Translated and abridged from the Third Reich original, deals with the German anti-tank guns during the Blitzkrieg against France and includes several eye-witness accounts of combat action. Remarkably, sometimes even one single German anti-tank gun stopped an attack by several enemy tanks – even though some of the crew had been wounded or killed. For example, the actions that earned the Knight’s Cross for Lieutenant Michel Pössinger and Corporal Hubert Brinkforth, the first enlisted man awarded the Knight’s Cross, are described in exciting detail. The photographs and maps also come from the German original.
A gun crew, which had taken up position in a large fruit garden, truly fought with the courage of a lion. At first not much was to be felt of the enemy. The tank-hunters honestly regretted that it was not a few months later in the season, because the emerging fruit on the trees looked very promising. The sun burned down from the sky, hardly a cloud was to be seen, and it seemed to be turning into a quite pleasant day. None of the fine gunners suspected what was in store for them.
In accordance with a thousand times practiced regulation, they had so splendidly camouflaged their gun that it could not be spotted from the outside at all. A thick hedge and a few bushes helped a lot with the integration of their gun into this green wall. The view was so good that one would spot the attacking enemy in time.
The non-commissioned officer had placed the carriage with the ammunition, well camouflaged against aerial view, under some well-foliaged fruit trees. So everything had been done that could be done in military regard.
The driver had to bring up the ammunition. In order to be able to see well into a blind spot, the gun leader had sent ahead a rifleman to watch for tanks.
Hardly had he taken his position when he already issued the alarm. As fast as he could, the tank sentry crawled back. First on all fours, then running, bent over. But the greatest haste was essential, for loud motor noise already came from ahead.
‘So we have found the right place’, the tank-hunters figured and bit their lips. Now it could start. That each man would stand his ground at this gun, on that the enemy could rely.
Meanwhile, the gun leader had himself checked out and accessed the situation.
From the southeast, where a rather thick forest lie, a few English tanks of medium caliber rolled from ahead out of the bush covered blind spot.
“They are coming just like we want”, the non-commissioned officer said. He had hardly finished the sentence, when a large number of enemy tanks, medium and light, also emerged on the northern flank.
Now the situation was less pleasant, for the range of a single, small anti-tank gun at this location is limited. After all, one could not destroy all of them simultaneously. Suddenly, heavy tanks now approached the fruit garden from the west as well. It was a situation that showed what a man is capable of. The gun leader proved in this moment that he was not just a good soldier, but also an excellent anti-tank gunner. It is not easy to describe the feeling that seizes one when tanks – heavy, medium and light – roll from all sides against a single small anti-tank gun. One must have a stout heart and good nerves.
The gun leader had both. He called the motorcycle messenger to him. Gave him a precise report, for the formation staff was barely two kilometers back. The motorcycle messenger mounted his vehicle and roared off at breakneck speed from the rear of the fruit garden in order not to be seen by the enemy. The gun leader crossed all his fingers that he would reach his destination, for otherwise…
Oh well, what did anything else matter to the gun leader: the enemy came from there and his gun stood here! That was enough. Like a bee the driver ran to and fro and dragged up so much ammunition that it piled up like a little mountain next to the gun.
The roaring and thundering of the approaching enemy tanks became louder and louder, but the hearts of the crew at the gun did not beat any faster at all. They knew their duty.
“Just don’t you fire too soon”, the gun leader stressed to the gunner. “Don’t get nervous! If you fire too soon, all of us are finished. Let them get close”, he said, “very close”, and his eyes sparkled, “and then we will give it to them like they deserve.”
There…at this moment the trees rustled, and not fifty meters away from them the first shell exploded, which the foremost rolling tank had fired into the bushes. Now there was rolling and growling everywhere, the tanks fired along the whole line with every caliber and put down an uncanny fire against the fruit garden, in which only this one little German anti-tank gun stood.
The crew bit their lips and waited. Every nerve was tense. It looked like they had merged into one and frozen to stone, only their eyes moved, seeking the enemy. And God have mercy on him, when he was close enough! Such a crew could pose a dangerous obstacle to even a large number of tanks.
The tanks fired randomly into the fruit garden, for they had not yet spotted the gun.
