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SS Unterscharfuhrer Franz Staudegger, Ace Commander! 1st SS Panzer Regiment Leibstandarte

SS UNTERSCHARFUHRER FRANZ STAUDEGGER. 20 year-old Austrian born SS Unterscharfuhrer Franz Staudegger was the first successful Tiger I Commander to be awarded The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on July 10 1943, for his incredible actions at the start of Operation Citadel, the battle of the Kursk Salient, in Russia in July 5 1943. In the starting point for the attack early that morning, the 2nd Battalion of the 1st SS Panzer Regiment Leibstandarte went into position. SS Unterscharfuhrer Franz Staudegger was unable to take part in the attack by his company on that morning, as his Tiger had suffered a mechanical breakdown, he therefore stayed behind. A few hours latter Staudegger was told that a group of about sixty Soviet T-34's was approaching fast from the northwest. Without hesitating for a second, Staudegger used all the means at his disposal to make his Tiger drivable again. He set out alone in the direction of the reported enemy tanks, straight into no-mans-land, completely on his own, one man against sixty enemy tanks. Staudegger immediately took up the fight. In an incredible difficult 2-hour firefight, Franz Staudegger had destroyed a total of 17 Soviet tanks. The enemy finally realized that there was no getting through there and withdrew. Franz Staudegger set his Tiger in motion to track down the enemy tanks in hot pursuit. It was a daring decision whose chances of success were limited, for the danger of walking into a soviet trap was great. Then, suddenly, he saw them; the enemy tanks had regrouped. Staudegger's Tiger fired shell after shell into the middle of the mass of Soviet tanks, destroying five more Soviet T-34 tanks. The Soviets were completely dismayed. The Tiger seemed invincible. The Soviet survivors took to flight in panic in the hope of avoiding total destruction. This daring action by the 20 year-old Franz Staudegger had prevented a breakthrough by enemy tanks. In doing so Staudegger destroyed 22 enemy tanks, decisively weakened the enemy tank formation and thus frustrated the enemy tactical objective. For his exceptional bravery and devotion to duty, Franz Staudegger had the distinguished honor of being the very first Tiger Commander to be awarded The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, and was a celebrated hero. Naturally the Wehrmacht's first Knight's Cross winner in the Tiger Tank was a cause for a raucous celebration. Informed of his feat by a lone Tiger, Adolf Hitler summoned Staudegger to see him at Fuhrer Headquarters, and gave the Fuhrer a detailed account on his experiences in tank-versus-tank combat in the Tiger. Since Hitler placed very high hopes in this supreme armored battle weapon. Franz Staudegger became the first master of iron and fire in the history of this legendary weapon, in which he chose the battlefield, the showplace of his great feat, to get in and deliver the first fiery death blow to the enemy, an enemy that was sent to deal with his destruction, as for Franz Staudegger, he himself became the destroyer. For he can call it the total identification of the Tiger tank with its mission, for it would offer an explanation for the astonishing.