Franz Bäke, February 1944
28 February 1898|
Schwarzenfels, Sinntal, Province of Hesse-Nassau, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire
12 December 1978
Hagen, North Rhine-Westphalia, West Germany
German Empire (to 1918)
Weimar Republic (to 1933)
|Years of service||1915–20, 1937-1945|
Panzerdivision Feldherrenhalle 2
World War II
|Awards||Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords|
Generalmajor der Reserve Dr. med. dent. Franz Bäke[Notes 1] (28 February 1898 – 12 December 1978) was a German Army officer and panzer ace. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords. The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher grade Oak Leaves and Swords was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership. Bäke fought during World War I, but rose to fame for his command of heavy panzer forces in World War II. A reservist, Bäke was a dentist in civilian life, having received his doctorate in dental medicine in 1923.
- First World War 1
- Inter-war years 2
Second World War 3
- Early campaigns 3.1
- Barbarossa – Typhoon 3.2
- Refit – stabilizing the Eastern Front 3.3
- Kursk – Panzer-Regiment Bäke 3.4
- Feldherrnhalle commands 3.5
- Post-war 4
- Wehrmachtbericht references 5.1
- Notes 6
- Citations 7.1
- Bibliography 7.2
- External links 8
First World War
In August 1914, the outbreak of World War I changed his plans. In May 1915, Bäke volunteered for the German Army. He was posted to Infanterie-Regiment Nr.3, based in Köln. After basic training, Bäke was transferred to Infanterie-Regiment Nr.11, which was in action on the Western Front.
In mid-1916, Bäke accepted an offer to become an officer candidate and was briefly transferred to Infanterie-Regiment Nr.10. In November 1916, Bäke was transferred to the artillery arm and served with Artillerie-Regiment zu Fuß Nr.7. After the armistice, Bäke remained in the army until his demobilisation in January 1919.
Bäke established his own dentistry practice in Hagen. In early 1937 he applied to join the reserves, being accepted on 1 April 1937. Bäke was given his World War I rank of officer cadet and posted to Aufklärungs-Abteilung 6, a reconnaissance unit. After two major exercises, Bäke returned to his dentistry practice, spending the required time in reserve training to achieve the rank of Leutnant der Reserve (2nd lieutenant) by December 1937. Soon after, he was mobilized for full-time service as an officer.
On 1 January 1938, Bäke was transferred to Panzer-Abteilung 65, where he served as platoon leader of the Abt's light column. During the invasion of the Sudetenland, he acted as the deputy company commander of 3./Panzer-Abteilung 65.
Second World War
With the outbreak of war on 1 September 1939, Bäke was still with Panzer-Abteilung 65. During the Invasion of Poland, he acted as the leader of the light column during the initial operations, before transferring to a platoon command in the Abteilung's second company. Equipped with Czech-made Panzerkampfwagen 35(t) tanks, the Abteilung was attached to General der Panzertruppen Werner Kempf's 1. leichte-Division on 12 September, and completed the campaign serving under Kempf's formation, Panzer-Division Kempf. Showing promise as a panzer leader during the campaign, on 1 November 1939 he was promoted to Oberleutnant der Reserve (1st lieutenant) and appointed company commander. In October 1939, 1. Leichte-Division was redesignated 6. Panzer-Division. Panzer-Abt 65 formed an integral part of this new division. On 1 May 1940, Bäke was promoted to Hauptmann der Reserve (captain).
On 10 May 1940, Bäke and 6.Panzer took part in Fall Gelb, the invasion of France. 6.Panzer formed a part of Panzergruppe Guderian, an army-sized formation charged with attacking through the Ardennes and encircling the Allied forces engaged in combat in Belgium. During the blitzkrieg campaign, Bäke, in command of 1.Kompanie, seized an undamaged bridge over the Meuse at Arques. In the following weeks in combat, he was wounded twice (on 17 and 19 May), receiving the Wound Badge in gold. For his actions in securing the bridge, Bäke was awarded the Iron Cross first class.
Barbarossa – Typhoon
Following the campaign in the West, 6.Panzer was moved to East Prussia, where it undertook refitting in preparation for the coming offensive against the Soviet Union. Bäke was appointed to the staff of 6. Panzer's Panzer-Regiment 11, being responsible for the recovery of damaged tanks. With the launch of Operation Barbarossa on 22 June 1941, 6.Panzer took part in Army Group North's strike towards Leningrad, being involved in heavy fighting. On 1 August 1941, Bäke was promoted to Major der Reserve.
The job of a tank recovery unit was both difficult and dangerous. Generally under the cover of darkness, damaged or abandoned tanks had to be towed back to the division's maintenance area to be repaired. These tanks were most frequently located close to the enemy, and so care had to be taken to make as little noise as possible. The German panzer recovery system was very effective early in the war, with tanks being recovered, repaired and ready for action in as little as 24 hours.
