SS-Unterscharführer Barkmann of the 4./SS-Pz.Rgt. 2. On the 27.07.1944 he was kept back with his Panther in order to protect 2 disabled vehicles. On the night of the 28./29.07.1944 he became totally separated from his comrades during the wide-ranging retreat of the Division. He blew up one Panzer and moved out while towing the other one. At times he crossed over the American march routes, and at other times he drove in direct proximity to them at night. In the end he destroyed 14 enemy tanks and reached friendly lines on the 30.07.1944.”
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Panzer Ace?
A Panzer Ace refers to a highly skilled tank commander, particularly in the Wehrmact or Waffen SS during World War II. These commanders were known for their exceptional tank tactics and remarkable success in battles.
Who were the German Tank Aces?
They were highly skilled tank experts in the German Wehrmacht during World War II. They were known for their exceptional combat skills, ability to defeat rival tanks, and their contribution to the overall success of the German Wehrmacht or Waffen-SS divisions.
Who was the highest scored Panzer Ace?
The highest scored was Kurt Knispel, a German tank hero during World War II.
Who were the famous German Tank Commanders of World War 2?
Some of the famous German tank aces in World War II included Michael Wittmann, Kurt Knispel, Otto Carius, and Ernst Barkmann. These skilled german panzer commanders achieved great success in armored warfare, earning their reputation for tactical brilliance and marksmanship during the conflict.
Who was Michael Wittmann?
He was a legendary tank commander and panzer ace in the Waffen-SS during World War II. He is highly regarded for his achievements on the battlefield, especially as a Tiger tank leader. He died in combat on August 8, 1944, during a counterattack in Saint-Aignan-de-Cramesnil, when his Tiger was hit by enemy fire.
Are there any books or movies about Michael Wittmann’s life?
Yes, there are several books and documentaries that cover his life and military career, including “The Ace of Spades: The Biography of Michael Wittmann”.
What is a German tank?
A German tank refers to any protected combat vehicle used by the German army, particularly during World War II. German tanks were known for their advanced design, quality, firepower, and maneuverability.
What is a Tiger tank?
The Pzkpfw VI Tiger I is a specific type of German heavy tank used during World War II. It was known for its thick armor and powerful 88 mm gun.
What is tank warfare?
Tank warfare is a military strategy that involves the use of tanks in large-scale battles. It focuses on the effective utilization of tanks to gain a tactical advantage and overcome enemy forces.
What is the Eastern Front?
It refers to the battleground in Eastern Europe during World War II, where German forces faced the Soviet Union from 1941 to 1945. This Front witnessed some of the largest and bloodiest battles in history.