The Waffen SS fought with tenacity all through the war years, and in the process acquired the respect of friends and foes alike. Many times acting as the Third Reich firecrew, they were sent to the sector of the front where their skills were most needed. Their courage and ability was well recognized, and these are the stories of some well known, and some not so widely known, Knights Cross winners.
Complete list of SS Knights Cross recipients.
SS Panzer Grenadier Erich Göstl
Undoubtedly one of the most remarkable tales of the Cross being awarded for a single act of personal courage belongs to SS Schutze Erich Göstl. Born on April 17th, 1925, he was part of the 6th Company, Panzer Regiment 1 of the 1st SS-Panzerdivision Leibstandarte “Adolf Hitler”. Göstl performed his almost incredible act during bitter fighting in the town of Tily, a few kilometers from Caen when he was defending his position against an English attack following the invasion of Normandy. Göstl was manning a machine gun post and in the fighting was shot in one eye, obviously losing sight. Undaunted he continued to fire, and was later wounded in the other eye. Even now, completely blinded, he continued to return fire from his machine gun post, alone and shooting at hearing, until the enemy attack was repelled.
SS Panzer Grenadier
Gostl’s regimental commander, Standartenfuhrer Albert Frey reported;
“It was during the combat for the invasion front in France that Erich Göstl showed this extraordinary act of bravery. Because of the enemy's enormous supremacy in manpower and material, and our own material shortages the only thing we brought against the attack was our high morale. Combat for our troops was extremely hard during that time. Expectations of the individual soldier for fitness, fighting power and bravery were enormous. Only with this situation in the background I can describe Erich Göstl act of bravery with the honor it deserves.
The enemy started the attack with heavy air bombardment, with many heavy four-engine bombers and ground attack aircraft, which lasted for a long time. Every artillery and defense strongpoint including known foxholes on our side were heavy bombarded and attacked with machine gun fire. Our own defensive firing was already halted by the attack after a short time.
Now with no defense against this inferno every one of us, left alone with God, could only pray and hope he would survive the bombardment. After the air attack the enemy started with an artillery bombardment of all calipers, with such an enormous intensity, which lasted an incredibly long time. The well-controlled artillery fire now hit everything spared by the air raid. So when the enemy tanks and infantry still covered by their own artillery and ground attack planes started their attack to overrun our positions, these positions were covered with bomb craters and had been several times ploughed over.
Nearly every foxhole in our defensive line had casualties because of this hellfire. Our own anti-tank defense was nearly complete out of order and our artillery was totally combat unfit. In this hopeless situation it was left to the few individual Panzer Grenadiers and some heavy weapons crews to stop the heavy enemy attack with everything what they had left.
It was in this situation that Grenadier Erich Göstl did this extremely act of bravery comparably with some battle scenes of earlier heroic wars. It was in the school for the War Blind in Cerninpalast, Prague that I could hand Erich Göstl his awarded Knight Cross over on 11 November 1944. He was circled by his blind comrades, who were pushing him to put him into the air to celebrate. They did, but then because they could not see dropped him and he fell on the floor. Every present guest at this presentation had tears in their eyes.”
It was this kind of determined, almost fanatical resistance that earned the SS their reputation as fierce fighters. Erich Göstl went on to be released as a prisoner of war in April 1946, and with the help of his wife this remarkable man earned a Law Degree from the University of Vienna.
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