36 - Kurt Knipsel - the Tank Legend

Kurt Knispel  

the greatest tank ace of all time

A diorama by

Bjørn Jacobsen

Kurt Knispel destroyed more enemy tanks - Soviet, British and American -

than anyone else in history.

How many? Nobody knows exactly, but probably around 200.

Allied tanks were being blown away by Knispel and his Tiger tank.

Kurt Knispel had 168 confirmed kills of enemy tanks (possibly as high as

195). He was also credited with the destruction of over 70 enemy Pak

(anti-tank guns), and countless bunkers, field works, enemy soft skins,

MG-nests etc. etc.

He fought in virtually every type of German tank as loader, gunner and


He was awarded the Iron Cross, First Class, after destroying his fiftieth

enemy tank and the Tank Assault Badge in Gold after more than 100 tank


When Knispel had destroyed 126 enemy tanks (with another 20

unconfirmed kills), he was awarded the German Cross in Gold.

He became the only non-commissioned officer of the German tank army

to be named in a Wehrmacht communique.

At the famous Panzer Battle at Kursk July 1943, he destroyed twenty-

seven T-34 tanks in 12 days

Later, as commander of a Tiger II, he destroyed another 42 enemy tanks.

Though he was recommended for it four times, Knispel never received

the Knight’s Cross, a standard award for most other World War II German

tank aces.

Unlike many soldiers, Knispel was not consumed by the pursuit of

decorations and did not suffer from a “sore throat” (Heer slang for those

who lusted after the Knight’s Cross)

When there were conflicting claims for a destroyed enemy tank, Knispel

always stepped back, always willing to credit success to another tank


Knispels slow promotion attributed also to several conflicts with higher

Nazi officers. His behaviour was not up to the Nazi-standard and he

cared far more for his mates than for the Nazi system:

Long hair, goatee- beard, unwillingness to obey orders he disagreed

with was one thing, refusing to take part in attacks on civilians

was another.

On one occasion he even attacked an officer when he saw him

mistreating soviet POW`s. Most soldiers would have been in lot of

trouble for  this, perhaps even executed, but not Knispel. It tells a

lot of Knipsels standing, not only within his Panzer Abteilung, but in

the whole German Panzer Force.

Kurt Knispel was born in 1921 and joined the armoured forces of the

German Heer in 1940, nineteen years old.

He trained as a loader and gunner in a Panzer IV, the main German

battle tank of the time.

His training ended 22 June 1941when Germany launched Operation

Barbarossa, the invasion of Soviet.

He immediately excelled in very quick loading, sighting and extremely

precise targeting.

None of his mates in the Panzer Company come even close to him.

He fought in every major battle at the eastern front from 1941 until the end in

1945, except for a period in spring 1944, when he was transferred to the

western front and given command of a new Tiger II, the most fearsome

tank in any army.

He participated in fighting the Allied after the invasion in Normandy and he

fought in the defence of Caen.

After the Caen, Knispel returned to the East and fought in the Budapest area,,

were some of the hardest fighting of the last year of the war took place.

One week before the war ended, he was fatally wounded during the final

battles against huge numbers of T-34 in Southern Czechoslovakia after

Budapest and Vienna had fallen.

He died in a meaningless confrontation at a time when not just men, but entire nations were dying, and that is a sure ticket to obscurity unless you were a propaganda hero.

And Kurt Knispel was no propaganda hero - he was just a guy like anyone else, a tiny cog in a great machine, but what a guy he was. 

There will be no one to ever achieve what he did in a tank – never ever!

This diorama is a tribute to this great warrior!

Knispel (right) with his tank commander Hans Fendsack. Fendsack fell in Normandy.

Knispel with his cew in a Tiger tank. This picture is obvious a propaganda picture

The most successfull Tank Aces of WWII:

The five top German Aces:

1.Kurt Knispel –168+ tanks (sPzAbt. 503)- Tigers

2.Otto Carius – 150+ tanks (sPzAbt. 502)–Tiger I

3.Johannes (Hans) Bolter— 139 tanks (possibly 144) (sPzAbt. 502) Tigers

4.Michael Wittman – 138 tanks (sS.S.PzAbt. 101 Liebstandarte)–Tiger I

5.Hans Sandrock – 123 tanks (assorted AFV last unit HJ )

Compare this to the most successful Allied Tank Aces of WWII;