In October 1941, 6.Panzer was transferred to Operation Typhoon, an offensive aimed at the capture of Moscow. On 27 November, elements of the Panzergruppe reached the Volga Canal, only 19 miles (31 km) from Moscow. Soviet resistance hardened, however, and the offensive failed.
In November 1941, Bäke was appointed to the position of Ordonnanz-Offizier for Panzer-Regiment 11. The Ordonnanz-Offizier was responsible for the completion of special missions required by the division. This position required Bäke to lead ad hoc Kampfgruppen in dangerous and vital missions. 6.Panzer ended the campaign as part of General Erich Höpner's Panzergruppe 4, acting as a reserve for Army Group Centre forces attempting to hold the line against fierce Soviet counterattacks. The division's tanks and men suffered greatly from the cold, but despite this they managed to continue to operate throughout the winter of 1941/42.
Refit – stabilizing the Eastern Front
After the defensive battles near Moscow during the winter, the severely depleted 6.Panzer was ordered back to France to rest and rebuild. On 1 June 1942, Bäke was promoted to commander of II./Abteilung of Panzer-Regiment 11. Bäke spent the majority of 1942 overseeing the rebuilding of his shattered Abt and familiarizing himself with his new command.
After the encirclement of the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad, 6.Panzer, now fully reformed, was sent to Ukraine to join Generaloberst Erich von Manstein's Army Group Don, currently struggling to halt the advancing Soviet forces. The division arrived at the front in December 1942 and was immediately thrown into heavy fighting, taking part in the abortive attempt to relieve the 6th Army: Operation Wintergewitter. Bäke, commanding II./Panzer-Regiment 11, showed great skill as a tank commander, inflicting heavy losses on the advancing Soviets during the fighting withdrawal to Kharkov and preventing a large scale breakthrough. On 11 January 1943, Bäke was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross for his efforts during these battles.
The division took part in the battle to retake Kharkov. The performance of Bäke's Abt, fighting alongside the SS-Panzerkorps and Panzergrenadier-Division Großdeutschland, measured up to the fighting reputation of these elite units. After the destruction of Mobile Group Popov and the recapture of the city, 6.Panzer was attached to Armee-Abteilung Kempf. During May, the division was pulled back to act as reserve when it was rested and refitted. Bäke had by now built himself a reputation as one of the army's most capable tank commanders.
Kursk – Panzer-Regiment Bäke
In June, 6.Panzer was attached to 4.Panzer-Armee under General Colonel Hermann Hoth. 4.Panzer-Armee was to form the southern pincer of the attack on the Kursk salient, Operation Citadel. Bäke led his Abt through fierce fighting against the entrenched Soviet forces near Belgorod. On 13 July 1943, he was wounded, but remained with the unit. On 14 July, the commander of Panzer-Regiment 11 was severely wounded, and command of the regiment was temporarily delegated to Bäke. During the ferocious armored battles, Bäke led the regiment and proved himself a capable regimental commander. The offensive was cancelled on 13 August 1943, and Bäke's regiment saw heavy combat during the withdrawal to the Dniepr. For his actions during Operation Citadel, Bäke was awarded the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross.
On 1 November 1943, Bäke was promoted to Oberstleutnant der Reserve (lieutenant colonel) and his command of the regiment was made official. In December 1943, he was ordered to begin formation of an ad hoc reinforced tank regiment named Heavy Panzer Regiment Bäke [Schweres-Panzer-Regiment Bäke]. The regiment consisted of 46 Panther and 34 Tiger I tanks, supported by self-propelled artillery and a mechanized engineer battalion. The regiment was to be used in "fire-brigade" duties in the southern sector of the Eastern Front. In January 1944, Bäke commanded his regiment during the battles for the Balabonowka pocket. During the five-day battle, Bäke's regiment was credited with destroying 268 Soviet tanks for the loss of only four tanks . Bäke single-handedly destroyed three Soviet tanks during the battle with infantry weapons at close range, for which he received three Tank Destruction Badges, worn on his upper right sleeve.
Next, the regiment was sent to the area of Korsun-Cherkassy, where Gruppe Stemmermann had been encircled in the Cherkassy Pocket. Together with a Kampfgruppe of the 1.SS-Panzer-Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, Bäke's tanks opened an escape route for the trapped Germans and held it open while many escaped. During this month, his regiment was credited with the destruction of 500 Soviet tanks and assault guns.
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 commendation. In March, the regiment was trapped in the Kamenets-Podolsky pocket along with the entire 1.Panzer-Armee. Bäke's regiment formed one of the spearheads moving west to break the encirclement, and effected a link up with II.SS-Panzerkorps, creating an escape route for the army.
On 1 May 1944, Bäke was promoted to Oberst der Reserve. His regiment was involved in fierce defensive battles for the rest of the month, after which it was disbanded and the component units sent back to their parent divisions. Bäke was ordered west to take command of 106.Panzer-Brigade Feldherrnhalle, which was forming in Mława. The Feldherrnhalle units were formed from a cadre of ex-SA men, and as such Bäke was granted the honorary SA rank of SA-Sanitäts-Standartenführer.
