Franz Bäke

Franz Bäke

Franz Bäke, February 1944
Born (1898-02-28)28 February 1898
Province of Hesse-Nassau, German Empire
Died 12 December 1978(1978-12-12) (aged 80)
Bochum, West Germany
Buried at Waldfriedhof Loxbaum, Hagen
Allegiance  German Empire (to 1918)
 Weimar Republic (to 1933)
 Nazi Germany
Service/branch Heer
Years of service 1915–20, 1937–45
Rank Generalmajor
Unit 6th Panzer Division
Commands held Panzerdivision Feldherrenhalle 2

World War I

World War II

Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords
Other work Dentist

Franz Bäke (28 February 1898 – 12 December 1978) was a German Army officer and tank commander during World War II. He was a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords, one of only 160 German military men to be so decorated.

In the post-war popular culture, Bäke is one of the "panzer aces", that is, a highly decorated German tank commanders popularised in the English-language translations of the German author Franz Kurowski's Panzer Aces series.[1]

Early career

Born in 1898, Bäke volunteered for the German Army in May 1915 and was posted to an infantry regiment. Fighting on the Western Front, Bäke earned the Iron Cross 2nd Class in 1916. Bäke was discharged from military service in January 1919.[2] From 1919 to 1921, Bäke served in the Freikorps Epp, a right-wing paramilitary unit named after Franz Ritter von Epp. In parallel, he studied medicine and dentistry and attained degree of Doctor of Medical Dentistry in 1923.[3]

On 1 March 1933, Bäke joined the SA; his final rank within the SA was SA-Standartenführer as of August 1944.[2] Bäke established his own dentistry practice in Hagen. In 1937 he was accepted into the reserves and was posted to a reconnaissance unit.[3] In 1938, he was mobilized for full-time service as an officer and took part in the occupation of Czechoslovakia.

World War II

Bäke's unit took part in the Invasion of Poland as part of the 1st Light Division, which was redesignated 6th Panzer Division in October 1939. With this unit, Bäke took part in the Battle of France and Operation Barbarossa. Following the encirclement of the German 6th Army at Stalingrad, the division took part in the abortive attempt to relieve the 6th Army in Operation Winter Storm in December 1942 and then retreated to Kharkov. In January 1943, Bäke was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. During the Battle of Kursk (Operation Citadel) in July 1943, Bäke's unit fought near Belgorod, retreating to the Dniepr afterwards. For his actions during Operation Citadel, Bäke was awarded the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross.

Oak Leaves ceremony, from left to right: Adolf Hitler, Oberst Walter Lange, Major Theodor Tolsdorff, Oberst Günther Pape, and Bäke

On 1 November 1943, Bäke was appointed as a regimental commander. In December 1943, he was ordered to form an ad hoc reinforced tank regiment named Heavy Panzer Regiment Bäke. The regiment consisted of 46 Panther and 34 Tiger I tanks, supported by self-propelled artillery and a mechanized engineer battalion. In January 1944, Bäke commanded his regiment during the battles for the Balabonovka pocket. Bäke single-handedly destroyed three Soviet tanks during the battle with infantry weapons at close range, for which he received three Tank Destruction Badges.[4] Next, the regiment was part of a relief relief effort in support of Group Stemmermann, encircled in the Cherkassy Pocket. For his actions during these battles, Bäke received the Swords to the Knight's Cross on 14 February 1944, becoming the 49th Wehrmacht soldier to receive this decoration. In March, the regiment was trapped in the Kamenets-Podolsky pocket along with the entire 1st Panzer Army, where Bäke's regiment effected a link up with II SS Panzer Corps.

In May 1944, Bäke was promoted to Oberst[5] and later appointed commander of Panzer Brigade Feldherrnhalle.[6] Bäke's unit attacked the U.S. 90th Infantry Division near Aumetz on the night of 7–8 September 1944.[7] Bäke's command found itself poorly deployed and under sustained counter-attack from American infantry. By the evening of 8 September, Bäke had lost thirty tanks, sixty half-tracks, and nearly a hundred other vehicles in the lopsided battle.[8] His infantry losses were also heavy, with the unit reporting to OB West that it had only nine armored vehicles and that unit strength was down to 25 per cent of the authorized establishment.[8]

On 28 February 1945, Bäke transferred from reserve to active duty.[5] On 10 March he was appointed commander of Panzer Corps Feldherrnhalle, formally the 13th Panzer Division, and sent to Hungary. Bäke's division fought as part of the Panzer Corps Feldherrnhalle during the retreat through Hungary and Czechoslovakia. On 20 April, Bäke was promoted to Generalmajor and officially given command of the division. On 8 May 1945 he surrendered to American forces.[9]


Bäke was interned for two years; he was released in 1947. He returned to Hagen and resumed his dental practice.[10] He died in 1978.[11]

Bäke is one of the "Panzer aces", that is, highy-decoratedl tank commanders popularised by the German author Franz Kurowski in his 1992 book Panzer Aces, along with Kurt Knispel and Michael Wittmann.[1] According to historians Ronald Smelser and Edward Davies, Kurowski is a "guru" among those who romanticise the German war effort on the Eastern Front. Smelser and Davies define gurus as "authors, [who] have picked up and disseminated the myths of the Wehrmacht in a wide variety of popular publications that romanticize the German struggle in Russia".[12]