Soviet Union:  Dmitriy Lavrinenko  -  52 tanks (4th tank brigade) – T34/76

United Kingdom:  Cpl. Alfie Nicholls   - 40 tanks (9th Lancers)- Sherman

Canada; Sydney V. Radley-Walters  - 18 tanks (2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade) - Sherman

United States:  Lafayette G. Pool   -  12 tanks  (US 3rd Armored Division) – Sherman

The lists shows only the tanks destroyed. All of the aces had of course soft skin vehicles, guns,

bunkers etc. added to the “kill-list”

The Tiger tank

(Panzerkampfwagen VI)

The German Tiger tank was one of the most feared weapons of

World War Two.  The Tiger served in all fronts of the western,

eastern, and African theatres where it proved to be a formidable


The Tiger first saw action in August/September 1942 in the

Leningrad campaign.

1,350 Tigers were made from August 1942 to August 1944

The Tiger’s armour was different from that used on other

German panzers. The Tiger used rolled homogeneous nickel-

steel plate armour which had the highest level of hardness of

any armour during World War 2. This allowed the Tiger to

engage enemytanks on closer ranges without taking too much

damage itself.

The other strength of the Tiger was the powerful 88mm gun.

Besides possessing superior penetration capabilities, it is also a

highly accurate gun which allowed the crew to engage and

destroy enemy tanks up to 2000 meters and beyond. 

Under normal combat conditions, the Tiger would begin engaging

enemy tanks at ranges of over 1000 meters, still out of effective

range of the enemy’s tanks.

The combination of superior armour and firepower allowed the Tiger to dominate the battlefield where it could outgun any allied tank of its time.

The success of the Tiger was so profound that no allied tank dared to engage it in open combat. The Tiger got an aura of invincibility and this psychological fear soon became to be known as "Tigerphobia".

To prevent further damage to allied morale, General Montgomery banned all reports mentioning the Tiger's prowess in battle.

The general notion was that it would take 5 Shermans to destroy a cornered Tiger and even then, only 1 Sherman would return.

The Tigers superb 88mm cannon could outrange and penetrate more armour than almost every other tank gun, with the exception of the British/American Sherman Firefly

The incredible effectiveness of the Tigers in tank vs tank combat:

Battle of Oka River, Russia, part of the battle of Kursk, 1943

30 Tiger I engage a large (over 100 tanks) Russian armoured formation on the open fields. They opened fire at over 2km, scoring hits early. 42 T-34 destroyed, the rest fled. 1 Tiger was lost to enemy tank fire.

Battle of Collombelle, Normandy, part of the battle for Caen, 1944

12 Tiger I attacked in the night a formation of 75mm Shermans. 12 Shermans were destroyed, 2 captured, 3 Tigers lightly damaged (repaired in 3 days or less). The battle was in the open terrain, no ambush, no air cover.

Battle of Tatjanowka, Ukraine, part of the strategic German retreat, 1944

8 Tiger I remain without fuel out in the open fields. A large (over 30) formation of soviet tanks approaches them. 20 are destroyed, the rest flee; no Tiger lost or severely damaged.

Battle of Maritima, Italy, part of the battles for the Gustave line, 1944

4 Tiger I engage a formation of 25 US Shermans. 11 are burned, the rest are abandoned by their crews. All Tigers moderately damaged.

Battle for Grunow, Germany, part of the final drive to Berlin, 1945

8 Tiger II, occupying a small hill, engage a formation of over 100 soviet tanks. They open fire from over 4km. 70 enemy tanks are claimed knocked-out for no loss.

Battle for Bollersdorf, Germany, part of the final drive to Berlin, 1945

4 Tiger II are attacked on the open by 30 T-34-85s. All soviet tanks are knocked-out [unknown number destroyed]. No Tiger lost.

Making the Diorama

I am going to make a diorama with Kurt Knispel in his Tiger I shooting and

destroying three Russian T34s somewhere on the eastern front

I put my thoughts down in a rough sketch, indicating how I wanted this to be, but

as always, I have to adjust along the way.

To obtain a little perspective, I will have the Tiger (which will be the closest) in

1:35 scale, while the Russian tanks which are farther away, will be in 1:48 scale.

The corresponding soldiers will of course also be in same scale as the tanks.

I hope the distances will look right when seen from the Tigers standpoint

The Russian T-34/85

There will be three Russian Tanks in the diorama. They will be close to a burn-out village.

