Germany – Third Reich: A fascinating document group including a rare WW2 copy of recommendation for the award of the Oakleaves to the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross to Major Gerhard Behnke, II Battalion, 57th Artillery Regiment, Army Troops; Officer Commanding 1st Battery and Commanding Officer 203rd Assault Gun Battalion; Commanding Officer 600th Assault Gun Replacement and Training Battalion; Commander, 395th Assault Gun Brigade; Commander, 322nd Assault Gun Brigade; Commanding officer 893rd Grenadier Regiment, 264th Infantry Division, who having been awarded the Knights Cross as the Commanding Officer of 203rd Assault Gun Battalion, would go on to receive the 605th Oakleaves on 4th October 1944 as Commanding Officer of the 322nd Assault Gun Battalion for his defence of Opatowska, part of the hard fought over Sandomierz Bridgehead on the Vistula River.
A small, fascinating and very rare document group consisting of a very rare WW2 copy of a recommendation for the award of the Oakleaves to the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross on 8.2.1943 as Commanding Office 203rd Assault Gun Battalion and the 605th Oakleaves on 4.10.1944 as Commanding Officer 322nd Assault Gun Battalion. The award of these high decorations clearly show that he was not only an outstanding assault gun commander but also a very brave officer who always led from the front exposing himself to extreme danger, including being awarded a Gold Wound Badge.
A WW2 copy of Gerhard Behnke’s recommendation for his award of the Oakleaves to the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross. It provides a fascinating account of the very heavy fighting that took place at this time in 1944. The original was signed by General of the Infantry Recknagel on 6.9.44 as General Officer Commanding 42nd Army Corps. It consists of 10 pages as follows:
Page 1: The Covering Page
Page 2: Personal Details – date/place of birth, rank, unit, decorations etc.
Page 3: The XXXXII Corps Commander’s Recommendation
Page 4: 18.8.1944 – summary of enemy tanks destroyed by the 322nd between 8.8 and 17.8.1944
Page 5: 18.8.1944 – The unit draft for the recommendation of a decoration to Major Behnke
Page 6: 20.9.1944 – A copy of the XXXXII Corps Commander’s recommendation for a mention of Major Behnke in the Armed Forces Report.
Pages 7-10: 23.8.1944 – a four page copy of the 322nd Assault Gun Battalion’s daily summary of the unit’s actions from 8.8.1944 up to and including 17.8.1944. It gives a brief account of the daily actions, place names and details of enemy equipment destroyed/captured.
There are 3 photos as follows:
Gerhard Behnke was born on 23.12.1910 in Matzkau-Dreischweinskopfen/Kreis Danzig. He joined the Germany Army on 1st October 1928 as an Artilleryman. He rose through the ranks to become an Officer on 27.3.1940. He served in two different Artillery Regiment (21st and 57th) before switching to Assault Gun Units on 8.1.1941. He saw active service with 57th Artillery Regiment in Poland, before seeing service on the Eastern Front with 203rd Assault Gun Battalion from the start of Operation Barbarossa.
With the 4th Army as part of Army Group Centre he would have seen initial fighting in the border region including in the encirclement battles at Bialystok and Minsk, the latter of which resulted in the award of the Iron Cross 2nd Class on 25th July 1941. After the conclusion of these battles, his unit would have continued eastwards and seen involvement in the encirclement battles at Smolensk, during the early part of which Behnke would likely have performed the act of gallantry that resulted in the award of the Iron Cross 1st Class on 12th August 1941. He would go on to receive a Black Wound Badge on 17th August 1941, and a Silver Wound Badge on 15th September 1941, and a General Assault Badge on 11th October 1941.
He would go on to see action in the attack towards Moscow, and in the fighting during the Russian counter-attack that ran over the winter months, this resulting in the award of the Ostmedaille later in 1942.
Late 1942 saw Behnke fighting in the Caucasus, and during the retreat back west after the encirclement of the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad and the resultant danger of the cutting off German Army Group A that had attacked into the Caucasus in an attempt to reach the Oil Fields at Baku. It was for actions between 25th December 1942 and 10th January 1943 that Behnke was to receive his Knights Cross on 8th February 1943. During this time Behnke’s unit destroyed:
44 heavy and 9 light tanks, 14 Guns, 11 heavy and 46 light anti-tank guns, 32 heavy and 16 light machine guns, 6 grenade launchers, 36 anti-tank rifles, 25 vehicles of all kinds.
On 25th March 1943 he was appointed the Commander of 203rd Assault Gun Battalion, but had advised the day before that he had been wounded on the Eastern Front and was in the Reserve Hospital in Konigsberg. It would appear that this was a serious wound with Behnke receiving a Wound Badge in Gold on 6th July 1943, sometime afterwards.