Then the gun leader opened his mouth again. He smiled at his gunner and said with a deep voice: “Aim well, my lad, only aim well.” The only crewman who started to move again was the driver. The small mountain of ammunition did not seem big enough yet to him. So he raced back to his supply at the carriage and ran back and forth in order to bring up more ammunition. For who could know how much time he still had for that.
Gradually, the situation became more serious. The non-commissioned officer kneeled down. It was time.
He had murmured a single word, so softly that none of his comrades had heard it. “Surrounded”, he had whispered to himself, for the motor noise now resounded from the northeast as well. But that was the only way that led back to the comrades. Surrounded! But what does that matter to a German tank-hunter non-commissioned officer, who commands an anti-tank gun! His men had unconditional faith in him, he knew that, hence he gave his orders calmly and professionally.
Once again he warned, for he knew what mattered.
“Do not fire until I order it!”
A short silence emerged, only filled by the thunder of the motors of the advancing tanks. Suddenly, the non-commissioned officer’s voice again.
“Forward tank 400, tank left of the big bush, take aim!” The gunner repeated the target. The non-commissioned riveted his eyes at the tank.
Continuously and monotone, almost like a machine, the gun leader now gave the range. They had no rangefinder with them, but a non-commissioned officer has his practice memorized.
“Three-hundred-fifty…three-hundred…”, and then, after a brief pause, finally the command for which they all yearned feverishly.
“Open fire!” the non-commissioned officer shouted, and it was as if an immeasurable jubilation resounded like a redemption in this command.
“Open fire!” and the shell already shot out.
“Hit”, shouted the gunner, and it was as if he wanted to jump up and embrace the gun leader, but there was no time for that, even though the first shell struck exactly where it was supposed to. Driverless, the struck tank ran across the terrain, hopping up and down, and everybody stared at it; suddenly a flash of flame shot up and it exploded. The crewmen heard nothing of the mighty explosion, for like a hurricane over 24 other tanks of every caliber fired loudly into the bush where they were sitting. The strongest tree branches fell down, thousands of green leaves fell down to the ground. Unable to move, the struck tank sat in the terrain. But the second was already approaching.
“Open fire!” Again, the dangerous projectile whizzed toward it, and again it was a hit. This time a hit in the treads. As if a St. Vinus’s Dance, this tank continuously rotated around its own axis. Then it got a second hit and stood still, this was enough. It, too, was out of commission.
The blood rushed to the sun-tanned faces of the tank-hunters. This was a tank hunt that was worth while!
“New tank – two-hundred!” shouted the gun leader, and his voice sounded like metal.
The driver, who had been busily scurrying back and forth under the most intense enemy fire to fetch new ammunition, suddenly dropped both his ammunition cases, threw his arms toward the sky and then collapsed with both ammunition cases. At the same second a fantastic tongue of flame flashed skyward from his vehicle. With an ear-deafening noise and terrible bang the ammunition exploded and, although the carriage was quiet a distance from the gun, splinters literally flew past the gunner’s ears.
But the crewmen did not even notice it. In the heat of battle they only had eyes for the enemy. What did it matter to them, what happened behind them? The enemy stood in front, and to the front did their fine gun spit death and destruction. They loaded – aimed – fired…
The gun leader had long since given up giving ranges. It was also no longer necessary. The sighting barrel had no lower markings.
Then, a terrible detonation…The fourth gunner suddenly bent over, then he stretched out again and remained lying on his back. A shell had exploded behind him. The crewman’s hand still gripped the ammunition case. It seemed as if, even in death, he still wanted to slide this case of ammunition to the gun. Even in death, so did it appear, did the body of this German soldier want to do its duty.
Eight tanks have been knocked out, burned out; smashed and destroyed they lie scattered across the terrain, witnesses to the courage of the men at this one little gun. The other sixteen tanks of every caliber do not dare to go any farther. They stand behind cover everywhere and rake the fruit garden with intense fire. Most of them appear to have still not yet determined the actual location of the small German gun, for otherwise…
Then another one turns and exposes his broadside. Two shells race toward it. Both shells hit the target, but the tank rolls onward, still onward, but one clearly sees: its cannon-barrel can no longer turn.
Over there is a hedge. From there whizzes and hisses a hail of shells and machine-gun rounds at the gun crew.
Again, a new casualty. The first gunner tenses his body as if he wants to jump up, but it is too late, and he already falls forward with a dull thud onto the targeting mechanism.