The Tiger with Kurt Knispel as gunner opens fire on the Russian tanks and in about 20 seconds (it takes 10 seconds to reload the Tigers 88mm), all three T-34s are ready for the scrap yard.

The first one is hit in the engine department and burst immediately in flames, the second is hit just below the tower and when the T-34s shell explodes, the tank tower is ripped off the tank.

The third tank is still intact in the diorama, but with Knipsels extremely precise targeting, it will be an easy kill in a few moments.

The models are from Hobby Boss. The scale is 1:48

To make the explosions and fire, I used LED lamps (220V) connected directly to the net.

The advantages with these LED lamps are that they emit very little heat and can easily be used in the confined spaces in a plastic model.

The first hit in the engine requires some black smoke and I used the “normal” procedure with the chicken wire cage, some coloured cellophane and cotton painted with airbrush.

All the Russian tanks are painted in green.

Below: Tank # 1 (not yet hit by a granede from the Tiger)

Tank # 2 hit just below the tower. Setting off the tanks own ammo and ripping the tower off

Tank # 3 hit in the engine department and burst into fire

The Tiger

The model is a 1:35 from Italeri and was an easy build.

This will be my first real tank (all others have just been props), so I looked closely at pictures and other models and read a lot about the Tiger before I started.

What I tried to build was a real battle tank, with scars and wounds after several engagements with overwhelming enemy forces.

The Tiger was a real tough beast and could take a lot of punishment and still fight on.

I therefore rip off a side shirt and gave it a lot of grenade hits.

This should be a tank from sPzAbt. 503, 1st Company, 1st Platoon and tanks nr.2 with Kurt Knispel as Richtschütze (Gunner).

The Richtschütze was responsible for the all hits his tank made.

Under an engagement, he had to stay on his post and you can see him under the open hatch on the right side of the tower.

On the left side is the tank commander - maybe a little suicidal to stand like this in a battle situation!

(The tiger had a crew of five; Tank Commander, gunner, loader, driver and radio operator)

Knispel was later to become a Tank Commander in the new and even more fearsome Tiger II.

The diorama freeze the moment the Tiger fires its second shot and hits the T-34 just below the tower.

Therefore I need gun smoke from the Tiger’s gun barrel as well as the impact in the T-34.

The gun smoke is just cotton, sprayed with hairspray to stiffen and then slightly coloured with the airbrush.

The hairspray makes the cotton so stiff that it without problem can be added directly to the cannon muzzle.

I first painted the Tank Commander in a camouflage uniform, but was told that the Heer’s Panzer Waffen always wore the black Panzer Uniform. I therefore had the Commander to change his uniform (on the pictures, you might see both uniforms)

One other thing that was pointed out to me was the canvas on the turret bin. It is blocking the view from the cupola, so I removed it.

I also had too many track links fitted to the turret and reduced the number accordingly. It should be five on the left side ond two on the right side of the turret. The Italeri kit got the links all wrong.

The Tiger which I placed in the diorama should now be correct.

The Base

Sometimes you do not fully understand

the consequences of what you have


The Base is a good example.

I was planning “A medium size diorama”

and started out with a 1:35 Tiger and

several 1:48 T-34s which have to be of

some distance from each other.

It soon occurs to me that this would be a diorama, much bigger than I had planned!

I decided to do the base in two parts: One with the Tiger and one with the T-34s.

When I put the two parts together the dimension is 70x120cm (28” x 48”)

The good thing was that the diorama took less space when stored  and it was easier to handle.

The first I did was to make terrain with Styrofoam which I later covered with papier Mache and the painted the whole surface with acryl.

Then I covered the fields with artificial grass and put some up some trees and bushes for good measures.

When finished, it’s time for the props (burned out houses, tanks and soldiers)

The last thing I did was painting a background.

The Soldiers

I used 1:35 German soldiers (Military Miniatures from Tamiya) and 1:48

Russian soldiers (Russian Infantry from Tamiya) to make the diorama more authentic.

The Burned out Houses

The Russian tanks are next to a burned out village.

The houses were made by gluing wooden sticks to a simple fundament made of cardboard (nothing fancy).

Then it was painted with acryl.

All the rubbish around is just

bits and pieces of cardboard

and wooden sticks.

All very easy and very cheap,

but it looks good

When everything is put in their right place, it all comes together like this:

I hope you enjoyed this website!

Thank you for visiting!


Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions or comments




Bjørn Jacobsen

October 2015