Taking some time to recover from the wounds he would eventually change units and begin serving with 322nd Assault Gun Battalion in North Ukraine 1944 and in the fighting at the Baranov bridgehead during which time he performed the act of gallantry that led to the award of an Oakleaves to the Knights Cross, and a resultant mention in the Armed Forces Report, which is covered in detail below:
Recommendation for the Award of The Oakleaves to the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross:
‘Major Behnke has with the battles around the Opatowka bridgehead through personal bravery and his own decisiveness influenced the clashes in a crucial way. He has during the period 8.8.1944 to 17.8.1944 through shackling and shattering stronger enemy armoured forces prevented the operational objective of the enemy,
With the penetration of the enemy on 8.8.1944 with three armoured type Brigades in a northerly direction on Stodoly, he with his armoured group and own mounted Engineers started the thrust to the south on the bridging points of the Opatowka. This thrust was condemned to get stuck with the previously unknown strength of the enemy, particularly in tanks and anti-tank guns. When Major Behnke recognised that the Hansen Group had put together a switch line from supply troops and other troops bundled together in the line Gierczyce-Stodoly-Janowice and with one of its supplied Engineer Companies preparing itself to push forward, he came to an independent decision, on his own responsibility to co-operate with this group. This decision was of decisive significance for this clash. The thrust, supported by the assault guns, led to a depth of 4 kilometres up to Sadlowice into the enemy which was deceived about the composition of the blocking group. Through the reckless action of the assault guns of Major Behnke, was it possible for the thrown together elements of the group to hold up the strong enemy for 11 days, plunging deep into the enemy and 122 tanks and 40 field guns were either captured or destroyed.
Major Behnke escorted all of his actions in the Volkswagen or on foot, many times urging on the attack groups on assault guns.
On 16.8.1944 just as he returned from a riposte from Grochocice, he immediately took up the defence of an enemy attack on a broad front led by numerous tanks. With incredible courage again leading his assault guns in the unarmoured vehicle, he succeeded in destroying 44 enemy tanks on this decisive day, brought the enemy to a halt on the Opatow-Ozarow highway and through this ensure the formation of the new forces put on a standby.
Personal action, own decisiveness and complete success of 92 knocked out enemy tanks in 11 days, complete anticipation of the creation of the operational possibilities, is so remarkable that Major Behnke appears worthy of the high decoration of the Oakleaves to the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross.
Major Behnke was mentioned on 27.8.1944 with his Battle Group in the Armed Forces Report. ‘
Draft for the Recommendation of a Decoration for Major Behnke.
Major Behnke has during the period from 8.8.1944 to 17.8.1944 through shackling and shattering stronger enemy armoured forces prevented the operational objective of the enemy.
-The penetration to Ozarow – Annopol and encirclement of the bulk of XXXXII Army and LVI Panzer Corps.
On his own decision on 8.8.1944 he brough the withdrawal movements of the Infantry under control in the Malice-Gierczyce area and attacked the enemy penetrating to the north with armoured forces with 2 assault guns of the 3rd Battery and mounted Infantry, knocked out five T34s and shattered the enemy attack to the south of the Opatow-Ozarow highway. He built a defensive front with the available forces and held the position until the arrival of further guns.
Again and again during the following days of action Major Behnke led counter attacks with his weak Battle Group and with this inflicted on the enemy the loss of numerous knocked out tanks and destruction of various heavy weapons and manpower.
After the successful attacks of the Behnke Group, which led to the capture of Nikisialka Duza, Nikisialka Mala, Kol, Lopata, Sadlowice, Adamov and Studzianki, when the enemy pulled forward reinforcements they did not succeed in achieving their wished for breakthrough. In front of Stodoly Major Behnke drove of all tank attacks driven forward in several waves through extremely skilful action of the few available heavy weapons and through his own reckless personal action and destroyed 44 T34 tanks on 16.8.1944 with the loss of two of his own. The Russian escorting Infantry were thrown back to their start points in a counter attack.
When the Russians succeeded in making a penetration near Hultajka, Major Behnke attacked the location with one still operational gun, knocked out 6 T34s, took Hultajka and held it against all counter attacks.
The Battle Group ahs during the period from 8.8 to 17.8.1944 destroyed:
56 heavy anti-tank guns
9 infantry Field Guns
9 heavy mortars
23 heavy machine-guns
As opposed to our losses of 3 assault guns.
Further is a recommendation for a mention in the Armed Forces Report from General Officer Commanding XXXXII Army Corps and dated 25.8.1944:
‘A Battle Group of assault guns and Engineers under the command of Major Behnke has particularly distinguished itself by unshakeable bravery and steadfastness with the heavy defensive battles in the Opatow area.
In the period from 8.8 to 17.8., the Group destroyed in the defence and with numerous counter-attacks all in all.
56 heavy anti-tank guns
9 infantry field guns
9 heavy mortars
23 heavy machine-guns
A large number of hand weapons and minor equipment.
Only 3 of our own assault guns were lost.’
The Armed Forces Report on 27th August 1944 noted the following:
‘A Battle Group of Assault Gun and Engineers under the command of Major Behnke particularly distinguished themselves through unshakeable steadfastness with the defence battles to the north-west of Baranow.’
Behnke’s final award was an Infantry Assault Badge in Silver on 15th October 1944, and he finished the war as the Commander of the 893rd Grenadier Regiment of the 264th Infantry Division where he saw service in Denmark and northern Germany, including as the Battle Commander of Rendsburg before surrendering to the British and becoming a Prisoner of War on 5th May 1945.
After the war between 11th July 1956 and the time of his death on 9th May 1962 in Cologne-Altstadt Hospital he would serve as a Staff Officer in the Bundeswehr. His final role being that of Head of a Training Department for Panzer Troops.