Staudegger’s Run

Hello everyone,

the official WoT forum history sections are full of heroic stories from various units and nations – with one exception: the Waffen SS. There’s a reason for it of course: any “adoration” of Waffen SS is illegal in many countries (especially in Europe) and SS insignia are banned practically everywhere.

Waffen SS units (not to mistake them with Allgemeine SS or SS-Totenkopfverbände, who were a bunch of sadists, criminals and useless in combat) themselves are the subjects of a lot of myths, that actually go both sides. Some consider them to be elite fearless and fanatical nazi supersoldiers, others consider them rubbish based on some of their combat records.

The truth – as usual – lies somewhere in the middle. Waffen SS units were ranging from some of the best in the entire German army (some of the elite Schwerpanzerabteilungen) to totally useless (13. Waffen-Gebirgs-Division der SS „Handschar“ and other “foreign legion”-type SS units).

In general, early Waffen SS had poor combat record (especially in France), but of course that didn’t mean there were no exceptional men in these units. There’s Michael Wittman of course, but one of the less known Panzer commanders was Franz Staudegger.


Franz Staudegger was born on 12.2.1923 in Austria as one of four sons of a pub owner. He finished the school in Klagenfurt in 1940 and immediately joined the SS. He was assigned to the infantry training batallion of the 1st SS Division “Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler” (LAH). During his first fight as an infantryman he was wounded. When he recovered, he was sent to train to become a tank commander of the new dreaded weapon – the massive Tiger tank. This was the end of 1942. He first fought on the Panzer III tank and later (after his promotion) switched to the Tiger.

He was seen as a brash commander to the point of being reckless, but noone could deny his bravery – but his most famous moment happened during the Battle of Kursk Salient.

Tanks versus grenades

It all started on one warm night of 5th of July. By then already SS-Unterscharführer (the rank roughly equals to US sargeant) Staudegger was slowly moving his Tiger to rejoin the rest of the LAH panzer unit (2nd Platoon of 13th Panzer Company LAH) (led by Michael Wittman) down a forest road. The tank was quite loud, so he couldn’t hear anything really from his surroundings. Suddenly, a small light lit up directly in the Tiger’s way: there was another tank standing across the road the Tiger was rolling on and its commander was just standing there in his turret, smoking (Staudegger could see the cigarette lighting up). Staudegger got out of his Tiger to yell at the idiot blocking the road (the other guy couldn’t hear the Tiger either, his tank’s engine was running) and ran to the other tank. When he reached the other tank, he was in for a shock: it was in fact a Russian T-34 and the guy on the top of the turret was a Russian commander, who froze with shock, realizing the tank that just arrived is not another T-34, but a Tiger! Staudegger’s infantry training however took over, he calmly took one of the grenades he was carrying, primed it and threw it at the T-34 hatch. It fell inside and the detonation illuminated yet another T-34, standing behind the first one.

Staudegger realized the other crew would hear the explosion, shouted a warning to his own Tiger crew and quickly proceeded to climb on the other T-34. Surely enough, the other Soviet crew opened the hatches to see what’s going on, at which point Staudegger, already waiting for that, threw the second grenade inside the other T-34 and bailed out. Another explosion tore thru the second Soviet tank. Staudegger then returned to his Tiger and resumed his return to his unit. The very next day, he was awarded with an Iron Cross 1st Class for this action.

To knock out two T-34′s with grenades only was quite a feat, but in the end it was overshadowed by what came three days later.

Staudegger’s Run

Operation Citadel was one of the turning points in the war. The Tigers of the LAH were one of the strongest German units and they were assigned to hammer the Soviet defenses on the southern part of the designated area. However, the fighting took a heavy toll and many of the steel titans were damaged. Staudegger’s Tiger was one of them and on July 8th, 1943, he was unable to participate in the upcoming attack. Frustrated, he just sat around, watching his Tiger being fixed, thinking he wouldn’t see action that day. However, that was not to be the case.

Around 10AM, a message came to the company repair camp at Teterevinovo, that a Soviet assault force of 50-60 tanks is approaching from the northwest. Staudegger’s Tiger was the only available tank to counter it – all the other Tigers were already committed to other goals. Staudegger decided quickly: he and his crew would perform some emeregency repairs on his Tiger and meet the threat head on. His crew (Herbert Stahlmacher – driver, Gerhard Waltersdorf – radio operator, Heinz Buchner – gunner and Walter Henke – loader) agreed.

