- Second World War (1939-1945)
- Richtschütze 16. / Jäger-Regiment 38 / 8.Jäger-Division
- Awarded on:
- August 23rd, 1943
In the sector of the 8. Jäger-Division, near Staraya Russa in mid-1943, a number of German soldiers including Gefreiter Rahlenbeck had on their own initiative managed to turn an abandoned T-34 tank into an ad-hoc pillbox. Left behind from the fighting in 1942, the tank was immobilized but still possessed an intact turret and gun. Ammunition was also available for it. Thus Rahlenbeck and 4 of his comrades, as the designated crew of this pillbox (christened “Panther”), were established in this role when the Soviets launched their big offensive in this area on 21.08.1943.
At the time of the initial Soviet barrage only Rahlenbeck was present in the tank, with the remaining crew being in a bunker nearby. All on his own Rahlenbeck operated the turret and cannon when the first enemy tanks came up. He destroyed 3 of these, and in doing so compelled the rest to withdraw. The next day, Rahlenbeck and his loader Suffner were present in the tank once again when the enemy renewed their attack. Rahlenbeck destroyed another 2 tanks on this day, and was for his total of 5 tanks destroyed awarded the Iron Cross First Class.
On the third day of the attack, 23.08.1943, the entire crew was present when the Soviets launched a particularly heavy attack at noon. The gun commander, standing close by outside the tank, observed the battlefield with binoculars and assigned targets to the gunner Rahlenbeck. In the course of the battle, Rahlenbeck’s tank was also hit a few times. During one of these moments Rahlenbeck himself was lightly wounded, and the optics of the tank were also knocked out. Rahlenbeck was thus forced to target enemy tanks by sighting through the gun barrel, with the help of binoculars. This was far less efficient, but Rahlenbeck kept his nerve in the tense situation. Even after being wounded a second time he did not abandon the fight. The lucky run of “Panther” almost came to an end when the gun jammed, however Rahlenbeck had other plans. He ran to the bunker, retrieved the cleaning device and worked to get the gun back in order again. In the nick of time he was able to re-engage the attacking enemy tanks, destroying the last of these right as they were about to reach the main German defense line.
Over the course of this 90 minute long battle, Rahlenbeck and his crew managed to destroy a total of 18 enemy tanks. 5 more were destroyed by a 5-cm Pak commanded by Erich Wagner nearby. The enemy attack was brought to a halt and Rahlenbeck could finally receive medical attention for his injuries.
As a result of the success of “Panther” and its crew, which was decisive for the overall defensive success in this area, Rahlenbeck would be awarded the Knight’s Cross.