In Kurowski's retelling of the operation to relieve the Cherkassy Pocket, Bäke is able to establish a corridor to the trapped German forces, after fighting unit after unit of the Red Army. Kurowski writes: "when the Soviets launched their expected attack, they were wiped out by the exhausted Panzer soldiers". In another of Kurowski's accounts, while attempting to relieve the 6th Army encircled in Stalingrad, Bäke destroys 32 enemy tanks in a single engagement.[13]

The historian Sönke Neitzel questions the number of "tank kills" attributed to various tank commanders. According to Neitzel, numbers of successes by highly decorated soldiers should be read with caution as it is rarely possible to determine reliably in the heat of the battle how many tanks were destroyed and by whom.[14] Military historian Steven Zaloga uses the term "tank ace" in quotation marks in his 2015 work Armored Champion: The Top Tanks of World War II. Zaloga points out that most of the supposed panzer aces operated the Tiger I heavy tank on the Eastern Front; having advantages both in firepower and in armor, Tiger I was "nearly invulnerable in a frontal engagement" against any of the Soviet tanks of that time. A crew operating a Tiger could thus engage its opponents from a safe distance.[15]

Zaloga also discusses the "romantic nonsense" of the popular perception of a tank versus tank engagement as an "armoured joust" – two opponents facing each other, – with the "more valiant or better-armed [one] the eventual victor". Most of the successful tank commanders were indeed "bushwalkers", having a battlefield advantage rather than a technical one. Zaloga concludes: "Most of the 'tank aces' of World War II were simply lucky enough to have an invulnerable tank with a powerful gun". (quotations marks in the original).[15]

Summary of career

During World War II, Bäke participated in over 400 tank combat missions, 13 of which resulted in the destruction of his tank. He was wounded seven times in combat.[10]


The 1st Army and 19th Army nominated Bäke for the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds for his leadership of 106. Panzer-Brigade. The nomination was rejected by Heinrich Himmler in his role as commander-in-chief Army Group Oberrhein.[10]

See also




  • Cole, Hugh M. (1950). The Lorraine Campaign. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. OCLC 1253758. 
  • Federl, Christian (2000). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Deutschen Panzerdivisionen 1939–1945 Die Panzertruppe [The Knight's Cross Bearers of the German Panzer Divisions 1939–1945 The Panzer Force] (in German). Zweibrücken, Germany: VDM Heinz Nickel. ISBN 978-3-925480-43-0. 
  • Nash, Douglas E. (2002). Hell's Gate: The Battle of the Cherkassy Pocket, January–February 1944. Stamford, CT: RZM Publishing. ISBN 0-9657584-3-5. 
  • Neitzel, Sönke (2002). "Des Forschens noch wert? Anmerkungen zur Operationsgeschichte der Waffen-SS". Militärgeschichtliche Zeitschrift. 61: 403–429. 
  • Scherzer, Veit (2007). Die Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945 Die Inhaber des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939 von Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm sowie mit Deutschland verbündeter Streitkräfte nach den Unterlagen des Bundesarchives [The Knight's Cross Bearers 1939–1945 The Holders of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939 by Army, Air Force, Navy, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm and Allied Forces with Germany According to the Documents of the Federal Archives] (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Militaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2. 
  • Smelser, Ronald; Davies, Edward J. (2008). The Myth of the Eastern Front: The Nazi-Soviet War in American Popular Culture. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-83365-3. 
  • Stockert, Peter (2012) [1997]. Die Eichenlaubträger 1939–1945 Band 3 [The Oak Leaves Bearers 1939–1945 Volume 3] (in German) (3rd ed.). Bad Friedrichshall, Germany: Friedrichshaller Rundblick. ISBN 978-3-932915-01-7. 
  • Stoves, Rolf (1994). Die gepanzerten und motorisierten deutschen Grossverbände 1935–1945. Wölfersheim-Berstadt: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 978-3-7909-0279-2. 
  • Thomas, Franz (1997). Die Eichenlaubträger 1939–1945 Band 1: A–K [The Oak Leaves Bearers 1939–1945 Volume 1: A–K] (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-2299-6. 
  • Wegmann, Günter (2004). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Deutschen Wehrmacht 1939–1945 Teil VIIIa: Panzertruppe Band 1: A–E [The Knight's Cross Bearers of the German Wehrmacht 1939–1945 Part VIIIa: Panzer Force Volume 1: A–E] (in German). Bissendorf, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-2322-1. 
  • Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 3, 1. Januar 1944 bis 9. Mai 1945 [The Wehrmacht Reports 1939–1945 Volume 3, 1 January 1944 to 9 May 1945] (in German). München, Germany: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co. KG. 1985. ISBN 978-3-423-05944-2. 
  • Zaloga, Steven (2015). Armored Champion: The Top Tanks of World War II. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books. ISBN 978-0-8117-1437-2. 
Military offices
Preceded by
Generalmajor Gerhard Schmidhuber
Tasked with the leadership of 13th Panzer Division
10 March 1944 – 20 April 1945
Succeeded by
13th Panzer Division
Preceded by
13th Panzer Division
Commander of 13th Panzer Division
20 April 1944 – 8 May 1945
Succeeded by
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