After the quick repairs were completed (the tracks were barely holding together however), the Tiger slowly advanced towards the Soviet onslaught. They arrived just in time to rescue elements of the infantry batallion “Deutschland” from being overrun. Two Soviet tanks were already burning, destroyed previously by the infantry. The arrival of the steel behemoth changed the tide of battle. The Tiger crew, guided by the infantry, quickly took out three Soviet T-34 tanks.

In the following brutal hours of combat while changing his position carefully but constantly to avoid being too easy target – Staudegger knocked out 17 Soviet tanks, before the Russians decided to call it a day and started retreating. The Tiger was hit numerous times, but its thick hide proved to be impenetrable to the Soviet 76mm guns.

At that point, Staudegger’s crew was exhausted (especially the loader, who did a tremendous job), but Staudegger wasn’t done yet: he ordered the crew to advance on Soviet positions. When the massive steel monster started moving slowly to pursuit the retreating Soviet tanks, loud cheers came from the infantry.

Staudegger didn’t have to move far. The Soviets were regrouping right behind the lines, in a forest. Not expecting to be attacked by a single tank, they were in for a shock, when they saw the Tiger slowly emerging from the woods, like a vengeful spirit of old.

The massive 88mm gun screamed its anger yet again and within minutes, 5 more Soviet tanks were torn to pieces by Tiger’s shots. At that moment, however, the Tiger was out of AP ammo and Staudegger ordered the driver to retreat. Slowly reversing back into the woods, Staudegger’s tank was again hit numerous times, while the gunner continued to shell the retreating Soviets with HE and smoke shots. By the time Staudegger returned to German lines, his suspension was heavily damaged, his track was nearly gone and the tank itself was hit no less than 67 times by the Soviet 76mm guns. The crew – including Staudegger himself – was totally exhausted and on the verge of collapse, but the Soviet attack was broken.

For this action, Staudegger recieved – as the first Tiger tanker ever – the Knight’s Cross. He was also later personally invited to appear before Adolf Hitler to recount the operation.


Franz Staudegger survived the war and died in 1995 in Frankfurt. This episode was certainly one of the highlights of the short career of the Tiger tanks, but even such victories as this one could not stem the Soviet tide, that was swallowing German armies one by one. In the end, the entire SS organization was rightfully outlawed, but that does not mean there were no brave or skilled men within their ranks. And as for the Tiger, well… no matter what happened, the Tiger will always be the legendary tanks of history, regardless of politics or ideology.

Source: Patrick Agte – Michael Wittman and the Waffen SS Tiger commanders of the Leibstandarte in WWII, vol.1

87 thoughts on “Staudegger’s Run

  1. It’s always great to read stories from unknown or publically hardly known military members, regardless of the faction they are in service of. Great introduction and epilogues in regard to that subject. as well Thanks for sharing :)

    • Too bad that the light grey font on the white background pretty much swallows up any punctuation while writing comments :(

    • What? They knew perfectly well their ride was well-nigh immune to most of the enemy weaponry in normal conditions.

      • First: it wasn’t and only idiots thought it was. Lucky shots and all that. Second, even the impact shakes the crew pretty badly. There was a case when German crew in a Tiger II tank crew died of concussion after being hit by many US shells. None of them penetrated.

        • Pay attention to the caveats. More to the point it would be a sorry heavy-tank crew indeed that *didn’t* demonstrate a certain, arguably by normal standards reckless, willingness to trust on their armour in the face of enemy fire – that’s what those things were pretty much designed *for*.

          • Actually, no. The Tiger commanders weren’t idiots, they were aware of their tanks’ weaknesses and of the tactics employed by the Soviets. For example, when engaging a number of T-34 tanks, the armor was only one part of the equation. The Soviets weren’t idiots either: they knew the side armor of the Tiger was vulnerable and a number of T-34′s (remember, forest action = not long engage distance) could have overwhelmed the Tiger. So in this case, counting on the fact they wouldn’t and they would in fact rout them meant not relying on its armor, it was more like bravery/luck/recklessness, however you want to call it.

            • read a story on the WW2 online forums by a guy that met a RL tiger H commander in the Africa campaign and had a little chat with the guy and later posted it on the board.

