21 November 2013

Extraordinary Tank Hunter Werner Wrangel

Image size: 989 x 1600 pixel. 728 KB
Date: Saturday, 6 March 1943
Place: Unknown
Photographer: Unknown

This picture of Werner Wrangel was signed on 6 March 1943, only a few weeks after he got a Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes (Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross)! Wrangel (born 24 March 1922 in Lasbeck, Germany) was a Gefreiter in the German Wehrmacht during the Second World War, who received three of Germany's highest military decorations during a single combat action, and he was the only person ever to do so! Wrangel received the Iron Cross 2nd class, Iron Cross 1st Class, and the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross simultaneously on 8 February 1943 for outstanding valour in repulsing a Soviet tank attack virtually single-handedly, thereby saving the lives of hundreds of his comrades. Additionally, he received the Infantry Assault Badge (Sturmabzeichen) in silver. At the time he served as a Richtschütze with 1.Kompanie / Panzer-Jäger-Abteilung 160 / 83. Infanterie-Division / VI.Armeekorps / 9.Armee / Heeresgruppe Mitte. Wrangel died in combat in 24 March 1945 near Trebur, Germany. A German newspaper from 1943 reported about the incident as follows (approximate translation from German): "In a nightly battle near Veliky Luki in December 1942, during a snow storm raging at minus 25 degrees celsius, Wrangel operated an 4,7 cm mittlere Panzerabwehrkanone 36(t) L/43,4 anti-tank gun at a frozen hilltop. His gun held a position that formed the link to an otherwise completely cut-off German Kampfgruppe that came under attack from a numerically far superior Soviet attack aimed at halting a German effort to relieve the cut-off Kampfgruppe. During the Soviet attack, consisting of a massed infantry assault supported by tanks and heavy artillery, Wrangel held his fire until the enemy heavy tanks were within less than 200 to 60 meters. Wrangel and his gun crew managed to destroy first three, then four, then another four Soviet heavy tanks scoring direct hits, until their gun is jammed. All the while, man-to-man fighting between German and Soviet infantry was happening all around the position and enemy artillery fire was coming closer and closer. When some of the gun crew were wounded, Wrangel rushed to the infantry to get some regular soldiers to assist him in operating the gun. After a hit by a high-explosive round to the gun's protective shield, again some of the crew were injured, but they desperately fought on. An additional six Soviet tanks were destroyed by Wrangel's gun by holding fire first and hiding, allowing Wrangel to shoot the tanks in the rear. At every shot fired, the gun blasted backward off the hilltop covered in frozen snow, and had to be pushed up the hill back into position again under the most appalling weather conditions. Wrangel literally fought until the last round had left his gun, which led him to his next task: destroying their own anti-tank gun in order to prevent capture by the Soviets. This task was also accomplished successfully. By Wrangel's singlehanded action, a strong Soviet assault was repulsed, allowing the entire Kampfgruppe M. to withdraw from its encirclement to new positions, thereby being able to take all of their wounded with them who would have otherwise fallen into enemy hands. Additionally, he ensured that his gun did not fall into enemy hands after they retreated from the position. He personally destroyed seventeen enemy heavy tanks in the engagement. For his truly exceptional actions, Werner Wrangel was awarded the three highest decorations available to German soldiers during the Second World War in one single night: the Sturmabzeichen (Infantry Assault Badge) in Silver, the Iron Cross Second Class for personal bravery, the Iron Cross First Class for the single-handed destruction of ten enemy heavy tanks, and the Knights Cross to the Iron Cross for saving the lives of hundreds of comrades and the preservation of the fighting power of an entire Kampfgruppe."

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