Bäke made an ill-advised attack on the U.S. 90th Infantry Division near Aumetz on the night of 7–8 September 1944. Expecting the American infantry to be routed once the German tanks were among them, Bäke's command found itself poorly deployed and under sustained counter-attack from veteran 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. 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.
On 1 January 1945, Bäke transferred from reserve to active duty. On 9 March he was given command of the newly formed Panzer-Division Feldherrnhalle 2 and sent to Hungary. Bäke's division fought as part of the Panzerkorps Feldherrnhalle during the retreat through Hungary and Czechoslovakia. On 20 April, Bäke was promoted to Generalmajor. He on 8 May 1945 surrendered to American forces.
Bäke spent several years as a prisoner of war, being released in 1950. He returned to Hagen and resumed his dental practice.
He died in a car accident in 1978. The Bundeswehr provided an honour guard at his funeral.
Iron Cross (1914)
- 2nd Class (15 July 1916)
- Wound Badge in Gold
- Honour Cross of the World War 1914/1918
- Panzer Badge in Gold (4th Class)
- 3 Tank Destruction Badges for Individual Combatants
Clasp to the Iron Cross (1939)
- 2nd Class (26 September 1939)
Iron Cross (1939)
- 1st Class (1 June 1940)
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords
- Knight's Cross on 11 January 1943 as Major of the Reserves and commander of the II./Panzer-Regiment 11
- 262nd Oak Leaves on 1 August 1943 as Major of the Reserves and commander of the II./Panzer-Regiment 11
- 49th Swords on 21 February 1944 as Oberstleutnant of the Reserves and commander of Panzer-Regiment 11
- Mentioned three times in the Wehrmachtbericht
|Date||Original German Wehrmachtbericht wording||Direct English translation|
|31 January 1944||Die westfälische 16. Panzerdivision unter Führung des Generalmajors Back und ein unter der Führung des Oberstleutnants Bäke stehendes schweres Panzerregiment haben sich hier besonders bewährt.||The westfalian 16th Panzer division under the leadership of Generalmajor Back and a heavy Panzer regiment under Oberstleutnant Bäke distinguished themselves here.|
|6 December 1944 (addendum)||In den Abwehrkämpfen im Unterelsaß hat sich die Panzerbrigade 106 "Feldherrnhalle" unter Führung des mit dem Eichenlaub mit Schwertern zum Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes ausgezeichneten Oberst Baeke durch hervoragenden Angriffsgeist und besondere Standfestigkeit ausgezeichnet. Sie schoß in 3 Tagen 40 feindliche Panzer ab.||The 106th Panzer Brigade "Feldherrenhalle" under the leadership of Oberst Baeke, who is decorated with the Oak Leaves with Swords to the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, distinguished itself by showing attacking spirit and determined stableness in the defensive battles in the lower Alsace. It shot up 40 enemy tanks in 3 days.|
- In German a Doctor of Medical Dentistry is abbreviated as Dr. med. dent. (Doctor medicinae dentariae).
- Nash, Hell's Gate, p. 127
- Stoves, p. 321
- Lorraine Campaign, p. 158
- Lorraine Campaign, p. 159
- Thomas 1997, p. 15.
- Berger 2000, p. 11.
- Scherzer 2007, p. 199.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 3, p. 23.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 3, p. 359.
- Berger, Florian (1999). Mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern. Die höchstdekorierten Soldaten des Zweiten Weltkrieges [With Oak Leaves and Swords. The Highest Decorated Soldiers of the Second World War] (in German). Vienna, Austria: Selbstverlag Florian Berger.
- Cole, Hugh M. (1997). The Lorraine Campaign. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
- 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.
- Kurowski, Franz (1992). Panzer Aces. New York: Ballantine Book. ISBN 0-345-44884-7.
- 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.
- Schaulen, Fritjof (2003). Eichenlaubträger 1940 – 1945 Zeitgeschichte in Farbe I Abraham – Huppertz [Oak Leaves Bearers 1940 – 1945 Contemporary History in Color I Abraham – Huppertz] (in German). Selent, Germany: Pour le Mérite.
- 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 Miltaer-Verlag.
- Stoves, Rolf (1994). Die gepanzerten und motorisierten deutschen Grossverbände 1935–1945. Wölfersheim-Berstadt: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 3790902799.
- 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.
- Williamson, Gordon (2006). Knight's Cross, Oak-Leaves and Swords Recipients 1941–45. Oxford, UK:
- 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.
- Names, scores and pictures of the top Tiger commanders at the Tiger I Information Center
- Bäke, Franz Lexikon-der-Wehrmacht German Language site.
- Franz Bake Ritterkreuztrraeger German Language site.
- Franz Bäke – Achtung Panzer.com
- World War II Awards