              That thing really was immune to most fire when it was brought into action in Africa and it could take a tremendous amount of beating which the crew was counting on, but they never the less shit their pants every time they got hit. there was one battle were they came out of the tank mostly deaf for the rest of the day because of the sound of shells hitting their Tiger.

              It’s all fun and games to have shells bounce of your mighty armor but that doesn’t matter much if the sound of every single shell hitting you makes you scared shitless (hit a metal plate with a hammer multiply that by 10 and imagine having to hear that shit for hours at a time hoping none of those hit a weak part)

            • You’re missing the point, SS. AFAIK tankers were quite regularly ordered, and duly tried, to go forth and do battle with any number of enemies entirely irrespective of how horrendously their cans might be outmatched. A certain almost Napoleonic fatalism seems to have been (a presumably necessary) part of the training.

              Sallying forth when you know your ride’s borderline invulnerable unless you do something stupid or the enemy can pull off some really clever stunt? Sorry, but that doesn’t require any noteworthy excess of testicular fortitude as soldierly things go.

            • Getting out of your tank to throw grenades at other tanks while you can actually shoot them with your tank tough, this requires some major balls.

            • …did you actually read the story? Quick thinking on his part though.

              Still doesn’t hold a candle to that 2éme BD Sherman commander who rammed and boarded a Panther with his pistol in Paris, mind you. :P

            • Well, you are a Tiger commander, you drive on the road, and see a unindentified tank on the road blocking you. You go to see whats up, you realise this is an enemy tank
              You have two options
              -Get safely inside your tank, order your crew to shoot them, wait.
              -Throw a grenade inside it, like a baller, then, rush to the next tank, throw a grenade in that bitch aswell.

            • You realise the first option actually reads as “run back to your own tank n=too_many meters away while any at second the Reds may recover from their surprise and gun you down like a dog”, right? Making like an infantryman and grabbing the initiative by the short and curlies was pretty much his best bet of getting out of that one intact I’d say.

              As an aside I find it interesting, though not very surprising in the context, that a tank commander would without a second thought bring a few grenades along when dismounting.

            • Wellp i dont know if he was spotted by the russians. You can tell a tank’s identity from a pretty long distance. And if you want to throw a grenade at it, you’d have to get close.

            • I imagine if the russians had spotted him he would have been gunned down even before he had the chance to throw his first grenade.

            • …okay, why exactly do you sound like you didn’t read the story about the nighttime random encounter *at all*?

            • I remember that guy, remember he said they all got in a captured Sherman once while other guys in a 20mm flak peppered it with AP.

              He said it was like sitting in a church bell.

  2. Hey there

    Thanks for publishing this story for those who don’t own such kind of books. I own this book by myself and its full of very interesting stories, pics and details about the Leibstandarte and their men. If you’re interested in history should always look on every side. I don’t know if the book is available in english language.
    I also recommend the book “Erinnerungen an die schwere Panzerabteilung 503″ from Lochmann, Freiherr von Rosen and Alfred Rubbel who where Commanders in it while Patrick Agte was not involved itself in the Leibstandarte.

    Keep up the good work
    Greetz from Germany

  3. Great article, and thank you for posting it.

    Regardless of their affiliations, the stories of men such as Staudegger’s shouldn’t be forgotten.

  4. Any person who fights for his country with honour is worthy of praise, no matter what side for fought for. Most were unaware of the atrocities committed by their governments, as no side was free from warcrimes. So it is good that these stories are being told, there should be a lot more out there that have been silenced because of the bias against the Germans in World War 2.

    • Considering that already very early into Barbarossa the Einsatzgruppen were filing complaints about soldiers coming to gawk at their execution sites like damn tourists (and true to form kept taking photos too), wanna know where you can put your “mostly unaware”?

      • I hope every stalinist prick is burning hell which is a shame too many of them survived the war…

    • What if I told you not every SS or german soldier was a nazi jewish-hating monster? Most of them were fighting because they were ordered to.

      • Every volunteer SS member, including Staudegger, was a Nazi. It was kind of a prerequisite, you could not join a division like LAH without being one. They cared more about ideology than about the members’ ability to actually fight.
        SS conscripts like those in the 9th and 10th divisions and the handful of divisions from the Baltic states (and other conscripted foreign units) didn’t have to be Nazis.
        Incidentally, the 9th and 10th divisions and the SS units made up of foreign conscripts did not commit many war crimes.

