Franz Staudegger. 1 "Tiger" against 50 T-34. Kursk Bulge.
July 8, 1943. Teterevino became the starting point for the attack of the tank group, which had several "tigers" at the beginning of the day. Early in the morning the Panzergrenadier Regiment "Germany" of the SS "Reich" Division took up its positions there. The line of battles at that time stretched east of Teterevino. The border between the fighting sides was a branch line that went through Prokhorovka. On that day, the crew of Franz Staudegger could not take part in the battles, as the tank broke down again. As a result, on July 8, Staudegger and his people remained in Teterevino. As Staudegger himself described the events, a few hours later a large group of Soviet tanks began to approach the village. It had at least fifty combat vehicles. “Since I didn’t go with the company, I’m going to hunt them, ” Staudegger threw at this moment to Rolf Shampoo, whose tank also went out of order. Without a moment's hesitation, Staudegger did his best to make his "tiger" move again. His tank immediately rushed towards the T-34. At that time, Staudegger's crew consisted of navigator Herbert Stellmacher (driver), Panzerschütze Gerhardt Waltersdorf (radio operator), Heinz Buchner (gunner), Walter Henke (loader).
On the way, the grenadiers informed Staudegger that five Soviet tanks had already broken into the German positions. Almost immediately after that, he saw how the infantrymen were able to knock out two T-34s. Suddenly, two Soviet tanks appeared at the railway embankment. Two direct hits and both are destroyed. Staudegger continued to move forward through the positions in which there were no longer German soldiers. He first noticed the approaching Soviet tanks. Five of them emerged from the forest near the railroad. Heinz Büchner aimed precisely at the first of them and sent a shell into its turret. Explosion, T-34 is on fire. Noticing the "tiger", the rest of the Soviet tanks opened fire on it. Staudegger's tank fired round after round. As a result, in this incredibly difficult firefight, all five T-34s were knocked out.
When the rest of the Soviet tanks appeared from the forest, Staudegger was already ready to fire at them. In this situation, the most difficult job was for the loader Walter Henke, who had to reload the gun extremely quickly. Any second of delay could result in the death of the entire crew. At the same time, driver-mechanic Herbert Stellmacher tried to keep the "tiger" in motion all the time. He skillfully changed positions so that the armada of Soviet tanks was unable to open fire on him from all the guns at once. It was decided to destroy the T-34 one at a time. The battle of one "tiger" against fifty (over time, their number decreased) Soviet tanks lasted almost two hours! By this time, Staudegger's crew was able to knock out seventeen T-34s.
It was not worth thinking that the "tiger" did not fall. But the Soviet shells did not inflict significant damage on him. As a result, the commander of the Soviet tank group realized that breaking through the front line in this sector had cost him too much, and gave the order to retreat. However, Staudegger did not want this panzer group to strike elsewhere. He did not plan to retreat to safe positions. He wanted more. He moved forward to find the Soviet tanks himself! It was a very daring decision, and Staudegger's chances of success were slim. But the biggest possibility was that he might have been ambushed by Soviet tanks. But at that moment Staudegger did not care much.
The huge "tiger" slowly rolled forward. The crew commander's attention was focused on the landscape. The armor-piercing projectile was already loaded, and Büchner was looking for a target through a telescopic sight. She appeared as suddenly as the "tiger" itself. Soviet tanks were regrouping in the ravine. The Tiger's engine roared, the tank rushed forward, stopped abruptly, and the shell was sent right on target. The Tiger fired round after round into a cluster of Soviet tanks. As a result, five more T-34s were knocked out. When the armor-piercing shells ran out, Staudegger gave the order to fire incendiary shells. As the gunner noted, several more Soviet tanks were hit. It seemed that the T-34 crews were taken aback. "Tiger" seemed to them "indomitable". The remaining intact Soviet tanks preferred to hastily hide. When Staudegger's tank returned, the grenadiers of the German regiment greeted it with almost a standing ovation. They knew to whom they owed their salvation.
The bold actions of the twenty-year-old native of Carinthia led to significant tactical success. He managed to prevent the breakthrough of Soviet tanks in the southwestern direction, which had as its goal to shorten the routes for the supply of ammunition for the units of the Red Army. As it turned out, during this battle, Staudegger destroyed twenty-two T-34s. A patrol sent later by the commander of the 2nd company of the Panzergrenadier regiment "Germany" confirmed this information. The next day, the commander of the Leibstandart tank regiment presented him with the Knight's Cross. A day later, on July 10, the written version of the presentation for the award was ready.
Almost immediately after this, Staudegger's feat was written about in almost all German newspapers, we will cite an excerpt from one newspaper article.
"Twenty-two T-34s destroyed by one" tiger "
From the Headquarters of the Fuhrer they report. On June 10, 1943, the Führer awarded the Knight's Cross to SS Unterscharführer Franz Staudegger, the tank commander of the Leibstandart tank regiment. Staudegger, who for technical reasons could not take part in the offensive with his regiment, received news that a column of 50-6O T-34s was advancing to the rear of our forces. Despite the multiple superiority of the enemy forces, Staudegger, on his own initiative, decided to attack the enemy tank column. In a battle that lasted two hours, he, using the positions occupied by his tank, he was able to destroy seventeen T-34s. When the enemy tanks retreated, Staudegger followed them. Without any fire support, he was able to knock out five more T-34s. The rest of the Bolsheviks fled in panic. Thanks to his courage, Staudegger not only prevented the enemy from breaking into our rear, but inflicted significant damage on his tank units. "