“After the artillery barrage had stopped an eerie silence set in. It was pitch dark and snowing heavily…then we saw the purple signal flares rise into the night sky and prepared ourselves to defend against enemy tanks.”
(Interview with Obergefreiter Lemmler, 8./Füsilier-Regiment 22 in “Ostpreussische Kameraden”, 1955)
For the period of January and February 1943 the divisional war diaries (NARA T315 R8/R9) of 1. Infanterie-Division hold a series of highly interesting documents which relate to the experiences of soldiers who destroyed an enemy tank single-handedly by use of a hand-held weapon.
The infantry divisions of “HG Nord” (Army group north) in 1942/43 had a chronic shortage of larger caliber AT and Flak guns with which to combat enemy tanks effectively. This resulted in gaps in the defences, which made an inviting target for enemy armour. As always when somebody had to take the rap, that somebody was the infantry.
Satchel charges, hand and rifle grenades, AT mines, flash and smoke grenades and more importantly, huge courage were the tools that were needed to combat a tank effectively. The short reports found inside the divisional KTB (war diary) give a detailed and sometimes frightening view on the brutal confrontation of men against tanks…
The first report is by an NCO who I “know” quite well. Feldwebel Hofmeister was my grandfathers “Zugführer” (platoon leader). He was killed holding the rank of Hauptmann (Captain) in 1944. On my website you can have a look at his military documents and his photo album.
Date of action: 6th of June 1942
Tanktype: T34 Weapon used: 3 kilo charge
“As a pair we used the ground and craters to approach the enemy tank undetected. About 10 meters behind it, we ducked into cover and armed the charge. While the other man used his submachine gun to keep the heads of the tank crew down, I ran up to it and placed the charge on a slightly opened hatch. I then jumped back into cover and only seconds afterwards there was a tremendous explosion with the tank spewing up a huge jet of flame. It continued to burn for about 2 hours, having no visible damage on the outside.”
Date of action: 12th of January 1943
Tank type: T34 Weapon used: Concentrated charge (handgrenades)
“Gefreiter L. placed the concentrated charge onto turret hatch and ignited it. The turret hatch was smashed, crew killed with handgrenades.”
Wilhelm Schimanski (no rank given)
Date of action: 12th of January 1943
Tank type: T34 Weapon used: H3 (3 Kilo hollow charge)
“It was the 12th of January 1943 when I finished off this russian tank. It was demobilised by a mine about 10 to 15 meters in front of our trench, but continued to fire at our positions with his 7.62 cm gun and its machine guns. Jumping out of the trench I closed with it and attached an H3 to its rear. The H3 detonated with a vast explosion which tore a hole measuring about 3 to 5 centimeters into it. The tank burned out completly afterwards.”
Männer gegen Panzer (Men Against Tanks) is a 1943 German film, produced by Lehrfilm, which was used as a training film by the Wehrmacht. Its purpose was to show the German soldiers the different types of infantry anti-tank warfare. The duration of the film is 28 minutes.
The film consists of three parts. The first part shows a staged combined Soviet tank and infantry attack against entrenched German infantry. The attack is preceded by artillery and air strikes. The tanks, several T-34 model 1941/1942/1943 and a KV-1, are dealt with and destroyed by different means of improvised and dedicated anti-tank weaponry. Right and wrong approaches to destroy a tank single-handedly are displayed. At the end of the attack,Wilhelm Niggemeyer, a holder of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and four tank destruction badges, is shown in action, destroying the KV-1 with a mine.
The second part shows how rear-service troops must be prepared for anti-tank warfare, as they too can encounter enemy tanks. The third part presents the Grosse Gewehrpanzergranate, Kampfpistole42LP, Püppchen, Panzerfaust, Panzerschreck, their use and their effect against tanks.
The Soviet equipment used in the film, including uniforms and weapons, are authentic captured Soviet stock. The Soviet officer’s uniforms were made before the 1943 reforms of the uniform. The only exception are the aircraft used, the AT-6, which were captured in the Battle of France.
Part 1 of “Männer gegen Panzer”
Part two starts with a report written by a soldier of GR43. Its final sentence is hair raising.
Gefreiter Marius Pilz
Date of action: 21st of February 1943
“On the 21st of January 1942 a tank of the KW-1 type broke into our positions at the “Sicklemoor” near Pogostje. It drove into the direction of a bunker which held our batallions command post. When it was about 20 meters away it took two hits from a light infantry gun which was itself positioned about 6o meters away from the tank. The shots immobilised the tank and blew off its left track. One of our 5cm AT guns now opened fire on the tank, but 15 shots stayed without effect.
I crawled up to the KW1, climbed it and bent the tanks three machine guns by beating them with a shovel which I had found on the ground.
Thereupon the tank commander climbed out and surrendered. The remaining crew now opened fire with submachine guns through small holes, especialy made for this purpose.
I fetched some petrol from a motorbike which was standing nearby, poured it over the tanks engine compartment and ignited it by using a handgrenade. The tank burned out completely. Its crew did not surrender.”
Gefreiter Wilhelm Blum
Date of action: 14th of January 1943
Tanktype: BT Christies fast tank Weapon used: Hollow charge
“I attached the charge to the tanks engine, above the road wheels. The resulting detonation immobilised it. The crew was shot by covering riflemen.”
Gemerzki (no first name and rank given)
Date of action: 13th of January 1943
Tanktype: Tank similar to the T-26 only heavier. Precise identification is impossible. Weapon used: Rifle AT grenades / rifle grenade launcher
“The passing tank took seven hits on the rear and the turret. The second shot (to the rear) made it come to a halt. The others annihilated its crew. All shots penetrated the armour. ”
Männer gegen Panzer (Men against tanks) Part 2
Men against tanks, Part III.
“In the early morning hours I worked my way towards a tank that was standing inside a minefield in front of our positions. I climbed it from behind, so the crew could not hit me with machine guns. Suddenly a Coppola was opened and a head became visible.
I took the AT mine I carried and, as hard as I could, smashed it on the russians head.
I then armed the fuse, threw the mine into the tank and immediately jumped down into a nearby shell crater. In the same moment the mine exploded setting the tank ablaze.”
2nd of February 1943
Tank destroyed: T 34 (26 tons)
Below you will find some german wartime manuals and pamphelts on anti-tank fighting and the usage of the panzerfaust. The most famous being “Der Panzerknacker” (The tank cracker), a humorous manual on the subject, issued to some troops in 1944/45.