        • You can always fake political conviction if you want to, you know. And doubtless a fair few did for any number of reasons that have always motivated young men to sign up for “elite” groups – and I’ve read of one outright Communist who joined basically to conduct an undercover investigation.

          • yes, but the “just following orders” defense is worn out and never worked in the first place

            • ive once spoken to a german (wehrmacht soldier) of that time. he said: being or gettng into the SS was like playing in the main league, everybody who was interested in the wehrmacht or came by free will wanted to join the SS forces.

              simply because they were shown as the eliteforce, which means it was about the prestige.

        • You are right. Every human right violation is wrong. This is why I don’t like the Communism and Nazism.

          • …and this is relevant how exactly? (You’ll have to widen your dislike envelope a fair bit, by the by.)

  5. An epic story, much better than Wittman’s. Pity it was the (banned) SS, or I’d say the medal should be named after him!

  6. Well he must have been extreamly lucky and not to be afraid of anything. When I was reading think I was thinking was he crazy. But since he won, he really deserves a great medal for such a combat.

  7. Finally a good war story :)
    Nice job SS.

    I think we need a poll set on WoT forum for Steel wall renaming-Staudegger’s Wall!

  8. Good Story. Apparently, every so often, the SS did something besides shoot families over mass graves and collect slaves…

  9. The Military Channel had a short recount of a battle very similar to this though I can’t remember the commander’s name. It had to be this because from what I recall it’s nearly identical. They had an interview from a surviving russian soldier saying for him and his 2 surviving friends it was the most terrifying moment they experienced in the war. They said their commander told them the only option they had in their T-34 was to ram the Tiger tanks if spotted and throw explosives down the barrel and into the hatch if possible. Or if need be, destroy their own tank then to hope the explosion knocks out the Tiger.

    You could literally see the fear on his face when he was recalling that Tiger encounter. He stated he was the most calm there even, lol.

  10. Gotta hand it to the loader, Very impressive. I wonder if he was part Mexican, because until today I figured only my yard worker was capable of such feats of Brawn!

  11. Pingback: Raidul lui Staudegger | WoTRomania

  12. -Franz Staudegger survived the war and died in 1995 in Frankfurt.

    He surely had been a cook, hadn’t he?

  13. Nice. So now you started publishing Nazi propaganda SS?
    Is that somekind of a “uravnilovka” made to satisfy all the pissy wehraboos arond here?

    Anyway, I personally didn`t like the story, and i don`t think anyone normal could consider this guy, or any other SS soldier an “unsung hero”.

    But that is just my opinion. I`m sure it won`t sway any of the Nazi military fetishists minds, so, whatever…

      • Considering their grand agenda didn’t involve the extirpation of couple’a hundred million people for some (factually unnecessary) Lebensraum? Yeah, it actually would be.

        • yeah, because getting shot down or send into gulags never where considered communism rules… wake up!
          In a war, there is never a “better” side…

          • Strictly speaking those were Stalin’s own policies that had preciously little to do with the actual ideology, you know. And how about you shut up and go read up on what exactly Generalplan Ost contained? Uncle Joe looks pretty amiable and harmless in comparision.

  14. Franz Staudegger was born on 12.2.1923 in Austria as one of four sons of a PUB PWNER.

    That explains the pwnage, it runs in his genes.

  15. Really nice story. It shows that each army had it’s brave (unsung) heroes. Although he was a little reckless he really had some really cool nerves, and a big pair of balls ;)

  16. Nice war story. I suppose war has a way to make people do crazy/brave things. I do feel sorry for the poor unsuspecting men in those T34s, probably taking a nap when a grenade inside their tank tore them to pieces.

  17. I file this under “uverified most likely untrue”. While there were major Soviet counter-attacks on Jul 8 against the SS spearheads, a lone Tiger doesn’t actually survive very long taking hit after hit from enemy armor. People forget that Wittman’s tank only took a handful of hits – often engaging enemy tanks singly in street fighting – at Villers Bocage, and that handful of hits was enough to KO his Tiger.

    Far more likely is the usual story – it was Staudgger’s battalion which did the rescue, but they creditted it all to Franz for propaganda purposes.